Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Grounded Nomads: Nine Months in Limbo and Our Next Adventure

I previously shared the most unexpected journey we've probably ever taken, the holiday that turned into months being stuck in limbo in the U.S. I was also interviewed about our experiences on the podcast Nomadtopia Radio for the Grounded Nomads series (from which I've borrowed part of my title). Thanks to COVID-19, many of us, especially nomads, are in the same boat. As I shared at the end of that post and podcast, we were just taking it day by day. Since that time, we continued living the isolated existence we've all become too familiar with this year while trying to enjoy the moments. I feel fortunate to have work I enjoy to keep me busy (albeit sometimes a little too busy). Long walks and yoga helped me find balance. 

We were especially fortunate to be able to spend some large chunks of time at my parents' beach house in the Outer Banks. It is the perfect place to self-isolate and you can't beat the view. We enjoyed seafood meals out on the screened porch, my walks included daily duck escapades, and we took the paddle boat out for a spin a time or two. Despite slathering on the sunscreen, I even managed to develop a slight tan for the first time in years. It was lovely. 

We alternated between NC and MD with my parents. As mentioned before, we can never fully express our gratitude to them. Having a home (or homes) while we were technically homeless relieved a lot of potential stress.

As the situation unfolded in the early months and we realized we would not be returning to China anytime soon, we started formulating a plan as best we could. Planning during the coronavirus pandemic means knowing that plan is likely to change. This situation has shown us all just how adaptable we can really be and just how uncertain life really is. We had been starting to plan a transition to a new home country (well, actually somewhere we lived years ago), Spain, over the past year. So, we first worked on getting our paperwork that had been left behind in China. Luckily, a friend helped us with that (and our belongings). But, of course, right as that arrived, thing shut down in the U.S. So, we patiently waited and kept an ear to the ground about the situation.

Sometime during the summer, we found out the consulates were reopening. We worried that due to the ban on Americans traveling to Europe, we couldn't proceed. But, it's always best to ask! And, the Spanish consulate explained that if we had residency, we could travel there. 

However, most documents have a time limit and they advised we redo the expired ones, even though technically the shutdown time is supposed to be discounted. It's so easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed with this stuff, especially during a crisis when everything has an added level of difficulty. But, living overseas helps one develop perseverance and resourcefulness. We just broke down what needed to be done and began researching and tackling each task.

First was getting a new health certification (without having a primary care doctor). I emailed and called countless places. Finally, my Mom mentioned a couple places to me including Passport Health. Sure enough, they were able to help so we booked an appointment for when we would be returning to Maryland. Then there was the process of getting a new criminal records check for the time we'd been in the U.S. Slowly, but surely, we got everything into place. 

The DC consulate was quite helpful and responded to our email questions throughout. They let us make an appointment when most paperwork was in place and just the last couple pieces were missing. So, we just had to wait for that date and gather the final pieces. 

Meanwhile, we were making housing plans as we had some scheduling conflicts. So, we booked an Airbnb for a couple weeks and then another one for a couple nights around the date of our consulate appointment. These felt like mini holidays even though it was more just a temporary change in residence. Different scenery and some new places to get carryout!

Scenes from my walks in Frederick, MD and DC

Our appointment went smoothly. As usual, I was second-guessing and stressing over nothing. We were done in 15 minutes. They told us we could expect to hear from them in about 3-4 weeks. I assumed it would be more like five. Just over two weeks later, I got a voicemail asking what date we wanted on our visas!

Since then, we have worked on securing an apartment, picking flights in a time when one never knows what will actually fly, and various other little tasks involved in the move (surprisingly, not too many). We had visits with both sets of parents and I recently got to see my grandfather outside at his ALF. We came back to Maryland to wrap up things and begin repacking our stuff to fit it all into three suitcases each.

