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If You Give An Expat Time…

They might just change their ways.

I’ve been in Shanghai for 6 months. When I arrived, I tried not to go outside on high pollution days. I monitored air pollution numbers obsessively. If I had to venture out on a “bad air day”, I would wear a mask for anything over 100 ppm. Now I don’t even check the numbers before I leave my house.

The first time I saw my friend on her electric scooter with her children, I thought she was insane. Then I got a scooter. When I got it I told myself I would only ride it slowly, on my own, while wearing a helmet. Now my children ride with me. The other day I forgot my helmet and didn’t go back to get it. (Please don’t tell my mother.)

In the beginning I would never shop at a wet market. As a foodie, I particularly loved visiting them and taking in all of the culture and elements; but when it came to actual cooking and consumption, I did my best to buy from reputable stores. With the close proximity and fact that most of my neighbors shopped there, I decided it would be okay on occasion. Soon, I was shopping there for most of our produce.

One day I went to get some fruit and I watched in shock and horror as the manager of one of the more popular fruit stands sprayed raid onto some “imported” apples. Apparently, this was necessary to ward off cockroaches; and so normal an occurrence that she didn’t hesitate to do it in front of me. I frantically sent out a neighborhood-wide WeChat to inform everyone of this atrocity. I didn’t shop there again… for a month or two. Now I send Ayi there to buy our fruits and vegetables every day. I tell myself I send her because she gets the best prices; but if I’m honest, it’s so I don’t have to know.

“You’ve changed”, my friend told me the other day. She knew the Shanghai Jen of 2007. But this new Jen; the Shanghai Jen of 2015, had changed. When we lived here before, I wouldn’t think of riding a bicycle; let alone own and operate an electric scooter. I’m more adventurous (though some might argue more foolish), and willing to try things I wouldn’t have the last time around.

When my husband and I were discussing a possible return to China, we talked a lot about what we missed and what we would do differently if we got another opportunity. I think we lived life well the first time around; but when we left, we spent a good deal of time reflecting on how we lived and what we would have changed. When we started to compare our lists, three very similar themes emerged- relationships, risk, and adventure.

If and when we went back, I was determined to be more intentional with people, more present in moments, and more adventurous with life in general.

I’ve found that getting a second chance has opened my mind even more. I’m no longer letting a fear of the unknown and unfamiliar guide my decision making. I’m going and doing and seeing. Most importantly, I’m present in these moments. I’m meeting and making new friends and building relationships that I will carry with me through life. Most of the things I found absolutely insane, have now become part of my day-to-day.  As a result, life is riskier, fuller, richer, and much more of an adventure.





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