View of Hong Kong from Ocean Park Tower
Hong Kong is a popular destination among many of my Beijing friends, and for good reason. It’s an inexpensive flight, and once you’re there, it’s an easy city to travel within. The public transportation system is extensive and easy to use. There aren’t any language barriers because so many people speak English. Hong Kong is a beautiful city. It’s clean. And there is a lot to do.
There is so much information out there already about what to do in Hong Kong and how to get around, I feel a bit silly writing about it myself, and yet, we had such a good time visiting during the Chinese New Year holiday, I can’t help but chime in and add my two cents.
When we returned to China in August this year, my family decided to be committed to exploring China rather than remaining in our expat bubble here in Beijing. I really did have good intentions of recording and sharing our adventures, but intentions are one thing . . . and (clearly) our actions might not match them in the long run. But now, here I am, remembering my commitment to record our adventures. The most significant one we took this year I absolutely loved, but it was ages ago, and I have yet to talk about it.
During the China National Holiday in October (yes . . . it’s taken me that long!), my children were released from school for a week and we decided to try something totally new and go on our first road trip in China to the city of Hohhot in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. We really enjoyed our time there. It was nice to see parts of China outside of Beijing where we live, and it was a trip that I would definitely recommend to other expat families here.
In my last post, I said that my husband and I came up with the brilliant idea of foregoing weekend extracurricular activities for the kids so that we could use Saturday as our “Family Adventure Day” and get out of the expat bubble here in Beijing suburbia and explore China.
Our first attempt to actually follow through with our plan led us to the discovery of Taoyuan Valley—an excellent place to hike and get away from the crowds.
Our second Family Adventure Day didn’t go so well.
We’ve been in China now for one year. The ease we had in returning to China after our summer break in the States shows just how much we learned during that first year. The second year in a new country is so much easier than the first.
Though our transition last year went as smoothly and easily as it possibly could have, I look back on my family’s first year in China, and can’t help but notice that we didn’t explore China all that much. For most of the year, we were consumed with finding a house, getting settled, figuring out how to get around, and helping the kids find their groove and thrive in it. For the most part, we worked hard to find our comfort zone and then we decided to stay there.
When I first arrived, the other expat moms I met here didn’t bother to sugarcoat their experiences in China. “I’m going to be real with you,” they said. “Be prepared to have good days and bad days. When things start to go downhill, take a deep breath and tell yourself, ‘It’s China. That’s just the way things are.’ And then move on.”
I’ve been pretty fortunate since arriving that my good days have far outnumbered the bad, and yet one day last week, I was walking home and the sights and smells and sounds of China—the tuk-tuks driving by, the language I couldn’t understand, the slight smell of smog in the air—left me wishing for home.
About eleven years ago, while I was living in Korea, a running friend and I tried to register for the Great Wall Marathon. When we realized how cost-prohibitive it was for nonresidents of China to run one of the most difficult marathons in the world, our plans never materialized.
I stored the idea away. And for the next several years, every time I’d amp up my running or fitness routine, the Great Wall Marathon would move to the forefront of my consciousness. I’d play with the idea for a while and then tuck it away again, thinking maybe the Great Wall could still be a someday.
Once the weather turns nice, my family loves to be active outside where the kids can get their wiggles outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Here in Beijing, that can get tricky. Not only does the weather need to be nice, but the Air Quality Index (AQI) needs to be favorable. When the stars align and both of those things happen on the same day, you better believe we’ll take advantage of it.
When we moved to Beijing, we decided to live in the suburbs (Shunyi District). This meant we were far from the parks and activities that downtown Beijing could offer us, but we were close to the international schools and where most expat children live. When we first arrived, we wondered how many amenities we would find in the suburbs so far from the city center, but soon after we arrived, we were fortunate to discover a stunning park area a short drive away.
Any time we move into a new country, a part of us will change. We have to. We learn a new language (or at least pieces of one) or other tricks to enable communication. We learn cultural taboos and make sure we don’t commit them. We embrace the differences when we can. When we can’t embrace them, we endure them and try to be positive.
Perhaps the biggest culture shock in coming to China was not the language (having lived in Korea, I was accustomed to getting by with minimal language) or the air quality (I was prepared for the worst and ended up being pleasantly surprised).
The most difficult challenge was the seemingly flippant regard for others’ safety and well-being—mostly on the road. In a previous post, I discussed the morbid Chinese reaction to car-pedestrian accidents. You can read that here.
What do you see when you look at this picture? An old shoe box? Garbage that’s been picked up off the ground? Probably not valuable objects worth saving, right?
This is my daughter’s treasure box.
My three-year-old’s preschool teacher likes to call her a collector. Every time I take my sweet girl outside to play, she picks something up from the ground—a pinecone, a single stone (among all the other stones on the ground) that she has labeled as beautiful, a dropped advertisement that she can’t even read yet, tangled ribbon with a shriveled balloon at the end. She so often doesn’t want to throw her rocks back on the pile or give up the garbage to the trash bin, I finally gave her a treasure box and told her she could keep all her treasures inside it. She had to leave the box in the entryway of the house but could take the box with her whenever we went outside to play.
I’ve been overseas long enough to know that the media doesn’t always give an accurate portrayal of what life is really like in certain parts of the world.
For ten years I lived in Seoul, Korea and every time North Korea came to the forefront of media coverage, I would get a flurry of questions: “You guys all right over there?” or “Korea is so dangerous. I can’t believe you live there.”
Every time, my answer was the same: “Life carries on as normal. You would never know North Korea is stepping up its antics yet again.” In reality, although you would never guess it from media coverage, even with the North Korean border only thirty-five miles away, we were much safer in Seoul than we would have been in the USA. You could lose a wallet on the subway in Seoul and would get it in the mail a week later with the money and credit cards still inside. Instances like this, in which Koreans won’t even pick up dropped money from the street, don’t surprise me at all. But those kinds of realities don’t get media attention.
I understand that media coverage can distort our concept of what it would be like to live in a certain country, so it was hard for my husband and I to anticipate what the reality of living in Beijing would be. What we, like most others, knew of Beijing was what the media chose to tell us, and the only thing the media liked to talk about when it came to Beijing was the air quality. I remember watching this video and sharing it with a friend while my husband was interviewing for his position.