Cindy and her split-second decision to move to Shanghai

Wang Haoling
After retirement in the US, energetic Cindy came to Shanghai with her newly-married husband and continued her career in Shanghai.
Wang Haoling

Holin’s words:

I was surprised to know Cindy was here working in Shanghai, even after her retirement in the US. I was even more surprised to learn that grandma Cindy made a split-second decision to come here because her new husband got a job here.

That’s the Cindy I got to know: a brave and energetic woman who has worked her profession into a career in China, helping kids, parents and teachers in Shanghai get in touch with American education concepts.

“Start speaking English to your baby on day one or even while he's still in your tummy," she told me. Even during our interview, Cindy tried to persuade me to train my two-year-old baby boy in an English-friendly environment.

When I wanted to show her photos I took of her for the story, relaxed Cindy laughed and refused: “No need, I don't care what they look like!"

That’s Cindy, a warm-hearted and straightforward woman, who will wear a colorful dress and a ponytail even in her sixties.

Cindy was recommended to me by a teacher I met from Shanghai Wu Nan Kindergarten, a well-known public kindergarten in Xuhui District. Our chat started there...

Cindy and her split-second decision to move to Shanghai
Holin Wang / SHINE

Name: Cindy Savage
Nationality: American
Job: Teacher, trainer, textbook writer
Years in Shanghai: 9

Holin: Hi Cindy, I’m curious about your job. Could you tell me more about that, first? 

Cindy: I don't work in the Wu Nan Kindergarten, I work for a teacher provider company which gets teachers from the US, Canada, the UK, and they come to China, and then our company puts them into schools to help the schools who need a foreign teacher. 

As you know, it's not really about the course content; it's about the teacher. 

A good teacher can make a bad textbook interesting. So we really want to make sure that the teachers not only know how to teach students, but know how to teach students in China. 

Holin: Do all your teachers have degrees, or teaching licenses?

Cindy: Some of them have teaching licenses, and some of them have expertise in a certain field. 

In the US, for instance, if you have an expertise you can teach.

Holin: If a foreigner who doesn’t have the experience of teaching wants to be a teacher here, how long will it usually take to become a qualified teacher?

Cindy: There's an initial training period that takes place in the summer prior to when they start teaching, but then during the entire time they're teaching they continue to have training every week. 

I go and I do a lot of observing, then I give feedback.

Holin: You told me you are also a textbook writer, can you say more about that? 

Cindy: Yes, I have written many textbooks in the US for many different schools, but when I came to China first, I worked at the World Foreign Language Middle School, and I did a program on writing. That was such a successful program that then the Xuhui District had me train all of their middle and high school teachers in writing. So I did that, and one of my specialties is writing. 

In the middle of that, Xuhui District asked if I would write this program, and so it began in Xuhui and started with Grades Four and Ten and has expanded into Jing'an and Minhang and Putuo and many districts. 

Holin: Why did you came to Shanghai nine years ago?

Cindy: That is kind of an interesting story. I had no idea I will come to China. I was working in California writing a textbook series, then I met someone who became my husband. 

And he said, “I have a job in China.” 

And I said, “Okay, let’s go!” 

I met him in November, and we got married in January the next year, and we came to China in January. That was very fast. You know at my age, you know what you want. 

My husband had a job here as a teacher and he asked his company if they want more teachers, they said yes. He was on holiday between jobs at the time, and we met, got married and we came here. 

Holin: Wow, crazy and amazing! Do you still remember the moment your first time arrived in Shanghai?

Cindy: Actually I remember the first word I learned in Chinese, it was “dianti (lift),” not “nihao (hello).” 

I was at the airport. I thought I just needed to learn Chinese right away. I put it into the first thing I saw. That was my first word in Chinese. 

The company provided an apartment which makes life so much easier to just be able to come and settle in right away. My husband had been in Shanghai for six months prior, so he had some friends and he knew his way around, so I had an easy transition. 

So this is one thing I also tell all of my teachers when they come.

The first thing you need to do is to make friends, make Chinese friends. You know, because sometimes you come here, and you live in a community where many expats live, and maybe they have a driver, an ayi, you know, their children maybe go to international school… Sometimes they feel like they are not even in China. I met some of these people. They live here maybe 10 years and they have never taken the Metro! They have never taken the bus! 

