In my role as Shunyi correspondent, keeping my eyes and ears open for information relevant to newcomers brings up memories of my own arrival in Beijing just over two years ago.
It was a hot and sticky June. We had just moved from a tiny town in Switzerland that was clean, efficient, and just across from Europe’s biggest lake. Back then I liked to say that we went from a population of 16,000 to a population of 16,000,000 (give or take a few million). Landing in Beijing Capital Airport for the first time made my children exclaim, “Oh wow, the airport alone is bigger than where we used to live, Mama!”
We were tired, cranky, jetlagged, and not quite able to accept our new reality. A very seasoned expat trailing spouse once told me ever-so-wisely: “The moment you get on the plane for your new destination is the moment you stop living in one place and start in another.” I hadn’t quite mastered that art yet, so half of my heart was still where I had left it and the other half felt stuck in my throat. Beijing wasn’t part of the equation yet.
The day we arrived in Beijing that June was actually our second time in the city. The first was several months earlier, when we had come for five days to do school visits and entrance exams, home searches, meet old and new friends whose brains I had already been picking via email, and just drive around our new neighborhood.
We were overwhelmed not just by the sheer size of the city, but the seemingly unlimited choices. One friend took me to Yashow Market during that first visit, and I knew right away I would not come back of my own volition. To this day, over two years later, I have only ever gone back once to pick up a pair of jeans as a costume for my son’s school production. I spent all of three minutes inside and I don’t think I even remembered to haggle.
Our real estate agent took me to a “small” Jenny Lou’s. What was supposed to be a smaller branch of this chain of grocery stores contained 20 times the amount of merchandise than we’d seen in the previous three years.
A new friend and her husband took the kids and I to a cheap and dirty restaurants that the locals went to. We ordered way more than three adults and two children could possibly finish. When the bill came, it cost less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks in Switzerland. I knew from that first meal that I would become good friends with this lady, for who else would take a virtual stranger to a local restaurant except someone who was as crazy about food adventures as me?
On the day we arrived in Beijing, we had one big suitcase each – and not much else. We had thrown all caution to the wind and foregone the company’s offer of temporary housing. We went straight to our rental home, which was simply furnished with beds, tables and chairs. All the other basics were still three months away from arriving.
The first thing we did was to go to Carrefour and Ikea to stock up on starter sets of everything for the kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom. Again, we were overwhelmed. Both places were crawling with people and we were dizzy from the 52 brands of toilet paper, hundreds of bottles of soy sauce, and the over 12 kinds of baozi, none of which turned out to be the cha shao bao that we were craving so badly.
We headed home with a carload of goods, two wasted children, and a cranky temporary driver who either hated having to deal with our hand signals for communication or abhorred our consumerist ways. He no longer drives for us now, so we never did find out if he was Communist like we’d suspected.
But we were also giddy with excitement. Imagine the luxury of a big car and driver! We had grown up with this pampered lifestyle in the Philippines, but had to bid it all goodbye and learn how to commute via public transit when we moved to Europe. Never mind that most of these places had squiggly characters that made absolutely no sense to us. And food, food, food to discover and rate and learn to buy on our own. Never mind that half the time we had no idea what we were eating, and could only keep our fingers crossed that it was clean.
Just over two years later, many things about Beijing still leave us shaking our heads in disbelief. There will always be surprises, but that means life here will never be boring. Within the first week, I learned not to look for similarities between the previous places I had lived and Beijing. There was just no way to compare them.
Just this weekend, I was asked how I like living in Beijing. My answer is still the same as it was when I first came: “I have good days and bad days.” Half of me feels like an old hand, knowing a few pockets of my city very well while being completely floored by how alien other parts still are. The other half will always feel like a newcomer, keeping my eyes and ears open for every little discovery that is yet to be made.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to have found a talk on coping with being a Beijing newbie when I had just arrived. It is understandable that when you are working on settling in and setting up your home, the focus is always on the basics first. But I would have surely benefited from hearing other people’s perspectives and knowing I wasn’t alone.
You are in luck because this week alone there are several such opportunities for you to listen, learn and exchanges ideas.
“I’m Here, Now What?”
If you or someone you know has just moved to the Shunyi area, there is a transitions seminar called "I’m Here, Now What?". It will be held in the River Garden Clubhouse on Mon, Sep 16 from 1-2.30pm. The talk will focus on Third Culture Kids and the topic "What I wish I knew then, that I know now", from women who have lived here for a long time. RSVP to Melinda by email at email@example.com. The seminar is free, and sponsored by Capital Community Church. It is not a religious event, just an outreach to the community.
“Adjusting to Life in China”
Come and hear Dr. Blinn speak about Adjusting to Life in China, and hear his tips on how to handle culture shock in the capital. Dr. Blinn has lived in China for close to ten years and approaches the topic with humor and sage advice. He is an American Clinical Psychologist with advanced expertise in treating anxiety disorders including Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Blinn’s other areas of specialty include mental health concerns such as men’s issues, crisis intervention, and treatment of depression, among others.
Tue, Sep 17 from 9am
British School of Beijing Shunyi Campus
Reservations suggested but not required
“Positive Discipline Plus – A Parenting Discussion Group”
Arm yourself with skills on helping your children adjust to all the changes that they have faced upon moving to China. Join Dinnhe Krebs, mother of two girls and certified Positive Discipline Educator, in a morning of discussions and sharing of ideas, tools, and strategies for effective parenting skills. The key to parenting with Positive Discipline is mutual respect and is based on a series of books by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D, who has drawn from the philosophy and research of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs. The purpose of the group is to provide a space where parents can explore parenting ideas and take away ones that work for them and their family.
This group is open to all who are interested in learning and practicing the Positive Discipline methods. The group is limited to a maximum of 20 people. Please RSVP for a space.
Wed Sep 18 from 9:30am–noon
69 Hegezhuang Village (same village as The Orchard Restaurant)
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.