So, if the flights actually leave and no other unforeseen issues come up, we will be moving onto the next chapter in our adventures at the beginning of October!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Journey of Two China Expats through the COVID-19 Crisis

China: The Origin Story

While much of the world was just hearing vaguely about this "virus in China", the novel coronavirus was becoming a real concern for us as expats in China. We started hearing about it in early January from people in Wuhan, but it was still sort of a distant threat and even the word out of Wuhan then was that much of life was proceeding fairly normally. That quickly began to change. And, as a couple weeks passed, we started hearing about cases in Shanghai and getting nervous.

My husband and I had to go get a medical exam (for future visa planning) and I remember talking to our interpreter and the nurses about it. We all wore masks, but at that time there were just about 10-15 cases in Shanghai. I remember feeling especially nervous when we went to get our chest X-rays and a big group of workers came in for theirs while we waited. Most of our exam was in the "VIP" area of the hospital but the tests that required equipment were done in the main hospital. Those few days were when things really started changing.

We had a trip planned to Spain for the Chinese New Year holiday and everything was starting to shut down (as it kind of does in some ways at the holiday anyway). We wore masks, washed hands vigorously, went through temperature checks...and felt a mixture of nerves and relief when we got on the plane. We took a deep breath when we arrived in Spain, as if we had somehow "escaped the virus" (or probably more the feeling of escaping the coming "lockdowns"). Oh, hindsight...

From Holiday to Who Knows?

After about 10 days in Spain on a lovely holiday, I was due to fly to the US for another 10 days or so for two work conferences. Bryan was due to fly back to Shanghai. Somewhere along the way, I got a message from American Airlines that my flight back was canceled and they would not be going back to China until at least late April. This was the start of our truly unexpected journey.

I was constantly consuming virus updates from friends and groups in China. I truly enjoyed our holiday, but did often awake in the middle of the night with a high level of anxiety. Oddly, it never got bad in Shanghai. To this day, their numbers state there have only been a handful of deaths in the city of 25 million people. I don't know if all the #s are accurate (I don't think any country can really claim accurate numbers at this point, due to the rapid spread, lack of testing in many places, asymptomatic cases, etc.) but I do know that to this day I don't know anyone who even knows anyone who had the virus in China. Whereas I know numerous people in other countries, so there does seem to be something to the proportions.

Arriving in the US: Signs Things Were Likely to Get Worse

I proceeded with my CA trip and was shocked by how little screening the US was doing. They had banned non-citizens and foreign residents...but not, as is often claimed, banned flights from China or any other countries. When I arrived at LAX, I came in just as about 3 flights from China landed. The customs line was a mile long and I expected this was due to vigilant screening. What a surprise to walk through as usual, with no temperature checks or any overarching screening being done. The only difference was they were pulling more people from the China flight to the side for additional screening (but definitely not all or even most of them). They never asked me any questions about my travel history.

What to Do?

I spoke at one conference in San Jose, visited Apple headquarters, and then headed back to LA. There was vague talk about the virus and some unfortunate racism towards Asians and Chinatown businesses, but that was about it. I then had a few days to work from an amazing Airbnb in LA before heading to the next conference (and enjoyed a lot of delicious food in Ktown). I got a message from Airbnb saying I could cancel with a full refund due to the coronavirus situation, but that was really about it for the role the virus was playing then.

In the meantime, Bryan decided to extend his stay in Spain and we arranged a different (smaller, more affordable) Airbnb for him. He enjoyed some relaxing time there, though he was in the kind of limbo we have all now grown to know. At first, he was set to return to Shanghai a couple weeks later. We were in touch with people in Shanghai, some of whom said if you can avoid it, wait it out and don't come back (including our landlord). Various friends were struggling with these same decisions, scattered about, stuck in holiday destinations, some separated from family and pets and trying to decide on the right thing to do. After calls to different people at KLM, he was able to get a refund (well, none of these refunds have actually come through, but we've been promised they are "in process", now delayed by a couple months since the original promise) and booked a one-way flight to the east coast of the US where I would meet up with him.

We were lucky that my parents have an apartment in Maryland they don't use during the winter months, so we headed there. I am beyond grateful to them for being so generous with everything. They had to make changes to their car insurance and cable/internet plan and incur greater costs to accommodate us being there.

