Italian super-mom Sharon still misses the days she used to make bread in Shanghai...

Sharon has lived in New York and Milan, but it's Shanghai her kids call home. She used to bake them bread, but now that hundreds of bakeries have popped up, she doesn't need to.

Holin’s words:

“Thank you for your time and the snacks you made, Sharon,” I said after finishing our interview. We shook hands.

“But who are you guys?”, the Italian asked casually while still holding hands with me.

“Wow, you don’t know who we are! And you let us into your home!” I was a bit surprised.

That’s Sharon, she always surprised me. Like she said: “I have three kids, and I always bring them traveling by myself. The first two, Ella and Mia, both traveled with me from when they were six weeks old. And I went to Hong Kong when Ella was six, Mia four, and Gavi just three months old.” 

When she saw my shocked face she continued to explain: “It’s easy to take a plane. You just make them sit down, give one the iPad, one my phone, and give the other something else and say, ‘Now I’m gonna read a book, you take care of yourselves.’ That’s all.”

It’s still hard for me to understand how “easy” it is. I reckon a trip would even be difficult for two adults and only one little kid.

“Dear, it’s hard with one. But when you've got three, thing’s getting easier. They will take care of each other, each one having two pairs of eyes looking after them,” the super mom said.

"Kids are like presents for me," she continued. "Every morning, when they come to me, I feel like I've received another gift."

What she said touched me a lot.

Italian super-mom Sharon still misses the days she used to make bread in Shanghai...
Holin Wang / SHINE

Name: Sharon Raccah Perez

Nationality: Italian

Job: Health Coach

Years in Shanghai: 13

Holin: Do you remember some impressive stories related with Shanghai?

Sharon: I have to say probably it's the first time I came to Shanghai 13 years ago — it was a completely different city; nothing like today. It was much emptier and when you used to go walking around, the stores were empty. I mean it was a beautiful store but there was nobody there, and maybe after three to four years, everything changed. The stores were full of people and even the restaurants. You know, Shanghai has some foreign restaurants. At the beginning, they were empty, with not so many people there. After two or three years living here, it started to become really full of people everywhere. It was amazing. I think it is the most incredible thing. It changes every two years. It is amazing!

Shanghai changes very fast, even the Bund. The buildings stay the same, but there is always something new, something different. Every time you go, you will find a new building, a new shop and a new thing. It is amazing here! How they do everything so quickly and efficiently I don't know.

I live in Jingqiao (in Pudong Area), you know it is far away from Puxi. If you don't go there like three months, you will say: "Wow, this wasn't here before." This is the most incredible thing about Shanghai.

The other thing that changes a lot and it is still to change more is the shops, like the international food shops. You know Shanghai is a super easy place to live now. But people tell me: "It is still a little hard, you cannot find this and you cannot find that." I will answer: "You can find everything now."

When I first came to China, I was making my own bread, cakes and cookies, because we only found one place to buy European style bread. But now when you go anywhere, it's full of expats' bread stores! There are 1,000 or more.

Holin: How do you spend your weekends in Shanghai?

Sharon: Most of my weekends are spent either going from one activity to the other activity with my children, or cooking healthy, high quality food for them.

Before I had children, I think my time was spent walking around Puxi and the former French Concession area, which is my favorite part of Shanghai.

Holin: Yes, many expats like that area of Shanghai. Besides there, are there any other places you like, and why?

Sharon: I think my favorite place, even though there are too many people, is the Bund. When I walk down the street and I see all the buildings, I cannot believe that Shanghai is so beautiful. For me, I think that is my favorite. I think it is so easy to love it because everywhere you go and every building you go has incredible restaurants and an incredible atmosphere.

Holin: Which road do you like best?

Sharon: This is a very hard question for me. I like Fuxing Road M. You know, I like architecture and design, because I used to be a graphic designer, so I love the old roads with trees and little houses. Shanghai has so many roads like that with old lane houses… those are my favorite things.

