A year ago today my husband left for work and I was left alone for the first time in what was to be my new home for the coming years. It felt strange. It almost felt like I was on holiday, especially as I looked out I was seeing a beautiful blue swimming pool. However, a reality came over me as I realised this was to be my life. I may look out over the pool but I also had to get over the holiday feeling and start living this new life.
So as I ventured outside the apartment the temptation to drop white pebbles was high in my mind. I wasn't sure I'd find my way back to the apartment never mind what might happen when I left the complex. But on I went. Soon all worries of getting home vanished as I had to concentrate all my energies on crossing the road. I would worry about getting home later. As I was attempting to cross 10 lanes, just to get to my local coffee shop, I was bewildered by all the noise, all the chaos and the fact that although the green man was clearly visible traffic was still coming in all directions, motorcycles and bikes were even heading right towards me. Safely tucked into a crowd of locals I made it across.
One year on, I barely hear the horns beeping, and no longer jump out of my skin every time one beeps, in fact I barely react. I swerve in and out of the traffic, around buses u-turning and cars double u-turning without a second thought. Well most of the time anyway!
On the way back I decide to try and buy some fruit and veg from the local wet market. Here there was a total assault on all my senses. Noisy, very, but it was the unfamiliar smells, not all pleasant, the sight of live frogs and turtles in tanks, fish I had never seen, and veg I didn't know what I needed to do with it to make it edible. Fortunately I am not at all squeamish and managed to get around the market with no problems. With no Chinese and the stall holders having no English there was a bit of pointing and smiling going on. But once again I was successful and even came home with a few free samples.
One year on the man at the fruit and veg stall is helping me with my Chinese, I know nearly all the fruit and veg now, in return I help him with the English words. Win, win. He also gets me things I ask for, but keeps getting them, this is the reason I have jars of pickled beetroot to last me for a year! I don't like not to buy it when he has gone to the trouble of tracking it down. Hoping it will go out of season soon. He also gives me tips on how to cook some of these unusual veg. I now enjoy my trips to the wet market.
The first week I arrived and found I could navigate my way around I went to a coffee morning arranged by Brits Abroad. Here I met Sandra. It was a good day. Sandra and her husband Melvyn have become very good friends, and we have had lots of good nights with them. Later in the year I met Leslie, a fellow Scot, very soon we were introduced to her husband Alasdair and again we had found more good friends to enjoy our time in Shanghai with. Moira and Alastair also found their way into our lives, again fellow Scots. We have been so lucky to find such great friends here. I have a good network of wonderful women who make my stay here so easy.
So life here is good. Our local just happens to be the highest bar in the world, cocktails don't come cheap, but on the plus side our local restaurant is fantastic. On friday night 11 of us ate there for 1400rmb, so about £140 including drinks. Not bad. For the first time I booked the table in Chinese, so it was a great step forward. My language skills are improving, getting taxis, ordering food and drink, buying clothes and shoes all within my means! This is all thanks to YoYo my language teacher. She never tires of my never ending requests for questions out with the programme. She is always smiling and so very patient. In return I do my homework and try so hard to make her proud of me.
So a big thank you to everyone out there who patiently listens to my attempts at Chinese and encourages me. From the staff at the coffee shop, my maid, my driver, yes I am spoiled, my dry cleaner and my husband's colleagues who have helped make the journey a smooth one. I cannot thank them enough. We now enjoy lots of fun nights out with them. Jack, my driver has been especially kind. Making sure I'm safe, getting me to where I need to be, opening the car door, which I have to say takes a bit of getting used to, for waiting for me with an umbrella to get me to the car dry and for carrying my shopping to the lift. He is the best. I am wondering how I can arrange for him to go back with me when the time comes!
So the first year has been good. Lots of new experiences, mostly good. I have mastered chopsticks, I realise I don't mind eating jelly fish, I do mind eating sea cucumber. I love sushi, especially sea urchin, however I do not like congee, a type of porridge made with rice. I can eat prawns including the shells, but still prefer shell off, and will never be able to spit out shells and bones onto the table! But I am giving it all my best shot, apart from the spitting that is! However I will never, ever put stinky tofu in my mouth. I cannot even bear the smell of it. On the other side a salted duck egg is not so bad.
On the negative side I miss my family and friends, Skype helps, but it's not the same as hugs and kisses from Daisy and Archie. This week I go home for what will be my 4th visit in the year, so not so bad. I am looking forward to all those hugs, lots to catch up on.
I also want to say thanks to all the people at home, family and friends who always welcome me back, to those who make the trips to visit us wherever we are in the world and for keeping in touch with news form home. It makes it all so much easier. Thanks.
So now lets see what another year in Shanghai can offer.