Beijing was a big and scary trip for us. It is a combination of not having traveled since having kids – apart from the UK and Malaysia which is really both Ryan and my home countries and the fear of not being to get around with my basic Mandarin with a preschooler and toddler in tow. You have no idea the number of times we put off the trip. I especially wanted to go because Baz has been learning Mandarin and I was hoping that a trip to China would help reinforce what he has learnt so far. It was a case of want to go but too scared to go… until Ryan’s work sent him over for a conference that we finally bit the bullet and decided to tag along. Actually, in hindsight, it was more like a case of push come to shove!
It was crazy hectic since we had a month when we found out he was going to Beijing. When we decided to tag along, we had two expired passports which wouldn’t have been a problem with time but we didn’t realised that we had to get visas for our trip! Argh… we got our passports back two days before flying out so everything worked out in the end! Phew~
Beijing surprised us in many ways! We tried to be as prepared and organised prior to our trip but we knew that with kids, there will be a degree of letting things go with the flow when we arrive. That being said, here are a few tips that we picked up while we were there that we thought would have been so helpful if we knew of it before our trip:
- Bring a stroller – Ryan and I had quite a fiery debate about whether the stroller was going to be necessary/useful for the trip. He was for while I was against. Well, we ended up bringing it along because… he won and thankfully he did. Beijing is such a spread out city and we even with catching taxis to all the places we want to go to, we still always end up quite a fair bit each day. The stroller came out with us every single day we were there! It would have been a painful experience without the stroller, especially if we had to carry a kid while walking especially in the summer heat! We have days when Baz would stay in the stroller while Elli would walk and we found that those days, a lot of locals would come up to us to tease Baz and it was the perfect situation to start a conversation and get Baz to practice his Mandarin!
- Plan to visit one place of attraction per day – Our planned itinerary was pretty much choked to the brim with activities each day but that all went out the window the moment we got there. We realised that we were at the mercy of the hot summer heat and also the pollution levels. Also, Elli had to have a daily afternoon nap (which we forgot while planning) and it would be very uncomfortable if she ended up napping in the baby carrier while we were out. It would be too exhausting! So we trimmed down our plans and went with the flow. We ended up not seeing a lot of the major sights like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City but we’ll be back so that’s how we comforted ourselves.
- Allow for downtime – There will be days when the kids just do not want to head out. At all! They’ll even chuck a tantrum to prove it. Trust me! We were in Beijing for 2.5 weeks and the kids wanted to stay in the hotel room and watch tv at least 3 times. Granted, we still ended up going out for meals but it was really an easy day with no agenda, just chilling.
- Pack a selection of snacks from home – This is to ease the transition to Chinese food for the kids. Our kids took to Chinese food like duck to water but I didn’t know how they were going to react and my kids can be quite fussy so I was glad we had quite a bit of snack food they were used to just in case. If you’re staying in an expat, you will have no problem finding foodstuff from back home but I found them to be pricier than the prices back home!
- Get Baidu Translate or Google Translate – This is so helpful when you’re trying to decipher what something in Mandarin means. It was my second brain while I was there! On top of that, if you have a basic grasp of Mandarin or don’t mind the added hassle of putting everything through Google Translate or Baidu Translate, make sure to download Weibo, Dianping and Wechat. It really came in handy during our trip!
- Get VPN before your trip – Having a VPN was a godsend while we were there. Without it, you would really be going offline from ‘our’ world and that is a good thing if that is what you’re after. Ryan and I really appreciate being able to logon to check if that was any pressing emails or messages that we need to action every few days to make sure we’re on top of things.