It has been a busy 2021! So much so, that I haven’t exactly kept up with the blog as much as I would have liked. But no worries! I have been sure to gather as much info over these past few months to let you know what the expats in Beijing have been up to!
Ringing in the New Year with friends was great! We had a bunch of friends over to play poker at our house followed by a night of KTV. This is the second year in a row that we have spent New Years at KTV and I am telling you, it is the only way to do it right. 3+ hours of singing, a case of beers, and snacks all for less than $100?! I am going to personally invest in this company because we need one in Arizona. We enjoyed the rest of our Christmas holiday and then went back to school for 3 weeks. I really like the schedule at our school because we have 2 weeks off for Christmas, 3 weeks of school for finishing up and taking exams, then off another 3 weeks for the Chinese New Year! It really helps the teachers and students because we know that after we work hard, we will be able to take another break! It also helps because my husband and I have our birthdays within 5 days of each other, right at the end of January and beginning of February. The last day of school this year was on my birthday, so it was a great treat for us!
I decided to go big for our joint birthday! However, the Beijing Education Commission had decided that they didn’t want any school staff to leave Beijing because of an influx in Covid cases in the provinces around Beijing. This meant that any trips outside of Beijing were not possible, which is a bummer when going into a 3-week vacation. Without letting my husband know, I scheduled a staycation at the Beijing Regent Hotel in the middle of the city. This place had a spa, Morton’s Steakhouse, and beautiful rooms. I packed up our night bags, forced my husband into a Didi, and took him to the hotel. He was so surprised when we showed up to this beautiful place and the staff was so nice. Plus, they spoke English so there were no problems checking in. I had ordered a standard room, but because it was our first time, they upgraded us to a suite with a family room and 2 bathrooms! It was such an unexpected surprise! After we were done fawning over the room, we went to the spa and scheduled our 90-minute massage. They were open until midnight so we scheduled it for 10 pm and went on to see the rest of the hotel. We found the steakhouse and they got us a private room within the restaurant! The food was AMAZING (albeit expensive). Afterwards, we went on to our massage and it was wonderful. It was a couple’s massage and we were so relaxed afterwards! Thank you Beijing Regent Hotel for such an amazing stay, we know where to go next year!
Because we had three weeks off and couldn’t leave the Beijing province, Calvin and I wanted to get out and go to some places that we still hadn’t visited in the 18 months that we had lived here. One of those sites was the Beijing Zoo. We invited some other families and headed out early on a Sunday morning to go check out the animals. We got there right before they opened and there was no one there! We bought our tickets and were amongst the first people in the zoo. What was really great was that all the kids were free that day. We aren’t sure if that was normal or because people couldn’t leave Beijing during the break, but with all the kids we had, it certainly worked out in our favor! The Beijing Zoo is famous for their panda exhibit and I have never seen pandas in-person before. We spent nearly an hour checking out the pandas and oh my goodness, can they eat. Most of them were gorging themselves on bamboo and what looked like potatoes (?). They were so cute and had a gift shop just for the pandas. Calvin ended up buying a really cute panda hat with a face and ears. I am thankful we got there so early, because by the time we left the panda area, there were SO MANY PEOPLE lining up to get in. It was such a contrast from an hour before, and it turned out that a friend who had been there in the past said she couldn’t even see the pandas before because they only let so many people in at a time. We spent another 5 hours at the zoo and were impressed by the size and the amount of animals. I will admit though, I wasn’t very happy about the size of the enclosures for the bigger animals like the elephants and hippopotami. Because it was still cold out, they were all inside in very small rooms. The elephants were in cages with big metal bars, almost like a jail cell. The hippopotami were slightly better off, with their inside enclosure containing a pool. There was even a baby hippopotamus and it was so cute! I will have to visit in the warmer months to see if their outside enclosures are better.
