What Chinese New Year has taught me about life in Shanghai

life in Shanghai

Life in Shanghai is going pretty well.

We’re almost 6 months in to the adventure / life leap, and we’re all still smiling. That feels like a pretty great achievement.

We’re a few days in to the Chinese New Year holiday and I just keep on learning stuff in this amazing city.

Firstly, I had assumed (& hadn’t really bothered to ask around in any detail) that EVERYTHING would be shut for the 2 – 3 main days of the holidays.  Now that feels like a very long time with three small people to feed and entertain, so I had somewhat gone into disaster planning mode in advance.

Did we have enough supplies in the cupboards and freezer? (Supplies meaning mainly M&S food stuffs – teabags and breaded fish products being key…) Emergency M&S trip completed, and things felt a little better.

Muffins and bread were bought in bulk and the ever disappearing Australian Semi-Skimmed UHT milk that we like (see our hardships here!) had been stock piled.

Craft activities (of which I am no fan – OCD issue – too much mess) and DVD’s had been prepped.

Well, it appears I needn’t have worried.

Starbucks – open.  Carrefour – open (& still filled with FAR too many people with handheld mic’s shouting at me to do god only knows what.) Pizza Hut – open, and surprisingly busy! Though with less pizza options to eat that you might have thought.

Yes, it would appear that shopping options remain open here in just the same way as they do everywhere else I’ve ever called home.  And so far, we haven’t eaten a single one of the M&S fish options.  (But it’s good to know they are there…)

Secondly, everyone loves a child who can say Happy New Year in Chinese.  And if you have three of them, you might well stop pedestrian traffic should they break it out – which they do like to do, in song.  The amount of times I have heard people counting our kids (yi, er, san… 1,2,3…) as we walk anywhere – means that at least I can now count to three reliably.  Small blessings.

Thirdly, the official holiday days were rearranged round these parts a while ago – giving everyone an official 7 day holiday (a Golden Week), but making them work weekends either side of this as normal working days.  It was done to encourage tourism, to get local people to travel around China (& spend money).  It works.

We were going to go up the Oriental Pearl TV Tower today.  We didn’t.

The queues for the (much less space age) Aquarium next door were 4 lines deep and then snaked around the corner of the building. (When we had gone last week, we had just strolled in. And it had still felt pretty chocker inside.)

I have no idea where the lines started or ended for the Pearl Tower, but I know that the surrounding pavements were filled with more Tour Guides waving flags than I had even seen before.  They were mostly China flags.  I’m not sure how helpful they really were to any individual groups, but hey ho…

So, instead, we took the Hubby on the under river Sightseeing Tunnel, and the little people managed to convince him to allow them to go into the neighbouring Submarine Exhibition.  There was no queue here. None.

And the kids loved it. As they did the ferry ride back over from the Bund that we did.

So what did I learn here?

That life in Shanghai, just in itself, is enough for the kids.

In the same way that life back ‘at home‘ was.  We don’t need to constantly play tourist with them.  They’ll come and do what we take them to do, but if the plan changes, they’ll cope. They’ll moan the same amount. They’ll be fine as long as they get fed. And should you find a shopping centre that happens to have a pirate themed soft play, well you’ve hit the jackpot.

I’ve learnt that however big and odd the move out here might have seemed, it’s mostly just a case of same-same but different.

And that’s a good thing.

The Gift of the Rooster


So, it’s almost the Year of the Rooster. And whilst this little bird is known for his punctuality, his arrival, so soon into the calendar new year, has caused a bit of a stop / start for me.

The little people have managed two whole weeks at school, and now have a two week ‘half-term’.  I was just getting back into work, and now I’m on a stop again.

But actually, this little hiatus is pretty welcome.

By all accounts, the Rooster is also known for his ability to exorcise evil spirits.  Now I’m not saying that I need an exorcist but, with all the running about over the Christmas and 2017 New Year break, I didn’t really have much time to sit and plan properly, and work out what really needed to change from last year.  I had a good idea of what I wanted going forward, but I hadn’t had a chance to really flesh it out – either for me personally or work wise.

So I have used these couple of weeks to put some plans and actions into place for what needs to happen next. And you know what? It’s been a great time.

I’ve made some amazing progress with my writing (& bravery) and I’ve had the chance to plan some great Shanghai based adventures with the family during these couple of weeks off.

