Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On living in a land of "bad tourists"

It's easier to think about living here after being away. We were in Ireland last week for my sister-in-law's wedding and answered questions over and over again about what it's like to live in China. In nutshell, our answer was always ,"We love it, but it is very different from here". The following is a big part of what we meant by "different".

Chinese people do not have the best reputations when it comes to tourism. They tend to congregate in gigantic tour groups and wreak havoc -defacing artefacts, publicly relieving themselves, and generally being rude in the eyes of locals.

This has been in the news even more lately as China claims it is creating a national blacklist for poorly behaved tourists to try to limit international embarrassment.

Unlike tourists I have met from other countries, Chinese tourists are not [typically] acting this way because of racism, classism, or thrill of anonymity away from home. People act the same way they would at home. Defacing artefacts, publicly relieving themselves, and generally being rude in the eyes of foreigners.

For example, this video taken at a Korean airport is quite representative of a lot of queuing (or not) situations in China.

I think if I watched this before I moved here I would think it was exceptional but I can attest that transportation hubs, markets, and major tourist areas can regularly be like this. When my bestie Tiana tried to get our Chinese visas for our No Plan Plans trip in 2010, it took her hours to get to the front of the line because she wasn't used to queuing as a contact sport.

The lack of consideration for others in public hit me, literally, at the airport coming back from Ireland last week. After 1.5 weeks of having a ton of personal space and people being extremely friendly, making an effort to ensure my comfort, I, completely stationary in a logical waiting place, was run into twice within a five minute span by people pushing their luggage carts. Jolted back into my China-brain, I didn't react as one traveller noticed my foreign-ness and mumbled "sorry" while the other looked wide-eyed at me as if to say, "Where did you come from?". You get used to this look in China.

The thing is, most local people wouldn't mind.

And I think this is something that many foreigners in China forget. What we perceive as rudeness and carelessness just doesn't bother people a lot of the time here. Of course, no one likes to get pushed out of the way to get into the Metro but the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality is more pervasive than the "publicly shame people into changing" (see video above) attitude.

In my nearly two years here, time and time again, I see Chinese people completely confused by foreigners' reactions to their behaviour.

For example, it's illegal to smoke indoors. But people do it anyway, practically everywhere. If you throw a fit (especially if you aren't speaking Mandarin), the person smoking likely has no idea what the problem is.

And another: My laidback husband had a bit of a freak out at a local museum last year, pushed one too many times. To be fair, we had been pushed and shoved by hundreds of people at this stage and seen pretty much nothing in the several floors of the museum we travelled through. He lost his temper, shouting in English, at a child and the child stared at him like he had two heads. The kid had no clue that shoving my husband was rude. Nearly every adult around him was doing exactly the same thing.

Only a few steps away, we saw a grandmother climb up the side of an aquarium, a few feet off the ground, to knock as hard as she could to get the fishes' attention. (It didn't work and no one stopped her or batted an eye.)

I often wish people would queue, not spit, speak quietly on the phone, bring their child to a more private place to urinate than the middle of a sidewalk, queue, not block sidewalks walking in groups, not hit me with their umbrellas, not stand still at the tops of escalators, hold open doors, queue, not smoke inside, not pick their noses, wash their hands, not take photos without permission, and queue.

However, I choose to live here. I am the outsider here. I don't get to decide how things work.

Of course, as foreigners, we don't have to jump into the local culture to the point of cutting our nails on the metro or growing our fingernails long to pick our ears (yes, that's a thing). But realize when you call people out on what is normal behaviour for many millions of people, you're the rude one.

Take deep breaths, laugh about it with your friends and family, and know that it's perfectly fine to openly take a photo of the pushcart of watermelons blocking a massive intersection or videotape the girl blocking the crowded metro door taking dozens of selfies.

And be patient. Things are changing, slowly, and this might be the main area where foreigners cheer "face saving culture".

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Chinese New Year Staycation: Round 2

As the avid reader/listener to a year of whining will recall, we swore last year that we would not stay in Shanghai this year. I was actually quite subdued about it on my Chinese New Year blog post, but overall we were bored and sick of listening to fireworks/firecrackers.
I strongly discouraged newcomers to Shanghai from sticking around. We are in an amazing location to fly to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Japan, to name a few places friends of ours travelled to this year.

But a combination of waiting too late and wanting to save some money led us to stick around, yet again. I was pretty confident I could do better this time around.

