Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show-Unknown
Of course, I said yes to Shanghai! It was a no-brainer—and it was what I’d been wishing for the last year… I was so excited! This would be a brand new beginning for me…a chance to leave my old life and problems behind and start afresh in a new, unchartered country.
Within a month of being asked to move to Shanghai, I was on a flight, carrying two suitcases and the rest of my things, the things I would need for the next year following behind me on a boat.
Just as Sebastian had predicted, I arrived in Shanghai before April of that year.
It was March 2005.
I was given a year’s contract on an expat package with a month in a 5-star hotel thrown in…I would need to find myself a place to stay before my month ran out.
A year felt like a long time back then and I thought it would be more than enough time to really get know my new home. I decided that I would make the most of the year by learning Chinese too, then I could return home with another language after my adventure.
But things never pan out the way you imagine, do they?
When I arrived at my hotel, I was happily surprised to see Kallum waiting there for me… He looked gorgeous, dressed in a black suit and white shirt. We had had two months apart but in that moment it didn’t feel like we had ever been separated.
That first weekend in Shanghai was amazing.
And was just the welcome I had hoped for…I felt my connection to Kallum growing stronger and we spent the whole weekend together. He told me to be patient with myself, as it would probably take 6 months to settle into my new life in Shanghai…I thought he was exaggerating, but I would later discover that he wasn’t.
Sadly my joy over that weekend was short lived.
Kallum performed the first of what would be his many disappearing acts after the weekend.
In a flicker of a switch, Kallum completely broke off contact overnight. He stopped calling, messaging or answering my calls.
It would be another 5 months before I would see or hear from him again.
Many years later I realised that Kallum was the sweetener that guaranteed my move to Shanghai…. Perhaps the Universe thought I might get cold feet about my move, so brought Kallum into the picture to give me the extra incentive I needed….
Our relationship continued to be on off for 3.5 years until finally, I saw sense and to put an end to it.
I won’t lie to you; those years of toing and froing with Kallum were extremely painful. I fought in desperation to hold onto something I couldn’t have. The problem was, I really thought I was in love with him, so I allowed my heart be broken time and again.
When I started working on myself years later, I saw with great clarity, why I had to have my experiences with Kallum—I will share these insights with you in future posts.
But for now, let’s get back to this story…
My first few months in Shanghai were crazy busy. My Chinese colleague, I’ll call her Apple for the purpose of this post, found a great little office in the biggest fashion and textile building in Shanghai—Shanghai Mart.
Shanghai Mart was 10 or so floors packed full of all things fashion and textiles. There were garment and fabric trading companies, suppliers with factories in other parts of China and wholesalers of everything you can imagine from buttons to men’s suits.
We ran around organising our office, including employing staff and starting my residency process. I immediately started travelling to the various fabric mills around China that we had already started doing business with to check the quality of our production.
And after three or so weeks, I found a great apartment about 15 minutes walk from our office—it was brand new, modern and decorated from top to bottom in Ikea furniture. It suited my taste perfectly!
I moved excitedly from my hotel room into my new two-bed apartment.
A short time later, the anxiety attacks started.
Fear and loneliness gripped me. I missed London; I missed my friends, my family and everything I knew. I felt alone, anonymous and small. So insignificant in the Shanghai sprawl.
I would wake up night after night, sweating in panic, with the same re-occurring thoughts throbbing in my head.
“Who will know if anything happens to me, who will find me if I die and who will tell my family”?
I lived in a high rise building on the 4th floor but hadn’t spoken to a single neighbour since my move. And although I was surrounded by multitudes of people 24/7 I didn’t know any of them.
There was a reason why I had to be in Shanghai wasn’t there? But during my loneliest times, I doubted and questioned whether my intuition was really right.
I often asked myself “What the hell am I doing in Shanghai?”
In the past when I visited Shanghai, I noticed how much people stared at me, but then, it was easy to dismiss the attention, putting it down to my novelty factor. Being stared at during a two-week business trip was manageable—but now, being stared was my constant, unrelenting reality.
I had dived into a goldfish bowl and was now the star of the show.
And even though in 2005 there was a burgeoning ex-pat community in Shanghai, foreigners were a tiny, tiny portion of the population, and black foreigners even tinier compared to the 25million or so Chinese residents.
I stood out like a vegetarian in a steakhouse.
But I have to also say, that I felt no malice attached to being stared at…there was an innocence and simple curiosity in the eyes of those who gawped—and in truth, it wasn’t just me who was stared at, every foreigner experienced their share of the goldfish bowl.
Meanwhile, my anxiety attacks haunted me with regularity—but suddenly one night, I realised that I didn’t feel anxious when going to bed anymore… it was a subtle realisation that came after about 6 months of living in Shanghai.
So just as Kallum predicted, it had taken me precisely 6 months to feel settled in my new country of residence.
After that life in Shanghai really took off for me.
I made many new friends from around the world and started exploring the exciting social scene. I was doing well at work and had learned enough Chinese to communicate with my colleagues and suppliers—life was great!
But as all things do, that too changed.
In March 2006 when my year’s contract was up, I lost my job—it came as a sudden, unexpected a blow. A blow that left me feeling both devastated and angry. But I knew I wasn’t going back to England.
So when my company offered to pay for my relocation back to London I said No! I was just starting to enjoy myself, find my feet and feel settled in Shanghai….it was way too soon to leave now.
Within 3 weeks of losing my job, I had a new one with another UK company. And after 2.5 years at the end of 2008, when they decided not to renew my contract, I started my own fabric trading company called Edge.
Just as I felt on that first trip to China, Shanghai was full of wonderful opportunities.
During my 9 years in Shanghai, I worked for two companies, set up my own trading company, ran two half marathons one on the Great Wall. I became a Pilates teacher and had two classes a week for 6 years. I learned yoga, meditation and Chinese. I became a trainer of Deeksha energy and at one point had 4 meditation and Deeksha classes a week. I wrote a book proposal and joined a writing group. I volunteered for various charities and travelled all around China and Asia.
Lastly, but most importantly I had a spiritual awakening. When I left Shanghai after 9 years of living and exploring the city in 2014, I left as a completely different person to the one who had arrived.
It dawned on me why my process had to happen in China. Could I have awakened anywhere else? Although full of opportunities, Shanghai was also full of life challenges, many of which took me to the edge of sanity.
But I survived to tell the tale.
When I left Shanghai it wasn’t because I was running away from myself or escaping the city, in fact, I had faced, then found myself in its lanes and skyscrapers. I left Shanghai because it was simply time to move on.
I left with many joyful memories of the laughter and tears shared with the many beautiful friends I made while there.
So to all of you amazing people who touched my life during those fantastic years in Shanghai, those of you who became regular participants of my pilates classes. All those I initiated as Deeksha givers and for every one of you who came to Deeksha meditation, I say a heartfelt thank you for helping to make my time in Shanghai so special.
I love you all