Mid-Autumn Festival – Equinox

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Moon cakes

Good-bye Summer.

There was a  National Holiday last Thursday to celebrate The Mid-Autumn Festival (the equinox).  As the equinox fell on the Thursday, the Friday was also added as a National Holiday – but employees were expected to work on the Sunday to ‘make-up’ for the Friday – strange but true.  Even the school was open on Sunday… but we skipped it.

Moon Cakes are traditionally eaten at this time of year and are made to symbolize the moon:  these are sweet pastries filled with all sorts of fillings – almond, egg, red beans, lotus seeds….. .  I’ve heard that they are kind-of the equivalent of the British Christmas fruit cake – in that they are eaten once a year and not always with a great deal of pleasure.

This festival features the beautiful idea that we all see the same moon phase on or around the same date. There are some small differences due to time zone, but, for the most part, the moon looks the same to all of us as night falls. As the roundest and brightest moon of the year was in the sky on that day I felt a connection with my friends and family across the globe.

The Autumn season is associated with illness and indeed a number of school friends have been ill:  In Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy the body represents the five elements of life: earth, fire, wood, water and metal. In Autumn, the metal phase, represented by the lungs, is most vulnerable, which is why we experience more respiratory problems.  Our school kindly posted some advice to parents:

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I’m not sure if you can read this but it suggests drinking more water, eating less spicy food, keeping the skin moist and avoiding all cold food and drink (which is actually  ill-advised all year round).

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Fresh pomegranate juice for Autumn – un-chilled of course!

I have noticed so many people sleeping on the job and in the streets that I decided to start a photo collection:

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hmmm…….. they are all men…..

Shanghighs‘: Spending some time over the long week-end to ‘chill-out’ with the family (and ‘chill-off’- the weather was hot enough for a last swim in the out-door pool before it closes for the winter weather).  We’re off to Cambodia next week during the school vacation.

Shanghlows‘: A probable diagnosis of synovitis PVNS of the knee – this is not good as there is no known cause nor treatment with a prognosis that it will get worse.  To confirm the diagnosis the insurance company is suggesting going to Hong Kong  which is not very reassuring about the level of care being offered here!  Actually I became a little suspect when I realized the Dr was using Wikipedia as his reference tool.  Let’s hope he was incompetent enough to be wrong about the diagnosis 😉  In the meantime I’m going to follow more strictly an anti-inflammatory diet and cross my fingers.

Shangunusuals‘:

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This load would have to break the record for length.

In the street.

Here is but a small selection of what goes on in the streets in our neighborhood:

You can get a hair cut or some alterations made to your clothing:

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You can have your bicycle or scooter repaired or a chicken or duck plucked:

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You can have a medical consultation or dry your clothes:

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You can prepare vegetables or play a serious game of cards.

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In the morning you can watch youtiao being made (pastry which is cut into strips, 2 strips are then pushed together before deep fried)

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…which you then dip into warm soy milk.  This is what we (the kids!) tried for breakfast on our way to school this week.

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And then following a very heavy rain storm you can either choose to wait for the water to subside or simply take off your shoes and walk through the ankle-deep water….

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…which is what he had to do in order to reach our front door one afternoon this week!

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‘Shanghighs’:  Antoine riding a pedal bicycle  by himself.

‘Shanglows’: Antoine falling off bicycle….by himself!

‘Shangunusuals’:  Despite such a very *full week I’m feeling a bit ‘blah’.  Might be exhaustion (mainly psychological).

*We met and had play dates with some neighbors who live 109 steps away – according to my daughter – (Lizzie and kids from the UK and then Sandrine and kids from France), I had a 3-hour job interview and subsequently received an offer for part-time employment (speech therapy)…. which I’m comparing to another potential job offer (wellness related) which came out of the ‘Ask A Health Coach’ gathering the other day ……, I finally began Chinese lessons,  I tried my first batch of water kefir using the grains offered to me by a Sth African expat, I successfully completed a test for my nutrition studies, I finally got an MRI done of my knee which has been painful for far too long and hindering my ability to exercise (no diagnosis yet), and then I actually met-up with a number of people who – until this week – I’d only communicated with via the internet….all very nice and interesting.

What lessons did I learn?

In her book ‘The Sacred Contract’, Caroline Myss believes that  ‘The people from whom we often learn most in life are ‘the petty tyrants’……those …. that either push our buttons or who have qualities we dislike about ourselves’.  Hmmmm, following the recent visit from my mother-in-law what did I learn……..?

1.Choice.  In her book Caroline Myss also talks about choice  being our greatest power which makes me think back to some training that I did a very long time ago:  Stephen Covey’s  7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I found his following quote very powerful:

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In the same vain Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, MD once said, “In between stimulus and response there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So, I revisited the notion that I have the ability to breathe, be present and then actually choose my response rather than being swept away by emotion.

