Spa Day

The kids were in desperate need of haircuts and my Mandarin is still pretty pitiful, so last night we met Mark at the hair salon.  He had recently gotten his own haircut without incident, so he was officially in charge of the operation.  To prepare for his trip to the salon, Mark had spent his entire Chinese lesson learning all of the language necessary to avoid a horrible haircut.  His teacher was reluctant to help him because she feared the possible repercussions from his potentially disastrous trip to the barber.  She eventually gave in, and now Mark can successfully ask for such necessary things as a perm (ha!) and can give some basic instructions as to the length and style of a haircut.  Armed with this information, we braved the Chinese hair salon.

Of course, since we are currently having a pretty bumpy ride most of the time when it comes to China, this adventure had to start with plenty of grumping and grumbling.  Lucas was determined not to let the scissors actually make contact with his precious locks.  Not even our usual teasing comparisons with Justin Beiber would make him change his mind.  He likes it in his eyes!  Leave him alone!  We trudged to the salon and during that ten minute hike managed to have one person trip and fall (Henry), another person get their feelings hurt (Ava), and one more just continue the rant from home (Lucas) until we were all ready to throttle each other.  One poor unsuspecting woman had the nerve to smile at us and count all my little blonde children. How lucky to have three and two of them strong boys!  So cute!  I managed to turn my snarl into a smile for a few seconds but the kids continued to bicker.  She quickly crossed the street, jumping through the bike lane and two lanes of traffic.  I secretly wished I could follow her.  Even the very real possibility of kissing the bumper of an oncoming taxi seemed more pleasant than walking with my demonic kids.

When we finally met Mark, I eagerly surrendered the children to him.  He seemed confident that he could handle the haircuts although he made a point of mixing up some words in front of the kids just to freak them out a bit.  Did that mean “haircut” or did it mean “perm”?  Hmmm… he couldn’t remember.  Wouldn’t Lucas like a perm?  Lucas did not see the humor in this and quickly corrected his father.  Apparently, someone else had also been doing a little work on his Mandarin salon vocabulary.

Our arrival in the salon created pandemonium.  This was a very Chinese place with only a few stylists even able to say a handful of words in English.  Once it was made clear that the three kids would be getting haircuts, they were whisked away by a gaggle of high-heeled, short-skirted shampoo girls.  Mark promptly sat down to read but I was a little nervous about leaving the kids alone.  After all, they had never had this kind of salon experience and with our bad attitudes this could go either way.  I followed the kids upstairs and arrived just in time to see them all getting ready for the shampoo.  The girls were giggling and fawning all over the kids and Henry’s friend had whipped out her cell phone to take pictures.  She posed him like a Chinese kid with his head cocked to one side and his fingers in two peace signs and snapped away.

More Chinese by the Minute

She took photos of the other girls with Ava and Lucas and then began to lather up Henry’s head.  In China, you lay flat for the shampoo and rinse, so the kids, who are used to maybe not even getting a wash at the salon, were treated to the full experience. 

Washing Stations

They got head massages and Henry got more attention than he has since infancy.  The shampoo girl lathered him up and then cooed at him like he was a baby, putting her forehead up against his and exclaiming over his cuteness.  She even went so far as to pick him up after the shampoo and place him gingerly on the floor rather than let him climb down from the wash station.

The actual cuts involved more fawning and photos.  Random people from other parts of the salon came over to gawk at the children.  The boys were finished first.  Lucas came away with his dream haircut—still in the eyes and shaggy enough that no one at school even noticed he had changed anything at all when he arrived at school in the morning.

Is that you, Justin Beiber?

Henry got maybe his shortest haircut ever.   I was worried about him looking like a boiled onion, but the stylist left the front a little longer to make up for the back.  As he stepped back to admire his work, the stylist first positioned his own hair in the front, and then made Henry’s match before announcing that he was finished.  Lucas’ hair suspiciously resembled his stylists’ as well.  They had made the boys into little blonde versions of themselves.

Considering the new 'do.

