Our China adventure published. A dream realized.

Cross that off the bucket list-publish book.  When we moved to Shanghai in 2013, I started a blog to stay in touch with family and record our adventures.  It grew into a daily rhythm to capture the craziness that was our daily life in China.  Soon, people from around the world started reaching out to me for advice:  Where can I get dog food?  Should I bring my own mattress or buy one there? Where should I live if I have kids?  Is the pollution really bad?  Why yes, it is.  Now you know.  The lungs don’t lie.  Buy a mask and wear it.

When my transfer details were finally worked out and I accepted the offer, I immediately went online and looked for blogs or books to get a feel for what our new normal would feel like.  I would be a female executive navigating through the Chinese business world while Thom adjusted to being a trailing spouse.  I was disappointed to only find guide books primarily aimed at tourists.  I was going to become a local expat and needed a source of truth to turn to that would help guide me through all the unexpected challenges from walking down the street without getting run over (truly a challenge daily!) to opening a bank account and being surprised they still used an abacus to conduct transactions.  WTF.

We relied on our Chinese tutor, Fiona, to guide us through many obstacles and just explored through fearless curiosity daily in our quest to not live in the typical expat bubble and instead venture out into the real China.  Daily we learned and as our confidence grew, Thom took off on a bike to explore and take beautiful photos and I jumped on the bullet train to commute to Beijing and Nanjing for work on a regular basis.

As a result, our blog posts and photos chronicled a journey that few folks get to take.  Those that are lucky enough to live in China can use our lessons learned to adjust quickly and with less pain than we went through at times.  Not that we didn’t love living there because we did.  We would walk down the Bund, climb the Great Wall (4x) and pinch ourselves.  “We live in China!”  It never got old and we miss our life and the people there.  The pollution, not so much.

Pulling these stories all together after we returned home to Seattle was Thom’s year-long journey.  Who knew it was so hard to edit a book?  I swear every time we thought we had all the spacing, spelling and template formatting just the way we wanted it, we found more opportunities to improve and had to change it.  FINALLY, we hit the button and made my frustrated inner writer very, very happy when Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again:  Our Year as Expats in China became a reality.

Will anyone read it?  Maybe.  My mom will.  The aunt of a guy I met at a friend’s party who just moved to Shanghai to work for Intel will.  Who knows, maybe other people?  Making money and world publishing dominance was never the impetus for writing this book.  Sharing our adventures, recounting our tales so our granddaughter, Mia, will know that her GiGi and NaiNai were crazy world travelers while she was just being born as well as helping other expats adjust to life in China were the main objectives so we are happy.  Back in Seattle, we are always looking for the next adventure.  A vacation to Ireland is coming up soon and then possible work travel to India and Europe.  Would we move abroad again?  You never know.  Life is short.


Our Ayi, Pink, and our Chinese tutor, Fiona


Excercise in the Park-2
My new friend and I exercising in the park.
Sweet Potato-7071
Sweet Potato Lady

Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China”  is available here-looks best in color versions vs. Kindle b/w due to photos:

Softcover book: http://www.blurb.com/b/7250489-seattle-to-shanghai-and-back-again

eBook: http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/588686

Amazon Kindle: Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC46Dht4h7e7Tebgx6Ri9tMA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/seattletoshanghai/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/seattletoshanghaiandbackagain/

Other blogs on WordPress: https://alleyesonshanghai.com/2016/03/24/seattle-to-shanghai-and-back-again/


Travelling without Thom=Lonely

So, I’m terribly spoiled because Thom usually accompanies me on my frequent business trips or I travel with peers who speak Chinese.  This week, I went it alone, travelling to Beijing and Nanjing by my lonesome, English-speaking boring self.   NEVER.  AGAIN.  Not only was I bored and lonely without my travel partner/best friend/hubby but he was too back in Shanghai.  So we learned our lesson-it’s better together.  Now, on to share with you the highlights of my LAST solo journey.

