Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fluffy Puff Marshmallow

The View From Here has certainly changed a bit. Today marks the start of week 24 in this crazy twin pregnancy and I will tell you how my view has changed. I can no longer see my feet, placing socks on them has become a new hurdle in my daily life, and when I can see these two little transportation devices- they are beginning to look a lot like fluffy puff marshmallows. I hesitate making this a gripe session about pregnancy, but honesty is an incredibly important element of journaling; and though this is a public blog, it is also a journal of sorts for me. I will say that I have been blessed in many ways during this pregnancy. I've had no major morning sickness, no complications, no signs of premature labor (as is more common in a twin pregnancy), I can still wear my wedding rings, and I can even zip up knee high boots if I feel so inclined! Though I fear the days of minimal swelling bliss may be coming to an end, I am entering my 7th month of pregnancy with 2 babies growing at an amazing speed and no major issues- so I haven't been doing so poorly.

Okay, so now that I am done with the "I know I have been blessed" element of this post- I am compelled to get on to some real truth telling here.

In the beginning of my pregnancy, my sister-in-law (who is also currently expecting a baby) received a funny little book titled "Pregnancy Sucks". I thought it was cute at best, but part of me wanted to be offended by its implications. I have been raised to believe (and for the most part, rightly so) that pregnancy is a beautiful and wonderful gift that should stand alone on a pedestal without challenge. Those who challenged such thoughts; were in my mind, shallow and short sighted.

I have now come to think that I could write a chapter in previously mentioned cute little book. My chapter would be titled "The Lovely Little Things We All Go Through, but Nobody Tells You About". However, in an effort to respect the tradition of silence (as well as getting into details none of you really care to hear about), I will remain silent on many of the specifics. Let's just say that the next time you speak with a pregnant woman and she seems to be complaining about trivial little things like finger swelling, back pain, shortness of breath, heart burn, or 20 trips to the loo in the middle of the night- she's just giving the dinner table version of her challenges. Be grateful she's not telling you about the rest of the stuff.

Today as I looked down at my puffy little feet in horror- I gave into vanity like never before. I got into bed, lay on my left side with my feet slightly elevated, and said over and over again to my body that it could not swell up on me. As if it should listen!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Tuesday afternoon here in Shanghai. The cold, grey, and rainy weather outside is just a hint of the winter to come. We've had an incredibly mild November and December thus far, but weather reports predict this will all change very soon.

In the meantime, I have been taking advantage of the milder weather and my smaller state. A time is coming very soon when I won't be getting out so much. For now, I am trying to balance resting with getting out and doing things that I won't be able to do once the babies come.

This afternoon is a different story. Normally I wouldn't go out on such a miserable day, but I had to go to the fabric market for the 5th time to try on the same "maternity" jacket that still isn't right.Today, the slightly more modern and English speaking daughter was in her mother's shop. This was the only hope I had of getting the sleeve openings that would fit around Hulk Hogan to get fitted to my arms. In the US this would have cost far less in time, energy, and cash. But alas, there are only 2 stores in this vast city that even carry suitable maternity clothing, and neither have a proper winter coat. So I will return once again on Thursday to see if they finally did what I asked them to do in order to correct it.

Some days I like China more than others. This happens to be one of those days that I don't. But as I sit and write this, my ayi has started cooking some of her delicious food... my disdain is starting to melt away.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Okay, so that stuff I wrote about resting a few weeks ago was well, just stuff I wrote. It's true- I'm not good at resting. But I guess I'm not very good at taking my own advice either. All the intended rest I wrote about focusing on went out the window last week. As Thanksgiving approached and I realized this would be my last big cooking hurrah for a couple of years, I was inspired to go overboard on preparations for the holiday.

But really, this time I am done. I got it out of my system. As I greet this week with a sense of cooking "hangover", I realize that I have to slow down. My body and these babies won't have it any other way. This "multiples" pregnancy is really starting to feel like one.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oh To Be Carrying 2....