At first, life was proceeding in a somewhat normal fashion. I even took the train up to visit a friend who lives outside of Philly and surprise another friend in town for work.

Since I was staying in the US for now, I offered to attend a conference in Florida. One colleague opted out as he had a baby at home and the virus talk was getting more worrisome. We opted for a road trip to Florida, partly to save money and allow for a more leisurely trip and partly with the thought of avoiding airports (though perhaps hotels weren't much better). The conference proceeded, minus handshakes and with added hand sanitizer. That was probably one of the last in-person events for quite some time. We had numerous conference sponsorships lined up, and so far they've all been canceled through at least August. Within a week or so, Florida's cases started creeping up. But, we got the chance to see friends and family first.

After visiting my parents, we started making our way back to Maryland. I remember an increasing sense of anxiety about the virus and being exposed with bathroom breaks, hotels, and restaurant stops. But, I also look back fondly on those last days of traveling. And, we even got to stop and stay with a good friend along the way.


We pretty much arrived back to Maryland just in time. I remember going to the store, but then deciding to go out to dinner as we remarked it may be one of the last opportunities for a while. While I think a lot of people here envisioned these shutdowns being a couple weeks, we'd been to this rodeo before...or at least heard all about it, from our friends who'd been on "lockdown" in China. Things started shutting down and soon the Governor closed all but essential services. We settled in and started thinking about slightly longer-term decisions now that our journey had landed us here.

Tough Decisions

Throughout this time, we had considered trying to get flights back to China. Early on, we thought it was not wise due to what seemed like a risky situation in China. Then, we became worried due to the quarantine process and restrictions there. They were being quite strict and arriving passengers had to do a 14-day quarantine after a pretty lengthy arrival process. You could do it in your apartment, but you were first taken to be tested and await results, and, if negative, you could go to your apartment if conditions were right (no roomates, etc. though families could be together). You had to stay 100% in your apartment during the 14 days, with daily temperature checks. Depending on the date and district, you may be locked in or have an alarm on the door, etc. And, if you tested positive or there were any concerns, you had to go to a facility directly (eventually, they removed the option of quarantining at home and everyone went to a facility which was really a hotel turned into a quarantining facility).

While a little inconvenience is well worth it for safety, it was tough to make that choice when we had options. And, then I committed to the conference and we were in the midst of the trip. And by the time we arrived back, it was feeling like a bad idea to expose one's self to travel. At so many points, we struggled to know the right thing to do.

All our belongings, minus the one suitcase we each had, were in China. And, of course, we had left thinking we were going away for a week or two. But, as time passed, we saw this was going to be a while...

So, we struggled with continuing to pay rent. And, our lease was almost up anyway. We didn't even really know how we would renew that not being there and didn't really want to pay to keep the place while we were stuck elsewhere indefinitely. So, we made the hard decision to give up our home and get some items packed and shipped to us.

Fortunately, one of the best things about our time in Shanghai has been the many connections and friends we've made. Shanghai (and China more generally) seems to always have a service to meet every need or a way to get things done, if you know how and who. So, through my many WeChat groups, I linked up with a service that helps people pack and ship (or store) belongings, even if you can't be there. Unlike the big moving companies, they would help even if you had few belongings to send. We had no furniture and had always planned to leave just with extra suitcases, the same way we arrived seven years prior.

Our ayi ("auntie", the word used for caretakers such as nannies and housekeepers in China) had our key, so she met our friend and the packers at the apartment. In the middle of the night our time, we did a video call with them to pick out what to pack. We foisted a number of things on our friend and ayi (I say foisted, but I think they got some pretty nice stuff, though we wish they'd let us do more for their time and efforts). It was surreal seeing our home of over five years and all our belongings through the screen, knowing this was goodbye. They methodically went through our closets, drawers, etc. with us. We had prepared a list beforehand (to be honest, I'd started doing this when awake in the middle of the night with anxiety as early as our Spain holiday). It was over amazingly fast. And, we had the belongings within a couple weeks.