Playing the Laowai card at the train station in Shanghai ALL BY MYSELF, I walked up to the only cashier with no line who was arguing vehemently with a local woman.  I know that this is the place to cash in tickets for refunds from a previous trip and no one speaks English but I marched right up, ignored the squabbling woman, who by now was really irritating  the crabby cashier, probably trying to cash in a fake ticket for money, and handed Ms. Crabby my receipt and passport and smiled really big.  The cashier was only too happy (well, happy is a strong word–perhaps less pissed off might be more accurate) to divert from the local woman who stomped away.   Done and done—I was off to the Laowai Haven on the second floor of the terminal—Costa Coffee.  They have good coffee, free wifi, nice seats and a quiet civilized atmosphere so I could work until it’s time for my bullet train to Beijing.  Before settling in, I ran by one of the many kiosks selling stuff and selected a set of earbuds to use in the gym.  I had to leave my set at the office to use as a sample to buy for swag for our team so I’m earbudless—not cool.  There are many times in China you need to tune out the world and this trip was looking to be certainly one of them.

Four hours into the train to Beijing, let me count the MANY ways I missed Thom horribly:

*no one to watch all my possessions when I go to the bathroom, making any trips awkward and hurried as I rush back to my seat hoping everything is still there

*no one to lift my “I packed way too much stuff” luggage into the overhead on the train—in the US when you are a woman and have a big bag, almost always a guy will offer to assist but you’ll die from waiting for a dude in China to help you.  Ladies, you had better work out and get some muscles if you are travelling on your own.

*no one to check the train bathroom to see if it is moderately disgusting or totally disgusting, as it gets towards the end of the journey and all the guys have sprayed their DNA around every available surface and there’s no toliet paper or paper towel left.  Of course, I travel with my own tissue and hand sanitizer (don’t leave home without it, EVER!) but I miss Thom doing a recon for me to determine if I go or cross my legs till we get to the hotel.  Forget using the train station bathroom as most are squats and TOTALLY revolting.

Of course, I missed Thom’s sparkling, witty conversation as well but did manage to get a lot of work done on the journey.  Boring but productive!

At least the guy next to me on the train watched movies on his iPad and didn’t smell too bad, take his shoes off or hock up a lung up like the guy across the aisle.  I finally threw my new earbuds on and cranked up Keith Urban to mask his frequent loud retching and snotting all over himself.  I’m painting a pretty picture, right?  My seat mate did order the local lunch and I had to cover my nose while he ate it—some kind of pickled cabbage threw an overwhelming smell at me that caused me to do evasive action to prevent vomiting.  When going by train, pack your own food or starve.  I had a lovely bagel and one of my prized Strictly Cookies peanut butter special.  Carbs galore as usual because I can’t eat the mystery meats.  Yum!

Finally arriving in Beijing, I can only hope Michelle Obama will chose to visit Beijing when I am there from now on.  The AQI was a lovely 25, a new all time low, on the day she arrived.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  I could even see the mountains in the distance, which is a true rarity and just  lovely.  Just like Michelle, I do tend to stand out in the crowd.  While waiting in the lobby of our office building in Beijing the next day, a very charming European gentleman approached to introduce himself and ask if I would have time to be in a Dahlmer automobile video shoot in the next building.  Why no, kind and handsome gentleman, I explained I was on a tight work schedule but appreciated the offer.  My colleague from Italy asked if he could be a part of the experience and was excited to be able to be in a video.  I’ve gotten used to people taking my picture often on the street but this was my first “official” invite to model–a new career perhaps as I enter my “mature and still not looking too bad” phase of my life??

Cereal goes with milk-except in China where yogurt is offered instead
Cereal goes with milk-except in China where yogurt is offered instead

Testing my patience to the limit and needing some basic sustenance while taking an early morning conference call, I tried to order cereal and milk for breakfast from hotel room service in Nanjing.  This became a major production as I had room service calling me and running back and forth to the kitchen several times to get my simple food.  Seems that they thought I should put yogurt on my cereal not milk.  No thank you..  Yes, noodles would have been easier for them to understand but I just am not ready to “go local” yet and always opt for safe food that won’t have me hurling into the nearest potted plant.  Ahhh, memories!

Mr. Sax Man in Nanjing
Mr. Sax Man in Nanjing

I finally forced myself out to take a walk at lunch while in Nanjing.  I was rewarded with stumbling upon a lovely local park featuring part of the ancient wall and a local entertaining a group of children with his sax playing.  He sat in an archway, playing his tunes and making all our lives better.  Thank you, Mr. Sax Man, for showing me that even if I am by myself (which will NEVER happen again, just saying) I should take time to get out, smell the polluted air and enjoy a slice of life during my busy work days.

Back home again with Thom, we both learned from our week apart that we NEVER, EVER want that to happen again.  So put on your travelling shoes, Mr. George (Cole Haans, of course for my “shoe whore”) and OFF WE GO!

