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It's a Dad's Life: David Hanssen

We chat to father-of-two David Hanssen about being an international family in Beijing

Tell us about your family

I’m from Texas, US, and I’ve been here since 2008. My wife Ma Zheng and I run our photography business from our studio near Harrow School. Together we have two sons, Miles, who is five, and Cole, who is one.


How do you divide up childcare?

My wife and I are always really busy with our business! In the morning, our ayi cooks breakfast while I get Miles up and take him to school. If I can, I also pick him up from school in the afternoon, and at night whoever has the time puts the kids to bed.


What are the perks of bringing up your family in Beijing?

Being able to afford an ayi has made a big difference. It just wouldn’t be economically feasible in the US. It’s also great that family portrait photography is a big industry here; because of this we were able to set up our own business so that we can spend more time with our kids, who can play in the studio while we work.


What are the challenges?

The pollution and food safety, of course. Also, the pressure kids face when they start school. I feel like you have to choose either an international school or a local school. There don’t seem to be options that take the best elements of both. Your older son is bilingual.


How did you teach him English and Mandarin?

My wife and I always speak to him in our respective mother tongue. The everyday environment our children are in is mainly Chinese, but when we go back to the US on holiday, Miles’ English improves dramatically. When he was young he was a little bit slow linguistically, but now he’s fine, and I’m sure his younger brother Cole will learn English even faster.


Where are the best locations to take pictures as a family?

I really like Chinese architecture, so I’d recommend the hutongs around Dongzhimen, the Lama Temple or Qianmen. For outdoorsy shots, try Chaoyang Park or climb the Great Wall with a tripod and a remote shutter release.


What advice do you have for dads who have just arrived in Beijing?

Have patience. Life in Beijing can be stressful: you get up, face the traffic and the crowds, work hard, and finally come home tired and stressed out. I try to decompress when I get home by taking ten minutes for myself, so that I can clear my head of all my problems. Then, I play with my sons for at least 30 minutes each. Which brings me to another point: schedule time for your kids, especially if you’re super busy. They grow up really, really fast!

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