Another Birthday, Another Country & Another Life

29 May 2021 – Shanghai, China

I missed sitting, watching and reflecting at sunrise today as I usually try to do on my birthday each year but that was because I was up before the 4.53am sunrise and on my bike to meet up with a friend, Chris, to go on an early morning adventure… 🙂 

I had been a little hesitant with my birthday this year in a new place, new job and new kind of life that is more different than I’ve known for a long time – not living in a foreign country but still getting over a strange year of COVID, living in Australia and the mutual end to a 5-year relationship so I new this b’day was going to be different!

Knowing it was going to be different and maybe a tad lonely for the first time ever I arranged a catch up with a few new friends for noodles and a pool hall hit out in the evening but before then my new running friends Chris and Matt had some adventurous expenditure of energy planned…

So going back to 5am Chris and I heading on the relatively empty streets where there was a mix of the night before’s traffic and misfits, along with the early morning misfits out to beat the traffic and heat! We navigated the most city parts of our journey towards our destination – a lake for a swim… I should say that Chis navigated us towards the lake as I am still in follow mode and enjoying not being camp leader for a change!

Just as we got towards the roads opening up and the riding being a little more freer I noticed a softer ride over bumps and less vibrations running through my bike seat and posterior – that means a flat tyre! Being new to Shanghai and a rookie error, I didn’t pack a spare tube, tyre levers, pump or pretty much anything to fix a flattie! Luckily Chris did! My new custom built folding bike has unique thin tyres which means hard to find a tube and even harder to patch punctures. I did try to patch it up and got maybe 2km down the road before my ride was feeling too smooth once again…

Luckily it wasn’t far from a metro station so I locked my bike there and was able to make it to the lake via metro train while Chris rode on to rendezvous again there.

A slight detour via random building with a squat toilet to add to the Chinese birthday experience and down to the lake edge. It is very likely a humanmade lake and not known as a local swimming spot and we actually weren’t sure if swimming would be allowed as China and Shanghai can be quite strict on these things but we figured we were early enough before 7am and security guards to be asleep or not on duty yet! None present, so on with the show! It actually did become a bit of a show as we went out in the lake swimming and a few people gathered on the bridge to watch! The entry point into the lake was quite lovely with a small grassy spot and tiny beach to walk into the slight murky water where you couldn’t see the bottom after the first step! It’s not the most polluted water I’ve ever swam in but it isn’t the cleanest either, certainly not like the waters of Pt Willunga from the past 12 months I’d gotten used to in South Australia!

It was the pretty much the first time Chris had swam in open water so he was a little nervous but did well and able to kick onto his back to relax and make it across to the other side without needing a rescue mission from me! Swim back to our little beach (with the bridge spectators) and our morning mission of swim in the lake was complete physically and legally!

I got back on the metro to our nest stop, the sakura cherry blossom park with Chris on bike to reach soon after. There we met up with Matt the third member for the running leg. Tickets into the park, a bike move because these security guards were awake and their lamp post was not to have a bike locked on it but the one 50m across the street was allowed…

A 50-minute nice run through the park getting mostly lost but with it not being important and ticker over the legs and banter. Post run I ducked into an outdoor store to get a tube and pump to see if I could get my bike back up and running and onto the Metro to reunite with my bike. Two stops later I realised I didn’t have tyre levers so no way I was going to get a tube on or off my bike anyway…

Back at the bike I knew my only options were:

1. Fold it up and carry it on the metro with some begging since bikes need to be in a bag to travel on the metro (my preferred option).

2. Try and find a place that could replace my tube and fix my flattie (unlikely anywhere near that metro station).

3. Pile the bike in a taxi and take a taxi of shame back home (I am not a fan of taxis for those who don’t know that about me). 

So option 1. was my starting point. It didn’t start well. Security guards said no and go and speak to the train ticket person. She said no and then I explained I had no other options (not giving options 2 or 3 a chance at that stage – those options were always back up back ups!). She was sympathetic 🙂 which was a wonderful surprise and didn’t need to fake cry! She did insist on it being wrapped in big black rubbish bags so I harangued the bike into big black rubbish bags. On my way. But wait, the next lot of security guards said no… I was with now 3 official train people and said no it is ok, see I am with these people… Still no. I spoked to the situation loudly and unexpectantly feeling so close to freedom to get home and seemingly tripped at the last unexpected hurdle… Security guard then let me through… I apologised and thanked them and carried my big black rubbish bags with my bike in it down to the train!

