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We were delighted to host my sister-in-law’s family in Shanghai right before we left for summer. Her entourage of seven – yes seven – people enjoyed the sights of Shanghai, as well as Xi’an, Beijing and Hong Kong. Although they only stayed in Shanghai for 4 days (not nearly long enough) my sister-in-law says she’s “not done with Shanghai” and she’ll be back…


Needless to say, we were a spectacle and no doubt, the subject of many photos in Xi’an.

Our descent into summer began with that whirlwind overnight trip to Xi’an (home of the terracotta warriors), unpacking and repacking then leaving for the US the next day. I traveled alone with my three children back to the “promised land” and it went well. They’ve become such seasoned travelers…it makes me proud.

Due to multiple delays, we arrived in the US around midnight. Hungry, tired, wired, excited. We hopped in the rental car and cruised back to our “home”. An empty house in Cincinnati. A great friend supplied basics in my garage – sheets, towels, dishes and blankets. I sent the kids off to shower the “travel scum” away as I went out the door – DRIVING MYSELF – to seek out food. At 1:00am. My search led me to Wal-Mart. The only place open at that hour. God bless America and its consumerism. I was oddly disappointed that the store was almost empty. There were a couple of moms of newborns wandering the aisles and the night shift was busy stocking shelves. I had to contain my joy. I really wanted to dance down the aisles while singing – I may have actually done it. I don’t remember. I was exhausted. I grabbed some basics and headed home, we got to bed around 3am and the jet lag began. We all had it in different phases, so it seemed that one of us was always asleep. For a week.

Our first week was spent in a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, shopping and visiting with friends. Staying in our empty house was a bit disconcerting but we’ve gotten used to it. Here’s how we spent our summer:

-traveling to Miami, Florida to celebrate my in-law’s (amazing!) 50th wedding anniversary party
-celebrating our son’s First Communion (also in Miami), hitting the beach, shopping, and eating pizza at Sir Pizza in Key Biscayne
-traveling to Connecticut to visit my family, hanging out with my crew of cousins (15 of them PLUS all their kids!), hitting the beach, ziplining and eating pizza at Pepe’s in New Haven. Naturally.
-shopping (hoarding)
-enjoying our friends

We’ve have a great time here, visiting friends and family and enjoying the shockingly clean air. No lie, every morning I gasp in wonderment. So. Clean. Unfortunately also full of pollen. We don’t seem to have that problem in Shanghai.

Although I’m having fun here, stateside, I’m ready to go back. Home. To China. I’m kind of missing the daily craziness of living in a culture so dramatically different from my own. While out for an amazing dinner with friends, we were asked for three “takeaways” from our first year in China. The first and foremost for me is the daily adrenaline rush associated with the constant exposure to a different culture. There’s an article making its way around the ‘web, 17 things that change forever when you live abroad, that mentions this. Everyday something happens that gives me that adrenaline rush. In the US this summer, the only time that happened was when some loser cut me off on the highway. Getting used to living with a heightened sense of my surroundings has made me a very different person. In China, it can be gazing in wonderment at the worlds second tallest skyscraper growing before my eyes – or it an be the guy holding a live turtle on a stick. (Selling it for turtle soup.) Either way, it’s a rush. Building? Astonishment. Turtle guy? Grossout.

A second “takeaway” would have to be travel. We’ve had amazing travel opportunities this past year, Bali, Thailand, Beijing and Xi’an. Next year we plan to travel to Cambodia, Myanmar and Hawaii. We’re staying in Shanghai over the October holidays to enjoy the (purportedly!) beautiful weather. And to save some cash because although we are close to so many amazing destinations, travel with a family of five is never cheap. Anywhere.

A third “takeaway” would be that I miss my independence. As an American woman, I’m used to doing what I want, when I want to. In my own car. On my own time. Not so in China. In China, I’m dependent on our driver whom I share with my husband. Sounds glamorous? Nope. Not at all. Everything must be planned and the logistics of evening activities can get quite crazy. And there’s a major lack of privacy – my driver knows everything I do and everywhere I go. A lot of my friends have scooters, but I don’t. Yet. I ride my bike and that affords me a bit of independence, but a scooter would be better. On the other hand, having a driver lets me text and ride. And we never have to designate a driver. He’s always there!

I love you, USA. I love your freedom, fresh air and water, endless grocery stores, Target, size 9 shoes, over-the-counter medications and your people. My people. My Měiguó rén (美国人) friends and family. I’ll miss you all this coming year. Remember, we always welcome visitors. Come back with my sister-in-law, remember – she’s not done with Shanghai yet. And neither am I.