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!