the things people do when they’re in foreign countries…

Frank: [about Birdie] She fell in love with Generalissimo Franco!

Kathleen: No, don’t say that. Really. We don’t know that for sure.

Frank: Well, who else could it have been? It was probably around 1960. I can’t believe this! I mean, it’s not like he was something normal, like a socialist or an anarchist or something.

Kathleen: It happened in Spain. People do really stupid things in foreign countries.

Frank: Absolutely. They buy leather jackets for much more than they’re worth. But they don’t fall in love with fascist dictators!

This is from one of my all time favorite movies, “You’ve Got Mail”, if you haven’t seen it or seen it in a while, you should, it’s so good. Anyway, I’ve been asked a few times what is something crazy or unexpected I’ve done here.  I would say that there have been probably a lot of small, insignificant moments of crazy, but only one “leather jacket” moment.

It’s really true that being in a foreign place, especially living there, not just on vacation, really lowers your inhibitions.  Lots of things seem not to matter too much anymore because there are much larger problems on the horizon compared to wondering what people will think about things.

The next to last night of National holiday (the first week of October, which we had off from work), Molly and I were talking about what we wanted to do on our last day off for awhile.  She mentioned that she was wanting another piercing in her ear and maybe we could find a place that could do it.  It was late and you know, sometimes things just come spilling out at night.  I mentioned that in the days of my youth (college) I had always wanted my nose pierced but couldn’t because of work and future work.  Well, Molly immediately said, “You’re doing it.” Somehow, in a few seconds I said, “Yeah, I think I will.”

Now, those who know me best, know that I really take my time considering “big” decisions.  I  take my time with a lot of decisions.  But somehow in this moment my brain sped up the analysis  and I thought, “Hey, what’s there to lose?”  In reality, nothing (well, maybe there was the risk of infection or something, but I wasn’t counting that).  It’s a completely reversible decision.  So, we hit up our go-to Shanghai expat websites to get a recommendation for a reputable piercing locale.  We decided on a place called Utopia Tattoo and after wandering around the city playing tourists for the day we made our way there and got our respective piercings done.

It went perfectly fine, minimal pain, no infection or anything afterwards, I actually completely forgot it was there most of the time.

A month later I took it out.

Not because it was bothering me or anything, and I actually think it looked good, but just because I was over the novelty of it. I loved it for that month and I’m glad I did it.  Whether it’s a nose piercing or a new hair cut or bolder clothing choices, whatever, I think it’s good to make a practice of trying to new things and taking little risks that you want to do and who knows, they might give you a small or large new perspective on things.  Since moving here I learned there is a lot of value in doing what you want to do and doing the most with the very few things you have control over.

So, here’s the photo evidence… IMG_3643

(Molly photographed the procedure, for better or worse…)


(immediately after)


(piercing free!)


40 observations on being an expat in Shanghai

I’ve picked these from a few different lists, I wanted to choose the ones that closest applied to me (or who I encounter here daily) so y’all would get another glimpse of the “new normal” here, I had a good laugh seeing them all in a list and realizing how weird life is here:

  1. Overhearing nigguh no longer stops you in your tracks.

那个(pronounced “na ge”) and 这个(pronounced “zhe ge”) mean “that one” and “this one” and are generally the first things you learn upon arrival in China. There’s also the disconcerting, repetitive “ne guh ne guh ne guh” which is used as a Chinese way of saying “umm…”

  1. You have a mask for high pollution days and an app on your phone.

There’s no escaping the smog that looms over Shanghai. Sadly enough, it’s become a part of the skyline. An Air Quality Index of 150-200 is the norm in Shanghai. A level that would severely alarm any city outside of China.

  1. You no longer wait in line, but go immediately to the head of the line.
  1. You stop at the top or bottom of an escalator to plan your day.
  1. It becomes exciting to see if you can get on the elevator before anyone can get off.
  1. It is no longer surprising that the only decision made at a meeting is the time and venue for the next meeting.
  1. You rank the decision making abilities of your coworkers by how long it takes them to reply, “It’s up to you”.
  1. You accept the fact that you have to line up to get a number for the next line.
  1. You find that it saves time to stand and retrieve your luggage from the overhead bin while the plane is on final approach.
  1. You have developed an uncontrollable urge to follow people carrying small flags.
  1. When listening to the pilot prove he cannot speak English, you no longer wonder if he can understand the air traffic controller.
  1. You regard it as part of the adventure when the waiter correctly repeats your order and the cook makes something completely different.
  1. You are not surprised when three men with a hairdryer and a ladder show up to change a light bulb.
  1. You’ve conceded to paying luxury prices for mediocre products.

China’s cheap if you want to fully immerse yourself and try to “be one of them.” It’s far from cheap if you want to indulge in anything remotely foreign.

  1. You know better than to play chicken with the bus drivers.

Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Buses will speed up and probably not honk before shifting their ankle to the left to brake for you.

  1. You can actually provide numerous examples for when you realized you were living in a communist country.

Always the question from folks back home. No, I don’t have propaganda in my face daily, but, yes, I do notice when the government steps in occasionally. Most often when I want to check Facebook. Or YouTube. Or Instagram.

  1. You blow your nose or spit on the restaurant floor (of course after making a loud hocking noise).
  1. You look over people’s shoulder to see what they are reading.
  1. You throw your trash out the window of your house, your car or bus you are on.
  1. You honk your horn at people because they are in your way as you drive down the sidewalk.
  1. You regularly fumble for five minutes to find 10 jiao despite 10 people waiting in line behind you.
  1. You have a pinky fingernail an inch long.
  1. You no longer have any quandaries elbowing Granny Zhang in order to exit the metro/elevator.
  1. You now realize those old people helping people park their cars are a necessity.

Old — I assume retired — folks are always hanging out along the street. As soon as a car approaches, they run over to direct them on how to park properly and, of course, collect their due. Parking meters don’t exist and parallel parking seems to be an anomaly to the citizens of the Middle Kingdom.

  1. In a meeting you say everything will be ‘wonderful’ and give no details.
  1. You forget that the other person needs to finish speaking before you can start.
  1. You start to watch CCTV9 and feel warm and comforted by the governments great work.
  1. You think Pizza Hut is high-class and worth lining up for.
  1. When having conversations with your friends you start leaving unnecessary words out of sentences and end up talking like an imbecile.
  1. If everyone in the subway would look up from their screens when they get to their stop, that would really be an improvement for the traffic flow.
  1. I guess no one here has heard of the ‘stand right, walk left’ concept.
  1. Subway bag checker may be the worst job in the city.
  1. Am I invisible or did that person just walk straight into me on the sidewalk?
  1. I wonder if we’ll be able to see the sun through the smog tomorrow.
  1. I really hope this is just fog.
  1. I really hope this isn’t acid rain.
  1. Blue sky day – what foreign dignitary is visiting?
  1. No one in the history of mankind has ever spent this long at an ATM before.
  1. I’m totally bringing Ayi with me if I ever leave China.
  1. Can ayis get visas to exit China?