Made it back to my wonderful very Chinese apartment happy with my metro luck, replaced my tube with my spare that was left in the apartment and then headed out soon after to go pick up a bed sheet I’d bought on the Shanghai second-hand WeChat group and an osculating fan from the same group 🙂 Managed to mostly fit the fan in my pannier!

Late’ish in the afternoon and hadn’t done any birthday type things or treated myself and starving so got some Chinese type pastie / large spring roll type things and an ice cream treat! I was meant to then go and pick up a second-hand blender from the WeChat group but in the meantime my ‘landlord’ connection – the cleaning ladies who rented me this room said the real landlord wanted to come and have me sign the contract for my 3-month summer residency… I had been a little worried I might get charged twice for rent since I rented the room accidentally from the cleaning lady service for the room and not the actual landlord but that is another story to be titled – d’Arcy rents a room in Shanghai in the most unorthodox way.

I meet the landlord with no shirt on and very sweaty from riding, swimming, running and walking and he gave me a grace period to have a shower while he organised a few things! He came back to his son and daughter-in-law, who speaks English, as well as his wife, two grandchildren and then the cleaning lady / contract lady and her boss and one other person I still don’t know their connection to anything! We piled into my tiny room with the bike taking up most of it – and I giant fridge that I don’t use. We filled out some paperwork, I’m told I won’t need to pay any extra on the 3 months I already paid upfront and then they seemed to have a 15-minute meeting in my room that didn’t seem to have a lot to do with me. It was starting to get close to the time I needed to meet my friends for dinner so I ask politely if we are done as it is my birthday and I’m meeting friends for dinner.. I got a big burst of well wishes for my birthday as well as how young I seemed for 43 today! Feeling good about myself and they seemingly worked out who gets the profits from me paying too much rent (my interpretation of that meeting) we all left with smiles and a feeling of cultural connection (and profit on their side I’m sure! 😉

I headed pretty much just across the road to meet people for birthday noodles and pool hall night of pool! A couple of teachers from one of our schools and three running friends converged and off we went for Xi’an style noodles. The noodles are like a deconstructed lasagne in a bowl and good local spot that seemed to appreciate having large mostly foreigners sitting around a tiny table to eat noodles. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol in my 42nd year and I don’t see myself drinking much at all from here onwards but I did have a shandy (beer with lemonade) since 0% beer hasn’t really made it to China yet!

Good local food, good company and off to the pool hall we headed. We didn’t know what to expect as there was a diverse range of pool hall experiences from the group ranging from some pretty dark, dank, dangerous ones in the UK to white glove service ones in east Asia. This one was very clean and very bright! Of all the places in China to be smoke-free this was one of them! Good to play pool with a bunch of people, and not good pool played by our bunch of people!

The running social scene makes for early nights and since Chris and my morning had started at 4.30am this day by 9.30pm we were done and everyone headed happily home!

A bit of a long and boring recount of a day that is really only special to me but nice to have done a variety of things that aren’t that special but go together to make a memorable day like so many birthdays before in my very lucky 43 laps of the sun.

This birthday has felt very different in a bunch of ways but as I close out tonight before signing off for this birthday I’m excited by my next set of 365 as I think they will combine to make a very different year than many in the past 21 years of being mostly a ‘nomad’. I know there is a change in the air for me in some way shape or form, as I am sure it is for everyone after the past 15-months of COVID but I’m really unsure of what I will be reflecting on this time next year and what it will look like… 🙂

What I do know is I am a very very lucky person. I have a job I love. I’m living in a foreign place which I love. I don’t have someone special, which is different for this b’day from the past few but I love I will be a different person than I’ve ever been before in the coming year… For the first time in a long time, I’m in no rush or intensity towards capturing the most out of life and here to live life in new and meaningful ways that I still don’t know what that looks like. I’m happy, healthy and human – that is enough for now and see where this all goes… 🙂 

Looking forward to working with you world – let’s have some fun!

xx d’Arcy.

About Living Geo d'Arcy

Experiences are the richest thing in life. Love them and live them.
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