Leaving Christchurch…

Moving to China was a two-part decision for us; it wasn’t just about moving to China, it was also about leaving Canterbury. There were many reasons to move to China, reasons regarding Ross’s career, the children’s education, life experience, culture, and the opportunity to travel and do something extraordinary. There was only one reason to leave Canterbury: the earthquakes. It wasn’t THE reason, but it made up a small part of the whole of our decision. We do feel, and continue to hope, that the earthquakes themselves are over, but the recovery has barely begun, and Christchurch – for me anyway, has become a difficult city to love.

I’m happy that we stayed in Canterbury through its darkest days; there was always a certain comfort in being part of a community that together survived that enormous shared experience.

Now it’s an unfamiliar feeling for me, to hear loud sudden noises and know that I’m the only one in that room who briefly thought: “Earthquake!” who for a split second was braced for the race – to find my kids, to survive another one. Back in New Zealand, the sound of a truck rumbling down the road would facilitate a knowing eye contact among strangers, sympathetic half smiles of people who know they’re all feeling the same thing. Here, it’s just another loud noise.

In many ways, it’s liberating, refreshing even, to know I’m on my own in this, because I can let it slide passed and not give it my focus or fear. But there are other times, when I’m with others and a large truck makes the ground shudder under foot, when I’m bewildered that people are chatting and carrying on without the slightest pause, when just for a nanosecond I thought we all might die.

Some of our new friends here are interested in hearing about what happened in Christchurch, what it was like to experience those earthquakes. Its good to talk about what happened with people who weren’t there, and know that those experiences are actually behind us. The earthquake recovery is not something we are living through anymore, but many people we love still have their lives weighed down by their own earthquake recovery – whether it be the practicalities of living in broken houses still waiting for repairs or rebuilds, or the less visible recovery of the anxiety and mental toll it has all taken.

I feel fortunate in many ways, fortunate to have survived without too much mental injury, fortunate that we were able to move on in a way that was right for us, fortunate that our earthquake experiences – while harrowing – were never more than we could cope with, fortunate that we can look back on lots of those earthquake experiences with a sense of humour and remember funny things too, among the memories that still – and maybe always will – make me cry.

We often find ourselves telling the funny, light and interesting stories, and avoiding the hard ones. Stories of overcoming the difficulties of having no power or water supply, improvising toilet facilities in the backyard – and in a hurry! Pooling resources with friends and creative problem solving under pressure. Homeschooling the kids unexpectedly when the days of school closures slowly added up to seven weeks.

Stories of ingenuity and resilience are energizing and uplifting – and I think most of us felt that in the early days of the quakes. But, when the quakes kept coming that resilience and energy for overcoming adversity became harder and harder to find. I’ve heard so many Christchurch people cringing at the word ‘resilient’ now, you can tell people how resilient they are a million times, but its not a self-fulfilling prophecy, many of us just felt a bit broken after a while.

Choosing not to describe moments and hours of terror and despair, choosing not to discuss stories of indescribable loss is a conscious choice, there are stories that aren’t mine to tell here, and stories that aren’t right for this blog.

I’d like to say that living so far away, that the earthquakes don’t feature in our lives anymore, but they do. We have one child who is still recovering from that trauma with nightmares and fears, but they are noticeably, significantly fewer over here. My children will study earthquakes in their geography curriculum at school here this year – its my hope that rather than feel anxious about this they will feel empowered to share their experiences and contribute to understanding of earthquakes: what it really feels like to be flung out of bed, to be unable to stand, to see your house, your street and your school cracked and broken. My children have different memories than me, as they were at school during the worst of our quakes, I hope they feel able to talk about how that was, how frightening it was but how heroic (yes!) their teachers were in dealing with the enormous task before them. My twins have described to me the surreal scene of getting up off the ground to see the teachers’ staffroom doors, which were jammed tight shut, get pummeled open and release a swarm of teachers coursing at speed out and over the playing fields to reach every child. Olivia has described scrambling to try and get under a school desk while it was bouncing up and down and chairs were flung about – an impossible task when the quake is that violent. I hope they can convey how awesome people can be when the going gets tough, that wherever there was damage there was another hero with a spade, a bandage, a plate of food, an embrace or a joke – because there were groups of people managing each of those needs, and some of them are still meeting those needs today.

