Well, I got back to Shanghai, started a new job and here I am, exactly two months later, writing an incredibly long overdue post.
Besides the weather and colour of the trees changing, life in Shanghai is very different since I returned after renewing my visa. For starters, I can work legally and I have a residence permit, which means I don’t have to schlep back to South Africa every couple of months. I also don’t have to worry about being caught working illegally, score.
For quite a few weeks there was some concern that my visa wouldn’t be approved, but fortunately, it was. Getting the documentation together for it was an absolute nightmare, with the Chinese consulate in Cape Town sending my mom from pillar to post for me (thanks Ma) but in the end, it was worth it.
I’ve also gone from hot sweaty mess to freezing cold abominable snowman. Long socks, boots, vests, two layers of whatever works, jersey (or sweater, as I’m beginning to say with the influence of all my American colleagues), scarf, gloves and a beanie on the ridiculous days. We had one week in November where the temperature dropped to below 0, which was crazy cold, and I hoped like hell it would snow but that doesn’t happen much in Shanghai. However, if you drive about 3 hours out of the city, you tend to find areas where it does.
As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, nothing is easy in China, especially when you’re starting out here. Very happy to say that I’m not finding things as hard as they were and settling into life here has been much easier than I anticipated.
The first few weeks of working were pretty tough, not just because I had to get used to actually working again after a 2.5 month holiday, but because finding a good work/life balance here can be rough. The idea of working an 8.30 am – 5.00 pm day, driving myself to and from the office, being able to whizz past Woolworths on the way home, grocery bags in the boot, home by 6ish, dinner around 7ish, bed around 10ish, was completely flipped on its head. I now wake up around 7ish (sometimes 8ish if I’m feeling very lazy), showered, dressed and out of the door by 9.30 latest, and:
- Walk to the bus stop that’s about a block up from our road
- Wait for the 96 bus that takes around 20 minutes to get me to a bus stop about a block away from my office
- Walk to office from the bus stop in the hope of getting there by 10 am
- Leave between 7-7.30pm and walk to another bus stop a few hundred meters from the office
- Wait for the other 96 bus which takes me about 20 minutes to get back to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road to my morning one.
- Walk down a block and get through our front door around 8 pm
- Dinner around 9 pm
- Bed around 11 pm, sometimes even midnight
A couple of days a week I grab cabs to and from work. Although a bit more than a ¥2 bus ride, they’re still well priced as I don’t have to travel too far. It’s gotten easier telling them where I need to go but every time I’m in one I realise how important it is for me to learn Mandarin.
One of my first language goals is to be able to give cab drivers directions in Chinese, as opposed to hand signals and “ya ya ya”. Getting there in terms of road names and pronunciations, although I do get the odd driver who has no idea what I’m saying. Fun.
I order groceries online and either get them delivered over the weekend or during the week before I head off to work. Sundays have become meal prep days for the week, where I try to cook a couple of things that I can portion and freeze so I don’t have to spend hours cooking when I get home late. We order Sherpas (Shanghai’s WAY better version of Mr Delivery) about once week when I don’t feel like cooking, or we go out for dinner as there are usually 2 for 1 deals during the week which we make good use of. I really struggled, in the beginning, to adjust to the new routine but definitely feel like it’s getting easier every week.
My new job is incredible, where I’ve met some really fantastic people and have so much fun there. Definitely think that’s been a major factor in helping me really settle into life here. That said, it’s a fast-paced tech startup environment that keeps me on my toes, but really feel that I’m in the right place and doing the right thing.
Christmas and New Year was also quite different this year, and not just because of the cold. There are loads of Christmas decorations and carols playing all over, but in all of the malls and stores, so it’s obviously a pretty commercial concept here (not much different from other places around the world, if we’re all honest) but people tend to work through the holiday, depending on the company. Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday celebrated here, which takes place next month. On Christmas eve we ate noodles at a Hong Kong-style noodle bar around the corner from my office, along with my cousins and both of their girlfriends.
On Christmas Day I had the day off, so took them exploring to a few places and then we all had an amazing turkey dinner at naked Bite, where my South African friend, Barend, is the Chef. We then spent the rest of the weekend recovery from too much food and wine. Even though it was a far cry from the norm, it was a great weekend.
It was also loads of fun showing family around a city that I have grown to love. It’s really something quite wonderful being able to share things and witness the first-time reactions and emotions that go into discovering something quite new and foreign.
Hoping that more people we know include Shanghai on their lists of places to visit, so we can continue to share this city with them.