90 day trial

I think I know why 90 day trials and 90 return periods are so tried and tested. By 90 days you’re past the rose-tinted glasses stage and more or less settled with your new reality. I’m coming up to the end of my “90 day trial” at the end of this month. Except I don’t have a returns policy. I suppose China could try to return me to New Zealand if I have visa issues or do something outrageous like offend the Great Leader. But I didn’t really have a plan B for if things didn’t pan out well here. I quit my job and rented out my house so I well and truly committed to the move. So how are things post-honeymoon period? I can hand on heart say I still love this city and love my life here. Reading my first posts from 3 months ago make me laugh. First at how dorky I sound but secondly at how excited I am to be here. That excitement, while it’s dimmed a bit, is still there though whenever I emerge from a new metro station, see a new bar, meet someone new from a completely different walk of life to me. It’s the new-ness of experiences I am loving the most.

Three months in with my host family I think I am still yet to be completely at home here. I knew I wouldn’t be at “polishing my toe nails in the lounge” stage whilst living with a host family, but I wasn’t sure just how “at home” I would get to feel here. The language barrier is tricky for sure. I have to admit in the last month I’ve gotten lazy at practicing my Chinese with them and as a result my Chinese speaking progress has waned. Mèimei and I are what I would call frienemies. She can be very sweet when she feels like it but very mean when she’s in a mood. I just roll with whatever mood she’s in. On a good day we play piano, skip with our skipping ropes, do yoga (she’s super flexible like a Chinese acrobat):

Look at the contrast!

…we play UNO (she cheats by choosing her own cards and when I call her up on it she says “no! This is a great idea!”) …

Mèimei and her “great idea” of choosing her own cards.

…and we speak English together. On a bad day she tells me “I don’t like you. Go back to your house in New Zealand. You have a big bum. You are not beautiful.” Not necessarily in that order. I just laugh and say “What else don’t you like? Do you like snakes? Do you like rabbits?” Because hey, at least she’s speaking English right? At the breakfast table this morning she was in a “special mood” again and when I was speaking to my host mum, mèimei said to me “close your mouth” (she’s trying to say “shutup”, basically). I said “you close your mouth. You should close your mouth when you’re eating actually”. So over the breakfast table we are sledging each other and my sweet host mum just looks on smiling and laughing, glad we are speaking English to each other. She has no clue what we are saying.

Learning a language is definitely a marathon effort, not a sprint. I learnt this very distinctly when it came to mid-term exams. You just cannot cram for a Chinese test. I’m sure there are people who can cram for and ace Chinese tests (geniuses, people with photographic memories, actual Chinese people) but I am definitely not one of them. It takes me a long time to remember characters and write them without any visual prompts. I’ve modified that wise old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” to be “a character in time saves you panicking the night before an exam”. Something quite cool that I’ve found is that Chinese character writing is truly an exercise in mindfulness. So no need for colouring in books or meditation; I can just zone out and write Chinese characters for an hour to completely still my mind and feel quite “zen”. Zen until I can’t for the life of me remember a character I’ve spent one hour trying to practice and memorise. Fortunately I passed my speaking, listening and reading exams with no problems. Now it’s just a matter of keeping up the study habits until our final exams in January.

Some highlights so far have been:

  • Little brother visiting last weekend and us hitting up Disneyland. I can’t begin to describe how hilarious and fun it was being a kid again. Racing around from ride to ride. The people-watching was also gold. It was virtually all Chinese people — I spotted only a handful of foreigners amongst the 35,000 strong crowds. Absolutely fascinating. We were with my Norwegian friend Gunnie who is tall and blonde and drew many stares. We stared right back and they continue to stare. The Chinese’s staring game is strong. The Chinese also aren’t averse to barging through and line jumping so we had hilarious strategies of holding our place in the queues.
  • Attending the Kea breakfast held at the Shangri-La hotel was really cool. Kea is a group which organises events to connect New Zealanders living abroad. To be honest I was most excited about the food but it was really great to meet other Kiwis living here and hear their stories. Some have been here 10 years+ and some have been here a couple of years. All had their own take on China, the Chinese and doing business over here. I met another student also on the Prime Minister’s scholarship which was very cool. He is studying Chinese in Hangzhou, about an hour away by train from Shanghai. The guest speaker was Geoff Ross of Moa and 42 Below vodka fame. Amazing to hear him speak. It was inspirational to hear how his “do first, ask for permission later” approach to things has paid off.
  • The Gaelic All Asian Games were a lot of fun. This was held about 3 weeks ago now. We played teams from all over Asia — Japan, Korea. Singapore, and Malaysia. The Gaelic spirit is strong in Asia! My team, Shanghai Girls B, had a massive comeback from losing all of our games on Day 1, to winning every game except one on Day 2, making us the plate winner (3rd place). The after party was also great craic. Our costume was Russell from the Disney movie ‘UP’.

Lowlights would be missing family and friends back home. It’s funny as it’s like two parallel lives you are living. Your heart is in two places. I am dearly missing friends — especially ones who have just had babies! And my cousin (who I love as a sister) and her family have just moved to Auckland. The first time we would be living in the same city ever. But I know I’m where I’m meant to be for now. Also missing clean air but I’ve already had a whinge about that in a past post.

All in all, Shanghai has passed its 90 trial period with me and I think I have passed the 90 day trial period with her. She’s a crazy, smelly, rich, poor, hilarious, busy, bustling place with constant “wow” moments at every corner. Sometimes it’s a good wow (“wow this is an amazing building!”) sometimes it’s a bad wow (“wow, I’m pretty sure that’s a dead turtle hanging off a stick on the back of that motorbike”). But wow’s aplenty. I’ll be staying on a while yet. ✌️️

Here’s a link to a YouTube video which I think does a great job at capturing what Shanghai is like: https://youtu.be/27hDnGBuV8U