First Impressions

After 5 hours of scrubbing and cleaning, I left ‘home’ (our home of 2 years to the very day) and drove past vast open spaces, sunflower fields, towns, and vineyards to arrive 6 hours later at our new pad. The next day our affairs also arrived by truck. Apparently, the 47m3 of ‘stuff’ (mostly toys) was under the average French load of 60m3, but it was still way too much and it took days to take it all out of the boxes.

348Just before leaving home, we had the chance to catch-up with some friends that we met in Shanghai (who now live in Paris but who were holidaying on the west coast). 382And then shortly after our arrival, we caught-up with some more ex-ex-pats.

That would surely have to be the biggest benefit of our expatriation experiences…the opportunity to meet (and re-meet) so many people from all over the globe.

Speaking of people, those that I’ve met so far here in Toulouse and the surrounding towns are pretty friendly folk.  363It’s been easy to strike up conversations at the markets and our neighbor has spoilt us with her homegrown produce. Martine even gave me a cooking lesson to show me how to prepare zucchini/courgette flowers the Italian way (she originates from Calabria).

As with many parts of France, the locals here are extremely proud of their village/town/city to the point that they can be caught down-talking the adjoining village/town/city. Generally they appear to have strong personalities, speak frankly, and have less concern about customer service than I’m used to: on numerous occasions shops have been closing well before their posted finishing time.

We are in the Haute Garonne department which is in the Occitanie Region (formally known as the Midi Pyrénées).

The capital of the Haute Garonne is Toulouse, which is also called the Ville Rose (Pink City) due to the color of the bricks from which it has been constructed….although my kids thought that ‘Orange City’ would be a more accurate name.

Even when buildings look like that might not be built with the famous bricks…it turns out that they are!

It makes for a very striking city with impressive squares and lovely little streets and passages.

447The city has the Garonne River running through it and the Canal du Midi runs around it. At the moment the Marie (mayor) has created ‘Toulouse Plage’ along the river which offers a multitude of free activities to the general public. In this photo, people are playing with board games that were on offer with volunteers mulling around to help with the rules. We played ‘Niagara’ which was a good mix of strategy and luck. Compared with Australia, board games seem to be more popular in Europe.

Closer to our new home there is a vast forest (la forêt de Bouconne) and quite a few lovely walking/cycling paths. However, apart from the few quaint traditional brick houses, the architecture is very uninspiring.

I’d say that the first impressions of our new surroundings are mixed but overall positive.

As for forging ahead with new habits?….well I decided to change the side of the bed on which I sleep… just for a change. So besides sleep deprivation, I’ve not made great progress on that front.

However, I have forced myself to go to different places every day and to take different routes whenever possible (my kids would call it ‘getting lost’) just to keep mindful of my actions.

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Feeling ‘exy’

While we were technically expatriated to England and the US, we didn’t really feel like ‘foreigners’ in our host countries. Here in China we just can’t blend in as easily due to the language, physical and cultural differences.

It is the same for most ‘expats’ and as a consequence the expat community tends to congregate (and find some kind of ‘refuge’ and home-comfort) – sooner or later for shorter or longer periods – in western-style cafes, bars, restaurants, super-markets, at the school gate and on-line.

Shanghai is a BIG city but what sets it apart from other big cities is the mix of very old and very new (the haves and the have nots ………at least in material terms) right next to each-other. Here is an example from a lane which we walk through each morning on our way to school:

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Here an enormous 2-storey mansion with garden behind gates and wall and then just 20 meters away from this… a 2×4 meter home (below) situated next to the rubbish bins.

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The speed of change is also remarkable…. Below are some scenes from a street fabric market that will no doubt disappear shortly …..

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Expatriation has it’s share of ups and downs….here is an EXtract of my EXperiences:

EXploring: one’s curiosity can only be whet by the smell, sounds, sights, tastes of a new country…..

EXpressing: there’s a certain freedom in what you do, say, wear….after all anything ‘weird’ that you do/say/wear…. will be explained by you being an alien (foreigner)

EXpanding: one gets to meet people from not only China but from all over the world, many of whom have branched out and turn their hobbies into businesses. There are many examples but I really like the business ‘FINCH’ which recycles plastic into fancy raincoats suitable for using on bicycles. I recently met the owner who said that she is now branching out into swimwear!

EXciting: Especially in such a huge metropolis that is Shanghai, there is no chance of getting bored.

EXpectations: …can be high, especially in the workplace and in International and Chinese schools where children are expected to be fluent in several languages and to do many hours of home-work (our kids are happy not to be in this situation)

EXasperating: differences in culture are great…….but can be very frustrating at times.

EXiting:  people come and go at regular intervals….. 3 of Blanche’s classmates have left the country in the last 3 months……..

There are surely many more things to comment on but I’ve run out of ‘EX’s’!

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Shanghighs‘: Our friend Jerome generously extended his Chinese business trip and paid us a visit. It was a pleasure to see him again (the last time we saw him and his wife Christelle was in Santa Barbara). Here he is enjoying a yogurt (yes yogurt is a drink here!)

Shanglows‘: We are going down…….to the 3rd floor 😦  To keep things as simple as possible, we have reluctantly ‘agreed’ to move from our current apartment (20th floor) to the 3rd floor rather than start house-hunting all over again. See my last post for an explanation for moving!

Shangunusuals‘: Jerome was seriously over-charged by a taxi driver – which was the first time I’d heard of this type of crime in Shanghai until I read this in the latest ‘CityWeekend’ magazine; “Last month 400 Shanghai taxi drivers were nabbed in a sting for overcharging foreign passengers”. Just for information, the flag fee for a taxi in Shanghai is 14rmb ($2.00), the driver may or may not smoke and/or spit, he/she will most certainly have a flask of green tea sitting next to him/her and as long as you can name the cross-road closest to your destination (and it’s not raining) he/she will get you there quickly (whilst narrowly missing pedestrians along the way).

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All Shanghai taxis are this style of car – either blue, green, red or this orange. They all have VW badges on them….but they don’t look like Volks Wagons!