Since arriving in Beijing over three years ago, our little family has moved three times for a variety of reasons: cost, proximity to work and school, and lack of community spirit. Yet I’m still working on what to call this last reason. Price and proximity were factors that pulled us toward our latest home in Wangjing (Our motto being: we may be on the edge of town, but we’re not in the suburbs). In the end, it was the lack of a sense of community that gave us no compelling reason to remain in the previous two compounds that we lived in.
When we finally settled into our new Wangjing home at Chinese Spirits (Guofeng Shangguan), we were grateful to live within five minutes of work and school, but we didn’t realize how telling the name of the compound would be. In our previous compounds, we got to know our immediate neighbors, but whenever we took Reina outside to play, the guardians with the kids were usually ayis and grandparents, but rarely parents. Mind you, I have nothing against ayis and grandparents, but the absence of the moms and dads was noticeable. Sure, we got to know these ayis and grandparents, and my wife Savvy learned more about ayi employment issues than she ever bargained for, but these were not the sort of relationships that made us feel pressed to stay.
All that has changed dramatically since we moved to Chinese Spirits. The first noticeable difference was that Reina could have friends at school who were also her neighbors; one boy in her class even lives in the same building as us. This means Reina can meet her friends after school, all without advanced planning and preparation.
Another surprising trend in our new neighborhood is the number of working moms and dads who take the time to go outside and play with their children. The gardens and walkways of our compound are filled with families enjoying the pond and trails in the afternoon and playing games and riding bicycles and scooters into the evening.
This has given us, especially my charming and linguistically talented wife, the opportunity to actually make friends with many families in our apartment complex. When some of the moms mentioned that they had ovens they didn’t know how to use, Savvy organized baking lessons. The results were not perfect, but at least now the ladies know an oven is more than a flashy storage unit. In talking with parents, we also realized there is a mutual desire for moral-based education to augment what the kids are learning at their kindergarten. Thus, we started a one-hour Saturday morning children’s class based on virtues like truthfulness, sharing, cleanliness, and nobility. Already, we can see a difference in how the children interact with each other. Now, Reina is more comfortable sharing her toys with her new friends.
A natural result of all this sharing is that the other parents in our community make sure we are informed of what is going on in our compound and even at Reina’s school. When a group purchase is happening (think Groupon), they ask if we want to participate, and when someone is going on a special outing, or even just out for a meal, they often invite us to join them.
We finally found an apartment that is not only comfortable and convenient, but is also in the heart of a real community; something I know we will be reluctant to leave when the time comes for us to move on.