From Oklahoma to Shanghai to Sydney to Hong Kong: The Renditions of Renoir
My name is Emily Wiltshire though to many I could be “MimiCakes” or “Mommy” and I am originally from good ole’ Oklahoma! We are currently (and just recently) back in Oklahoma after spending several years overseas that included Shanghai, China; Sydney, Australia and Hong Kong.
1. Why did you move abroad?
We first moved abroad for my husband’s company. I still remember the day he came home from work and told me about his boss asking about us possibly moving to Shanghai. After a few hours of research on the computer I told him I was in. He thought I was crazy (and wasn’t so sure himself!) but off we went, in tow with our 1 1/2 year old son! And what was supposed to be a 2 1/2 year stint turned into 3 different countries in 6 1/2 years and adding two more sons to the family!
2. How do you make a living?
My husband’s company that first brought us overseas was in sales for a company that manufactured burners and flares- a huge market overseas that had him traveling to most of the eastern Asian countries. Then (as with many other expats) he took a different job based out of Sydney in Energy Management, yet another big market overseas. Though I wasn’t the “bread winner” I did manage to work in all 3 different countries. One of the things I love most about being overseas- you are never tied to one particular “job” in general and are free to explore different areas of interest that you probably wouldn’t at “home”.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Communicating with our family and friends back home wasn’t as hard as what I thought it was going to be. We first had Vonage (and able to have a local home number) but the internet in China is ridiculously slow so that and even our SKYPE was sometimes very hard to do. You really learn to appreciate “fast” internet when you have it in the US. Sad enough we had some family members that NEVER learned the time difference and getting calls at 3 a.m. was never fun! We tried to talk to our family members at least once a week via phone but then more via email. Though the last few years has been alot easier with APPS such as VIBER and WhatsApp. Social media is a godsend!
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat?
Oh where to start!! Though Shanghai was our first move and holds a very dear place in my heart I definitely think Hong Kong was my favorite Asian city! I loved the mix of Chinese culture and European flare that made the city vibrant and eclectic. You could easily be shuffled through the train system like a herd of cattle and then go out to a quaint little French bistro and find a fabulous French meal or a fabulous cup of coffee. Another one of my favorite things about Hong Kong was the amount of outdoor activities- there was always some activity to find outside to do- whether it be a good hike or a day at the beach. So many different venues and attractions in Hong Kong to explore as an expat.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat?
Well, this is a tricky question because even though I absolutely loved Hong Kong there were sometimes I absolutely loathed it. I’m sure part of it was because I spent a good majority of my last pregnancy there and the humidity and “hills” were not friends to me. I would have to say that the worst thing about Hong Kong for me is that you didn’t have to speak Mandarin if you didn’t want to. One of the great things about living in Shanghai was that you were forced to learn the language...most of the taxi drivers didn’t speak a lick of English. If I’m going to be in a foreign country, then I want to be fully immersed, language and all! And I know that Hong Kong is a huge melting pot and their language of preference is Cantonese but after being in Shanghai for that long there was no way I was going to switch and learn Cantonese either!
6. What do you miss most?
Well, at this very moment I am terribly missing our dear helper, Tina, that was with us. She was like a family member to us and we all became really attached to her. However, we miss our Asian food! I love Oklahoma but we haven’t found any good Asian food here...and I love my Thai food.
When we were overseas though, I missed the “ease” of things over in the US. Enrolling your kids in school, finding a decent house, going to the grocery store (and actually finding all that you need in one stop) and transportation! That’s not just one thing...but Oklahoma is easy to get around and that’s something you more than appreciate with small kids! BUT hands down we miss our good friends- and this is from all of our expat cities. There’s something about being thrown in a new city without knowing anyone but then meeting people that are so different from you, but yet living the same “expat life”. It’s a relationship that bonds you together quite quickly...you become each others’ family. A truly remarkable and amazing thing that made our journey even more special.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
The easiest way that I ever met people was through my kids. Even from my first week in Shanghai I met quite a few moms. When you’re in a big expat community it’s funny how quickly you meet other “moms” that are in the very same boat that you are in. And they too are quickly looking for new friends and you quickly have a bond that ties you together. I have NEVER here in Oklahoma met someone in a Starbucks or grocery store and then had a “playdate” or “coffee date” set up. It would be pretty much unheard of, but overseas in expat communities it happens all the time. And you know what- it was wonderful! I also found groups on social media (usually Facebook) or expat websites that were of interest to me. I can say that I never went to a “function” by myself back home but learned to rather quickly!
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Oh gosh where do I even start? I think the customs and habits that I found the most odd were in relation to being pregnant. I had one child in Shanghai and another in Hong Kong and those are pretty odd countries to have babies because our views in that department are completely different. As in not drinking cold water while pregnant. Hello- not that best plan for someone constantly on fire in hot and humid Hong Kong! Or the belief that you’re not supposed to leave the house after you have the baby...I got one too many nasty glares and “tskkks” while out with my newborns. As strange as it sounds, I got used to the things that usually stick out the most as odd- as in spitting, urinating in public, no cares for personal space, staring, asking to take pictures, etc.,
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
I think the myth about Hong Kong that people always ASSUME is that it is CHINA. Technically yes, but it wasn’t for many years and most of the local Hong Kong people do not like to be associated with the country China (there were actually many different protests over this exact same thing...and quite recently). They have very much like building their own identity.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
What an amusing question! I always laugh because I think living in Tulsa, Oklahoma is a significantly cheap place to live! Every time we were looking at houses in these other cities I laughed thinking about the size of a house we could have back home. Currently Hong Kong is listed as the #3 on the most expensive city to live in, while Shanghai is #10. Sydney has dropped out of the top 10 but it was in the top 10 while we were living there. Something you never get used to and I was constantly thinking of how much “this and that” would cost back home. Even bananas in Sydney were expensive...and don’t even get me started on the foreign food we bought in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Ugh! However, that being said, you learn to adapt and find food that is cheaper (sometimes from other countries). It may not be as good but sometimes it is. We also learned to adapt in living arrangements...our apartment in Sydney was tiny...in fact our master bedroom barely had enough room for our queen size bed!
11. What advice would you give other expats?
If I could give one piece of advice for other expats it would be to take this opportunity that you’ve been given (to explore and journey through another country) and live it up. Remember that you are in another country other than your own and things will be different but have an open mind about new cultures and new people and learn to appreciate such differences. If you don’t allow yourself to experience something new and different (as it will be) then you will find yourself being absolutely miserable. I saw way too many people that constantly compared the “well if this was back home” and “it’s just not the same” and they couldn’t ever get passed it. The only thing they saw was their end in time for their expat assignment.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I actually started my blog when we first moved to Shanghai. I remember a friend telling me that it would be something fun to do. However, I fell out of it after a few months because it was impossible to get on any of the websites. I finally got a VPN towards the later part of our months in Shanghai but had given up on it. I then started it back up in Sydney. I wanted to remember all of our activities and adventures and more importantly wanted our boys to remember them. I cannot wait for them to look at this when they are older and relive these amazing memories. I already have so much fun doing it! ...and added bonus is sharing with friends and family members!
Emily's blog, The Renditions of Renoir
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