Welcome to the neigbourhood: meet the Le Brun family!

How family-friendly is Dongshishitiao? The Le Bruns share their favourite kid-friendly and expat-friendly spots around the area and tips on thriving in Beijing

Image by Chen Chao
It’s not easy moving to a country with a culture vastly different to your own. In our series on Beijing's personalities and families, Time Out Family checks in on families who have just moved to Beijing, to see how they’re coming along.

Here we'd like to introduce parents David and Mia and their two-year-old daughter Isla, from France and the Philippines.


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Where do you live?
We live in Sun City at Dongsishitao. Our building is just in front of Beijing No. 55 High School and the subway is a short five-minute walk away. Around that area are local supermarkets like Wu Mart, Dili Fresh where they sell fresh and very good quality produce. Sanlitun is just half an hour away with a stroller.

What are some family-friendly perks of living in the area?
Our area is very family-friendly because everything is within walking distance: the doctor, French Bakery ( which is very important to David, who very French as he is), the French Butcher where they have a fine selection of wine and cheese and a French Restaurant O’ Steak where we eat when we want a French fix. Inside the complex, there’ s an indoor pool where kids can learn swimming. There’s a newly-opened Finnish daycare in the area where they have discovery classes and fun activities that we just started attending.


Is there anything you don’t like about your neighbourhood?
We live in a very local neighborhood. It’s very authentic and we are happy to really immerse with the culture. The building administration is always helpful and trying to assist us even if sometimes we are lost in translation. Our landlord gives us a surprise gift every now and then (which I'm not sure if it is part of the culture). We would really love to interact with our community but for the meantime, our Mandarin is still limited. But we are very happy to see the efforts of some people who try to have a conversation with us, though our baby usually gets the most attention!

What were your first impressions on arriving in Beijing?
Beijing is massive. It is much more advanced than we expected it to be and we were amazed at how we could make things happen with just our fingertips. The city is very efficient and systematic; we don’t know how they do it but the moment you make an order online, for example, everything is tracked down and delivered to your doorstep on time (even on a Sunday!). What surprised us the most is the power of WeChat! We literally just need a cell phone to survive in this city. We used to stay at one of the serviced apartments at Westin in the financial district and the only mall was the one just in front of our place. We were surprised by the prices, expecting that China would be relatively cheap, but later on discovered that we were looking in the wrong places. Once we went out from that bubble, we were happy to discover other places and that now we have more options with better prices.

Where do your children go to school and why did you send them there?
Isla goes to a family-run daycare at Season’s Park called Fun Land Kids Club. The family couldn’t find a daycare that suited the needs of their daughter and finally decided setting up one and we are very happy to be part of it. We love the Montessori approach; the place is such a safe and assuring environment where our daughter learned to be independent and self-reliant. Isla is surprising us every day from the things she learns at school. Now she eats on her own and plays and interacts well with other kids. Her teacher also visited our house and gave us some suggestions on how we can continue the same environment and approach at home and our daughter’s progress at the daycare. They also send updates and pictures of the activities they do in school which is great. We just love seeing pictures of our kid having fun with her friends.


Fun Land Kids Club. For more information please add pjzeng001 on Wechat.

What issues did you face as a family moving over to Beijing?
First was the language. Arriving here with zero knowledge in Mandarin was really tough, we felt lost during the first few months. Coming from West Africa in Ivory Coast, there was a really huge difference with the culture, setting and the way of life. The heat, humidity and harmattan were our usual problems and not to mention malaria. Arriving here, we didn’t quite understand why we had to buy air filters, humidifier and other gadgets. Over there the security was the issue so it was normal to hire 24/7 guards and household help, in Beijing we feel very safe but it seems to be more of a luxury to have a full time helper/Ayi.

And how did you resolve them?
There is a price in having additional help in Beijing but we are very lucky with our Ayi who has been with us since Day one. She is very efficient; she cooks good meals and helps us communicate with the locals. She is very genuine and takes good care of our baby. The language barrier is not as big as a hurdle thanks again to Wechat where you can translate the message received. Ever since we discovered this option our daily life has been much easier. Taking Mandarin lessons and learning even a few key words and phrases have improved our interaction and confidence in navigating the city.

What advice do you have for newbies who just moved into the area?
Research well about the life and the cost of living, also in selecting an apartment, make sure its at least a direct line to work, school and close proximity to the key places you would often visit like the hospital, market, malls and restaurants. Commuting in Beijing is really time-consuming and it's best to be strategically located. Also, it is very important to trust your real estate agent, consider them as your friend, and they will find and bargain for you. Ours even helped us set up our house like installing the internet and calling IKEA for delivery and installation (yes you heard us right, IKEA in Beijing does that!) Set up your Wechat ASAP!

What are your favourite:
Parent-child activities:
We love traveling. We recently visited Guilin and stayed in Yangshuo where there are gigantic Karst mountains/ formations. It was one of the most magical moments. we stayed at Giggling tree where there were a lot of family-friendly activities like biking, taichi and calligraphy classes. Isla had fun because there were a lot of things to do in the hotel, not to mention the magnificent view by the poolside.

The Le Bruns' video of their trip to Yangshuo. For more of their travel videos, click here.

Family restaurants:
The Xinjiang Cuisine of Baron Rozi Restaurant is on the top of our list. Upon arriving at the restaurant we feel were transported away from Beijing, the staff we believe are mostly Uyghurs and they serve the most delicious roasted muttons, kebabs and Nan. Even Isla loves their noodles and chicken barbecue, we eat well and the price is surprisingly very affordable. Just to warn you that their food is a bit spicy, but good!



Kids Play Areas:
We used to enjoy strolling around Chaoyang Park but now that the weather is cold we go to The Place, for Isla there is a baby swimming class as she loves water. (David loves checking out the Xiaomi shop while Mia checks out Zara home).

Cultural places:
There is an opera there at Poly Theatre. We watched the Beijing Music Festival, and it was not bad. The opera was subtitled in Chinese but not in English so we were a bit lost. We enjoyed it but we could have had a better experience.

Restaurants for adults:
David: In France, we eat very simply: one good piece of meat and one side dish. But in China it's very hard to find good meat. In Europe, we like it really bloody even if you cook it well. I like Migas, it's not bad. Keep in mind I'm also driven by the wine, and at Migas we can have a bottle of wine---two person for a bottle of Rose.

We also like to go to Jing-A, have a beer, and sometimes Isla will play with the waiter when there is no one else around. Great Leap is also quite good.


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