At first, staying long-term in a Luxury serviced apartment seems like a dream. Friendly staff that greets you, lovely and clean facilities, housekeeping....but then you start to realise that a hotel is not a home!
We were not particularly lucky with our house hunt (see my blog post from 16 January). It's not easy to find apartments with 4 bedrooms in Beijing and what we did find was either very traditional Chinese style, over budget or not approved for security reasons.
But here we are!
On 18 March we moved into our new apartment. The compound (in China we use the word "compound" also for apartment buildings) is located right by the enormous Chaoyang park. A lovely area that has everything! From the park to restaurants, local markets, shopping mall, and supermarkets. The building has a big reception area, a gym and a pool on the ground floor. It consists of 4 towers (each of 25 floors) and although I don't know the percentage, the majority of the tenants are expats.
Private Chinese landlord - not always a success story!
Many of the apartments in our building are owned by the property developers. In general these apartments live up to a good general standard in terms of renovation, cleanliness etc. Unfortunately it is sometimes a different story with private landlords (our case).
The first time I visited the apartment I noticed immediately that there were many things that needed to be fixed. In Beijing even new buildings grow old very fast (often due to the bad quality of materials used - e.g the wooden floors, the kitchen appliances etc.). But this one was particularly worn down and in need of some tlc and deep cleaning!
Most things were repaired before we moved in (as per contract) but the cleanliness was a different story!
This is what it looked like the morning we were supposed to move in:
It took 4 cleaners a whole day to clean the kitchen only and I then hired an extra two for two days and it began to look ok. With most of the boxes unpacked and some hard (ish 😉) work by the cleaners, this place is starting to look like a home.
...and in my next blog post I'll take you around our neighbourhood! See you then
"Are you on facebook or do you have whatsapp" said no one ever in China. But one of the sentences you'll hear every day here is "add me on wechat". Wechat is the pride of Chinese social networks and chat apps. According to Wikipedia it has 650 million active users and I understand why! It's just wonderful! Everybody is on wechat! The hairdresser, the driver, your child's school teacher, your new friends, your hotel, many restaurants etc.
Not only can you chat together and create groups on wechat. You can also post pictures, tag friends, receive promotions, order take-away...even pay and transfer money! And it works without vpn which is a huge advantage compared to e.g Facebook and Messenger. You never hesitate to ask for someone's wechat. It's not invasive. It's just a natural thing to ask for.
And how do we add new contacts? Well if we're in the same room, we simply scan eachother's QR codes and we're friends. From this practice come many a funny conversation. "Do you wanna scan me or shall I scan you"? 😉 If we're not in the same room, we simply search for eachother - like on facebook.
Below: I bid you welcome on my wechat
There are lots of International schools with good reputations in Beijing and our decision to apply for the Western Academy of Beijing was mainly made based on a visit I paid to the school in November 2015. And what convinced me?
The curriculum, the spirit, the student centered focus, the arts, the extremely helpful staff, the parent involvement opportunities - and of course the amazing premises!
So what's not to like? Only the tuition fees! All international schools in Beijing are outrageously expensive! But WAB is a non-profit school.
A typical school day for the kids:
The school bus passes outside our hotel (yes we're still staying here...) at 7.45 and it takes the kids around 20 minutes to get to school. A normal school day starts at 8.30 and ends at 3.15 pm. Middle school and high school students have 8 subjects in total. Each day they have 4 subjects (80 minute lessons) and the following day the other four subjects. The subjects both my sons have are:
Math, English, Chinese, product design, Individuals and societies, PE, film/music and science. For elementary it's slightly different.
Kids can sign up for a variety of great after school activities. They are all free of charge and the list includes: flower making, photography, all sports, film club and arts and crafts. Our son has just signed up for animal dissection :-)
And who are the other students?
Our kids already studied in a wonderful multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment in Belgium but all students were European.
The students at WAB are:
As you can see, all continents are represented - and in a fairly equal way.
WAB offers the International Baccalauréat programme which is not obligatory but the most popular choice for high school students.
A lot is done to guide high school students through the difficult decisions of course selections, university choices and whether in fact the IB is the right solution for them.
Since most students at WAB apply to universities outside China, so-called "destination talks" are held for parents. They offer concrete information about universities and requirements for specific countries/regions. A huge career fair was held last week at the high school. The students could follow work shops and ask professionals about their jobs, what they had studied etc.
Finally some pictures. From the place which, in many ways, is the centre of the universe for our kids.