Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Farewell to the Trusty Wok

I hope to blog more regularly once we get more settled. It's hard to believe that 7 weeks in- we are not totally settled. The good news is- our shipment finally arrived. After a lovely bought with a head cold, I am off the couch and able to unpack the boxes that have been taunting and beckoning me over the last week. My kitchen is mostly organized, which is wonderful. I have a strange problem though. I have forgotten how to cook with multiple pots, pans and kitchen gadgets.

You see, over the last 6 weeks, I have been cooking with only one wok, one meat cleaver, a cutting board, and a colander. About 2 weeks in to my culinary adventure, something dawned on me. What if I didn't really need all the kitchen gadgets I owned? What if one wok was enough? It's crazy, I know. But really, I am mainly serious about this.

I remember when Phil and I were first looking at apartments here in Shanghai. I thought it was nuts when we would walk into a kitchen and see only two burners and no oven. I still maintain that no oven is nuts, but that's another subject. What if that sense deep within that tells me we are a people of “too much” is really true? With only one wok I found myself inspired by the challenge- creative with my cooking. Now that I am surrounded by all my wonderful kitchen gadgets, the Wusthov knives, the enamel covered cast iron double boiler I have dreamed of cooking endless curries in, the Kitchen Aid mixer that will assist me in the creation of tasty baked treats, the Kitchen Aid food processor, the ice cream maker (seriously), the waffle iron…….You see what I mean?- I find myself overwhelmed and quite frankly uninspired.

I would like to take this opportunity to remember the good times of old, the past culinary adventures of the wok, and perhaps find inspiration in remembering what was…….

The trusty wok......
Eagerly awaiting dinner...are those gouda smothered burgers?
Homemade soup, bread, cheese, and vino.
Not just any pasta...okay maybe it is.
An attempt at making homemade pizza sauce.
Mozzarella, asparagus, mushroom, fresh herbs...yum!

Smoked gouda, red onion, fresh pineapple..... need we say more?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Creature Comfort

We have been living out of our suitcases for 5 weeks now. It has been an interesting challenge awaiting the arrival of our creature comforts from home. While we sold a lot of our stuff before we moved, and didn’t ship any furniture, we did manage to have a sizable shipment coming our way.

When we arrived and moved into our house, we had to figure out what essential items we would need to get by while awaiting our shipment. I figured a wok could cover all major cooking necessities acting as a pot as well as a pan, so we decided to buy one. Beyond that, I figured a cutting board; colander and one serious meat clever would do the rest.

There was one more base I had to cover. For those of you who know me (Jen), you know that I quite enjoy coffee, so it was very important that I find a coffee maker. When I was in the US, I started using a one cup coffee maker known as Senseo. I first fell in love with this machine when I was visiting a home in Amsterdam and had a cup of coffee made from it. I was quite thrilled to find that 6 months later, it became available in the US. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

When we were trying to decide what we would ship, sell, or store, we initially thought we would sell all electronic devices and use the money to purchase the equivalent items here in China. After all, most of them are made here, right? Wrong. Well, most are made here, that’s correct, but to think they are inexpensive is wrong. Upon further research, we found that many of the items we wanted to replace were far too expensive, some being 3 times more than in the US. For example, my beloved Kitchen Aid stand mixer that was a wedding gift valued around $250 USD, purchased here in China, would cost well over $600 USD!

So instead of selling and replacing everything, we decided that we would purchase a converter (and not the tiny ones you can buy at target in the travel section, but a serious, 40 lb. converter) that would be used for the computer, Phil’s music equipment, and the occasional use of a stand mixer or waffle iron. There were several items I could not bring though. Any items that would be used every day, or items that had heat elements could not be brought, because they would require a much higher wattage than we could accommodate. This meant that I had to leave my Senseo behind. I looked online to try to find one with the right plug and voltage for China, but had no luck.

The first few shopping excursions in China were filled with note taking, getting an idea of the cost for common household items I would need to buy, looking at what was available, and trying to decide what I would purchase. Later in the week I visited a store called Carrefour. Carrefour is a popular French chain that you will find here in Shanghai. It is like a Meijer on steroids. For the foreigner with any hope in finding food they recognize and would actually eat, Carrefour is a welcome presence. This is also where I spotted the first signs that Senseo might exist in this country. Could it be true? Could the bags of Senseo coffee pods on the shelf be an indicator of a coffee maker close by? I quickly raced over to the small appliance section, and lo and behold, there it was- in all of its splendor and coffee making glory. Oh Senseo. I know you’re thinking “this girl is nuts.” Maybe I am. But the bliss I felt over finding this coffee maker was profound, and I think, an excellent example of the experience of an expat. Here I am, in this completely foreign country, looking at brands I’ve never seen, foods I wish I didn’t have to, just hoping to see something familiar. And there it was. I had found it. The joy and excitement that came from this find was odd, but I went with it, and bought it at 2 times the cost of one in the US. Now, I have my coffee and some measure of familiarity and comfort. Oh Senseo!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Journal Entries

