A Love Letter to Shanghai

As a former expat of multiple countries, I routinely get asked which city I liked best. With expert political correctness, I scoff and answer, “That’s like choosing a favorite child!”. But, Shanghai, let me tell you a little secret. That’s a lie! It’s been you and it’s always been you. I know the other cities may feel cheated at my confession but you offered so much more than they ever could.

A cold February night in Shanghai

In this era of finger pointing by both of our leaders, I feel the need to bravely and publicly exclaim my love for you, your country and your people … let me count the ways:

  • You came to me without ego. You welcomed me and all expats like no other. I know what it feels like to be unwanted in another country, to get the middle finger on a regular basis, to be reprimanded in a foreign language like a child. Your citizens smiled at people like me for absolutely no reason other than kindness and intrigue.
  • You catered to me. You seemed to want me there. There were events created just for my pleasure like Brawl on the Bund or Oktoberfest. There were opportunities for me to volunteer and get involved from rocking adoptive babies to teaching English. I’ve never felt so accepted before in a foreign country so quickly.
  • You simplified my life. You took away some unhealthy habits. I admit, I was angered by the lack of social media and Netflix at first. But, I replaced them with healthier entertainment. You took away some conveniences like Kraft macaroni and cheese and Downey. But I found a way to live without products that were not good for my body. You made me a better person.
  • You offered me a new family. I struggled to meet neighbors before but my Pudong neighborhood became my tribe. We sweated and traveled, laughed and cried, cooked and drank, and celebrated together. We pushed each other to be our best selves. And to this day, I have you to thank as I still have my tribe even after repatriation.
  • You helped me understand different views and appreciate your culture immensely. I left with knowledge that can’t be taught in a classroom. From excursions to language classes, proud locals showed me what China was, is and will become. I respect the country and the painful past, the hope and pride for the future, and cheer you on as one of your biggest fans.
  • You made me a more flexible and creative problem solver. If ever stumped, there was always “a guy” who could fix it. Got a 400 pound Xian terra cotta warrior that needs to be delivered? There’s a guy who will strap it between his scooter and his buddy’s and have it to your porch in 2 hours. Nothing seems impossible any more. Innovating thinking will overcome any obstacle.

No matter the destination, living abroad will push your boundaries, test your limits, make you resilient, bind your family together tighter, and give you unbelievable adventure. But living in Shanghai offers so much more. And for this, I am eternally yours, Shanghai.

A family dinner on a rooftop bar

One Big Breath

Reposting from April 2014 as many kids may need some coping mechanisms now during the pandemic.

Do me a favor … Take a moment and inhale one deep, full-bellied breath slowly. And then exhale completely letting all the air out entirely.  Feels good, right? It’s wonderfully simple and only took approximately 10 seconds to oxygenate all the cells in your body, momentarily resetting your nervous system.

Yet our kids don’t know this effortless technique.  They used to; newborns automatically use diaphragmatic breathing – using their diaphragm at the base of the lungs. But this breathing pattern gets lost in the first years of life. By age 10, the normal breath pattern has shifted year over year to predominantly thoracic, shallow breathing in the chest. (Verschaakelen, 1995).

Slow deep breathing is an important intervention tool for children who are distraught or angry, anxious about sports performance or test taking, or who generally feel tense and need to relax .

So, let’s tell children to “just take a deep breath.” Unfortunately, they likely will take a dramatic chest breath, thereby stimulating the fight/flight reaction and causing a downward spiral. Instead, we need to teach children slow diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing by first making them aware of their breathing and empowering them to control it by their actions.

Try one of the following techniques with your child. Start with the first and work your way through to the third technique as they build upon each other in comfort level and familiarity of their breath.

Blowing a Pinwheel or Tissue: Hold a pinwheel or a tissue in front of a child. Instruct the child to take a deep and slow breath in. Then have them release their breath by blowing the pinwheel or tissue. Being able to see the effects of their breath will encourage them to repeat and master this technique.

Candle and Flower: Have your child pretend that they are holding an aromatic flower in one fist and a lit candle in the other. Have them bring the flower to their nose and deeply inhale slowly. Help them transition to the other hand as they release their breath by blowing out the candle through their mouth.

Balloon Breath: With child laying down on their back, have them place one hand on their chest and one hand on their belly. Have them imagine a balloon (any color) in their tummy. As they take a deep breath in, they imagine that balloon expanding and getting bigger. As they exhale, the balloon deflates. You can witness the diaphragmatic breathing by watching their hand rise and fall on their tummy.

Personally, after trying the Balloon Breath with my older child, I saw awareness transform in his eyes and an engaging conversation afterwards. It’s as if he woke up a little. And after trying the Candle and Flower technique, a joyful smile erupted from my daughter’s face. As a mom, if I can get a sparkle in their eyes and a sunny smile from just breathing, you can bet that I’ll be continuing our big breaths frequently!

