This month has been full of ups and downs as schools opened and then closed shortly after. Our family, as well as others have fought to remain positive as we entered our first summer in Beijing, China.
The month of June was off to an extremely good start because all of the kids in secondary finally got to go back to school! Both students and teachers were happy to be back together and achieve some sense of normalcy after not having seen each other in almost 5 months (we left for New Years break in January and didn’t come back). Students were running around, taking pictures with their friends in their masks, and struggling to remember how to get into their lockers. The teachers were just as excited, planning fun activities and projects for the kids to work on with out last month of school. Unfortunately, not all teachers were able to get back into the country in time because China’s borders are still closed to all foreigners. Those teachers still participated in the form of online classes while the kids sat in their classrooms. I enjoyed my time as I got back into my routine, relearned to use the copy machine, and eat the delicious food in the cafeteria (I couldn’t look at another grilled cheese if my life depended on it). I even had my seventh graders complete a flip book project on the early explorers! Alas, it wasn’t meant to last. About a week after we got back to school, there was an outbreak of coronavirus in another part of Beijing. Kids started not showing up for school and teachers were asked to teach online and in-class simultaneously so they wouldn’t be left behind. After 2 days of this, we got word from the Beijing government that the schools were being closed again. We had only been in school for a week and a half. I think everyone was a little heartbroken, we had hoped to spend the last month with our students and we knew there was almost no chance of us reopening now. I wrote another blog about all of the precautions Kaiwen put in place to protect the teachers and students, so you can read more about that if you are interested!
The day after we got the announcement of the schools closing, all of the teachers and staff at Kaiwen were tested for the coronavirus. We were tested for free and in our primary gym so there was no commute to a hospital or health facility. The testers were really friendly and the test took less than a minute to complete. I have heard that in the US they are shoving things up people’s noses to test them. Thank goodness we didn’t have that here because I couldn’t handle that! They swabbed the back of our throats and while it was uncomfortable, they warned us not to eat or drink for 2 hours so no one got sick (I totally dry heaved, though). We had our results a few days later and everyone tested negative. I actually got tested twice this month because our whole apartment complex got swabbed, too. We all got tested because there was a case near our neighborhood, making us in the “medium risk” category. All 1,000 residents of the complex waited out in the rain on the day of the Dragon boat Festival (when everyone is home) to get tested. My family had waited roughly an hour before getting tested, only to find out the sign-up app didn’t work for foreigners. The staff scrambled to write our names and phone number on a piece of paper and hurried us to get tested. Calvin and Korey took it like a champ and we were back home by 4 pm. They tested well into the night and left shortly after 9 pm. You got to admire that determination! We never actually got a digital copy of our results, but the army didn’t come in and quarantine the complex either so I assume we were all negative.
As the month of June continued to go on, the weather became more and more hot and rainy. Please understand that I am from Arizona, a state that only sees rain 30 days a year and when it does occur, it seems to only last 15 minutes. Beijing in the summer is COMPLETELY different. When it rains, it pours…and then it pours for hours. I can only compare it to flash floods in our desert state. When the first rain came, my family was sitting in the family room around 3:30 pm and it suddenly got dark. We went to look out the window and the entire sky was filled with black clouds and it was amazing. It rained for the rest of the night and it seems to be a common theme. We have had to get into the habit of bringing an umbrella with us wherever we go like most Beijingers because we know there is a chance it can rain by the time we come back from grocery shopping or a walk. That has been the rest of June, raining 3 or 4 days out of the week and then getting absurdly hot and humid the other 3 or 4. We have begun to see more of what is famously called the “Beijing Bikini”. This is when the men pull up the bottom parts of their shirts and expose their stomach area to help keep cool when they are outside. It is a little odd, but becoming significantly more common.
Towards the end of June, we were informed by our landlord that they were not going to let us resign the lease and they were selling the apartment. This left us a few weeks to find a new place to live and search during a time of pandemic. We would eventually find a place in the exact same complex but I won’t go into too much here. I have written another blog called Beijing Apartment Hunt 3.0 that goes over all the options of living with a family in Beijing. Feel free to check it out! We are so happy that we get to continue to live in our same complex because we have really grown comfortable here. My husband has been asked to tutor some of the neighbor kids in English because they can’t go to school. He loves it! Whenever we are walking through the community now, they are shouting “HELLO!” at us so sweetly. It makes my husband feel like a bit of a celebrity. Not just the kids, but other residents have become more friendly with us as well. There is a teenager who loves to carry her bird around with her on her shoulder. I asked to take a picture and she now waves to me everyday as I pass by. A food stall has also opened up near the front gate that sells steamed pork buns (baozi) and fried bread. They are absolutely delicious and I love being able to spend just 2.5 yuan (36 cents) on a delicious breakfast!
The school year will be coming to an end soon and we look forward to the next school year, hoping it will not be starting online. We will not be able to return home for the summer like most expats, because there is very little chance that we would be let into the county on time. For those that are trying to leave at the end of their contract, they are going to find getting home a little difficult. Flights have been cancelled over and over this past month. I know coworker’s spouses keep booking and rebooking their flights, but I don’t know of anyone who has successfully left yet. Due to this, we will have to keep any vacations we might take this summer limited to within the borders of China. The school is thinking of taking a few teachers to the island of Hainan for a free vacation and there are always places like Shanghai that would be worth exploring. Beijing has a ton to offer as well, so we may try a staycation! We have really gotten into food this month and keep traveling to different restaurants within Beijing to try all the different options. I have even gotten creative and made duck bone soup for the first time. It was delicious!! Our expat friends are also buzzing about the news that Taco Bell will be opening a location here in Beijing in September! With margaritas! I will keep you posted on how things turn out this summer! So stay tuned!