Saturday, October 1, 2016

An Update From Shanghai

I'm exactly half way through my contract with Shanghai Disneyland today! Six months down. Six to go.

Some of you are probably wondering why on Earth I haven't been blogging about my experience here in China. There are a lot of reasons, and if you've followed my blog since the start in 2009, you'll know that I go through phases in my life where I just can't bring myself to blog for one reason or another. About two months ago, I wrote a big post on appreciation and gratitude for everything in my Disney career, and I never actually ended up posting it for whatever reason. I'm sorry if I've disappointed some of you by not blogging about my time here, but just know that I still care about my blog and I have every intention of trying to blog more regularly.

I can start off by saying that the last six months of my life has been a roller coaster. Both my personal and my work aspects of my life have hit extreme highs and lows. While I am generally a private person (says a person that has operated a blog since 2009), I feel like I am in a comfortable place to share with you some things that have been going on. Maybe that could partially explain why I've been absent in blogging, which is something that was once a big part of my life years ago.

Back in May, we started Trial Operations at Shanghai Disneyland. We were finally putting into play all that we'd worked really hard preparing for. It was a really smooth opening overall. Nothing extremely out of the ordinary for a park opening. There were some articles written around this time that painted Shanghai Disneyland in an unfair light, which very much upset me. I felt the need to defend the park. While there will always be negative and difficult aspects to any theme park, especially one that is brand new, what was pulled off in time for Trial Operations, and then Grand Opening, truly blew me away. The park did a 180 from when I did a walk through just a few days before Trial Operations.

The park opened in June and looking back now, I'm really happy with what has been growing and developing over time. A LOT still is being worked out. There are a lot of daily challenges with blending Chinese culture and work ethic, and Disney standards. That's one of the most frustrating parts of this experience, but I also knew what I signed up for when I took this contract. I cannot tell you how THRILLED I am that I'm given the opportunity to bring Disney magic, culture, and high standards to mainland China. It's an actual honor to teach people here about what Disney Parks is capable of. It's a humbling experience to be on that front line. By far, that is my favorite part of my job here. The children here are some of the happiest, most well behaved, and kind-hearted that I've ever met. I get a thrill out of meeting grandparents that are so appreciative of the courtesy and magic given to them.

I admit there was a period of time that I really struggled with feeling like I wasn't wanted at Shanghai Disneyland. That my participation in my job was not valued like I'd desired. And there are still days where I hope for more opportunity to share my talents and passion for Disney with the people of China, but I have learned great patience. Every day I live with a hope that I'll get to be in a position to give more to both guests and my fellow Cast Members. Six months in now and I do feel like I've found a bit of a niche and comfort in my position here. There's more of an acceptance and understanding of what I'm meant to be doing here than I've had before. Simply being here and being a part of the Opening Team is an honor that I probably will not fully be able to mentally appreciate and understand until this experience is over.

There were a few months in my time here that I went through a really low depression. I didn't go out as much. I kept to myself more. I didn't talk to as many people. I didn't connect with people like I usually would. When I did communicate, I felt like no one was understanding me. Existing in China was just a true struggle. My health has been quite poor since I've lived here. Having a viral eye infection for six months now has only added to the difficulties I've experienced here. Me being me, I didn't open up to many people about what I was feeling. When I did, I was either very matter of fact about it, or I broke down. I feel better now about living in China than I have in the past six months. I'm hoping that the next six months have me only increasing in love for Shanghai.

Along with my low points in China life and Shanghai Disney life, I have been learning how to handle a personal difficulty. My husband, Matt, and I are no longer together. We haven't been for a very long time. I've just never spoken on it publicly for a variety of reasons. Matt's very much moved on, and I'm in the process of moving forward. I've learned a lot about myself in this process. I've faced a lot of negative aspects of myself, and at the same time I've seen great strength and patience come out of me that I didn't know I was capable of. Since friends and family have found out, I've encountered more negativity and personal attacks than I anticipated, yet I've also encountered a lot of support, love, and compassion. I feel silly now for keeping my pain a secret for so long. I feel silly for not leaning on those that care about me. It's been a struggle to just accept that people want to help and be there for me. At one point in my life I felt like I was great at communication, and in some ways I am. But this experience has illuminated the ugly fact that I'm not as fantastic at opening up to friends and family as I could be. It's mostly due to lack of trust. A lack of trust that people will understand me and not flee. I've also worried that by opening up, I'd potentially create drama and people would think they have to choose a side. What I've learned is that by not opening up, some people have chosen a side by default. Because I've chosen to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself in a lot of situations, blame is placed whether I agree or not. In the end, it doesn't matter. Matt and I just want to be happy people and live happy lives. All I can do at this point is choose forgiveness, compassion, and self-respect.

