Monday, March 22, 2010

The Clock Is Ticking...

Tick tock, tick tock...

As we are fast approaching our final days here in Shanghai, there is a bit of "nostalgia" that inevitably sets in as the date(s) of our departure get closer. Just as we knew it would. I always said that I would feel wonderful about having done this...AFTER we get home and everyone is ok. That's as true now as I predicted back then.

This last weekend, we went to Suzhou again. We picked up a few real 100% silk quilts for us and others. We had a great experience at the silk factory the last time we were there and had held off in getting some of their wonderful silk products. So, it was time to collect some things before we head home to the States.

The silk products are just one of many, many items we had considered purchasing before we left China. There are so many things that I will miss having the availability to easily get from here. It took about 2 years for me to figure out what was worth getting here and what wasn't. That was one of the reasons we had waited to get the silk quilts on our last visit. Since then, we have read about other Americans not being able to find 100% silk quilts on their home visits and wished they had gotten more of them. And then you think about things like...if you CAN find some in the States, what are the chances that they are truly 100% silk...directly from a silk factory? And THIS silk from China...offers products you definitely can't find in the silk filled pillows with a packet of [heatable] traditional chinese medicine, TCM, (dried herbs) attached to the bottom of it, which is supposed to be good for ALL kinds of things for the body.

It's stuff like that that we figure we'll get back to the States and wish we gotten more of when we had the chance. Some items, I have, are not worth getting over here, either due to its poor quality or its ample availability in the States. While other items, I only WISH I could purchase or at least get more of while I'm here. However, any family who is contemplating the IMMENSE task of repatriating, can find it hard to justify some of those "additional" expenses. Such as, excess furniture, antiques, and much more.

So, while we have definitely decided to forgo some of the bigger tickets items, there are a few smaller products we are sure to stock up on before we leave. I have always said that the two consistently higher quality products that originate from China are, fabric and tea. While I haven't necessarily "stocked up" in excessive amounts...I have a few extras of those items to take back with me. When I'm back in the States and run out of these things, I will wish I had gotten more. But, you can't take everything back. ;-)

It had taken awhile to get used to how things are done over here. And as our time here is drawing to a close, I have to say, I will miss a few things. Like...

The Markets - It takes an expat a long time to get used to having to go to an individual market for individual products. However, once you're there, you have your pick from a plethora of fantastic items, all in the same shopping category. While the bargaining is always tedious, you can find some really great things and for really cheap prices sometimes. A good day at the markets is always a "high" for any shopper, since it always feels like you ran a marathon and came out the winner. Out of all the different types of markets, I have to say I will miss the fabric market the most. This is a most surprising result from me. For a person who doesn't even sew, it's hard for even me to believe this...but, it's true...I will really miss it. For what it costs to outfit an American home with any kind of fabric, such as curtains, drapes, clothes, coats, tablecloths, scarves, etc., you can buy here for a fraction of the price. And here, you can get anything custom made with the fabric that you buy, including buttons, zippers, lapels, strings, you name it! I have gotten a serious education on the different types - and purposes - of all kinds of fabric. It's been wonderful. I will also miss places like the flower market, the pearl and jewelry markets, and definitely the "copy" market...among others. I will miss roads that are lined up with stalls of all kinds of one particular item, such as books, or even wigs or hair products. It's always fun walking down roads like that over here.

Attractions - I can't emphasize enough how much I will miss places like the Shanghai Flowerport or the Science & Tech museum or the Aquarium or E-Day Town or the Geological Museum. These kid friendly places have been phenomenal sources of entertainment time and time again for ALL of us. They are truly incredible places to go here in Shanghai. The best part about them is how understated they all are. They weren't built to "wow" anyone in the western sense, such as a place like Disneyland where it completely caters to kids and everything they could ever want. These places, however, were built with "attention to detail" in mind. You can go to these places and see something new every time you visit. They are truly amazing and I will miss them very much. I know Allen will miss the high rises and towers around town and we will all miss the incredible architecture we've seen in this city and Beijing.

History - Every day is a history lesson here in China. Whether you travel to different towns or walk around the streets of Shanghai, you are seeing bits and pieces of Chinese history. China is very much about combining the old with the new. You can see very old buildings, with old architecture and old history sitting right next to something brand spankin' new, with brilliant and modern features. I have loved that about living here. People live like they have lived for hundreds and thousands of years, depending on where you are. I have enjoyed talking to chinese people who do things a certain way and can tell you why they do it that their ancestors did for many of the same reasons. Americans are a mesh of so many different cultures and different histories, we continuously concentrate on moving forward, and rarely have the same opportunities to look back. I have loved seeing things like old traditional houses up close and even bigger things like the Great Wall. Wow...the Great Wall of China. You cannot come to China without seeing that at least once, in person. It is truly one of the greatest wonders on Earth.

