Same Same but Different


Same Same but Different
Same Same but Different

Some weeks, these random ramblings can almost feel profound (well, to me anyway). And then others, well, less so…

Same Same but Different

We’ve been here long enough now for things to start to have settled.  The adrenalin that got us all packed up and moved and settled has died down, and left behind is a kind of dull exhaustion.  Our world is mainly small, yet at 930 last night, after a really great day, we were done for.  Bed and a book. Rock and roll it isn’t! But then I remembered this great phrase that I came across when first travelling across Asia, a very, very long time ago. Same Same but Different.

Yes, my day’s order follows the same pattern as my old life. It’s a case of get up, make a cup of tea, get showered (with the aim of all of the above to be completed before the kids are ‘officially’ awake), get the kids breakfast, get them to school. Breathe… Go to work. Eat lunch. Collect kids from school. Make tea. Do homework. Get kids ready for bed. Put kids to bed. Breathe. Clear up. Prep dinner. Eat dinner. Wash up. Prep for next day. Sit (for a short while). Go to bed. Repeat.

I order my tall Americano from a Starbucks – and as always, they never give me quite enough cold milk.

I buy the majority of my weekly groceries online and they get brought to my door.

The kids life is still terribly unfair as ‘she got one more raisin than me‘ and ‘he had a longer story than me‘.

But somehow everything is different.  And the fact that everything is just that little bit different is exhausting. I think I might kill for a cup of PG Tips made with real, fresh milk – as opposed to my ‘will do’ cup of Liptons with UHT milk.

I knew Ocado was good, but I didn’t really appreciate quite how spoiled we were until now – when I can get tomatoes and avocados delivered (most times), but to get a decent slab of cheddar, I have to get the driver to take me to a large cash and carry type place about 20mins away, and hope that they have some not sold in Britain, British strong cheddar… And chicken? There are frequent and vocal WeChat conversations about PR disasters to do with whether ‘branded’ chicken is really what it claims to be… And how do I know? Really? How do I know what we can trust over here? How much should I be worried? What stand should I take? I’d just like to be able to get some chicken that I can cook that isn’t tough as an old bird..  I’d really like to spend less time thinking about food.

I’d love to be able to walk into a Starbucks, or in fact any coffee shop, and confidently order a drink – without wondering what exactly I’ll get. And how many changes I’ll have to ask for to get it ‘right’.

These are First World Problems – I am well aware of that. And so many could be solved if I had a basic grasp of the language, which I don’t.

So much as it sounds like a rant. It isn’t.  But it is the reason I’m cutting myself (& sometimes even Hubby) a little slack for the general level of exhaustion that has now set in.

So much is essentially the same.  Yet, somehow, it is also just intrinsically different.  And that takes a level of energy to manage.

Ah well, it’s just China

The flip side of Same Same but Different Coin is, ‘Ah well, it’s just China‘.  This is what keeps us smiling when logic has disappeared and we just need to keep moving forward.

Yes, we have filled our our life’s details to register the kids for half term camp – but is there a confirmation email with the salient details pinging it’s way to us? Probably not… ‘Ah well, it’s just…’

And OK, there is a specific lane marked out on the road for bikes and scooters, to make travel just a little, little bit safer for everyone – but, oh look, there are a whole pile of cars just parked in that lane…

It’s fine. In fact, it’s so much more than fine… It’s a great big adventure, on a daily basis, that is stretching us all, in all sorts of unexpected ways… And mostly we laugh.

Questions and Answers

Thoughts this week have been linked to the acceptance, or otherwise, of everything that the above brings up.  I’m not a religious person at all, but I do believe there is weight in the following:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

And now? To bed…

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap
Mind the Gap








Mind the Gap

A simple statement to help the accident prone? Or a big life question – asking us to pay attention to the space between where we are and where we want to be? Or both? And more?

Yes, my ongoing love affair / deep delve into all things Brené, have had me thinking again – and all week has been placing interesting thought pieces into my view, asking me to think about the gap between the reality of the situation in hand, and where I think I want to be. And there have been some pretty big things to consider.