We gave the key to another friend, who went and got a few more items and helped us do a final look around the place. He then "kuaidi'd" the key to our landlord (got it delivered). And, like that, it was done. For now. We hope it won't be our final goodbye to Shanghai. I really think we need a real goodbye to the place and people that gave us so much.

What Now? One Day at a Time

We don't know what the future will hold. Of course, when do we ever? We have been lamenting over the use of the phrase "in these uncertain times" lately. It bothers both of us because everything is always uncertain and impermanent. But, I know we all like the illusion of control and this all feels especially unsettling. I'd still like to see commercials stop using that phrase, though.

After all this dwelling over different decision points, it is sort of a relief to really not be able to make any decisions for now. Our focus, as for so many, is just on staying healthy and doing our day-to-day tasks. We are enjoying a return to cooking and a less frenzied pace. After years with a tiny kitchen and eating out almost every night, this certainly is nice on the budget and the chef of the family loves having an oven and so many options. 

We're fortunate that we can get outside. In this suburban setting, it is easy to do without being around other people. The local golf course closed, so I now have a whole new space for walks.

What we have learned throughout this journey is that you can't put exact timelines on it or know what will happen. You have to truly take things one day at a time. I am grateful for SO much. We are fortunate, we have a lot. And, as a friend mentioned to me, perhaps we were especially well-prepared for this as we have learned to be adaptable over the years. We have a lot of freedom and flexibility. I am especially grateful for all the wonderful people in our lives. 

I am also so thankful that we embraced all the adventures we did. There were many times we hesitated...should we spend money on this trip, event or expensive dinner? I don't regret a single thing I choose to do, but I know, especially now, I would regret missed opportunities. This is one of my favorite quotes (commonly attributed to Mark Twain, though it appears this may be an internet myth). We will sail away again, but for now we are happy to have a safe harbor.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Best Things About Taipei

My personal blog writing continues to be embarrassingly sporadic. I tend to post about all our adventures on Facebook and get lazy from there. A professional hazard, I guess. Too busy creating content for work, but you won't hear me complaining as I love what I do. This is a long overdue post that came to mind as we took our second trip to Taipei, Taiwan at Christmas (2018). We had been to Taipei (and southern Taiwan) near the beginning of our stint in China and this was a welcome chance to see more. We did some of the major tourist sites the first time (Taipei 101, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the more popular night markets). This time, we focused on spending time in neighborhoods, parks, exploring more diverse street food (and food in general) and just soaking up the city.

We stayed in an Airbnb near many of the universities and in the heart of the Shida night market, so we had tons of back alleys with local food spots and shops just outside our door. And, it had a massive rooftop deck overlooking the city (covered, which is perfect for Taipei's rainy weather). I highly recommend a rental apartment over a hotel room in Taipei.

The view from our deck
Taipei is a special breath of fresh air (sometimes literally) when you live in mainland China, especially a big city like Shanghai. The culture will feel very familiar, but everything is a bit easier. Both times visiting, we had people pretty immediately stop and ask us if we needed help as soon as we stood around looking for something. And, each time it happened it was genuine and they helped put us on the right path. So, here are the top reasons I love Taipei and why I think Taipei (and Taiwan more broadly) should be on everyone's travel list.

Some of my favorite things about Taipei:

1. It's easy to escape the urban environment of Taipei for a nature or small town break. 

I loved spending time walking around Da'an Forest Park. It was a quick walk from our apartment and I went there on a few occasions. It's a massive park with a lot of activity and many different areas.

Bird watching in Daan Park

Additionally, my "must do in Taipei" list for this time included hiking up Elephant Hill at Sunset for a view of Taipei 101 and the city. It's a pretty serious uphill (stairs) climb but worth it for the views. You can easily access Elephant Hill from the subway, just a couple stops from Taipei 101. This whole area was so attractive, I'd suggest going a bit ahead of sunset and spending more time walking around.

