"One of the great things about travel is you find out how many good, kind people there are" ~Wharton
Thanks to Winser from China Travel 2.0, we met this truly remarkable and very loving family that invited us to be guests in their home during our month long stay in Beijing. We were actually going to stay at a different friends place as explained here, but fate intervened.
This was not a paid homestay, but pure generosity and extraordinary kindness. On the day of our arrival, having just come home herself from a business trip, Kitty ( a 30 something mom- always smiling and full-of-joy as in this photo), was asked by a friend if she had room for guests from America. It happened that her "two mothers" and baby had just left for Southern China for a warmer winter, ( the two dads were in their home province) so they had room and twenty-something ( Emma) in the household who spoke good English to assist us in that area. So she said yes to her friend (mutual friends with Winser).
Our daughter Mozart was staying at her Mandarin school for immersion during the week, so we just needed a place for us during the week and we'd all be together on the weekend for some touring. Like most Chinese families, these folks worked long, hard hours, so went out of their way to host us.
This is a photo of us doing a hotpot dinner with Emma, sitting next to Kitty's 5 year old son Andrew and her husband. I regret that we were so busy having fun, that I don't have any photos of us all together.
This is Emma with Davinci and her boyfriend we called "Uncle" because despite being younger ( in his twenties) he is the uncle to Kitty's husband. "Uncle" and her husband didn't speak any English, but showed their caring in many ways and Emma sometimes translated. "Kitty", "Emma" and "Andrew" are their English names ( which were much easier for us to remember and say than their Chinese names).
This was taken in front of the apartment on our first day there and we were about to take the subway to Mozart's Mandarin school where we spent most days. Their home was in the northern part of Beijing ( where many live and commute into the central business district).
It was a large 5 bedroom, 2 bathroom home on 3 floors with a roof top terrace, but also a 4 floor walk up to get to it, with very steep stairs. Beware, anyone else with mobility challenges, China has LOTS of stairs. There was also a path to the subway which was very hazardous for someone like me, straight up steep path, then crossing railroad tracks, then straight down mud path. DaVinci and "Uncle" helped me to not break my arm again. I manage to do pretty good for a retiree with fear challenges and was in good hands. ..just look at those smiles!
One thing we learned is middle class life in China is similar in some ways ( malls, movies, restaurants, traffic, cell phones, Pizza Hut etc) and very different in other ways. The beds and chairs are incredibly hard ( not just firm, ROCK hard), and the shower had no enclosure, but we adapted. Just like in Malaysia, the habit is to not wear shoes in the house, so they provided slippers for us.
Overall, we found it a rougher life, even for the middle class, but this family seemed happier than most in the USA. This couple seemed happy with their careers and seemed to have quite a bit of freedom with them like working some from home in the morning, though things were perhaps more pressure filled for the couple in their twenties ( still new to Beijing and working at the same company as the dad).
Like many Chinese kids, Andrew went to a school during the week where he stayed over night and would come home on the weekends ( since both parents work long hours). His Dad takes him to the park and hiking on the weekends, and our Mozart got to go along. His mother Kitty also took him to piano lessons that she got to tag along on and a service project working with a girl "foster child" from a nearby school (where they are support her education).
Despite not speaking much English, they had lived in Los Angeles for almost a year and their youngest son was born there. Kitty's English was better than she thought, but she struggled with vocabulary (as most do in China as they are not use to speaking it) so it was easier when Mozart was with us to help out with her Mandarin or Emma. We always managed quite well one way or another, even when we were alone with her husband and "uncle" who could hardly speak a word.
They were really a special family with pure hearts and their generosity and joy, touched our hearts deeply. They cooked for us and took us out to dinner and Kitty and Andrew took us to see the Great Wall together and antiques market. They treated us like family and we hope to see them again for they will always be a part of us.
We had some great conversations even when we had to struggle a bit with language. We learned about the province where they come from, places they've traveled in China, their work, interest in organic and healthy food, Kitty's heart focused work and much more.
Truly, the people, including this special family, is what made China so special for us. They didn't even know us, but opened their home and hearts fully to us on a moment's notice. Based on the awesome people we met in China, the spirit of Lao Tzu is alive and well.
Tomorrow in part two, I will write more about the details with photos about exactly what it is like to live like a local in Beijing. Have you ever stayed with friends in China or would you like to?