the best is yet to come


Recent Posts

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 […]

What we understand and misunderstand about coming back home

It’s not easy to come home. First, there’s the sixteen hours of the flight back, which is in itself a special kind of torture. There’s the reverse culture shock, this inability to comprehend what it’s like to be among people who speak your native language. […]

Boiled Brains and other things that no longer frighten me

Boiled Brains and other things that no longer frighten me

The hot pot tasted of spoilt milk and grey, maze-like brain bits bobbled among the mushrooms and the red dates of the soup. Our waitress had told us that there would be no meat in the broth we were ordering, but obviously something had been lost in translation.

So, after two years in China, I did the only thing I could have done – I fished out the brain matter with my chopsticks, laid them in a neat pile to the side, and did my best not to taste the soup as I dipped enoki mushrooms and tofu skin in the boiling broth. Sometimes you do your best ordering off of a Chinese-only menu, but you still end up with chunks of brain in your soup. But that doesn’t stop you from ordering hot pot the next time you crave it.

Something about living in here China that has fascinated me so much is the way life here has made me immune to the absurd, has made me shrug off the illogical, has made me embrace the unreasonable. I both love and detest that situations like this leave me unfazed. And it’s not just the brains. It’s seeing the girl next to me on a plane pull out a pair of plastic gloves and a tupperware of chicken feet and proceed to suck the meat off the foot bones; it’s the daily near-avoidance of death by vehicular manslaughter; it’s the swarms of people, the questionable restaurant hygiene, the brain matter in my soup, but it is also no longer something that terrifies.

Living here is something that never stops being thrilling.

 

The beautifully-curated life 

The beautifully-curated life 

Things I’ve thought about this past week: D and I celebrated our second anniversary. To be honest, I’ve spent the past month dreading the day – and for absolutely no good reason. There’s something about being with a person whom I love so much that […]