Back in the USA

I’m back in the USA. I know I haven’t posted in ages. That’s been for a number of reasons:

– I’ve been wrangling contractors as we finalise our house renovation. The project is running really late and I’m running out of patience. Let’s just say that the politest collective noun for contractors I have come up with is “a bodge”, but more of that later.
– I’ve also been slowly readjusting to life back in the States. You obviously experience culture shock when you move to a new country, and I did experience that when I moved to the US. Then I experienced it again when I moved to China. Since I got back, I’ve been going through the same thing all over again. All those weird things that bothered me when I first moved to America are bothering me again (those creepy gaps around loo doors, the food culture etc etc). In the meantime, I’ve really been missing Shanghai, the food, the energy and my friends there.
– I guess the combination of those things has meant I’ve not felt like posting anything very positive for a while.

But, I have now readjusted to my new life on the West Coast. And the really good news is that I LOVE San Francisco. So I’m back on here to let you know what I’m up to.

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Playing with the traffic

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m going to miss the Shanghai traffic.

When I got here I thought it was insane. Well I got that much right. It is insane and people and cars and bicycles and bikes really do come at you from every possible direction. But there’s a lot more of a pattern to it than I originally though (OK I thought it was a free for all).  I have now spent just over two years driving a motorbike or an electric scooter around in the middle of it and I’ve totally adapted. There is a clear flow, and a clear hierarchy. The only real rule is “don’t EVER mess with the buses’.


There are two aspects I’ll particularly miss.

Firstly – the fact that the traffic is absolutely not aggressive. There is some poor driving, of course, but everyone is pretty calm. You can carve people up, drive around them and nobody bats an eyelid. It’s all considered fair game.

Secondly – the fact that you can just keep going. If you are on an electric scooter, you are essentially considered a pedestrian, so you don’t need to stop at red lights, you can bounce up on the pavement when the road is blocked, you can go in any direction down any street, or indeed any lane. Finally, you can park pretty much anywhere.

The flip side of adapting so well to  the traffic here is the rather more challenging re-adaptation when riding the scooter in the US. I’ll have to remember to behave. “Ni hao officer….”

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When size really does matter

I’ve been struggling a bit to think about things I will NOT miss from Shanghai. The key one for me is the fact that everything is made for smaller people. I never thought of myself as a total heifer until I moved here.  It was bad enough in Italy, where clothes were generally a bit short, but here when I walk into a shop there is often a “we don’t have anything THAT big” accompanied, more often than not, with a look of horror. At least in the US I get to shop on the middle to small end of the clothing rails. As for shoes, not a hope. (I have some serious shoe shopping time to make up for…)

The size challenge extends beyond clothing. It seems like everything is ‘petite’. For example my kitchen. I have to do the washing up with splayed legs (sooo attractive) to avoid hunching over to reach the things in the bottom of the sink, and ever worse,  the cooker hood over the hob is set at midget height. You’d think I would learn to avoid it, but so far I am still banging my head on it  EVERY TIME I use the hob. I can’t tell you how much I will not miss that thing.



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Chinglish – the language of…. utter confusion

Another thing I will miss terribly when I leave China is the Chinglish. Although there was a somewhat successful campaign to banish Chinglish from public signage for the Expo a few years back (it is growing back) it is still rife in menus and private buildings. When deployed in a menu it can be more than offputting  – for example it took me months to work out that “saliva chicken” or “slobber salad” actually meant that the dishes were “mouthwatering”). Who knows what culinary treats I missed out on because the description was, well revolting?


When used elsewhere, it is more often than not, simply hilarious. A travelator/ moving walkway will forevermore be a “rubber carpet of autowalk useage”. I like that much more.

Exhibit A.


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Air you can cut with a knife

One thing I won’t miss is the quality of the air.

So I’ll have to admit the air has been quite clear recently, but for a significant chunk of the year the weather is pretty awful. From our home we have a fantastic view over the city – we can even just see the Pudong skyline. But sometimes we can only just see the building next door. It feels quite claustrophobic.

Air Quality

The schools just quietly keep the children in, but you can’t help wondering what the long term effects are of breathing this stuff.

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Get a Grip

One thing that regularly irritates me in the US is the fact that most people can’t shake hands properly. In most of Europe, you shake hands from an early age, so people tend to get the hang of it. In the US not so much.

While there are a fee out there who know what they are doing in the handshake department, on the whole, Americans tend to fall into one of four camps:

  • THE DEAD FISH – the one where they sort of dangle a limp (often damp) hand next to yours – that’s not a handshake, that’s an insult.
  • THE HALF ARSE – the one where they just grab your fingers (Ok we’ve all had a near miss but it’s not that difficult to get palm to palm). This one always leaves me feeling sort of cheated.
  • THE GRIP TEST –  I blame whoever went banging on about having to have a firm handshake for this one. “Firm” means “contact you can feel”, ie  not the dead fish or the half arse. It does NOT mean “crush the bones of the hand to compensate for your minuscule manhood”.
  • THE HOLD – Where the handshake is OK, but they hold on to your arm, elbow or shoulder. Just watch any politician shake hands – it turns it into a full on power play, probably preceded by walking towards each other hands outstretched. If you aren’t a presidential candidate, don’t do this. Don’t even think about shaking with both hands, and NO PATTING. OK? And don’t, for Goodness sake, hold on. Unless you are, say George Clooney, it tends to come off a bit creepy.

