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.
Meet the Kelsen-Taylors: Michelle Kelsen and Mark Taylor, and their children Caleb Clark 19, Baylea Clark 17, Indeea Taylor 7 and Charlee Taylor 5. We find out what it's like living in Shunyi and how they manage their long-distance relationship with Caleb and Baylea, who are currently based in New Zealand.
Where do you live?
We live in a compound in Houshayu, Shunyi that's very close to the airport. We have some great shopping areas nearby, a plethora of restaurants, Wumart food market and also a McDonalds, which at times can be too close for comfort. Bravo shopping centre is within walking distance, just across the park. Other shopping centres, wet markets and supermarkets are just a short bus or Didi
ride away. Also, a lot of our colleagues live in this compound which makes it very handy for social gatherings.
What are the family-friendly perks for kids in the area?
Our compound has a small playground that the girls visit when the weather is warmer and the pollution is not too bad. We also have Latitude
, an indoor trampoline and rock climbing park which is fantastic for the kids, especially on bad AQI days. Shine Hills
shopping centre is a fifteen-minute walk from our apartment and has many high end shops, restaurants, play cafes for kids. Also, Beijing International Bilingual Academy (BIBA)
, the school we work at is a 10-minute walk from our apartment and the kids are able to play here on weekends.
Is there anything you don’t like about your neighbourhood?
We love the area that we live in. Even though we are around 45-60 minutes away from the city center, the subway system is so easy here that it is never an issue getting around except when it's jam-packed I think the biggest thing for us is the lack of free, outdoor playgrounds, but I feel like this is an issue across Beijing and not just in our neighborhood.
What were your first impressions on arriving in Beijing?
We arrived in late July, after a thirteen-hour flight, to extreme heat. We were not prepared for just how hot it was going to be. It was like, melt the skin off your bones hot. It definitely was not as busy as we expected. It was a lot greener than we thought it would be. I think the first thing that I noticed was cars constantly tooting their horns and it took us a while to figure out that they are actually letting other vehicles and pedestrians know that they are there as a warning. Also, the lack of rules when driving; our first Didi ride was a bit of a hair-raising experience! Oh and the cicada’s are so loud here in the summer!
Where do your children go to school and why did you send them there?
Our two youngest daughters, Indeea and Charlee go to BIBA
. They are in KG and Grade 1. Both my husband and I work at this school and so it made the most sense for them to attend here too. Mark is a Grade 4 Homeroom Teacher and I work in the Marketing Department part-time.
What issues did you face as a family moving over to Beijing?
One of the biggest issues for us in Beijing has definitely been the language barrier. I am an extremely social person and generally try to spark conversation anywhere I go. But here, trips to cafes and grocery stores can be very isolating experiences. You literally can go out for hours at a time and not talk to a single person. However, I see this is as a fault on our part. We definitely should have attempted to learn more Chinese before coming to China. Apartment living has been an adjustment too. We come from having a 1.5-acre backyard in New Zealand where we could open the doors and run free. So not being able to do that has taken some getting used to.
The biggest issue, however, is being away from my two older children from my previous relationship who are still in our hometown. They are both entering the workforce and higher education and so they did not want to leave New Zealand at this time.
Leaving my older children is like having my heart ripped out of my chest. It has been the biggest challenge in my life to date. We are a tight-knit family, so moving away from them was brutal. And the guilt that you feel can eat away at you if you let it.
Thankfully, my eldest children are unbelievably supportive of myself and my husband. They completely understood our reasoning for moving away when we did. I was a single, working mom back then. I couldn't take them on overseas holidays, I couldn't do any of that stuff, and so they know that this is what we've always wanted to do and they understand that this is the time for us to do this.
They have already visited us here in Beijing and we have made plans for next year and will be able to visit each other every three to four months.
What helped you decide to still come to Beijing despite the distance?
This was really the chance of a lifetime. My older children are soon to become adults and are becoming independent. Our parents are still young enough that we can do a few years living in another city before we return home to help them in their later years. Both my husband and I have never traveled and this is a way that we could get to earn money and see the world.