My mindset was one of anti-boredom. I had something planned one way or another almost every day of the break and a list of activities we could do when the mood struck. I knew from last year that museums and small shops aren't consistently open around Chinese New Year and just avoided them altogether. I knew from last year that most Western places would be open and that the fireworks on the New Year Eve (February 18th-19th this year) and the Fourth/Fifth Day would be epic.

Despite the lessons of last year, I discovered I had more to learn.

Failing at Firework Viewing

We were lucky that several of our friends were also in town for Chinese New Year this year. I organized a group to rent rooms at the Oriental Bund Riverside Hotel, a highly reviewed 5-star hotel in Puxi that overlooks the river. Or, wait, was it the Oriental Bund Hotel?

Great location! Just not for fireworks...

Yes, after hours of research, I managed to book the wrong hotel. Our hotel was located in Pudong, the wrong side of the river for the best views, and in Lujiazui at that, above a curve in the Huangpu River that prevented us from seeing pretty much anything at all.

So 9 of us all missed the fireworks on Chinese New Year thanks to my hotel booking fail. We still had a blast, singing and dancing until the wee hours.


Thankfully, due to my experience in 2014, I knew that I had a chance to redeem myself: The Fourth/Fifth Day.

My friend Solay has a sweet apartment downtown with a perfect view for fireworks. At my behest, she hosted a group of us for drinks and food and firework watching.

Everyone was pretty tired at this stage. People at the party had either been working or partying (or, in the my and the Irishman's case, getting foot massages) and were too tired to put up much of a partying effort. By 11 pm, having seen very few fireworks, we decided to call it a night.

30 minutes later, in a taxi on our way back to Pudong, they started. Epic, fantastic fireworks that everyone except yours truly got to experience. Yes, I crawled into bed in our 2nd floor apartment, while the Irishman walked Charlie, videoing the beautiful, colourful displays going off all over the neighbourhood. The other partygoers, who all live on higher floors, sent videos via chat app.


And now we all know that 11:30pm-ish is when to expect the Fourth Day show. Go figure.

T, my Toronto-based bestie, reminded me that I will not want for opportunities to see fireworks while living in China but it is still a bit sad that my two efforts at the biggest firework days of the year were thwarted by my own stupidity.

Lessons learned!

Succeeding at Staycationing

Not to toot my own horn, but we are now staycation pros.

Foot massage addicts


We got the lazy part sorted. Watch the Oscars in bed for 3 hours? Massages? House of Cards marathon? More massages? Streaming NHL games? Why not 'eh? I have never eaten so many nachos in a 12 day period.


We were even a bit productive. We both got a bit of work done, which might seem depressing, but will make it much easier to get back into the swing of things tomorrow *cries*. We worked out, despite the Irishman's gym being closed for 1 month with no notice (remember what I said about stuff not being open randomly?). IKEA and shopping for bike supplies counts as productive, too, right?

Chillin with Fili


Despite being in Shanghai, we even put the pup in boarding for 2 nights so we could go to our hotel party and chill out the next day without stressing about him. We had also taken in two buddies to babysit over the break: a colleague's daughter's hamster and a volunteer's guinea pig. I love animals and had a great time snuggling some extra four-legged friends!


Being at home (well, all but one night), we managed to save cash, despite eating out, drinking quite a bit, and getting our fair share of spa time in. We aren't tired from travel or sick from being cooped up in airplanes. There is no jetlag. I was stressed before the break that we would regret it but I think it worked out perfectly.


Plus, we're not handing in our expat cards yet --we'll be off somewhere tropical for Qing Ming holiday in four weeks anyway! Life in Shanghai is hard.


Year on Year

Last year felt very different. Some of it was due to us having friends around and me needing a break (vs being unemployed and bored) but it was an objectively different time.


Partly because of rain, there weren't nearly as many fireworks/crackers going off day and night.


It was very easy to get a taxi or Uber car in the weeks leading up to and including the break.


Next year, I mean it, we will not be here! We are planning to meet up with my cousin and her family. But even if we didn't, I feel much more positive about sticking around now that I think I do really have Chinese New Year in Shanghai down. The next time we are here over the break, fireworks or bust!!





Sunday, January 25, 2015

The difference a year makes: On being changed

Well, it's a bit embarrassing how long it has been since I have posted. I just paid for another year of www.whenwewereyoungandhappy.com and an iPad app to update this thing. Let's see if I get any better at this.

