I'm Moving to Shanghai / by Heather

Life’s only constant is change.

If you let it be.

For some people, it seems nothing changes, day after day, year after year, until one day they rub their eyes and realize everything is different.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”   - Lao-Tzu

Change can be terrifying and some struggle against it with every fiber of their being. Others want to face their fears and embrace change, but they don’t know how. For me, I’ve found the easiest way to let change into my life is to just say yes. Simply choose to follow instead and accept where that takes me. And then change comes pouring in. Winding, twisting, jump-out-at-you-from-the-middle-of-nowhere change. Scary, encouraging, difficult, joyous change.

Change isn’t always for the better. Sometimes things are just fine the way they are. But in my life, I’ve found that every time I make a decision that reroutes my course, I learn, I grow, I create a place where time slows down because I am savoring the new and the yet to be discovered.

When I made the impulsive choice to leave Phoenix, Arizona for Bellingham, Washington, I drastically changed the direction of my life. I didn’t know anyone in Bellingham, had never been before, but in the year and a half I was there, I lived in three different homes, made amazingly beautiful friends, learned invaluable things about myself and work through four jobs, picked up several new passionate hobbies, discovered the rich histories of my surroundings through two museum internships, started learning a musical instrument, hiked through temperate rainforests, got rejected by the Canadian border,  talked my way back through the Canadian border, climbed some of the most sublime mountains I have ever seen, improved my photography, and ate a lot of 2am hot dogs at El Capitan’s.

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It was amazing and I still can’t believe the luck I had picking the setting for that chapter in my life or how incredible the people were there. But one day, after being there a little over a year, I realized it was time to move on. I had settled into a routine and even though the sight of the snow-capped mountains on a clear day still took my breath away, I realized that for right now, Bellingham had given me all that it could. I needed more options career-wise and I missed the activity and culture of a larger city.

Around this time it also popped into my head that I wanted to go to Thailand. So with the plans of an extended trip and moving in my head, I began hunkering down and saving. There definitely was a time where I was working seven days a week at multiple jobs. Fast-forward about six months and I had reached my savings goal. I also had a new location in mind, after much belabored decision-making. It was confirmed…I was moving to Boston.

I’ve always really loved Boston, after visiting the city as a kid with my mom. I had wanted to live on the East Coast for a while now and Boston seemed like the perfect match for me, with its rich culture and history (and lots of universities and museums for me to stretch my Anthropology interest with). My grand plan was that after spending two months in Southeast Asia, I would embark on the second part of my adventure, a meandering road trip with all my belongings stuffed in my van (as per usual)  across the country, until I would come to part three; arriving and settling in Boston for the next couple years or so.

My long term goal in regards to moving has always been to get abroad again (after my brief year-long stint in Scotland), but I had waffled at what I considered would be an arduous and expensive process. So I figured my time in Boston could be partially spent saving up and preparing to make that leap. It was an exciting plan with a lot to look forward to.

But then I had an epiphany.

When I asked myself honestly what I really wanted, I realized that though I really wanted to move to Boston, I really really wanted to move abroad. Even though Boston isn’t as expensive as its Yankee neighbor, I knew it would be a very pricy city to live in and I would spend the savings I had on the drive there and just getting settled in a home. Then I would be looking hard for new work and although I liked to think that I might be able to find a fantastic, meaningful job I loved, it would be more likely that I would take what I could find. At that time, I was finishing up working at the kind of job that made me kiss the ground on Fridays and cry on the shoulder of my roommate Sunday nights. I realized that was my personal 9-5 circle of hell, with a schedule that stunted my own projects and creativity and a workload that didn’t challenge me. I didn’t want to end up in the same kind of rut in Boston.

My epiphany was that I had convinced myself that moving abroad would be more expensive that moving to Boston, but I realized I was thinking about the wrong part of the world. Sure, I would love to live in Western Europe, but that was certainly out of my price range. I turned my eye towards the second-world countries that so many other freelancers and travelers call home and understood that those were the type of places my savings would actually become more valuable and stretch over a longer period of time. That would give me more time and freedom to find work I enjoyed and especially to kindle my wee entrepreneurial spark and work on my own projects, like my photography and this blog, that could potentially make money one day (one…very long day in the future….).

Suddenly it seemed strange that my plan was to spend all my savings now to get to a place so that I could work to make more savings so that I could eventually move abroad. I decided to cut out the middle man, face my hesitations, and make the jump to a new country now.

“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing." –Helen Keller

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 I had planned on scoping out Bangkok and Chiang Mai as possible relocation spots while I was in Thailand, (once I actually visited them later, I decided I would likely die of heat stroke within the first several months) and my eye was mostly on Asia, as well as Central America.

And that’s where life politely stepped in and said, “Excuse me, I’ve got it from here.”

