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…