Christmas morning family photo
How cute are we 'eh?

We had our first Christmas in Canada in 3 years. We lucked out and our week in Ottawa was crazy warm. Above zero almost the whole time! Jackpot!

Last year, we went to Ireland and France over Christmas. We noticed the obvious, superficial differences: people didn't drive like their arrival at their destination as quickly as possible at all costs was crucial to life as we know it, they queued, they didn't spit, they didn't urinate in public (sober), ditto for spitting.

Funnily enough, I did encounter a squat toilet at a gas station in France. The public washrooms in Paris were pretty gross, so I was quite thankful for the squatter where I didn't actually need to actively try to avoid touching a scary looking toilet seat. If you told me 5 years ago when I encountered my first squat toilet that I would one day prefer them, I wouldn't have believed you.

Anyway, this year was a special Christmas, not only because it was my first Christmas back in Canada in 3 years but also because it was the first time I/we really saw how China had changed us.

When we left China, we were definitely in need of a vacation. We had both been swamped at work and had been experiencing more than a few "China days" recently. As you can imagine, "China days" are days when a combination of local behaviours and a lack of patience/humour/energy combine to putting you in a bad mood. There's a big risk when these happen of becoming negative about China and living here, rather than chalking it up to a bad day.

There is a big issue currently in Shanghai (and other big cities) with taxi availability. This is made even worse by Chinese taxi apps that give Chinese literate folks the opportunity to find taxis on their phones and lure drivers there way with the promise of a tip (very uncommon in Chinese culture previously). Waiting for taxis wasn't so much of an issue in our first year here. Now, it's common to wait 30 minutes where you used to wait 3. In central waiting areas, it can be ruthless trying to flag down a taxi, especially since queuing is not standard.

The week before we left China, I was waiting for a taxi to go meet the Irishman and some colleagues for dinner. I watched a grandmother and young child (maybe 4 years old) get pushed out of the way again and again by people snagging their taxi. I was livid, shouting mostly in English, but being completely ignored by the men and women who violently pushed their way into taxis while this elderly woman tried to keep her grandson safe. It was insane. I ranted via Whatsapp to the Irishman about how badly I needed a break from Shanghai.

For my first few days in Ottawa, I'm embarrassed to say, I ranted quite a bit to friends and family. I complained about slow and cersored internet, bureaucracy, lack of queuing, spitting, belching, slurping, peeing in public, and the annoyance of "face saving culture".

But by day 4 or so, I was calm enough to talk about all of the good things, not least of which are the jobs and standard of living we have been able to enjoy here. Even the stress of pollution isn't very serious for us with our air filters, face masks, and filtered water.


By the time we arrived in Vancouver a week later, greeted by signs in Chinese and an airport full of people more likely to speak Mandarin than French, we were almost missing it.

Embarrasingly enough, after all our ranting about Chinese internet, we ended up using our VPN service to put us on a Chinese server so we could stream Homeland easily when we woke up early on our first day in Vancouver.

Coming "home" wasn't as easy as you might think. I had to continually remind myself to apologize if I accidentally touched someone, a practice that I now find a bit ridiculous. The Irishman and I panicked a bit in restaurants, unsure of how aggressive we could be when flagging down a server to ask for the bill. I had to take money off the table as my husband, unsure of how to tip, left crazy 50% gratituities (sorry, servers). We were ID'd all the time and it took training to remember to bring our passports with us --while this was a bit annoying, I'm quite pleased we pass for 25 and under with a minute chance that we are under 19.

We revelled in the short lines, small talk with cashiers, familiar brands at the stores. I said sorry, please, and thank you hundreds of times. I drove and enjoyed it.

It became most clear one afternoon in Vancouver how China had changed us. One of my vacation goals was to fill up on fresh, delicious sushi. Not a tall order in Vancouver but, we learned, at a highly rated restaurant on New Year's Eve, it pays to have a reservation. While we waited to get the hostess's attention, a man tried to get around us. On cue, the Irishman and I both threw our elbows up and made a human wall between the man and the hostess desk. I think my cousin Shawna was mortified as we both called out "we were here first" when a woman came up behind us on the other side, trying to sneak by. We were nice about it, smiling and just making sure that people didn't think that we had already checked in with the hostess.