2.  And I also learned that I really need to ‘give up the need to always be right’.   This suggestion was included in a list given in one of our lectures at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition regarding happiness.  I especially like this list as it describes releasing behaviors rather than offering a list of things to add into our lives. Find the full list of 15 things we can give up at:  www.purposefairy.com/3308/15-things-you-should-give-up-in-order-to-be-happy.

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3. I also remembered the value of listening:  when you stop thinking of what you are going to say next but rather listen to the other person, you are free to really listen and that helps create true connection and open communication.  I love this quote: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak” – Epictetus.

4. And of course, I appreciated how important it is to have extended family – regardless of their ‘faults’.

‘Shanghighs’:

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Called many things: jian bing, jidan bing, dan bing, the Tianjing Crepe, and the Egg-y Pancake, this quick breakfast food was another discovery.  A thin crepe folded over egg, fresh coriander, some pickled vegetables (?) a sweet hoisin-style sauce and a fried piece of crispy pastry.

‘Shanglows’: not being able to pronounce the name of my street correctly!  I really need to start some serious Chinese lessons now the children are in school.  Taxi drivers are having a really hard time understanding where I want to go.

‘Shangunusuals’: Below you will see a common sight – bicycles carrying unfathomable loads.  This particular load was wider than a car!

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School started….. and some opportunities.

I’d been finding the Summer (school-free) days rather long by the end of week 11 but now that the children are in school  I’m feeling a little strange without them around. I was actually looking forward to some sense of freedom but because mother-in-law is still here I haven’t even had the luxury of that … yet.

I can’t believe that my two little ones have grown so much. The warning phrase so often expressed by elderly folk over the past 5 years –  ‘enjoy them while they’re young’ –  will most certainly come back to haunt me soon.  Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed them and feel privileged to have been able to spend time with them in their formative preschool years but I do regret not having been MORE present.

The school that they are enrolled in is called Peekaboo and the curriculum is taught 50% in French and 50% in Chinese. As the French school system starts at 3yrs of age, Antoine is officially school-aged….. but I’m thinking I might keep him back at home for a day or two here and there.  The children had a fabulous time on orientation day……

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And getting to school was fun on the morning of the first day…..  Papa even managed to accompany us despite his ridiculously busy schedule.

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But the actual first day of school was a little difficult.  My children really do get along very well together and being separated (if only by a few walls) was a challenge for both of them.  In addition, English is their primary language and so being surrounded by French and Chinese is most certainly adding to the anxiety.  And then of course, many of the students already know the school and each other.

By the third day the comments by the teachers were much more positive when I picked them up from school….phew!… but my son is still clinging to me as I leave in the morning.  He’s also not very keen on the mandatory health check every morning on arrival (nor am I as I was ‘scolded’ for not cutting his nails short enough)  The school nurses are checking for hand, foot and mouth disease which is a very common and highly contagious virus over here.

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As for me, I accepted the invitation to be an advisor at the ‘ASK A HEALTH COACH’ day to be held at a local education retail space  called Sproutworks (http://www.sproutlifestyle.com/) this Saturday September 7th, 2013.  The Australian owner Kimberley has co-ordinated  7 Hours of free Health Tips for Shanghai locals from 9 Health Coaches.  I’m looking forward to it.

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And then on the Speech Therapy front, I’ve also had an informal meeting with the founder of a multidisciplinary group aimed at helping children with special needs and have a couple of requests from ‘inpats’ for some affordable therapy for their children.  Unlike ‘expats’ with all of their medical costs covered, these anglophone inpats have  local Chinese work contracts have to cover the costs of medical services and therapy themselves.

We’ll see where these opportunities lead but somethings that I really want to do for myself at the moment (in order to cultivate space joy and lightness which I chose as my leading principals after-all!) are: to take some Mandarin lessons, to take some local cooking classes, to meet some new folk and to simply wander around the streets of shanghai – tasting the local delicacies as I go .

Shanghighs‘: A 45min Chinese massage:  for the price of a box of cereal I enjoyed a massage – in a small room surrounded by 4 other clients – including mother-in-law,  and listening to Christmas music.  I felt better and better as the massage therapist really worked those muscles in my shoulders and back that had become progressively tighter over the past few months.

Those who know me well will know that I really do not like to shop but it was actually quite fun going to one of the many markets and helping my mother-in-law negotiate some fake goods (Hermes belt for 60rmb = $10.00).  The principle is that you divide the initial price by 4 and then start negotiating while listening to the dramatic banter: ‘Oh you’re killing me’, and ‘No that’s less than cost price!’, and ‘Are you crazy lady?”

Some culinary highlights:

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xiaolongbao – delicious steamed buns filled with various fillings (especially pork and crab) and scolding liquid which makes them quite a challenge to eat.

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Tasting green, oolong and the dark fermented pu’er tea

Shanglows‘:  Feeling restricted in my choice of activities and feeling responsible for entertaining our house guest for 3 weeks.  But on a positive note, this situation also allowed for self-reflection…. more on this next week.