We also spent a day visiting the National Palace Museum and then heading up to Tamsui. It's a fun, though very touristy, old fishing village. You simply take the metro about 40 minutes from the city center and everything's within walking distance.
National Palace Museum

Food, shopping, fun in Tamsui

Water views in Tamsui

Unfortunately, with the rainy and foggy weather, I didn't think it was worth doing the other nature activity I'd planned to, the Maokong Gondola. However, this would be high on my list if I returned. Again, you can access it right from the subway and can also visit the Taipei Zoo. The ride itself looks stunning and then you can spend time exploring the tea plantations there.

Yangmingshan National Park is another natural attraction with easy access from the city. And, many people take day trips to Pinxi, Jiufen, Yehliu Geopark, and Shifen. You can do it on your own, or Viator and others offer packaged tours to hit the major spots.

If you want to go further afield, Sun Moon Lake would be an option. And, we absolutely loved our time in Hualien and Taroko Gorge (a few hour train ride from Taipei).

2. Food is one of Taipei's main attractions.

Ranging from ubiquitous night markets and delicious street food to ultra-modern cuisine, with everything in between. You could spend days just exploring markets, and years hitting all the different street food vendors and small shops for different specialties. Street food is accessible and safe.

I have to admit one of my favorite things about Taipei is the Japanese influence in cuisine. If you aren't aware, the Japanese occupied Taiwan from 1895-1945. You can still see remnants of that time and Japanese influence in everything from architecture to food. Of course, Japanese cuisine has spread far and wide, especially in neighboring countries. But, Taipei is a Japanese food lover's paradise. We were lucky to get a reservation at Da Wan Yakiniku restaurant on this trip (you can reach them via their Facebook page, make sure to plan well in advance). They have very limited space as everyone is seated around the bar/cooking area with essentially your own chef and food consultant, who will guide you through a delicious meal. Meat eaters will savor the various cuts of wagyu beef, but everything from the seafood to the veggies was outstanding.

My other two favorite food activities on this trip were: Aquatic Addiction and Taipei Eats' Dadaocheng tour. Aquatic Addiction is a complex sitting next to the Taipei fish market. It includes several different restaurants and little sushi and wine bars, as well as a food shop. The fish was unbelievably fresh and it was a fun atmosphere. I'd suggest walking around and taking a look at the whole place and then trying to find a spot. It can be crowded, so you might have to wait, but you can often grab some quick sushi or a drink in the meantime.

Dadaocheng has interesting 19th-century architecture and a thriving food scene of local treats. We tried everything from fish ball soup (sooo much better than I expected--these fish balls were stuffed with pork! might sound gross, but I assure you it is not) to herbal tea and warm rice cakes and a refreshing icy dessert. Our guide was informative and fun, and we had so much food we were turning down tastes by the end.


3. You could spend days exploring all the alleyways.

I'm a sucker for winding alleyways and just getting lost exploring. Our Airbnb location was perfect for this, in the heart of the Shida night market and surrounded by tiny streets full of shops, food, and cafes. Every neighborhood of Taipei seems to have atmospheric alleys with local flavor, hip cafes, tiny stores, hidden restaurants and bars.

4. Taipei is a book lovers paradise.

Taipei is home to the 24-hour Eslite bookstore, perfect for browsing on a rainy day (or night). I noticed a lot of people reading (books, not just their phones!) throughout the city. Taipei's many cafes are perfect for wiling away the day reading over a cup of coffee. Check out this list of Taipei's bookstores from Culture Trip for more to explore.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Six Years in Shanghai...Too Many Adventures to Count


Sightseeing on our initial visit: Yu Gardens in August (boiling!)

The six years in Shanghai have flown by, full of new friends, goodbyes, travels, fun of all kinds, new jobs and exciting work, and the ups and downs of life in China. I'm so happy I documented my travels so well at the beginning and so disappointed I've stopped. But, on the other hand, I'd rather be soaking up all life has to offer than writing about it.