We were all turned away in the end, anyway, because they were full. We got our cardio in finding an open sushi restaurant down the street.

My spoiled husband isn't a sushi fan and my breastfeeding cuz was up for a food-heavy afternoon, so we headed to the Mexican restaurant next door to the Japanese place for Round 2. The lights were on and door was unlocked; I walked in to see if we could get a table. There was no one around. From the safety of the patio, Shawna whispered to the Irishman that she was sure I'd be murdered as they watched me wander down a hallway into the kitchen to investigate. Turned out they were open and happy to serve us. Once we had been seated, other people came into the restaurant, as well.

Family photo at home
Staying in was probably safer for us...

In both of those instances, our non-confrontational, polite Canadian and Irish sensibilities would have left us uncomfortable as we watched other (presumably Chinese) patrons slide around us while we looked on in silence. Perhaps, once the others had spoken to the hostess, we would have, with many apologies, piped up that we had been there first. Perhaps not. We certainly wouldn't have defaulted to our "Chinese crowd" response of taking up space and asserting our position. One year ago, I probably wouldn't have wandered into the kitchen of an unfamilar restaurant.

In China, asserting yourself is the only way to not get run over, literally and figuratively. There are over a billion other people trying to get things done with varying levels of decorum. In life, modified to be less intimidating or (depending on the culture) rude, it can make you a better advocate for yourself. Being timid and defaulting to avoiding even the most polite "confrontation" isn't doing anyone a favour. The people who were trying to get the hostess's attention weren't necessarily trying to get ahead of us but trying to make sure they didn't get caught in the shuffle. And that's okay.

Don't get me wrong, I will never advocate for butting in line. But it's nice to see how needing to assert myself every day, whether it's on my bike, at the shop trying to pay, or getting on the Metro, has changed me and the Irishman to not shy away from basic encounters.

If you do ever see us pushing a granny aside, it is time for an intervention.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

when we were young and happy and PUBLISHED!

I got paid to write a thing!

Adapted from this blog post, xoJane kindly published "Unpopular Opinion: Living Abroad Shouldn't be a Mandatory Life Experience".

I learned 2 major things from this experience:

  • Hyperbole does not translate well online
  • Americans seem to think moving abroad is something rich people do, funded by their parents when my life experience has shown quite the opposite -we move away because we're broke and we can a) make more money or b) live on less (or both) if we go away. 
Anyway, it was good fun and I appreciated many of the comments. Looking forward to carving out some time soon to write something else now that I've gotten the rush of writing something that came with a paycheque. 

(Although I think I'm to like $4 in my AdWords account. Thanks 3 people who clicked on stuff on this blog!)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shanghai answers: Advice for newcomers (Or, 1 year in Shanghai complete!)

We've been here for one year...quite the milestone!

My Chinese is not as good as I expected. My experience with tai chi is still 0. We haven't saved up nearly as much money as we anticipated. But overall, I'm pretty happy with "level 1 intermediate" Chinese, a decent social life, and a job that is actually on my career path. Oh, and a dog that I have an unhealthy obsession with. I think my 1 year ago self would be quite pleased, if a bit concerned about how easily I've adapted to riding my bicycle like a local.

Quick aside to actual Shanghai newcomers:
For those of you who don't know, I work for a community center for expatriates, overseeing their charity programs. Helping people to adjust to life in Shanghai is what we're all about and I love it. It can be so easy to live here, with a bit of support and guidance, especially in the first days. We have a half day orientation session for newcomers that is FREE and includes breakfast, lunch, and childcare. Check it out.

In descending order of importance, here is some of my advice after 1 year in this grand city.
I study on the train. People talk about me studying. I eavesdrop. Free tutoring.

Learn Chinese

You don't need to. You can survive with next to no Chinese, especially if you have a smartphone. Between maps, translation apps, and English customer service from many vendors, you will get by. Most people don't speak English, but in expat-heavy areas, many staff will. Places like banks and post offices, in my experience, often have a token English-speaking employee. 

I have found, however, that learning pinyin (a system of transcribing Mandarin words in Latin characters) at the very least simplifies life in Shanghai. You can avoid completely mispronouncing names of people, places, and products. You can also read out translations from dictionaries/translation sites. While the characters look familiar, you do need to study with the help of online videos or a tutor to get the pronunciation correct. For example, "zh" is pronounced like the letter "j" and "x" sounds like "sh".

