Analysis Paralysis

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Can’t vouch for the eels or frogs (yet) but the ‘tea eggs’ (chaye dan) flavoured with black tea and star anise are delicious.

Give me a menu in a restaurant and I’ll spend hours deciding what to order.  If ever my husband should choose the same dish, the process has to start all over again (because it’s positively unthinkable to order the same thing!) Show me 30 housing options and I’m struck by a very serious case of analysis paralysis.

Actually I’ve been suffering a lot be analysis paralysis recently.  There appear to be far too many options out there – more than usual!

I really like what Gretchen Rubin (of ‘Happiness Project’) has to say about this subject: ‘Most decisions don’t require extensive research’ She also goes on to describe  two types of decision makers. ‘Satisficers’  who make a decision once their criteria are met; when they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. And then ‘Maximizers who want to make the best possible decision; even if they see a bicycle that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option.  Studies suggest that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers expend more time and energy reaching decisions, and they’re often anxious about their choices.

I’m afraid I’m a ‘maximizer’ and I’m not sure how many apartments I am going to have to look at before making a decision…….Shanghai is rather big after all.   I don’t really like the idea of living in a high-rise serviced apartment – but it has it’s perks.  The cute little Lane Houses 8x4meter rooms on 3 levels are charming but potentially impractical, the Garden Houses are often beyond our budget and so that leaves some old apartments that are, well….. old and I’ve already been warned about the bitterly cold winters here.

When I’m faced with too many choices ‘outside’  Its been my challenge  to go ‘inside’ and follow my ‘gut feeling’………….’hello, hello, what are you saying now gut ?’  I just want to find some housing and get on with exploring this city.

Shanghighs‘: Driving through the streets of Shanghai at night, play-date with Kim (American) and kids, lunch with my Chinese tutor from Santa Barbara who was visiting family in Shanghai, brunch with Katherine (Canadian/Belgian) and family – she is yet another fabulous student of the course I’m doing, eating crispy duck pancakes (Beijing Kaoya), our ayi/baby sitter who has been fabulous and whom the children adore.

Shanglows‘: Visa Interview whereby we travelled right across town to be told by the official that the copies of our documents were insufficiently clear  (before she dramatically ripped up the applications in front of us) only to return 2 days later (with the originals on-hand) and have the very same copies accepted without asking to see the originals!!!!  It’s still a mystery why we even needed to present.

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bai yei bao – thin sheets of tofu wrapped around pork and vegetables before being cooked in soup (made by my tutor’s mother) plus chinese sausage and rice.

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Now this is what I call a Public Newspaper!

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Many local apartment blocks and parks have outside gym equipment – that the kids love to use.

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Still climbing!

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Mobile flower vendor

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Out of my comfort zone ……

942386_10151418153040976_1280535885_nI really like this diagram.  I feel like I’m very much out of my comfort zone at the moment …. but this IS positive, this IS good………right?

I also came across the following advice this week which I felt was very timely as the ‘o’ word has been at the forefront of my mind this week : “Your plate is full….and you could say, because it’s your right to, that you’re feeling “overwhelmed”. But don’t… Back away from overwhelm. Because when you just utter that word, you cast doubt on your capacity to rise.” Danielle La Porte

So although I was terrified about getting lost and not being able to find my way back to the apartment, I ventured a lot more out this week on foot.  As it turns out, getting lost is less frightening than the very great risk of being hit by bicycles or scooters on the pavement/footpath (which apparently is legal……….to ride on the footpath that is, not to hit people!).  This city really is an amazing mix of old and new: skyscrapers, noodle vendors, boutique shops and clothes hanging out the windows to dry (how exactly in this humidity is a mystery).

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To celebrate Duan Wu Jie Kuai Le (Dragon Boat Festival) – glutinous rice with meat inside steamed inside bamboo leaves.

I also bought some more ‘surprise’ food ingredients this week.  It’s been a challenge to buy things from the markets and super markets – not only because I’m not sure about what many things are (nor about the quality) but because my daughter finds the smell of the markets (especially the meat) repulsive and it’s been difficult to just get in the door of the market.  Enter Lisa (a fellow Institute of Integrative Nutrition student) who not only arrived bearing edible gifts and toys for the kids, but took me to a large array of reliable food stores, introduced me to the metro and taxi systems, and even played hide and seek with the kids!  We’re ever so grateful to you Lisa and sad that you’re leaving China in a few days.

We visited the school that our children will be attending in September.  Let’s hope is was in such disorder because the principal is currently on maternity leave.  And yes, that means there are nearly 3 months without schooling for the kids – nor respite or study time for me – so I met with a few ‘baby-sitters’ (‘ayi) and we chose Xiao Xia – a lovely women who will help-out over the coming months. She speaks very little English so this should be interesting.

We have seen 14 housing options so far, from quaint Lane houses to fancy serviced apartments.  None of which seemed like ‘home’ so we’re going to continue the search.

‘Shanghighs’: wonton soup, public parks, Skyping my daughter’s ‘fiance’ whom she’s been pining since our departure, ShanghaiMamas.com forum which is a great source of information and advice and which has helped me get in contact with some really wonderful parents in Shanghai, tasting durian fruit which is something I’d wanted to taste for a while

‘Shanglows’: feeling overwhelmed…. um… challenged, spending far too much time looking for apartments on the internet… then actually going to visit many of them with two tired children, smoking and spitting in public places, thick soupy air pollution, mosquitos, tasting durian fruit – not what I was expecting from it’s rave reviews.

‘Shangunusuals’: People looking a lot at the kids – touching them and requesting to have photos taken with them,  strange smells in the streets despite then looking very clean, employees doing a dance/exercise routine to cheesy music in front of their building before starting their work, karaoke in the park, and seeing a dog wearing pink shoes… I swear!

