Category Archives: Shanghai Baby

Twenty Five Things: this is who I am now

Twenty Five Things

Twenty Five Things, by all accounts was a craze that went round Facebook a few years ago.

Well, for anyone who knows me well, it will be no surprise that I’ve only stumbled across this now. On the popular culture front, I am never quite on the same page as anyone else at the same time.  I stumbled across The West Wing years after it had finished, and I’ve never caught up. Anywhere. On any continent. In any time zone.

I am behind the times wherever I happen to be living, and I’m used to it. It is now one of my defining characteristics. And one of the best things is, that with my goldfish-like memory, I never remember the spoilers that people have discussed with me.

But anyway… I came across this Twenty Five Things thing a couple of weeks ago while reading the awesome, if somewhat uncomfortable and painful, but equally enlightening and inspiring Love Warrior (ok, bad book title, I know… but hang in there – it ends up making sense…)

And I thought I’d quite like to try and write my own Twenty Five Things – of things that I am, things that I believe and things that I’ve come to realise since arriving in Shanghai. So here goes…

Twenty Five Things…

  1. I always suspected it, but it has become very clear that I truly am an introvert. And I am ok with that. But if I don’t have some daily, quiet time to myself, I start to go crazy, I feel like an exhibit in a zoo, being poked and prodded… It can get nasty (sorry all… but 10mins by myself somewhere quiet can usually restore the working balance)
  2. Headspace gives me just the perfect answer to this. I love my 10minutes a day with Andy, and always feel just a little bit sad when I haven’t managed to find the time in my day… I mean, really – 10 minutes? It’s not so much to find, is it? (Hmmm… well, I’m trying)
  3. Conversely – new adventures are more fun when undertaken with other people. Travelling and setting up life on the other side of the world on my own was fun, but could be lonely.  Relocating life with 3 small kids in tow, well, it just gives an entirely new perspective on what’s really important (fish fingers and a big enough space to let off steam – both them and us). Plus, having the opportunity to walk into a fully formed, friendly, supportive ex-pat community – it’s allowed & encouraged me to be more social than ever before.  There is space in my world for my own quiet time (to reflect, to digest) and also for a growing tribe, community and network – after all, it’s people who make this world an amazingly interesting place.
  4. Freedom is a bicycle with a basket up front.  I can get myself wherever I might need to be, getting exercise as I go, and some fresh air – and hey, I can collect stuff along the way! Plus I can talk or sing to myself – which adds to the happiness quotient…
  5. I am a feminist – and I need to start being a little clearer in saying that out loud – both in my words and deeds. It doesn’t need a justification. I believe that everyone, whatever gender, whatever race, whatever sexual orientation, whatever whatever, should be afforded equal rights. I am better than no-one else, and no-one else is better than me. (And comments & behaviour like this are unacceptable. Any and every time.)
  6. Linked to this is a complete love of the United States Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I want a poster, with the words beautifully laid out, printed large and framed for my home. If my eldest can take nothing else from her American birthplace, then I hope she takes this – and takes it fully to heart: the pursuit of happiness is a right.
  7. The M&S Food Hall in Shanghai is a lovely little place to wander aimlessly around – peaceful, calm, and full of English suburban food porn…
  8. I thought I was too young to put my slippers on back home… but you know what? The tiled floors here are just really chilly. So I’ve got me some slippers.  Mahabis in fact. And they’re cool. mahabi
  9. If a yoga class doesn’t almost bring me to tears, it’s only a ‘so-so’ class.  I’m crap at yoga. After years of doing it all over the world, I’ve come to accept I’ll never be any good at yoga at all. But I love it. I swear I come out of the classes taller and stronger.  These feelings are multiplied immeasurably if I’ve been almost brought to tears. It’s a learning, stretching and striving thing.
  10. I knew that I’d never miss the unpredictability and stress of the daily commute – but…I was listening to one of my ‘commuting’ playlists at the weekend, and it made me smile, rather unexpectedly.  I’ve come to realise that the walk to the station on a bright morning, those 25minutes each way on the train, when I had a seat, with some headphones, a great playlist and a great book – it wasn’t too shabby, really…
  11. So now, my (3 days a week) commute is enjoyed in the bubble of a bad soccer-mom style people carrier – but it seems rude to put on headphones and disappear into a playlist, even though it’s not like the driver and I can have many stimulating conversations! But I get to view and experience lots of ‘interesting’ Shanghai style driving, and wonder at the sheer number of residential buildings  – who lives in each place, and what do they do in this sprawling city? And why the blue roofs? And the red? shanghairoofs
  12. It’s also become clear very quickly, that most road traffic rules out here appear to exist ‘for guidance only’ – pedestrians beware.
  13. Cooking and photography – the proper, thought about versions of both – are things that I aspire to being good at when I’m a ‘grown-up’ (with clear hero’s in both fields that I have been inspired by, and very much look up to – you know who you are!) – but for now, I’ve accepted that I have neither the time nor the (head)space to devote to these pursuits – so thank you iPhone and Sherpa’s for saving me, and my family, on a regular basis…
  14. Don’t forget to breathe.  An odd comment maybe… but… There is a section in Love Warrior that talks about the guidance by many to  ‘just breathe’ – and do you know what? I’ve found the need for a reminder to be true. I hold my breath so often. When I’m anxious. When I’m stuck. When I’m trying to think. And it never helps. So now, I try and notice it more. And then… I try to remember to breathe. (And it reminds me of something my mum always used to say before I headed out for the day, or went travelling – her last words to me were often ‘Don’t forget to eat’… I never used to understand that at all… but now, with life and 3 kids and all the rest of it – good advice. That’s what it is.)
  15. And know that out here, the air that you breathe has a daily quality rating – which provides as much general daily conversation opportunities as the weather in general does back in the UK.
  16. Music makes everything feel a little bit better.  Yes, there is a good place and time for quiet, but sometimes… sometimes your life just deserves a good soundtrack.
  17. And sometimes you just need to dance to it… (probably in the privacy of your own home, but… dance, nonetheless)
  18. I could not survive without books to read, and pen & paper to write. I lost myself in books from a very early age and still do. Give me a sunlounger in the shade and a good book, and I’m as happy as can be.  If I can have pen and paper to make notes as I go along – well, you may well lose me for the rest of the day.
  19. I will write a book before I die.  It may not (almost definitely won’t) get published, it may quite possibly never be seen by  anyone other than me, but I will write one.
  20. I love a good motivational quote – guess it’s back to that love of words

