Expat Confessions: How to Stand Out (and Like It)

Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans out there!

Peter and I just got back from a long weekend trip to Kuala Lumpur and had a great time! We left Friday evening and spent 3 days relaxing and adventuring in the capital of Malaysia. Let me tell you, it made me miss the convenience and excitement of city life. Although life in Shanghai was hard, it was definitely never dull! Just so you know, Shanghai is high up on our list of places to live next year and I am kind of excited! Wow, I never thought I would be excited to live in China again, but there it is.

Now while I work on finishing up my Phi Phi Islands posts and edit all my KL pictures, I though I would share another article I wrote for the American Women’s Club of Shanghai last fall. I had a column on expat life called Confessions of a Wandering Expat and I wrote about trying to blend into a country where blending is impossible for someone like me.

I hope you enjoy it!

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How To Stand Out (and Like It)

You know that moment when you’re walking down the streets of Shanghai, ready to tackle the grocery store or the nearest Starbucks, and suddenly you notice that everybody is staring at you? You start to wonder… Is there something on my face? Is my outfit all wrong? Are my pants on backward?

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Then you remember that no, there is nothing wrong with you. In fact, it is the unchangeable aspects of your appearance, the color of your hair, the whiteness of your skin and the shape of your eyes, that make people stare with wide eyes and gaping mouths.

Sometimes it can be frustrating. As a white, blond woman in China, I stick out like a sore thumb. But you know what? I like it.

Growing up, I was a shy kid who cared a great deal about what other people thought about me. I was never one of the popular kids and as I got older had no desire for a stable corporate job in the United States like my peers. Instead, I wanted to pursue my passion for health and fitness, travel the world and take pictures. No matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I fit in. Although I looked like everyone else, I felt very different on the inside.

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But in China, I know I do not fit in. It is a fact confirmed every day in the faces of my fellow Shanghai dwellers. My presence is an anomaly, a blip in the fabric of this homogeneous society. With every “Hello!” shouted in my direction or photograph with a random Chinese family, the more different I feel.

After living in this vibrant and unique city for almost a month, the pressure is finally off. Why stress about fitting in when it is inherently impossible?

Now there is slight bounce to my step and a smile on my face because I fully embrace my individuality. My hair, skin, and eyes may never change, but what I can change is how I think of myself. By accepting that I do not fit in, I am determined to stand out.

Today when people stare at me on the street, I stare right back. Why? Because, like them, I belong.

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24 Things I Did When I Was 24

Happy Tuesday!

I think we can all agree that Tuesdays are not as great as Fridays. However this Tuesday is my last day as a 24 year old which makes me feel the need to commemorate this incredible year. So here is a list of 24 things I did or accomplished in my 24th year of existence. I can only hope that 25 will be just as fun, challenging, and joyful.

24 Things I Did When I Was 24

1. Threw my very first birthday party

2. Made new friends and rekindled old friendships back home

3. Spent many weekends with my best friend in Orlando and St. Pete

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4. Celebrated my sister’s graduation in Boston

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5. Flooded my car in epic Hurricane Debby

6. Started training my first personal training client

7. Was awarded the Exceptional Contributor of the Year at work

8. Celebrated an amazing Fourth of July with my family and best friend at the beach

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9. Enjoyed an incredible week in the mountains of North Carolina with my family

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10. Moved to China!

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11. Took a cruise to Japan

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12. Joined a Crossfit gym and fell in love with the sport of fitness

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13. Joined a net ball team (and was hit in the face with the ball too many times to count)

14. Became a columnist for American Women’s Club of Shanghai magazine

15. Celebrated Thanksgiving in Shanghai with fellow expats

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16. Mourned my dog Holly’s passing

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17. Skied the Alps and celebrated New Years in Italy

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18. Completed the 365 photography project! One photo every day for 365 days in a total of 4 countries!

19. Moved to Malaysia!

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20. Spent a weekendon a beach in Langkawi, Malaysia with friends

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21. Graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition

22. Launched my very own health coaching business

23. Celebrated an early birthday in Thailand on the Phi Phi Islands

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24. Learned how to scuba dive in Thailand

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Wow. What a year!!

I lived in 3 countries, traveled to 6 countries, and basically jumpstarted my life. I was stuck in a rut for a while but it all turned out ok in my 24th year. While I did many fun things with family and friends back at home, moving to China was the moment when my entire life changed.

