Suzanne loves her life in Shanghai, but not so much when people leave
After a long journey — one and a half hours by subway and taxi — I finally met Suzanne at her villa in Pudong New Area. It is a European style house. A big photo of family members hangs in a dominant position in her living room, and a teddy dog sometimes lies on the carpet, sometimes approaches me to show its hospitality.
Having come to Shanghai nine years ago, Suzanne now owns a non-profit organization called "More than Aware", created to help breast cancer sufferers in Shanghai. She's also got a beloved family with five children: two sons and three adopted Chinese daughters.
Realizing I would shoot a video and take pictures of her, the blonde American pardons herself, leaving me in the living room for about 15 minutes. She comes back donning a bright-colored cardigan, and smiles to the camera confidently.
Name: Suzanne Calton
Job: Founder of the charity “More than Aware”
Years in Shanghai: 9
Holin: Do you have some impressive stories related to Shanghai?
Suzanne: My husband and I used to work in New York. During that time my husband was an intern for Citigroup. When the Chinese Citigroup came to New York, he would help to show them around.
My husband was very excited to show the guy from Shanghai the New York skyline, because Americans are very proud of their skyline because it has much history. They were looking at the skyline and the Shanghainese said it’s very “luan qi ba zao (messy and unorganized).” My husband asked: “How can a skyline be unorganized? How can a skyline be messy?” A skyline is beautiful because it’s natural.
But when we came to Shanghai, and we saw the Shanghai skyline, we understood what he meant. The Shanghai skyline is very organized and all the buildings are planned — their height, and where they are located, and how you can see them from what angle — and it makes for a beautiful display.
I would never have known it was organized if not for that executive from Citigroup; I would have never known that our skyline was messy.
That’s why our Shanghai skyline is beautiful, because it’s planned and organized, whereas the New York skyline is “luan qi ba zao.” I don’t think it’s “luan qi ba zao” at all because I know the history, but when I look at the Shanghai skyline I understand what he means.
Holin: What do you usually do on weekends or in your leisure time in Shanghai?
Suzanne: We have five kids, so they have all their friends over on the weekend. Sometimes we’ll have twelve kids in our house. They all like to come to our house because I make them food and they can stay a long time, and I like kids, so it’s okay that they’re here.
Holin: Wow, you have five kids! How old is your biggest kid?
Suzanne: Thirteen, and the youngest is five – Sunny.
And we have three adopted girls. The two older girls are both seven years old. Another is younger by two years but she’s just very tall, and she actually can read at the same level as her sisters and do math at the same level as her sisters, because she feels like she wants to be the same seven-year-old like her two sisters. She’s very competitive but she’s very kind about it as well.
Holin: That’s amazing! How do the two boys regard their sisters?
Suzanne: They think the adoption is fantastic, they love it. They love taking care of them, and you can see in the picture they’re very close. They love teaching them things and my blond son — my second son — loves to make shows with them, like performances. He does a magic show and the girls help with the magic show; he does a singing show and the girls help with the singing show.
Holin: You know in Shanghai, a family with two kids face no small task. You have two already, and you go and adopt three more! Was this your decision alone, or did you decide as a family?
Suzanne: Even before I met my husband, we both had a desire for adoption, which is very rare. And also before we met we were both fluent in Chinese so that’s also unusual – we’re kind of a very weird family.
Holin: What an adorable family! Okay, next question. What’s your favorite place in Shanghai?
Suzanne: I like Gongqing Forest Park. It’s my favorite. I’ve never been to a park that has so many different things in one park. There’s rides you can go on, the rollercoaster rides. You can ride horses, you can go fishing, you can have a barbecue with your friends, you can fly kites, you can do rock climbing, you can ride go-karts, you can do toboggans. They have food there, and then it has lots of trees, you can go on a train, there’s a rope course.
I think it’s Shanghai’s best-kept secret; people don’t know it’s that cool. People go to the park, and think it’s small, because there’s a guest station and there’s a busy road, but they don’t know it goes very, very far back and you can do so many things there. Many people go and they think, “oh there’s a rope course,” and they do the rope course and go home. But if you keep walking and follow the map, it’s the second-largest park in Shanghai. It’s gorgeous! It has got hundreds of these big, big trees, a train that goes around the whole park — the best place in Shanghai.
I go there every time I can, 'cos I think it’s “he suan (worthwhile).” It’s very cheap. In many parks, you pay a lot of money and there are long lines, but Gongqing Park isn't like that. It’s very special. You have to go there again.
Holin: Yes! I must go there again after your recommendation. Okay, next question: which road do you like best in the city?
Suzanne: There’s a canal down here, and it has water. We just call it the canal road or back road (a small river on Zhangjiabang Road), and it has a bridge and people go fishing. It’s very big and it’s very long, it’s where the water is. It’s gorgeous, you have water and sometimes the local people will play Chinese instruments. There’re wide paths on both sides so sometimes cars go down there. The trees are huge, there’s grass, there’s flowers. You go there and you still see Shanghai culture because the local people will be fishing with big fish nets, and I love it because I feel like I’m one of them. You know? I feel like we’re hanging out. They play their Chinese flute, and their Chinese instruments, and you feel like you’re in a Chinese movie. It’s gorgeous, it’s very, very relaxing.
Holin: What do you love about Shanghai?
Suzanne: Oh gosh, I love Shanghai people. They’re the best people in the world. They know how to do business; they’re smart; they’re very nice, and I think they’re very progressive; they’re very welcoming. Because Shanghai is an international city, you have so many different “wai guo ren (foreigners)”. There aren’t just people from Italy, or just from America; they’re from all over the world. Some people feel when there’re too many tourists or too many foreigners, they’re inconvenient, and they feel very frustrated. But Shanghainese love it. They love exciting lives; they love the excitement of change; they’re not afraid of change. Shanghai also has a lot of migrant workers, so I think it’s a great refuge for people that need to boost their career. They come here as a refuge – almost a refugee place, because so many people come here looking for a home. It’s just got so much variety of Westerners and people from all around the world, and it has people from all around China.
Holin: Okay, here comes the opposite question. What do you hate in Shanghai? Or what is something that makes you feel a bit awkward?
Suzanne: I don’t hate anything. I don’t feel very awkward, and I think if you understand the culture you don’t feel awkward. I don’t want to say pollution because that’s what everybody says. I’ve lived in Shanghai for nine years, and you remember. Like five years ago, nobody ever talked about pollution, so.
What do I hate about it? I hate it when people leave, when people move. Sometimes they have to go get a job somewhere else; sometimes they are only here for a temporary time.
Holin: So you mean your friends come here from all over the world?
Suzanne: Shanghainese people leave as well, local people leave when their contract is done. So that’s hard.
What does Suzanne want to say to her future self? Have a look! Suzanne is sending a message to her future self to watch ten years from now!