Chicken or egg? Which am I these days?

Chicken or egg

Is there a definitive answer as to what came first? The chicken or the egg? I’m sure I could Google it (if I was somewhere else…) but right now it is a personal question – about who I am and what I am doing…

I’ve been in Shanghai for 3 weeks, and the ‘real’ world is getting ever closer.  The eldest are at school, the littlest starts at Nursery on Monday and so the time to return to work is almost here. But what am I?

I mostly knew what I was in London. But here? Here, I can be anything I want to be.  The majority of people know none of my back story. Or they know just what I tell them.  But there are a few people here who have known me a long time – so it’s not like I can fabricate a whole history separate to my reality.

But to take on what I now ‘do’, what I actually want to do, what I have been working towards for a while, quietly, in the background, which comes first – the chicken or the egg?

To be a coach, do I just need to say I am a coach, and then get on with the act of coaching? Or do I need to get on with the coaching first – and then claim to be one at some point later down the line when it all feels a bit more credible? And if I go down that line, what do I say in the meantime? When everyone’s first question around here is actually ‘What brought your husband here?’  Because let’s not forget, I am a Trailing, no sorry… Supporting spouse… Grrrr…

So I’ll fudge it. Go with chicken and egg, depending on with whom and where and when I’m having the conversation.  I have tried it out a couple of times… I’m Nicki and I’m a career and life coach… And actually, the responses have been pretty positive. No one has yet laughed at me. No one has asked for the proof, or to see the qualifications or certificates.  But the nervousness of it all, the newness, hangs around me like a cloak of uncertainty.  But I am going to claim my story. Out here in Shanghai, going forward, that’s what I am. I am a career and life coach and I am itching to help you get excited about your life and world again.  Because I am.  I have turned my very comfortable life upside down – and I feel more alive than I have in a long time.  I might not know what I am exactly right now, but I’m excited to find out.

Function over form

I never really thought I cared that much about cars, or what they looked like (which probably isn’t the best admission after all these years) – but it appears that I do really care about car design – now that I really don’t have to.  I am as shallow as everyone else.  Just very specifically about cars right now.  I should be grateful I even have consistent access to a car over here. And I am. I really am. But… It’s a Buick GL8 and it really is a brick on wheels. Yes, I know I have a lot of people to move around the place these days. But… My Ford S-Max used to do it with some level of style. It looked like it had been designed. It looked like someone cared. I was happy getting in and out of the S-Max. But the GL8? It is an Ex-Pat Minibus and it’s lack of style upsets me on a daily basis. I lust after a Lincoln Navigator. And the Ford Edge. And I am fully aware how sad this makes me sound.

Third Culture Kid

I got a newsletter that mentionned a Third Culture Kid and I clicked on the link… And when I read it, I see the future I have created for my kids.  Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Will they hate me? Will the therapy bills be huge?  Who knows… But whatever happens, they won’t be short of a story or two…

Trailing Spouse Syndrome

Quite possibly the worst phrase I have ever had the misfortune of being associated with, and so after 2 weeks here in Shanghai (& it somehow feels longer, but in a good way… mostly) I have decided to rename Trailing Spouse Syndrome as If You Build It They Will Come… my favourite misquote from, quite sadly, one of my favourite films ever.

I have had the pleasure of meeting a whole selection of trailing spouses (upsettingly and somewhat predictably for the balance part of the equation, as yet, none have been male…) but they are not sad, withdrawn, unfulfilled and lacking in direction.  These are vibrant, engaged, energetic women who have arrived in Shanghai, for whatever reason, and where they have found a gap, or a ‘something’ that they wanted but didn’t exist, they have damned well gone out there and built it… And boy am I grateful…

I have eaten well (it’s more than just the social media sausages, there are cracking curries too…), I have found what will hopefully be a great yoga class (to sort out the aches from the scoliosis that my Chinese medical has found that I suffer from…) and I have been welcomed into a house where I officially knew no-one, with the full brood in tow, given wine, food and the time and space for the kids to go crazy – and this is just the beginning. (The best part of this, by far, was when the Dad’s were sent off to the park with the kids to let them run around outside for a while – and us girls got to stay home in the momentary peace and quiet to watch the All Blacks Haka…)

