This July has been an amazing start to our summer! Each week has been filled with friends, outings, and vacations! It has been both happy and sad as we said goodbye to amazing friends that were leaving Beijing for other opportunities and welcoming the new ones that are going to become part of our family.
The beginning of the month was really hard for many of us, since we knew that this challenging school year was finally coming to an end and we would be losing many friends. Some were heading back home and others (knowing they would still be locked out of the country) did not re-sign for the upcoming year. We sent friends off with proper goodbyes! Groups of us taking them out on the town and getting one more chance to hang out. It was bittersweet, having so much fun but knowing it was going to end in a matter of weeks. Many Kaiwen teachers also helped out coworkers that couldn’t get back in the country by packing their belongings and helping them store or ship them home. Many had left their whole lives here, thinking they would be gone on vacation a few short weeks. A few of us Kaiwen teachers worked together to pack up an entire apartment for another teacher. Unfortunately, about halfway through we had the cops called on us because we were a bunch of foreigners in an apartment that had been empty almost 6 months. I won’t lie, it was a little nerve-wracking having cops video us, compare our faces to the national database, etc. My old AZ students teased me about moving away, saying I would be arrested in China because I am so outspoken…I was worried they were going to be right!! Luckily, they saw we were just packing up boxes of clothes (it isn’t like we were trying to hide anything) and they left.
We also moved into our third (and hopefully final) apartment earlier this month. Because Calvin and I were still in online school, Korey ended up doing most of the move, poor guy. We love our new place though! It is in the same complex and our landlord is really great. He ordered us a new couch because the old one was gone and really stepped it up. This couch has FOUR footstools that can be hidden on the side and it has plug-in capability to charge a phone. I have never had a couch that was more complex than I was. School finally ending was both exciting and sad. I think the teachers really missed being able to have a big send-off at the end of the year. The kids were excited no matter what, SUMMER! I can’t believe that my own Calvin is moving on to the 7th grade! He needs to stop getting old because that means I am getting old. We were super sad that we couldn’t go back home to the states either. This was especially tough once school ended. With China being closed to foreigners and the number of COVID cases in our home state of Arizona getting higher and higher, we had no choice but to stay. This sucks because we have been dreaming of all the goodies and things to eat once we “get back home”. Luckily, a friend told me about a company that has some of our favorite snacks and we ship them all the way from southern China. Original Cheetos!! Finally!!
We have been taking the opportunity to explore more of Beijing with our free summer days. We have been visiting different restaurants, malls, and even found an English bookstore! There was never enough time before and now there is nothing but time! Although Beijing is a city of over 21 million, I guess I never realized how much the city had to offer! There are entire sections dedicated to shops and food (even western items). I will admit that we have been spending a lot of time spoiling ourselves and will probably continue to do so. Even though we have been venturing out more and more over the past few months, it still feels as if we are always home. Since January, many forms of entertainment like movie theaters and karaoke bars (KTV!) have been closed. As of the end of July, they are all back open!! I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally be able to go and have fun again. COVID has made life a little dull, but things are finally going back to normal!
Of course, we can’t forget the best and most important part of summer vacation… THE VACATIONS! While we aren’t able to travel internationally, we were determined to use some of our time to travel around China and see the sights. China is very safe right now with only a few provinces still experiencing cases and I wasn’t too concerned about moving around a bit. We had an amazing opportunity to go to Laologntou and Beidaihe for a weekend getaway! Laologntou is the famous beginning of the Great Wall, known as the Dragon’s Head. Beidaihe is a famous beach town about a 4 hour drive from Beijing. The town has many Russian influences and is so beautiful at night! We left early Saturday morning and the drive to Laologntou took over 6 hours due to police checks and traffic! By the time we made it to the Dragon’s head, it was so hot and humid. But I must admit, it was worth it. I had shown my AZ students pictures of the Dragon’s head before I moved to China but I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to see it for myself. After seeing the Great Wall and the famous maze built next to it, we travelled another few hours to Beidaihe. The tour group took us on a boat ride and then we headed to the hotel. I had heard about towns in China with Russian architecture, but it was truly beautiful to see in person. We walked around and shopped at the markets. Calvin even had his portrait drawn by a local artist. I am not sure how many foreigners visit this town, but he drew quite a crowd!!
