Thursday, 19 August 2010

Arriving at China with Children

I had read and heard about Beijing pollution causing the "Beijing cough", hordes of crowds, pickpockets, sales scams, rude people, unbelievably
dangerous traffic, unrelenting heat, uncomfortable beds, unclean food and difficulty getting from place to place. Conscious I may be inflicting a
holiday of horrors on my children (ages 8 and 6) purely for my own passion of Chinese medicine, I was apprehensive and concerned. In an attempt to allay my fears and excite the children about our journey, I took them to see Karate Kid. It worked for the kids and scared me. I had to admit to myself that my ability to read Chinese is that of a two year old and my speaking skills only slightly higher. I had visions of being subjected to two weeks of eating donkey willies and dog meat that the kids couldn't eat because it was too spicy. Which was only secondary to the fear of having diarrhoea inflicted children and an inability to correctly say, "Where's the toilet?"

We arrived in Beijing airport at about 2 in the afternoon after an overnight flight. The kids slept a few hours on the flight; adults not at all. I've never been one to sleep on planes but my years of flying business class and flat beds have made coach class sleep impossible. I realise I get no sympathy for that. In Beijing, the sky was grey and the warm air thick with humidity. It was 37 degrees, 80 plus humidity. Hot. The kids didn't seem to notice. I always find foreign airports daunting with signs that never seem to go where you thought they did while you try to look like you've been there before. However, Beijing airport was simple to navigate, clean and...actually pleasant. Immediately our children were pointed at and smiled to. Several people said "hello" and the children responded shyly, "nihao" (hello) much to their appreciation. An older woman gently stroked my daughter's long blond hair as we waited for passport control. Surprisingly, my daughter didn't seem to mind.

We hopped into a taxi with our pre-printed destination located on a Chinese language map and headed to our first hotel-located in a hutong near Dongsi station. I was pleased that the ride was no more crazy or terrifying than anything I had experienced during my days in New York City. It was far better than Bangkok or Vietnam which were almost a religious experience creating a belief in fatalism.

We arrived at Double Happiness, located midway down the grey grittiness of the 4th alley. As in any grotty, gritty, grey alley I hoped it was a safe location and was comforted that we were located midway between two police stations. Double Happiness was a haven. Everything about it was fantastic. It was so safe that our kids walked around the hotel on their own, ordered juice at the bar and then came into the room to tell us all they discovered-fountains with spinning balls, bonsai trees with hidden statues, fish with bulging eyes, a rooftop garden. They talked with the people who worked and lived there. The kids confidence in speaking some Chinese grew and the staff complemented them and helped them say more. The beds were comfortable and despite being woken by our children giggling at 2am and not falling asleep again until 4:30am, we got some sleep in our beautiful room (the Family room). When we awoke for breakfast, we passed a staff member doing Qi Gong in the courtyard. The buffet breakfast was all made on site with dumplings, steamed buns (pork or bean paste), delicious vegetables, meat , eggs, and everything else you can imagine. The kids managed their breakfast without resorting to forks or Western food (both were available).

We were now ready to venture out...