I am amazed and inspired by these women. And not just by what they’ve gone and done. But by the support that they give each other.  It doesn’t appear to be a competition as to who can be better, or best.  It seems to be an honest, supportive network – that likes to see people thrive doing what they love – and then reaping the benefits that come from that.  I’ll eat your sausages, you can come to my spin class.  It seems to work.  From where I am standing right now, on the edge of a new career move, it looks like a rather fine and welcoming place to jump into.  Fingers crossed.

What else have I come across?  Beautiful coffee shops.  Another case of if you build it… Right opposite where we live, as if by magic, a new coffee shop opened on Thursday.  Anywhere with a sign that offers me ‘Library Coffee Life’ has me hooked – add to that a considered, industrial / rustic interior (amazing wood and steelwork),  an artisan flower stall, plus a double height kids soft play… Who told them I was coming?  I will drink my over priced iced coffee there just to ensure that it stays there.

And then there was Maan Coffee – found entirely by accident, after another of our random food shopping trips.  It promised Waffle and Toast. It delivered waffle and toast (a scrumptious ‘plain’ waffle – hot, with crisp edges, dusted in icing sugar – and accompanied, just in case there wasn’t enough sugar already – with maple syrup, jam and whipped cream – with some sugared toast on the side, to dip into our coffee…). But it delivered it in a double height wonderhall of windows and chandeliers, and coloured light housings – just because it could.  I will go here again – even thought its nowhere near anywhere I would ever really need to be – just because it is significantly more beautiful and wonder-inspiring than I could have ever hoped for.  I will pretend to work from here.  I might even actually try and work from there.  Plenty of other people seemed to be trying to…

Trailing Spouse Syndrome
If you build it, they will come
Maan Coffee
Maan Coffee

Trailing Spouse Issues of the Week…

It appears that decent cheese is a luxury item.  I love cheese. Can happily live on it. But it is extortionate out here.  I am curbing my intake.

Probably for the best in the long term, the alcohol and chocolate intake have also dramatically reduced. Although sometimes a stiff drink feels like it has been deserved, I believe that alcohol, combined with the oppressive heat would not lead to an improved family life. I am drinking water. And tea. With UHT milk. Let’s not go there…

We have been so lucky since we got here. We’ve had blue skies mostly every day.  I wake up and open the curtains, and look across some beautiful greenery to an array of skyscrapers and residential areas, and without fail I think “Ah, looks like such a great day to go exploring…” And we get dressed, and gather whatever is needed, and head downstairs, and open the door… And then it hits me… This great, big sweaty wallop of 34 degrees that actually feels like 44 degrees, and I take 2 steps and want to run back indoors.  I walk slowly, oh so slowly, and load the stroller with everything possible so that I don’t actually have to carry anything.  And I squirm when my little man wants to hold my hand, or cling on to me – because he is hot and sweaty and has no idea what to do about it – and I long to be inside.  I dream of Autumn…

And little man starts school tomorrow. Reception here we come…

The Life Leap… Aka the mid life crisis

Shanghai - The Life Leap
Shanghai – The Life Leap

So there we were, nicely settled, great village, good school, sensible commute, decent jobs, when the mid life crisis well and truly struck…

And we decided that what the family really needed, rather than all this cosy / easy stuff, was to take a great old life leap into the unknown. From our quiet, sleepy village (population: 8,000, at a push) to Shanghai, the world’s most populated city (26,000,000 and counting…) – all in the name of adventure, and to shake those itchy feet, that were clearly not yet ready for slippers.
Saying goodbye was harder than expected – and it’s not like we haven’t done it before. But the kids are great levellers, seeing everything as exciting, from the stroller left behind in the boot of our car (thank you Surbiton cars for retrieving) to getting settled in their airplane seats with neck pillows, blankets and an almost endless array of movies to watch.

