After more than 10-years in Beijing, I’m still discovering it. Sure, when you’re based in the same housing compound for a decade, it’s normal to have some commonly frequented destinations. My beaten paths: it’s called routine. But, that’s doesn’t have to take the fun out of this city.
Weekends with my kids (7 and 5) are a special time. The daytimes, if not filled with play dates or birthday parties, give us a chance to really connect with each other. Even though there’s the weekly domestic work around the house to take care of, I find Saturday or Sunday afternoons always offer a pocket of time for card games or chess (their new addiction) or reading and/or homework review indoors. So, when the air is questionable, this tends to be our pattern.
But, about once a month, there’s an “adventure day.” They’re always so excited by this spontaneous announcement (as it’s weather pending) because we’ve all agreed that adventures have to be to places that none of us have ever been before.
Last spring, we went on a walking adventure around our neighborhood. We entered compounds that weren’t ours and explored their grounds and play areas. We took paths we had never followed, went into stores we’d never entered, etc. In the process, we discovered that one of the ritzy compounds next to ours raises two pet ducks. They’ve created a small water area and a little pen. Those ducks came right up to the fence to sniff our hands for food. The kids were thrilled! Imagine—ducks had been here all along and we’d had no idea! (Since then, we’ve visited these ducks a few times.)
This past fall, one of our adventures took us to a neighborhood north of Gulou to a vinyl record store with sofa-filled listening rooms. (Fusheng Changpian 福声唱片) The basement shop’s postered walls contained the paradoxical mixture of both vacant and fierce stares from Chinese rock stars over the past couple of decades. Originally, I’d come to discuss a band performance with the owner, but the kids had never played vinyl before and the spinning black discs held down by those fragile needles captured their full attention.
Sometimes we explore tourist sites that we’ve heard about but never seen before. The Minorities’ Village was one of those adventures. It was a warm fall afternoon a couple of years ago that we went there to finally check out those unique thatched rooftops I’d seen a hundred times when driving east across the northern stretch of the fourth ring road. The kids loved bounding in and out of the diverse houses and imagining living in them. “Where would you sleep?” was the game that day. (But good weather is a must since it’s mostly outdoors.)
This past weekend, our adventure was the Paleontology Museum across from the Beijing Zoo. They love dinosaurs and I found it cool too, maybe even more so because it wasn’t too large and overwhelming like most museums. My son, however, was disappointed.
“Mom! There’s nothing but bones!” he said, dragging his feet. I laughed. “Did you expect a dinosaur to come out and bite us?” His expression proved he’d truly hoped for something so exciting!
“Adventure day” hinges on the unknown. Sometimes disappointing, sometimes fruitless—several destinations turned out to no longer exist—other times, it’s boring and the kids whine. But the overall lesson is this: never stop discovering your surroundings. I want the kids to be filled with curiosity. Thankfully, Beijing is the perfect playground for us, three urban explorers.