Shanghai Spring [it’s a beautiful thing]

As you have probably heard, Shanghai is a very large and very polluted city. Each time I have lived in China, the weather has been either crazy hot or very cold and damp. There is also a constant haze that blots out the sun and burns your eyes. This is the China I know.

Well, this fascinating city never ceases to surprise me. When I arrived this weekend, I was astounded to see blue skies and feel a cool and pleasant breeze through my light jacket. The weather was absolutely perfect. We are lucky now to live in a quiet neighborhood of apartment buildings surrounded by small paths winding through grass, trees and small ponds teeming with tadpoles. So far I have spent a lot of time strolling across the grounds, marveling at the incredible flowers in bloom. Shanghai is truly magical in the springtime. Take a look. 

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Do you see what I see? Our neighborhood is full of stray cats that patrol the grounds and feast on bowls of food left outside by friendly neighbors. The cat below has stunning green eyes and is quite friendly with the black cat that hangs out by our building.

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Amazing right? Although the haze has settled back in this week, the flowers are still in full bloom and the air is perfectly warm during the day and cool at night. I am going to soak in this weather as long as I can before the heat of summer takes over. March-April is truly the best time of year to be in Shanghai.

When I am not strolling around and smelling the roses, I am eating! Peter and I found this great dumpling place down the street and already have plans to return asap. On Sunday we feasted on steaming bowls of noodles and bean curd in beef broth and a dozen soup-filled dumpling, a Shanghai delicacy called xiaolongbao. Learn more about xiaolongbao here.

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Last night we met our friends at the Shanghai Mercedez-Benz Arena for the Lionel Richie concert! The stadium looks like a spaceship and is located next to the expo. I didn’t know much about Lionel Richie music going in but soon realized that I know and love most of his songs! He played all his greatest hits including Brick House and had everybody dancing in their seats (and on the ceiling)! We had a lot of fun, except for the fact that I sat next to this Chinese guy who RECORDED THE ENTIRE CONCERT ON HIS IPAD. His flippin’ Ipad! It was so hilarious and yet so terribly obnoxious. It didn’t take away from the show but it was ridiculous!

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The subway ride to and from the concert was really long but we kept ourselves entertained. Overall we had a great time at the Lionel Richie concert. We’re big fans.

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That’s all there is to say in this little Shanghai update. Things are good. Next up, Thailand!

Wanderlust and My 2014 Travel Plans

Do you know what happens after living in the United States for 7 months straight?

Restlessness. Wanderlust. Crazy travel plans.

Yup. This is going to be another big year for travel. And you know why? Because why not? And with our impending wedding in April 2015, I am trying to shove as much travel in before life gets in the way. Hopefully our lives will not change too drastically as a married couple, but why not take advantage of the opportunity now?

Here are my tentative travel plans for 2014!

April- China and Thailand

Shanghai

Yes everybody. I am headed back to Shanghai! Peter has been working there for a month now and I have been patiently waiting for him to get a residency permit so I could apply for a visa! Well he still doesn’t have his permit so I applied for my visa this week using our Malaysian friend’s work visa information to apply. This has been a month-long nightmare that for now I must sit and wait out. My plane to Shanghai leaves Friday, April 4th so we shall see if I am on board or not!

chiang mai

We are also taking a weekend trip to Chiang Mai! Peter and I are meeting up with some of our friends from Singapore for the Songkran Festival on April 13-15th. It is their new year celebration also known as a huge water fight with people chucking buckets of water at one another or with water guns. A chance to return to one of my favorite cities in the world for a huge water festival? Count me in!

May- Florida and Maine

In early May, I fly back to Florida for some wedding planning and to get my wedding dress fitted! Peter and I also plan on registering and finalizing major vendors. Oh boy.

For my birthday weekend I am flying up to Maine for a college roomie reunion! I haven’t been back to Maine in probably 4 years (wow). Two of my bridesmaids and I are staying in a cabin on a lake and I am so excited! We also might do some bridesmaid dress shopping. It is going to be marvelous!