I do strongly recommend learning more than just pinyin. Being able to communicate in the local language, whether it's ordering a beer, telling people where you're from and a bit about your family, asking prices, getting directions, or even just asking someone to wait a moment while you grab someone who speaks Chinese can make a huge difference in your experience in Shanghai. It also really comes in handy when traveling to other cities where English isn't as prevalent in signage or customer service. 

Plus, it's really damn satisfying to eavesdrop or complete a conversation with no gestures or confused looks!
Is it possible to overuse this photo? Less than 3 months old...

Invest in appliances

One of the biggest mistakes I made when moving here is not buying an air filter immediately. The air quality tends to be good in the summer. But come October/November, Shanghai is a dirty, disgusting smog pit from factories making Christmas items and the air getting more dense with cold. And you want to be ready.

After the first week of eye watering air poison, I found myself with a throat infection  requiring antibiotics. Two friends also got infections that week.

That freaked me out enough to invest in a simple air filter. It was about $150 (1000 RMB from Carrefour but you can buy the same model on Taobao for 800 RMB). I leave it on every single night. If the air quality is above 200, I turn it on during the day, as well.

In the dirty air season, I needed to replace the filter every two months for less than $12 a pop (75 RMB on Taobao). Definitely worth it.

I could feel a difference right away. My throat wasn't sore when I woke up. The weird coughs went away. It's not that expensive of an investment for a big payoff.

The other appliance I obviously needed to buy sooner (read my blog post about the weather if you're not familiar) is a heater. Since that post, I have acquired two oil heaters that I intend to use as soon as the weather drops below 10 degrees. I suffered through winter last year and I will not do it again. This stubborn Canadian relents! Shanghai insulation (or lack thereof), you win this time. 
Valentine's Day burritos and beers

Stop cooking so much

I enjoy cooking. Our kitchen is no longer in a cupboard. I insisted on cooking basically all of our meals with very few exceptions for the first 6 months we were here. I packed lunches for the Irishman. I made a lot of crappy imitation Chinese noodle dishes in an attempt to save money.

I realized in the end that my husband's $3 work lunches cost almost exactly the same as me making his lunch. When he started buying his lunch at work, it eliminated the daily struggle to firstly get him to remember to bring the lunch (usually me getting out of bed to put it in his bag or shouting from the bed, "If you forget your lunch, I WILL divorce you!" which had mixed results) and secondly, to have the Tupperware return home. Actually, if you factor in the lost Tupperware, I'm certain buying his lunch is cheaper. 

Once I chilled out a bit about food, our diet got much more diverse and barely cost us more. Local street food and restaurants aren't that plentiful in our neighbourhood but I can still get a big steaming bowl of hand stretched noodles with fresh veggies and meat for $2.50 that always hit the spot. Ordering off Sherpa's (an English-language food delivery service that picks up at TONS of restaurants) can be inexpensive and easy. With happy hour free delivery, we can be super lazy and each order from different restaurants. 

Speaking of delivery...
Pup and decorations both delivered. Shanghai style.

Getting stuff delivered

Almost everything in Shanghai can be hand delivered, often with cash on delivery and very low (or no) delivery cost added. Amazon does cash on delivery. You can get tickets, groceries, booze, furniture -you name it. Sometimes within a couple of hours. I've got the number of a guy who will come by within 15 minutes to repair bicycles or scooters. Our dog gets groomed by people who come by the house. 

If I got a dog walker (who would obv come to the house), I could stay inside indefinitely. 

I spent a lot of time in miserable fluorescent lit supermarkets until I got a job. I hadn't realized that Tesco does groceries and household items for basically the same price I was paying at the shop. They bring it to my door, I pay by debit card at the door, and I save myself the hassle of trying to balance cheap wine, oatmeal, soy milk, tinned tomatoes and whatever other heavy items I have on my bicycle.

Fields (use referral code FDRD73F5AC92 to get a 50 RMB bonus!), Kate and Kimi, and City Shop are great expat (read: expensive) options for home grocery delivery, especially for organic produce and imported goods. Taobao has tons of food sellers --it's the cheapest place I've found for buying Heinz baked beans for our weekend Irish-style breakfasts! But Chinese language only, unlike the options above. 

I still favour my local wet market for veggies and the dude in the truck on the corner for my fruit. But my days of waiting in line at checkouts are now few and far between. 