Life as an expat is definitely not easy but it has thrown me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to try new things. I have officially caught the travel bug and want to visit as many places as I can and photograph the crap out of them.

It is amazing to see all the things that I have done and accomplished and it motivates me to make 25 even better. Who knows what this next year will bring but I plan on making it AWESOME.

Bring it on 25. Bring it on.

A Day in the Life of an Expat

Hello!

Now that the 365 project is over, I am loving my lack of a blog schedule. Daily posting was fun but it is SO not my style. You could probably tell from those daily posts that my life is not that exciting. At all. Haha!

Now that I live abroad, my life is punctuated by exciting things. However, most of my days are very typical. I thought I would go through a typical day in my life as an expat in Penang before getting into some of my adventures. Ready to get blown away??

A Day in the Life of an Expat

6am- Peter’s alarm goes off. He gets up and goes to work. I opt to sleep in for a little bit longer.

8am- Wake up. Curse myself for sleeping in so late. Walk into the living and am hit with a wall of hot and humid air. Quickly turn on the wall air-conditioning unit. Open the door to the balcony and check out the weather. Yup, hot and humid. Maybe some rain?

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9am- Make myself some breakfast, typically a banana/egg pancake smothered in peanut butter with a cup of ginseng tea (with ACV). Read a book while eating.
10am- Try to access the internet and call my family. Sometimes the internet works and often times it does not. If it works I also check my email and do some work on the computer. If it doesn’t work I continue reading. On Wednesdays I clean the apartment. Scrubbing toilets is the worst.
11am- Drag my butt to the gym. Our apartment complex has a pretty bare-bones gym that is not air-conditioned. It gets hot fast despite the breeze coming in through the windows. I also get gawked at by the cleaning guys. Most days I rotate between the stationary bike, a quick heart pumping WOD, and some heavy lifting. An ancient picture of Arnold keeps me motivated. IMG_2962 12pm- Go to mini-mart in our complex and buy 2-4 big bottles of water. We don’t drink the tap water so we are constantly buying jugs of water. I chug a bottle and head back to the apartment. I wait to stretch until I am in the air-conditioning. Check my face… it is bright red.
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1pm- Make a quick lunch, usually leftovers or a a can of tuna on greens. Chug lots of water. Work or read some more.

1:45pm- Start walking to Queensbay Mall. We have a car but I am too afraid to drive it. The mall is only a 15 minute walk and has everything I need. However, after those 15 minutes in the humidity I am drenched in my own sweat. Good thing the mall is freezing cold!

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2pm- Arrive at Starbucks, my go-to office with free Wifi. My go to drink is a tall soy-latte or Americano and then I get to work. I switch between my marketing consulting job, IIN lectures, blogging, editing pictures, and actively tuning out the conversations of some particularly loud American expats who have also chosen Starbucks as their office. My song of choice to tune them out is Closer by Tegan and Sara.

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6pm- Most of my work completed for the day, I pack up and head to the other side of the mall to go grocery shopping at Aeon. They have a surprisingly large selection of organic produce, grains, and eggs and a diverse Western section. I am in heaven!

6:30pm- With heavy groceries in hand, I trek back to the apartment. Unfortunately I have to cross a busy round-a-bout and always feel like I am going to die. Instead I get a lot of stares and even some cat calls. Yesterday I had a car full of teens yell “f*** you!” out the window. They were smiling though so I just laughed and waved.

Once I get home I turn on the air-conditioning again and start cooking while sweating my face off. Sometimes there is a beautiful view as the sun sets.

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7:30pm- Peter gets home from work and we eat dinner. Obviously my meals are the da bomb.

8pm- Peter and I plop down on our comfy couch and see if there are English shows on TV. Sometimes we get lucky and they are playing our favorite engineering show or old seasons of Once Upon a Time, Switched at Birth, Pretty Little Liars, and other shows. Oftentimes Peter has more work to do so I read or call my family again.

11pm- Bed!

And that’s it! Obviously this is just a loose representation of my weekdays but they follow this basic structure. Once a week we go to the movies and on weekends we go out with friends. The only thing different from my life in the United States is that here in Penang I walk everywhere (still avoiding our car like the plague) and I am usually sweating my face off all day. Thank you Malaysia for constant heat and humidity and crappy air conditioning units.

People still stare at me because of my blond hair but I don’t mind too much. After living in China, I am not fazed. However, there are a lot of women here with their heads covered which is an interesting sight. As a result I try to dress much more conservatively out of respect of the Muslim culture.

