I was initially resistant about moving to Beijing from sleepy Shenzhen. We had been living there for over two years – developing friendships and laying down roots.
Then I considered that Beijing might actually be better for our family. Beijing had a larger international community with more support for foreigners. Life would certainly be easier. So I located our soon-to-be new home of Changping on a map. Translated as "Everlasting Peace," it had a romantic ring to it. Surely other foreigners would not be able to resist its charms. However, after searching message boards and websites, I found little mention of this idyllic town. I brushed off the lack of information, hoping that once we had moved, we’d find in Changping something that resembled the Beijing of our dreams.
Only now am I able to laugh at that.
It turned out Changping was far beyond Beijing’s ring roads, and far beyond what I had anticipated. During our first few weeks in this tiny town, we decided to go out for dinner. Our drinks had just been served when our son, Myles, told us that he wanted a straw. My husband Randy called out to the waitresses, "Fu wu yuan? Fu wu yuan?" No success. Teasingly, I explained that if he affected a Beijing accent he might actually be heard. The look he shot my way made it clear that he did not appreciate my advice.
Not recognizing my joking tone, Myles, at the ripe age of 5, piped up, "Fu wu yuanr. Lai yi ge xiguan’r," with such over-pronounced er sounds that my husband had to bow his head in embarrassment. To our surprise, a straw promptly appeared and Myles beamed with pride at his achievement – perhaps, a little too satisfied with himself. That was the beginning of our life in this small corner of the world.
We have largely been left to our own devices this past year-and-a-half in Changping. Randy is the first and only foreigner in his company. Occasionally, chance meetings introduce us to Westerners who also call this outpost home. Slowly, our local neighbors have warmed to us, though our exotic ways still puzzle many of them – like diapering our toddler Brigid and homeschooling Myles.
Though not quite the Beijing I had envisaged, we have chosen to focus on what we do have: Our home is surrounded by countryside where fruit and nut trees grow in abundance. With orchards mere minutes away, we enjoy freshly picked fruit everyday. In less than 30 minutes we can access some of the Great Wall’s most beautiful locations – a possibility we had never before imagined. Life is not as easy as we had hoped, but we could not imagine it any other way.
Adapting to life in Changping has been more than just simply trading our standard Chinese accent for the growling local dialect. It has required us to adjust our mindsets and focus on what we have, rather than what we had wished for.
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside the sixth ring road in Changping, northwest of Beijing. Her blog can be found at jenambrose.blogspot.com.