Sometimes it can be frustrating to live in Shanghai. Even expats who have lived here for years encounter cultural blips and frustrating misunderstandings. Bureaucracy, face saving tactics, people trying to take advantage of foreigners...there will be very bad days. But, one year in, I can say that it really does balance out. Many of us have job opportunities we couldn't dream of back home. People are typically very friendly and welcoming (and get a good laugh out of a foreigner speaking Chinese). I can go places that remind me of home and then turn a block and be in an old-school Shanghai alleyway complete with cats, street vendors, and laundry flapping in the smoggy breeze.

Newbies, an open mind, a Chinese tutor, and an internet connection will get you very far in the city that is increasingly feeling like home for me. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Typhoon time: In awe of Shanghai weather

Last Sunday, after having his phone drowned in typhoon rain on his way home from football, the Irishman and I took a walk to our local Xinjiang/Muslim Noodle restaurant. The rain had cleared, leaving the air thick with moisture and heat as it had been for the last week or so. Shanghai occasionally has thunderstorms, especially at this time of year, so I am told. Usually when these storms occur, they clear, leaving cooler weather and cleaner air. So I opted not to bring an umbrella.

After I got my spicy take-out noodles, we started to walk towards home. Ten steps into our 15 minute journey, we saw people ahead of us sprinting towards the buildings on our left. I had just enough time to say, "Why are all those people running?" when *click*, like a switch had been flicked, some of the hardest rain I have experienced in my life started to beat down on us.

Car and motorcycle alarms were triggered by the force.

Immediately soaking wet, we took shelter in a real estate office that was nearby. Some teenage boys, absolutely drenched, followed us in, sprinting. Employees stared at us awkwardly as we all peered out the door at the sheets of rain coming out of the sky. An English speaking Chinese man who had been standing in the doorway when we ran in kindly offered us his umbrella. We declined and, against the urging of the others gathered in the office, braved the storm for half a block, ducking into the DVD shop that was next on our itinerary.

The DVD salesman quickly got us tissues to mop up our dripping bodies while we browsed pirated movies. (I admit I would normally have guilt about this but if you have experienced Chinese internet speeds, you would understand why we cancelled our Netflix account. And legit DVDs are all but impossible to acquire.)

After grabbing a few terrible comedies and a depressing Irish movie involving a lot of sarcasm, death, and casual racism (how many of these are there?), we trotted ourselves back out to the street to grab a bottle of wine from the convenience store (49 rmb/$8 for a Chilean cab sauv at convenience stores located on basically every block in urban Shanghai...I may never leave) and head home.

Hand in hand, we relished the full force of water that was unrelenting. Chinese people, loathe to have rain or sunshine touch their skin, gawked at us through shop doorways and windows.

In such a busy metropolis, typhoons force everyone to slow down, take a break, and be a bit patient. A typhoon on a Sunday, with no work, no plans, and no damage caused is a gift. People in our neighbourhood find us strange but are hospitable and friendly. I felt so happy.

Typhoons do not make Charlie happy

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Post-first visitor recap - On being Shanghai tour guides-ish

My butt has been kicked back into blogging mode now that we have hit some milestones: the end of our first school year here, first round of friends moving away, and, most importantly, our first guest!

Lynda is a former coworker of the Irishman's. They were instructors at a University of Toronto Engineering Outreach camp in our last summer in Toronto. Previous to this visit I had only met her once, for about 2 seconds. Regardless, I was still excited for another female to even out our house and start hosting!

I should mention that Lynda's parents are Shanghainese so she had the added bonus guest attribute of being able to communicate with the locals. Interestingly, she speaks no Mandarin, which is much more commonly spoken since so many people migrate to the city. In some instances, she was able to communicate really well with locals and in others, like at Hai Di Lao restaurant, she wasn't understood at all. Locals, as you will see later on in this post, got a real kick out of it, anyway!


Lynda's main priority was food. We took her to a few places of note, mostly on the expat circuit.

Sichuan Citizen - Basil martinis anyone? For the first Friday of her two week visit, we visited this expat staple and kicked off the evening with their flagship evergreen, frothy beverages. We were lucky to be joined by a friend's partner who knows his Sichuan food and made delectable choices. I'm salivating just thinking of all of the hot pepper goodness. (Admission: We were back 2 weeks later when other friends of ours were playing host to their Canadian friends. Basil martinis and introducing more people to the deliciousness that is bass in oil with a million peppers. Sigh.)