Like anybody who moves anywhere in the world knows, you learn to adapt to your surroundings. You develop a routine, you make friends, and suddenly you feel at home. Penang does not feel like home just yet, but I am getting there.

Now that you know my daily routine we can get to the fun stuff! Stay tuned for more travel adventures :-).

Arrivederci… Farewell USA

Wow, is it already March 5th??

This means that tomorrow I move to Malaysia! To a place that looks something like this:

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Source

With a lot of ocean, beaches, and tropical forest. It’s just like Florida!

When I say I move tomorrow, what I mean is that I leave Tampa at 3:30pm tomorrow and travel for 36 hours with brief layovers in New York, Frankfurt, and Singapore, arriving in Penang at 3PM Thursday afternoon.

Whew. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

However I am calm. I am ready. I am basically packed which is a miracle. I am happy to spend these next 36 hours of travel reading, studying, sleeping, and watching movies. Weirdly enough, I am looking forward to it. But I am kind of weird (if you didn’t catch that already).

Today was a challenge. I ended up freaking out while running around town and sort of ended up crying with some unknown pent-up emotion. Moving is stressful and I am sad to leave my family and friends. Like really sad. I will miss them so much. I am also scared. Scared of leaving the people I am closest to. Scared of missing out. Scared of being so far away. Scared of the unknown. 

But change is necessary and forces us to grow. I came out of China stronger, more self-assured, and much more flexible. I learned so much about myself and realized that it is impossible to have complete control over your life. You got to roll with the punches! You must adapt.

Honestly, this move does not feel real. It probably won’t feel real until I actually arrive in Penang. Or until I arrive in Penang and am stuck there for 6 months straight. Holy crap. I am moving to Asia… again. Am I crazy? Probably yes. But if I can live in China and survive, I can definitely made do in a tropical paradise :-).

So arrivederci and farewell USA! I will miss you. 

Day 353: Published

Thank you everybody for your kind words and comments on yesterday’s post. I had no intention of writing it but somehow the words just flowed out of me. Actually most of my writing happens like that. It is all a happy accident. If I feel it, I write it.

In a way that relates to how I feel about fitness. If we focus how exercise makes us feel, then the physical changes will follow.

Like I always say, our perspective changes everything.

Wednesday, December 19th

Speaking of writing… I was published!

Dec:Jan Spirit Cover

That would be Spirit, the American Women’s Club of Shanghai Member magazine.

That is my photo on the cover!!

Spirit Team

When I first arrived in Shanghai I went to an AWCS meeting to make some contacts and join the group. I met the editor of their member magazine and told her that I would love to be involved. Well by next week we were outlining my, not one, but two columns!

Focus on Fitness is a a fitness column (obviously) where I explore a group class or fitness trend each month and write about it. By this time I had already started Crossfit at Iron Dragon Crossfit and was dying to write about it. Let’s Talk Crossfit was born. Look how beautiful the page looks!

Let's Talk Crossfit page

My name sandwiched between the words “Crossfit” and “lifting junkie”, a dream come true:

Crossfit page

The editor also signed me up to write a monthly Expat Chat column about my experiences in Shanghai. I knew that would be easy and fun. I could go on for days about the many quirks of China. Thus, Confessions of a Wandering Expat was born.

My first article was a revelation I had about why I felt so immediately comfortable in Shanghai. I will definitely share it on this blog. It’s good stuff.

Confessions page

To say I am proud is an understatement. This is the first time I have ever been published in something unrelated to a college course. I don’t really consider myself a writer, especially not a good or professional writer. I write for myself. Publishing my writing for other people to read is somewhat terrifying. What if they hate it?? What if I suck?? What if I have terrible grammar? Gah!

But I am glad I just sucked it up and did it. Hopefully people will learn something. I know I have.

I will be posting these articles on the blog soon. Stay tuned!

Day 351 and 352: How Crossfit Transformed My Relationship With My Body

Monday, December 17th 

Monday I worked at the office all day then went back to Chorus! I went to just pick up our CD we recorded last year but ended up staying and singing and then going to dinner with everybody. It was great! It felt good to sing again. It also felt good to hear our CD!

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We worked so hard it this past spring. It was nice to hear the fruits of our labor!

Tuesday, December 19th

Peter flew in from China at 5:30pm so I made sure to shop at my favorite health food store and get in a good workout before picking him up at the airport. Even though I hated my first Kombucha experienced, I saw it on the shelf and decided to give it another go. This time I went with ginger, my favorite flavor.