These are things I recommend to people: immediately make friends and do things with your Chinese friends and then go take classes, and learn to speak the language right away. 

Holin: I’m behind you. Do you have any interesting or impressive story with Shanghai?

Cindy: When I first came here, nobody had a smart phone, so people just sat on the Metro and talked to each other. Now no one talks to each other. They just look at their phones. Walking through the subways like zombies. 

That's a big change. Technology has changed a lot in nine years. There are some changes that are really good. I love that you can rent bicycles and go anywhere because that makes you very independent. 

Holin: Easy topic next question, how do you spend your weekends in Shanghai?

Cindy: I like to hike, and I like to go to a big parks like Central Park, Gongqing Forest Park or Minhang Sports Park. I like to go to look at the tulips in the spring. I like to go places where there is nature. 

Several Chinese friends of mine have cars, so I like to do travel with them. I like Chongming Island very much. I have been to Tiantai Mountain, Puotuo Mountain and Huangshan Mountain. I love to go hiking and go out in the nature. I have an organic farm with some friends in Chongming Island. 

Plus, I like to do yoga. I am a yoga teacher, so I like to do some yoga some places. I teach yoga to my teachers.

I love Suzhou. I love Hangzhou. I love Nanjing. There are so many beautiful places very close to Shanghai, but I also do longer trips when I can, to Kunming, Lijiang, Dali and up to Chengdu, Xi’an and Beijing.

Also in the Spring Festival, my husband and I like to go to other Asian countries — Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Singapore. I didn't go to Vietnam. I'd like to go to Vietnam, India, Turkey, Australia... so we try to go some places warm. 

Cindy and her split-second decision to move to Shanghai
Holin Wang / SHINE

Holin: Which place in Shanghai do you like best, and why? 

Cindy: I like Shanghai Botanic Garden, especially in the winter, because they have that glass building you can go inside and all the flowers are blooming. So when it's cold outside, rainy outside, you can go there. It's warm. All the flowers are blooming. It's just beautiful. That's one place I really love to go.

Holin: Which road do you like best?

Cindy: Shaanxi Road S. I have been down there many times. My company was there. I watched things change. They built that big music center there (Shanghai Culture Square). When I first came here, for example, there was no mall by that road. 

Every month something changes, but some things stay the same. I like a street where you can go down and see the same people. I can say “Hi.” 

I like Guanshengyuan Road. It’s near a canal. I lived along that street, so I love to walk along that street at night, because all of the trees have lights. 

I also like the Bund. I have seen the changes in the Bund. At one point, I lived on Nanjing Road E., so it was only five minutes' walk from the Bund. 

Holin: And anything you hate about Shanghai? Do you have any suggestions to change it or make it better?

Cindy: When I first came, I would have to say that some places seemed dirty. You know, people just don't think and they threw their garbage on the ground, and then the street person has to come and pick it up. That seemed very rude to me, but now that's changing. More people put garbage in the can. 

Maybe a long time ago, I would have said there's too much smoking. Everywhere you go, smoke, smoke, smoke… Now, not so much. Things are improving. 

It's wonderful to see changes. I see problems and opportunities. If there is a problem, then I will try to find a way to make that a good thing. When I first came here, people crowded on the Metro. It's better now. Things are improving over time. 

Holin: Compared to your country, are there any shortages in Shanghai?

Cindy: People don't obey the traffic laws here. I wish they obeyed the traffic laws more. It's dangerous to cross the road like a pedestrian or be on a bike, because you never know which direction people will come, and I wish that more people would follow the traffic laws. 

Holin: Do you have any impressed memory during your life?

Cindy: I went to New Zealand. My husband was driving, it was on the left side of the road, which is kinda exciting. We went up a mountain. I thought I was going to fall off the mountain. Then it started raining and everyone was complaining, because it was raining, the water falls began. As we were driving through this one place, hundreds of water falls were coming down. I stood there, and out of the car, this gigantic parrot came and landed on my car door. I said to myself: “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would be in New Zealand looking into this water fall with this parrot here," and then I thought I needed to have wild dreams, because things come true.

So you need to have wild dreams. Anything is possible! 

What does Cindy want to say to herself in the future? Have a look! Cindy is sending a message to herself 10 years from now!

Shot by Wang Haoling and Zheng Qiong. Edited by Zhong Youyang and Zhou Shengjie. Special thanks to Andy Boreham.

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