I still love Christchurch, but it’s people I miss and not the place. We hope to come home and see the promised rebuild finally taking shape one day, we hope that the innovation and creativity shown in the city plans and as promised by local and national government will really happen. Like everyone else though, we’re worried that it won’t, and I can’t imagine a greater opportunity lost than to fail to rebuild Christchurch with innovation, creativity and courage.

Kia Kaha Christchurch

xxxxx

Food-Focused!

 

I think I must be a very food focused person, to be writing about food yet again, but I really do want to share another food-shopping experience here. This week we ventured again into the local wet market. You may recall, we’ve been once before, on that occasion we were in hot pursuit of Peking Duck, which we acquired by being led into the wet market by our driver, who conducted the transaction for us while we furtively glanced around and then left again.

 

Our impressions that first time were of a vibrant, busy market, which was in equal measures fascinating and overwhelming. For a family who receives the bulk of our food in plastic packages passed through the front door of our apartment every week, an open market of fresh food is both appealing and foreign. On our first visit we barely saw a glimpse of what was really on offer, but this time we explored.

 

My parents were with us, and as true foodies they were interested in checking out this kind of place on their short visit from New Zealand. The four of us wandered in to explore. At first the smell of the fresh fish and seafood is off putting, its strong and its everywhere and its so unlike how we’re used to seeing food like that displayed for sale, its confronting.

 

I found myself wondering what words and phrases I need to learn and practice to be able to shop there, how can I learn to understand the prices they’re telling me? How can I get a grasp of the units of measure they use? How can I go back to plastic wrapped online produce when I have this resource so close to home?

Why am I overthinking this? Surely I just need to show up with my shopping list and figure it out!

 

So today, we did. We started with a rather triumphant trip to Carrefour. Triumphant because I’ve come home with massive quantities of UHT milk, cornflakes and toilet paper; these are our three major stock-up items, and looking at my cupboards I can’t imagine a day when I might actually run low of these things ever again, bring on the apocalypse, I’m ready! I have also acquired more cheese and butter than I’ve ever bought in one day before – I think I’m getting the hang of things here.

 

Next stop – the local wet market. I took the kids for a look through what I call the ‘fresh’ section (aka- still alive), before touring the butchery (recently deceased) before venturing into the relative peace and comfort of the vegetable section where we easily completed our shopping.

 

Walking out of there, I was struck by the contrasts of our life here, and the choices we make about experiencing that or not. I can be driven around the city at a whim, with a car and driver at my beck and call, or I can find my way to the underground and for a few cents find my way across the city with independence and alongside all kinds of people. I can shop online and pay over the odds to have imported foods delivered to my door, or I can walk to the wet market and pay a pittance for really good, fresh food. I’m sure I’ll continue to make all those choices from week to week, because to be realistic, I couldn’t give up all the easy choices either, but to deny ourselves the experiences of the harder choices would be to choose to learn less, see less and gain less from this whole experience.

 

 

As for my parent’s visit, did my plan from my last blog pan out? Yes and no, we never quite made it to The Bund for dinner, but we did have some fabulous meals. The sidecar tour exceeded all of our expectations and as well as giving us a fantastic time and taking us to some outstanding street food, they picked us up from pre dinner cocktails in Xintiandi and delivered us to the restaurant I’d booked for a post-tour dinner in the former French concession. After dinner we took in another cocktail at a 38th floor bar where we could relax and admire the view of nighttime Shanghai. It was a wonderful four days, and we left enough of Shanghai unseen and untasted for my parents to make many future visits.

