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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You shared not just the "event" but your response to what you are experiencing. Thank you, Jen. Your blog really communicates how you are experiencing Shanghai. It communicates much about you. I enjoyed reading these additions to your blog, and hearing your heart. Mom K