We’ve seen panda bears – even a baby one, sleeping in a crib not dissimilar to the one littlest still occupies – lions, tigers, giraffes and flamingos. And yes, we probably counted as an exhibit as well. People are wildly keen on trying to take selfies with the little people in.  Me? Not so keen on it, but…

We’ve been on the longest underwater travelator, moving (very slowly) as sharks and rays and schools of silver fish swam overhead at the Aquarium. Fun. And busy. Very busy.

And we took a return trip on the very psychedelic (and not entirely sure why it is quite like it is but, why not?) Shanghai Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (you can see NO sights, just so we’re clear) – which was a real highlight.

And when I asked the littlest one what she was most grateful for at dinner time?

…’dvneture mamma’…” which I’m taking as success on the family front!

So thank you Mr. Rooster.  Lunar New Year is a tradition I’m going to add to my collection of stolen holidays to mark in the calendar.  The gift of thinking and planning time has been much appreciated.

Resting up – not falling over


photo credit: Hernan Sanchez

I’ve lost my voice. So I’m resting up.

It started with a huskier than normal conversation on Saturday afternoon – while accosting a family in our local coffee shop.  (See, I’m so much braver and more social than I ever was before. Shanghai has done this to me…) I had seen the woman at school and recognised her photo from one of the WeChat groups out here – so, in the spirit of being welcoming to another newcomer, I inserted myself into her family conversation and introduced us lot… Within 15 seconds a connection was found (courtesy of hubby’s company branded jacket) – her hubby’s brother used to work for my hubby back in London.  We might be in the biggest city in the world, but it’s a small world after all.

By the time we got home, the Mariela Frostrup huskiness had some added squeaks and by the time I woke up on Sunday morning, I was little more than a whisper…

The world is clearly sending me a message. Or, in fact, a couple of messages.

Be Quieter

The little people have taken on, mostly with good grace, all that we have thrown at them in the past 6 months.  The move across the world. The lack of CBeebies. The lack of decent fish fingers (though they are voicing concern that they may in fact starve when M&S finally leaves Shanghai).  And then there are my daily questions.

I’m a big fan of The School of Life back in London Village.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, I love their boxes of questions – including this new Family version which I asked Santa for at Christmas (good lad, he duly obliged!)

So, as they finish up their dinner each night, we pull a question or two from the pack and see what everyone’s answers are… And do you know what, 5 & 6 year olds can have more interesting answers than you might give them credit for. (Littlest Pickle is usually a little quieter… but I know she’s storing up her opinions… God help us all.)

When asked if they would have rather been only children, they decided that whilst having no one to fight with would be a good thing, they would also have no one else their age to talk and play with, and so on balance… there was a benefit to having siblings.  So much so that, could they please have 3 or 4 more – to spread the love / fun / fighting…? (Um, NO.)

And then the question was: “What habit of your parents will you definitely avoid when you are older?”

And the answer?


They will not shout at their children when they are older. (I will remind them of this!)

Of all the things they could have said, that one struck home.  Yes, much like my mother before me (and much as too I swore that I WOULD NOT SHOUT)  I am a shouter.  And with three stories to the house, that’s a lot of shouting.

But today, there is to be no shouting. I must be quieter. I am quieter – with no option. There is karma here, I know it.

I know that shouting does not work. I know that it just makes them shout back. Louder. It just makes me feel like I am trying to communicate with a brick wall.

I have been trying not to shout for a long time. So, here it is. My enforced period of not shouting.  Can I do something with this? Can I make it work to my advantage? Can I learn something new? I hope so, I really do.

And if nothing else, my fitness levels should improve, as there are a lot of stairs between the kitchen and their bedrooms at the top of the house!

Acceptance – I am resting

I hate being ill.  As far as I was concerned, I don’t DO ill.

It’s tied in to the whole perfectionism / productivity / guilt thing and so I have mostly always just blustered on. I resist it for as long as humanly possible, self-medicate with cups of tea (& red wine and chocolate – very soothing to a sore throat…) and grumpily wait for whatever it is to pass.

I tried that on Sunday.  I did admit to being a little ‘sub-standard’.  I did stay home and watch Paw Patrol with the kids rather than head out to catch up with a friend. But… Hubby just laughed and asked whether ‘sub-standard’ could just be read as ‘ill’. Nope. No way. Not at all.

Except, maybe…

I’m continuing on my daily Headspace journey and on Saturday I got to choose a new series of meditation practice to focus on. I went for Acceptance.

