Life in Shanghai: December 2014

Dogtown Christmas decorations, Shanghai by Expat Edna

A couple noteworthy events happened in December that I feel the month still warrants a recap post. But as everyone’s moving onto 2015, I’ll keep this as short and sweet as I can (short being 1000 words — that’s progress, right?).

Haircut for donation by Expat Edna

Haircut! I first donated my hair in 2008, and after six years of growing it out I decided it was time to do it again. I chopped off ten inches and once more donated it in memory of my grandmother, who passed away Christmas 2007.

It’s kind of ridiculous how much identity can be tied up in hair, but I’d felt the need for a shake-up and my long locks had become too attached to my early 20s. I’m digging the new look: I feel lighter, re-energized, and ready to tackle some new chapters.

Ten-year Chinese visa by Expat EdnaJoe in Shanghai by Expat Edna

And just a couple weeks after the big US-China announcement, this guy went and got one of the first TEN-year Chinese visas. As any American who’s had to go through that expensive, frustrating visa process can imagine — it is a beautiful, beautiful piece of paper.

Which also means after many expensive, frustrating months of long distance, Joe is finally living in Shanghai! and we are finally very short distance.

Christmas decorations at home by Expat EdnaHarold & Minerva and the gingerbread house by Expat EdnaHarold & Minerva and gingerbread house by Expat EdnaHarold & Minerva by Expat Edna-3

The Adventures of Jo and Joe: After five months of living alone, in December the contents of my apartment have increased threefold and I now live with two Joes — and the apartment finally feels like home.

English roomie Jo is pretty much the best flatmate in Shanghai, always coming home with crumpets, advent calendars, and random small gifts; once, after a stressful day at work, she greeted me at the door with a bottle of red wine and our favorite Christmas music blasting. Plus she decorated the whole apartment in true makeshift expat style (paper garlands, homemade snowflakes, the works). Total gem.

Meanwhile Joe and I decorated a gingerbread house, a first for both of us — and for me, probably the last time I’ll get the matching gingerbread men. I got far too attached to Harold and Minerva and eating them became a somewhat traumatic event. Never again.

Edna and mom, Shanghai by Expat EdnaHomecooked Shanghainese by Expat Edna

Family: My mom came to Shanghai for three weeks in December. It was actually her trip home — I had to pencil in my time, she was so busy catching up with her friends and family — but it meant a month full of Chinese-style (read: gluttonous) family eating. I thought living away from the US meant I’d avoid the December holiday eating binge, but nooooo — I still got my fill of feasts, family reunions, meeting long-lost relatives, and encounters with duck tongue and vegetables I’d never seen or heard of before.

There was one day I went from homecooked Chinese lunch to homecooked Australian steak brunch to Shanghainese dinner for a total of seven straight hours of eating. I won’t be hungry again till February.

Irish president visit, Shanghai by Expat Edna

In December I also met the Irish president for the second time, thanks to my involvement with the Shanghai Gaelic football club — the first being in Paris the year before. I’m two for two, let’s guess if I can go for a third year in a row (and in which country next)….

Office Christmas tree decorating by Expat EdnaChristmas crackers by Expat Edna

While you certainly don’t get the overloaded holiday spirit in China like you do back home, this December still saw a festive tree decorating party in the office, a four-hour Christmas lunch and Secret Santa with clients, plus the good ol’ office Christmas party — all things I’d only ever seen made fun of in sitcoms before I started my first-ever corporate job. They’re quite fun, in reality.

Shanghai German Christmas market by Expat EdnaShanghai German Christmas market by Expat Edna-2From the America, Shanghai German Christmas market by Expat EdnaEdna at the Shanghai Christmas Market by Joe Provost, Expat Edna

That said, not much could beat the Shanghai German Christmas Market, which was equal parts European cozy and Chinese kitschy and so totally kooky. That elf there wasn’t even meant to be in the original photo. Sneaky elf came outta nowhere.

(For future reference, I’d definitely recommend going during the week — it would’ve been a disappointment to spend valuable weekend time there, but after work on a Tuesday evening is half the price and just the best.

…plus, if you’re there the last couple days of the market, some stalls will just give you free stuff to clear their beer mug and alligator hat stock.)

