Yuanmingyuan Park (Old Summer Palace)


Line 4, Yuanmingyuan Park subway stop, exit B, walk east

Cost: Full access, adults Y25, kids Y10 + more for boats (Y20) and small trolley buses (Y8)

          under 120 cm = free

I’d heard that the ruins of the Old Summer Palace were fun for kids to just run around and the As (our friends from Virginia that live out in Shunyi and are homeschooling now) and the WAs had never been. They both drove and ran into a few problems (apparently when a light goes out here, you might be stuck in an intersection indefinitely because no one knows about treating it like a four way stop). So we arrived a little early and I managed to purchase the full access tickets all by myself.

Top right picture… the kids all congregated on this rock which was a great photo op but while the moms were all getting their cameras ready, this Chinese woman jumped in and had her picture taken.

The park is pretty big and we had a lot of kids with us so we took a boat (actually two boats, we filled one entire boat and then there were still four of us left). After the first boat ride, the little boats docked and then three boats worth of people got on a larger boat and we were altogether.

I like this bottom left picture PS took of me because while we were waiting for the second boat to fill up, my phone rang and I had to answer some questions about the Relief Society activity that was happening the next day and Squidgems was pulling on my sweater trying to tell me something. It just seemed to be a funny way to sum up how crazy my life is right now. I was in the Old Summer Palace, in Beijing, China on a boat talking on the phone for my church calling while kids were pestering me.

After the boat ride, we stopped and ate lunch before entering the ticket area for the ruins. The kids climbed up a “mountain” and had a blast while we ate. After the ruins, they begged to play there again so we let them.

We made the kids group together for this “maze.” All the shorter kids had to be in a group with at least one tall kid so we could keep track of them. While the moms waited for the kids to finish, an old Chinese guy with a selfie stick asked to have a picture of he and his wife with us. The kids finished and we told them out of the corner of our smiling mouths to keep moving or we’d be there all day getting our pictures taken!

We went in a little shop to buy water and as we were walking away, Squidgems started being sad because he wanted an ice cream. I don’t even think M WA heard him, she was just already being sweet and buying him in ice cream. She told me later that sometimes she likes to buy the food she can’t eat (gluten, egg, dairy allergies) for other people so they can enjoy it. She made Squidgems very happy! Then we road this little bus/golf cart back towards where we got on the boat.


Me, trying to be a photographer.

When we got home, Squidgems immediately wanted to make a thank you card for M WA for his ice cream. He even asked me what color her shirt was so he could do a good job drawing a picture of her holding his ice cream and he dictated a note to PS so she could write it for him.


B’s school field trip

Most international schools in China got the Friday before May Day off. Our school limits all weekends to three days, requiring us to work on Sunday if we would have ended up somehow with a four-day weekend. So instead of giving us the day off, they made us take a field trip to a park or cultural site. So the same amount of learning happened (zero), but they got to feel like we were still under their control. Nice.
Anyway, we were given three choices: a section of the Great Wall, a bird sanctuary, or the local steel mill. About 90% of the students selected the Great Wall or the bird sanctuary. About 80% of the Western teachers selected the steel mill. Why? Because the published ending time was 2 PM (the other options weren’t supposed to return to school until 6:30), and when you factor in the terrible traffic that should be expected but is never allowed for (because doing so would be insulting to the nation’s transportation planners, I guess?), we Westerners were going to get our weekend started about five or six hours earlier than those kids. I took this picture during the five minutes that we were actually inside the steel mill. It’s no longer functioning; the hard hat was in case it collapsed on us.

This sign reads, “Don’t spit for the sake of your health.” While I disagree that spitting makes ME unhealthy, and I find laughable the idea that this sign will have any effect at all on a nation of champion loogie hockers, it makes me happy that at least one Chinese person is trying to address the problem.

This is Yongding Tower. We were supposed to mill around it for the last hour of the field trip. Instead, I went to lunch down the road with two colleagues. (“You culturally-insensitive jackal!” Relax, it was built in 2012. Anno Domini.) Beijing’s “crack-down” on indoor smoking was honored by a table of five gentlemen who chain-smoked throughout their meal. Our final bill included a dish we ordered but they never brought to us. When we asked them to remove the charge, they offered to make it real fast. We declined. They got surly.

Beijing International Sculpture Park


This is literally down the street from our apartment. I’ve had good intentions of going here for months and we finally made it today with some families from church (total: four moms, 15 kids -Ws, WIs, and Bs). It was super nice of all of them to brave the subway to come to our neck of the woods. And the weather and air were gorgeous (especially after yucky air blew out with last night’s storm).

