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Recent Posts

Shanghai-Tested: My first ‘Chinese’ haircut

Shanghai-Tested: My first ‘Chinese’ haircut

The hairstylist put down the bleach and took out a jar of brown dye. That’s when I realized something had gone awry.  As part of my recent deep-dive into embracing China local life, I took the plunge and did something I had never done before – I let someone who […]

coming face-to-face with my mortality aka ‘just a typical morning commute in Shanghai’

coming face-to-face with my mortality aka ‘just a typical morning commute in Shanghai’

  My scooter slips. I skid into a crack on the pavement and veer sharply to the left. The man on a motorbike to my left narrowly avoids me and squeezes past, unfazed. The car behind us screeches to a halt, the driver’s palm glued […]

Spanish paella, LobsterFest 2017, and other reasons to celebrate Spring

Spanish paella, LobsterFest 2017, and other reasons to celebrate Spring

I had planned to write about how the miserable of the past week, but instead I’m writing about the beautiful. I’m writing about the beautiful, because life in Shanghai has reached peak levels of the exhausting and the absurd, and when things get tough, there’s really no other way to deal with it than to embrace it.

China: your reminder that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse

 

Ferria d’Abril

Last weekend, D and I went to El Elefante’s (or is it just Elefante?) Ferria d’Abril celebration. I am not quite sure what we were celebrating exactly, but there was paella and oysters, so it was my kind of celebration. There was paella, patatas bravas (extra mayo), Spanish cava, gazpacho, oysters, mojitos, and a Paloma cart that ran out of tequila far too soon.

Like every place in Shanghai, it got crowded way too quickly, but there was something wonderful in celebrating Spring, Spain, and the red flowers in everyone’s hair.

 

Swedish Softball

“We’re playing Swedish Softball this Sunday” “What makes it Swedish” “I’m not sure, I think there’ll be beer?”

They had me at the beer.

Turns out Swedish Softball is different. Well, first of all, it’s not even really Softball, it’s Brånnboll. There’s no pitcher, no gloves, or helmets, or really any equipment of any kind. There are four bases, a batter, outfielders, and a “burner” at the pitcher’s mound. There is also beer between rounds because no one takes themselves seriously on Sunday afternoons.

I came in my stretchiest pair of leggings. I may have been better off coming in jean shorts. It’s funny, I’ve been so reluctant to play in any organized sports in Shanghai, largely, because well, I’m not very good at organized sports. I’ve gone with D a few times to play tennis or squash, but always make minimal contact with the ball. I’ve heard of field hockey, dodgeball, softball, and ultimate frisbee leagues in Shanghai, but never got the courage to play, because I’m afraid of being that last dopey player picked for the team. Brånboll wasn’t a league sport league in any way, but I feel it was a good reminder that it’s okay to wear cargo shorts to play a sport, and that I’m overthinking things as usual, because everyone is not there to judge me, but to hit tennis balls (yes, Brånnboll uses tennis balls) and drink cold beer.

Lobster Fest 2017

Lobster Fest almost didn’t happen. L and I had decided to buy discount lobsters on Fields, because they were running a promotion in honor of their 8th anniversary (and because discount shellfish is always a good idea). My lobster didn’t arrive with the rest of my order (it arrived almost 7 hours late, when his friend had long-since been consumed). L’s lobster arrived to the wrong location and had been sitting outside her apartment door for almost an hour before she was able to track it. We spent a long time Googling “How to tell if your lobster is still alive”.The internet consensus: the only way to tell is to cook it and then taste it.

Great. But sometimes the risk of food poisoning is worth it.

Having spent entirely too much time considering the lobster, we decided not to focus on the ethical dilemmas and to toss the very much alive, but groggy lobster in the pot, Annie Hall-style.We made risotto and ate the 10:30pm lobster whole with melted butter. It was everything my inner Connecticut coastal kid could have dreamt of.

The most beautiful things about Florence

The most beautiful things about Florence

I feel like the word breathtaking is overrated. We use it so much that when something truly takes our breath away – and I mean with that sharp intake of breath and an utter loss for words, I completely lack the vocabulary to put my feelings into words. […]

The courage to eat with a spoon

The courage to eat with a spoon

Learning to use chopsticks in China is easy. Learning when not to use them is hard.   Dinner in Shanghai – my home for the past two years – is rarely eaten alone. A dinner is the sort of grand occasion where one squeezes a group of […]

Leaving WordPress

Leaving WordPress

I’ve done it. I’m self-hosting my blog! This feels like a big step, because Skipping Customs (first called Pasta Republic) is something I started over three years ago and over the three years it’s become a place where I’ve been able to openly (or sometimes not openly) document my time abroad and share what it’s really like to one day hop on a sixteen-hour flight and start a new life .

