Shanghai: week 9

And Polo answers, “Traveling, you must realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form.”

Invisible Cities

Flying into the Tokyo Narita airport feels like flying into Kansas City, but not in a bad way. Even though I was excited to see Japan (and Asia, for that matter) for the first time as we descended toward Tokyo for a brief layover, I was sort of relieved to see the familiar bunches of trees and quilt-y farms and low-hanging clouds. It made Adventure feel a little more like adventure, which is, to be honest, more my type of outing.

Before leaving I was very eager to move to Shanghai. I felt antsy in Minneapolis and I wasn’t sure What I Wanted to Do (which disappointingly probably means how I wanted to make money), and I am very glad to have come here. I’m excited to explore other parts of China while here, and, in the future, to explore other countries. At the same time, I’m trying to figure out the value of having Experiences and Adventures versus being near people that I know and love.

To be sure, there is a lot that I like about Shanghai. There are bakeries and incredible public transportation systems and Mandarin lessons and fruit shops on every block, and there are tall, lit-up buildings, and parks with their park-cats and their denizens practicing musical instruments. There are the innumerable delightful daily interactions, like when the corner store clerk plopped two Chupa Chup lollipops in our grocery bag on October 31 with a grin and a very heartfelt: “Halloween!”

But China is also far away from a lot of people that I really like (for example, you, seeing as how you’re reading this [hi, Mom and Dad!]).

Shortly after starting my new job, I had a tremulous week of feeling wholly uncertain whether it had been the right decision to come here. I think a lot of that was getting adjusted to a great many things, including a very different type of work (so many children suddenly descended into my life). But even though the novel context magnified the emotions and now I feel much more at ease, I still want to unravel this desire to go out and about and see the world at large when that means geographically distancing myself from familiar and loving people.

I once had a college advisor tell me to abandon traveling because photographs just end up in the trashcan and to become a lawyer instead. I don’t think that there is any inherent merit in traveling over not traveling (in fact, if you don’t like traveling, it can probably be one of the most miserable things to subject yourself to), but I do like it, and it is what I want to be doing right now. It’s more than just photographs (even though I value those—I take dozens of really unfocused pictures a day); it’s about—and this is the part I can’t quite explain to myself—that shapeless genre of Experiencing New Things. I like the joyful struggle of trying to communicate in a new language and I like looking at a menu and pointing to a picture and seeing what I get, and sometimes I even like the jostle of walking among dozens of pedestrians and dodging scooters taking shortcuts across sidewalks.

But I also like, and miss, the smaller adventures of being closer to home: learning to fish and doing crossword puzzles in Broomfield; taking walks and watching fireflies in Columbia; playing pingpong and losing at chess in Lafayette; feeding chickens and eating in the fresh air in Boulder; drinking tea and talking short fiction in Denver; running along the Mississippi in Minneapolis; taking a reluctant dog for a morning walk and stumbling up the Great Sand Dunes in Alamosa.

Maybe it’s just that I’m realizing you have to choose one place to be in at a time, and that’s sort of a bummer when where I’ve chosen to be means being 6,000 miles away from quite a few places that feel like home. So, yeah, I’m glad that things don’t always look very different all the time.

Shanghai: week 4

You send your lover off to China and you wait for her to call

Counting Crows

There’s nothing like stepping out your front door in a foreign city while listening to wistful early aughts music to make your life feel like a montage: an eddy of leaves intimates the arrival of fall; a scooter loaded with three generations beeps by; the vendor with the fish-and-something-else-filled pastries wipes down her cart, all while Mr. Counting Crows’ nostalgic voice propels you down the sidewalk.

And so, in homage to the montage, here are some highlights from our first month in Shanghai:

(tl;dr: we’ve been in Shanghai for a month!)


Apartment hunting

We met our real estate agent, Tina, in a sunny alley somewhere in the Jing’an District where we had told her we wanted to live. She pulled up on a scooter and after briefly showing us two apartments that didn’t have kitchens and were out of our price range, she said not to worry, that there were plenty more apartments to see, and “Let’s go!” Which, to our delight, meant jogging after her as she assertively scootered in the street and on the sidewalk, steering with one hand and making phone calls with the other.

Jogging and scootering

In the stairway of one apartment lived the most courteous bird who greeted passersby with: “Good evening! Have you eaten?”

A most thoughtful bird

With Tina’s help translating, we signed the lease and paid the deposit on our new apartment (unfortunately with a birdless stairwell). Tina pointed out a bundle of sugarcane on the floor of the landlord’s office. She named the province it comes from and showed us how to eat it. There’s something enchanting and whimsical about eating a stalk of sugarcane with your landlord and realtor after signing a lease.


Medical examination

To turn your Z Visa into a residency permit you have to pass a medical examination. To get to the medical center you walk through a suburb of Shanghai that feels like Holland, and then enter a compound of buildings situated on very beautiful grounds.

