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.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A New "Pal" for China Expats: Baopals

I'm working on an article on my top conveniences that make life easier as a Shanghai expat...these are the little things that I will definitely miss when I move away. Life as an expat is infinitely easier today with all the technological help, and no where is that more true than China/Shanghai. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share my latest find in convenience: Baopals.

Baopals' tagline is "Taobao for the rest of us". Yes, Taobao in English so you no longer have to awkwardly translate or ask a coworker for help. There's a little more to it than that...here's a description from their site: "We bring you all the products and shops from China’s Taobao and Tmall, the largest marketplace in the world. We’ve reorganized the products into baopals’ own departments, and added plenty of other tools to make it easier for you to find what you want. From there, simply choose your items, checkout with a variety of payment methods, and we’ll make sure your items get to you!"

For those that don't know Taobao, it is a massive marketplace of products and has just about anything you could ever want. Many Shanghai expats I know use it, but it's tough to navigate if you don't read Chinese. Not only does Baopals make it more accessible but you have a contact who can help if any shipping or other issues arise. They take (and will be adding more) additional payment options as well.

I ordered my first product recently...found just what I needed, saved about $10 over Amazon.cn and it was delivered to my local convenience store within 2 days (this is one of the handy shipping methods, so you can get the items at your convenience rather than coordinating home or work delivery...you receive a text and show the code at the store). We'd been searching for some odd light bulbs for our apartment and also got those for next to nothing in one day.

If you're an expat in China, here's a little gift for you: a coupon for 10 RMB for baopals.com.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sri Lanka's Southwest Coast: Galle and Unawatuna Beach

We spent the last few days of our trip to Sri Lanka relaxing on the southwest coast. We stayed at the wonderful Thaproban Beach House in Unawatuna and enjoyed visiting the town of Galle as well. After a lot of driving and seeing so much diversity over the past several days, it was wonderful to settle in to this little beach town for some true R and R.

Thaproban Beach House and our lovely balcony room with a view to the ocean

View from Thaproban's restaurant
A lovely beach and cove for water sports/swimming

Evenings on Unawatuna


A great thing about Thaproban is that they have three resorts in Unawatuna and you can use the amenities at all of them. I loved staying right on the beach, but it was great to be able to go to their resort down the road for the pool (in an amazing oceanfront setting) and spa.





Unawatuna offers plenty of relaxation and fun. Yes, it might be considered a bit touristy (some say spoiled) and you will have to constantly say no to sales offers (everything from fruit to sunglasses and clothing) but we found it quite peaceful in the off season. There are plenty of little shops, restaurants and bars. You have to while away some time enjoying beachfront dining and cocktails...or water sports for the more active vacationers.

I also enjoyed walking down to Jungle Beach (just me, the monkeys and the Buddhist chanting along the way) and the Japanese Peace Pagoda. The other great feature of Unawatuna is the surrounding area, with lots of other lovely beaches and Galle nearby (as well as turtle sanctuaries, wildlife sites and tea plantations).


We had our driver take us in to Galle to spend the afternoon and evening there (about a 15 minute drive). Galle reflects the Dutch and Portuguese colonial era of Sri Lanka and is one of the best preserved examples of a Portuguese fortified city in Asia. It has lovely shops and restaurants and it's well worth spending some time walking along the city wall and enjoying the colonial architecture.






Strolling around the city wall as sunset nears, you will find plenty of other people enjoying the afternoon hours: tourists (even some from our adopted home wearing evening gowns...go figure!), local children playing sports, families enjoying a snack and even a few animals. Walk past the iconic lighthouse and continue around the wall, and stroll through the little streets to fully enjoy Galle.







There's a big cricket ground in Galle, but we happened upon an impromptu match in the middle of town. Then, we settled in at a nearby spot with a great view over the wall to watch sunset (and the buses full of others enjoying it too). It was a perfect way to spend my birthday...of course, capped off with a tasty meal. We enjoyed the art deco architecture and ambience (and food!) at Deco on 44.






Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sri Lanka from the Road

Sri Lanka is a relatively small, but amazingly diverse country. However, drive times can be quite long (and treacherous) due to small roads and traffic of all sorts (buses, trucks, tuk tuks, and loads of animals). The most popular options for traversing the country are public transportation (bus and train) and hiring a private driver. Either way, you'll be rewarded with many amazing glimpses of the country as you ride along.

First, there's the varied modes of transportation:







We started an animal count after our first day (most of which we couldn't capture quickly enough on camera). Stray dogs are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka and they show no fear of traffic, darting in front of the car regularly and lying in the middle of any road. We also saw a small crocodile crossing the road, cows everywhere (even in big city medians), horses, and a cobra (when walking on the road...fortunately, a nice man said "watch out for the cobra"!).





Of course, it was also enjoyable just watching daily life as we passed by. We saw many Sri Lankans along the road engaging in all types of activities, from old men and women working at fruit stands and other businesses to large groups of Muslims going to worship. Every day, we saw many groups of school kids and lots of people working and waiting on buses. You could see the mix of people that make up Sri Lanka...Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, urban and rural, young and old.




Tea Plantation Workers

Fruit and veggie stands (or simple one woman operations) everywhere




You could also see the diversity in the roadside architecture and religious sites.









Nurawa Eliya colonial architecture


Most commonly businesses and living spaces lined the roadside, such as little grocery/all purpose stores and the ever-present fruit stand selling king coconuts (and many motorbike and tuk tuk repair places and auto parts stores galore).




Of course, the best part was the natural views. In covering just a small portion of this island, we saw an array of beautiful beaches, stunning mountains, tons of waterfalls, lakes, marsh land and lush forests. On our drive from Kandy to Ella, we slowly climbed the hills surrounded by tea plantations and watched the change from palm trees to massive pines. Making our way back down to the coast a couple days later, the views were no less dramatic and the cool air changed to humid, salt-filled sea mist as we returned to sea level.




















Sri Lanka is definitely a place where the journey is as worthwhile as the destinations. You'll likely spend a lot of time in transport, but you'll have plenty of photos to memorialize the natural and cultural richness of this country.