A Shanghai state of mind

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There are days as I walk over to the Avocado Lady and I look around me in wonder and pinch myself that I live in Shanghai. These are the days when I’ve crossed the road like a local – not with a local.

When I don’t jump every time a horn honks.

These are the days when someone drops litter into the road I don’t mind because I know it will be swept up by the city’s army of street cleaners.

That’s a Shanghai day.

Parcel Hero

Then there are days as I walk over to the Avocado Lady and there are bikes and cars coming at me in all directions even on the pavement, horns are honking incessantly, no one gives way just a little bit, a baby pink Mini Cooper with eyelashes on the headlights whips past a migrant worker on a push bike and I wonder what we are doing here.

That’s a Shanglo day.

Parcel Hero

Truth be told,  Shanglo days are few and far between and I know it’s just a state of mind.

But occasionally, it’s easy to forget the many blessings in your life and Shanglo days are the ones when instead of saying “better out than in” when the guy walking towards you hurls a phlegm projectile onto the pavement right in front of you,  you think ” Really??!”


It’s the day when the old woman times a sour garlic scented belch to micro second perfection just as she walked by, thus ensuring you get the full benefit of the acrid onslaught. Really?!?

Or it’s the day when someone blows their nose. Onto to the pavement. Right in front of you.

On a Shanghai day you’d be thinking ‘that was a little too close for comfort’ and the moment would be forgotten. And you’d carry on to the Avocado Lady and on with your day.

Parcel Hero

But then there’s the day when instead of laughing at the foreigners walking around with their masks on because, you know – so what? your 3M ones arrive in the post and even though they are still in their packaging and have never been used, it’s just a bit rubbish that you had to order them in the first place.


Or it’s the day you are cycling back from a spin class  with the green light in your favour and you’re gathering up speed to cross the main road and an old man  comes right at you from your left making no effort and swerve and you end up falling in the middle of the road and he just trundles right past you…..One broken brake handle and a bruised ego later you wonder what he was doing and why he didn’t stop to help.


And then later that day as you’re walking around Fangbang Lu in an effort to snap out of your funk, you remember that a smile begets a smile. And it’s a Shanghai kind of day again.

Parcel Hero

But most times it’s a Shanglo day when you get off Skype after talking to your Mum and Dad and you feel sad and not a little guilty that you’re so far away and that now instead of seeing them nearly every week like you used to, you’re lucky to see them once or twice a year.

And even though you were feeling a bit Shanglo after the Skype call, and the horizon outside is hazy and grey and you don’t want to go for a walk in it and you definitely have no interest in wearing one of those masks collecting dust in the cupboard you boil the kettle, liquorice tea is brewed and you sit for a few moments and lose yourself in your recipe books and you choose a different emotion.

And it’s a Shanghai day again.







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  1. says

    Well, I don’t feel so bad about walking into my Asian store and getting ignored, now 😉 It’s just a different culture, and something we’re not used to. I know that if I was to go back and visit India or the ME, I would not be able to tolerate much!!
    I love receiving cookbooks in the mail too, they are best, Enjoy your books Nancy and I hope you have more Shanghai moments than Shanglo ones! We love reading about your life there and we’re with you!!

  2. says

    Oddly enough, I identify very much with everything you wrote except that I feel those things in Australia. This beautiful country that I love but that sometimes utterly confounds and frustrates me. :-) I’m so glad I’m here, so thankful for the smiles and kindnesses that make the occasional madness worth enduring. I’m glad you have licorice tea and gorgeous books to cheer you. :-)

    • says

      Now that is funny Krista. I wonder what your occasional moments are that stop you in your tracks? Mind you when I first moved to Australia it was a case of same same but different for the first year or so. Just the occasional word would totally throw me – like bowzer I had no idea what that was!

  3. says

    Hi, I’ve had trouble getting your post to load. All I’m seeing is some images and no text or comments from other bloggers. I’ll try again tomorrow. Such a bugger! xx

    • says

      It was probably a good job it didn’t load – I was having a bit of a downer of a day!!! Photos are some of my favourites though of my walks around the old town.

  4. says

    I do know about those days where you ask yourself what the hell you’re doing there when so many of those you love are a gazillion miles away. Then you get a smile or a friendly nod and life seems okay again. Hugs.

    • says

      I know – and then I feel like a total princess because I have such a privileged life. Rich read it and rolled his eyes :)

  5. says

    I love this, Nancy, because I can relate to it in every place I’ve lived. It’s the days when the shine of new place is not so shiny and I’m lonesome for home (or the last place) and friends. When the drivers on the road are following too close and cutting in too quickly. When I can’t find the frigging price on the very tomatoes that look the best in the grocery store. Or the oranges. And they are all out of the toothpaste I like or something elemental like tinned apricots. I understand that these things can happen anywhere. Just some days I take it harder. And some days it slides off like butter on a hot Dubai day. Thanks for sharing the great photos and your thoughts. Good to know it’s not just me.

    • says

      I’m glad you understand – it’s not every day, it’s just very occasionally and it doesn’t detract from the overall sense of awe I have that we live here. Now you’ve got me thinking about toothpaste and how I have to bring it in from overseas because I’ve seen people opening the cartons here and sniffing the toothpaste….

  6. says

    I’ve asked my self many time what are we doing here??? specially in the first couple of years. I miss my mom and dad, my sisters, my friends, my work back in Egypt … the smell of the food there even the smell of the air … here everything is different yet most of the things are better so sometimes I’m happy being in US and feel blessed other times feel when I miss family gathering and my parents. So I guess I can very much relate. Take care and enjoy your cookbooks

    • says

      Amira I’ve just checked out your blog and I love it – so many evocative recipes from your childhood. Being away from family is the hardest but these days at least we don’t have to wait for the postman to arrive – Skype and email make it so much easier don’t they?

  7. says

    Oh Nancy, you are a bit homesick. Poor thing. It is unbelievable to live in such a place , but you are Australian and sometimes the smell of home just isn’t there. The highs and lows are there no matter where you live, even home. Look forward to seeing lots of new cooking from your cookbooks soon. Happy Easter ( I know , you probably are very far from that) . Hugs from Sydney too

    • says

      The smells are certainly different here for that’s for. On the occasional off day I just have to remind myself that we’ll be a long time back in Melbourne so I have to embrace the differences not fight them. A walk around the old town streets normally does the trick. Thank you for your kind words x

  8. says

    The Shanglo days sound hard for you, I’m sorry to hear that. All those things would drive me bonkers too, especially the spitting and lack of personal space and the being ignored. I hope you were ok from the bike accident – how brave you are to even RIDE a bike in Shanghai! I know most of the time you’re finding the cultural adventure exciting, and I’m so glad to hear the new books made you happy! Four day delivery is amazing! :)

    • says

      Some days I think I’m just plain stupid to ride a bike – I’ve had a few near misses but that’s because I can’t go with the flow of the traffic and I keep trying to anticipate what’s going to happen. Which invariably results in me causing mayhem on the roads….it just gets to you occasionally that’s all.