Shanghai Farewell Tour-Designing Clothes and Shoes Oh My!

When in China, right?  I had been here a whole year and never gotten custom tailored clothes but with less than 10 days left for me here, I threw caution (and a few hundred RMB) to the wind and decided I would always regret not doing it so off to the South Bund Fabric Market we went!  HOT DAMN AND HOLD ME BACK-It’s time to design some fashion to remember my stay in China!

Patti getting measured for her new coat
Patti getting measured for her new coat
Sizing me up for a French cuff shirt
Sizing me up for a French cuff shirt

Planning ahead with my favorite shirt in tow as a sample, we hit the market after negotiating for yet more jewelry from the street vendors.  10 RMB ($1.50US) for earrings!  Thom made a new friend with the sales lady from Tibet and I got some cool Christmas presents.  The market here is three floors consisting mostly of tailors hawking Chinese dresses, suits, outerwear, dresses, etc. so it can be very overwhelming with aggressive hawkers,  “LADY, YOU NEED A SUIT???”  We had gotten some tailor recommendations from our expat group but, of course, forgot the info so we wandered around.  Before you start selecting fabrics and start to negotiate for “best and final friend price”, decide what you are willing to spend and then let the fun begin.

I originally went to just get a French cuff business shirt and a knock off of my favorite knit shirt from Kenneth Cole.  We got all the way to the third floor before I found a knit vendor and a friendly merchant named May.  She and I picked out fabrics, colors and went over the design to replicate my sample shirt with long sleeves instead of short.  For only 150 RMB, I’ll be getting two knit shirts custom tailored to my specs and designed by me in the colors and fabric I picked out.  I’m thinking these will quickly become my most flattering and favorite shirts-pics to come.

Thrilled to be designing again (back in the day I was a clothing buyer), I asked her to guide me to a vendor to create my cotton French cuff shirt next, knowing she would get guanxi (good will) from this referral.  The next tailor was not so conversant but together we managed to design a special shirt with a different pattern for the inner collar and cuffs to spice up the classic white shirt. Picking out the collar design and the cuff style, we were done and I parted with 120 RMB($20 US) for my shirt that hopefully will fit better than any I can get off the rack at Zara.

I redesigned this dress in dark grey with long sleeves, lower neckline and longer length.
I redesigned this dress in dark grey with long sleeves, lower neckline and longer length.

By then, Patti had gotten the designing fever and decided she just had to join in and started trying on coats with my new tailor friend, May.  Opting for a classic car coat style in brown with a lining to be picked out by May, who by know we trusted explicitly, I started to try on dresses.  I had been a dress buyer a long, long time ago and designed lines myself of dresses so I had a great time picking out fabrics and taking one of their sample dress as a template to lengthen, change the sleeve length, lower the neckline in a dark grey heavy knit fabric.  The fact that I could shimmy my way into their sample size dress at all was a minor miracle.  Can’t wait to see the finished dress!

Thom's getting a new leather coat for Christmas
Thom’s getting a new leather coat for Christmas

Now it was Thom’s turn to get the cool biker leather jacket he has been dreaming of with zipped gusset sleeves and soft leather that was the “good stuff”, which meant more RMB.  While I shopped for dragon cuff links to go with my new shirt, he was measured by two tailors who appreciated that he was one of the few expats able to actually fit into their samples, being the tall thin dude that he is.  Let’s face it, most expats here have drank a few too many steins of beer and are carrying 50+ extra pounds.  Not my fit and trim hubby-he loves fashion and isn’t afraid of some style in his wardrobe.  As you can see by the picture, he also isn’t afraid to make a fashion statement, rocking his Hong Kong shirt in support of the protestors.

Thom will be styling’ in Seattle with his custom made boots and custom tailored leather jacket.  We went for his initial boot fitting last week and the ombre grey side stitched boots with red trim will be done before we head home. Yes, the boot model for his first fitting is pink but the final result will be a work of art, designed from several styles to incorporate an inner zipper, side accent laces (red) with toe stitching in red as well.  We love our shoes and will also fondly remember our adventures in China as we stroll the streets of Seattle sipping our Americano’s from Stumptown.

