the best is yet to come

"I'm a morning person who hates mornings" aka my daily routine in Shanghai

This week, I turned my daily routine on its head. As a result, I’ve worked four nearly 16-hour days. I’m groggy, disoriented, and exhausted. I officially and unexpectedly started my new job, caught completely off-guard when told we’d be switching offices last Sunday (I knew the transition was happening. I hadn’t realized it was happening, well, now). And so, because I have nothing better to write about, here is a chronicle of how I upended days, my mornings and evenings, and a small preview of the year ahead. 


2014 Maria’s Typical Day:

7:30am – Reluctantly open my eyes as the first alarm goes off on my iPhone (it’s the theme to “The Godfather”. I don’t really like it, but I’ve been too lazy to change it for the last three years). Groggily check my Google Inbox and pin the work emails I received overnight, then promptly ignore them. Check my Instagram notifications (why do weird Russian accounts keep following me?). Pull the blanket closer over my head.

7:35 – Begin considering the possibility of getting out of bed. Weigh that against the probability of it being cold outside (quite high). Make a firm decision to stay under the sheets as my second alarm goes off (this time, it’s Bach)

7:40 – Decide that I should probably go jogging. Unhappily put on my long-sleeve running shirt and leggings; fumble around the apartment, shivering while looking for my running gloves.

7:45-8:00 – Dodge oncoming traffic as I circle 4-5 blocks around my neighborhood, surrounded by schoolchildren, crossing guards, and the smell of fermented cabbage baozi.

8:00 – Hop into my shower as the temperature in my apartment finally becomes tolerable.

8:15 – Scramble around in a half-hearted search for clothes (work pants: check, chambray button-down: check, underwear: check?)

8:30 – Brew a pot of espresso with the Moka pot I “stole” from my old apartment. Well okay, I did actually, sort of steal it, but we had three and no one ever used them, so I felt my theft was utilitarian.

8:30-9:00 – Catch up on the New York Times, drinking the aforementioned espresso (with milk) and eating a bowl (or two) of (gluten-free) granola.

9:00-9:05 – Put on blush and bronzer. Fill in my eyebrows.

9:05-9:30 – Dawdle around my apartment. Seriously, what do I usually do during this time?? I’m drawing a complete blank. I am definitely a morning person. I can’t stand staying in bed past 8am. I wake up at 6:30am on the weekends without an alarm, but despite it all, mornings are still overwhelmingly difficult.

Waking up with Shanghai
Waking up with Shanghai

9:30-10:00 – Walk to my office building in Jing’an, passing by Yongkang Lu (eerily quiet), Shaanxi Nan Lu (bustling, as always), and Julu Lu (I know that lady at the Familymart still judges me after what we did last October). Get a Hong Kong milk tea with condensed milk and coffee by Nanchang Lu. Climb the two flights to cross the Yan’an elevated highway.

10:00-6:30 – Work. Lunch is always at 1pm, but I’ve already written about my lunches here.

Work Commute or Bad Acid Trip? Doesn't matter, it's China.
Work Commute or a Bad Acid Trip?

6:30-7:00 – Meander back home. Cross the elevated Yan’an elevated highway once more, electrically since it’s nighttime.

7:00-1:00am – Happy hours. Catching up with friends at the HDBS, Chinese lessons (Tuesdays), Yoga (Wednesdays), Picking up dinner. Chuanr. Swing-Dancing. Trivia night at the Camel. Sleep.


This week, I started doing things a bit differently. 


2015 Maria’s Typical Day:

7:00am – Reluctantly wake up to the Godfather theme (why haven’t I changed it yet?). Dawdle in my warm bed for the next 15 minutes.

7:20 – Actually get out of bed. Turn on the heater in my living room to 26ºC to let it warm up (did I mention my part of China doesn’t have central heating?) and climb back under my blanket for 10 more minutes.

7:30 – Groggily go on a quest to find my work clothes. My apartment is still freezing, so the likelihood of wearing two layers and a sweater is higher than average.

7:45 – Contemplate brewing a pot of espresso. Decide to get coffee on my walk to work instead, because I don’t have the time to make it at home.

8:00 – Fill in my eyebrows, add a coat of mascara and blush. Try to remember where I put my laptop charger.

8:10-9:00 – Start the, oh so long, commute to work (seriously, this is like going from Hobbiton to Mordor). As always, I insist that I walk it instead of giving in and taking public transportation (is this a New England thing, or do I just really hate busses?) Pass the Shanghai Symphony, a Hooters, two stores dedicated entirely to selling chocolate, and the biggest Family Mart I’ve yet to see in Shanghai (alright Familymart lady that doesn’t know my shady past, let’s be friends).

His name tag says: Neal Mocha. His pace says: "I'm fine making you wait 20 minutes for your latte"
His name tag says: Neal Mocha. His pace says: “I’m fine making you wait 20 minutes for your latte”

9:10 – Arrive in the lobby of our new office building and our service office (Are we here to hideout? Perhaps). Take a detour to pick up a latte from Starbucks. Pass by the Clamshell café, whose slogan is “Coffee and Calmquietude”

9:10-5:00 – Stare at a computer screen. Write code. Drink caffeine. Repeat.

5:00-6:00 – Slowly embark on my commute home (can I get a flock of eagles to fly me back to complete my LOTR analogy?). Contemplate stopping somewhere along the way to get dinner. In the Shanghai twilight, that Hooters looks almost inviting.

6:00-1:00am – Continue programming. Lie on my couch drinking cup after cup of ginger tea. Program. Debug. Bemoan my VPN. Drift to sleep with my laptop on my chest.

This transition is unnerving. When I chose to come to Shanghai, I had thought that I left my computer programming past behind, but here I am again. My feelings towards this? Complicated. Too complicated to process at the moment (also, because I need to get Imagemagick working on my Heroku environment once I’m done with this entry). I have already written about moving to China to avoid one of those post-Yale jobs that would consume me, but that sort of job still managed to find me (or perhaps I found it and this is unavoidable?).



One of the worst parts about leaving my apartment an hour and a half earlier each morning will be not seeing my Ayi on Wednesday mornings. I’ve been asked before what an Ayi is and I guess, first, I should explain. In the strictest sense, an Ayi is a housekeeper. They’re usually women who clean apartments for an amount of money that I feel sort of bad about paying, because the wages in China are so low. Mine comes once a week for two hours to clean my kitchen and living room, do some of my dishes, and tidy up. Some Ayis also cook, but last time one of my coworkers asked his Ayi to make dumplings, he got food poisoning that nearly took him out for a week, so like anything in China, there is a fair amount of risk involved.  But, in reality, the definition of ‘housekeeper’ is looser.

Unlike a regular housekeeper, my Ayi:

  • Reproaches me when I forget to pay my gas bills
  • Chides me for not wearing slippers when I am running around barefood my apartment to get ready (she, on the other hand, always wears the pair of slippers that I bought for her to wear around the apartment)
  • Tries to gossip with me about my neighbors and my friends
  • Comments on my knitting techniques (My stitching? Good. The heels on my socks? Sloppy.)
  • Grumbles about the cold in my apartment
  • Complains of being unable to reach the counters in my kitchen (me too, Ayi, me too). 

I’m not sure if these workdays are sustainable and how long it will be until I start falling asleep at work, but there is a certain exhilaration that has come along with the change. I have very strong associations with the times I used to program back in the US and they are all being brought up to the forefront after nearly three years of being dormant.

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