If any of you reading this want to say something to Matt or I about this, only kind words will be accepted. All others will be disregarded. There are aspects of my marriage that only Matt and I will ever know the truth about, and I ask that no one make assumptions or jump to dumb conclusions. If you want to be a troll, please take your negative energy elsewhere. I have already encountered hurtful and misguided things said about me from people that know me well, as well as random acquaintances. There's no reason I should have to deal with people that are virtually perfect strangers passing judgement on a life that is simply not their own. My skin gets thicker by the day and I don't need a pity party. This is just a part of life that is making me stronger in the end.

Life in China has given me so many beautiful moments that I'm grateful for. I do very much miss my Florida life. I do very much miss Walt Disney World. Some days I miss it so much that it physically hurts. But, what a great blessing to have something so incredible to long for. For a variety of reasons, I went back to Orlando for about five days last month, and it was the greatest decision. I'm so happy that I got to surprise my wonderful friends and feel their love, drive a car again, eat Taco Bell, watch Netflix without a VPN, see Florida palm trees, and snuggle my incredibly wonderful pets.

There's a song by one of my favorite artists, Mandy Moore, that's titled "Looking Forward to Looking Back." That's truly how I feel about this experience right now. How great it will be to reflect on this time in my life years from now and see both the challenges and the accomplishments as a huge triumph for me.

Thanks for reading this very long blog post, guys! I appreciate it so much! I hope to be able to share more with you very soon. Pictures, stories, etc!

Sending love and positive vibes to all of you!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Living in Shanghai

I'm onto week three here in China! I really have no grasp of time anymore. On one hand it feels like I've just come into the city, since there is so much I need to learn and explore, and on the other hand I feel like my arrival into Shanghai was months ago.

I finally made it to IKEA to get some essential items, as well as things to personalize my apartment. Taking a taxi back to my apartment from IKEA was quite hilarious. My new friend, Sarah, came along on the adventure with me. We both had many large IKEA bags filled with goodies, and I had a giant canvas to carry. I'm sure it was humorous for locals to see two white girls riding the struggle bus.

Yesterday, I ventured out into the city more than I have since I've been here. I took the Metro all around Shanghai. Stopping by the fabric market was really exciting! There are rows of vendors asking to make things for you. I'm already planning on having a few dresses made at an incredibly reasonable price. Next, I stopped and got a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich and the most delicious cinnamon roll I've ever had in my life. Minutes after devouring my roll, I stumbled upon a mall with about a million levels. We definitely don't have malls in the States like they have here in Shanghai.

I am hoping that with a few more Metro trips, I'll feel more confident in traveling around the city. One of my favorite things about the city is how quickly people move. I tend to walk pretty swiftly, so I feel like I fit right in with the pacing here. Walking around the city by myself is something I'm still not comfortable with just yet. Google Maps isn't always that accurate, so you kind of just hope that you're going the right way.

Oh! I absolutely have to mention one of the best parts about living in Shanghai. You can have virtually anything you want delivered right to your door with a minimal fee. There's a website where you can order takeout online from various restaurants in the city, and then a delivery guy on a scooter picks up your food (and beer, or wine, or tequila) and brings it to your place. So. Freaking. Cool.

I also have gotten pretty overwhelmed in grocery stores here in the city. Luckily, I can have groceries delivered to my door, too! I just go online and add things to my virtual shopping cart, select a date and time that I want my groceries delivered to my apartment, and voila! I have groceries waiting for me when I get home from work. Pretty groovy, huh?

Ah, yes. I'm living on easy street. My apartment has some features that totally blow my mind as well. There's a heated toilet seat. There's also a heater on my bathroom ceiling that I can turn on, so when I get out of the shower, I'm not freezing. Genius! My washer and dryer are like a two-in-one kind of deal. I don't know exactly how it works with just one machine, but it does. When a delivery person comes to my building and they need to be let in, they use an electronic panel outside to ring my apartment. I can see a video of them on a little screen, and then I hit a button to unlock the building door for them.

Paying for things is kind of tricky here in Shanghai, and I'm still getting used to it. It seems you always have to be prepared with both cash and payment via apps. Using bank cards is not a big thing here. A lot of places don't even accept cards. Setting up an account on some phone apps is tricky, since some are almost entirely in Mandarin. However, once you have them set up, all you have to do is scan a QR code and put in your password (pin number) to pay. It's SO fast!

