The pre-trip is tomorrow
In (under) 24 hours I will leave for China for the first time! Let me start by saying, I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity. Many people never get to visit China during their entire lifetime - and now I am embarking on a journey that will change my life and my children's lives forever. We are essentially going to become different people than we would have ever become without going to China. That is exciting and daunting. It is a deliberate choice to throw ourselves into a life that most other people do not choose.

I think of my father, who did the same thing coming to America from the former Yugoslavia. He had no idea what it would hold, and he just jumped in with both feet. (Oh there are stories!) I know he would have told me to go for it.

I have been told point blank by many people they would NEVER consider moving to China, much less with 3 kids. In my mind there was never a choice NOT to do this, barring something extreme. Yes, the pollution does concern me, that's not a small thing, but it seems manageable, and other than that I cannot think of any good reason NOT to live there, given this incredible opportunity.

The pre-trip is intended to show us our new life, and at the end we sign on the dotted line, with full knowledge of what we are getting ourselves into. It's not a like a vacation, as we have a 7 day itinerary fully planned with trips to choose our home, our new doctors, our new schools, our new grocery stores, church, bank, post office...etc. However the evenings we will have all to ourselves and I hope we can get some great pictures and eat great food and experience some of the city on our own.

Novelty fatigue
I mentioned in a previous post that I'm just exhausted. I don't mean to complain or just be negative, but I have some legitimate concerns about my mental exhaustion - it's the kind of exhausted which sleep cannot improve. Like end of semester exhaustion, or for those of you who perform on stage, end of a run exhaustion. Trying to give my kids' birth dates to the pharmacist today was an exercise in futility. I repeatedly gave her dates that were scientifically implausible. Like kids born within 3 months of each other. She just looked at me funny and I blurted out, "I'm sorry! I'm moving to China. I have no idea what I'm talking about!" I think she felt bad for me. In my ill-fitting harem pants, stained t-shirt, and wild hair falling out of its ponytail I was clearly a woman who couldn't even if she wanted to.

I think that I am suffering from something I will now coin: Novelty Fatigue. I think as mothers we have to constantly learn to do SO many new things as our kids grow. Each new stage results in new challenges and I feel like my brain is stretched to its maximum with information, concerns, strategies, and solutions. Now adding a move to China I feel like my brain and body are going to stage a revolt from all the newness. It's a precarious thing - this living with kids. It's not like when I was 21, stupidly intrepid, traipsing through Italy and Croatia (mostly) alone.

With kids you are constantly running a program in the back of your brain: What Does Everyone Else Need? As I type this, I also hold in my consciousness my sleeping children, the approximate time they might wake, what they'll need to do/ eat as soon as they get up, the fact I need to pack for China and plan a schedule of events for the rest of the day to keep them occupied. I keep jotting notes on a sticky pad as I move around the house when something pops into my brain because I won't remember it 30 seconds later.

So, adding "Moving to China" to that program makes me feel like the whole thing is going to shut down and I'll have a BSOD in my brain. Meh. Whatever, there is literally nothing I can do about any of it - so...onward!

What I'm excited about
I have an easy crochet project and a book chosen (the Fuchsia Dunlop book) to read on the plane and our 12+ hour layover. (Blech! I hope I can pawn my baby off to excited grandparents who miss their kids and will bounce him on their knees!)

I am excited to finally choose our new home! I have never really had the opportunity to live someplace of my own choosing with the exception of a very shoddy little apartment in Clawson full of pot and tobacco smokers (despite the landlord claiming it was smoke-free AND one of the potheads nearly blowing the place up - long story) during the time between moving back in with my parents after college and then moving into Mike's house when we got engaged. Makes me wonder about the smoking situation in China...

I cannot wait to eat real Chinese food. My Chinese teacher told me I will very likely be able to take some Chinese cooking classes, about which I'm super excited. She also sent me the video to the right which makes me even more super excited. So much delicious food! I was even invited to get some legit xiaolongbao by one of the most lovely expats who have been my cheerleaders from afar.