Recently, I was a guest on the Expat Rewind podcast. The host, Stephanie, is one of those new friends I've been lucky to meet in Shanghai. She attends the Podcast Brunch Club I run and we're also in book clubs and other groups together (there are so many more of these now than 6 years ago!). On her podcast, Stephanie asks people to read something they wrote online in their first year abroad and reflect back on it. I chose my post "The Ever Present ____ of China". You can hear my interview with Stephanie here:

This really got me looking back at the blog, thinking I should pick it back up, and generally reflecting on my adventures. I don't even know where to begin in covering everything I've experienced during this time. I've made great friends, visited almost every country in Asia, traveled around China's main tourist spots (and a few less visited), explored countless lanes in Shanghai, learned quite a bit about China and Shanghai, eaten at some of the most amazing restaurants in the world, and experienced all the ups and downs of daily life in Shanghai.

I always describe Shanghai as vibrant and dynamic. I can't pick two better words. 


There is never a lack of things to do, people to meet and places to explore. I've really seen those opportunities (for a foreigner, in particular) blossom in the past few years. Scroll through meetup.com and you can find city walks, hiking groups, art groups, book clubs and something for nearly any interest. Each weekend an art group I'm part of goes on outings to various galleries and museums, never running out of new places to see. There are countless travel groups if you want to take anything from a day trip to a nearby village to a sojourn to Tibet and Everest Base camp with others. 

This international city with over 25 million people has a pulse all its own. I live at its very heart, not far from East Nanjing pedestrian street, a neon-lined shopping street that's always crowded except at about 4-5 AM. People's Square, my neighborhood, is the city center and was the racing grounds back in the day when foreigners sat at the nearby hotels/clubs watching the races with their tea and cocktails. You can still see the array of art deco architecture from that time, mixed in with busy streets and double-decker tourist buses. On weekends, you can barely walk through the park as its so packed with elderly people advertising their children at the "marriage market". And, old-school, lively Shanghai shopping takes place one street behind my home. Older people doing their daily shopping come out early to find tonight's dinner among the tubs of live seafood, small vegetable shops and butchers. Street food vendors offer starchy, oily goodies to get you going for the day.

Colors, sounds, and a solid mix of old and new abound. One street looks like the future, the other a step into a China past that is slowly disappearing. Within one street you see sleek hotels, office towers and luxury cars on display and the bicycle repairman who's camped out to repair the more traditional means of transport.


Leaving for vacation means coming back to a changed city. You might find your favorite new restaurant has closed or perhaps the entire block of homes nearby is gone. You'll have 10-12 new restaurants to try, though, and plenty of new sites to see. Even long-held traditions and culture change at a pace you don't typically see elsewhere. Adoption of technology happens so fast, it skips over 3 or 4 iterations elsewhere. 

Rules change too fast to keep up. You always have to assume they'll be different, ask lots of questions and persist. 

The way the government can implement change astounds. We overlook a massive elevated highway and it used to be honking from dawn til midnight. I even said in my old blog post that this would never change. Never say never here. They started levying big fines for cars honking and made that problem disappear. Scooters, unfortunately, don't abide by those rules so it's still far from silent. Smoking is another impressive rule change. They had half-heartedly banned indoor smoking before, but then got serious about it. Importantly, they created significant fines for the businesses so they'd serve as enforcers rather than complicit rule breakers. Poof...the indoor smoking went up in smoke (for the most part). 

Like so many things, this is an example of how China has shown me the subtle pros and cons of different ways. It's highly complex governing the world's largest population. I'm not condoning all of its behavior by any means, but living here does teach you not to judge so quickly. Or, with your own cultural lense, without taking the time to observe and learn.

I'm glad to be back to blogging, though I won't promise to keep it up. But, I'm hoping to do a couple more reflection posts before we leave. And, perhaps to document more of the trips which I've missed writing about here (there are tons of photos on Facebook!).

In the meantime, there are always more Shanghai adventures.