How do you stay connected?
Baylea and I (Michelle) are really good at staying in touch. We Snapchat each other every day, and she will quite often message me and say, I need to talk to you. So we'll video chat via WeChat quite regularly. But my son... he will message me, and I will message him straight back and say let's video chat right now and I won't hear back from him. But I know he loves me because he's excited that I'm going home, but he just has different needs.
What advice do you have for newbies who just moved into the area?
1. Have an open mind. Always remember that you are in a foreign country now and you cannot expect things to be the way that you want them to be or people to share the same beliefs or have the same expectations as you.
2. WeChat is a powerful resource. Get yourself added to the local expat groups and you will soon discover that there is not much that you cannot find in China. Join newcomers groups, like International Newcomers Network (INN) and get along to coffee meet ups.
3. Always carry a face mask and toilet paper (trust me on the toilet paper!).
4. Always carry some cash, even though WeChat wallet is the way to pay in China, because sometimes your phone may go flat or your WeChat wallet will freeze.
5. Learn survival Chinese as soon as you can!
What advice do you have for families who are also dealing with long distance relationships with their close family members?
1. Take it one day at a time. The grief process is very real and some days I literally couldn’t leave the apartment. The early days were a rollercoaster and you really need to ride it out. There have been a few times when I wanted to just get on a plane and go home. I’ve been extremely lucky to have a fantastic support network here in Beijing and spending time with people who make your soul feel good has really helped me at my lowest times.
2. Make a plan. My older children and I have the next few trips planned out and knowing that there is a date scheduled to see each other again makes things so much easier.
What are your three favourite:
1. Parent-child activities:
Our daughters love the Lilliput Play Café
in Shine Hills. The café has dress-up station, a bouncy area, pretend kitchen and supermarket, pretend nail salon, ride-on toys, musical instruments and a café so we adults can caffeinate while the children play. Chaoyang Park
is a must visit as there is so many activities for families, pedal boat rides, amusement park rides, food. This is a great place to visit on a nice day. Solana
and Indigo Mall are also good places to visit as they usually have some kind of kids activity or a train ride. Then we can have a nice family lunch at one of the restaurants and do some shopping.
2. Family restaurants:
is a favorite for us because it is close and convenient, especially during Happy Hour. The kids' meals are pretty good and mommy and daddy can enjoy a couple of cocktails. The Cheesecake Factory
is also a fun trip to make too. We make a day trip out of it and take the girls to the toy stores in Wangfujing, visit a bookstore and then have dinner and dessert. The English Tearoom
in Shine Hills
is also good as it has a small play area for children and a good children’s menu.
3. Kids Play Areas:
We do really miss the big open playgrounds that we can find back in New Zealand, but almost every shopping centre here in Beijing has a pay and play area for children and as I mentioned above, Latitude
is an awesome trampoline park that is a short bus ride away for us.
The Starbucks App is essential for coffee deliveries on high AQI days! To check air quality, we use Air Visual. The Carrefour China app is fantastic for having groceries delivered and is in English and is really helpful for working parents who do not want to waste half a day on grocery shopping. The Beijing Metro app is also very good and makes using the subway system a breeze. For translations, I use both Baidu and Google Translate. For shopping, I mostly use Baopals because it is in English and they have an English service line if there are ever any issues. My husband uses Taobao but we both agree that it is better that I don’t learn how to use it, for the sake of our bank balance!
Recommended places in Shunyi:
To be honest, we are still exploring. Shunyi is a pretty big area and everytime we go out we discover something new. The other day I hopped on the subway and headed north for a few stops and discovered Shunyi Newtown which has many malls and shopping to explore. The wet markets are fantastic and great to get cheap, fresh produce. I like to visit one nearby BIBA on a Sunday morning, stock up on our fruit and vegetables for the week and then treat myself to jianbing before walking home.
Know more. Do more.
Time Out Family is always on the look-out for stories that will help inspire more families around Beijing to discover the best of the city and how to thrive while we're here. If you have an inspiring story to share about your family or your area, let us know!