In some ways, having this space as a blog on WordPress felt safe, because it was a platform and a community like LiveJournal or Tumblr (yes, I once had both a LiveJournal and a Tumblr) and one of those things that everyone does in their “I’ve moved abroad and now I must write a Blog” moment. I’ve tried so hard to keep Skipping Customs going, because as the initial shock of moving to another country dissipates, it’s gotten harder and harder to find things to write about. I don’t want this to become an impersonal blog about the best Shanghainese restaurants on the Bund and the most affordable four-star hotels in the French Cocession, nor do I want it to become a collection of stories that says ‘look, isn’t China weird?’. I just want to keep writing.

And here I am. I’ve configured my own server, set up my own WordPress plugins, I’m wearing my big-girl pants and striking out on my own.

And as always, I have no idea what I am getting myself into.

I mean, I do – my day job is as a php developer (I haven’t talked much about my actual job here, but if that is something that people want to hear, I will include an entry in the coming weeks!). Ot feels like I’m leaving a familiar ecosystem for something terrifying and unknown. I don’t know whether my followers transferred or whether my posts are going back to the WordPress homepage. I’ve configured everything I could during the transfer, but I can’t help but feel that I’m posting into a void again. It’s kind of liberating, but also feels like I am starting this whole thing anew after almost three years of running this blog.

And so here’s to new beginnings! I am very excited about this new look and feel and if you read this blog, I hope you are too.

Getting stung by jellyfish in Malaysia

Getting stung by jellyfish in Malaysia

twelve mai tais Happy Hour is from 11am to 5pm and it just seems irresponsible not to order four at once. Mai Tais in hand, we walk up and down wet sand part of the white beach. We each take turns recreating the Baywatch slow-motion […]

If I put soy milk into my latte, am I Chinese enough for China?

If I put soy milk into my latte, am I Chinese enough for China?

  I’ve been on a huge China kick the last couple of weeks – I’ve finally started getting groceries online from YiHaoDian (an online Wal-Mart/Amazon hybrid where I can buy puppy food, sparkling water, and a Kindle all in one go), ordering lunch through ele.me and meituan then giving […]

We told the consul general he should play more beach volleyball

Things we learn right away that we cannot do at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai:

  1. Do not bring  in cell phones.
  2. Do not bring in your passport (or do, but it will be taken and held at the door until you leave).
  3. Do not bring in your Kindle (lest the copy of 50 Shades of Grey you likely have on it scandalize a consular officer).
  4. No photos are allowed.
  5. Visitors are to be escorted on premises at all times.

What did we get ourselves into..


Last Wednesday D and I attended a town hall meeting at the American Consulate, which was held for concerned (and unconcerned) citizens to express their opinions regarding the current election, the state of affairs in the US, and to get to know our consular – because we are far from home, and in some ways, this is the only chance we get to people who represent us back home

Before I visited the consulate, I had thought it to be more of a a country club – a respite for weary Americans who find themselves missing home in China. I never expected the place to make me feel so intimidated And while the building still gave an impression of a stately, old manor, a manicured lawn, and a game of golf not too far away (actually, there were no golf courses nearby, just the Iranian consulate, which in an ironic twist is right next door), the lack of agency  and the watchful eye of Big Brother reminded me that I was still in Shanghai.

 

But in some ways, this was America. This was the densest population of US citizens in Shanghai that I’d seen in months (visits to the Goose Island brew pub notwithstanding). And then came the town hall part: Americans asking dumb questions in a public setting, which is always my favorite part of being a US citizen.

Okay, they weren’t all dumb questions, and many of them were valid to life in Shanghai. Questions like:

  • What can the US government do to help parents put their kids into local schools in China? (Very little)
  • What does the Consulate think about the new administration? (Officially, no comment)
  • Have things in the State Department changed? (No, they have not)
  • Can I drive a car in Shanghai with my Wisconsin license? (No, and why would you even think about asking that question?)
  • But I’ve driven a car here for the past eight years, are you sure? (Yes.)

Being there, among my fellow citizens made me realize that I do feel like my relationship with my country is still evolving. Since I have left in 2014, I have changed. The US has changed too. I still love my country, my state, the city I grew up in. And while this fake familiarity, this weird, military-guarded compound in the middle of the French Concession in Shanghai may not be the real America, it’s still a piece of home. And when I left the town hall and the consulate building, I felt like I had been somewhere that was a little closer to the States than to Shanghai – and not just because I swiped a small stack of napkins with with Seal of the United States from the refreshments table.

Sorry America.

 

Breaking the rules when you live abroad

Breaking the rules when you live abroad

There are times when it feels the life in China is nothing but an exercise in skirting rules and regulations. Everything is legal here, until you ask someone whether something is illegal – so in most cases, it’s better not to ask. Everything is legal […]