One of Beijing’s fastest-growing areas, Tongzhou nevertheless remains a vast unknown for many. Its name literally translates to “the place for passing through” – an appropriate name for the location of the city’s Grand Canal. While it may seem far, far east, Tongzhou actually shares borders with Chaoyang and Shunyi, as well as Hebei and Tianjin. With several parks and a growing number of resorts, Tongzhou also has a substantial contemporary artist community in Songzhuang Artist Village. The area is also home to Beijing Shuren Ribet Private School (BSRPS), a boarding school with a dual Chinese/American curriculum.
Andrew Sabini and Songmei Li
Child: Daniel (age 7)
Background: Andrew, a kindergarten teacher at Ivy Schools, is from the UK and his wife, Songmei Li, is from China. They have lived in Beijing on and off since 2002, but have been here continuously for the past three and a half years. They were drawn here by a combination of Andrew’s work, Songmei’s family, and the opportunity to have a bilingual education for Daniel. Daniel used to attend Ivy, but now goes to Zhongde Primary School. The family recently moved to east Chaoyang to be closer to Daniel’s school, but they remember their three years in Tongzhou fondly and still spend a lot of time there.
What neighborhood did you live in? We lived in Guoyuan. It was close to Daniel’s kindergarten, which was also Andrew’s workplace. Our community was green, was home to many families, and was close to all amenities.
Did you live elsewhere in Beijing? We lived in Shuangjing before, but found Tongzhou to be more relaxed, family-oriented, greener, and closer to the countryside.
How often did you go downtown? Rarely. We only went twice this year: once to go skiing in Chaoyang Park, and once to go ice skating in Houhai. Sometimes, we also went downtown for museums and sightseeing.
How did you get around? Around Tongzhou, we used a scooter, bus or heiche (black cab). To get downtown, we took an express bus or the subway.
Where did your child go to school? In Tongzhou, Daniel went to Ivy MIK Kindergarten. He is now in his first year of primary at Zhongde.
Why did you choose to send him to that school? We chose Ivy because of its good reputation. We chose Zhongde for primary school because it’s close to Tongzhou and offers a local bilingual education.
How did he get to school? To get to Ivy, we used to walk or take a scooter. We eventually moved closer to Zhongde Primary so that we could be within walking distance of the school and so that Daniel wouldn’t have to travel every day.
What fun things were there to do in your neighborhood? We like Tongzhou Canal Park and Tongzhou Grand Canal Forest Park. We also used to explore the easily-accessible countryside. Daniel liked bike riding and flying his kite in the parks.
Did you ever wish you lived downtown or in Shunyi? No. Maybe one day, we’ll live in those places as my son gets older, as he’ll attend one of the international schools, but we were very happy in Tongzhou. This is despite sometimes thinking that it would be nice if Daniel could play with other English-speaking children.
Did you see yourself living there for a while? Yes, we would’ve liked to stay in Tongzhou for as long as possible.
photo courtesy of Andrew Sabini