After a bit of an (extra long) absence I’ve got a few things to catch you up on.
Life after quarantine has been good, we’ve gone out to a few restaurants and taken some mini vacations to Shanghai, and went to a coworker’s home town to see a different side of China. All in all the expat life in China isn’t half bad. We’re able to get almost any western food we want. I even found BellaVitano cheese. The hardest thing has been the language and cultural barriers.
China began to open up vaccinations to a larger audience a few months ago. At first it was only for citizens and foreigners needed special approval to get the shots. Our employer was able get the foreigner’s vaccination requests approved. So I am happy to say we have been vaccinated. It is certainly a relief. At this point the vaccinations have been opened up to non-Chinese, so more people are able to get them now.
In late April we took a trip to the Yunnan province in Western China. It was about as close as we could get to Tibet without needing a special visa. (Apparently travel has been extra restricted during the pandemic and for other reasons) To say that the trip was amazing is an understatement, and the pictures I took likewise do not do it any justice. Maybe it was the fact that it was the first real vacation we’ve been able to take since 2019, maybe it was that it was completely different scene than eastern China. Who knows, either way it was a once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget. Key highlights were touring the Tibetan temples and monasteries. One that was first built in 1679 (Garden Sumtseling monastery). Then there was the hike at an altitude of nearly 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet)!! Both provided us with amazing views, and were moving in their own regards.
Against all this we’ve been struggling with a major decision. We haven’t exactly been over joyed with our time in China, but we’ve also had some amazing times. So we’ve been chanting the classic by The Clash (should I sat or should go). After months of trying to determine what the best option for our mental & physical health as well as our careers would be, we have arrived at a decision. I think it really boiled down to this realization: “While we could live in China for another couple of years the idea of returning to the US exciting.” And recent losses to our families and the seemingly never-ending pandemic have really highlighted for us that life is way too short to be less than happy. So we’ve informed our employer and have begun looking for jobs back in the US.
So we don’t have an actual exit date yet, and we are taking a bit of a leap into uncertainty. But I think it’s something we’ve gotten good at.
Wow, a lot of time has passed since my last update. The lockdown really limited new experiences, and when we had 4 months of Wednesdays it got pretty repetitive. So dear reader let’s get you caught up quickly. A few months ago, P accepted a position in China, due to the lockdown restrictions we needed to fly back to the US to apply for our Visas. We ended up getting our visas much sooner than we expected, so we were able to accelerate our US departure by a week. Being back the states felt pretty surreal at first, but it gave a chance to get our votes in. It was great to catch up with a few friends and family and I even got in a few fishing trips.
Watching the spike in Covid cases across the US while we were there was horrifying to say the least. We had to be sure we avoided it, well…like the plague. We had to get a negative Covid test no earlier than 3 days before we boarded the plane. This caused a bit of anxiety, but it went very smoothly.
Getting to China we took an interesting path. We flew from Minneapolis, to Seattle, to Seoul, and finally to Shanghai. The flights were uneventful, and we were able to get some sleep. I can’t say enough about how awesome the Delta flight crews were. I’ve never felt more welcome and appreciated than I did on those flights. They made me a customer for life.
We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Once we landed in Shanghai, we had to sit on the aircraft for a temperature check and verification that we had tested negative for Covid. After this was completed for everyone on board, we were allowed to disembark. We walked through several stations, collecting papers, a sample collection vial, and stamps for the paperwork, and temperature scans. To be honest, it’s a bit of a blur. The end result was that we were tested again for Covid, but this time it was both nostrils and a bit more invasive. All told this was probably only about 20-30 minutes, but it felt longer.
After that, it was just the normal passport control and customs stations. Then we sat in a holding area for about an hour until everyone from our flight was through the health check process. Along the way, all the airport and medical personnel were wearing full-body medical protective suits. This was a vast difference from what we experienced in the US. it’s been easy to see why cases in China have been kept low.
Once everyone from our flight was through, we boarded a bus to our quarantine hotel in Shanghai. The hotel was a bit basic but fully met our needs. We received 3 meals a day, the food was authentic but very good. On the morning of our 3rd day, we were shuttled to a different hotel in Suzhou. This hotel is much nicer and it’s easier to get things delivered. We will finish up our time here we’ll be free to explore Suzhou.
