I was outside with my daughter, as we do most of the daily city exploring, just the two of us. The Husband works horrendous hours, so we travel near and far to find cool places, being guinea pigs for other expat families, so they have to spend less time finding fun and interesting things to do in Beijing.
I have had no Chinese classes, I am also dyslexic, and my foreign language skills are really bad. You can explain to me many times how to say something in another language; I just have a mind like a goldfish. I get by in Beijing with lots of body language, a taxi book I can show drivers, and I can say simple things like, yes, no, and you are pretty. This is where my Chinese stops. I want to learn, but it seems very daunting, and I honestly feel afraid to fail. Also life as a working mother is very demanding, we want to have a career, take care of our kids, make sure the household runs smooth, work on our fitness, and have some time with the husband, (some “me” time if we are lucky).
In general expats need extra time to get stuff done in Beijing, even with a Chinese speaking person with us. It takes ages to take care of simple things like paying the phone bill, or workers in the house. Convincing people to do their job is something that takes up at least 30 minutes of my day: the taxi driver that refuses to take me somewhere, the worker that refuses to fix something in my home simply because “I don’t want do it.” And then there is the mother guilt, taking up another 30 minutes of my day. “When are we going back home mommy?” “Why don’t you speak Chinese?” “Please stay with me, don’t go to work.”
“Why can’t we go in that attraction mommy?” The last one actually happened this week again. I was in Shine Hills with my daughter and they have several attractions set up, like a maze with windmills, and a giant pink windmill with a slide. The slide looked like so much fun, kids sliding down on a mat with their parents. So of course my four year old wanted to go, but the guard would not let us. He bluntly refused us taking part; as far as I could see no tickets or money was involved otherwise I would have gladly paid the biggest sum. Honestly, the best way of making money is ripping off parents with a guilty feeling and trying to avoid a major meltdown in a public place.
I tried to figure out the Chinese instruction signs, all while holding my giant Mary Poppins purse, and my almost crying, always trying to escape toddler. No luck in doing that, sure I could use a translating app, I could have gone to another information desk, and discovered what they wanted me to do. But this is just all too daunting by myself with a tired toddler who just simply wants to walk up some steps and slide down a pink slide.
I convinced her to get some ice cream and then more questions followed “why can’t I go down the slide?“ “Why can the Chinese girl go on the slide, but I can’t?” What do you answer to that? Mommy can’t speak or read Chinese so she can’t read the instructions on the board, nor can she understand the guard or speak with him, to tell him he is being cruel. Cue mothers guilt inflicted by the unfair world where we only have 24 hours in a day and almost no time to even go to the toilet myself, or learn Chinese.
Or as somebody very sweet pointed out “And welcome to China at long last! You’re not an official expat until you get weirdly discriminated against or excluded.”
Pauline van Hasselt has been working for beijingkids since October 2016. Born in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, she moved with her husband and her 3 year-old daughter to Beijing in June of last year. Prior she lived in the Netherlands, Belgium, Paraguay, Texas, and London, studying and working as a chef. Pauline enjoys biking around Beijing, finding markets and new restaurants, reading crime and fantasy books in bed, and most importantly, turning her house into a home for her family.
Photos: Pauline van Hasselt