Then I am back in Florida for a Memorial Day weekend wedding that Peter is in. My friend and I are singing the song for the bride and groom’s First Dance so I need to start practicing! Yikes.

June- Ireland, London and France

green pastures, county kerry, ireland

Carina and I had so much fun on our Southeast Asia adventure that we are planning another big trip! Our plan is to fly to Dublin and spend time in Ireland (one of my dream locations!), make our way to London to explore the city and surrounding areas, and then fly to Brest, France where her sister is living. We are then going to spend a few days driving around France. No big deal.

Omg!!! So excited! Planning this will definitely take some time but we are up for the challenge.

July- Florida and Utah

park city utah

After Europe, I will return to Florida and finish up more wedding planning and possibly go to Park City, Utah with my family. My parents are renting a place there for a month and there is no reason why I should not go!

August-December- China, New Zealand, Florida and Canada (Hawaii and Italy?)

middle earth

Source

In August, I will head back to Shanghai to be with Peter. We are planning a trip to New Zealand which is at the top of my travel dream list. Peter will be working in Auckland but I hope to explore the surrounding areas. We are going before he meets up with his guy friends for a 2 week bachelor party trip. They will be driving through New Zealand and hitting up the major Lord of the Rings locations. I am very jealous.

For the holidays we will most likely be home in Florida. However, Peter’s parents live in Hawaii and Italy so we might go visit one of them. Also, Peter won a weekend trip to Vancouver so we will either go at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year. I have never been to British Columbia and am really excited.

Like I said, 2014 is a big year for travel. 

It is also a big year for wedding planning and preparing for my life together with Peter as man and wife.

It’s going to be a great prelude to an even greater 2015. Let’s do this!

Expat Confessions: Living in Transition (Moving Back to China)

If you haven’t noticed already, I have been home in Florida for 6 months. Originally, we planned to move to China at the beginning of January.

Yes, I am moving back to Shanghai! But when exactly is a big mystery. 

Right now Peter is in the midst of transitioning to a new position and they do not need him in Shanghai yet. This means that Peter has been intermittently working from home in Florida since Halloween! For the last two months we have been taking full advantage of our time here together, you know, getting engaged and all that jazz. It has been a beautiful transitional period and a most welcome break from our crazy expat life. This is like the hometown dating period we never had. When we first started dating 3 years ago (yikes!), we spent 3 lovely days together before Peter moved to China. 

So romantic. 

Now we are a seasoned long-distance couple, engaged to be married in 14 months or so. We have lived in three countries and visited six. As perpetual expats, our life is extremely unpredictable, transitory and daunting. Most of the time I have no idea where I will be living each month and I am ready to pack my belongings and move across the world at the drop of a hat. It’s a pretty crazy lifestyle but for now it works. Right now we are focusing more on the little beautiful moments and focusing less on the big and scary changes in our life. Change is good and I am open and accepting to what may come.

true life is lived when quote

Yesterday I drove Peter to the airport at 6am. He will be in Shanghai for 3 weeks on a business trip and will begin looking for apartments. Once he returns to Florida at the end of January, we will hopefully have a moving date in mind. I can probably expect to move back to China in February.

But until I know for sure, I will be relaxing at home, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, working a lot, planning my wedding and hanging out with family.

Life is good. 

Here are some scenes from the first few weeks of January:

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Stand Up Paddleboarding with Peter. Beyond a few freak days with freezing temps, the weather has been beautiful and sunny with a average of 70 degrees. However, the water is cold!

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Soaking up some sun in the backyard this weekend. Winter what?

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Gettin’ work done at the office. Bathroom selfie optional.

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This bird refused to get too close to me and took off in a huff.

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My current jewelry faves (besides my engagement ring!) include a thread bracelet from Peru (thanks Taylor) and a gold cross.

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I love our new paddleboard! Yesterday I went for a long ride before yoga and it felt amazing.