Once the boys were finished, everyone could turn their undivided attention to Ava.  Again, cameras came out and multiple people spent time admiring her hair and eyes.  The other stylists were now free to sit with her while her hair was cut and to shower her with admiration.  In a mix of English and Chinese they complimented her as she smiled and nodded.  She had asked me earlier if they would blow dry her hair so it would be straight and she was thrilled to discover this was a regular part of her haircut.  Leaving the salon she told me that this had been “the best day yet” (hooray!) “except for all that time I spent at school” (boo!).  Sort of a win?  Sadly, we will take it.

The Honeymoon Is Over

Yes, as predicted, the honeymoon is over. What?  You didn’t realize that first part was the good part?  Ok, there will be more good stuff, I assure you, but first Team Erickson has to get through the wonderful stages of culture shock!  Anyone who has lived abroad (or moved anywhere, most likely) can tell you about the stages of culture shock. First, everything is new and wonderful. Things are different, but they are exotic. Those differences are strange in a way that surprises you but what the kids would call a “good surprise”. Sadly, this stage only lasts for a while and then you move toward frustration. This is where most of us here at chez Erickson happen to be right now. Mark has had more time in China and he has adjusted more than the rest of us. The kids and I…well, we are feeling done with Shanghai. I have done this moving thing before, so I know that it will pass. The kids are not convinced. They miss their friends and schools and the familiar routines of “home”. They don’t like to hear that this is going to be home for a while or that things will get easier. They can only see today and how it feels right now to be here in China and to wish you were somewhere else. I understand, because right now I would be tempted to head back to the States. Today, I am missing my kitchen, Target, and the ease of American grocery stores. I am missing my friends and thinking about how much easier things would be if we packed up ran to the airport. But I know this will pass. I know we will all get used to China and eventually this will all feel so familiar that we can’t imagine not living here. “What if that never happens?” Lucas asks me as he begs to stay home from school for no apparent reason. I reassure them all that it will and that this part right now is the hardest part. Unfortunately, I also know that at least one more big negative swing will be coming up again. So I am kind of lying. It is like riding a roller coaster, but you can’t see where the dips are. You can’t prepare for the highs or the lows. It will even out, but we have to get through this part first. People give you advice. They tell you to “change your attitude!” and “keep trying new things!”. Someone the other day even said that she thought moving abroad was so much easier with children! Ha. Ha. There is this built in community, you see, and you are forced to interact with people because of your kids. I know this to be absolutely untrue. Being in Shanghai with the kids is great, but it is also exhausting. I am having culture shock for four instead of just one and I might have to drag them kicking and screaming through this part. Wish us luck.

Hunting and Gathering


In getting ready to move, I thought I was ready for some of the challenges.  I assumed that there would be some bumps for the kids with school and that our new house would be smaller than our old one.  I was even ready for the challenge of feeding the family once we arrived in China—or so I thought.  I had no idea how much of my time and energy would be spent on a daily basis trying to figure out how and what to cook over here.  I have always prided myself on the fact that the kids are pretty good eaters.  They will usually try almost anything, and, more often than not, discover that they love the thing they had earlier been hesitant to taste.  I like exploring and figuring out how to use local ingredients.  I like seeing what the locals eat and going to the markets.  When we lived in Paris, I spent most of my afternoons deciding what to make for dinner and then shopping.  I remember those afternoons as great experiences.  Yes, I sometimes had trouble asking for what I wanted in French and I had to make substitutions when I wanted something specific form home, but France has beautiful markets (duh) and I was usually more than willing to change what I ate when something better presented itself.  I was flexible and we ate really well.  When I couldn’t find salsa, I figured out how to make it myself.  I made friends with the butcher.  I was really just learning how to cook so sometimes my creations fell flat, but other times I was surprised to find that I could make something really delicious.  We had a house full of roommates who were always willing to try the things I made and mealtimes were full and joyous.  I was expecting our time in Shanghai to feel a little like this.  Well, this is no Paris.  Not yet, anyway.