This weekend, I celebrated my 28th birthday! I was lucky enough to have an awesome dinner with Mexican food, tequila, and old and new friends on my birthday evening. The next night, I invited the cast over to my apartment for a chill night of Cards Against Humanity. I'm so thankful that I got to celebrate with new and old friends. I have social anxiety sometimes, so I'm encouraging myself to be a little more brave. I have faith that this year in Shanghai will do wonders for me.

I think I've pretty much covered the important and interesting things that I want to share with all of you. I can't divulge much about work, since the park isn't open yet, but I will say that I am very excited for the world to see what so many people have put their heart and soul into for many years now. Every single day, I'm more and more thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

Until next time...

Monday, April 4, 2016

Three Days in Shanghai

I am blogging from Shanghai, China. Do you know how weird that is for me to type that? I live in China. Something I never thought I'd say. I still don't think it's all sunk in yet, even after less than three full days.

I just wanted to quickly summarize what this journey has been like for me so far. I know lots of people are anxious to hear, and I'm anxious to tell you.

First off, I have to make this brief because I need sleep. That is a hard thing to get lately. I have to get used to the time change, as well as fitting things into my schedule. It's crazy. It's chaotic. It's awesome. Seriously. I've gotten 2 hours of sleep, then 4 hours of sleep, then about 5 hours of sleep. Maybe, I'll get 6 hours tonight. My left eye is bloodshot and I'm losing my voice.

The long flight from Toronto to Shanghai? It was chaos for a little bit. Between someone sitting in my seat and having to fight the language barrier for the first time, to sassy flight attendants, to my vegetarian meals not getting confirmed with the flight crew ahead of time, you can say it was a bit stressful. It was long, yes. But, that wasn't the hardest part by any means. I think if I had a choice, I wouldn't fly Air Canada again.

Unpacking was actually really nice. I love my apartment so much. My closets, my kitchen, and my bathroom are the highlights for me. It's REALLY hard for me to not have my apartment feel like a home yet. I want cupboards and a fridge stocked with groceries. I want art on my walls. I want my own pillow. I want to put my personal touch on everything. I keep pressuring myself to do it all very quickly. This is a real problem for me.

I can't tell you how hard it is to not speak the language here and try to do virtually anything. I feel like I'm a toddler and I need other adults to tell me how to do things. Grocery shopping, riding in a taxi, crossing the street, going to a restaurant, using my phone... all things that have confused me or frustrated me. It's mostly trial and error. Which means a result of a lot of wasted time and money, potentially. There is a learning curve, but I'm a know-it-all at times and I like to be in the know. Drives me nuts to feel so stupid.

Work is my saving grace. I know Disney. I am familiar with Disney. It's my safe haven. This park in Shanghai is going to be incredible and I'm stoked to be a part of it's grand opening team.

Okay, time for bed!! Chat soon!

Friday, March 18, 2016

That Feeling

You ever have those moments where you feel like your stress is maxed out and you have no solution?

That's what I'm going through currently.

I leave for China in exactly two weeks. I'm sort of packed. I've not yet bought everything I need to take with me. I'm having to spend money to make money. My husband and pets have no place to live in a few weeks. This all seems like it's blowing up in my face and there's nothing I can do about it.

The truth is that I had this feeling before I moved to Florida. Did it all work out in the end? Yeah, for the most part. The amount of stress I dealt with before the problems were solved nearly killed me, and now I'm having to go through it all again. Only this time I'll have to put out fires from halfway around the world.

I struggled with feeling selfish when I left for Florida. The guilt is painful and debilitating. Now, I'm wondering if accepting this position with Disney in Shanghai is really the best thing to do for everyone. I wish I could just be one of those people who can be content with accomplishing very little. All the trouble my decisions cause makes me feel like it's just not worth it.

It seems like if I get what I want, I hurt people and cause them stress. If I don't get what I want and remain selfless, others seem to be happier and life is easier for those around me. I know I sacrificed my happiness for a lot of years before working for the Company, but maybe Disney World was my one big selfish thing, and maybe I need to just accept that being driven can hurt more than it can heal.

Things might pan out okay for the next year. Everyone might be happy. I really hope that no one will end up resenting me for leaving. I really hope that I don't end up hating myself for the trouble I've caused.

No one ever said it would be easy. I guess this is all just a part of the journey, huh?

"This is why you never should have left! Dear, this whole romance that you've invented just proves you're too naive to be here."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Moving Forward... to Shanghai

First off, thanks to all of you that took the time to read my post about my one year with Disney. After reading it back, months after I wrote it, I realized how emotionally charged I was at that time. I am proud of the fact that I can be so honest and up front about my life down here in Orlando. There may be someone else going through the same struggles, or experiencing the same emotions that I am. I'm just glad that I feel comfortable enough to be authentically me on my blog.