As you can see, winter in Florida is ridiculous. I dread arriving in Shanghai in the dead of winter with freeing rain and murky air.

This is going to be a fun year!

Focus on Fitness: Crossfit

When I lived in Shanghai I joined the American Women’s Club of Shanghai and became a writer for their monthly magazine. Since I am a personal trainer and health coach, I wrote a fitness column featuring different fitness trends each month. I also wrote a lifestyle column about my experiences as an American expat living in Asia. In order to broaden this blog I will be posting these articles and hopefully will make them into a weekly feature!

First up is a topic near and dear to my heart… Crossfit! Unfortunately there is no Crossfit gym in Penang but I still try to do at least one WOD a week. As former gymnast and lifting junkie, Crossfit WODs are my cardio of choice. Here is an article I wrote when I first started Crossfit in Shanghai and fell in love with the sport of fitness.

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Focus on Fitness: Crossfit

Sweat pours down my face, blurring my vision as I will my exhausted arms to push myself off the ground one more time. My lungs are bursting through my chest and my muscles scream with mercy. “10 more minutes!” shouts our trainer Mark. Oh no, we are only halfway done and I’m not sure if I am going to make it…

Sounds like torture right? Well, I willingly subjected myself to these 20 minutes of pain at the newest fitness trend to hit Shanghai. Crossfit.

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So what is Crossfit? According to founder Greg Glassman, Crossfit is the “sport of fitness”. It combines elements of gymnastics, olympic lifting, running, and circuit training into short but intense workouts. Each workout of the day, also known as the WOD, is designed to last a maximum of twenty minutes and involves “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement”. Compound movements such as sprinting, jumping, squats and pull-ups are used to engage the entire body in a single punch.

The purpose of this type of training is to prepare for any and all physical challenges that may come your way. As the core strength and conditioning program for military units, police academies and elite martial artists, Crossfit trains the body for general physical fitness. In fact they say that their “specialty is not specializing”.

Whether your goal is to lose fat, run a race, fit into your skinny jeans, or pick up your children with ease, Crossfit trains you to be the best you can be. It is all encompassing and designed for people of all fitness levels. Each exercise can be scaled to your level of fitness and the goal is to progress to the next level at your own pace.

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Back in the States, I had heard a lot about Crossfit. Around since 2000, it experienced a dramatic rise in popularity in the last few years. When I moved to Shanghai I was determined to find a Crossfit gym, also known as a “box”, and give it a try. Turns out the very first Crossfit gym, Iron Dragon Crossfit, just opened in Shanghai this September at in downtown central Jing’ An.

I immediately signed up for an introductory class offered the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month and was instantly hooked. As a self-proclaimed lifting junkie, I love the power and physique that comes from lifting heavy weights. On the other hand, running is my kryptonite. After a mile I am crying with boredom. Fortunately, Crossfit is the best of both worlds. Both heavy lifting and bodyweight exercises are done all-out in a short amount of time, making it an intense cardiovascular workout. Now that is my idea of a good workout.

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The best part of Crossfit has to be the community. Each workout is done as a group with everybody competing against the clock to achieve their personal best. While the atmosphere is competitive, it is supportive and friendly as well. After a week of Crossfit, I found that I pushed myself harder when working out with the group, especially because our final times are posted for all to see!

Better yet, Crossfit delivers results. Each workout is a chance to push your body to the limits and leave better than you were before. This is performance-based training that provides an intense but effective workout in less than 20 minutes. Expect to build muscle and burn fat without spending hours in the gym.

Crossfit results

Although Crossfit WODs are extremely tough, they are addictive. Like another Crossfit junkie told me, “Crossfit is like a drug. It sucks, but afterwards you feel so good and always come back for more.” I can’t help but agree.

I’ll see you at the box.

Day 338: The Joys of International Traveling

My last China post! Wow. I can’t believe that 2 months have already passed! I realize that in no time I will be on a plane (well 4 planes to be exact) to Malaysia! This time I am less nervous about moving across the world (weird) and know I can do it.