I am excited to meet my fellow expats. I have a feeling I will make some instant friends based on the fact we are all crazy enough to leave our homes for China. Many of them have lots of kids which is also exciting.

I get to tour a Chinese Montessori kindergarten (maybe two?)! My brain is asploding with excitement over that one! Will have to get lots of pictures.

I also get to tour the Nanjing University of the Arts! My hope is to find some teachers there perhaps to study with, some accompanists who might work with me and get my singing chops back in shape. I have no idea what kinds of musical opportunities there might be, but I will take any I can get.

I will get to visit our church which has a fascinating history. Maybe they will let me cantor there?

I will say this: I have had a lifetime of exposure to other cultures through music and food, for which I'm eternally grateful. When I listen to Chinese music and eat authentic Chinese food (or just dream about authentic Chinese food) I become so excited and feel totally at ease - unlike when I ruminate over things like, "But there's no Costco!" I feel like if I can "get" some elements of a culture like art, music, and food - I can acclimate to the rest of it, and it doesn't feel at all foreign. I can be right at home. And pretty soon, Nanjing, China will be my new home. My wish is to fully embrace all of it. (Yes, after a nap!)

Oh yeah, the details

I neglected to offer background on my move to China. I sort of assumed people know as much as I do, which is minimal. That and a lot of my focus is on things like, "What will I eat?" "What do I do about the pollution?" "What will I do with the kids?"
by Ray Chang on flickr, Confucius Temple area, Nanjing

But here's what I do know:
  1. I'm moving to Nanjing, China. A richly historical city that has a great expat community, and boasts many well regarded universities. I have been told that if Shanghai is considered the New York of China, then Nanjing is its Boston. (I have arranged for a tour of the Nanjing University of the Arts next week!) The city is listed to have anywhere from 6-8 million residents. It's huge. I don't know what that's like, but it should be exciting. I'm told it's one of the more green cities in China, situated near the Purple Mountain. Despite its greenness, pollution is still a big problem. We have been following the air quality numbers with an app and have been trying to imagine what it will be like with the kids on bad air days. I'm told it's manageable. I'm also told I can find pretty much any Western amenity to which I'm accustomed, however it will cost me. That is a relief, but also a welcome challenge. I don't intend to wallow in my Westernness, and I'm all too eager to shed some of it. I hope to experience Chinese culture to the best of my abilities. 
  2. We are going on a one week trip to choose our new home, schools, visit local institutions with which we need to be familiar: grocery stores, post office, banks, church. Then we probably move "for good" (3 years) in July or so. Things can be delayed for a million reasons. After 3 years are up we have no idea if that would be extended or if we'll go elsewhere or just come back to the US afterwards. We know pretty much nothing. 
  3. Shanghai is a 2 hour train ride away. So I'm told. That seems cool.
See how the knowledge sort of tapers off quickly? 

I suppose I should also mention what may already be obvious: I've never been to China, though Mike has been twice. And I'm moving there, sight unseen, with my three kids, for three years. I feel like a crazy person, because this is what crazy people do. They move to countries willy-nilly.

Although I'm not really moving willy-nilly. The truth is I would never move if it weren't for my husband's job and company providing tremendous support. So I don't want to sound all intrepid when while the move will be difficult, it is not like going there by ourselves, like many people do all over the world, every day, under far more difficult circumstances. I'm no special snowflake (xue3hua1), and I know it. 

My name in Mandarin?

Once upon a time in college, a friend of mine (not Chinese, just learning the language) told me my name in Mandarin could be roughly translated to mean, “Shouting to Quiet the Thunder.” I found that delightful, though dubious. Regardless, I liked the phrase and it stuck as my blog title.

For several years I maintained this blog, which I can no longer relate to (except for this one post I wrote about kale), so I deleted all the posts and I will now chronicle my life and adventures in China with my family of 5. My hope is to document this exciting time, post pictures, and provide all my friends on Facebook a respite from any inappropriately longform, too-frequent posting, which I fear would only increase as I start traveling and I don't want to be That Annoying Person (it's too late some of you are thinking). I might start a separate Facebook page just to upload the photos I take, though. We shall see.

