Tag Archives: personal growth

Seven years!

1 Nov

Seven years ago today I arrived in China for the first time.  The date is forever fixed in my memory as I took off on Halloween and the flight attendants were all wearing Halloween costumes on the plane.  I landed the next day at Terminal 1 at Pudong Airport (terminal 2 did not exist yet) and looked for nearly twenty minutes before I found the representative of the English language training school who had been sent to pick me up.  We got on a bus and headed into the wilds of Shanghai.

I was scared and excited, spoke no Chinese, but figured I could do anything for a month if needed because I had booked a round trip ticket (just in case things didn’t work out.)


Seven years.

Shanghai has changed a lot in the last seven years.  Four subway lines have sprouted into 16; two airports with one terminal each have become four total terminals; the high speed train now connects many more places – only five hours to Beijing!  Visas are easier (and harder) to get and the amount of English language signage has increased exponentially.

Prices have gone up – this has not been a stagnant economy.  Lunch prices have close to doubled, rent has increased, plane tickets, clothing, necessities of daily living are all significantly more expensive.  However, more things are available now as well – and if I want to pay I can have an organic smoothie or imported milk or laundry detergent from another country.

I have changed as well.

From my first month on the ground, I put in the time with my Mandarin teachers and textbooks and didn’t really stop until nearly four years later.  I slowly got comfortable speaking in different situations – ordering food, bargaining, daily life, work, on the phone, in presentations until I can now state my case and even argue.  Humor still escapes me most of the time, but that has always been the hardest for me because of the cultural overtones and word play.

As I found my “Chinese voice” I became more aggressive, more likely to speak up for myself – physically louder and more confident.  I managed a cross-cultural team and discovered that to survive in business I could not be a perfectionist or I would go crazy. I visited most all of the skyscrapers (new and old) on the Lujiazui side of the river and consulted with their HR on what the future of their benefit plans could mean.

I am proud to say that I am still friends with at least four individuals I met within the first week or two upon arrival and have watched them get married and/or have kids and/or switch careers.  I have done the same, switching jobs, meeting my husband and continuing to morph in this magical city.

So, upon this seven year “China-versary” I wanted to thank you all for following my ride, for looking into my jumbled view of the world and hope you stay around for whatever comes next.

I promise you won’t be bored.


Resolutions and goals for the year of the snake

27 Jan

One book that I have read over the past year that impacted my life was Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project.”  In that book she talked about the importance of taking charge of your own happiness – not waiting for someone else to come and “make you happy.”  That was my core theme for last year, making sure that I didn’t get complacent and still looked for new ways to define what happiness was to me.

I can't "make" him happy either

I can’t “make” him happy either

It’s a little late to do New Year’s Resolutions by the western calendar- which, as I wrote about last year, are not common in China but since the New Year doesn’t start until February 10th (at least the year of the snake), I am actually early.  Last year I had one public resolution where I resolved to keep Zhongguo Jumble updated throughout 2012.  Thanks to your great support I was able to keep that resolution in fine fashion.

This year I am thinking of things in two contexts.  Resolutions are life changes, they are ways of looking at where you want to be and making changes to turn yourself into that person.  Goals are set events, something you can check off your to do list after you finish everything.  To give a concrete example:  A goal would be to run a marathon (something I’m not interested in), but a resolution would be to run for health or to get into shape (something that will never really end).

So, I thought here I’d share a couple of goals for the year.  I will resolve to continue my blog posting, but here are a couple of things that I have on my mind for the goals aspect.

1) A new haircut – I have been growing my hair out for a couple of years now – I’ve gone through more hair styles here than I did in total in the US.  I don’t know what style I will choose but I think it will be interesting.  Here’s a cut I had three years ago now – my short stint with a perm.

One of my many China hairstyles

One of my many China hairstyles

2) Be picked for another demonstration in my yoga class.  Two weeks ago when I went to a class with a new teacher he picked me to do a demonstration.  I’ve never had any teacher ask me to demonstrate a pose before and it made me feel validated that the nearly 100 classes in the last year have paid off.  Continuous practice (which may also be a resolution) should merit another demonstration opportunity.