Thom's custom boot model is pink but the final product will be ombre grey
Thom’s custom boot model is pink but the final product will be ombre grey
Thom is thrilled with the boot he designed
Thom is thrilled with the boot he designed

Shanghai Farewell Tour-Newfound Love for Martini’s

With my best buddy Patti along for the martini tour, we have been sampling Shanghaitini’s as often as possible.  Believe it or not, Patti had NEVER EVER tasted a martini before in her whole entire life.  WHAT???  I am so honored to be able to be the one to initiate this martini virgin into the ways of the tini.

Appletini and Me
Appletini and Me

Of course, first stop was Morton’s who has an incredible Happy Hour with a variety of martini’s with unlimited steak sandwiches too for only 45 RMB.  What a bargain for strong alcohol and bloody meat that won’t kill you.  SCORE!  That being said, don’t ever eat off the menu at Morton’s cause it will cost you a fortune.  Still smarting from that $350 US dinner bill we had this year after I failed to realize just how expensive steak is in China.  Never again, Thom!  I don’t care how good that filet mignon was, it’s not made of gold.

But back to the alcohol….While I used to avoid any drinks with ice and any drinks that even touched ice to cool down the alcohol due to the water toxicity in the ice, I have since gotten over it and embraced cold cocktails in China.  Bring on the margarita’s and martini’s–I am fearless AND stupid now.

Patti enjoying the second martini of her life at Blue Marlin
Patti enjoying the second martini of her life at Blue Marlin

With a cinnamon sugar rim and a nice pour, Patti enjoyed her first sip and that was it.  A martini fan was born.  Though I still drink martini’s too fast vs. sipping wine, I feel a need to mix up my alcohol choices.  A woman doesn’t live by wine alone but, I guess you could.

At the Blue Marlin (where we have been eating free for months due to winning a 2500 RMB gift certificate at the Irish Ball), we decided a martini tasting was in order.  While the rim was only sugar, the taste was still there–sweet and sour and green all over-yum.  Looking forward to tasting more martini’s in Seattle when I return.  I’m betting Patti finds a martini bar in Indiana to continue tasting Appletini’s Midwest Style.


Shanghai Farewell Tour-What The Duck!

After wandering through a hutong by the Forbidden City and stumbling into Beihai Park by accident last year, I have always wanted to go back and experience this beautiful park again. Locals dancing, boats gliding around the lake and singers entertaining the local crowd plus beautiful temples make this an enchanting place.

Ladies in Red dancing for the crowds in Beihai Park
Ladies in Red dancing for the crowds in Beihai Park

Now that we are on the Farewell Tour and enjoying our last visit to Beijing, it became more urgent to make it happen. So on our last day in town and with the heavy pollution clearing and the sun shining, we were able to explore again the most beautiful place in Beijing.

Patti & I hanging on for dear life--no life preservers provided.
Patti & I hanging on for dear life–no life preservers provided.

Going in a new entrance this time, we immediately saw the Duck Boats, still available for rent due to being early in the day. Off we went! Sign a release of liability?  NOPE!!  Instructions on how to steer or safety instructions?  HELL NO!!  Life preservers or any type of flotation device to save our sorry asses if we have an accident?  ARE YOU F&%KING KIDDING?  This is China and, as with anything in China, you are on your own so you better pray you don’t get hurt.

Thom and Larry started us off in charge with Patti and I enjoying the lake views and variety of boats–dragon boats for the many, little wood electric boats, round tulip-like boats and our Duck variety all raced around the lake.  Occasionally we saw a speed boat cutting through the traffic to get across the lake and deliver some important person to their destination.  The more money, the bigger and faster the boat.  In China, it’s all about the status.  I’m not sure what our Duck Boat says about our status but I’m betting no one was very impressed with us.  Since I had just taught a class where the theme was, “Be The Duck!” (as in a duck is calm on the top of the water gliding gracefully while underneath the water (where no one can see) the duck is peddling fast and furiously), it was a foregone conclusion that we had to pick the Duck as our boat of choice.

