If you have been paying attention you will know that this blog is about retirement, broadly speaking. I have taken the opportunity, wherever possible, or, more accurately where I could persuade them, to record other people’s ‘retirement’ experiences. I did this with two friends who spent six months working in China. I called this ‘2 teach in China‘. Now along come two more friends who have gone to work in China but, and I don’t think they would mind me saying this, in very different circumstances. The reason, despite the differences, I want to feature Lynn and Graham’s experiences, this time in Shanghai, on a retirement blog, is that both could have, if they had so wished, retired. Both were /are in education so retiring as they neared 60 would have been quite possible. They chose not to do so and now, as they enter their third age, they are embarking on the kind of adventure that, it would appear so far, is not likely to be boring. It’s certainly a long way from the pipe and slippers version of retirement enjoyed by some people a few short years ago. It’s one of those ‘do not go quietly into the dark night’ blogs.
So here is the first of three ‘letters from Shanghai’. I hope there will be many more.
Arriving in Shanghai
We arrived at Shanghai airport after 24 hours on the road (don’t take that too literally, we flew most of it) to find no driver booked and no-one on the end of the phone regarding our temporary accommodation. Resourceful but grumpy, we took a taxi and booked into a hotel next to our future office. Much emailing later, we were able to move to our temporary (one week only) apartment. The word apartment may be talking it up a little, comprising a bed, bathroom and kitchen but no living area. The outside seating area was impossible to use unless you wanted to be feasted upon by mosquitoes, which we were. Chinese apartments in charming old areas (this one was in Changle Lu, part of the former French Concession) can look pretty derelict from the outside and only reveal the tasteful interior once you cross the threshold, whilst the outside is all rubbish, odours and security guards either asleep at their post or watching TV inside it. The Western arrivals were regarded with mild curiosity by the neighbours. Whatever else you do or don’t do in China, avoid the tap water at all costs; it leads to something known as Mao’s revenge! I shall not detail the symptoms here; suffice to say the bathroom played its part. A quirk of Chinese plumbing is that the pipes are mostly old and narrow and cannot cope with toilet paper. This, you are supposed to place in a bin next to the toilet. What a dilemma for us repressed and fastidious Westerners!
Day 2 (Thursday) – Apartment Hunting
Looking quite like home
On day 2, we are met in the office by a delightful young man called Alex. This is his English name of course. The Chinese people we know all have them, it’s to help poor Westerners like ourselves who cannot even begin to pronounce or remember their Chinese names. Alex, the realtor, was accompanied by Claire, also not her real name, from the office, assigned to assist.
This happened to be a rainy day, a common feature of Shanghai weather in August. Taxis are very cheap in China but on a wet day cannot be found at any price. Hungry, hot and wet, G and I balanced umbrella, bags and a sandwich whilst our new Chinese colleagues tried to hail taxis to no avail. The sight of people eating food in the street is not unusual here but eating with ones hands provokes some interest. Not the done thing at all!
Efficiency is all and we viewed five apartments in total in one afternoon. They surely did begin to blend into one and, without brochures to assist us, we had to rely on memory, not a good thing at our age! Much taken with number 3, we asked when we could move in. Monday was the reply. Sure enough, the very next morning, the wonderful Alex appeared at our hotel, contract in hand and ready to take our deposit.
Alex helped us to negotiate a new sofa and wardrobe with the landlord (Mr Lu) and accompanied us to IKEA to choose and arrange delivery. We could not have done this without him. It looked like IKEA and was laid out like IKEA but any enquiry on stock and delivery had to be negotiated in Chinese.
Our profuse thanks for his help were consistently and charmingly met with a smile and ‘You’re welcome’.
3 The Medical
It is a requirement to have a medical for any long term visa in China. I was duly given my appointed time and told to take a taxi to the International Medical Centre at Honqiao. Instructions are written in Chinese for the taxi driver and you hope upon hope that they don’t require any further detailed information. I was to meet one of the staff from the office to guide me through the process. We both arrived early and sat in reception each oblivious of the other. The place was heaving with Westerners and I guess to my appointed guide and helper, we all looked alike.
Sunny (full name Sunny Dong) by name and sunny by nature, finally spotted me by comparing a photocopy of my passport to the waiting gaggle of blond, blue eyed women. Usually, I would stand out in a crowd in China but amongst this group of hopeful visa applicants, I was just another Stepford wife.
After some initial form filling, I was sent through a door and my guide instructed to wait on the other side. This is how it goes; there are about 11 or 12 rooms, each with one assigned task. This is a conveyer belt approach which must not be disrupted by dawdling or any unnecessary chit chat. Room 1, I was instructed to remove my clothes and put on a gown. A very cross young woman instructed me by gesture to put my clothes and personal effects in a locker and ordered me to Room 2. Some rooms are fairly mundane, for example, taking blood pressure or weighing and measuring (the two tasks cannot be combined in one room and jobs are clearly demarcated). No one says ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ and the basic niceties of the NHS a distant memory. The routine was the same in each room, an instruction given to sit or lay down and another to stand up and go to the next room. What went on in between was not explained or discussed. And so I proceeded, in eager anticipation of what would await beyond the next door; x-ray, blood work, EEG and so on, the final room being ultrasound.
I waited in a chair in front of a screen whilst the previous person, a friendly American, had his ultrasound behind it. No confidentiality, I was party to the sound of his full exam as it took place. It would not have been efficient to leave me in the corridor and so waste time moving people in or out.
And so, my time came. By now I was accustomed to being told to lie down, keep still, open my gown etc and I was laced liberally with jelly in preparation. The doctor was thorough in his exploration and finally turned the screen towards me an announced ‘gallstone’. No explanation, words of comfort or reassurance given, I was packed of back to room 1 and ordered to dress.
Relieved to be back on the other side of the door and reunited with the ever smiling Sunny, I could not wait to get back to the apartment to Google ‘gall stones and their treatment!’
Recovering from the ordeal