Part of the problem is my own.  I want things to get to the point where they are easy and I want that feeling now.  Shanghai is fun for exploring, but not when you need dinner on the table for 3 kids at 6:30 sharp.  I have really had difficulty with this lately.  They are not my hungry roommates from Paris, not by a long shot.  My kids have usually spent the day tasting new things at school (school lunch is saving me, by the way) and when they get home they want familiar snacks and a no surprises dinner.  I want to give that to them, but finding the ingredients here to make what used to be my go to meals is complicated.  Look, I haven’t even made it to the actual markets yet.  Right now I am navigating a maze of multiple supermarkets.  If I ever go back to work we will starve to death because my carefully crafted system of supermarket shopping will collapse around us.  The supermarkets are worthy of a post all by themselves but suffice it to say that imported things are available… for a price and right now it seems that everything we want to eat is somehow imported.  Oh, and it is never all available at one store.  I go to multiple places just to make burritos and then we are all disappointed with what ends up on the table.  When I find something that I thought we would have to learn to live without, I do a little dance of joy.  Usually, however, my dancing is interrupted because my next step is trying not to hyperventilate over the price.  This is especially painful if I have just recently thrown THE EXACT SAME ITEM in the garbage during the pantry purge in Baltimore.  Don’t worry; the next few posts will contain hard evidence of this painful experience.  I just paid 72rmb for parmesan cheese after searching everywhere for something other than the kind in the can.  Yes, $12 for a hunk of cheese.  Not even the really delicious cheese that would have been worthy of a $12 splurge!  Of course, the next day parmesan was everywhere and the exact same piece was 52rmb.  Really, it doesn’t pay to dwell on it.  The lasagna I made was passable (it is usually to die for) and only one kid refused to eat it.  It probably cost me $75 and gave me a handful of gray hair, but at least we all lived to tell about it, right?  Yeah, right.

Chinese New Year Fireworks Torture!

We decided to stay in Shanghai for the Chinese New Year holiday.  Most people leave the city for either vacation or visiting family, but we have really only been in China for a few weeks, so we opted to spend the week here doing a little exploring and taking some time to regroup after the start of school.  We all needed some rest and I thought that organizing ourselves for a trip might prove to be too much.  We had been warned about the fireworks– that they would be loud and continuous– but we were looking forward to seeing Chinese New Year Chinese style.  The fireworks did not disappoint.  In fact, they are still going on right now.  What’s that you say?  You thought the big celebration part was over?  Hey, so did we!


The first night of insane fireworks was on the expected date.  No surprises there.  We had an early dinner and as soon as the sun began to set our neighbors began shooting off fireworks.  Mark and the kids wanted to launch some ourselves so he and Ava headed out to look for a place to buy some.  We had been told that there are stands everywhere, and once we were clued in to what the festive red pop up stores were selling we were confident that we could buy some ridiculously dangerous fireworks to launch.  I will make a confession here, when Mark and Ava came home empty handed I wasn’t disappointed.  I was actually extremely relieved.  I like looking at fireworks but I am not too keen on firework related injuries (see earlier post about hospitals to make my reasons for resistance crystal clear).  This year we were destined to just watch.

Oh, there were plenty of fireworks to see.  Mark wanted to take the kids downtown to check out the city so Ava and Lucas bundled up and went with him to his office.  Apparently, they never made it more than 10 minutes down the road.  It was very cold and crowded and there were so many fireworks in our own neighborhood that there wasn’t a need to go very far.  We had heard stories of people filling their bathtubs and submerging their ears to drown out the noise, but this was great!  It was like the time we parked right next to the fireworks barge in the harbor!  Who could complain about this?

At 2am we began complaining.  It really had not let up. When we woke up the next morning we marveled at the amount of fireworks that must have gone into that spectacle.  We had been told that after Chinese New Year Shanghai is covered in a cloud of smoke that you can see from the air.  This now seems entirely possible.

And now imagine our surprise when the same thing happened two nights later!  During the day we could hear fireworks off and on, but in the evenings things always got cooking again.    The third night was even louder and more showy than the first.  Mark described it as a cross between Disneyland and a war zone.  We waited for grand finales that never came.  The entire evening was like one long finale.  One very, very, very long finale that was taking place two houses down from us.  Who was even watching these fireworks anymore?  We weren’t.  They were the most amazing fireworks we had ever seen and we wanted them to stop.  Welcome to the Year of the Dragon, people!