Last month, I was at an event with our close friends. A photographer walked up and said he would like a picture of their family. I slowly backed away from the group hug when my friend Jen grabbed my arm and said "You should be in this photo too. You're Shanghai family".
I cannot begin to express how true this statement is. Friends in Shanghai are more than just acquaintances you meet at the bar for drinks. They are your lifeline. Simply put, without a support system of close friends, we would not survive here. I realize that statement sounds a tad melodramatic and while I do have a flair for embellishment, I truly believe this to be the case. Because to be honest, living in Shanghai sometimes sucks. While I try to be optimistic on this blog (which generally isn't hard since I am an overly enthusiastic person), I also do not want to present our time here as entirely filled with rainbows and kittens (even if one rather fabulous cat does play a large role in our lives). Some days here are downright challenging.
Take last week for instance. On the subway, I was shoved, stepped on, and then had a booger flicked on me by an 80 year old woman. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'm not sure that my calf was the intended destination of her snot, but alas, that is where it landed. And while I am aware that my Mandarin skills leave something to be desired, it can be rather discouraging when I attempt to order something in Chinese and am blatantly laughed at. But perhaps the most infuriating situation is when I overhear pieces of a conversation someone is having about me. I know the Chinese words for American as well as fat and am very aware when they are being used in reference to me.
Experiences like these are why our friends are so important here. Because when you have a Shanghai day, as I've come to call them, my friends are here with a bottle of wine and a story about the time a taxi driver assumed they were prostitutes to make me laugh and forget about the numerous frustrating situations I find myself in on a daily basis. As much as I can try to explain my life in Shanghai on this blog or through phone calls and emails back home, unless you are a fellow expat, it is hard for others to really understand what my experience is like here. But other expats get it. Almost all my female friends have been called fat at some point. They've struggled with learning Mandarin. They too have fantasies about cheese. And these same friends come with an amazing insider knowledge of Shanghai. I'm not sure how I could survive without knowing the location of a shop that sells hard to find avocados or how to successfully avoid peeing on my leg while using public squat toilets.
Sure, friends provide this same sort of support and advice no matter where you live. But when you move to a country that is vastly different than everything you have ever known, it can be comforting to surround yourself with people who understand the culture shock you are experiencing. While my friends here will never replace the family I have in the US (who are sadly departing Shanghai today), I am thankful to know I will have a place this week where I can celebrate Thanksgiving with people that I love, eating foods that remind us of home.
I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, filled with love, laughter, and the people you care most about.