Beijing today, but what next?
Four-year-old Anna is crammed into the back seat of a cab next to her two older brothers and myself. “This. Is. Boring!” she screams, and to make sure I get her point, she leaps into the air and lands hard on my lap. Apparently, cruising through Shanghai’s fetching French concession is not enough stimulation for my pint-sized adrenaline junkie.
Her mom (my wife) hears the outburst from the passenger seat and looks back to reciprocate my glance. After two and a half years in China, we are still far from jaded with our surroundings, and it would be near impossible for either of us to combine the words “Shanghai,” “French concession” and “boring” in a meaningful sentence.
But this life is normal for our kids: Beijing is where they live, and Shanghai is just another place to visit. Their expectations are often quite high, due to a lifestyle a far cry from my own upbringing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Rebecca’s in Bay City, Michigan.
This Shanghai journey is a perfect example. Each of the previous three nights had featured huge stimulation and mega events: the Special Olympics opening ceremony, the fabulous ERA acrobatics circus and the women’s World Cup soccer finals. Each event was thrilling and somewhat overwhelming, making this little jaunt through the French concession seem kind of lame, at least to Anna.
I don’t want to be too harsh on a young child who is really a great kid and usually needs little more than her family and a cardboard box to keep her happy for hours. It’s just that this moment encapsulated a concern I’ve had since moving to China: that our new internationally fabulous lifestyle is training our kids to expect too much of life.
It’s a thought I first had when we boarded the plane to move from New Jersey to Beijing, when I remember looking over and chuckling at the sight of my three children sitting in oversized first class seats. It was my first-ever front-of-the-plane trip (and to this point my only one), and it struck me that they were having this experience awfully early. I had to wait until almost 40 to fly first class, but Anna did it at 2 and her eldest brother at 7.
Would this warp their values and perspectives?
This is a thought I’ve had over and over as we traveled throughout Asia – vacationing in Malaysia, Thailand and all over China, from Hong Kong to Yunnan. These places have amazed me and I felt astounded every time I stepped off the plane or train, yet my wife and I have struggled somewhat to make sure our kids feel the same sense of wonder.
I’m thrilled that my kids have a more international outlook and broader understanding of their place in the world than I had as a child. But I just don’t want them to think it’s normal to bang around from one five-star Asian resort to another. An easy solution would be to slow down our traveling; at the same time, we have a limited time window in Asia and fully intend to make the most of it. So we try to make sure the kids understand the special nature of our current lifestyle, one that consists of having daily household help and attending brand new, beautiful private schools a world apart from New Jersey public institutions. These are just trappings of the fake rich lifestyle we live, along with so many other Beijing expats.
In spite of it, my wife and I always try to remember – and remind our kids – just how lucky we are and how unusual this lifestyle actually is, and that whatever its flaws may be … It’s. Never. Boring!