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1 Year In China

At this time last year I was on a plane, flying somewhere over the Pacific, completely exhausted from weeks of packing and organizing and purging, and completely thrilled for and terrified of the great unknown that lay ahead.

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This picture still gives me so many feels

365 days ago, our little family arrived in China.

It’s so hard for me to believe!

It’s probably been one of the fastest years of my life, but it’s been nothing short of a roller coaster.

I have a running route that actually runs right past the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived here in Shanghai, and every time I pass by it I can’t help but reflect back on how much has changed, how much I’ve changed. And just how shell-shocked I was then.

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Managing jet lag on our first night in Shanghai

I mean, I felt totally unraveled.

I was so disoriented. By the 16 hour time change. And the endless sea of ginormous skyscrapers. And the elevated labyrinth of freeways. And the sprawling metropolis of unknown streets. And the language. And the food. And trying to house-hunt through it all.

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And the fact that I was going to have to raise a three year old and a 9 month old here. In the smog. How would I find a doctor if they got sick? Where was I suppose to grocery shop? Where could I find Goldfish crackers? Do they even have Goldfish crackers here?

For the first week I was scared to leave the hotel room. It literally gave me palpitations.

I really struggled the first…okay I’m going to be honest…six months of living here. I didn’t like much about it. I felt like an idiot most of the time, despite the fact that I’d minored in Mandarin in college. Taking taxis and the subway was so laborious with two small kids that I never wanted to go out. I hated attempting to grocery shop. Our kids were always sick. The sky was always brown (the atmosphere should never look brown). I missed my friends. I missed quiet. And I felt pathetic for having all of these feelings, because everyone else seemed to love it here and see it all as one big fantastic adventure.

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Riding in cars without car seats is like attempting to wrangle wild, rabid animals…

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Outside play requiring face masks was a whole new thing

It wasn’t all bad and there were of course things I enjoyed about life in China, but I never really felt settled. I never really saw this as home. I would have felt totally satisfied if we bounced after a year. Or less.

After six months here, summer arrived and we went back stateside. For two whole months. And it was glorious. Tom was only able to stay a couple weeks due to work, but the time spent with family was so incredible, as were fresh air, blue skies, clean lakes, backyards, visits with friends, and driving my old Jeep (complete with car seats). It recharged me, but deep down I was really dreading having to go back to China; on the plane ride back, I didn’t feel like I was going back home, I felt like I was leaving it.

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Family

But then my husband did something amazing while we were gone; he bought us electric scooters, and my entire world changed.

I soon realized that what I’d been needing in China was freedom, the kind of freedom that only a personal vehicle can provide.

Not only that, but I needed life to be easier. China-life pre-summer had been defined by the staggering number of challenges and difficulties we were all experiencing as we were navigating our new life in a new culture. The scooter was the first step toward making daily life less complicated.

I needed to be able to get around on my own terms, not at the whim of a metro schedule requiring two transfers and a mile long hike to the next station, or while hoping and praying for an open taxi during rush hour traffic while trying to keep a rein on two children.

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How we grocery shop now, lol

That fact that I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without having to wait on taxis, without hoping and praying my Uber app worked, without needing my Chinese language skills to be on point for the cab driver, or without having to ride underground in a tube that smells like rotten cheese for 30 minutes was the tipping point for me.

It’s what helped me to fall in love with Shanghai. As has finally figuring out online shopping (thank you Taobao, thank you Amazon China, thank you Sherpas, thank you City Shop online).

Because while I still have days when this place has me raging, I’m actually pretty smitten with it. It’s my home now. It’s my city. Time and experience has rendered life here much easier. I love exploring Shanghai now, whether by scooter, running or road biking.

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I’ve fallen for it’s charm.

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It’s taken a year, but we’ve found a happy groove here for the most part. Cruz is in a great international school that he’s adapting to and enjoying (despite some separation anxiety).

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Cruz’s school Christmas Program

Work has been insanely busy but going really well for Tom. I’ve established a routine and am able to pursue things I enjoy here. We’ve traveled a little bit (a few short trips outside of Shanghai and Taiwan) and are planning a few South East Asia trips (Cambodia, Thailand and a ski trip in Japan are on the top of the list).

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The pollution is still the bane of our existence, I must say. Mikki spends most days inside during the winter or else she’s hacking her guts out and is glued to her nebulizer (I contemplated returning to the US for the remainder of the winter because of it). We’ve found that if we keep her in on days when the AQI is over 100 (which is most days) she does fine, and we’re very lucky she’s not prone to stir-craziness like her brother.