Eastern thought and philosophy - I have loved talking with so many people about things like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other eastern philosophies. You really begin to realize just how different two cultures can be and why there can be such division on some issues. I would compare the western and eastern philosophy to something like gender differences. We all need each other in order to survive, but MAN, it is hard to understand each other at times. I'm convinced our brains just work differently. And just like the different genders, we understand there is an immense difference between the two...and even why. But, it sure can be hard to reconcile the difference between them and not feel like we are from different planets. But, the basic lesson I've learned about the difference is that not only do we need each other to survive, neither are more right than the other - we are just different.

Growth & Opportunity - I have loved the opportunity to grow, as a person. I have loved the opportunity to see, first hand, how other people live, work and think. I have loved discovering new talents I never knew I had. I think I'm a better mom, wife and person because of it. I feel like I have grown up over here. Who wouldn't with some of the things you inevitably see in a place like this one. There have been many, many growing pains during the course of the last two years...but now I feel I've earned a few of life's stripes and can move forward with that knowledge. I hope I can find and maintain a good balance of the old me and the new me when I return home. I'm also going to miss the opportunities my kids have had to grow as people as well. I'm going to miss the academic opportunities these big International Schools have to offer my kids. I'm going to miss that my oldest son has told me he's going to marry girls from places like Japan and Mexico when he grows up (his last two little girlfriends these last two years). I'm going to miss the opportunity they have had to learn a different culture and language at such a young age. Each of us has grown is so many different and wonderful ways.

New Friends - Ahhhh, how I will miss these women I call friends over here! But, that's not any different from how I always feel when I have to move. The only difference is that these women went through the "expat" experience alongside me. These women were also put through the ringer alongside me. These women have suffered similar consequences as I may have. And these women will also be moving back to their home countries...some with their families [barely] intact and others...not so much. Living over here was a VERY rare opportunity to meet so many unique, wonderful, not to mention, international women. It wasn't something I had expected prior to moving here, but one of the best surprises for me while doing so. I had expected to meet and befriend other Americans. I had envisioned compounds with similar nationalities. I couldn't have been more wrong and I'm so happy for that.

Chinese Culture - I'm going to miss the low level of crime here in China. Returning to the States comes with certain crime of all kinds. It's not like that here. You can safely walk around at night and pass others also enjoying the night skies. I'm going to miss the chinese people's natural affection for children of all types and races. Chinese people LOVE children. Expat children are definitely a favorite over here because of their differences from chinese children...but they really do love ALL children. It's been so nice to witness.

Food - Like any big city, there are food choices here to make any person's mouth water. I have loved the variety of ethnic choices. While I haven't always liked the actual food put before me, I have loved the opportunity to try different things. Although...I still think I would have been ok without being prompted to try boiled and/or cooked blood...or drunken prawns...or dog...or...well, you get the idea.

Copies! - While it may be's the way of life over here. "Regular" stuff just isn't as available as the copied stuff. So, yes, I will miss the $.50 DVD's as well as other copied stuff. It's also kind of a "nostalgia" thing. That's just what people do and buy over here. Expats, across the board, have "put up" with the cheap quality crap you can find on a daily basis. I don't believe there is any other place that I can buy a DVD of a brand new blockbuster movie and watch people get up in the middle of the movie to go to the bathroom, because someone is in the back of a theater somewhere, filming it on their own personal camcorder and selling the copies here in China!!! Or watching a film that switches from english to russian in the middle of it. I watched The Changling and got to the very end, but have no idea how it all turned out because the written epilogue was in French while the entire rest of the film had been in English! Does anyone know if she ever found her son???? And there's nothing like reading a copied book, some current best seller of some sort, and having chunks of the story missing...entire paragraphs sometimes...because it's not a real version of the book! I'm sporting a very exquisite Omega watch that I love. But, I'm afraid it's life span will be short lived as I see all the little "diamonds" pop out in the near future. Ahhhh...China. hahaha Like I said, it'll be a "nostalgia" thing, especially when we get back home.