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It was actually good! I don’t think I’ll be chugging these on a regular basis but they are tasty enough to be enjoyed every once and awhile. They help your gut too which is a plus.

At the gym I chose another random WOD from The Traveling WOD and got to work.

WOD

50 Situps

40 Side Step Squats

30 4 Count Flutter Kicks

20 Push Ups

30 4 Count Flutter Kicks

40 Side Step Squats

50 Push Ups

This WOD was pretty fun and I finished in 12.09. I was excited to do some side stepping squats in preparation for our ski trip! I hope my legs and feet are strong enough to withstand all that action on the slopes! 

Now I want to talk about some recent revelations I’ve had about fitness, body image, and of course, Crossfit.

How Crossfit transformed my relationship with my body:

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably already see all the photos on my blog! Sorry about that. And you probably also saw me post this picture:

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I don’t take too many body selfies mostly because I don’t think they help me or my followers. Why should I compare myself to others?

Sometimes I get bombarded by pictures of strong, fit, and beautiful women who are constantly tracking their progress of fat loss, muscle hypertrophy, etc. with pictures and then stating they want to look tighter, bigger, smaller, and so on and so forth. While I applaud these women on their fit lifestyle and goals, this type of tracking and intense body scrutiny is just not for me.

I also have to ask, is there an end? Unless you are working towards a figure competition, why is there so much focus on improving your appearance by whatever standards you are setting for yourself?

I realize now that Crossfit has transformed my relationship with my body. Before Crossfit, I was fixated on fat loss and growing certain muscles for aesthetic reasons. Each lifting session, treadmill run, and spin class were a means of reaching the goals I had set for the appearance of my body. It was a depressing cycle that left me tired, injured, and not seeing the results I craved. You know why? Because I was fixated on seeing results.

With Crossfit, I am working out like I used to do in gymnastics. I am swinging from bars, rolling around on the floor, ripping my hands, and lifting some seriously heavy weights. During each WOD I focus on my performance. How fast can I go? How heavy can I lift? How many burpees can I do in a row? (not many! yet!). At the end of the WOD I record my time and any modifications I made.

After 2 months of Crossfit, I can feel results. I feel how much stronger I am. I feel that I can do much more, much faster without my lungs bursting out of my chest. I can do push ups on my toes. I can do kipping pull ups. I can deadlift 180 pounds! I feel my body more and more able to do anything I put my mind to. Best of all, I am down to 4-6 workouts a week instead of 5-6 and I actually rest on rest days. Funny concept right?

And amazingly, the physical results that I can see have followed suit. When I took the picture above I was shocked at how strong, lean, and fit I looked! This realization came out of nowhere. Now I am in no way super lean and cut because that would take too much diet restriction. I do not feel my best restricting my food intake. I love food too much!

But now I understand that in order to look your best, you must first feel your best. Fitness is about the journey and not the destination. My goal on this life-long journey of fitness is to feel comfortable, strong, and beautiful in my own skin.

A hot bod is just a plus ;-)

Holly

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but it was just too hard. Now it’s time. It really hit me when I came home today from my bike ride to the gym. Usually my dog Holly hears me come inside and rushes to greet me. She then sees me in sweaty workout clothes and starts barking like crazy because she knows I will take her for a long walk. I always do after working out. She bounds out the door in excitement, pulling at her leash, and I have to jog to keep up. But today I opened the door to an empty and quiet house. No barking, no walk, no Holly.

The Friday before I came home, November 30th, our little dog Holly passed away.

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Saturday morning I received an email from my mom asking me to Skype her right away. I immediately called her and asked her what happened. She told me that Holly had died earlier that day. Since Thanksgiving, Holly had not been doing well. She was barely eating and sleeping a lot more. On Friday my mom found her having trouble breathing. She took Holly to the vet who started running lots of tests. They thought it might be lung cancer that had spread through her whole body. Basically the vet could have performed surgery but it would have been no use. Holly was an old dog, almost 15 years old.

My poor mom was confronted with the decision of whether or not to put her down. At this point they had Holly on an IV so she wasn’t suffering too much. My mom couldn’t get a hold of my dad or my sisters so she eventually decided to put Holly down.

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This has been so tough on my family. We got Holly when we first moved into our new house. I was 10 years old. Holly was a Christmas puppy. For Christmas that year my sisters and I got a card with a picture of a small ball of white fluff. The card announced that she was ours and would come home in a couple of months. She arrived on Valentine’s Day 1998 and was the sweetest and smallest little puppy in the world. Overtime she became our shadow and the diva of the house. She drove us all crazy but we loved her.