I'm neither a good sick person, nor a good patient. Sitting and resting is not something I prefer over daily projects, things-to-do lists, cooking, going out, and the list goes on. I am beginning to realize that I am going to have to change my outlook and lifestyle in a big way. As my belly grows at an alarming rate, I am realizing that my ability to "do" is going to be greatly altered; in fact, it already has been.

I am quite hopeful that bed rest is not in my future, but I am also realizing that my activity and the amount of time I spend resting will greatly influence this. Currently, I am forcing myself to sit on the couch and watch TV...

If my VPN keeps working, I may even get to blog a bit more.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

While I love my friend the VPN- it is not a perfect tool. Frustration with connectivity problems, combined with insane life change has kept me from blogging for close to 4 months. I am up and running here and I make no lofty promises. Picasa web albums doesn't work well with the VPN, so I haven't been able to access my albums. I don't even remember what pictures I posted last.

We were really hopeful that the mainland's Internet blocking would ease up after the big October holiday, but there are no signs that this will happen. So for now, I will make the best out of what I have.

The last several months have been a blur of activity. We moved to the other side of Shanghai, went back to the US, and had family in town for the last two weeks. Oh, then there's the fact that I have made it through the first trimester of my pregnancy. I am currently 16 weeks pregnant with twins! Pretty crazy changes ahead. I have had a relatively easy pregnancy thus far. Aside from the impending mass of belly that I expect to have, all is going well.

Transition seems to be the theme in life for me and Phil. I'm hoping to take the next couple of weeks to enjoy the fall weather, get caught up, and carve out a little sense of grounding.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Catch Up

Wow! Have I mentioned how good it is to be back up and running? While the mainland's controls are getting tighter, I can breathe a sigh of relief for our new found friend the VPN. It's the most worthwhile $60 we've spent in a long time.

I feel a bit like I'm getting back on a bike after not riding one for a long time. (For those of you who despise cheesy parallels- know that good sense has not prevailed and I may take this to a nauseating level.) My writing feels a bit rusty and my thoughts are swerving from one side to the other. I am confident, however, that writing will feel like an old friend again soon.

Phil and I have done so much since I last posted an update with any substance. I could go back and try to recover thoughts or memories of these moments, but I don't think I will do them justice. I've never been very good at writing things simply to write them.

Shortly after we returned home from our trip to the UK (1 week to be precise), Phil's sister Elizabeth and her husband Steve came to stay with us in Shanghai for 1 month. I managed to get over jet lag, put some clean sheets on their bed, and put 2 of our 5 picasa web albums up from our trip before they arrived; but that's about it. I can't believe a month has already gone by, but it has, and they returned home to the States earlier this week.

So now I am playing catch up. I almost have the last of the photos from our trip to Ireland, England, and Scotland on Picasa. I will try to get the next batch from our travels and time with Steve and Elizabeth uploaded by next week. Until then, I will refrain from those stories until there are proper pictures to accompany them.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We're back from our Yellow Mountain adventure and I have a new appreciation for the human body. 20 miles and 5 days later, the remnants of our trip still ache in my calves. I fear we may have scarred Steve and Elizabeth on our latest trip, but I am certain it will remain a bonding moment for all of us.

We are in the last week of Steve and Elizabeth's 1 month stay here in Shanghai. The time has flown by so quickly and we still have much to do and see.

On Monday, we collected our tailor made clothing from the fabric market along with a few other trinkets. Yesterday, we spent some time at the Propaganda Poster Art Museum followed by a stop at one of our favorite local tea shops. Today, we will head to the local market/bazaar for some last minute shopping. Tomorrow we will visit an art community to peer into the lives and works of local artists in Shanghai; and the list goes on.

We are sad to see them go next week, but in the meantime- we will enjoy the time we have together.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We're Back!

It's so good to be back online. The Great Wall has been blocking access to all blogs since our return home from the UK. The usual back and forth that would happen with site blocking seems quite permanent at this point. When I realized that google and Gmail were being blocked last night- it was the last straw. I bit the bullet, paid for the anonymity, and the rest is history. I'm back and I am looking forward to posting again.