My poses continue to get better, practice really helps

My poses continue to get better, practice really helps – this is an old photo, I can now see that my hands are not pressed down flat enough in this downward dog

3) Visit at least two new countries – we already have one trip planned for February (which I will keep under wraps for the moment) and I’d like to add another country to my list before the end of the year.  That seems doable.  Last year we went to Boracay, Philippines and I also had my quick jaunt to Korea – both places new to me.

The hotel on the beach in Boracay - where will the next one be?

The hotel on the beach in Boracay – where will the next one be?

And there are other goals (and resolutions) that I am considering that remain private but as they become reality I will be happy to share them with you.

Did you make any resolutions or set any goals this year that you feel comfortable sharing?  What time of year seems to be the most productive?  I still get that feeling in September, the back to school syndrome but a new year also calls for new plans and ideas.  Do you too?

Another mandarin milestone

24 Jul

The other evening I turned on the air conditioner in my bedroom.  I decreased the temperature by one degree and I increased the wind speed for the perfect sleeping conditions.  Then I really looked at the air conditioner remote control.

I realized that I could read every character that was on it and I understood the meaning.


Red letter day.

I remember when I first learned the character for “on” – 开; then I remember when I learned “off” – 关.  That was during the first four week intensive Chinese course I took in December of 2007.  I don’t remember where the rest of the characters came from – sometime in the last four years they joined the ever lengthening list in my brain.  I only know that when I moved into this apartment nearly four years ago the only button I was sure of was the on/off one.

I have typically had my mandarin milestones in the fall – October time period, but this year it came a bit early.  Maybe some day I will be fluent in Chinese.

Had any milestones with a language lately or do you remember a major milestone in the past?  I really consider Chinese three different languages, listening/speaking, reading and writing.  This was a big step for me in the middle category.

Comparing expat stories

5 Apr

One of the things that I’ve discovered is that even after four and a half years in China there are always others who have had longer or scarier or more real expat experiences.  I know that I am an expat, but I still sometimes struggle with the lifestyle and the isolation that can come with it.  To combat that I have tried to embrace going pretty “local” in terms of what I eat and how I spend my free time and even certain aspects of my working style.  Getting some perspective can be very healthy.

A few weeks ago we went to a dinner party thrown by friends where we met two new couples who have lived the expat lifestyle for quite a while.  One couple was an American born Bangladeshi now with a Shanghainese woman and the other was a woman from Jiangsu who had moved to the states 20 years ago and married an American caucasian man.  Both of them had some stories that had us on the floor at the end of the night.

I firmly believe that successful expats are the ones who can laugh at themselves and see the light side of situations where you really only want to cry.  One of the stories that really made us howl was about one woman’s experience in the hospital in China around 10 years ago.  If you heard the bare details alone not from her, I think that it would have elicited sympathy – but the way she told it, contrasting what is expected in western culture vs. what actually happened made it very funny – because everyone at that table at one point had lived somewhere else.

I too have stories where at the time they were not fun at all, but now, with a few years I can smile.  Comparing stories, shocking the newcomers – it’s all part of the ritual.  Because so many people don’t make it more than a year or two, there is a constant stream of folks who are looking for the best place to shop, the best doctor, the place to find or order clothing or reminders from home.  Along with the funny stories at the dinner we traded gossip about foreign supermarkets and airplane fares and the best times of year to travel to certain places.  I may never meet those folks again, but for that night, we were friends.

The photo at the top of the post is of some of my expat friends in Shanghai three years ago.  As far as I am aware I am the only one in this photo who is still in China (bonus points if you can recognize me).  I know where two of the folks in this picture are now and the other two, I’m not really sure.  Looking at the photo brings back very pleasant memories of experiences together as these were folks that I studied Chinese with right at the very beginning of my stay who did become very close friends.  That day we got together for brunch and conversation and sharing expat stories.

So the cycle continues…

How do you say “downward facing dog” in Chinese?