I am eager to really focus on my health coaching/personal training business before I leave. It takes a lot of time in addition to my day job and health coaching classes but I am determined to get organized. Wish me luck… and visit www.kirstenchmielewski.com for my professional website!! Huzzah. I am still working on the content so please be patient.

Tuesday, December 4th 

After a little more than 2 months, it was already time to leave Shanghai!

Peter and I had a great dinner the previous night at one of our favorite local restaurants which serves traditional Chinese food from the northern provinces. The food is spicy and absolutely incredible.

My plane departed at 5pm so we kept it simple for lunch at Organic Cafe, our favorite restaurant by Peter’s work. Our friend Barri joined us and I had my usual smoked salmon wrap (with their delicious sauce), pumpkin soup, and green juice. YUM. I am really going to miss the availability of fresh juice in China.

After lunch it was time to hit the road… err… metro! Peter and I grabbed my 3 suitcases, carry on, and purse and began lugging it down to the metro. I wore my new bracelet for luck.

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Love it!

Since taking a cab out to Pudong is very far and expensive, we usually try to take the metro to the airport. Unfortunately, this trip is difficult and physically exhausting. We end up carrying almost 200 pounds of luggage up and down the stairs because many metro stops in Shanghai do not have escalators. The metro is almost always packed so there is never a place to sit. The Chinese are so fast and sneaky when they board the metro and slip quickly into the available seats. It is a NIGHTMARE. But cheap :-).

Overall, the trip took an hour with several line transfers along the way. It was a relief to check my bags and sit on a plane for hours and hours. I was pooped! Oh and I definitely watched 6 movies on the flight home. YEAH. That was awesome.

Let’s not even talk about how I had to pick up my 4 suitcases in JFK and awkwardly load them on a cart to be rechecked. After this magical balancing act, all 4 suitcases promptly tumbled off while coming down a steep walkway, blocking the way for everybody. Awkward. Can I get a hand? Or ten?

Rechecking the bags was a relief until I got lost in the international terminal. In JFK you have to leave the international building and walk outside to the building next door for domestic flights. I was so confused.

But I made it.

I landed in Tampa around midnight and was picked up by my dad and sister. My hair was greasy, my clothes were crumbled and dirty, and my skin was parched but I was so happy to be home! Oh the joys of international flying.

Till next time…

MALAYSIA HERE I COME.

Day 337: Accidental Shopping Success at Pearl City

Monday, December 3rd

On my last day in China, I woke up sore beyond belief. Ouch. Since Peter had to work all day, I spent the morning packing all our belongings. We would both be moving out of our tiny shoebox apartment so everything had to go. Good thing the apartment was so small that everything was easy to put away.

In the afternoon I decided to make one final pitstop at Peal City Market for some last minute Christmas shopping. This is what I encountered when I stepped outside the apartment:

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A restaurant opened next door to us in a matter of days. Store openings are a big deal in China and they really go all out for it. We witnessed the late night celebratory firework display outside our window the night of the opening. The restaurant set off lines of fireworks on the street, stopping traffic for a solid 5 minutes while the street exploded in light. In addition, they lined the entranceway with dozens of decorative palm fronds covered with flowers and red ribbons. This would be up for days.

I like the decorations except it makes the impossibly narrow sidewalk by our place even more narrow! Did I mention we live next to a Michelin garage on the corner of the street? This means I am constantly maneuvering cars, soapy puddles, and metal welding on the sidewalk in addition to the stares of the Chinese guys who work there. It’s fun.

Now back to the Pearl City Market… 

Just a 20 minute bus ride later and I arrived at Hong Mei Lu, prepared for a quick shopping trip. Despite being scared of shopping by myself, I easily procured a tea set for Peter’s mom, beautiful postcards, and some embroideries for my grandmothers. I wanted to find something unique for my parents so I headed to the 3rd floor. While browsing a small store for some journals and chatting up the owner, he randomly asked if I wanted to look at purses.