Pistolera - In Pudong, not far from our place, this Mexican joint seems like a strange pick for someone on holiday. Possibly just humouring my non-Asian-food-loving husband, Lynda was game. The free tortilla chips on the table didn't last long. We bumped into some adorable girls playing outside the restaurant, one of whom (clad in a pink tutu, of course) giddily exclaimed, "I threw an egg at your face!" to the Irishman. The logical explanation being that, at a school fair, she paid to throw an eggshell full of paint at him to raise money for charity. Shanghai is big, but the expat hotspots teem with familiar faces.

Lost Heaven patio, or The Time I Made the Group Photo Awkward to Save Space

Lynda's top 3 in no particular order

Hai Di Lao - (Note: they don't take reservations in English and their website makes no sense. Just Google for locations and phone numbers. Also a warning - they are open 24/7 so if you are a newb like me and reserve for "8 o'clock" they might think you mean in the morning...so specify.) Just the two of us had a lunch date while the Irishman sat on the bench at a softball tournament. Both fans of spice, we opted for a totally Sichuan spicy hot pot. Most people order a split pot: half spicy, half not. I was very pleased to be able to burn my mouth with every item I consumed. Hot pot is tricky with only 2 people but for two small women we managed to pack away a ton of food: beef balls, fish balls, mushrooms, bamboo, several plates of veggies, plus fruit. If you pay a bit extra (9 RMB or $1.50 if memory serves), you have access to a "make your own hot pot sauce"-bar and an array of fruit. Always choose to pay the little bit extra.

Hai Di Lao is a chain but don't let that lower your expectations. The food is delicious, service impeccable, and the little touches will blow your mind. Need to wait for a table? Don't worry, you can play board games, eat cereal and drink juice, get a manicure, have your glasses cleaned...etc. Lynda was given a ziploc bag to protect her phone and a hair elastic by our servers, plus we both got aprons to shield our clothes. It was a bit too early for us to partake but a nearby table of middle aged Chinese ladies had a bucket of cocktails in champagne glasses and giant bottles of beer. Living the dream.

Lost Heaven - Lynda casually described Lost Heaven, a Yunnan (southern China) restaurant popular with expats, as the restaurant from which she would order her last meal. Of her life. You can't get much of a bigger endorsement than that. Even better, it's right by the Bund. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu, especially the Ghost Chicken Salad, Broccoli (for real), and Green Tea Leaf Salad. Pro-tip: ask for the 3rd floor cocktail menu to get delicious (if pricey) drinks. The Yunnan Mule will change your life.

Goodfellas - For our last group meal of the trip, our guest was craving Italian, of all things. We hadn't heard many good things about Italian food in Shanghai so we trusted Trip Advisor to do us a solid. And it did. The three of us went Asian-style, ordering 3 main courses that we all wanted and splitting them (lasagne, pizza, and gnocchi  -gnocchi was the unanimous winner). Free bruchetta, free amazing bread (a rarity in China. Read an amazing rant on Shanghai bakeries that a friend penned on Reddit -warning for profanity- here), and free grappa shots? LOVE. Just down the street from Lost Heaven, it's even closer to the Bund, where we stopped for photos and then a ferry ride back to Pudong. The service was in English and the music was top notch. Future date night destination? You bet.
Mere hours after Lynda told her dad in Canada that the Metro wasn't that busy


Sadly the Irishman and I were working during the day so we mostly left Lynda to her own devices. She hung out with her family and shopped, walked around, and chilled out with Charlie. The stuff we did as a group was certainly not a list of the best things to do in Shanghai, but it was an entertaining couple of weeks regardless!
Ales and tails. Amazing Sunday afternoon.

Cat Eyes Cat Cafe - Stuffed from Hai Di Lao, Lynda and I made our way over to a cat cafe, one of her only requests for activities in Shanghai. We were not disappointed. I have been to a cat & dog cafe in Korea, which was mostly a depressing experience with animals being harassed by patrons and staff, unable to scamper off to bed despite desperate attempts to hide. This cafe was completely different. Chilled out, some of the cats slept while others wandered from table to table for attention. People didn't chase them and it seemed like a nice life for the kitties. Plus, they had good beer and awesome cat themed art. (Credit: We chose this cafe out of the many options because of this blog which features photos of the aforementioned art.)