1 Apr

I have done yoga off and on for maybe five years now.  Prior to the beginning of March I was definitely in the “off” mode for nearly a year.  I had tried classes in my health club and done them for a while but both the facilities and the fact that they tended to be middle-aged women gossiping in Shanghainese while protesting that class was too difficult didn’t help either.  I was focusing on working out with my trainer and doing more cardio/weights instead of the stretching and fluidity that yoga nurtures.   In February though, as part of the constant change in Shanghai, my health club announced that it was closing for three months for renovations.  Great.

The knowledge that I needed some alternative finally spurred me to walk into the yoga studio that I see nearly every day when I walk to work.  Called Y+. it is one of those places that when you enter you automatically feel that you not cool enough and that other people are much more advanced.  By this point though, I wasn’t intimidated – I know that a 5 foot 2 Chinese girl will likely be more flexible than me – and that is ok.  I did a trial class at the end of February and as of March 1st have a 33 class membership.  I’ve already used up 7 classes and am trying to figure out the teachers there, the atmosphere, what type of yoga I want to focus on and push myself.  I can already feel that my hamstrings are less tight and I also think mentally I am more balanced.

When I do yoga I can’t focus on anything else – for those 90 minutes it doesn’t matter what else is going on or how busy I am.  I surrender to my breath, to the poses, feeling myself lengthen or struggle or relax as I move through.  It is the antithesis of living in Shanghai and thus, it provides balance.

I actually don’t know how to say “downward facing dog” in Chinese.  Some of my teachers are Chinese, some are foreign.  Even when the class is in Chinese – “Down Dog!” tends to be barked, the single phrase standing out in the rest of the mandarin jargon.  I’ve taken enough classes that I typically can focus through, but at the beginning it meant that I did a lot of observing the teacher and would be 5-6 beats behind the rest as I convert the Chinese into the correct posture.  Sometimes instead they will use the formal Indian term instead.  No matter – the meaning is clear – “heels down, arms straight, breathe…”

Breathing is good.  Do you do yoga and have you ever done it in another language?

Waiting in line

13 Nov

One of the more orderly lines I've waited in.

I was priveleged to recently play host to a friend from Chicago and her new husband during their honeymoon throughout Asia.   We spent an evening catching up and sharing stories – I suggested one of my favorite Sichuan restaurants (read – spicy!) and we had a lovely evening.  At one point one of them asked me if by now (four years in) I was used to everything here.  I think my immediate response was that much less surprised me now than when I first moved here, but I was continuously finding new things.  Then I mentioned that one thing I still wasn’t used to was waiting in line.

Waiting in line in China is more like a contact sport than the mind numbing process in the US.  You have to continuously protect your personal space and make sure that there is no one who shoves in front of you.  When I go to the supermarket people will be standing behind me, their shopping baskets hitting the back of my knees.  If we go to a movie, the crowd around the ticket window is so close to the to person in front of you that you can feel their breath on the back of your neck.  Waiting to get on the subway a mob will form at the door and if you don’t push a little, you likely won’t get on that train. 

Contemplating further I realized that I tend to structure my day in such a way that I avoid lines.  My apartment is within walking distance – no subway.  I take lunch late – no lines.  If possible, I shop early morning on the weekends – minimal lines, at least not the supercharged, basketing pushing lines.  I suggest that my other half buy the movie tickets.  My coping mechanism is to look for alternatives.

I have gotten more aggressive since I moved here.  I can put on my game face and push to the front.  I have been known to thrown an elbow and I even got into an argument once at the airport when a middle aged gentleman cut through the taxi line.  These are all positive things, kind of.

How do you feel about waiting in line?

Enjoying now

Today is a present

The Mad Woman in the Attic

stories of a serial expat and solo traveller

Marta lives in China

Real life in China

Crazy Chinese Family

My crazy Chinese Family I married into...

Writing Between the Lines

Life From a Writer's POV

A Kick In The Butt

Advice on all things FITNESS by Personal Trainer Ariana Dane

Girl in Florence

A Tuscan Texan immersed in Florentine life: passionate about food & wine | random moments | and travel