You will see that by taking meaningful and conscious breaths, they are forced to be silent, and present, in a chronically busy world. A small amount of silence will “… bring peace, healing, joy, simplicity, and truth” says Dr. Helen E. Lees, author of Silence in Our Schools.

Being present with a sliver of silence may help anyone in modern childhood. Today’s children are always-on due to their busy schedules and ever present technology that keeps them ramped up and perpetually worn out. Give them the gift of accessing the present moment through a big, deep breath – a portable tool that is accessible to them anytime, for life.

We begin each Imagination Yoga class with three big, full yoga breaths because we know the numerous positive benefits from this simple action. Please share with us a technique that works for you and your family, as well as any positive results.

The Kids are Just Fine: Why Third Culture Kids Will Manage the COVID-19 Crisis Better

Third Culture Kids (TCK) are children who are raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their country of origin for a significant part of their childhood. I am a mother of two TCKs who were raised in 4 different countries before high school. I’ve witnessed the positive traits learned by living abroad in this unique subset of children that are helping them during the COVID-19 crisis.

The first thing any proud expat parent will tell you is that their children are more resilient because of the experience. TCKs adapt to change easier; they are quick to adjust to new routines. They know that with every unorthodox transition flows a pattern: preparation, honeymoon, culture shock and adjustment. While many kids may have felt like the rug was yanked out from underneath them with the cancelling of sports and classes, TCKs understood the setback and course corrected accordingly. It can feel like a foreign country when you move your life inside your home. New routines are needed, new learning habits, new rules … all feel familiar to those who have moved abroad. Those who have gone through the experience knew they had to prep first, then potentially felt like it was an extended vacation, and moved into understanding the new norm quicker than the average quarantined family with less panic.

I  saw the difference almost immediately. I was touched when I picked up my daughter on the last day of school before a planned month of distance learning began. Groups of middle schoolers swarmed along the outside pick up line in tight knit groups, hugging each other with long goodbyes before being whisked away to their lockdown location. The near-tearful farewells were bittersweet. But my daughter got in the car and eyerolled at the spectacle. As a TCK, she’s use to goodbyes and knows that the “see you later” could be indefinite. The comfort in this has made her a bit calloused at times but in this crisis, it’s beneficial. TCKs have  learned the critical survival technique to part ways knowing that it’s the beginning of something new instead of the end of something sorrowful.

Many TCKs have been here, in a mess like this, before. Stuff happens while overseas. In March 2011, we lived in Tokyo and held on while the 9.0 quake shook us. We watched as expats were evacuated from other nations out of fear of a nuclear meltdown while those who stayed stocked up on toilet paper (sound familiar?). Whether it’s day after day of purple Air Quality Index days in Shanghai when all outdoor play and sports are cancelled, or daily threats of being carjacked in Sao Paulo, TCKs have developed skills that mitigate the panic. They know that the world is full of historical events and that we are part of the story if we just hold on tight and ride it out. 

Because of the hardships that come with living in a foreign country, our family is bound tighter than ever before. Being locked inside with each other is not a struggle. Sheltering-in-place feels a bit like landing in a new location where we are all that each other has for entertainment and companionship, for better or for worse. We know how to lean on each other heavily, and maybe even more importantly, we know when space is needed. We are tapping into our super powers now and waking up each morning like it’s the first week of immigration. 

The compassion doesn’t stop in the family. TCKs also have more consideration for diversity as they have been the minority, the one with the thick accent , or the one who makes a cultural blunder. Some TCKs have lived where the outbreak began and their hearts are with their once host country. Some have visited where the country seems to be losing the battle on the virus and can recall the sites, smells and sounds of the cities now in isolation. These global citizens can reference locations with personal stories and feel more empathetic for those afflicted. They still have friends all around the world and are hearing first-hand how Spain or Korea is handling the situation. These aren’t faraway places with nameless faces; these are their communities and once upon time homes.

And lastly, they’ve been communicating with family and old friends through their devices for a decade. We stayed in contact with our family while in Japan via Skype when that was the only platform offering face-to-face, real-time communication in 2009. Online communication was nearly part of the starter guide for expat life. From Instagram to Zoom, FaceTime to HouseParty, TCKs are physically distancing but socially connected as if hardwired into their being. 

Kids Skyping with family while in Tokyo in 2009 via a desktop computer

These TCKs know how to push the reset button and for this I’m grateful. I hope they are leading their friends now in the confidence to start fresh as each week gives us a new adventure. To all the TCKs out there, keep leading by example with your sense of calm and ease during this time. The world needs your rare experience and global kindness more than ever right now.