First up, Brené herself, suggesting that ‘minding the gap’ is a daring strategy – asking us to recognise the difference between what we say, and what we do, the difference between the values we say that matter and the values we actually practice.

For me right now, this is challenging on a personal level, wholeheartedly linked to my big question of ‘who am I now?’ I am aiming to ensure that I practice ‘Being Nicki’ – ie true to myself – but this is a real work in progress, so all I can do is try each day, to do things that ring true to that.


My two big revelations this week, as I work through this? The first one is no real surprise at all, but it was interesting to see it come out so clearly in my ‘new’ world – where I really could be whoever I wanted to ‘play’ at being.

I hate huge social events. I feel awkward and nervous and socially inept when I walk into a room filled with people who all seem to know each other. I’m always underdressed and I never have the right accessories. I sit nervously on the sideline of other conversations, wondering how long I have to stay to appear polite. I hang on to any small group that I know, and I anchor myself with a glass of wine, or a plate of food so that I have something to do.

I’ll still go, I’m sure, to these things, sometimes.  The view from the Hotel ballroom balcony was spectacular – even in the rain – and the small group of people that I have connected with were as gracious and friendly as ever, it really is just a case if it’s me, not them.  I just feel uneasy.  Give me a kitchen table, a mug of tea and three or four other people max, and I’m good, really. I can even hold a sensible, interesting conversation, but more than that.. well, it’s a case of not ‘Being Nicki’.

And this links in to Revelation Number 2.  I don’t actually like drinking that much. I’ve spent far too long, drinking far too much over-priced, sub-standard alcohol – to hide, to give myself something to do with my hands, to take the edge of, and out here, well, it just seems silly.  Even pretty rubbish wine is seriously over-inflated, price wise, and it gives me a headache, and I don’t get enough sleep anyway – to deal with the little monsters when they shout the house down in the middle of the night for the toilet – so… I think I’m pretty much stopping drinking. I don’t think I have a serious ‘problem’ that needs to be managed (feel free to disagree…), I’m not trying to make anyone feel awkward about the fact that they like drinking.  I just think I’m going to save my drinking. For a time, and a place, when it’s really good alcohol. With really good company. And then, well… maybe, just maybe, I’ll enjoy a glass or two.  And this decision – this sits very nicely with the ‘Being Nicki’ plan.

And on a professional level? Well, this whole Mind the Gap plan has had me thinking about the difference between strategy (the game plan – what do we want to achieve, how are we going to get there) and culture (less about what we want to achieve, more about who we are). Answering the question of whether a company is ‘walking the talk’ can be hard, and very uncomfortable – but my feeling is that honest conversations here are what can drive real change. Otherwise, the ‘gap’ between practiced values and aspirational values is where both employees and clients can easily get lost.

So – Where are you right now?

A Huff Post article (To anyone who thinks they’re falling behind in life) feels a bit like a flip side of this Mind the Gap thinking.  (Sometimes, where you are right now, is just where you are meant to be.) Read it.  “Most of our unhappiness stems from the belief that our lives should be different… But sometimes the novel is not ready to be written because you haven’t met the inspiration for your main character yet…”

How’s that Having it All going?

Anne-Marie Slaughter became a media sensation when she wrote this article in The Atlantic about how women can’t have it all. Her husband wrote a great follow up article ‘Why I put my wife’s career first‘ which is both engaging and inspiring.  “A female business executive willing to do what it takes to get to the top – go on every trip, meet every client, accept every promotion, even pick up & move to a new location when asked – needs what male CEO’s have always had: a spouse who bears most of the burden at home…”

I have a personal thank you to add in here – to someone who very eloquently explained her frustration with her old corporate world, and it just rang true with me.   Why did she uproot her family and make a major change in her working life set up?  “I was angry at the working world for not allowing me to be a connected mother and powerful business influencer.” I get that feeling.  And I know that this amazing woman is a huge positive influence on everyone who is lucky enough to cross her path. Ho!

And then there is that whole Parenting thing…

And the Parenting Skills Gap.  The over-arching theme of this Guardian article hit me right between the eyes.  We study, we train, we actively go out and ‘learn’ how to be better at work… yet somehow the idea that we might need to ‘learn’ how to be a better parent is too shameful to admit…  I’m up for whatever help I can get.

