For this interview in our series 'It's a Dad's Life', Time Out Family meets Cory Hanaway, a stay-at-home dad, and finds out how he's adapting to life in Beijing and his tips on thriving here.
Please Introduce us to your wife and kids
My wife is Ginelle, Evie is 3 and Griffin 14 months.
When did you move to Beijing?
We're from Seattle, Washington in the United States and we've been here for two months. Haidian is nice. You get more immersed into the culture rather than the more expat-heavy areas. You don't find a lot of restaurants around this area, which is nice for actually learning the culture and food and the different aspects of being here in China. But the flip side of that coin is that there are not a lot of expats to communicate with on a daily basis. The location we are at is right next to several major bus lines, the subway and grocery stores are about a twenty-minute walk, so we are nicely situated with all our needs.
Image: Nikolaj Potanin on Flickr
What are some of your favourite places in your area?
Playground at the Chinese Agricultural School (CAAS). It has a couple of slides and climbing things for the kids. That's kind of our daily little outside activity. If we want to go take a bus ride we will go by the Purple Bamboo Park
which is over by the Beijing Zoo
and entrance is free. It's huge with lots of paths to walk on. Those are the two closest places we go to. Beyond that it's an hour's journey to get somewhere.
How do you divide up childcare?
We both help out. We both happily do dishes, we both do diapers, we both clean, bathe, do what we have to do. During working days, Ginelle gets up and goes to work and is usually gone all day long, so all the standard household responsibilities fall on me. So I take charge of the kids' food, activities to do, find them lots of playdates...I do everything that a typical stay-at-home mom would do, except I'm a Dad.
Can you tell us more about your playdates?
I schedule one a week. The music group we go to on Thursdays is at another expat's apartment North of Haidian, but that's actually changing since she's moving back to Australia. Every Tuesday at Chaoyang, there's a playdate for Griffin's age with Bumps2babes
that we go to, probably once every three weeks or so, and then beyond that it's just other people I've met. We then meet at the park, at my place or we go to their place and just have a playdate there. Most of the playdates are Bumps2babes in Haidian. We're not opposed to traveling over to Chaoyang, it's just that traveling with two toddlers... it's either walk then bus ride or an expensive cab ride. We mix things up, that way it's not always the same thing. That's why we focus on what is here in Haidian then happily go farther out.
How do you find being a stay-at home dad in Beijing?
I've been a stay-at-home Dad since February, so, in some regards being a stay-at-home dad in Beijing is just like being a stay-at-home Dad in the States. I still give kids a bath and go grocery shopping. But here, I don't speak the language, and the support group that we had in the States is not here. It's different in that regard and I have to figure out how to navigate a new city in a different cultural context.
In the States, we had several people living in the same city. My sister lived almost an hour plus away from me, as well as other extended families. So when Ginelle was at work and I had a migraine or something, I had people I could call to hang out with me and the kids, but here I have to deal with the issues on my own. I have yet to meet other stay-at-home Dads as well.
In one of the Wechat groups, they changed their title a bit. One is now Moms music group and Cory. Because I found out that everyone is happy to have the kids and I there, it's just that having a stay-at-home Dad wanting to join was new for them.
How did you decide to come to China?
We decided to go abroad because even though Ginelle has a Masters in teaching English to learners of other languages, while we were in the United States she kept getting passed over for jobs because she didn't have experience teaching overseas. We have also been wanting to travel and the most affordable way for us to do so is to work. So since she needs overseas experience if she wants to work in the States, we decided to travel. There was an ESL job that she was looking at... and that's how we moved to China.
What are the perks of bringing up your family in Beijing?
So the perks would be to meet a lot of new people, expose our kids to a new culture which I always think is a good thing and learn interesting things while we're here.
What are the challenges you've faced?
Culture shock. I don't speak the language, and everyone has been very friendly especially to the kids, sometimes overly to the point where it's like some of the people will try to pick up the children and take pictures with them. You're walking down the street and they will grab them to do a selfie. It's like we have our own papparazzi. Like people want to take pictures of us, more the kids than us. That's been a cultural thing. Like if we went to a park back home, no one would care but here we literally have people making circles around us, taking pictures of us while we're eating lunch and... we try to take it in stride and ignore them.
Are you already thinking of the kids' schooling?
The kids are three and fourteen months, so they're pretty young for school. It'd be nice to get them into an immersion or international school and learn Chinese and still use English. But it's expensive, from what we've seen, so we don't know if that's affordable or not or if that's a problem in the next couple of years. But if it is not affordable, my wife is here teaching English and I could homeschool the kids for all of primary school if I have to.
How do you entertain your children when the air is bad?
That's definitely a new factor for us. Before we left Seattle, we had a few bad pollution days because of the wildfires. But that was a unique thing. The notion that the air quality is so poor you have to stay inside is largely unheard of in Seattle. It's a notable thing that there are wildfires. While here, we've downloaded an app on the app store to check the AQI on a regular basis. We also got the regular filters for inside the house for winter.
For those days when we have to stay inside, we have a ball pit which is just an inside, once-in-a-month toy. After playing with it, we clean up and it stays new, and if it's new then it's interesting and can entertain them for hours. And sometimes, we have to watch a little TV. I do monitor and limit the screentime, but on days when we just can't leave or go anywhere because the air quality is bad, we watch a lot of movies. We try to save activities (like trips to Laoniu) for when there have been three or four bad pollution days in a row.
How are you adapting to the expat community?
There are things that I like there and don't like about any given place, but we're all happy. Homesickness hasn't truly set in yet, but we'll see how we feel after winter and the air pollution and more cabin fever, but overall the people are friendly, the food is delicious, we get to see new things, experience new places, and the Lost Laowai app is really helpful. It's not perfect (like it can't find my building but we can find the next one, which is 10 metres away) but it's great.
Advice for other stay-at-home dads:
For stay-at-home dads in particular, you have to be the extroverted type. If you're very introverted and you don't feel like going out, meeting new people...change yourself now. Because you're gonna have a tough time because your parent-support structure isn't here. Be proactive in making friends and finding playdates. And my due advice to other dads is to help out the person who is staying at home, whether it's your wife, girlfriend, whatever the situation is, help out because it's a full-time job.
Recommended tour groups to follow:
1. Lost Laowai
3. Cultural Keys
4. CET Trip
2. Botanical gardens
3. Great Wall
4. Tianjin (zoo)
5. Bamboo Park