There’s no denying it, summers in this city can be brutal. So, it’s not particularly difficult to empathize with those who desire to spend this season barricaded in an air-conditioned building. Perhaps you’re new to Beijing, or maybe you’re an old timer who has come to see that no indoor play-place can adequately replicate the sense of freedom and discovery that often goes with spending time outdoors. When the perfect balance of clean air and picturesque blue skies combine to make venturing outside irresistible, it’s helpful to be in the know about some tried and tested activities that are suitable for families wishing to part with the sofa. With this in mind, we spoke to three families to find out how they like to spend time outdoors in and around Beijing.
Jogging with the Crawfords
Terry and Gloria met in Beijing almost 16 years ago. Six years later they moved back to Beijing as a married couple, and they now live in the same part of Haidian where they first got to know each other. Together, they run InitialView, a company that interviews students who are applying for schools abroad. Terry and Gloria have three children aged 13, 12, and 9.
What outdoor activities do you pursue as a family?
My favorite activity is going running with my kids around Tsinghua University, every Sunday afternoon. While we often brave the wet or the cold, if the air is terrible, we don’t go. Our runs tend to last for about 40 minutes, and we’ve been doing this for about a year.
What made you decide to start running with your children?
I love to run, and while they have come to appreciate it, they also like complaining about it. When we are done, we always get a sports drink at 7-Eleven and sit down and talk. I realized that grabbing a cold drink after a “long” run and sitting on the curb somehow facilitates heart-to-heart conversations with your kids. It’s great father/kid time.
Why did you choose Tsinghua University as the venue for your running sessions?
Tsinghua is across the street from where we live. I used to live there as a student, and some parts are quite scenic, historical, and even iconic.
Do all the children participate in these running sessions?
Our youngest, Mia, just started running with the boys and me. She did great and even complained less than the boys. They know that she’s going to be the best runner of us all.
What do the kids think about running?
My oldest protests less than his younger brother, but both are always in good spirits when we are done and admit that they were glad to have done it. The boys and I are training to run the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta on the 4th of July. It’s the 50th anniversary of this massive race, and it will be my sons’ first 10K. It will be a milestone for us all, and my wife is looking forward to wishing us well from the sidelines.
What do you especially like about running?
I think that dealing with the pain of running and having to power on through it is one of the best “life lessons” that comes from running. All of my kids have active interests (like organized sports or dance), so running is just such a great foundational activity for these other interests.
Camping with the Fidlers
Ashlea and her husband Owen hail from Australia, work at the International School of Beijing (ISB), and have two children who are aged four and 20 months old. While most of us keep our Beijing experience within the confines and comforts of this urban jungle, the Fidlers enjoy hitting the trail. Here’s more about their experiences.
Tell me about your experience of camping in Beijing.
The first time we went camping, we didn’t know there were these caravan park things. We just went for a walk and found a piece of ground. Back in Australia, my husband and I were both outdoor teachers, that’s what we did for a living, and so we were very comfortable being in the backcountry. Our daughter was three months old when we first took her camping. Camping is always going to be something that our family does, so it just makes sense. If it’s something you love, you just can’t help but share it with your kids.
What tips do you have for a successful camping trip with kids?
1. With very little kids, just go out for one night, then you don’t have to take too many clothes and stuff. With regards to what food to bring, we have a camp stove which we use to cook. Sometimes, we’ll just look at what’s left in the fridge, and we’ll take that. Things like pasta and tomato sauce work well.
2. Children also need to have the right clothes. If it’s going to be cold, there need to be enough layers. At least one extra set of clothes so that if they get wet they can change into something dry. There almost has to be too many clothes, because being cold is the best way to be unhappy when you’re camping.
Do you have any other advice?
Decide on what type of camping you are going to do. Some campsites already have the tents set up. These usually have toilets and other home comforts. You can also go camping when you take everything yourself and walk down a trail and try and find a flat piece of land. If you’re just getting into camping, I would recommend starting with a campsite.
What are some of the benefits of camping in Beijing?
Just spending time outdoors without any entertainment and screens forces us to find entertainment in the things around us. There’s also the opportunity to develop perseverance. For example, not too long ago, we went for a hike with my son, and he walked about 7-8 kilometers. For a four-year-old, I think that’s pretty good. Camping also allows you to see a side of Beijing that you wouldn’t usually see.
Park-ing with the Hanaway Family
Cory and Ginelle left America for Beijing in August 2018. Cory is a stay-at-home-dad, and Ginelle is a primary school teacher. They have a three-year-old daughter and a 21-month-old son and have quickly adapted to their new life in the capital. Here’s how and why they spend most of their free time seeking out the variety of green and lush public spaces that this city has to offer.
Do you spend much time outdoors as a family?
If the air is good, we try to go outside every day. The weather isn’t really a factor. We go out when it’s hot, and we go out when it’s cold. We just dress accordingly. It’s good for kids to go outside and play because it burns their energy and the fresh air does them good. If they are stuck indoors for days on end, they tend to start damaging the house.
Where do you go?
Sometimes we go to the zoo, or we’ll go to a park. We basically just go somewhere the kids can run. We try to mix it up, so we don’t go to the same place every day for a week. The destination is more to entertain me; the kids are just happy to be outdoors. There are lots of parks in Beijing. We’ve been to a fair percentage of them. I really like going to the Purple Bamboo Park, which is just south of the Beijing Zoo. It doesn’t have any play equipment, but it has lots of shaded spots and walking trails. If I want a playground, I’ll go to the zoo because they have a very nice play area there.
What are your thoughts about taking public transport with children?
I use it almost every day. It’s not that hard, but I would recommend avoiding rush hour. Quite often you’ll just be given a seat because you have children with you, which makes it a little easier.
Is there a limit to how far you will travel to reach a point of interest?
No. If there were a park in the depths of South Beijing, we would try it. It pretty much takes me an hour to get anywhere on public transportation anyway. I usually have to take a bus to the subway station and then transfer a couple of times. Even if I go to a friend’s house in Haidian, magically the journey still ends up being an hour.
When your wife is off work, what sort of outdoor activities does your family participate in?
We have participated in some day excursions, including The Great Wall and Baishishan. We also spent a few days in Tianjin. For the trip to the Great Wall, we used a tour company that is geared towards young adults. Our children were the only kids on the trip, but they were really accommodating. During out little excursions, we make sure to move at a slower pace, and pack enough diapers and snacks. We have two baby carriers, so we were able to carry the kids on our backs as we hiked along the wall. It was a very memorable experience.
This article appeared in the beijingkids June 2019 Home & Relocation Guide.
Photos: Courtesy of the families, Kipp Whittaker