FCN also helped us out with finding things to do! My son and I had never been skiing before and jumped at the chance to join FCN on a day-trip to Nanshan Ski Village. It is within Beijing Province and uses man-made snow to ensure that people can ski throughout the winter months. We left early and arrived at Nanshan around 9 am. We don’t own any snow gear, so we were happy to be able to rent all the necessities, even snow pant and boots, in our size! The price was amazing too, we only spent $12 a person to rent everything the whole day, including the lockers. We stayed on the bunny slopes the first time and I am happy to say that I only fell twice. Once on the magic carpets (the escalator ramps that bring you to the top of the bunny slope) and once when I ran into the rope. Yeah, that last one kind of hurt. Calvin was having a bit more of a difficult time, so we spent $50 (350 rmb) to hire him a ski coach. She couldn’t speak English, but she did a great job of giving Calvin the confidence he needed to tackle skiiing! We were all doing great by the end of the day and went back a week later without Korey. Calvin and I were so good at it, we went on the ski lifts and did the bigger hills! I didn’t fall even once that time! We kept going bigger and bigger, until we did all of the regular hills except the Black Diamond ones! We did not go on any of the trick hills, the ones with those high jumps or rails, but I was still really proud of ourselves. We will not be able to go again until next year, but we are now determined to make skiing apart of our winter fun every year. Also, I wanted to mention the adorable pads they rented here. While we didn’t rent any, many of our friends wore these adorable knee and butt pads made of stuffed animals! We saw the turtle ones the most, but some of the kids had Pokemon pads or other famous characters! Maybe this is common at other place, but it certainly made me smile.
FCN offered other trips as well within the Beijing province, including one to the Silverfox Caves and Shuiyu Ancient Village. The Silverfox Caves were really beautiful and cold! It was a long walk down to see the different caverns and rock formations that the caves had to offer. It was like another world was down there and I am really glad we had the chance to see it. Before we ended the tour, the FCN took us down even further through the caves so we could go for a boat ride on the underground river. This was by far the scariest part of the adventure. The boats were made of a thick metal and did not look like they could float very well. As we got in, the boat shifted so much by everyone’s weight that I thought we were going into the water for sure! Also, there were no engine or oars, it was operated by the guide pulling us along on chains hanging above us. There were parts where everyone in the boat had to duck down because the ceiling came so close to the water and we didn’t want to hit our heads! As we went along the river, we were able to look down and see the bottom of the river because the water was so clear! I took a bunch of pictures, but they didn’t come out very well because the boat was a little too shaky. Anyway, we get to the end and we hear water falling as we neared a waterfall. Thankfully, the boat was able to be turned around no problem and we headed back to the dock. Then, we had to go all the way back up. I had no idea we were so far underground, but my poor legs were shaking from all of the stairs about halfway through. We had to take quite a few breaks, but we finally made it to an old mine shaft that served as an exit. We followed the tracks out of the shaft and made it back to the surface.
We then headed to the Shuiyu Ancient Village. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because this village had been around for over 500 years. While most of the buildings were from the last 100-200 years, it was amazing to see how old and abandoned they were. What was the most surprising was that people still lived there! Our guide said that most of the children had left the village long ago to live in the cities and the only people that stayed were the retired people. She was right, I only saw older people living there. We walked through the allies away from the group and saw these buildings were in disrepair and not livable. Many of the paper windows were long gone and abandoned items littered the courtyards. But it was still beautiful in a way. After investigating more, we could see that many residents hadn’t been away for long, we saw newspaper clippings hanging in one of the houses from 2006/2007. So a little over a decade ago, someone had lived in these old-fashioned dwellings. It was truly beautiful and you felt as if you were transported back to life in China over a century ago. We did manage to accidentally disturb some residences with our invasiveness, but they seemed to be understanding, knowing that tourism was one of the ways that some of these locals could still sell snacks and other items. It was truly a magical day and we enjoyed it so much!
We finally went back to school and were so happy to see that Calvin had won many awards for his participation in USAP over the break! Because of COVID, the in-person competition in Hainan was cancelled and students took their exams online over the break. Calvin did well in almost all of the categories and we are so proud of him! Good job Calvin!
Thank you so much for keeping up with our blog! I will be posting another soon about March and April!