Italian super-mom Sharon still misses the days she used to make bread in Shanghai...
Claire Woodrow / Ti Gong

Sharon Raccah Perez with her Canadian husband Reouven Perez and three kids — (from left) Mia, Ella and Gavi 

Holin: Which element makes you love Shanghai?

Sharon: I think the thing I love the most is the people. I find the people in China and the people in Shanghai are so friendly, and so helpful, and so pleasant, and so easy.

You know when you go to other countries in the world, maybe people have, like, an attitude, or they put on an act. In China, everything is relaxed. Everybody is calm, and you can ask anybody anything – super helpful.

I remember one time I got lost. You know I didn't speak Chinese very well, and I talked to a Chinese girl and asked: "Can you help me, please? I need to go from here to here, and I don't know where I am." And she said: “It's okay, I will take you.” And I just said: "No, no, just show me." But she walked me all the way to help me. It happened more than once like that. Like 20 minutes, she was helping me and telling me go this way then go that way.

I mean Shanghai is beautiful. I think the people make the city more beautiful. Everybody is so motivated. You know the people are changing all the time, and the fashion is changing all the time – it is nice.

And another factor I love about Shanghai is the safety. I never worry about what is going to happen and I never worry about walking the street in the middle of the night by myself. I always feel safe for my children. You know when you go to other countries in the world, and people will tell you, you are in the restaurant and your children are running outside and they will tell you: "Be careful, don't let them talk to strangers." Here you don't worry about your children talking to strangers, it is so safe.

Holin: Is there something here you are not satisfied with, that you wish would change?

Sharon: Probably one of the things that would be nice to change about Shanghai is the food quality, or the organic food quality.

Well, to be honest, it would be nicer if good food was widely available for everybody, not only vegetables but also the meat, and if it is easy to know exactly where is comes from.

I think the other thing I would really like to change in Shanghai is the Internet. Maybe a bit faster, although it's already faster than a year ago.

I think it's also changing so fast, sometimes I want to go back for a bit, like to the days when I made bread. I miss that.

Holin: Compared to your country or other cities you had lived in, are there any shortages in Shanghai? 

Sharon: I think about Milano, for example, cause I used to live in Milano. For me, as an expat, I think it would be nice to have more fashion stores catered to different body types. I love all types of clothing, from fancy to casual, and I love diversity in designers from American to Japanese to Italian... but find it difficult to find these shops here.

Taobao is amazing, but sometimes I tell my husband I wish there were a shop. I just wanna go to the shops – look and try. I miss when shops were closer to each other, because Shanghai is so big. I like walking down the street and looking at the little shops.

I'm always concerned about the food quality. For me, the hardest thing in China is finding good quality products you can really trust without worrying.

Holin: Any impressive memory from your life?

Sharon: The most impressive memory during my life is my travels. I think it makes me the person that I am today. I used to be very shy and very quiet, and never speak to strangers. I was always hiding behind my mother's skirt.

I think New York was one of my changing points because New York is a city where you can go outside in the middle of the city and you can talk to anybody. Anybody will talk to you, so I think that was one of my turning points. I was doing my Master course at that time, majoring in graphic design. New York City is dynamic, and you will be amazed every time you go.

I met my husband on the Internet. It was so crazy! I was in Italy and he was in Changzhou, China. We met each other on a dating website. One day, I think it was my birthday in 2002, I got a greeting email from him. So we talked back and forth, and in summer, I told him I would go to New York for the summer. And he said: "Really? I am going to Canada and I will come to see you.” I said “Okay,” and we met, and we had dinner. It is crazy! He was such a gentleman, and he told me many interesting things. Then we met again in Italy, and after a while we got married. It is amazing!

What does Sharon want to say to her future self? Have a look! Sharon is sending a message to her future self to watch ten years from now!

Filmed by Holin Wang and Joan Zheng. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Special thanks to Andy Boreham.

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