I shocked myself by saying yes! He whisked me away into a secret room full of Chanel purses. I was hesitant. I had already bought three purses and two wallets. Then I surprised myself even more by bargaining hardcore for a purse, 2 wallets, and 3 scarves. Dear lord, I was becoming a bargaining queen! At that point I knew I had to get out of there!

But the damage was done. I was on a buying rampage! I bought the perfect gifts for my parents then somehow bought myself 2 scarves in the process. I thought I was safe when I exited the building until I saw street vendors laying out beautiful jewelry. UHOH.

I had always wanted to buy cheap jewelry in China but always talked myself out of it. This time I was determined. I worked with this sweet lady speaking a different dialect on 3 long necklaces which she made longer for me buy cutting and adding extra chain length. I also picked up this unique beaded leather bracelet. When she grabbed her calculator to ring up the price I realized I was way short on cash! After bargaining a bit I worked it down to just the 3 necklaces. However, she took the leather bracelet and handed it to me, gesturing for me to take it. So kind!

I walked away happy, wearing my new leather bracelet and dragging even more trash bags of presents. Shopping success!

Now I just needed to fit all this stuff in my suitcases….

Day 336: My Experience with Traditional Chinese Massage a.k.a. Full Body Smack-down

Omg!

I just bought my ticket to Malaysia!!! I leave on March 5th and arrive in Penang on March 7th after stops in New York, Frankfurt, and Singapore. YIKES. But I get frequent flier miles and hopefully some upgrades on the flight. I am officially insane… but happy!

I’M GOING TO MALAYSIA!

Whew. Now, let’s get back to the 365 project which is almost complete!

Sunday, December 2nd

After a long night out at the Bund, we slept through most of the morning. Peter had some work to do so I decided to do a quick workout! I love taking a break from exercise because it feels so good getting back into it.

Finally we were ready for a late lunch at our favorite local spot, ET Cafe. I come here to work all the time and love the ambience. It is also only a 5 minute walk from the apartment so it is very convenient.

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We enjoyed our usual sandwiches with a soda for him and Americano for me. The sandwiches here are so so so good. We probably get brunch here about once a week. It is that good.

Still exhausted, we watched I Love You Man (hilarious!) before scheduling a late night Traditional Chinese Massage!! Sounds sketchy right??

We met our Malaysian friend PK at his favorite local massage place just two metro stops over from us at Xujiahui. I had been wanting to get a massage since I arrived in China and am glad we made it happen before I left! The other only time I got a massage was during my first trip to China in 2011. It was just as awesome as I remembered.

When Peter, PK, and I arrived, I made sure to request a strong masseuse. As the three of us sat down in individual armchairs in our private room, a small and compact woman made her way over to me carrying a basin of hot water. While soaking my feet, she started to massage the crap out of my shoulders and neck. This lady was small but strong! Although I am used to trigger point massage, this lady put a beat down on all muscles, not caring about that trigger nonsense. This type of massage is known as “tui na” in Traditional Chinese Medicine and uses rolling, kneading, and pushing techniques to open the energy pathways of the body. Well, my energy was flowing! 

With my shoulders beat to a pulp, she put away the basin and started working on my feet. Holy moly it hurt so good. With all my foot injuries, foot massage is my favorite way to break down scar tissue and bring blood flow to injured areas. I just prepare to be sore for days!

After an hour in the armchairs sipping tea and grimacing with sweet pain, our masseuses lead us into another room with 3 tables. We changed into robes and laid down in preparation of a full body smack down. An hour of back, arms, legs, butt, and stomach massage later, our masseuses left us in a puddle of extreme relaxation. Wow, I was going to be sore tomorrow. Who knows what sort of toxins were just released in my body!

It was a delightfully painful experience but very cheap for a full 2 hour massage! If you are ever in Shanghai, make sure to visit a reputable establishment (preferably without scantily clad women lounging in the entryway) and do not be afraid to ask for different levels of pressure.

You do not have to be a massage sadist like me ;-)