This week I am filled with butterflies of excitement and anxiety because we leave Saturday to find our home in China. Like starting a new semester at school, or a new job, or having a new baby, it has not dawned on me - like...deep in my bones - that I’m moving to China. Just as when I’m pregnant, I don’t believe I’m having a baby until I’m actually in labor; I am fairly certain I won’t believe I’m living in China until I’m on the plane there. It’s not exactly denial so much as it is massive incredulity that my head will not wrap itself around.

So I bake. And I eat. I think I’ve gained 10 pounds in the last 4 months…okay, so it is denial. But my point is…this is a big, scary thing. Yes, it’s wonderful and I can list all the exciting things about life in China for which I will be grateful. However, I have 3 kids. And moving anywhere, besides inside the pleasant bubble of a suburban life in Southeastern Michigan (where I've lived my entire life) to which I’m accustomed, will be scary. This is not to say I prefer bubbles. I really don’t. I have lived abroad very briefly a few times and I've loved and cherished those times. I’m just exhausted in general and I like Costco. Happily, that’s about the extent of my objections. I cannot wait to eat Chinese food, learn Mandarin, experience a rich culture, and all that a new world can offer…after a nice, long nap. But, alas, there are no naps for a mother of 3 - except maybe on the 18 hour journey I take next weekend!

This morning I awoke because my husband’s leg touched my toe and I shot out of bed at 4:45. I grabbed Fuschia Dunlop’s memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China, with the intention of reading it, but I need caffeine to work my eyes so that idea was out. I turned on the coffee to brew 1 minute before it was scheduled to do so itself (5:00am). I don’t remember the next 5 minutes. Then coffee. Then I finished an episode of the new Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table, which I started last night (watch it!) and was inspired to document my own adventures and remembered this defunct old URL, languishing on the Interwebs with its weird kale chip recipe.

I will call this Day One.

What I’m Doing

  • Not packing (except when a dear, generous friend of mine comes over to listen to me fret and she so helpfully and patiently makes suggestions about what to pack because my brain cannot think of anything besides these cookies)
  • Fretting
  • Blogging (because that's also super helpful)
  • Learning a bit of Mandarin (ni hao, zai jian, wo jiao Milena, wo shi Meiguoren, xie xie)
  • Asking my Chinese teacher to give me a Chinese name (yay!)
  • Repeatedly heading to Costco and Target striking up touching conversations with the checkout people. (I mean, I buy stuff I need too.) I have to stop myself short of saying how much I will miss them, even though I really, really will, because that's just weird.
What I'm Excited about
  • Starting this blog - I think it will help me bridge this journey. I love to write and have not done much meaningful writing since my kids were born.
  • Finding some new artistic endeavors (I'm just feeling this huge creative urge lately).
  • Taking pictures of EVERYTHING and making my family pose for them - at least in a new country I have a really good excuse.
  • The food of course. Also a little scared. The travel doctor mentioned "don't eat the salads." That's not going to go over well for 3 years. I love salad as much as I love cookies. 
  • The music! Not only do I have a fellow classmate from UM performing in China (who is also recording a CD of Chinese and American art songs which sounds absolutely fabulous) around the same time I move there - I am already in love with a band that Mike saw in an abandoned factory in Beijing, and oddly enough will start their first North American tour around the time we head to China. Go see them if you can!
  • The community. There is already an incredible community of expats who have opened their arms to me long-distance, virtually, via Facebook. I swear I would not be able to deal without knowing that there is a large group of people who lean on each other and can give me information and incredible support any time I've asked any kind of dumb newbie question. I hope that I can give back to them (perhaps in the form of baked goods) as well as be there to answer questions for the next people who come along once I'm no longer so green. 
I will try to post regularly. Zai jian!