I can’t tell you how terrible I feel. I missed her by just 4 days and wasn’t there for her in her final couple of months. But my family says that she had a great Thanksgiving. She went to my uncle’s house for dinner, ate people food, and took a ride on the boat. She lived a great life for 15 years and is in a better place in doggy heaven with her mama.

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I am grateful that I was able to spend almost 2 years with Holly by my side. When I moved back home I was struggling with a bad breakup, new job, no friends, and what seemed like no future. Holly was my constant companion and would not leave me alone! If I was feeling sad or angry I would leash up Holly and take her for a long walk down the street. Sometimes she would have these bursts of energy and would start sprinting down the street! I would sprint after her, laughing, completely breathless.

Most of the time Holly would follow me around the house. Wherever I sat she would curl at my feet with a huffy little grunt or paw at me till I picked her up. If I stopped petting her she would paw at my hand incessantly, begging me to keep going. She loved having her belly rubbed and would just lay down to give you better access. She slept with me every night and would whine until I put her on the bed because she couldn’t jump that high. She would lie down against my body and keep me warm while hogging the bed.

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She loved car rides and traveling to new places. Holly thought that she was a big dog and would race after bigger dogs on the street to play. She loved to snuggle and spent hours on your lap. She listened to me cry many times. She had the softest fur, little button nose, and small leathery paws. She often had a crazy fro after groomers. She had brown eyes and curly tail.

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I will miss my boo bear, my holls balls so much. She was like another little sister. I am so thankful that she was with me for more than half my lifetime and I will miss her everyday. She filled my life with such love and comfort. I never really knew it until she was gone. While I am sad that she is gone, I am glad that she was here.

She will be my sweet puppy forever.

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Day 340: 10 Things I Love About America

Thursday, December 6th 

When I used to come home from college for the holidays or summer vacation my mom always planned a day of pampering for me. This included facials (to heal my skin from the brutal Maine weather), haircuts and highlights (it’s tough to stay blonde in Maine!), pedicures (needed when going from boots to sandals), and massages (to fix that study induced shoulder shrug).

Well coming home from China has been no different. Yesterday my mom scheduled a haircut and facial and I feel like a new person! I’m still scrubbing away the last of that China pollution. Too bad the Florida weather has been a little less than sunny.

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But the air is clean and cool and everything is quiet. Now here’s a list of what I’m loving now in the United States.

10 Things I Love About America

1. I can hop in my car and drive whenever I want, wherever I want

2. No crowds!

3. Everybody is so polite!

4. No need to maneuver around spit on the streets

5. People actually wait in line. Say what?

6. It is easy to understand labels, ingredients, and signs in grocery stores

7. Nighttime is actually quiet and dark

8. I can breathe! Hello fresh air…

9. I can drink from the tap! (and it doesn’t taste like toilet water)

10. No censorship! I now have unlimited access to Youtube, Twitter, Hulu, Netflix, WordPress, and news articles from across the world!

I have to say that suddenly having all these luxuries in America makes me so incredibly grateful for what we have in this great country. Living in China makes me appreciate it so much more. But while it is nice and easy in America, I actually look forward to the challenge of living in South East Asia once again. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and makes me appreciate life!

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.” – Woodrow Wilson

Well said. When living abroad, you definitely go beyond simply “making a living”. Everyday you meet unique challenges that change your perspective, engage your mind, and enrich your inner self.

By enriching your self, you enrich the world you live in.

Day 311: Election Day

Wednesday , November 7th

Election day in the United States.

But I live in China.

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This means that I was wonderfully exempt from the crazy political talk on the news, social media, television, everything. Thank goodness!

Mr. President, let’s get this country moving again!

In the meanwhile I’ll be living across the world watching, waiting, and hoping for things to improve over there. The United States is truly the best country in the world and I am proud to be an American. Sometimes it just takes living in another country to truly realize it.

I’ll be back. 

 

Day 308: Red Light Green Light

Sunday, November 4th

Do not cross. And when the light turns green make sure to check to your left, right, front, and back for any wayward vehicles headed your way.

Maneuvering the streets of Shanghai is like an intricate dance of cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians caught in a web of their own traffic rules. Your best bet is sticking with the masses and putting bodies between you and incoming traffic. At least crossing the street is a great cardiovascular workout.

It certainly gets my heart pumping.