    Twenty Five Things
    Damned right, GAP
  21. Ditto Typography. One of my favourite places on my travels was the Wellington Writers Walk – words, on display, in concrete – just a perfect accompaniment to a good waterside stroll. wellingtonwords
  22. My family, and my desire to be a good parent, drives a lot, if not most of my thinking these days.  I’ve begun to understand that it’s not whether I follow ‘this’ parenting style or ‘that’ parenting manual, but more about how I can answer this question: Am I the sort of adult that I would want my children to grow up to be? (The answer is a minute by minute moving feast…)
  23. When embracing China and shopping on Taobao, even when using the English Version for eejits  – start small… Mistakes are less costly when they are based on trying to buy a pack of swim diapers, rather than a television…
  24. When you move in somewhere, change your wifi password from the generic. It’s amazing how many people don’t… Just saying…
  25. When everything feels too much – just remember your friends. 20 years ago, I met the basis of my (small but perfectly formed) gang – with a couple of amazing additions along the way – and for whatever amazing reason, they’ve all stood by me through everything, even all this mid-life crisis, coaching, touchy-feely-talky-honesty stuff that I seem to be suffering from right now. I may be in Shanghai, but I know they’ve got my back. And for that, I am eternally grateful.  And as of Friday, we’ve got a hell of a spare room wasting away…so come on over, we’ve even got our own lift!

 

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.

Revelations

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

IMG_0400

Daring greatly
Shanghai

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…

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.