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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve fallen for it’s charm.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
I trained for and completed my first Ironman (and almost died in the process); that was definitely high up on the bucket list.
Monster launched in China in September, a huge milestone for Tom and a testament to all his hard work.
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.
We’ve all celebrated birthdays here. And Thanksgiving. And Christmas.
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 🙂