This installment of Beckoned to Beijing features Stefan Schober, managing director at DS Concept Food and Beverage Services Limited and the co-founder Q Mex. He arrived in Beijing to take a short business and Mandarin course, but nearly a decade later established deep roots here as a Dad to two-month-old Layla Schober, husband to Xinjiang born Tusunai Tuerdi, and restauranteur. Below, he tells us about what compelled him to stay, how he worries over the quality of Chinese baby products, and more.
After I graduated from university in the UK, I wanted to explore a bit, rather than immediately move back to Germany. China’s economic development had been a regular topic during my studies, so I decided to do a three month language and business course in Beijing before moving on in Europe. I don’t exactly know how it happened, but I’ve been here for nearly nine years, so I guess plans change.
I’m surprised that my three month visit turned into nine years. On the positive side, Beijing has proven to be an amazing place to make friends. Working in a restaurant and bar is great for meeting people, but the quality of the friendships I have made here – both expats and Chinese – is not something I was expecting. On a more negative note, Beijing has really lowered my expectations – even a hint of blue in the sky counts as a good day.
I’m getting better at getting things done after being in Beijing so long, but very basic things are still way more complicated than they would be in Germany – organizing proper health insurance, getting a driver’s license, and so on. And I don’t even want to think about paying for education, versus the free education in Germany. My daughter is only two months old, so I am going to ignore this for a few years at least.
The biggest challenge I have faced recently is finding baby products that are not fake or not ridiculously expensive. Infant formula that would only cost RMB 95 (EUR 13) back home sells for more than RMB 330 here. And maybe I’m paranoid, but I always worry if I am buying something fake.
Here, I have to mention that I’m very happy that a German company called Oeko Test – a consumer product test institution – is now in China and testing products, many for children and babies. Although their website is only in Chinese, I think it is very useful for any parent in China. So far there are tests for products like baby food, cream, diapers and many more Chinese products and imported products. Unfortunately they don’t actually sell products themselves, so my plug in beijingkids won’t help me get a discount on diapers!
Yes, I have an air purifier, because I enjoy breathing! We use two Blueair purifiers, 203 and 403, one Sharp and one Yadu. I first had the Sharp and Yadu. After my daughter was born, and what with the recent red alerts, I bought an Origins Laser Egg to test the air in our apartment. The Sharp and Yadu are fine in smaller rooms, but in my living room as well as the room my daughter is staying at night, they were not strong enough. I looked online and talked to some friends, and most people recommended Blueair. I’m very happy with both Blueair machines that I bought. My wife and I daily check the air quality in our home, and it is always lower than 40. This whole air quality topic was a big worry for me during my wife’s pregnancy and even made me think of leaving China and not having my daughter grow up in this environment.
My daughter is half Chinese and half German. So already there she has different cultures at home. My wife is from Xinjiang and speaks Chinese and Uyghur. By growing up in Beijing she will, from a young age, understand the concept of culture, and see differences not only inside our family. I also will try to go twice per year to Germany for at least three weeks so that she also gets exposure to that environment from early on. So I think by being here in Beijing she will grow up very open minded, and be able to speak multiple languages fluently, which is something almost no one in my German hometown does. Also, they say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I’m hoping that she leaves here with an amazing immune system!
My daughter was born two months ago so school is not yet a big topic for us. A lot can change in a few years, but the way it looks now, when she is three years old she will attend the German Embassy School’s kindergarten and probably also their primary school and high school.
Because of my involvement in several restaurants and bars during the past 5 years here, I’ve met many German expats and only heard very positive things about the German school. I also met several of its high school students and was impressed with their language skills– German, Chinese and English. Also, they will have the regular German high school degree, Abitur, after graduating. So I think this probably is the best choice of education in Beijing for my daughter. My wife will mainly speak Chinese with my daughter and I’m working all day long, so this will guarantee that she will have German as a second mother tongue. Another thing is that, compared to other international kindergartens and schools, the German school belongs to the government and is a little bit cheaper than the other options.
My wife and daughter go to United Family Hospital, and for myself it’s International SOS. The insurance my wife and daughter have has direct billing with United Family so both of them go there. I started to go to the International SOS, as it was included in the insurance and a partner of the school where I did my three months study program. I still go there because the location is convenient, my current insurance covers it with direct billing and they have some German doctors there. I’m sure there are other good international hospitals in Beijing, but we have had only good experiences at Beijing United, so I don’t see any reason to change.
If I could bring one aspect of Beijing with me, if and when I leave, it would be: my family, friends and the food. Being close to my wife’s family, and having so many
good friends here, makes it hard to leave. I would definitely miss Xinjiang restaurants, Peking duck and hot pot. And the Mexican food at my restaurant Q Mex is better than anything you can find in Germany.
Photos: Stefan Schober.