And a new gap?

Little man has lost a tooth. Yes, the tooth fairy will be visiting him for the first time, before his big sister (huge social no no me thinks) – courtesy of a small scooter incident. And that gap, in his smile, is one that I would really  rather have been able to avoid for a little while longer!

Phew, enough honesty for the week?

Something lovely

Mind the Gap

I love books. Always have. Always will.  I generally prefer books to people (my best friends and hubby will happily attest to this fact).  And I love hunting out beautiful and interesting children’s books to read to the kids.  Well, Oliver Jeffers is, in my opinion, a genius.  Check out his beautiful books and images.

If this was not lovely enough, the Hubby has excelled himself and has bought me a signed, first edition copy of his new book A Child of Books.  I think this is MY book.  I am SO excited about getting my hands on this come Christmas time (yes, I do have to wait that long… agghhhhh)

And finally – Questions…

I have so many going round i my head right now… so I’m going to post some here.  Fancy answering?

Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising

What a difference a week makes.

On the drive back home from the first day at work out here, it struck me that out of the chaos of last week, there was the feeling in me of a Phoenix Rising – a feeling of renewal, that from the ashes something good was being reborn. And so the week has panned out…better than expected…

With a little digging, the Phoenix Rising reference brought up everything from Greek mythology (a long lived bird that is cyclically regenerated, arising from the ashes of its predecessor), to Shakespeare (Henry VIII, Act V, SceneV – “the maiden phoenix, her ashes new create another heir”) & Chinese mythology (the Fenghuang – the Chinese Phoenix – only appears in places that are blessed with the utmost peace, prosperity & happiness)

And so this Phoenix has risen again… To a place of peace and happiness…for now…

– with a new job, in the ‘old’ firm – that I have just loved this week. Part time, people focused, the ‘newbie’ who knows a little of what to expect, but with the scope to just ask questions and work out what’s really needed. I’m not sure I could have designed a better position if I’d really, actively tried… (Thank you boss!)

– with the beginnings of a global women’s network being put in place, of which I get to be a founder member. I have been lucky enough to be ‘gifted’ a group of talented, inspirational females to help support me on my current journey – with the hope that I get to spread the energy and connection here in Shanghai in the not too distant future (and this is said with love and awe at the potential for this –  even with 0230 am weekly discussion calls… to which I say ‘thank you hubby’ for understanding my need to be involved…)

– with the benefit of tech to keep me in touch with my very best friends – who keep dealing with the fact that I keep running away. In the words of The Littlest Hobo “Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down…”

– and with a little exploring with the family, to remind me that that’s exactly why we came here – to see somewhere entirely new and different, and enjoy it.  So we did – we spent yesterday wandering along the Pudong Waterfront, staring over at the (much more crowded) Bund… we looked up at all the tall buildings, and stared in awe at the space age Pearl Tower – seriously, I mean – who ever approved that design? It’s crazy…

And then the comedy parts of the week

So, Saturday night, and Sherpa’s again… a Thai takeaway.  Nothing too unusual there you might think.. Except we get a phone call 20mins after placing the order… There’s a problem… The restaurant has run out of rice… Really? Had no one noticed that they might need any on a Saturday night? And was there nowhere in the vicinity that they could get some more? Really?

Internet Banking… or not.  It’s taken a while. But we now have bank cards. And PIN numbers (no mean feat, I can assure you…) And we have some bills to pay… So Hubby dutifully sits there and enters all sorts of details (and leg measurements) into the Bank’s online payment system… only to be told, at the very end of the payment process, that his daily limit for making payments is… ZERO.  Right then, so, not the most useful Internet Banking system ever.  Off to the branch I go tomorrow…

And Saturday night footy… It’s 10pm, it’s Saturday night… That must mean the chance to watch Southampton play,  at Emirates (round the corner from the old flat)… Can it really be easier to watch the Premier League out here?  Shame they lost but…

Onwards and upwards

Daring Greatly (v2)

Daring Greatly
Shanghai Evening
Daring Greatly
Pearl Tower, Shanghai


Daring greatly

Daring Greatly

I’ve had an odd kind of week, where the ending made a lot more sense than the beginning or the middle.  But I’m back to the thought that I am in the middle of Daring Greatly (yes, Brené Brown, I’m back with you…)

Hubby was away in the land of the pandas for a couple of days, and so for the first time in a long time, I had some time to sit & think – about where I was, what I was doing… and more frighteningly, who I am… And when I started thinking about that, I had no idea at all.  Without work, which has been my full-time focus for as long as I can remember, I suddenly realised that I wasn’t sure who I was – which as a mother of three small children, is actually a pretty terrifying thought.