Chartreuse elixir by Expat EdnaSpiced mulled wine, Union Trading Company, Shanghai by Expat EdnaCreative Commoons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

In super exciting times: we finally found a bar to call our own! After months of searching and crawling through the city’s cocktail bars, we finally have a place that reminds us of our favorite bar in Paris: one that knows how to use Averna, appreciates cocktail nerds (and lets you sample the last of their Chartreuse elixir on your first visit), and has a head bartender who remembers the regulars and will shoot Fernet with you at any given time. That’s our kind of place, and it’s long overdue.

Making Eggnog and Belgian beers on Christmas Eve by Expat EdnaSanta on China Eastern by Expat Edna

I worked all the way up to Christmas Eve — when those of us left in the office celebrated by gathering in the kitchen to make homemade eggnog with Old Tom Gin (a bottle rarely seen in Shanghai) — then booked it to the airport for a midnight flight to Melbourne.

Sidenote: China Eastern has totally stepped up their game. That 11-hour flight beat any one I’ve ever taken with an American carrier; I even managed to sleep for eight hours straight. Domestic flights, I’m still not so sure, but if you have an international flight option with China Eastern, I wouldn’t knock it.

Champagne on the balcony, Melbourne by Expat EdnaMidnight on NYE, Sydney by Expat Edna

Closing out the year was a ten-day trip to Australia, with five days each in Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne was the action-packed half, where we went on a balloon ride, took a wine tour, saw penguins in the wild, attended the outdoor cinema, and spent the rest of the time chatting and drinking wine on the balcony of our beautiful 45th floor apartment overlooking the city.

Sydney was the opposite: we tried to do very little except walk around Bondi (where were staying) and be beach town bums; fill ourselves with oysters and avocados; and celebrate my favorite holiday, New Year’s Eve, at an unforgettable private party next to the Harbour Bridge.

So that was December: one of the better months of 2014, with some positive momentum to kick start the new year. How was yours — or, how is your 2015 going so far?

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  1. We did virtually nothing in December except pore real estate sites for flats in Andorra, then we hung out and ate turkey, Joulutorttu and karjalanpiirakka on Christmas. I went to a nice party on New Year’s and now I’m headed to Andorra to view some flats and sign a lease, woo hoo! I’m enjoying reading about your adventures as usual. :D

  2. Edna, I love the new hair cut! Sometimes that fresh change can make all the difference in how I’m feeling. Mine wasn’t drastic, but I got a haircut before Christmas, and it was such a nice pick me up. Glad to see I’m not the only one still posting December stories. ;) Happy new year to you!

  3. Oh that food looks delicious… my mouth is watering.

    Also, very cute haircut!!

  4. Great to hear that the year ended on a high. Consider it a running start to 2015.

  5. Sounds action-packed and you certainly enjoyed some of the great stuff to do in Melbourne. I was there visiting family for Christmas and the New Year and after 11 years living in London, I actually did the Hop On Hop Off bus with my sister and also took in some of Melbourne’s amazing street art…as well as eating myself silly in the true Christmas holiday spirit. I was reminded again how lucky I am to have two such amazing cities in my life.

    Here’s to many amazing adventures in 2015!

  6. Your new hair cut looks fantastic! I agree- much identity is tied up in hair, which is exactly how I felt before I dyed mine last year. And WOW, ten year visa! What I wouldn’t give for one of those (to really anywhere). I just came out with a nine month visa last week which feels like so long :)

  7. Always good to hear you’re doing wonderfully Edna!

  8. Nice haircut!
    Looks like Shanghai is a great place for the Christmas season.

  9. That is a freaking cute haircut!!

  10. It looks like the Shanghai German Christmas Market has improved considerably since I was there. I remember being so frustrated just trying to get in, since the ticket booth was on the complete opposite side from the entrance.

    Glad you found a bar you like, that can be harder than it seems. My favorite was el Coctel. Is it still around? The hostess always remembered me and gave me my favorite table. Plus, the Snow Ball with Advocaat was dangerously good :-)

  11. Wow, Edna you never stop!!! Your December looks amazeballs. Mine was normal-ish, though we did indulge in our favorite Jewish-American Christmas tradition: a movie and Chinese food!

  12. I’m pretty sure that I want to go back to China – especially Shanghai – during my summer vacation this year. I stayed overnight in a hotel from 7pm-9pm in Shanghai last weekend while on my way back here to Korea and the taxi driver was so utterly charming and friendly that he really made me want to come back and actually explore the city properly so I think it’s on my ‘to do’ list this year. I’ll be sure to let you know when I make it over. Also, LOVING the haircut.