The last few months have been very busy. Phil and I spent 15 days in the UK and Ireland visiting friends, traveling the countryside, and relaxing. One week after our return home, Phil's sister and husband came to stay with us for a month. We are 2 1/2 weeks into their China adventure and preparing to go to Yellow Mountain today for a long weekend.

Once we get back, I will post more.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Time seems to be the theme of many of my writings lately. Living in Shanghai presents the average expat with a variety of new hurdles to jump. Coming from a convenience driven culture, into one that thinks the idea of a drive-through restaurant is absurd at best; many of us have learned that the good old days of quick convenience and multi-tasking-feats-of-genius are gone. Here, are the days of whittling away at a once laughable to-do list, and feeling (though shamefully) a sense of accomplishment because we managed to pay a bill, buy a loaf of bread, and make dinner all in one day!

This is my life. I find myself feeling stuck in a bubble of things that are relatively easy and manageable, wondering why I feel such a sense of pressure and loss of time. Poor time management skills is the answer my brain has been trained to resort to. So time management is my focus. I wake up earlier, get to the gym faster, move my class time to fit more in ahead of it, go through the ritual of crossing things off a task list, and strategically plan my trips to the grocery store with maximum impact planning and shopping. In spite of my greatest efforts at productivity, I am still grappling with an immense sense of "to-do overload".

After speaking with a friend today, I had a realization. As we were discussing the unique experience of an expat living abroad in any country for any length of time; she said "there is always an undercurrent of tension while living here, we just grow numb to it". The day to day insanities of living in Shanghai bother us less, not because we are completely accustomed to them; but because we have to learn to live with them in order to thrive. It occurred to me a short while after our conversation just how much this coping mechanism plays into my life and current challenges.

When I see a baby in her mom's arms on the front of a bicycle being driven by another during rush hour traffic, I don't think it's OK- it just is. When I see an 8 year old girl begging in the street, I know that she was likely abducted from her rural village and brought into the city to make money; so I don't give her any. If I did, it would only go to her captors. I tell myself that's just the way it is. When I hear stories of expat men leaving their families after years of marriage, to then move in with their Chinese girlfriend 20 years their junior, I am bothered...but that's just the way some people are. When I see brothels on virtually every street around my complex, I try to recognize these girls as victims. In my home country, I could do something to shut a brothel down, but here I cannot... and that's just the way it is.

Some days I just stay in my home so I can breathe and have space from what I call the insanity of this bustling city. Most expats do.

There are so many brilliant and wonderful things about this city and country, and I try to focus on those. But the fact is, it can be easy to lose sight of all of the wonderful in the midst of all of the tragic; and so we grow numb, fatigued and even irritable at times. For now, I will continue to do my best to live and thrive within the tension of my own Western expectations and the realities of the foreign land in which I live.

After all, I have bills to pay, a language to study, and dinner to make.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's been a while since I've had time to sit in my pajamas, sip wine, listen to music, and work on photos. There is something incredibly indulgent and care-free about this, and I have to say it is one of my favorite things to do.

That was a few days ago, and I am already into a new week here. The photos of our trip to Fujian province are done, and you can see them if you go to the photo link to the right.

Hope you enjoy!

-Phil and Jen

Friday, April 10, 2009

Peeking Through the Fog

It's Saturday morning here in Shanghai. As the sun attempts to break through the morning fog, I am given a wonderful metaphor for the past week. My house is a mess, dishes are piled in the sink, children's books are strewn on the floor, and the looming To-Do list doesn't look much different from the beginning of the week. The sun is however, beginning to peek through the mess.

After a solid half day of writing, I finished 2 articles and sent them to my editor on time. I also managed, by no small miracle, to get our flights to the UK booked and paid for (I could write an entire blog on what it's like to try to book and pay for airline tickets while living in China, but you might not believe me). So there are 2 major tasks I can check off the To-Do list.