And the question I got asked this morning to meditate & reflect on? “What are you resisting in the world right now?”

Hmmm… It feels like the universe is talking to me.

What if I was resisting being ill. What if I was just failing to accept that actually, I am ill. Just a little bit. Nothing major. But… what would it feel like to accept that? Rather than just resist it as always?

Well, after a couple of delicious cups of tea, a return to bed for a little work (but more importantly, a snooze) and a seriously tasty toasted English muffin (small treat – HUGE pleasure out here) I can say very happily and honestly, that resting up and accepting that I am ill – and therefore might just need to be a little kinder to myself right now – has been a blooming lovely way to spend a morning.

And maybe, just maybe, this resting up will stop a falling over later.  Which has got to be a good thing.

A Fresh Start – start deciding and start doing

Fresh Start
Photo credit: Nicolas Preito

So, that was the year that was. And this is a Fresh Start. Back in Shanghai after what felt like an amazingly long break back in Europe and today, the sun is shining. It’s a good day.

And it has started with small steps, but good ones. Actions, rather than just thoughts.

I have cycled the small people to school and nursery, and it seems that the cycling helped the skiing legs. And the skiing has helped the cycling. I’m not quite as unfit as I give myself credit for. On the days that I don’t work, this is how we get to school. Decision made.

I actually sat and did Headspace. I have found the small amount of time every day (bar one – hubby’s birthday) since we got back from hols. And today it felt especially good. Something clicked and those 10 minutes really gave me what I wanted – some peace, some quiet, some clear space.

I have done yoga. And yes, it nearly made me cry again, but it stretched my legs and my back and my ability to apply effort SO much. And it would have been so easy for me to wuss out. To think that I could just leave it until after Chinese New Year. To some other day. I could have sat and thought and weighed up the pros and cons of going. But instead I just went – and am all the better for going to it. Monday mornings – I do yoga. Decision made.

What other decisions have I made?

Well, from the wealth of year end / new year posts and blogs that I read (including my ever favourite, Brené Brown) I took on the idea of having a ‘theme’ or ‘intention’ for my year ahead. Rather than a smattering of new year’s resolutions, I would try and come up with something that would help define everything I want to do in the year ahead. And so my theme is ‘start deciding and take action.

With all the changes last year, I ended up doing a lot of thinking. Well, now it’s a fresh start. It’s time to put some of that thinking into action and start doing some stuff, rather than just waxing lyrical about it.

What do I want more of in my life?

I want more laughter.

More real connection with those that matter to me (less WhatsApp short sharp messages, more FaceTime really catching up with people.)

More writing.  More reading.

And more challenges to myself to do the stuff that makes me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable / shit scared – even though I know it’s what I really want (and this mainly focuses on me actually developing my own business as a coach.)

How do I let go of what no longer serves me?

Well, back to my theme.

This is my fresh start. I need to stand up, speak out and be brave.

Fear, judgement and exhaustion no longer serve me. I get to decide what I want to do. And then I get to get on and do it. I’ll say sorry afterwards as needed to all those I upset or offend.

And I’ll go slowly. Because I have no need to rush.

What will make me feel more alive?

Being brave!

Completing my Co-Active coach training.

Writing more & hopefully getting published more – see here for my ‘proud’ moment of 2016.

(My other proud moment was going down the Suisses black run for the first time ever.  In this case, pride did indeed come before a fall – as on 2nd attempt, I wiped out HUGELY – wondering quite where I might stop on the mountain side and hoping that it wouldn’t be in the face of the snow blower. And whether my ski would ever be reunited with me. I was lucky on both counts – but it reminded me that I am, in essence, a novice on skis and should not kid myself otherwise.)

Running the Electric Woman workshops, here in Shanghai,  that I’ve been planning for ages now with the wonderful Nikki and the tribe. (This is going to require LARGE amounts of bravery…)

Have I contributed more than I criticised?

Hmmm. This is a big one. And I need to think on.  But as an idea it really got me.

As I look back on last year, can I claim that I had a positive impact? Did I do more good than I moaned about bad?

The jury is out. But I’m still working on the closure and completion of all that last year offered up. So more on that one to come…

But right now? Right now, it’s a fresh start. And I can certainly try to make sure that at the end of 2017, my response to that one will be resoundingly positive.

Happy new year everyone. Here’s to a great one. x