My Parents Are Coming! My Parents Are Coming!

 

Its high excitement in our apartment this week, we are on the countdown, only a couple of sleeps to go and my parents will be here in Shanghai, checking out our new life here for the first time!

 

Of course, my primary objective is to show Mum and Dad that our home really is a home. The children are settled in their own rooms, we have our own things around us and this is now our home. I want to reassure them on the points that parents and grandparents might need reassurance on, by showing them where their darling grandchildren will go to school, where they will run around and swim, where there are western doctors and good food. I want my parents to see that our home is safe, comfortable and well – nice. My mother is a super stylish lady with a keen eye for décor, so of course I want everything to look great! High on the agenda is getting our paintings hung before they arrive – including a beautiful framed print which was a gift from my parents and a fun painting of my family that my mother painted for us years ago, along with our favourite Tin Man picture (Christchurch friends will understand that one).

 

Once they’ve had the grand tour of our apartment, we have four short days to introduce them to Shanghai! Four days?? Such a short visit? Yes, well, this is because they already had this trip booked for months before we had booked ours – this was to be a stopover in Hong Kong on the return leg of a few weeks in Europe. What was to be a lovely long stopover on the way home to New Zealand has evolved instead into four days in Shanghai. Which raises another issue – not only is time short, but I think my parents will already be tired and probably not in the mood for being tourists in another big city. Thankfully, as seasoned travellers, they have been very clear about their expectations for their four days in Shanghai – “Pick four excellent restaurants”, said Dad assertively, “and that’s about it”.

 

My parents are foodies, the best kind of foodies; lovers of both fine dining fare and fantastic street food, they are enthusiastic about superb food superbly prepared, whether it’s served on a silver platter to black tie patrons or on a greasy stick to bare-footed locals. So my challenge is clear: I have four days to give my parents a snapshot of the best of Shanghai’s food. The brief is clear, the pressure is on, and the research has begun.

 

If I’m going to give them a snapshot of our local favourites, that would mean a stroll down the road to where we eat as a family: pizza, Mexican or excellent steak among other offerings. Its good food, but its not exciting, it doesn’t make the list.

 

There’s The Bund of course, Shanghai’s most famous street and home to many fine dining options – arguably some of the best eateries in Asia, so surely that makes the list? Yes! But where to go? We haven’t dined there yet ourselves so I am asking around for recommendations, counting on the palates of others when it comes to finding somewhere suitably gorgeous and with food to match. This will have to be something special, posh frocks and French champagne special.

 

Then there is authentic Chinese, that’s got to make the list! Ross and I have eaten at a few, and there’s one outstanding contender – I clearly remember my first impression of this beautiful building, the unique décor and the food was so special, unexpected, unusual, unforgettable, and divine.

 

As for street food, I know it’s out there somewhere, but Shanghai is a big city, where do I start? On this point I’m cheating, and despite their simple request for four days of simple foodiness, I’ve booked a little tour. A private tour, we’ll leave the kids at home and just the four of us will head out to explore Shanghai at night with a private guide – on a couple of motorbikes with sidecars! So I have that night loosely sketched out – we’ll start with a lovely dinner in the former French concession (where I can recommend a divine Turkish place or a tranquil Japanese setting both with spectacular examples of their native fare, beautifully presented), then a couple of hours on our sidecar bikes will take us, at my request, where the street food is – for a more adventurous supper!

 

That makes three, so for the last night? I’m tempted to take them to some lane of many restaurant choices, to wander along and peek at menus as we go until something draws them in – one of my favourite ways to dine, and I think theirs too. I can already think of three such places to choose from, but the best option may be right in the city, where we would be surrounded by the spectacular sky scrapers with their many roof top bars.

 

As for the myriad of other ‘can’t be missed’ offerings of Shanghai’s food, well, thank God for lunch! I think one thing is for sure, I won’t be cooking much of anything next week, but I may need to make time for the gym!