I've started tutoring some children in English 5 days/ week, and I am continuing to study Mandarin with my own tutor daily. Earlier this week, I arrived at the realization that I can't do all of this, run a house, maintain blogs, write for the magazine, exercise, serve in the various groups I serve in, and be a good wife- without some help. Due to the nature of Phil's 13-15 hour days here, we really try not to have anything for him to do on the household front. So...Phil and I have decided we need to hire someone full-time to help me with cooking, cleaning, and grocery errands.

Now, if I could just find the time to do this...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I will try to blog more specifically in the next few days. Without my knowledge, much of the week has slipped away. Phil and I returned home late Monday night from a wonderful 3 day trip through Fujian Province, and I haven't stopped since. While on vacation, we traveled to see the famous Earth Houses of the Hakka people (considered by UNESCO as one of the 8 wonders of the world); hiked; and stayed overnight on a rather European influenced island named Gulangyu.

I am currently trying to work on photos and will be back to blog more specifically in the next week. For now, laundry, bills, house cleaning, Chinese class, English students, and a few articles require my attention.

We hope that wherever you are in the world- you are enjoying Spring (Autumn for our Aussie friends)!

Phil and Jen

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Synapse to Synapse

My brain has gone on strike. I have studied Chinese for the last 4 hours and it will not take in any more information. The characters have taken on a life of their own. Somewhere along the synapse road to my brain there has been a massive pile- up, and the characters that once formed words and sentences have taken on the form of a mangled wreck. I had to take a break from Chinese, so I thought this might be a good time to catch up on some blogging. I can't guarantee that this will be entirely coherent either, but I suppose sharing my incoherent ramblings is also part of the experience of living here in China.

Phil and I are getting ready to go on a short vacation here in China. We will take the long weekend and go to Fujian province where we will see traditional Hakka style houses, drive through the scenic mountains, and visit an island. In all honesty, I don't have a clear picture of what we will be doing, because we decided to join friends on their itinerary at the last minute. I have done just enough research though, to gather that this is an incredibly beautiful, historically rich part of China- and I can't wait!

That's all I have for now. I should post photos of our Fujian trip sometime next week.

-Phil and Jen

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's been a while since I've blogged. In usual fashion, life is busy and I'm finding it difficult to balance and prioritize. School is crazy for me right now. I've been in class for almost 4 weeks and have already learned over 250 characters. My head is spinning and I find it difficult to process coherent thought after sitting and writing characters for hours. If only I had 10 extra hours in the day!

Last weekend we celebrated my birthday with some friends. Phil surprised me with a small intimate event at the house with a few good friends. We had a caterer come to the house and prepare canapes and small bites. Everyone brought a bottle of wine and a favorite cheese to start things off and we spent the rest of the night eating, enjoying each other, and taking in the view of the bund from our 55th floor apartment. It really was a wonderful night. I have posted some photos on our Picasa web album to the right.

For now, we are trying to maintain balance and clarity in our insanely busy lives. We are working hard to carve out time for our marriage and our friendships. Hopefully, we will eventually be able figure out how to fit further explorations into the mix. At the moment- I am just trying to find contentment in the craziness.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's a little after 10 pm on Wednesday March 4th, and my brain has checked out. Giving up all hope that I will think clearly (or see straight) any longer, I have stopped working on my current article about Paris. The deadline is drawing near, and though I see no other opportunity to finish it before then- tonight is certainly not the night.

I won't complain though. As I find little mindless activites to keep me awake- my husband is sitting at his laptop working.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Waiting and Wondering

It’s difficult to find the right words to describe how I feel right now. The waiting, the wondering and doubt swirl around in my mind. Emotions, many contrary to one another, take turns vying for my attention. This myriad of emotions has lain to waste any clear thoughts or ability to concentrate. The result of all of this is tension; immeasurable tension.

