One Beijing family’s way of making the most of rare snow days
Having grown up in the part of Pennsylvania that averages 53 inches of snow every winter, I’ve felt snow-starved living in China these past eight years – first in sub-tropical Shenzhen, then in arid Beijing. Sure, I don’t pine away for shoveling snow or brushing off a car on a dark December morning, but I sometimes long for a lovely, fresh blanket of snow outside my window.
My kids, Myles and Brigid, have grown up with a bit of snow envy. Their cousins and friends back home have such exotic experiences as “snow days,” when school is canceled because the snow is too deep for school transportation – but perfect for sledding and building snowmen, of course.
However, there have been occasions when Beijing has allowed us to drop everything for our own kind of snow day. As a homeschooling family, it’s easy to for me to rearrange our day to accommodate two kids who are too distracted by too-rare snow to settle down. Besides, I’m not much in the mood for phonics and fractions when the white stuff is flying either.
The best snow days are those when we’re able to make it out to the Great Wall. In our first year in Beijing, Randy got a chance to experience snow at the Great Wall by escorting work guests to Mutianyu. The following March, we finally got our turn when it snowed steadily one morning. We elected to go to Juyongguan, only a 15-minute drive from our apartment.
Once there, then 7-year-old Myles ticked off all the snowy things he wanted to accomplish at the Great Wall; making snow angels (check) and throwing snowballs at his dad (check). Finding his way to the mounted cannons, Myles stuffed these with snow cannonballs, ready to launch at invaders from the North.
I can’t get over how beautiful the Great Wall is draped in white
A couple of times over the years, we’ve returned to Juyongguan on snowy days. I can’t get over how beautiful the Great Wall is draped in white, but the kids are mostly concerned with making the most of the snow.
Once, we had a dusting of snow in Changping but heard that an area north of us had quite a bit more. We decided to chase the snow, finding our way to a part of Great Wall in Yanqing County that even on a good day sees few visitors. This particular section is stunning, with fantastic views of the Wall stretching along the valley against the backdrop of the Yanshan Mountains.
We arrived after a cautious drive along twisty mountain highways; we could see definite evidence of heavier snow. Myles and Brigid waited impatiently to be released from the car as we parked.
It was glorious. The crumbly Great Wall was sprinkled with white, a stark contrast against the surrounding landscape. I tried to get the kids’ attention to point out how amazing this was, but they couldn’t hear me over their own laughter. They’d found what they’d been seeking: a mound of snow deep and slippery enough to slide down in their snow pants. While I was excited to see the Great Wall in the snow, Myles and Brigid were just happy to play.
Illustration: Crystal Liu