Back in May, I auditioned for two international Disney parks, Hong Kong, and the new park that will open in June of 2016, Shanghai. It felt like I needed to do give it a shot. I was compelled to see what potential I had inside of me. Never did I actually think anything would come of it. Truly. For the year that I've been with Walt Disney World, I've struggled to feel acknowledged and praised by the people that could propel my career here in Orlando. I realize that maybe, just maybe, I am being pulled to another adventure elsewhere for a period of time in my life.

I'm still not sure how it happened, or what I did to deserve it, but I was offered a contract to be a part of the opening cast for the brand new park in Shanghai, China. Clearly, I accepted. A once in a lifetime opportunity that I'll never get the chance to do again. I feel seriously humbled and quite honestly, shocked that I've been given this chance to work hard, and put my heart and soul into the Disney Company in such a way.

The details of this adventure are pretty simple. I have my last week of work at WDW next week. I fly back to Michigan on March 9th to begin my time with my family. Then I kick off April by flying to Shanghai and starting work for the Shanghai Disney Resort! My contract is for one year and then I'll be right back at the wonderful Walt Disney World.

Since I have announced my temporary departure from WDW, I've honestly been struggling with the thought of not being in Florida for a year. Tearing myself away from things in my life that I am absolutely in love with. When I left Michigan, I only struggled to deal with leaving my family and the familiarity of where I grew up for 26 years. I didn't have a lot of friends there, especially not ones that understood me. In Florida, I have that. I didn't have a job in Sturgis that made me feel like I made an impact. I didn't drive around every day back then and think how beautiful my area is. Florida is so captivating.

From the first time I came to WDW when I was 9, I wanted to live here. I'm actually living here! It's incredible! I am living my dream! I know it will still be here and I know I will get to come back. But, wow. It really hurts having to walk away from it, even if it is just for a year.

For some reason, many of my coworkers haven't grasped my emotions about saying goodbye to Florida, and I've actually been criticized for it. I can't tell you how much it sucks to feel misunderstood again. Especially when it comes to my passion for WDW. It's like deja vu. People that know my history with WDW are the ones that understand how working and living here has been my dream since I was a young child. It just makes me sad that I have to sacrifice being a part of some really cool things here in Florida, to go be involved in some really cool things in China.

Just because I'm sad about leaving everything I love here in Florida, doesn't mean I'm ungrateful for the opportunities that await me in China. Trust me when I say that I KNOW how incredible this experience across the world is going to be. I'm on the opening team of a Disney park. The company I've always wanted to just work for. I always told people that I was fine with sweeping the streets for free in WDW, just as long as I'd get to be a part of the magic. Now, someone has told me that they're going to pay for me to go have a once in a lifetime opportunity in a country I never thought I'd be able to visit on my own dime. I've known about this for six months and I STILL can't wrap my head around it.

Please, my friends, save up a little money and come to Shanghai. While you're there, fly on over to Hong Kong and Tokyo. Visit the incredible parks there. Be a part of the magic being made. Join in on the fun. See Disney history being made in Shanghai! While the world might be really big, our lives are really short. I'd love for the people that I love to come visit a country that I have a feeling I'm going to fall in love with.

I have two weeks left in Florida, and I absolutely have to make sure that I see my wonderful friends before I depart. If anyone wants to come see me at work, please message or text me. I will be organizing a get together outside of work as well. Details to come!

Thank you all so much for your support. Thank you for continuing your support. Thank you for believing in me, even when I didn't believe in myself. You are all so freaking amazing. :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Rapunzel and Flynn

The other day, while I was chatting with fellow cast members, the topic of character chemistry came up. It was quickly agreed upon that Rapunzel and Flynn from "Tangled" are a great example of two Disney characters that are so visibly connected and relatable. Because of my incredible love for Tangled, I've really analyzed the film and the relationships within it. Maybe no one else will find what I've thought of as interesting, but in the event that you dig the Fitzherberts, let me tell you what I love about them and how I interpret their relationship.

Flynn and Rapunzel work so well together because of how they find ways to appreciate the little things about each other. The way I see it is that they both look at the other one and admire strengths and traits that they themselves wish to possess. 