The “economic crisis” as so many have coined, is taking an entirely different toll on our community of expatriate workers and families. Our little community of 300,000 (keep in mind this is a city of 22 million) is being sent home in droves. What was once a small trickle of foreigners in and out of Shanghai, has by all appearances, become a mass exodus back to home countries.

Many people have returned to uncertainty in their home countries, while others have chosen the uncertainty of Shanghai. Those who remain here pare down and try to live a more “local” lifestyle.

Now allow me to be frank here. Most of us in this community of expatriates live lives of blissful excess. Many of us enjoy lifestyles far beyond those we lived in our home countries. We live it up, and we do so because we have been given the opportunity from a few different angles. One is from the desire to find comfort in an incredibly uncomfortable place. Pair that desire with many comforts found at a fraction of the cost and... voila! The other comes from the system we were moved into.

The system we were moved into was born, in part, out of necessity. Ten years ago, Shanghai was nowhere near the city it is today. There was an excellent reason, when moving foreigners here, that they would be surrounded by people who could help them communicate, as well as be provided with all of the creature comforts one could afford. The times have changed a bit though. And while newcomers still need much of the assistance translators and a point person for daily dealings can provide, those who have been here for a while could arguably make it on their own.

While jobs back home are being cut on a worrying scale, the expatriate community feels like a group of sitting ducks. Many are thinking of what they will do in a “worst case scenario”, and hopefully most of us are rethinking our lifestyles and the cost of all of this “expat living”.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Plan B

I'm not sure where to begin. The weather is always a notable subject here in Shanghai, so perhaps I will start there. For the first day in a week, the sun is shining down on the city, and I must say it is a very welcomed sight.

Phil is out this morning and I will join him in a few hours with my camera to wander the city and see what photographic delights can be captured. For now I thought I would catch up on some blogging and writing.

Life has been very busy for Phil and me. It seems like we returned home from the States months ago, but we have only been back for two weeks. I started full time mandarin classes two weeks ago. It is great and mind numbing all at the same time. My Chinese is improving and my English is worsening; which leaves me in a state of speaking poorly in both languages. I've never enjoyed walking around in such a mental stupor, but I know this is the initial fruit of such labor.

On another note, the economic state of affairs has the expat community in a constant state of tension- with each family and individual wondering if they will have a job tomorrow. Many people we know and call friends have been sent home. Phil and I are no different from anyone else. We know very well that what is here today may be gone tomorrow. We are just trying to enjoy every day and have a “plan B” in the event that we need one.

So for now, I should get out and wander about...taking in all that the city has to offer.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day

The grey fog of winter has once again rested itself upon the city. It turns out that the beautiful spring-like weather we had been experiencing was a mere tease. Days like these make Phil and I want to curl up, order take-out, and watch a movie. Today is a different day however. Phil and I, both feeling a bit stir-crazy, have this unusual desire to get dressed up and go out for a night on the town. So, considering the fact that it is Valentine's Day (a holiday we would normally never celebrate), we thought it a great excuse to make reservations at one of our favorite Western restaurants. I can already taste the bread and olive oil, the wine, and ooh the mango souffle!

Since I already know what I'm going to eat, I should probably figure out what I am going to wear...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Perhaps I should unpack one of these days...

Life is back in full swing here in Shanghai. I am a bit exhausted, but loving it nonetheless. I started my first week of full-time Mandarin classes and I couldn't be more thrilled. I love it. It's a bit challenging this week because I have had a crazy schedule in combination with jet lag and a no carb diet. I think my teacher wonders if I have a brain at all. I am beginning to wonder the same.

I just returned from a meeting in the center of the city. The weather is amazing and gorgeous! Considering I left the land of frozen tundra a mere five days ago, the 70 degrees we are experiencing here seems all the more miraculous.

Days like today make me want to grab my camera and go wander the streets. I should probably unpack my bags from our home trip before I go and do that though....

Off to do some unpacking.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Back Home

We're back from the US. I enjoyed my trip home. I loved seeing family and friends and spending time with the people we love.