Needing some exercise, I took over the peddling and steering to take a tour of the lake. Crazy parents let their spoiled kids steer so it was like bumper boats with one family intentionally ramming us with their electric boat while we pedaled like maniacs to avoid them. BAM! Since they were aiming for us, there was no avoiding it so you might as well smile and hold on for your deal life.  Luckily no damage and after lots of laughter on their part, we continued on our journey around the lake. 

After watching the ferries from our apartment window daily and how they turn and slam into the docks, I mimicked their moves as we approached the end of our journey. BAM! I’m such a local now.  The attendant hooked us with his long pole to tether us to the dock and off we went to our next adventure in the park.

Shanghai Farewell Tour-Dancing in Beihai Park

Dancing is part of the fabric of Asian culture.  I love seeing the ladies dancing every night in pretty much any available space on our neighborhood sidewalks.  You go girls!  In the parks, couples glide gracefully around the pavement on weekends showing off their moves.  From Hanoi to Beijing to Shanghai to Ho Chi Minh City, we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the action but never actively participating until this weekend.  FINALLY! Amazing what our impending move back to the U.S. will do to create a sense of urgency.

I felt the draw of the music and, along with my best friend Patti, who is visiting from the US, we jumped right in and joined the couples at Beihai Park in Beijing on a beautiful sunny Saturday. Thom never got the dancing gene so he took videos while Patti and I took a turn around the pavement.  To think that once we danced as children in our garage back in Indiana when we were growing up and now have the opportunity to waltz together around a Beijing park.  HOT DAMN LIFE IS GOOD! 

Despite having a ball, we were obviously the worst ballroom dancers on the pavement.  Practice makes perfect and I’m betting these folks are out weekly if not daily to get their groove on.  We got lots of stares, grins and the universal thumbs up but when we paused, one couple immediately approached us, pantomiming that the gentleman wanted to dance with Patti or I.  OF COURSE KIND SIR!

Smelling of tobacco and light on his feet, he guided me through the classic moves and off we twirled. I couldn’t help but watch his feet constantly so as to try and follow his lead but he firmly took hold of my hand and waist to guide me as well.   As anyone who knows me can attest, I don’t follow well or at all in any situation.  So, it was a miracle that I didn’t maim him as we moved around the park to the music.   Luckily I had on my trusty lightweight TOMS so I was relatively light on my feet and couldn’t hurt him too bad with my clumsiness.  Thom, Patti and Larry cheered us on and took lots of picture and video. 

As I ended our dance and gave him back to his much more talented partner, I gave him a huge thumbs up and thanked him for sharing this experience in Beihai Park, finally fulfilling a desire to dance like the locals.  Next step, jumping in with the ladies who dance nightly on the corner by my apartment.  I hope I can keep with them and that they are as welcoming to let us take part in their lovely dancing ritual.  Video to come–WHAT FUN!

Shanghai Farewell Tour-Great Wall v4.0

Crooked, sloping, uneven, and totally awesome-steps at the Great Wall
Crooked, sloping, uneven, and totally awesome-steps at the Great Wall

Luckily, I had to be in Beijing this week for business, so we made time to visit the Great Wall one last time–my fourth visit.  After a rainy travel day yesterday, today was blue skies, clean air and cool weather–WHAT??? IS THIS BEIJING, REALLY?  Patti and Larry, our visitors, think we are lying about the pollution in China because since they have come, it has been the best weather of the year.  Perfect time to visit China is late September/early October while the trees are still green, the coal heat isn’t being used yet and the fields of corn aren’t being burned yet after the harvest.  There is a this very narrow window of normality that I am sure all citizens rejoice and revel in.  I know we are!

So, we set out at 8 a.m. for the Great Wall with our driver, who saved our lives not once but TWICE when he swerved to avoid the crazy drivers who had missed their exit and then decided to dead stop on the highway to back up.  Thank you driver!  I was sitting in the middle of the back and holding onto Patti for dear life because I had no seat belt.  Safely arriving, the new Great Wall Guest Center was barely busy with all the new shop areas just coming to life.  They sadly are opening a Burger King in the complex-yuck!