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The pollution is real…An AQI of about 250

One year in, I can say that I’ve grown a lot, most notably I’ve learned that I’m capable of adaptation. I’m amazed by how resilient human beings are; things that at first seem so strange, so foreign, so uncomfortable, so gross, will over time become commonplace, unremarkable, mundane and even comfortable (I will never like the smell of stinky tofu, however). I have adapted to things and situations I didn’t think I’d be able to adapt to, and that’s a life skill in and of itself. It’s given me the confidence to know I can withstand hard things. I’m capable of enduring and ultimately embracing, which is even better than just enduring.

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I’ve been fortunate to make so many wonderful friends here, and I’m already being forced to taste the bitter fruits of expat friendship: having to say “goodbye”. Some of my closest friends will be leaving within the next few months and I’m already feeling heartachy about it.

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We celebrated New Year’s with friends last week and we all shared some of our highs and lows for 2016. Overall it was a good year, a great year, for me personally and our family. We survived a move to China. Mikki took her first steps here. The kids are learning Chinese and I’m somewhat proficient at pretending to speak Chinese. We reconnected with so many old friends and made incredible memories with family. My husband and I have really improved our ability to communicate with each other and be a team, and have managed to stay besties despite having spent over a quarter of the year apart.

We conquered Shanghai Disney.

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We’ve inherited a Chinese grandma, our apo 阿婆,who is now like family to us. I’m so grateful for how much she takes care of us, and it’s been nice having someone to baby me (and slightly annoying at times, which must mean she’s become family, ha!).

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I trained for and completed my first Ironman (and almost died in the process); that was definitely high up on the bucket list.

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Monster launched in China in September, a huge milestone for Tom and a testament to all his hard work.

 

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I bought my first Monster in Shanghai after it launched here in October

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We’ve survived multiple bouts of pink eye, bronchitis, stomach flus and ear infections. I underwent a major surgery to fix my stomach which has plagued me for years.

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Hooray for major abdominal surgery!

We’ve all celebrated birthdays here. And Thanksgiving. And Christmas.

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This is now home.

China has been an amazing opportunity for us, and I’m doing my best to just soak it all in before it’s over. If I could have given myself a bit of advice 365 days ago, it would have been, “Be patient. Enjoy. You will adjust.” 2016 was a year of living outside of the Comfort Zone; it forced a lot of growth on me, and I think I’m better for it.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is a good one, for you and your family as well 🙂

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36 thoughts on “1 Year In China

  1. You amaze me. I think of you and your family often, great to hear about your highs and lows.. love the part of how you and Tom are stronger.. I sometimes wish we didn’t live next to family so we would have to rely on each other more.. keep posting makes my mundane trip to the grocery store more fun.. haha

    Rebekah

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    • that’s been one blessing of living away since we got married, we’ve definitely had to come together as our own little family unit! But I sure miss our immediate and extended family, I’m a bit envious of you to be honest! I miss you so much lady, hope all is well, we need to catch up! I can’t wait to hear about your family!

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    • Aw thanks Mama K! We love and miss you guys! Spring and fall are beautiful here (June-August are really hot and humid, December-March it’s cold and rainy and the pollution is really high). So basically April and May and September-November are gorgeous 🙂 We would LOVE to have you visit, bring my parents along too k? haha!

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  2. I love reading your blog and about your adventures in China! You are a strong and amazing person, Kelly! BTW, You’ll have to talk to James about Cambodia before going there. That’s where he served his mission. He will be so jealous to hear you guys are going to be going there!

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    • We’re definitely going to pick his brain, what an awesome place to have served! I’ve actually never met anyone who served there. Thanks Brit! ❤

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  3. Great blog. Your honesty is refreshing. A new adventure is not always fun or easy. I felt like I was being stretched when we first moved. When you mentioned not wanting to leave your hotel room for the first week and the heart palpitations, I could relate. And my husband also seemed to be so at home.

    The stretching was not fun at all, but worth it in the end. ♡♡♡♡

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  4. Love this! You guys are brave and im proud of you for taking an amazing leap of faith into the unknown! Thanks for the fun update.

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  5. An AMAZING Journey you and your family are on – Thank you for sharing your well done story and Congrats on making the adjustment ‘work’ !! Sorry we missed you on the mainland, will be looking forward to seeing you here in on the big island Hawaii this fall (which is a teeensy paradise adjustment compared to Yours, lol) for The Mother of all Iron man events in the world right here 🙂

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    • Haha so true, I won’t have any problem adjusting to sun, blue skies and gorgeous beaches! Thanks for reading! Can’t wait to see you guys, it’s going to be a blast!!!

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    • It was hard to just choose a few photos! Next time we’re in the states I’m really hoping to make it back down to UT for a reunion!

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