Cut to hubby’s return and a great Sherpa’s dinner in,  I tried to explain this week’s mid-life crisis / breakdown issue to him (bless him, he did a great job of patiently listening and nodding thoughtfully in most of the right places) and he said something entirely unexpected.  That we wouldn’t be in Shanghai if it wasn’t for me. This suddenly petrified me.  I didn’t know if this was a good thing or not, or if somehow this meant I was ‘to blame’.  But then thankfully he elaborated… (not always guaranteed, from the man of few words…)

Go back 10 years – and we had a short lived, not entirely successful move to Beijing.  Many a wonderful memory created yes (in hindsight) – but all I knew when we left Beijing was that ‘that was it’. Never again. No.  Asia, and China in particular, was just TOO DAMNED HARD. And so that door shut.  We moved to the States, where everyone spoke English (albeit it with far too many zed’s in their words) and I had some idea of what I was attempting to buy in a supermarket.

And then we returned to good old Blighty (sorry, dear Hubby) and found a nice little village to settle down in.  Great for the kids. Commute really not too bad. Great pubs (some of the very finest!) But then the itchy feet started itching again…

We had both worked (very) hard for as long as we could remember, but I can be honest and say that I had lost a lot of the love and excitement about my day to day work.  There were moments, immense ones, of joy and genuine pride, but… There had been a growing feeling of me desperately wanting ‘something else’ – I just had no idea what that something else was.

And so, at the beginning of the year, courtesy of an intriguing article in The Guardian, I decided to investigate what the something else could be and decided I needed some support – hello my very own Wonder Woman.  A few things clicked into place, from my day to day work and random thoughts I’d been having over the years, and I decided to start retraining as a Co-Active Coach.  Bingo. Lightbulb moments a plenty. Bags of enthusiasm. A genuine feeling of excitement again, as to what might be… But the one thing I knew was that… not China. Never China.

Itchy feet had been troubling the Hubby too, and so conversations had been had at work about what other possibilities might exist for one, or other of us – somewhere else.

My boss had said Shanghai. I had said no.  Other people had said Shanghai – China’s the place to be – and I had said no.

But then one day, after a conversation with my Wonder Woman, or after a reading a chapter from Brené Brown, my no suddenly changed to a ‘well, why not?’

But the funny thing was, I didn’t even remember this turn of events. Hubby really did point it out to me last night.  And then the past week of mid-life crisis / breakdown all came together.

When I worked through what I wanted in my life, when I really sat down and thought about it – I wanted adventure. I wanted fun.  I wanted to put my family first – and I wanted them to be proud of me and what I did.  I wanted to be courageous.  I wanted to develop perseverance and never to think that I had to give up the dream (whatever that dream might be).  I wanted freedom, flexibility and to make positive choices about how I spent my time.  And I wanted to feel grateful and joyful for the life I had created.

And so, this is what Shanghai is to me. It is offering me the chance to try and be & do all of the above. I have no idea what will happen, or how it will turn out.  But I dared greatly 10 years ago – and things turned out ok in the long run. And I am Daring Greatly again now – and I’ll find out who I am along the way. And I think that’s ok.

(& then Hubby nodded and said – shall we just go to sleep now?)

Can I just talk about Dr. Seuss?

Daring greatly

So the kids school has a great library – and I can take books out (hurrah!) And I’m a HUGE fan of Dr. Seuss. But had never read this book. But seriously… The Lorax is probably the book that has had the biggest immediate effect on my children ever, and I just loved it. Everyone should read it. Everyone…