Sharing the Great Wall with our friends, Patti & Larry, was awesome.
Sharing the Great Wall with our friends, Patti & Larry, was awesome.

After the lovely climb to the top on the ski lift, we climbed and enjoyed taking lots of pictures, though we can’t possibly take more than our local friends who can pose for what feels like hours when we are waiting to use the same space.  Get on with it, folks!  Snap the photos and move on.  One couple actually dragged the huge wedding dress to the top to take their wedding photos.  Can’t imagine the coordination or how the bride had to probably change into it to keep it clean.  Amazing what you will do for a cool wedding photo!

SO FUN!  Toboggan your way down the mountain!
SO FUN! Toboggan your way down the mountain!

After traipsing up and down the crooked, leaning, worn steps through several gatehouses, we proceeded to the most anticipated part of the trip–tobogganing down the mountain.  I’ve done this twice before and it is FUN!  The crazy local group who had hogged the best spot to take photos was just in front of us.  I warned our group to wait because I just knew they would stop mid-mountain to take a few photos and they surely did just that.  Thom was screaming at them to move on so we wouldn’t plow into them but we had to stop on the slide and wait them out.  A lovely couple from the Netherlands behind us thought me insensitive as I screamed at the top of my lungs, “GO.  DAMN. IT!” several times but I reassured them that I live in China and locals would only understand this type of communication.  Thom decided to let go of the brake and see how they liked to being bumped forward-the ugly NYC cab driver in him oozed out.  FINALLY, with us and the track workers yelling at them to “GO,GO, GO” they went, smiling all the way having held up dozens of people but they got their pictures and that’s all that mattered to them.

After some bargaining for more presents (Patti is getting as good or better than me!), we started on the two hour ride home-I won’t miss Beijing traffic for sure but I will miss the Great Wall.  There is nothing like it and I will always be in awe that I got to experience it not once but four times while I lived in China.  WOW!

Shanghai Farewell Tour-Century Park Day

I have always wanted to cycle around Century Park and HOT DAMN-Saturday was the day! With abnormally blue skies and puffy white clouds (am I really in Shanghai??), we set out with Patti & Larry to make my dream come true. The bicycle built for four with a little canopy was all the rage in and around the park. For only 100 RMB an hour (300 RMB deposit) we climbed aboard with Thom at the wheel. Now, with his driving behavior (he drove a NYC cab for God’s sake), this wasn’t the best decision as within yards of staring out, I was screaming out in fear. DON’T RUN OVER THAT CHILD! While we could all pedal, we found out quickly that only the driver really had control over the steering and the brake-note to self, learn these type of things before you decide who will be the driver.

Bicycling around Century Park
Bicycling around Century Park

Quickly, Thom found out he was all powerful and I had no control. WRONG! The locals were letting their small children drive the carts instead of taking control so it was Thom vs. toddlers fighting for space on the broad lanes around the park and lake and Thom soon found out that the toddlers wanted to own the road.  Cool and sunny, the weather was so perfect to enjoy the water and greenery everywhere if we weren’t so frightened that someone was going to get run over by Thom. The folks had already pitched their tents by mid-day and were ready to have a full day of fun in the relatively clean air. We stopped by the bonsai park where really big ass bonsai’s were laid out to walk through. We killed two bonsai’s at our house so I have healthy respect for these massive ones being able to live outside in the normally murky air.

Just a short cab ride away, after jumping aside while the pesticide truck went by spraying chemicals on plants and pedestrians alike, we had a very western lunch at the Blue Marlin. Ensconced in an outdoor mall with the usual H & M and Starbucks, we enjoyed the lovely weather eating outside and wrapping our hands around big honking hamburgers. Not me, of course, since I get sick easily and had already experienced turbulence early in the day so I just had a liquid lunch and a granola bar. For some reason, screwdrivers don’t make me sick. Lucky me!

