Culture Shock

Culture Shock

In stressful scenarios I find myself practicing visualization. For both deliveries of my kids, when I am about to teach a difficult lesson in class, that plane ride…I like to visualize what a positive process and outcome will look like. It works for me.
Before we arrived in this new life I just couldn’t visualize this transition to Shanghai for the kids. I had a vague idea that there would be a lot of “hurry up and wait” and I tried to talk to my kids about that, I also have had plenty of experience traveling abroad, so I know that disorientation one feels when suddenly immersed in a new, foreign culture, but as far as what their reaction (and mine for that matter) would be to CHINA?
I couldn’t see it. I just didn’t know what to expect. Too many variables.

So, now I know, let me share some observations on our experience so far:

1) This heat. OMG. The thermostat says 100 degrees, but it feels like 115, 120. This heat is a warm, wet blanket on a hot day. My family is sweating bullets. Wet hair, wet clothes, sticky skin, chaffing. I swear these Chinese people don’t have a bead of sweat on them. How is that possible? Luckily, most all of the buildings are air conditioned. We wanted to get the kids out of the hotel room to run, but no one can run in this. We resorted to walking through a nearby mall when we didn’t have other appointments we had to attend. When we have had appointments (and there have been many) we drink water and sweat, and the kids whine, and bicker. There is usually a lot of waiting involved, maybe a form or two or three, and a lot of asking for help.

Nora found the mall’s air conditioning vent!

2) We stick out like a sore thumb. Anywhere we go, sweating and red-faced, people watch us go by. Some stop to watch, most smile, some don’t, there is sometimes an occasional picture, or even a video as we go by. The old and the very young are the most distracted by our presence.
But the real attraction, the one everyone wants to see, talk to, touch, interact with, is Magnus. I mean he is cute, it is true. But the Chinese love him. They speak to him and smile so big, try to rumple his hair, or touch his face.
He will crinkle his nose, or give his toothy smile, or asks me, “Mom, why did that man snap his fingers at me?” Or in some instances he will wrinkle his face and stick out his tongue which really gets the onlookers excited! I cringe and ask him not to do that and usually we all laugh even though we can’t understand each other.
We smile, wave, try out our best Mandarin words, and continue on our way. Knowing we must look ridiculous and lost (which is very likely true).

Can you see we are hot? A women parked her bike in front of Magnus here and sat and stared at him for a good couple of minutes while we waited for a taxi.

3) The food is really…something.
Some of it is amazing. Like the wonton-type noodle soup we ate for breakfast each day at our hotel. The noodles were wide, fresh, and soft, with a tiny bite of meat tucked in to each. While the variety of toppings ranged from the tiniest shrimp, seaweed, marinated mushrooms, steamed greens, kimchi, and other toppings I try but don’t know what they are.

Or the meat sandwiches we have discovered in the food market in the mall. They are simple, but the meat is sweet and fatty, with chopped onions sautéed in.

And then some of the food raises our eyebrows. Either food we just don’t eat in the states like chicken feet, or food we don’t know even what it is. Also the combinations of flavors we would never imagine seeing in the states. For instance these red meat marinara flavored Lays potato chips. We tried them, but probably won’t buy them again. There will be a blog posted strictly dedicated to snack foods another time. It deserves that, at least.

The great thing is that I have these kids that are willing to try new foods. I haven’t sold them on the soup for breakfast idea yet, but here is Magnus trying some octopus!

You get octopus for dinner when you can’t read a menu, by the way.

4) We are country mice in the big city! The city is huge. Most definitely the largest city I’ve ever been in, and while touring around in search of an apartment I am blown away by the urban sprawl. There are apartment compounds here that I am willing to bet have a larger population than Eugene. We are in awe of the sky scrapers, and the lights at night are stunning. Nora is convinced some of the fancier light displays on the buildings must be Disneyland.

The traffic is insanity and I am sure these taxi drivers need an advanced degree to know where they’re going and how to maneuver through this city. In any city block one can encounter a wide variety of vehicles. Families with children on mopeds, bikes, electric bikes, buses, taxis, three-wheeled motorized taxis,and not a helmet in sight. We have witnessed multiple minor accidents and I cringe as we drive from place to place with a taxi. I will not drive a car in China. Period.