Nightime in Nanjing

Nanjing is an enchanting “2nd tier” city in China, just one hour by bullet train north of Shanghai.  Full of history and friendly people, Thom and I took to the streets to explore and experience the culture firsthand.  There is nothing better than seeing the look on the hotel concierge’s face as we ask for a map, tell them where we want to go and then explain we are going to walk there.  At this moment, their heads explode and they start arguing with us that we can’t do it.  Want to bet?  Want to try and stop me???  And off we go…

Spring is almost here in Nanjing!
Spring is almost here in Nanjing!

From the hotel window, a grey sea of concrete looks totally uninviting but street level reveals small businesses vying for the locals hard-earned dollar and a not-yet-developed city with sidewalks teeming with crowds as they walk to/from work and play.  A lovely lake with a park in and around it will provide us with many chances to explore within the stone walls that surround the city, built in the 1300’s to provide protection.

Of course after blowing the hotel staff’s minds with our plan for the evening, Thom and I wandered the streets of a city we have never been to before, walking for miles in the dark to find Pisa Pizza, that came highly recommended online.  Finally giving up with feet aching and bellies screaming out, “FEED ME or DIE!”, I asked a friendly barista at Starbucks for help and her friend kindly wrote us out a map and we hailed one of the few available cabs to try and find it.  Mr. “I don’t give a damn” Cabbie gave up and let us out without finding it but, determined and stubborn as I am, we continued to roam and finally found it tucked away on top of a stone walkway-totally hidden and out of the way.  It looked very “local” but I was not going to leave without a hot pizza pie.  Basic cheese with pesto, it was hot & delicious.

Best Pizza in Nanjing
Best Pizza in Nanjing

Of course, by the time we finally found it and then ate, it was late and the last thing I wanted to do was walk back to the hotel far, far away.  Oh, we’ll just hail a cab-WRONG!  They must be using all the cab apps here in Nanjing because every cab was taken and no one would look our way as we braved traffic to try & hail one so off we trudged home, stopping along the way at another hotel just to use the facilities.  The pizza place was a “squat only” so I passed and ended up wishing I hadn’t as we walked miles.  Luckily, a Laowai like me can walk confidently into any nice Western hotel and find a lobby restroom.  Score!

We noticed so many little things about life here as we walked.  Karaoke shops with pulsating lights are HUGE and there is a significant lack of Western restaurants that you would find in Shanghai, though McDonald’s and KFC are popular.  You don’t see people eating on the streets like you do in Vietnam or even Shanghai, maybe because it is colder here?  You definitely don’t see the fancy cars like in Shanghai either with more bikes than Lamborghinis.  On a cool March night, the people are out walking and enjoying the mild weather with their dogs and families.  The streets are clean but don’t expect to find your way with English street signs because there aren’t any–one of the reasons we got lost going out for pizza.  We had a map but, hey, it’s China so it wasn’t really made to scale or accurate in any way, shape or form.

Learning about Buddhism
Learning about Buddhism

Tonight, we walked through the park and enjoyed seeing a Buddhist museum.  We thought it was closed but the door was open so we peered inside and found a young guy reading a book.  He welcomed us, speaking in English and proceeded to share with me the Buddhist culture.  While Thom snapped photos, he and I chatted as he told me that the piles of food were to symbolize sharing and were given to various groups who came to the temple.  I look forward to seeing the park and temples later in the spring when the trees are in bloom.

Close to the hotel, we walked by a very old woman sleeping beside her sweet potato cart.  We had gone about a block when I stopped and told Thom I wanted to go back and buy a potato from her and grossly overpay her.  He agreed, of course, and off we went.  Waking her up with a cheery, “Ni Hao!”, she carefully weighed the one I picked out on her ancient wood scale and asked me for 5RMB.  I handed her the 100RMB note and walked away smiling.  She returned my smile after it dawned on her what I was doing and she waved and repeated, “Celia”, meaning who knows what but if my late night sale allowed her to end her very long day of hard work with some money in her pocket, then I am happy.

Sweet Potato Lady
Sweet Potato Lady

If I ever think I am having a hard day, I will look at my new screensaver on my fancy way-too-smart phone and I will smile at my dear sweet potato lady.  God bless her.

p.s.  Thom ate the sweet potato and pronounced it DELICIOUS!  I swear he can and will eat anything.  🙂