Happy workers spraying deadly pesticides on bushes and pedestrians alike
Happy workers spraying deadly pesticides on bushes and pedestrians alike

Then, adequately fueled up, we were off to shop the AP market. We were regulars now and have several shop favorites where the ladies are cheerful and give us local pricing vs. the tourist markups. I was able to bargain like a mule for Patti to obtain the necessary souvenirs for loved ones back home. Larry had the misfortune to trust Thom to bargain for him for an item. When told how much he paid, I laughed and thus was given the challenge to go buy the same thing for less to see if I could. Don’t taunt a mule-it turns ugly quick. I was able to get the same item for half the price Thom got. MULE WINS EVERY TIME. Larry will never forgive Thom or forget he overpaid. Thom told him to cost average and let it go.  Lesson learned, Larry!

Tired with bags full of cool stuff for Christmas presents for our loved ones, we eagerly went home to put our feet up. If only every day could be foot massage day!  Oh, wait, we live in China (at least for another month) and we have a VIP Dragonfly Massage Card with a big balance of RMB to use up before we move home so every day IS massage day.  Hallelujah and bring on the masseuses.

The Shanghai Farewell Tour Begins

This the hardest blog post I have ever written and I’ve been avoiding it for days.  Because, if I don’t write about it, it won’t be true. But it’s time to face the truth and move on.  Last Friday, I found out that we would be leaving China two years earlier than I thought. It was sudden news and unexpected to say the least. While I am lucky to still be employed, I almost feel like a part of me has died. I have so loved this great adventure in China. The unusual, always fascinating world swirling around me daily, as I walk to work and travel with Thom will be ending next month and I am sad.

Big Plus to Repatriate-spending time with Hannah!
Big Plus to Repatriate-spending time with Hannah!

Why didn’t we travel more? Why didn’t I work less? I thought the first year here would be the time to dive deeply into the new job and learn and create and work harder than ever. Then, I could enjoy more of this exotic region the next two years with plans to visit Cambodia, Australia, Thailand, Taiwan, and other parts of China over the many Chinese holidays we are given. Alas, we have really only seen Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai plus Hong Kong. We so enjoyed our visits to Vietnam that I know that other parts of Asia would be equally cool. DAMN. If only….

So, while I am thankful for what I have and the experiences we enjoyed, it is a life lesson to share with all that should be remembered. Enjoy the moment. Live in the day and don’t wait for anything. Yes, you still have to plan for the future but you just never know. So, the next few weeks while we have our friends, Patti and Larry, staying with us from the U.S., we will conduct the Shanghai Farewell Tour and visit new places as well as say good bye to our favorite haunts around China.

This week, I had already scheduled a work trip to Beijing so despite the news, we are still going and I will get to say good bye to the wonderful folks I hired and trained here. I’ll get to take my childhood friend to the Great Wall (my fourth trip) and we will scream all the way down the toboggan there-one of my favorite things to do in China. We will find a panda somewhere to gaze at and maybe even hold for enough RMB—hoping the Shanghai zoo has a few since Patti really, really wants to see one and we’ll enjoy eating out on our gift certificates to various restaurants that we have acquired and, of course, the VIP massage card. Patti is very willing to help us use up the RMB still left on the massage account. Foot massages galore!

So, I will hold back the tears and appreciate everything I have been given. I will look forward to seeing my awesome family more often and spoiling my granddaughter, the beautiful and smart Mia, who is the inspiration for our new online business, Mama and Mia, that we will launch soon with my Hannah creating fashionable headbands that ALL the cool babies will want to wear and personalizing baby quilts from Vietnam and blankets from Uganda—benefitting the women around the world who make them.

Most of all, I will be grateful that I have had a chance to live in a different culture and understand that the world is a big wonderful place that Thom and I will continue to explore from our Seattle base. While one adventure is ending, many more are just beginning! Watch out world-here we come!


Ikea Gone Crazy Shanghai Style

Thom and I have crossed the normal threshold of courage on a totally superficial level–we went shopping at Ikea Shanghai on a Sunday.  HOLY. HELL.  We’ve been before so it wasn’t so shocking to see the wall to wall people using Ikea as their personal living room/bedroom/dining room but it never fails to amuse. Not a lot of buying but lots of socializing going on!

