We’ve been back in Shanghai for almost two weeks since our Hawaiian holiday and it actually felt really good to come ‘home’. Many of you who know me well may understand how long it’s taken for me to call Shanghai home. It finally feels like home and I know the reasons behind it.
Here’s a little background. Christoph has a work visa which allows us to have a residence permit to live in Shanghai. I have a spousal visa which allows me to stay but forbids me to work in China. Unless a company wants me bad enough to go through the legal hoops to get me a work visa, you can guess that I’ll be a housewife for a while longer. Most companies don’t want the hassle of applying for work visas as the visas are getting harder to be granted. China has recently tightened their requirements for work visa applicants and have started to grade their foreigners according to skill levels; A, B and C. A is the most desirable expert, B is someone like Christoph and C are specialists but not quite; ie. teachers. Teachers are now under scrutiny as you can no longer teach English unless you are from a native English-speaking country. Long story short, no work visa, no work.
Now, when a woman decides to not work, she generally does so to care for her family... mainly children. Hmph. We also decided to not have children so that then leaves me with many daylight hours to fill. There are only so many things I can do until I feel completely unproductive and unmotivated. It’s quite a challenge to really learn about yourself; what drives you or what satisfies you, what bores you... etc. It’s taken me almost two years to feel somewhat balanced. It’s still a work in progress but I’m feeling much more grounded and somewhat balanced.
Christoph has it tough that he has long days at work and daily pressures to deliver. But he at least gets to feel challenged, productive, supported, have a sense of job satisfaction and get to interact with people every day. If I choose, it’s possible for me to not speak to anyone other than Christoph for days on end. One can easily develop a feeling of isolation which is very common amongst most expatriates in China.
So, where was my turning point? It started as an understanding and acceptance that I wasn’t feeling at home in Shanghai. I was travelling a lot and didn’t have many chances to engage in meaningful interactions with people nor had I developed a fulfilling routine. Having daily meaningful interactions with someone other than your significant other is difficult to create but I could create a meaningful routine for myself. A few factors had to be considered; 1. use my brain positively, 2. have daily physical activity, 3. possible community work, 4. have a creative outlet.
To use my brain and give back to the community, I’ve since December started volunteer work with a charity that raises money for children’s heart surgery (www.h2hsh.com). I work in admin and co-ordinate and activate new hospital volunteers. The benefit of helping in admin is that it allows me to work from any location which means that each day, I can sit down and dedicate how ever many minutes or hours I need to my volunteer work no matter where I am. This work also makes me use my brain as I am constantly following up processes and interacting between 20-30 people. I also help Christoph wherever I can with office training sessions for his team and I have another charity organisation that I am interviewing for next week. I will keep you posted as to how that goes.
For the physical aspect, Christoph and I take walks together whenever the weather is nice and make a point to walk each day over the weekends. During the week I attend either a yoga, pilates or barre class and I’m thrilled that I’ve found a great studio with wonderful teachers. Finally for the creative outlet, I’ve been really lucky and have been keeping up with making boxes and cooking. I’ve also started sewing, writing calligraphy and flower-arranging. It all sounds quite ‘Little House on the Prairie’ doesn’t it? But I have to say that every little bit helps to keep me sane and happy. Lastly, our apartment is very comfortable, well-connected to public transport and is across the road from a park, ie. green space! Home Sweet Home Shanghai. Finally! :o)