In the midst of all these life-changing decisions in Bellingham, I took a small four-day trip to New Orleans. It was near the end of September and turned out to be a fantastic time, wandering the French Quarter, dancing to incredible local bands, andgetting lost inbeautiful cemeteries. There I was, minding my own business; when the universe suddenly chucked a man at me (as the universe is wont to do).

Nathan and I met when our eyes caught each other by the dance floor at a swing dance convention and I asked him to dance. A few dances in New Orleans turned into Facebook messages, which then turned into ridiculously long emails, which then turned into even more ridiculously long Skype conversations.  He happened to live in Los Angeles, about half hour away from my home turf and my parents’ house. I was still up in Bellingham, but we had our first date several months later when I came home for Christmas. And then he visited me in Washington. And then, because I have amazing romantic timing, I promptly left for Southeast Asia for two months.

But throughout my trip, our relationship managed to continue to grow and strengthen and even though we had spent less than a week together in person, through the magnificence of the internet we could still learn about one another and become closer. And there was one itty bitty detail that made everything that much more interesting.

Nathan works as an Imagineer for Disney. Disney is building a new theme park in Shanghai, China. Nathan is moving to Shanghai in June to work on that park for the next three years. Shanghai is in Asia….you know, that place I was looking to move to and just needed the right city. Somehow, while living in Bellingham, I found a guy in New Orleans, who lives in LA and is moving to the other side of the world, which is where I want to move and just so happens to work right into my life plans, because I make insane life plans. The serendipity is astonishing. This is where I give life a nudge and say “Oh you….”

Now hold on one second for a disclaimer. I didn’t find out that Nathan was moving to Shanghai and immediately make plans to move there too. But over the months, I considered what I wanted to do in life and where I could best find opportunities that would speak to me. I thought about other places in the world that could also be possibilities and reserved my final decision for when I returned to the States. After my SE Asia trip, I retrieved all my belongings out of my friend’s closest in Bellingham, then drove down to LA as planned in early April, to see my parents. I have since been staying with Nathan here so that we can spend time together on a day-to-day basis and make sure we don’t, you know, hate each other after all.

It must all seem a bit insane from the outside, both Nathan and I agree. Going from barely knowing each other to a long distance relationship to staying in one house together seems like those outrageous people who get married after knowing each other for two months (no one around here is getting married anytime soon though, just to put that out there). The theme song playing in my head goes a bit like this;

Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but let’s move…to Shanghai, maybe?

But it’s the strangest thing. From where I’m standing, it feels….right. So completely right. Natural and comfortable. I look inward to my ever-trustworthy gut and it’s giving me the okay. I trust my own judgment and thankfully my closest friends and family do too. This adventure is a good one.

So over several weeks, as things just kept getting better and better and the clock was ticking down for him to leave and for flights there, I made the final call based on my gut and the love for a whole new road.

I’ve bought my one-way ticket and am moving to Shanghai for an undetermined amount of time on June 10th.

It’s a strange place to be at in life….I’ve made myself so open and flexible to wherever the wind might take me that moving on extremely short notice to China doesn’t change any of my goals or plans. In fact, I see the entire situation as nothing but positive with little risk. I will get the chance to live in a huge, international city abroad, focus on my own projects and some new ones this opportunity presents, and explore future possibilities with a fascinating person I care about. All my stuff is even still packed from my last trip. If the relationship doesn’t work out…I simply move out of China and go from there. All that’s lost is some of my savings. To me, the chance is worth spending them on. I know this is the kind of thing that will always linger as a ‘what-if’ if I let it pass. And I don’t live my life by what-ifs.

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China as country presents its own unique challenges to me. It’s never particularly been a place that was high on my list to visit. There are many aspects to living there that do concern me; pollution, human and animal rights, social and cultural differences. But as I consider these, I look forward to meeting my own perceptions head on and adjusting them as I learn from the inside out. My personal comfort zone happens to be quite expansive when it comes to traveling, but this is one society it hasn’t reached yet, and I can’t wait to change that.

"Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” - Joshua J. Marine

I will be moving to China on a student visa, as I’ve enrolled in a Chinese language program at a Shanghai university(I know absolutely no Chinese at the present time). I figured that if I can do nothing else in China except become as fluent as I can in the language, I would be doing my own resume and career path a great service. Hopefully I’ll also get the chance to take on other endeavors and of course work once I get settled. I’m taking classes one semester at a time (of the two year program) so I don’t wrangle myself into anything too considerable while I’m still getting comfortable.

I don’t know if I’ll stay there all three years that Nathan does…after all, three years is a long time for me to give one place in my semi-nomadism, especially a place that I may not be crazy about. But just being in that Asian hub will give me access to many other parts of the region that I am dying to visit. This move and consequent trips also means that things should be staying interesting around the blog. So, dear readers, stay tuned.