I am really happy to be back in Shanghai though. After 2.5 weeks and 7 different beds, my body and mind needed my bed, my home, and my routines. I wouldn't describe myself as a creature of habit, but living the life of an expatriate and traveling as much as we are blessed to; has certainly brought out more of my "routine prone" side.

Phil and I flew into Shanghai on Sunday afternoon and went right into the swing of things on Monday morning. Phil went into work and has an insanely full schedule. I am starting my full time Mandarin lessons this afternoon (poor teacher gets my jet-lagged brain for a few more days :). It's as if time didn't stop- we just slotted right back into the insanity of our lives here... And I love it!

-Phil and Jen

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Shanghai Resolution

The week has, in usual fashion, flown by. In a little over four days- Phil and I will be boarding a plane and going back to the States for a visit. There has been much to do in preparation, and the list has barely shortened. So before we board our plane on Tuesday, I have a lot more to accomplish.

As I wait for my morning coffee to clear my brain and get me moving, I thought I would take a few of these early morning moments to spend some time writing.

Phil and I have entered a New Year in Shanghai. We’ve celebrated the traditional Western calendar New Year and China is gearing up to celebrate the traditional Lunar calendar New Year next week. As we symbolically welcome in the new; we are also marking the beginning of the final contract year here in Shanghai. If all goes as written in the contract, our assignment in Shanghai will be over in January of 2010. The possibility remains that his contract could be extended, but wisdom and previous experience compels us to approach the year as our final one.

It really is strange to think that we have entered our third year and could be leaving in one year’s time. But as we usher in this New Year, I am compelled more than ever to live Shanghai to the fullest. I don't do New Years resolutions, but I will do a Shanghai-to-do-resolution.

Here are some of our Shanghai To Do's:
-Focus on Mandarin studies (learn at least 300 characters and be conversational within 3 months)
-Focus on Baobei foundation and work to find critically ill orphans surgery and healing homes to recover in.
-Continue to build on friendships with people here in Shanghai.
-Spend time walking the disappearing old neighborhoods before they are gone forever.
-Take more photos.
-Get to Sichuan as a volunteer.
-Travel Asia a ton! (Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Xi'an, Guilin,Huangshan, etc)
-Learn to cook some serious Chinese food.
-Eat at a new restaurant every month.

More to come…

Friday, January 2, 2009

Taking It All In

It seems like most of my posts begin with "we're back from___". I think this trend might paint a boring consistency over our less than boring adventures. But it's true; we are back from our latest adventure in Tibet. We descended from the "rooftop of the world" (approximately 4500 meters above sea level) on New Year's Eve- and haven't really left the comfort of our home or pajama's since.

Our trip to this far corner of the world has proven to be one of my favorite adventures yet. I will admit that the idea of going to a place 4500 meters above sea level in the middle of winter did not really appeal to me at first. In fact, it didn't really appeal to me until our plane landed in Lhasa. As we touched down, I thought to myself "this is a really amazing and rare opportunity- and probably not a trip many foreigners have taken".

As soon as the plane landed, I could feel the heavy pressure of high altitude on my body. I wondered to myself if I was imagining these sensations; but the short and slow walk into the airport left me breathless, and I knew then it was not in my mind alone.

After gathering our luggage we were met by our local tour guide Thun Drup and our driver Pu Pu. As is custom in Tibetan culture- guests are greeted by receiving a white scarf, which is loosely placed around the neck. After this warm welcome; we were escorted to our bus, offered some tea and fruit, then taken to the hotel for a rest and opportunity to acclimatize.

The following 4 days consisted of a trip to Potala Palace; a drive to Kampala high pass at 4750 meters; a tour of Jokhang monastery; a trip to and trek around Ganden monastery at 4500 meters; a tour of a local family home, and general wandering about Lhasa.

While it is difficult to sum up this trip in a few short words, I haven't really begun to process through all that we were privileged to see. So it seems that a few short words are all that I have for now.

In the meantime- enjoy the photos from our recent adventure!

-Phil and Jen

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