4) The move has been mentally and physically exhausting for us all and beginning a life here takes unending patience and time.
My time spent practicing Chinese back home has done very little to help me here in China. I can successfully say “thank you, I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying, hello, and goodbye.” These get me in the door in a conversation and that is it. Shopping, I am completely at a loss. I tried to find soy sauce, for example, and it took 15 minutes for me to pick something that I thought might be soy sauce from the row of bottled liquids that ALL looked like soy sauce, the place was jam-packed with people, and the kids were freaking out. And that is just the soy sauce. I use google translate when a store employee is close and that can helpful (like in the instance of finding laundry detergent) but doesn’t work 100% of the time (like in the instance of the dish washing soap). Either my internet is faulty or I just end up with the wrong product anyway.
After we buy what we need ( which is a lot) we pack our bags and walk home, which is about 6 blocks from our apartment. Did I mention that it is hot? And the kids are with us, of course, and their transition has been emotional…yes, we will just call it emotional. This if course is understandable, unless my patience is gone, I’m hot, tired and emotionally tapped out.
At least the market is impressive.

Despite the difficulties of moving to China there have been so many helpers. Angela purchased my new Chinese phone for me on the first day we were here since we hadn’t exchanged enough money! Zhanghou took me to apartments, helped us negotiate our rental contract and drove us around Shanghai to make sure we knew exactly what we were getting. Karen has answered hundreds of texts from Aaron and me regarding every detail of our move and promptly responds with every thing we need. Brendan has informed us about everything we need to know to survive this move into our new neighborhood. He has given us information on where to shop, what brand of milk tastes most like milk from home, where to buy electronics, where to get haircuts and which day is cheapest day to go, and how to communicate with taxi drivers so they know where to bring us home. And this doesn’t include the helpers in our departments at work who are helping us understand all the new technology and programs.
And let us not forget my mother. Grandma Jill will leave us on Friday after being with us for ten days. She helped us out of our tiny hotel room and into our disgustingly dirty, practically empty apartment. She has washed countless loads of laundry in our tiny washing machine and organized the kids’ room. She has found the park and the closest grocery, brought Nora to school in a taxi for her pre-assessment, been here for the deliveries, maintenance people and generally saved our butts.

I feel fortunate.

I could not have foreseen this outcome. I still can not predict what is ahead, but there are glimmers of what may be possible, what the family has the opportunity to learn and experience, and I am thankful.
I am exhausted, I am emotional, but I am optimistic.

10 thoughts on “Culture Shock

  1. Oh Kate, what a crazy experience. I am excited for you but my heart aches for you too. I can’t imagine how exhausted and emotionally drained you must feel. And being the mama, you have to be strong for everyone else. I know it will get easier and you and your family will have an amazing experience. Remember we all love you and are sending good energy your way. xox

  2. Your blog is fantastic. I hear your “voice” clearly, Kate. I hear the excitement and exhaustion and confusion. I love the positive tone at the end. I’m wishing you the best. Hope you blog about your and Aaron’s jobs, too.

  3. If anyone can take on this challenging and rewarding adventure it is the Kleins! You’ve got four cheerleaders in Eastern Oregon. Missing you and can’t wait for another post. Sending our love❤️ Btw we need to know how to send letters and packages your way when you have a few minutes Stay cool

  4. Very interesting. I hope your stamina holds out.
    Remember me? I used to hold you sometimes when you were a baby. I haven’t seen your parents forever.
    I’m still in Palo Alto. I thought about trying to contact your mom when she was in CA but I didn’t get to it. I look forward to seeing you when you return to the US.

  5. I’m so happy to finally see a picture of you, Kate! Keep your chin up and know that home is where you’re all together!

  6. Enjoyed reading your blog on Culture Shock, my thoughts are with you and your family, if you can get through this, especially the heat part you can get through anything. You are there for a great purpose, stay focused on that and the adventure ahead. Great pictures of everyone.

  7. Dearest Kate, what incredible travel journals you are blessing us with thru this entire adventure. Art just shared them with me & I sat here with giggles, tears & sighs. Blessings to you all. Be glad you aren’t here in Oregon right now – it’s getting so insane with all the visitors arriving early for the BIG EVENT ECLIPSE!! We are preparing for our backyard party with Moon Pies, Moonstruck Chocolates, sun quiches, crescent rolls, green cheese fruit pizza, Blue Moon beer, etc. wish you could join us…….. Hang in there! We love you & look forward to your next blog. Cheryl

  8. Wow, Kate! You write vividly and bring your experience across the waters to us. The first three months are, so I’ve heard, the worst for homesickness. Thank you do much for sharing. We love you and thank God for Jill!

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