The Drum and Bell Towers


With three other homeschooling families (the Ws, the WIs and an Australian family, the Ss) we met at the Shichahai Station (line 8) exit A2 and explored together. Mrs. W has coupon books she bought, so each kid over 1.2 meters (everyone but Squirt) got in both towers for 15 yuan and the grown-ups got in for 17 yuan (10 yuan for the Drum Tower and 7 yuan for the Bell Tower).


The Drum Tower was first. After climbing the steep, narrow staircase, we were just in time to hear the “concert” that is supposedly only once an hour. Squirt sort of liked it, but also thought it was way too loud.



The views: we could see the tallest building in Beijing and in the other direction, the CCTV tower.





Then, across the courtyard to the Bell Tower. (With view of the Drum Tower.)


I let the kids do a silly picture (Squirt refused to be in the picture of the kids) so then I picked up Squirt for a selfie with him and the bell. I didn’t know it, but he was doing a silly picture.

Then we walked over to the Houhai Lake and Qianhai Lake areas and found a spot (with plenty of spectators to watch our group (4 moms, 14 kids) eat lunch and play.



We like when we can see down the train cars forever and ever. This only happens on certain types of train cars, and when the train is relatively empty. So… rare.

 When we got off at our subway stop, I bought the kids ice creams from McDonalds. There’s a new yellow kind that when I translate, all I come up with is “yellow.” Now we know, it’s a coffee flavor. Oh well. The kids enjoyed them.

Tian’anmen Square, Mao’s body, Zhengyang Gate and the National Museum of China


A family at church moved in just after we did with four kids they homeschool as well. Their oldest is a boy Princess Sparkley’s age and then they have a girl just younger than Buddy and two more girls just older than Little Guy. The mom served a church mission in Taiwan and has traveled in China before as well as studying Chinese in college. Not only is she great at planning field trips and inviting us over, she also speaks Chinese, which is handy when we’re out and about exploring with her. I’ll call them the Ws.

As we get closer to summer, we’ve been going on more field trips. On April 16, we went to Tian’anmen Square and saw Mao’s body.

Tian’anmen Square is about halfway between our apartments (they live at Tuanjiehu subway stop off of line 10). We met them, checked our bags, went through security and got in line. We thought it was already open and were a bit concerned about the line (and the Chinese people constantly trying to push their way in front of our group), but then all of a sudden the line moved and kept moving… it had *just* opened.  Squirt was in a stroller, so when we got to the front they pulled me out of line and had everyone join me so we could enter the building through a more accessible route. At that point, they realized the W mom had a camera (we knew we were supposed to check bags and cameras, but at the bag check, they told us we couldn’t have cameras in our bags. It turns out, the cameras just needed to be checked separately. I waited with all eight kids for about ten minutes while she ran back to bag check and then came back through security. While waiting, we attracted some attention. And as a first, I was handed a Chinese baby to hold for a photo shoot. Then they moved on to Princess Sparkley and had her hold their baby as well. (The longer we are here, the more I can tell when people are from out in the country somewhere and way more hillbilly-like about spotting westerners/big families/blonde toddlers.) Once the camera was checked and we were all together again, we went into the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Princess Sparkley was particularly freaked out about seeing his body. We whispered to her that he’s been dead since 1976 and back then, China’s technology probably wasn’t so that they could preserve his body so we were of the mind that it’s a wax figure. It helped this story along that all you can see of him is his head with a bright light shining on it making him glow orange.

Afterwards, in trying to find a bathroom, we wandered into Zhengyang Gate at the south side of Tian’anmen Square. It ended up being a kind of cool little museum. Then we exited the secure part of the Square, found a quieter sidewalk to sit and eat some snacks for lunch before exploring the top floor of the National Museum of China. It had a cool exhibit that was all the gifts ever given to China from the leader’s of other countries. Gifts from the US, and other countries… art, etc. but also gifts of art from communist countries like North Korea and art from countries like Iran that as Americans, we might never have another chance to see.

On the way home, they rode two subway stops further west with us and got off at Xidan to check out the basement, English language book section as well as get some museum coupon booklets. At the time, the Xidan station was decorated with giant loaves of fake bread for our favorite bakery, Wedome. This is their 10 year old, S.

After we got off at our stop, I successfully bought us five vanilla ice cream cones at McDonalds by looking up how to say vanilla on the Google Translate app on my phone. I didn’t want to end up with five black sesame ice cream cones. Bleh.