Visiting the "Hidden Library" recently in Shanghai, a Ming and Qing era home which has not been remodeled

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Five Resources That Make Shanghai Expat Life Easy

Yes, there are many challenges to life as an expat...especially for an expat in Shanghai, China. Pollution, internet frustrations, trying to read those thousands of characters and perfect your tones, and the overwhelming noise and traffic of 24+ million people. But, really, let's be honest, we have it easy as Shanghai expats. Incredibly easy in many ways. Some of this is just thanks to modern tech that has generally made life easier as an expat or traveler, but there are many unique (and ever-changing) conveniences in Shanghai that make up for the lack of Google Maps and Translate.

Here are my top five Shanghai expat lifesavers (particularly geared to those of us with limited Chinese skills):

WeChat: The indispensable communications app that does so much more. First, you need it to get or keep in touch with anyone here (calling or texting is so old-fashioned!). With the ubiquitous use of WeChat, I now end up connecting with every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Xu, Apple and Dolphin) because we can easily translate each other's messages and not deal with messy attempts at phone calls. It's how I make my haircut appointments and was the only way I could negotiate with my gym a couple months ago. Group chats are used for planning every event (and laughing at all the resulting pics). Everywhere you go there's a QR code to scan so you can keep updated on the latest happenings, receive discounts, login to wifi, make appointments and more.

WeChat Wallet: Ok, yes, more WeChat love. But, this one deserves a separate mention. It’s (relatively) easy to set up (make sure you know the exact way your name is written on your bank account, and that this phone # is listed on that account). And, once you have it set up you won’t know how you lived without it. Just a short list of things I did using WeChat wallet recently: received money from a student, topped up my mobile phone, bought dinner, paid for groceries and a Taobao order, bought event tickets and paid my electric bill. Just another way you can avoid leaving the house when Shanghai feels a bit overwhelming! And, just wait until you receive some random hongbao money at Chinese New Year.

BonApp: Since this app arrived, I have been one happy camper (eater). It makes searching for restaurants in English easy and has a great review community. Besides reading reviews (local friends tell me they trust it more than the Chinese app, Dianping) you can check out the hours of the place, special deals, and the nearest metro stop and location (on a great map, in English!!!). You can save a wishlist of places you want to check out to refer back to when you're stuck in that rut of going to your old favorite too often. Plus, they have Deals and Meets so you can check out cool new places and special events. And, for many of the restaurants you can make a reservation right from the app via Chope (I’ve yet to try out Chope directly, but it works great via BonApp).

Sherpas: The classic savior of all lazy Shanghai expats. Other English-language food delivery sites have popped up, but this is still the best for service and the huge array of restaurants. Tip: order during happy hour (2 pm-6 pm) for free delivery! Seriously, if you’re not a Shanghai expat you probably don’t know the beauty of sitting home in your PJs, browsing through hundreds of restaurants, picking anything you fancy and getting it delivered free in about 45 minutes (and, you can also order booze and even cigarettes…clearly this could bring down the world if it went worldwide). I was so lazy (or productive?) that I ordered a cup of coffee the other day. There are many other great specialty delivery services for wine, specific foods, etc. that also make life in Shanghai great (shout out to Spread the Bagel!). Food from the Hood is the next one on my radar.

Kate and Kimi: Of course, you can get your groceries delivered in Shanghai (I can’t think of any category of item someone won’t bring to your home here) and you have tons of options. There are bargains to be had at the big stores (Carrefour, Yi Hou Dian), if you can navigate Chinese (even if you don’t, a lot of people manage it with some help setting their account up initially). But, as a Shanghai expat sometimes you need those comforting tastes of home. Darn those cravings for that ridiculously priced cereal or cheese! My #1 online grocery store is Kate and Kimi. They have a good selection (and many items I can’t find elsewhere) but the best is their BSK fresh selections and all the local "foodpreneurs" they promote. I am in love with their salads and chopped veggie kits as well as the meatballs and stews for quick dinners. Read my more detailed post reviewing Kate and Kimi favorites.

And, a bonus 6th: My newest favorite is Baopals, a simple way to shop on Taobao and your gateway into a world of goods. Check out more about Baopals and get a coupon to try it out here.

