Well, not quite. Actually, I’m not sure. I was hearing many Chinese street names and seeing a psychedelic collage of the probably 50 apartments I have viewed over the past several weeks: dark brown wood, Chinese landlords, views of skyscrapers hovering in the hazy sky. When heading out the door to yet another viewing this morning, I gave myself a pep talk: if nothing else, this is a good way to see another part of the city, learn about the neighborhoods, be around other human beings. The bright side: at this stage in the game, nothing is a waste of time. Every experience is a learning experience.
While at the supermarket with my young realtor friend Yeye today, I realized that I do have so much to learn. Why can’t we just skip the part where I am the ignorant foreigner blundering her way around Chinese culture and people and get to the good part: the Burcu – I mean Baoze – who can haggle with the grocer or who knows her way around a Chinese supermarket or who can understand when she has just made someone lose face, “guanxi.” At least, I can be proud that I caught myself before asking why there are no dish towels to be found anywhere (Chinese dry their dishes in these dish-dryer-disintectant-machines that look like stoves from the outside). And these kind of enlightenings do go both ways. As yoghurt-type products are our main source of calcium these days, I was making my choices, when Yeye pointed at a Chinese character and said “acid milk.” The more products I chose, the more he repeated “acid milk.” The acid must have become too much for him, because at one point, he said that this is enough now and that I should maybe not buy so much acid milk. I replied by saying that in English, we do not call it milk – we call it yoghurt. His eyes became so big. A whole new concept.
So after two weekends of travelling and exploring, our third weekend was almost entirely dedicated to apartment hunting. Two highlights: we had Sunday brunch with a group of jet-set cosmopolitans. My connection to Jennifer, the organizer, is so complicated that I don’t even know anymore how I know her. Anyway, she is a “Chinese returnee” – left China in 1991 to study and work in the US, and returned 2 1/2 years ago to get “a piece of the action.” She and another very successful Chinese woman working at CNBC, told me that, even with their qualifications and the surplus of jobs, competition in China is tough. What? It’s not enough to speak absolutely perfect English and Chinese, have a Harvard Business degree, years of work experience for a major US firm, be pretty, smart and eloquent? It had me wondering what kind of jobs they were seeking. On the other (male) end of the table, Patrick was an innocent bystander in an exchange about investing in property, stocks, bonds, etc in China and where the best ROI is, that went completely over his head. OK, we are obviously Expat Freshmen.
The second highlight was the Shanghai International Film Festival. I was determined to view a Turkish film from one director I much respect. And because an hour of probing did not result in an answer to our question about the language of the subtitles, I went alone. Just after I heard the Chinese women at brunch saying they don’t like “dark” movies (they hated Perfume) and have gone for years watching only comodies, I was curious about the effect this very dark, almost black, psychodrama, would have on the 99,9% Chinese audience. My curiousity did eat away at me when a) even if they were disgusted, they did not show it, and b) I did not understand their “post-flick” chit chat.
And so another week came to a close. I don’t know how time flies here, it just does. It was just last weekend that our friends from Chicago, Brian and Jeanie, were visiting (and for those of you who were wondering, they had planned their trip to China before knowing that we were going to move to Shanghai, so the timing was a wonderful coincidence). If anyone is planning a trip over here, I will send you their itinerary. They are now probably heading back and have interesting things to share. If you have viewed our photos on this site, you will have seen the amazing images from our trip to “Venice of the East” canal town Zhouzhuang (45 min drive with Jing), which was 100% inspired by the B&J team. We are thankful to have adventurous friends like them!