The medical examination begins with cryptic shuffling from room-to-room for paperwork (Josh was sent to another building and our friend was sent from that building to the building we had started out in) and then standing in line to pay an undetermined amount, which ranges, we are told, from 0 to 750 RMB. Everyone in front of me was asked to pay 461 RMB (about 65 USD) and when I got up to the window I gave the woman five pink 100 RMB notes, which she promptly handed back to me along with the paperwork I needed to proceed. Meanwhile, in the other building, Josh was asked to pay the 461 RMB.

The examination then includes being issued a very comfortable robe, which felt much more like a spa garment than anything you’d find in a hospital.

Luxury robe

The actual check-up is an impressive feat of efficiently administered medical tests on hordes of mystified foreigners, most with no Chinese, all with varying degrees of English, communicating with medical professionals who have in turn their own varieties of English. The level of communication in lingua franca English is remarkable here, and I feel very fortunate that it happens to be my native language.

All of us robed and bewildered foreigners, passports and paperwork clutched in our hands, were then cycled through the medical tests in a mysterious but organized way. Josh and I, for example, never saw each other once in the maze of hallways and rooms, but we had all the same tests done and finished at the same time.  With very little linguistic communication, we received an EKG, chest X-ray, ultrasound, had our blood drawn and our eyesight tested, and had our height, weight, and blood pressure taken.

Everything felt sanitary enough and all the medical personnel were polite, but if you wanted to you could imagine it all feeling very much like a YA dystopian novel: foreigners in matching robes on a grim rainy day roaming grim clinical hallways, being shuffled from medical test to medical test with no way of knowing what to expect next.

Or, as Josh put it, it felt like there was a chance we had just signed up for the army.


Sites, food & everything else

Each day is filled with details specific to being in a new place. Everything is novel.  Every day Josh and I walk on a new street, see a new site (a small boy sitting on the back of a scooter while holding a cat that is tucked into a backpack and has a cone around its face!), try a new food, mispronounce a new word. To top off the montage, here are a few more photographs from the past month:

Touristing at the Oriental Pearl
Josh looking fly while eating a cucumber
My favorite food
There’s nothing that a scooter can’t carry
Houseplant shopping
The Bund and a barge

The best part of all this is that I’m here in China, experiencing all these adventures, with my specialsomeone, so I don’t even have to wait for him to call.

Race report: Twin Cities Marathon ’18

Happy to be done!

“Well, Mike, it’s a marathon.”

– Pragmatic spectator cheering on participating friend

Race Day

At 7:00am, Josh and I headed out the door to jog to the starting line of our second marathon. We had woken up earlier than we needed to, but were well-stretched and, for the most part, not grumpy. It was 48°F with no wind and no rain. Most of our training runs had been in the 70s, so although the conditions were about perfect, my legs felt a little more tight at the outset than I would have liked.

It really is all mental

“Mental fitness plays a big role during competition. If you don’t rule your mind, your mind will rule you.” — Philosopher Kipchoge

As soon as I crossed the starting mat, my mental game nimbly escaped from me. I was surprised at how overwhelmed I felt at the number of participants and spectators and had a hard time settling into a comfortable rhythm.  At the halfway point, my mental game was so off that I started crying—not from muscle cramps or aches, but simply from feeling overwhelmed. Patient Josh had the mental capacity to carry both of us through my blues, as he kept the pace, made jokes, pointed out signs and cute dogs and asked me to tell him the most surprising twists from the first two Harry Potter books (turns out Voldemort is involved in both of them!).

Around mile 15 I was finally able to shake off the grumps and start enjoying the fall foliage and the very enthusiastic spectators lining almost every part of the course (I actually think running a marathon takes less energy than watching one in the style that those supporters did). Somewhere during mile 16 I overheard an exchange that got me through the next 10 miles. A spectator had spotted his friend on the course, who said that things were going pretty well but he was starting to feel it. The spectator responded in the most matter-of-fact way: “Well, Mike, it’s a marathon.”

Oh, right. It’s okay to not feel comfortable. So I began feeling much more at ease with my discomfort and started interacting a little more with the spectators to take my mind off of running. The Chicago marathon was going on at the same time, and we were curious about the results. As we passed one group of spectators I asked no one in particular who had won Chicago and, without missing a beat, they shouted, “Mo!” Although it was a brief interaction, for some race-magic reason, it was very uplifting.

At mile 20, my legs were feeling well enough that I felt confident I wasn’t going to have any muscle cramps (something that I experienced during my first marathon), which buoyed my spirits enough to avoid any pits of despair in the last 10k. When Josh and I saw the finish line, I glanced at my watch and realized we were going to make it across in just under our goal time. I slumped over the final mat, hugging Josh and yelling: “We made it! I didn’t think we were going to!”

What’s next?

Josh and I are training for our first 50k, which we’ll undertake on December 1 outside of Scottsdale, AZ. Update: After limping across the finish line due to a knee injury at the Broomfield Marathon in November 2018, we did not participate in the 50k, and have seldom run since. When the time is right, I’m excited to get back on the running horse and gallop off!