Homestay China - Living With Locals - What's it Like?

January 24, 2013

  homestay in Beijing, China while immersing in Mandarin

While learning Mandarin in Beijing  on our recent month long Chinese vacation, our homestay (living with locals) was the best way to immerse deeply in the Chinese culture, discover life in China and make dear friends that will last a lifetime.

"A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles." Tim Cahill

"We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend." Robert Lewis Stevenson

Our Beijing homestay family - at our first dinner together

This is part two about our homestay in China, that I started yesterday and focused on the amazing family we stayed with and how they took us in for a month on a moments notice and treated us like beloved family. Social connections are everything in China and we are totally grateful to Winser from China Travel 2.0 who knows wonderful people there so helped make our trip so special and rewarding.

This post is more photos and details about what it was like to live like a local and with  local Chinese in a fairly typical middle class family in Beijing. As I had mentioned, 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.

They kindly gave us a large bedroom that is normally for their baby ( and I imagine the grandmother(s) who cares for it and cook while the couple is at work. Both grandfathers were out of town in their home province in the north of China and both grandmothers had just left with the baby to a warm spot in China in the south for the winter, so there was lots of space.

They also offered Mozart a large room of her own, but since she was at her Mandarin school dorm by herself during the week, she preferred to stay in this large bed with us on the weekends.

homestay China - our bedroom and office

My office in China - living like a local

We are pretty good at making ourselves at home where ever we go and we packed very lightly. They had good internet connection through out the house and I usually worked at this desk in the room and DaVinci preferred his spot on the bed. Note the red Chinese style warm water container that sweet Kitty brought up for me from the filtered, reverse osmosiss water appliance downstairs.

We shared a large bathroom with Emma and "Uncle" who had recently moved into the top floor after finishing University in their home province and recently getting jobs in Beijing a few months ago with Kitty's husband as their new boss.

homestay in Beijing - first day

Here you see us with them on our first day learning how to get back into the house with our keys as we would be the first ones to return each day (as it was easiest to travel during the day and they all worked quite late). These two left for work around 8am catching the nearby subway and we usually joined them or went a bit later to spend the day at the traditional Chinese school in the center where our daughter was immersing in Mandarin.

At rush hour, the Beijing subway was the most crowded we have ever seen on our around-the-world tour, but that is a whole other story I will write about soon.

Beijing homestay

Kitty and her husband each had a car and she even offered to let us use her car, but we felt more comfortable on the subway as traffic and parking in Beijing looks intimidating and we didn't know our way around. They often did work at home in the morning, skipping the rush hour traffic and occasionally I spent the day at home if working on something.

kids playing Bejing park

When the kids ( our 12 year old Mozart and their 5 year old Andrew) were home on the weekends they could play at the nearby park. This home is in the northern part of Beijing around the 4th ring road, a popular area for many families (most who commute into the central business district).

washer in China and laundry room

Just to give you a sense of a Beijing lifestyle, I am enclosing a few photos, like this laundry room near our bedroom on the second floor which was very handy since we had packed so light. Similar to Europe and Malaysia, dryers are not common, and they hang up clothes to dry.

home office in Beijing

This photo shows part of the large office filled with books that Kitty and her husband used to do some work from home.


Their home was in a large, gated complex with many buildings, but lots of room for kids to run around and play too, as well as a park nearby. Luckily, we didn't run into much smog while in Beijing.

roof top garden in Beijing

Even though we were there in November and December, (thus the roof top garden was mostly spent), we managed to have some meals with fresh greens picked from the garden. We love gardens so appreciated  the obvious work put into this one.

Beijing homestay garden on roof top terrace

This family is quite particular about food (and organic eating as we are) and even brought in good animal meats brought in from their province grown on pure foods by one of the grandfathers. We also ate apples that they had gone to a farm in the country side that they picked themselves.

cool wooden tub in Beijing

This was the master bath and I loved this wooden tub as I have never seen one like it before and thought it was quite beautiful. The shower in our bathroom was not enclosed (so different than what we usually use or experience) but  common in China and worked fine. One uses a little broom to scoot the water off the bathroom floor and into the drain.

Squat toilets are VERY common in Beijing and China (at times impossible to find a western toilet like when out shopping or at a restaurant), and that is all they had at the school Mozart went to, but thankfully and interestingly this home and most of the homes we went to had western toilets. (Tips for using squat toilets coming soon).

immersing in Mandarin - at homestay and overnight in school

This is the room that Mozart stayed in during the week at her school to help her immerse more. Unlike many Chinese children, she has never been away from us (except one night at her Grandmothers and one at her aunts just before we left and a few sleep overs at friends), so this was the perfect stretch. We got to at least see her for part of her day and on weekends, but the rest of the time she was totally immersed in Mandarin. (I noted how popular light colored wood is in China...pine I think).

adorable baby in China

I loved this and other family photos on the walls at the home we stayed in. I felt like I even know the grandparents through the photos and stories. They even sent videos by phone of the little brother baby to the 5 year old Andrew that made him giggle.

A family homestay with this charming and generous family was perfect for our traveling family and an experience we will remember forever and always be grateful for. Do you have any questions?

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