I’m a bit concerned that there might be a new entrant to the list soon. According to a newspaper (so must be true – right?) there’s a company called “Attraction Methods” where they suggest that a guy should gently stroke along the palm as he slides his hand away. Eeeeeuuuuuw. All that might attract from me is a swift departure, possibly preceded by a left uppercut.



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50 shades of black

One thing that I absolutely won’t miss about China is the trauma that is involved in going to the hairdresser. I was initially lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that my first hairdresser here gave me the best cut and colour EVER. Then he left for India, or TImbuktoo or somewhere. How selfish is that?

Since then, it has not gone so well. My hair has been all colours – from a sort of sludgy green to yellow. (You know when children draw blondes with crayon it comes out yellow – well it was that colour).

Here’s the problem:


It is bad enough trying to choose hair colour from plastic bits of Barbie hair – but here they are pretty much all shades of black (these really are all slightly different shades of black). My advice to anyone wanting highlights in China – don’t do it. Embrace your inner brunette. You see all those Chinese girls and boys with orange hair – well the hairdressers don’t do a good job for them either. Save yourself.

Luckily my haircuts were never too bad – mostly because I just allow an inch off the end closely supervised 😉 According to one hairdresser (from Mongolia actually), Asians/ Westerners not only have different hair, they have different shaped heads, which is why some styles don’t translate well. That explains a lot.

So, while I haven’t had amazing hair colour in the US (hairdressers are mostly just trained by local salons it seems), at least it hasn’t been yellow. Well maybe just a bit.

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Wow it’s been too long

Well here we are in October and I haven’t blogged in the longest time. I think that’s due to a combination of things – for a while there I was really busy, both with work and with fun. There was so much to share that I just didn’t know where to start. Then I got out of the habit. Then I got a bit depressed aboutmy imminent departure from Shanghai.

So – in order to fix a) the not blogging thing and b) to feel a bit better about leaving, I thought I’d start by focussing on the things that I’m really going to miss about Shanghai. And those that I’m not.


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I crossed one off the bucket list

While I was in Auckland I managed to cross off something that’s been on my bucket list for a while – a bungy jump. I’ve only ever really had the opportunity to jump off a crane or similar – and that didn’t really appeal to me. I thought that it would be more fun over water. So I booked to jump off Auckland Bridge.

It was fab. I can’t pretend that I’m scared of heights (as a former trapeze artist) so it wasn’t some sort of momentous moment of overcoming fear. It was just an opportunity to do something cool. So while a lot of my fellow jumpers were terrified, I was more concerned about making it look good. I mean there’s no point in just falling off the platform like a bag of spuds is there? Well not if the whole opposite gantry is bristling with cameras to immortalise your moment.

It’s quite a long way to look down, and you see various boats gathered to gawp, but once you’ve taken off, it feels like flying. I didn’t even notice the decelleration as I just touched the water (I asked them not to soak me as I was heading straight to the airport and didn’t want an 11 hour flight potentially smelling like a wet dog. Not that I do usually, just you never know…)

I’d absolutely do it again.

So you’d think that my bucket list got a little shorter, but unfortunately I’ve added at least a few more items in the last couple of weeks. I’m going to have to live a very long time to get through all these things!

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A mini pilgrimage to Marlborough

New Zealand is an amazing country, positively crammed with geological fascination, ancient culture and unimaginably beautiful countryside. But what was I looking forward to seeing more than anything? Marlborough. I’m ashamed to say it but I was ridiculously excited about visiting Marlborough Vineyards, the northernmost region of the South Island and the source 0f arguably the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

In particular, I was looking forward to visiting Cloudy Bay. Not because it has the best wine (not the best, but exceedingly good) but because the name is my strongest association with New Zealand wines as this vineyard has successfully exported to UK and US wine shops for many years. They export their Sauvignon Blanc by the truckload, but it turns out that they have a really rather good Pinot Noir and some tasty bubblies too. The wine gets its name from a beautiful nearby bay. Come to think of it, I was pretty excited to visit there too, so much so that this part of the trip felt like a mini- pilgrimage.

We visited by mountain bike  – positively the best mode of transport for going wine tasting (in the past we seem to have visited rather a lot of vineyards by motorbike which is not a good plan for many reasons).

The vineyards are beautiful – but striking in their diversity. Some are quite ruggedly stunning like those in South Africa, others can be found in lushly green neatly ordered rows like those in France, others on chalky windswept hillsides or barren riverbeds. The climate changes from one hillside to the next – from one corner to the next, are dramatic. We were there in the middle of the NZ winter – so the vines were dormant  – but the weather was warm and the whole area was stunning. I can’t wait to go back.

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