Most bucket list items tend to be geared towards the individual, but why keep all the fun to yourself when could share it with your family? The first part of this two-part blog post will detail five outings and activities that I think are unique to Beijing and can be adapted to include people of different ages.
1. Camp on the Great Wall
You’ve walked the Great Wall before (probably way too many times), but how many people can say they’ve camped on it? It’s illegal to camp on the wall without a permit, so you can join a hiking group or chance it at your own risk. It may be a little pricier or riskier, but ending the day’s hike with stargazing on the Wall is worth it. Just be sure to leave the Great Wall as you found it.
2. Watch the Flag Raising at Tian’anmen
As is custom for all graduating classes, I attended the flag raising at Tian’anmen Square as a student at the International School of Beijing. It was incredible and probably the only thing I remember from the slew of end-of-year festivities.
The flag is raised every morning at sunrise, but you should go earlier to ensure a good spot. China Travel Guide publishes a schedule of times that will help you plan your pilgrimage.
The square does get crowded, but the seas of patriotic visitors and tourists contribute to the mood. This can be quite overwhelming especially if you consider China your home, or even your home away from home.
3. Find a Cat Cafe
In most of North America, hygiene regulations prevent cat cafes from popping up in major cities. Not so in China, where businesses enjoy a more laissez-faire attitude. If your family likes cats and caffeine, take a stroll down Wudaoying Hutong or Beiluoguxiang, then make it your collective mission to find the cafes and hang out with the Internet’s favorite animal.
4. Swim in Houhai Lake
This may be a desperate measure to beat the heat in Beijing, but it’s something so classically local that it has to be on this list. When walking around Houhai, look for stairs that lead down to the water level and dive right in. The water is calm and fit for intermediate swimmers. It’s relatively clean, but definitely bring towels and plan on stepping into a shower soon after. Bonus points if you join the old men swimming there in the winter.
Not sure about swimming? Test the waters by paddle boating first. Alternatively, take a long swim down the Liangma River; just watch out for the fishermen!
5. Master Conversational Chinese
The best way to do this is simply to talk to everyone. I talk to my ayi for hours, chat with cab drivers, and try to say the dish’s name at restaurant instead of just pointing. Get the rest of the family in on the language learning by decreeing that one mealtime a week must take place entirely in Chinese.
Befriending cab drivers can pay off – especially when you need a trustworthy driver to take visitors around.
Heather Budimulia is a rising college sophomore, beijingkids’ intern and 北京人in progress. Though originally from Singapore, she spent a decade in Beijing and since she learned to bake and fell in love with publication there, considers it her home. When not in the office or storing sleep for college, she’ll probably be in a coffee shop with a good book, her journal or a stranger (or all three).
Photos: Dino Quinzani, Wikimedia, sprklg, 阿蠻Amanda, Michael Coghlan