Kate and Kimi: My Favorite Choice for Groceries in Shanghi

Kate and Kimi online grocery store made my list of top five conveniences that make Shanghai expat life easier. So, what has me raving about Kate and Kimi?
  • Wide selection of products (imported, fresh/local, healthy and pre-made/easy dinners plus a huge selection of fruit, veggies, meat...)
  • Convenient delivery (multiple time slots and quick turnaround--I usually choose the early AM slot which cuts down on waiting around). What is better than groceries coming to you--for free*? *with minimum order
  • Easy payment options (WeChat Wallet--I love you!)
  • Good customer service: they've emailed me and credited the amount when something was out-of-stock and they respond quickly to questions or problems
  • Discounts and sales: they have a random sales page where you can pick up some bargains and they offer discounts for various groups (I'm a member of Shanghai Expatriate Association--SEA--and they offer an every day discount to group members)
But, the unique food options make Kate and Kimi my favorite Shanghai grocery store...

Blue Sky Kitchen, Kate and Kimi's own kitchen providing handcrafted specialty foods

Blue Sky Kitchen

Salads and Glow Bowls: BSK offers an array of tasty salads and "glow bowls" which make perfect, healthy on-the-go lunches. My favorite is the Tuna Nicoise (with dill dressing) and I also love the Roots and Kale salad (yum...beets!). You can choose your homemade dressing to personalize it to your tastes. The glow bowls include loads of veggies, kale and quinoa. I've had the Buddha's Delight several times...it comes with a delicious cashew honey mustard and is loaded with healthy ingredients like carrots, sweet potato, broccoli, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds on the base of kale and quinoa.

Nicoise salad
Kate n Kimi Happy Buddha Glow Bowl
Roots and Kale Salad
Sliced and Diced Cheeses and Veggies: The prices are reasonable for the diced cheeses and it's easy to grab a few bites to go as a snack. Especially when you're cooking for 1-2, having someone else gather a variety of veggies and prepare them for you is not only convenient but is often cost-saving (and less wasteful). My favorite at Kate and Kimi is the stir fry kit! I cook it up with some ginger and add a little soy sauce and vinegar at the end and it makes at least two meals with rice.

Sir Fry Kit: mushrooms, edamame, peppers, cabbage, onion, snap peas
Yogurt Pots and Homemade Applesauce: I tried the yogurt pot with blackberry chia jam and it might be my new favorite breakfast, but I also can't wait to try their overnight oats and homemade applesauces. What a great way to get a healthy start to your day!

Easy Meals and On-the-Go Solutions

Lizzie's Smoothies: I'm not a big smoothie drinker but we tasted a couple of these recently and I can really see how great they are for a nutritious solution on-the-run. The Basil Drop had a fresh, tart taste and the Pink Punk kept Mr. Twowhotravel fueled up for nearly half a day through several classes and the grueling Shanghai commute.

Easy Meals: Kate and Kimi carries delicious local flavors with homemade sauces, stews and meatballs. We love the Chicken Basquaise (just serve over rice) and chicken meatballs (serve over pasta or with some crusty bread). The Chicken Tagine may become a new favorite!

Chicken Basquaise over rice (Kate and Kimi can even deliver the wine!)
International flavors/frozen meals: Kate and Kimi also carries a selection of frozen meals, including my husband's beloved Hot Pockets (which I had not previously seen at other Shanghai grocers).

Kate and Kimi also carries our favorite bagels from Spread the Bagel, which is an added convenience not having to place a separate order (though I wish they'd add the whole wheat bagels!).

In addition to all the specialty items, you can find your everyday items such as frozen beef, chicken, canned goods, pantry items, and a large selection of veggies and fruit. If you live in Shanghai, check out Kate and Kimi for an ever-growing selection of great groceries, delivered to your door.

*I was given several items to taste test for this blog post, but all opinions and the decision to create this post were strictly my own and based on my honest reviews from personal experience.