I have something I need to confess… I picked up someone right in front of my husband. Granted this was at a wine tasting and I was on my 3rd or 4th pour. But, I heard the unmistakable accent of a fellow American and had to say “hi”. So I ever so gracefully walked over to her and said “Excuse me, where are you from“. She paused for a brief moment probably trying to evaluate if I was a creeper or just really bad at flirting, once she had identified all the available exits she replied: “America“. Not to be outwitted I said: “Yeah, but where; I’m from Wisconsin”. In a flash she seemed to realize that I was 1) probably not a creeper, 2) a lonely fellow American, 3) and there with my husband, so not flirting at all.
Fast forward a bit as the conversation less awkward as we found out we had a few things in common. We added each other on What’sApp and plotted a dinner. Dinner was a success and we found that we have even more things in common.
So what’s the point of sharing this? If you hear someone talking and they sound like they are from your home country don’t be afraid to say hello. The worst thing that will happen is they will think you are flirting. The best thing that could happen is that you will make a connection, which could lead to an enjoyable expat experience. If you aren’t comfortable talking to complete strangers find a local meet-up group that you are interested in and attend a couple of events.
Whats tips do you have for meeting people when you move to a new area?
After going back and forth on what car we wanted versus what was available from rental car companies and was within budget. What we agreed on was we wanted something we couldn’t get in the states. We wanted options like ABS, Air con, etc., because apparently those aren’t standard over here. We were hoping for getting a Renault Clio or a VW polo, (I really wanted a Sandero) because they wouldn’t scream ” Hey everybody I’m a foreigner, please take advantage of me”. In the end we ended up with a silver Audi A3 hatch back. It’s missing somethings we really liked on our cars in states like a GPS, but we can use our phones, or buy a Garmin.
We also moved into our permanent place this week. This will provide us with a sense of “home” that the apartment in the hotel never could. We are now in a less touristy neighborhood, and closer to the city center. One of our first todos is to find a local coffee shop for our Saturday morning tradition, the awesome part about this neighborhood is that we will have multiple choices of local small shops.
The most astonishing thing is that our shipment from the states is scheduled to arrive on Friday. I had read on other blogs and websites that this could take anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months due to the slow pace of South African customs. A few folks had said their shipping container arrived well before their air shipment. Since we only had an air shipment, I was fully resigned to the fact that I would only be able to wear what was in my suitcase for awhile longer, because it would take at least a month maybe longer for our meager 16 boxes to clear customs. In all it only took 8 days from the time the shipment left the US.
To bastardize a quote from a friend ” Everything is coming up Bruler”. I don’t know what we did to earn this trifecta, but I’m well beyond elated. Oh, and the view doesn’t suck either.
You may be shocked to learn that there aren’t any direct flights from Chicago to Cape Town. In fact it ends up being about 20 hours in the air. YAY?!?! In a surprise twist we arrived in Amsterdam 45 minutes early. I thought it was due to our awesome pilot, but it looks like the Jet Stream had a large part to play. I didn’t manage to sleep on the 1st flight, but I was able to sleep for a couple of hours on the flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town. While I was in a lack of sleep induced haze I had a couple of epiphanies. The first was that I’ve now traveled to been on 4 continents and both hemispheres. The second was that Africa is really Massive. In fact, on our nearly 12 hour flight, only 2 hours were not spent over Africa. WOW!
Once we landed, we got through customs and retrieved our luggage without issue. We found that we were not staying in the temporary apartment as originally planed, but rather a hotel near the V&A waterfront. We walked down to Waterfront on Sunday, it’s a bit of a tourist trap complete with a Ripley’s believe it or not. But it’s (so far) not overdone.
At this point it still feels like we are on vacation instead of “home”. I’m sure that we’ll have a shift in mindset once we are in our long term housing and we get our shipment of belongings. Deciding to ship the majority of my summer clothes turns out to not have been the correct course of action. Thankfully we were able to buy some clothes at the waterfront.
And on a positive note day Zero has been pushed back to May due to decrease in usage from the agriculture industry.
Moving to other side of the world meant that we couldn’t take everything we owned. We have made attempts to downsize and reduce clutter in our lives previously, but now we found ourselves in a situation that required we eliminate even more of the clutter from our lives at a quick pace. Thankfully I was no longer employed so I had plenty of time to sort through things.
What I quickly learned was that we had a lot of stuff, some was purely junk. There were several full trash bins, trips to goodwill, and a “drink all our booze”party to help eliminate the vast majority of the clutter.
We were very lucky that we were able to store some family heirlooms and other items we couldn’t give-up with family and friends. Given that this is a temporary assignment we certainly appreciate not having to part with everything.
Once everything was put in storage, or donated to charity, we found that were only taking 16 small boxes with us. Wow!