Our first week in Shanghai was an overwhelming one. Fresh off the plane and battling jet lag, we faced some interesting challenges. Phil was dealing with a lot of chaos at work, expectations from people who could not comprehend the immense challenges of an overseas move, and a nasty bought with the flu. We expected to move into our new home the day after we arrived in Shanghai and take the weekend to move in and get acclimated, but the following morning greeted us with a change of plans. For various reasons, we found out we would not move into our home until the following Monday at the earliest, so we switched gears and took the weekend to focus on getting over jet lag, as well as figuring some things out in the city. The next week brought about some positive movement. We moved into our house, navigated our way through some local stores to purchase household necessities, and Phil started his first official day at the office. On Wednesday of the first week, we got to meet with our relocation representative for one last time. It helped us refresh our knowledge of the city and she also helped me do some shopping. Let me tell you, this was very helpful. One, I had extra hands to help me carry things, but two; we had a driver and vehicle with which to transport the new purchases. Shopping in Shanghai is no small feat. If you do not have a car or driver, simple day to day activities, become very challenging. Even having a car and driver can be challenging in this city with insane traffic jams and few parking spaces. A simple task like going to the grocery store for a few items can take half of the day to accomplish. Here is an idea of the time some “average” activities can take here in Shanghai.

- Picking up a loaf of bread: average round trip time is 1 hour 40 minutes
- Heading to you favorite bookstore for a cappuccino and a 30 minute read: 3 hours
- Going to Carrefour for a serious grocery shopping experience: 3 hours 30 minutes
- Having a driver: priceless

Thursday and Friday of our first week, we had our cultural training. Our trainer was an interesting man. He was originally from Mexico, but had lived in multiple countries, spoke 5 different languages, had a degree in marine biology, and worked in television. He has been living in China for the last 10 years, plans on making China his home, and most importantly, knows what it is like to be an expatriate in this foreign land. Of the many useful and interesting information he shared with us, one of the more amusing and true was an acronym known as T.I.C.

“T.I.C.” stands for “This Is China”. This sense of amusement, bewilderment, outright frustration, and indignation known lovingly as T.I.C., is an inevitable part of life when living in China. As an example, Phil and I were waiting for an elevator one day. We were the only 2 people waiting in this lobby for the elevator when someone walked up, got on the very elevator we were clearly and patiently waiting for, and instead of holding the doors open, she started to push the door close button before we could get on. It’s in that moment that “This Is China” echoes through your mind. Or, there is the ever common experience when you are standing 6 inches from an object in a store, deciding whether you should purchase it, and someone amazingly fits between you and that very object and decides they will purchase it in your honor (well, not really). Again, you think, “This Is China”. Then, there is the call you receive that someone is coming right now to deliver an item you really need, and they show up 4 hours later. I could go on and on and perhaps I will write a future blog with T.I.C moments as a theme, but for now I will stop a possibly endless rant.

All of this to say, China is full of surprises and challenges. Phil and I have faced many of these challenges since we have arrived. I will say though, that we wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. It has been stretching and amazing and we have only been here for 5 weeks. I know the future will hold challenges, but these first few months of an overseas move are full of so many new challenges. One of the biggest things I have learned is to keep a sense of humor and learn to move at the pace of your new country of residence. Sometimes this is easier said than done.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Our House

Now that you have had a general introduction to this blog, I would like to bring you up to speed on our day to day life here in Shanghai. First things first, we should introduce you to our home.

We live in an area of the city called PuDong, on the 56th floor of a compound known as Shimao Riviera Garden. This specific "compound", as they are referred to here, caught our attention because it is spacious and has a nice sized kitchen. The kitchen is a decent size for the states, but it is huge for Shanghai. All of the other places we looked at had very small kitchens, typically no oven, and only 2 burners. You would be hard pressed to function in the typical Shanghai kitchen even if you didn't cook much. So, since I love to cook, and have had grand visions of spending days cooking and learning new and exciting cuisines, there really was no comparison with any of the other places we looked at. Shimao it was.

Shanghai is divided into 2 areas. Puxi (poo-shee) and PuDong, where we live, is divided by the Huangpu (wong poo) river. To give you an idea of how things tend to be named in China, Xi means west and Dong means east. The Chinese often name areas in reference to where they are in relation to a body of water. Thus, Puxi refers to being west of the river and PuDong refers to being east of the river. It isn't the most creative, but it certainly gives you a directional reference.

Puxi is more of the downtown area whereas PuDong is the newer more "rural" area of the city. As of 10 years ago, the entire area consisted of rice paddy's and the occasional apartment complex. When people refer to PuDong as more rural they don't mean the mountains of Tennessee. They just mean not so dirty, polluted, or bloody crowded. Despite the crowds and pollution, Puxi is a more desirable area to live in if you want to be in the middle of all the action and restaurants, with more access to mass transportation. It is also 3 times more expensive to rent in Puxi as a result.

We like PuDong. It is a bit far from the action, but it is noticeably less polluted with more green space. It is easier to bike around without being in constant fear for your life. Plus, Phil's company will be moving to PuDong next year, so it will be a strategic middle point for us to live in.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


We have arrived. Shanghai. A city of 22 million people and more buildings than one could fathom. We have now been in the city for 3 weeks. I still feel like I am in a time warp. Just last week I figured out what day it was without looking at a calendar. This week I can actually guess what time it is with some amount of accuracy. It has been a long journey to this point, and now that we are here, a new phase begins. It is an exciting time and place for us. Phil and I have done a great deal in this city already, and there is so much more to see. We hope this blog will allow you to take part of this journey with us. This will be a place where we share stories about what it is like to live, work, and function in Shanghai- all of the details, some interesting (I hope) and some of it probably even boring. But all of it will be an honest representation of our total experience here in China. Thanks for your interest and patience as I get this set up with pictures and stories.

-Phil and Jen