Arrival meant queues – with a new sport of ex-pat spotting. The newbies, like us, with far too much stuff to lug around. The seasoned returners, more chilled, less stuff, laughing at us and our attempt to be prepared for every eventuality. How exactly can you be prepared for Shanghai?

Car logistics were not working. 2 adults, 3 kids, 10 suitcases do not fit in one minivan! So hubby jumped a cab with some bags, and I drove (was driven) off into the sunset with our lovely driver. I had no money, no idea where I was going, and no sensible means to communicate with said driver… What could go wrong? At least I could genuinely answer the kids pleas of ‘are we there yet?’ with a truthful ‘I have no idea’.

And now we’ve been here a week, and every day presents new opportunities to just go with the flow, and trust that we’ll land ok after yet another leap of faith.

We’ve tackled the grocery store next door (and ended up in A&E – not their fault, honest, and the doctor was by all accounts very nice), the big Carrefour supermarket, the doctors, the bank, the medical examination (yet to find out if I passed or not) and the heat and humidity!

It is hot. And sweaty. The eldest is baffled as to how she feels no cooler in the shade. And the middlest is a visible thermometer… When his whole head turns tomato colored, you know tantrums are on route!

And the littlest – she’s just charming everyone who sees her, and is currently vying for most photographed baby in China. She’s also embracing the varied cuisine the best – loving miso soup (fancy Japanese restaurant has kids soft play area – who’d have thunk it?), pad Thai, and anything else she can get into her mouth. No one is starving, so I feel a small, but daily, level of success!

The big differences from our old life? Where to begin… The smell, Just a pungent, sweet, sweaty smell that reminds me of my travels in my youth when all I had to worry about was me – an immediate hit of ‘wow, we’re all in Asia’ every time we head out. The fact that the schedule has gone out the window… Outdoor light sabre battles at 9pm – why not?

It’s a lot quieter than I expected where we are. Beijing all those years ago nearly blew my head off with the constant noise, but we’re actually in a sleepy part of town, and I do like that. Though we are living in, and surrounded by, high rise after high rise. And a surprising amount of Christmas decorations – including some god awful huge LED down the road from us sporting a very seasonal Merry Christmas message every evening.

Not being able to communicate properly makes me feel rude and embarrassed. Our driver is kind and courteous and has embraced the kids, their stuff, their awful singing and constant whines about traffic and as yet I can’t even say thank you properly. It makes me feel like half a person.  And so I battle on with gestures, and expat websites and apps that provide translations that I don’t understand.

And then I take a breath and remember that I’ve been here a week. And that I should probably ease up on myself a bit. Be gentle and kind to myself, as I would be to others. Shanghai will not be tamed in a week. I doubt Shanghai will ever be tamed by us. But into it we have leapt – and it has allowed for a soft landing.

Expat world is a bubble, with networks and connections everywhere – I’ve met and spoken with more new people in the past week than the past year I’m sure. Ah, you know so and so…, you must be…, let me introduce you to… And so I am now part of a very active, and terribly important WeChat group that focuses on home made sausages – and let me tell you, they’re good. And I have 2 more batches on order…

So, it feels like an oddly small leap so far, in all honesty. But I know it will come. There is school to sort. And then work. And routine. And breakfasts and dinners ongoing. The holiday is going well. Real life will kick in soon..

But I like it. I really do. And so do the kids so far. Even the one with stitches in the back of her head…

Shanghai Baby

So, the posting took a bit of a hit, as a swerve ball came along and bowled us right over… so, jump forward 3 & a bit months, and we’re all in Shanghai baby – almost at the end of week 1, and the hubby is on his way back from A&E with the eldest… always a good sign…

So the plan is, weekly updates from my biggest Lean In yet… This was a huge decision, but one based around Life, and the need for adventure.  Not sure there could have been a bigger change from our village (population: 8,000) to this city (population: 26,000,000) – but hey, why do things by halves.

This is my Life Leap – and I’m going to make the most of it.