Those in search of peace, quiet, and nature will find more of it in Changping than they wil in any other neighborhood. Located so far northwest of Beijing that the subway network stops at its southernmost border, Changping is known for its scenic spots, natural hot springs, and historical attractions like the Ming Tombs and Juyongguan section of the Great Wall.
Kwesi and Francinevia Abair
Children: Elysia (age 11), and Layla (age 10). Also part of the family is super canine companion Fufu.
Background: Hailing from the US, the Abairs have been living in Beijing for two years. Kwesi and Francinevia’s graduate law studies brought them to Beijing. Currently, Kwesi is working in the US and Francinevia teaches writing, literature, and journalism in Haidian.
Where do you live? In a part of Changping that is closer to the Ming Tombs than anything else.
Why did you choose to live there? We didn’t necessarily “choose” to live out here; the school that Francinevia was attending was in Changping. Given how crowded the morning commute could be (with constant fighting, stampeding, pushing, and pickpocketing), it really wasn’t feasible to live elsewhere.
Have you lived elsewhere in Beijing? We have never lived in any other neighborhood; the city is too large, crowded, and polluted. We certainly have experienced a reduced quality of life here compared to our time in Hangzhou.
How often do you go into the city? Two or three times a month to run errands, meet up with friends, or go sightseeing. We go to Wangjing to see friends, relax and go shopping in Sanlitun, and buy books and get our skates sharpened in Xidan. We go to Qinghe in Haidian to ice skate at least three times a week.
How do you get around? Express buses, the metro during [off-peak] times, and our amazing driver, Mr. Fu.
Where do your kids go to school? Elysia and Layla attend Beijing Foreign Languages School in Xi’erqi, Haidian District. It was an ordeal to find a school for the girls that didn’t cost a year of college tuition. [In a nutshell,] I found out about the school through word of mouth from a family friend, who is part of a karaoke singing group with an accountant at the university that the girls’ school is affiliated with.
How do your kids get to school? They live in dorms during the week, as the daily commute would crush their little souls.
What fun things are there to do in your neighborhood? There are lots of parks and areas in which to play, rollerblade, and walk the dog. We often head to Yanqing County, Miyun, Huairou, or Hebei to explore off the beaten track.
Do your kids like your neighborhood? They do. They enjoy a certain level of independence they didn’t back in the US. They love being able to roam around and make new friends while rollerblading or walking the dog. Our neighborhood is very laid-back.
Do many other expat families live nearby? No, not at all. There are a few families at the Defense College, but most of them are here for only a short time.
Do you ever wish you lived downtown or in Shunyi? Absolutely not! Downtown is too congested and the cost of a decent apartment is ridiculous. Shunyi has an “unfinished” feel, with rubble-filled lots next to schools that cost more than a year of college. It’s not our cup of tea.
Ultimately, how has living in your neighborhood affected your China experience? Our time spent in Changping was pleasant enough. The fact that not many people in the area speak English was major incentive for the girls to practice their Chinese.
Do you see yourself living here for a while? In China, yes. In Beijing, no. We are moving to Guangdong in August; it’s time for some sand and sun.
photo courtesy of Francinevia Abair