COFFEE BEAN! - I have said this once and I'll say it again...I will miss Coffee Bean IMMENSELY!! I'm going back to a Coffee Beanless town and I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed having a few of them around for awhile. It's not JUST the coffee and tea. While I think their coffee and tea is, by far, the best in town...this establishment has been my "touchstone" while living in Shanghai. First, it represented something familiar, safe, warm and inviting and going there in the beginning made me feel good for those reasons. Then, it became the place I took my new friends - and converted them from Starbucks. They are avid Coffee Bean drinkers now and won't go anywhere else unless they really have to. Then, it was my choice for conducting meetings or group gatherings because they have super comfy chairs and - for China - lots of space. During my pregnancy, it was my "fix" and made me feel good to order their tea. They offered sugar free drinks when Starbucks didn't have any such thing. I always appreciated the fact that they didn't "customize" their menu for the chinese market. I could order the exact same thing whether I was in LA or Shanghai. They provided free wi-fi when Starbucks didn't. Like I has been my touchstone while living here and I will miss it very, very much. Like an episode of Cheers...the staff inside my favorite location know my name. I'm not kidding! They know what I will order and they, unlike their other guests, bring me my drink! I'm a VIP and they give me a discount...even though my discount card has expired. I love that place! I know it sounds silly...but when I felt my life was in "upheaval" mode...I could always depend on Coffee Bean to make me feel just a little bit better.

Domestic Help - Ok...EVERY expat (I'm almost positive) will tell you how much they will miss their domestic help when they go back home. I know several expats who have no desrire to return to their home countries while their kids are small just because of that reason. I will amend this for myself. I will miss the domestic help I CURRENTLY have in place. Finding the RIGHT person for the job makes all the difference. We are on our second driver and he has single handedly decreased my stress levels by exorbitant amounts! He has been another touchstone in my life here in Shanghai and I will miss him and his zen like attitude when we go back for good. We are also on our second ayi. This ayi can speak english and the difference it has made in my life has been tremendous! Our other one was older, more set in her ways. She didn't get in my way and I tried hard not to get in hers. This one, however, can help with the house, child care and cooking so much more easily since I can yell out instructions to her from another room, if need be. Now I understand the dependency some expats feel toward their ayis. I will REALLY miss having ours around when we get back home, ESPECIALLY since Allen's new job will take him away as well. :-(

Medical Care - This one comes as a surprise. Trust me. But, yes, I will miss the EXTREME level of personalized attention we have gotten these last two years. Ryan practically has his very own doctor. We have been seeing the same doctor we've seen since he first had an attack from that Shanghai cough he gets. His doctor encourages us to call him 24 hours a day and insists we call him to ask questions even if it's in the middle of the night. Uh...WOW! His office staff and nurses are willing to watch the boys for us if we need to run some errands while Ryan waits for a nebulizer treatment. Uh...WOW! Both boys get LOADED with candy and toys every time they walk into the office. Every time! Not that I like that all of the time...but one time the boys EACH walked out with a remote control helicopter!! Uh...WOW!! And the LEVEL of care has been consistent and something we have been able to rely on these past two years. Our hospital experience during Jaiden's birth was a positive one too...outside of the epidural, of course. Really nice, in fact. I had one of the best OBGYN's I've ever had while living here. I have also been treated by a WONDERFUL acupuncturist. So, all in all, we have had a really good experience with healthcare here in Shanghai...for general ailments or concerns. It could have been so much worse...

Are there things I won't miss here in China?? You betcha. The list goes on and on...but I think I've spent a lot of my time blogging about those things already. The end is near, so it's moot in my life at this point. The movers come soon and then I will be my friend's roommate for six weeks. I will try and make it as fun as possible - with 3 kids. Ha! Again, it's another opportunity for all of us to try and have some fun together before we leave.

So...what are those items I will NOT be purchasing before I leave? Furniture. While it looks cool and different, a lot of the furniture is very stiff and hard (it's a chinese thing). That...and the quality is always a little "mama huhu" (chinese for, so-so). And who wants a ton of chinese looking furniture in their western house? While it would have been fun to get a few accent was just too hard to justify the expense at this point. I would also have loved to have outfitted my house back home with curtains from the fabric market over here. But, as I don't have any measurements for the window sizes, I can't really do that. That is definitely a missed opportunity. I wanted to get some really cool statues for our yard back home. But again, expense and in this case, time, kind of outweighs everything else right now. I wished I knew more about TCM so that I could take some herbs back with me. But, it's an extensive education and I never really enrolled in a course. I wish I had some time and resource to get some more tailored made outfits for myself and Allen. But, again, the quality is always a little I'm not really sure it would have been worth it. Some of the stalls around town have some pretty cool crafts for kids, from both Korea and Japan. While I would have loved to stock up on that kind of stuff...again, I'm just not sure it's worth it at this point.

So, what AM I taking back with me? Some personal souvenirs, fabrics, accessories, etc. I wanted to take a tablecloth or two back with me, but I have no idea what kind of table we will be purchasing once we get I guess it's not really a good idea. Too I do SO love a reason to visit the fabric markets. ;-)

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