Rapunzel sees Flynn as someone who has seen so much of the world. She loves that Flynn has the confidence and bravery to be on his own. While Flynn is witty and charming, as Mother Gothel was, he showed Rapunzel that jokes don't have to be made at her expense. Rapunzel looks at Flynn as someone who is actually protecting her. She spent eighteen years in a tower with someone who took her for granted and only wanted her for self-serving reasons. Flynn doesn't want to own Rapunzel, he just wants to love her and show her everything she's been missing. He constantly encourages her to be brave and seek adventure, just as he has loved doing for his entire life. 

Flynn allows Rapunzel to be herself and he cherishes every second of watching her live life to the fullest. He's inspired by her zest for life and love of everything that surrounds her. She doesn't look at grass or butterflies like everyone else does, and he adores that about her. It makes him take another look around and not take everything for granted. 

I think it's obvious that Flynn didn't have the confidence to be himself most of his life, but after meeting Rapunzel and seeing how she so bravely owns who she is without shame, he has a new desire to not be ashamed of any part of himself. Flynn loves looking at Rapunzel as she meets new people and talks about her passions with them. It makes him take an interest in others that he'd never really had before. Rapunzel has inspired Flynn to be less selfish and more giving. He never had anyone to care about and love until she came along. Every single day that he gets to be a part of her new life, he's so wonderfully grateful. 

Flynn grew up an orphan. He had to become an adult and learn to take care of himself so quickly. Meanwhile, Rapunzel was stifled from growing up and exploring the possibilities of life. Flynn allows himself to feel more childlike around Rapunzel because she brings it out in him. With Flynn's help, Rapunzel is confident enough to experience everything the world has to offer. Flynn is happy to encourage her to be herself and chase new dreams.

They'll always defend each other. They'll always choose each other. They'll always build each other up. More than anything, they'll always be there to remind each other that they are worthy of being truly and deeply loved. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

One Year

I can't grasp it. I have been living in Florida for a year. August 2nd is my one year anniversary with Disney, and I can't even write about it. I simply can't wrap my head around the fact that I've been here for just one year. It sounds dramatic, but I haven't figured out how to emotionally deal with this overwhelming feeling.

Actually, come to think of it... overwhelming is a good word for my entire year. Every facet of my life this past year has been overwhelming. The good, the bad, and everything in between.

If you know me relatively well, you'll know that being honest about my feelings is very important to me. So, guys, I'm going to confess something to you. Getting my dream job at Disney did not solve every problem in my life that existed before I started my life here in Florida. I just brought it all with me and set it on fire. There are so many positives to my life that didn't exist before, and some of the negative aspects of my life just expanded and enveloped me. Have I handled every single thing with grace and dignity? Nope. Have I sometimes pushed people away because I don't want to burden anyone else? Yep. I can say that I absolutely have clung to things and people that both destroy and enlighten me.

The thing that I still find myself looking at for joy is Disney, both within and outside of my job. I still can't believe that I drive past the monorail to go home, or that I can get to Epcot in fifteen minutes from my place. To the people that said I'd get tired of Disney, you were wrong. To the people that said the magic would be lost, you were wrong. To the haters that said I couldn't survive a year here, you were wrong. I'm gloriously happy with Disney, and if anything, the magic just keeps building for me.

Here's what I didn't expect. I'm depressed. Still. If not worse. Probably worse. I don't make it a "thing" and talk about it with people simply because I don't feel the need to burden anyone with my problems. I hate making people feel uncomfortable, and quite honestly, being that vulnerable with another human being makes ME feel uncomfortable. I won't go into details as to why or how I got into this unhealthy state in my life, but I thought that I could use this blog post as a way of letting others out there know that getting your dream job doesn't solve your problems like a magical pill, and if you are currently going through some difficult mental health issues, you're not alone. Just as importantly, if you know someone struggling with depression and/or anxiety, offer to be there for them. Offer a nonjudgmental ear that will listen intently. Even offering to just hang out for a few hours makes an impact.

So, what's next for me? Disney! I'm not leaving anytime soon if I have any say about it. The crazy hot summer months are going away soon enough. Halloween and Christmas are coming up. My family is coming down for our first ever Disney adventure with my entire immediate family. We all get to walk down Main Street USA together!

My old blog readers will remember that I used to be very into Disney Parks photography. Ever since I moved here, I just stopped taking my camera with me to the parks. I'd photograph my friends at work, but that is about it. I'm happy to say that a goal of mine is to start taking photos again. I've always been interested in photographing things at Disney that other people overlook. Not characters, not landscapes, and not fireworks. I love admiring the little details that make Disney so unique and beautiful. I'll be sure to share some of my photographs once I get enough together that are worth showing.

Here's to more time with Mickey...