And Now For Something Completely Different: Impractical Shanghai Revisited

When I started this blog a year and a half ago, I really did intend to be at least vaguely useful in my writings about Shanghai. I think I mentioned one blind massage place (still excellent, by the way), a few Lanzhou la mian joints (also fabulous) and one half decent cafe. After a while, however, it all started degenerating into a mishmash of mops, grim skylines, long convoluted rants, expat interviews and longer and longer pieces of writing about increasingly complex and personal topics.

It got to the point where I found posting to be a very daunting and exhausting process. So I kind of stopped writing. Once every fortnight or so, an idea would pop into my head and I’d write about it in a burst of energy that would leave me feeling utterly depleted for another week or two.

However, in spite of the annoying mental blocks it has caused, I like the tack my writing has taken here and I don’t really want to go back to writing short pieces about where to find a decent espresso or what those old ladies are doing in the park. What I don’t like though, is feeling overwhelmed by the idea of writing something long and thoughtful and resonant every single time. I don’t like the self-inflicted writer’s block.


Backstory: half of a chalkboard in a classroom that had been partitioned…


About four months ago, I found out that my job was being pulled out from under me, just one year into a two year teaching contract. At the time, I was floored. I couldn’t fathom being unemployed. I’d never done it before.

I’d been working since I was 16, with breaks of no more than a few months at a time. I now had a great big gaping maw of a year before me.

Even though my job was exhausting and I was totally burnt out and had been really quite unhappy and lonely for most of my two years at that university, I was unexpectedly afraid of change that seemed to be beyond my control.


…and on the other side of the new wall, the other half of the chalk board


I’m over that now. Being unemployed is marvellous.

I should have done it earlier.

I still have work but I don’t have a day job.  No more 5:30am starts. No more sitting on my ass in my empty office, killing time between classes, staring at a heavily firewalled computer, feeling drained and numb. The work I do now (the super secret exam stuff) comes in mad bursts and I’m inundated for a day or two with insanely long hours and intense focus and then, magically, it’s done for another week.

I can indulge in my awkwardly impractical circadian rhythms and pad around the flat at 3am, my head full of all those thoughts that kept me up all night for years. I used to have to label it insomnia but now it’s back to just me being a night owl.

I now have my days free. I am like a lady who lunches or a trailing spouse. With so much free time on my hands, I need a hobby, a project, a cunning plan. So far, in the weeks since we got back from Sri Lanka, I’ve spent my days drinking coffee, marking essays, brainstorming, making pancakes, going to the gym, napping and writing.  And I’m really enjoying the writing. But I’m not writing here, as you may have noticed.

I’m writing here (click on the picture for the link):


It’s actually practical!


Yes, I’ve started a food blog. Like every other person on the planet who didn’t start a travel blog, a mommy blog or a lifestyle design blog. I’m one of them now.

I wanted a place where I could write about totally impersonal things, where I could throw myself into a puzzle and talk about what I figured out. It’s strangely cathartic, writing about making cheese under Chinese circumstances.  I find myself getting sleeplessly excited about, say, garam masala or home made tortillas at 2 o’clock in the morning, researching how on earth they could be replicated in a wok with just a duck neck, corn starch and tofu skins.

In addition to giddily deconstructing food riddles at midnight and documenting my perhaps futile efforts to solve them, I am also plotting a handful of other writerly projects for the coming year which I never had any energy for until now.  Did you know that being a writing instructor for a living is actually bad for your own writing?  I was so busy teaching and marking other people’s work that I couldn’t find room in my brain for my own.

Not working full time as a teacher has given my brain the space and time it needs to actually formulate complete thoughts, moving from just coping into, hopefully, thriving. I feel saner. I feel a lot less disembodied. I’m a lot less pissed off in general. Shanghai has been grey, humid, rainy and frequently as grim as ever recently, but you know what? I don’t care any more.  It doesn’t bother me.

I think I’m going to be okay this year.  Wish me luck. I may need it.



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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.