Every bed slept in by noon at Ikea
Every bed slept in by noon at Ikea
Taking a nap at Ikea is very popular and comfy
Taking a nap at Ikea is very popular and comfy

The Ikea staff was very absent, probably hiding in the back and wishing for it all to be over with so they could clean up the debris.  There wasn’t any attempt made to keep it looking presentable–it was all out chaos and they must live it every day but especially on Sundays when families are off work and looking to spend quality time together enjoying the fine furnishings, numerous outlets to charge their electronics and plentiful beds to rest at Ikea.  Every bed was completely destroyed, having been slept in by multiple people by the time we arrived around noon.  One toddler slept amidst the noise with his mother browsing on her smart phone and protecting him so he could get a quality nap. He looked very comfy and peaceful.

I was tempted to join the family who had commandeered a dining set to enjoy their packed picnic-what’s for lunch???  Once we got to the Ikea snack bar, you could immediately tell the most popular item(s) in the store–CHEAP FOOD!  We kept right on motoring with our list at hand-hangers, picture frames, napkins, etc. which you can score at normal Ikea prices not boosted with import taxes.  We packed it all in our Ikea bags and luckily found a taxi right outside–never again we keep telling ourselves but the lure of cheap home furnishings and ample photo opportunities to share always lures us back.

Family time--Enjoying picnic in dining room section at Ikea
Family time–Enjoying picnic in dining room section at Ikea

Zumba-Shanghai Style

So, it took me coming to China to go to my first Zumba class!  NOOOOOOO, I couldn’t go in Seattle where there are Zumba classes on every corner.  I kept making lame excuses and not finding the time to make it happen.  FINALLY, I forced myself to go to the free classes conveniently held in our apartment complex gym on Saturdays, which is one of the few Zumba classes offered in Shanghai. Somehow booty shaking Zumba is not as popular as the meditative Tai Chi classes, which Thom and I will go to on Sunday.

My First Zumba Class!
My First Zumba Class!

Zumba was PACKED with women and children-must be the most popular class they teach.  An over-the-top peppy local with endless energy and smiles led us on a hour journey through Bollywood, swing, Bruno Mars and Latin dance moves.  The crowd consisted of 6 to 60 year olds all able to perform the shakes and shimmies with varying degrees of execution.  I immediately went to the back corner of the room, introducing myself to the other wallflower hiding in the corner.  She was from Finland and it was her first class too.  Together we awkwardly followed the swinging hands, hips and head motions that worked up a sweat.  Luckily nobody cared what we were doing because they were having so much fun.   Some of these women were in tip top shape and could bounce a quarter off their abs while others had enjoyed too many carbs in China like me.  I think the diversity here in this class was probably more pronounced than in the U.S. but who knows since I never got my lazy butt to a Zumba class there.

In general, I felt like I got maybe one of many of the moves “right” but it was a good workout that gave my all over muscles a beating.  I am sure I’ll be feeling it tomorrow.  Of course, it’s “Monday Massage Night” soon so we are going to use our gift certificates that expire soon to get two hours of pampering–oils, hot stones, foot massages, OH MY.  Ahhhhh….

The Shoes are Here, The Shoes are Here!

Red laces and tan leather with wood heels
Red leather accent piece added to the back to "pop" the rear view
Red leather accent piece added to the back to “pop” the rear view
Carved wood soles...a work of art!
Carved wood soles…a work of art!

My handmade shoes finally arrived four weeks after the initial fitting and design and a mid-project fitting of the initial mold.  I was able to take the features of several of the showroom models and design a totally unique lace up, side zip oxford boot in dark tan leather with red laces and red leather back panels and wood soles and heels.  I am in awe of these shoes.  Not only do I love the look but they fit like a dream.  I may never take them off–bury me in these babies!!!  Yan Ye Shoes on Fuxing Road and Mr. Zhao, the manager are the lovely folks responsible for hand crafting these boots for me.  Now, Thom has serious shoe envy so I am sure he will hot foot it over there and design his own soles of heaven soon.  Now excuse me while I take these puppies out for a stroll…


Handmade and one of a kind-designed by ME!
AFTER PICTURE–Handmade and one of a kind-designed by ME!
This is the mold they made for the first fitting.
BEFORE PICTURE-This is the mold they made for the first fitting.