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Some street scenes

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More scenes from around town.

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Our fruit this week: red bay berries, lychees and mangosteens

Shanghai – yes it really does have the same population as the whole of Australia

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Night view from apartment

In the words of my 3yr-old son as he viewed Shanghai for the first time:  ‘Wooahhh’.  This is indeed one big city with tall buildings and lots of cars with drivers who seem to like using their horns and ignoring pedestrians.  It seems that scooters taking short cuts over pavements is totally acceptable.

We arrived late Thursday night and after looking at the streets below and the high rises around with a mix of both shock and awe from the 34th floor apartment, we slumped into bed.

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baimizhou/rice congee

My first meal was a breakfast of rice congee with fish and ginger.  I was surprised to find goji berries floating on top.  I know that they are grown here, but I’d always used them in sweet rather than savory ways.  I wonder if they weren’t added simply for color?… the dish certainly needed it although I’ve since learned that you are supposed to add condiments such as some nuts and pickles to this dish.

Our first day was under the rain (apparently the rainy season has officially begun and will last for approximately 3 weeks or so).  We had to go to International Travel Healthcare Centre to prove that we are healthy.  It was somewhat amusing to see foreigners lined up in hospital robes waiting to be ushered from one room to another and back again.  After that we decided to check-out a local market where we saw all sorts of things to buy and presumably eat, such as string bags full of live toads, tiny wriggling eels and chou doufu (‘stinky tofu’) … sorry, didn’t have my camera with me.

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dousha bao (sweet steamed bean-paste bun) another breakfast treat

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Tian Zi Fang

We have  visited some  parts of the Former FrenchConcession/Huangpu district with the help of Thomas our relocation agent.  We adored Tian Zi Fang – a collection of little lanes with artists and tea/coffee shops.  We also loved the more traditional streets lined with soup vendors, vegetable stands and bicycles.  Our children’s school is in this district so we’ll be looking for housing in this area over the next few weeks.  The next 3 days are Dragon Boat Festival holidays – which sounds rather exciting but I believe it’s primarily an occasion for families to get together – so disappointingly there will be no dragons.  We took the opportunity to go and visit the ‘Old Town’ with it’s tranquil Yu Gardens.  We also visited a fabulous antique market and finished it off with a great Sichuan hotpot (huoguo) meal where we plunged vegetables – such as the delicious lotus root – and meats into a boiling broth and then fished them out before dipping them into a variety of sauces and condiments (such as sesame paste, chilli sauce, fresh coriander ….monosodium glutamate!)

Shanghighs‘ this week:  discovering new food, some great contacts with other ex-patriate families (some play-dates are set for this week), plenty of opportunities to stop-breathe-remain calm  😉

Shanglows‘: kids being sick and waking-up at 3am every day, rain, not speaking the language, the kids asking to go ‘home’ or to see their friends, missing the comforts of home and routine……. more about ‘comfort’ next week.

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Images from Old Town/Nanshi – still not sure what those eggs are covered with.

Benefits of moving?…….. um……?

The past few months have certainly highlighted the list of disadvantages of moving:  there’s been the usual stuff such as ending rental agreements and utilities and redirecting mail, finding schools, etc… but because we’re moving abroad there’s also been the more time consuming stuff such as completing visa applications, undergoing extensive medical assessments, learning a language, closing and opening bank accounts, setting up software on the computer that will allow access to sites (such as Facebook) that are banned in China, selling the car, co-ordinating movers with air-flights  …. blah, blah, blah.

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Images of Santa Barbara and friends

However, the most difficult aspect by FAR has been saying good-bye to our very special circle of friends that we have formed over the last 3 years.  I am deeply grateful for having met these ‘Santa Barbarians’ – an open-minded, caring, grounded, generous and healthy bunch of people.  It’s often only when people and circumstances are taken away that we truly appreciate their real importance in our lives.  Sniff, sniff….teary eyes.

BUT to be true to my intention to be joyful I have dug around for the advantages of moving (which has been hard given the statistic that says that moving is the third most stressful event you can endure, following death and divorce)

So here it goes, the benefits of moving:

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Michael Leunig – from The Stick and other tales of our times

1/  De-cluttering – by far the biggest advantage is de-cluttering.  I’ve discovered that I actually prefer getting rid of ‘stuff’ versus aquiring it and it gives me a great sense of clarity and freedom.  If it’s not useful or beautiful, toss/give/sell it.  ‘Less is More’ after all!

It never ceases to amaze me just how few things/objects we actually need.

2/  Excitement – the excitement of discovering a new continent, culture, language, CUISINE.

3/  Communication – bidding farewell to friends or greeting new ones seems to involve a deeper level of communication with deeper connections that I find very moving.

4/  Family ties– I feel that big changes seem to strengthen bonds between family members – as they clutch together for survival!

5/  Freedom to be yourself – when you are surrounded by strangers in a foreign country there is a great sense of freedom.  Any ‘errors’ that you make are simply due to the fact that you are an ‘ignorant foreigner’.

6/  Rediscovery – There’s also the opportunity to rediscover yourself as you witness how you react to the changes.

7/  Safety -over the past 2 weeks we have been subjected to forest fires and an earthquake here in Santa Barbara and so (if I turn a blind eye to the recent stories from China regarding the thousands of dead pigs floating in the Huangpu river running through Shanghai, the human deaths from bird flu and the increasing tensions between the Chinese government and neighboring countries not to mention the pollution…) California is simply not a safe place to live!

8/  Um….. it forces self-reflection….

Any other ideas?

Next blog will be from Shanghai as we fly out tomorrow!