Marriage Market - We decided to put Lynda's Shanghainese to good use. Sadly, she has a boyfriend so we couldn't try to find Mr. Right for her in this market right in People's Square. Held every weekend, the park is packed with parents, grandparents, and marriage brokers trying to find love for often unknowing or unwilling young adults. It's a bizarre sight with thousands of profiles hung from string, taped to umbrellas, or just lying on the ground while middle aged and elderly people mill about, chatting. Lynda's eavesdropping made the experience all the more interesting as she overheard attempts at matchmaking, such as a mother desperately talking up her daughter's English skills and travels. She did not find it fun; overall she ranked the experience depressing and one she wanted to end quite quickly.

Mr. X - Mr. X is one of the trendy "fun house", "mystery room", etc places that are popping up around the world. Basically, you pay to be locked in a themed room with several of your [likely intoxicated] friends and then solve clues to escape. While my husband has been several times, I chose to be the un-fun partner, as usual, and sit it out. The beauty of not paying to be held captive is that I am already free. Lifehack. Shortcut. Boring person behaviour. Whatever you want to call it, I am happy with my choice. But everyone else had a blast and actually made their way out, which is a rarity.

Jin Mao Tower - We didn't do many of the mandatory Shanghai tourist activities with Lynda (boat tour of the Bund, bus tour of the city, Shanghai Museum, etc) but the Irishman should get tour guide points for taking her up for a drink at Cloud 9, a bar on the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower. After cramming onto the public ferry to get back from our Last Supper at Goodfellas, I hopped into a cab to call my bestie in Toronto while the former colleagues got their drink on above the city (well, above some of it, there are a lot of tall buildings here!). Given seats that were not much more than a window ledge, they actually had a perfect view of the Shanghai Tower at night. Plus, you just pay for your drink, no crazy observation fees that other viewing areas charge!

Our Highlight

"People's Court" - Not far from People's Square is a corner where small groups of people can be found on occasion, shouting and listening intently to one another. We have no idea what it's called --if you know, please comment! After the icky marriage market experience, the Irishman and I were up for another round of "use the Shanghainese speaker for our entertainment". This turned out to be our favourite experience in Shanghai. Approaching the corner, Lynda could overhear disputes about property lines or something similarly banal. There were about 4 or 5 groups of about 7 people each spread over the corner. She asked a man on the periphery of one of the groups what was going on. Well, this started a circle of our own!
Making friends near People's Square

People crowded around as the man explained that, twice a week, people get together here to solve minor disputes. He told us that in North America, these types of issues would be solved with just tickets or fines. (This started a whole conversation between the assembled masses about whether or not these types of corners existed in North America with some people insisting that they do.) The group had lots of questions for Lynda, obviously intrigued by a foreigner who can speak Shanghainese. They asked about her family, about where she lived, why she was here... Entertainingly, she doesn't speak Mandarin so some of the non-Shanghainese's questions were translated by myself and the Irishman.

When the swarm grew beyond a comfortable dozen or so people, we made our exit. They bid us a fond farewell with waves and good wishes all around. It was an experience that didn't feel like it could come out of a metropolis like Shanghai. Lynda gave us the coolest interaction we've had so far!

We were almost eaten alive by half a shark piƱata converted to a hat.

Other Activities

Like good Shanghai ladies, we got our nails done. For about $6.50, Lynda got a manicure and for around $25, I got a UV gel manicure. We just went to a place outside of the grocery store and they did an amazing job. Estrogen in the house win.

Taobao shopping was a must. Taobao is like eBay's Buy Now feature/Amazon with super quick delivery and low, low prices. You can buy anything from lobster to a car to toilet paper. Obviously Lynda had to invest in half a dozen onesies of varying types. Anyone who has been to Shanghai without acquiring a giraffe or dinosaur onesie hasn't really been to Shanghai.

Karaoke. Terence being epic with a tambourine. Etc.

She and the Irishman ran a 5 km race in her first weekend! Then they went to the aquarium (verdict: missable) and fell asleep at 5 pm. We also hit up an electronics market, fake market, painter's street, food court, karaoke, and end of the school year parties.

All in all, it was a successful first visit! Charlie was very pleased to have another human around to pay attention to him and we had an excuse to splurge on delicious food pretty much every day. Bring on the visitors!
Future visitors, good luck beating this thank you card