The next day, we headed to a water park called the International Sand Sculpture Park. In truth, it was way more than a water park. They had giant sculptures of sand everywhere, go karts, paintball, marine animal park, and private access to a beautiful beach. It had been over a year since we had been to a water park, so it was a welcome treat. We hung out on the lazy river, swam in the family area, and even took a try at the go karts! The best part had to be the lunch on the beach, though. It was a really nice, relaxing day. We finally got home to Beijing, but did not have time to slow down. We only had ONE day of rest before our next trip. My school, Beijing Kaiwen Academy, was taking many of the returning teachers and their families on a FREE trip to the southern island of Hainan because the international teachers could not return home. Hainan is also known as the “Hawaii of China”. We were so excited even though summer is considered the rainy season there. Not only was the trip for family time, but we looked forward to spending time with my coworkers as well. The group that owns the school also happens to own the Holiday Inns in China! We stayed at one when we first moved to Beijing, but the one in Hainan is a huge resort with a bunch of pools and hot springs. Honestly, it is one of the best trips I have been on in China.
Getting to Hainan was a lot of fun! All of the teachers packed into an airplane and learned that this was the first flight from Beijing to a brand new airport called Bo’ao. When we landed, there was a red carpet and big crowd with cameras waiting. One of our teachers was interviewed and the rest of us were given drinks and a food spread right there on the tarmac! I was pretty impressed, especially when our hotel gave all of the kids including Calvin a big panda plush (their hotel mascot). We were all hurried onto shuttles afterwards and took a very quick drive to the resort. It was so big! The Qionghai Holiday Inn was amazing and the staff was exceptional. We ended up making friends with a bunch of the bartenders because they were so kind and considerate. Our room was very nice and overlooked a lake. Every night there was a great dinner, even one on the rooftop hosted by the owner of the hotels! I have to say, it is really nice for a school to show appreciation to its teachers and Beijing Kaiwen did it in a big way!
The school also arranged outings for us each day. My family didn’t go on the beach trip to the famous Sanya Beach, but we heard it was wonderful. We did choose to participate in the outing that took us to a little island called Dongyu not far from the hotel. This island was special because you could see where the water from three rivers met the South China Sea. It was pretty cool because the water from the river was warm but the sea water was cold. It created an amazing ripple effect, but the hike along the beach was harder than I expected. If you go, I suggest an umbrella because the summer sun was brutal. We also visited the place where the Bo’ao Forum for Asia is held every year. The day ended with an AMAZING local lunch paid for by the owner of the hotel. They took us to a famous place and the food was made up mostly of local fish and vegetable recipes. They did have things like beef and goat too, but fish was definitely the local specialty. ONE OF THE FISH HAD TEETH!
My favorite day was the last day ironically. The hotel did us a solid by giving us a super late checkout time because our flight was leaving late. Since we had a free day, the boys and I decided to walk down the road and check out White Mountain Valley. It was a beautiful mountain that had a cable car up to the top and a glass bridge you could see from the hotel! Unfortunately, it also happened to be the day that it was pouring rain, but I almost think it made it better. We arrived at the bottom and paid the fee for the roundtrip cable cars. While some people were still heading up, it seems most people were electing to leave due to the strong rain. They actually paused the cable cars for 10 minutes until the rain would lighten a bit. Going up was so beautiful! The top of the mountains were all covered in low-lying clouds and the forest beneath was so green. It was a bit of a hike to the top still, but it was mostly empty because people were hiding beneath awnings or heading back down the mountain. We eventually got to the top and everything was cloudy! We were walking through clouds and it was amazing. When we finally got to the bridge, we saw it was closed for maintenance which was a bummer. But the views we got from standing on the peak were spectacular! The wind was going pretty good by this point and the clouds were blowing quickly over the forest. There would be instances when we would just see the green forest and then minutes later it would be gone again. It was worth the trip and the rain. We headed back down and wanted to take the slide down, but it was closed because water had gone in there and hadn’t dried. So we hoofed it to the cablecars and flew back to Beijing that night. It was truly a wonderful trip!
This year has not been easy for anyone with Covid-19 causing pandemonium all over the world. But it still nice to get a way for a bit and forget all of the daily troubles. I really thank Beijing Kaiwen Academy for helping all of us enjoy ourselves and to be truly carefree. It was a great opportunity for myself and my family and I will never forget it!