When it comes to getting around in Beijing, I find that one tends to become more and more courageous as the months and years go by.
When we were new to the city, hailing a taxi and praying that we’d be able to communicate with the driver, was hard enough. Then our bikes arrived from Europe and we launched ourselves into the madness of Beijing traffic on two wheels. By then, we were still convinced that buying a car was a silly idea - yet in October 2016, the ol’ Volvo became part of our lives.
Transport is not a problem in Beijing. You can always get from A to B quite easily. When we want to avoid traffic, we take the subway. When we want to sit back and relax, we order a Didi (private taxi), biking feels like the most natural way of commuting and when we move as a family - especially outside the city, we take the car. However, in a city of 25 million inhabitants, there are situations where you need to get somewhere quickly and avoid traffic at the same time. Where the subway would seem like the ideal solution, you often have to walk far within the stations to change lines.
So I went and got myself a scooter. Or rather; my husband made the final decision for me and surprised me on my birthday with a brand new Niu. One of China's most popular electric scooter brands.
Here it is. Goes up to 40 K/hour, can drive up to 50 K on a full battery, is completely silent (which can be dangerous as cyclists can't hear me and we share the same bike lane). But all in all an extremely convenient way of getting around Beijing.
(Published by Global Times, Metro Beijing section on 19 April 2018)
What do you do when you have an important decision to make? You may choose to ask your friends and relatives for advice, weigh your options on your own or perhaps make a list of pros and cons. But one Beijing based family took to an untraditional method when it was time for them to decide whether to leave Beijing – and where to.
Victoria and Sam have been in Beijing for 3 years together with their two children aged 8 and 6. In early 2018, they had to decide whether to stay in Beijing, move back to America – or consider a third option. “Identifying your criteria for a happy life is never easy” says Victoria “so we had to think of a way that would allow us to take everything into consideration”. When the family moved to Beijing – their first posting abroad – they thought they would be moving back to New Jersey when the contract ended but as it became clear that there were other options, deciding where to go after Beijing was no longer that easy. When Sam suggested basing their decision on an algorithm, Victoria was slightly sceptical at first but the couple agreed that such a pragmatic approach was worth a try. “We used an excel spreadsheet to write down possible options of where to live and criteria that were important to us. As simple as that” she smiles. They considered the school for their children, family spirituality (the ability to practise their Christian faith), finances, work opportunities, personal safety, health – and finally contact with the middle eastern culture (Sam was born in Egypt and Victoria has Palestinian roots). They looked at options for potential places to live and the places they put on the list were Princeton (New Jersey, US), Bayonne (New Jersey, US), Shanghai, Arab countries, Virginia (US) and finally staying in Beijing.
On a scale from one to five, Beijing scored highest on a number of areas such as family unity (dynamics and quality time), personal safety, finances, career and convenience of life. At the same time, it scored lowest on family spirituality and the contact with the middle eastern culture. Shanghai got the exact same score as Beijing. Although moving to an Arabic country may have brought the family closer to their roots and religion, personal safety as well as finances and career would have been a concern in that part of the world. The family knew the quality of life would be fairly high in both Virginia and Bayonne, New Jersey and although the race between the two locations was close, Bayonne ended up with the highest score. A winner had been found. But home may very well be where the heart is – and not where the spreadsheet says it is. The family has decided to move to Princeton instead. Interestingly enough, Princeton was the family’s base before they moved to China. They are about to move back to the house they own there and in many ways, they will take up where they left off. Victoria and Sam could very well become trendsetters for their out-of-the-box approach but in a time of technology, algorithms and big data, the formula for a happy family life may lay in our gut instinct and our emotional connections after all.
Thank you to our lovely friends and neighbours Victoria and Sam! We will miss you - but see you in Princeton ;-)