When we moved to China, my husband and I had a clear agreement. We were not going to buy a car! We'd seen it on the news, heard it from friends; Beijing is a congested, polluted city, the subway is fantastic, the taxis are cheap as chips, Uber is even cheaper, it's a bike-friendly city, you can hire a driver for the day to go outside the city, the kids take the school bus - ok you get it? no need to buy a car!!
The first couple of months in Beijing, we were still convinced that owning a car was absolutely unnecessary! Everything was easy by taxi - and when our bikes arrived on the container in March, a whole new and beautiful world opened up to us!
So this is when I defend the undefendable decision I guess?
Around May/June I started warming up to the idea of buying a car. It's true that 80% of the time, I felt no need but there were situations where I found myself thinking "right now it would be convenient to have a car".
There are 5 people in our family. When going out all of us, we needed 2 taxis. Slight inconvenience. Ok you're not convinced?
Grocery shopping: There is a good western supermarket very close to where we live - and they deliver BUT it's overpriced and sometimes it's nice to go to the big supermarket and buy in bulk, Not always ideal to be in the middle of the street with a number of carrier bags, trying to get a taxi.
Get the picture? Add an ironing board and floor mop to the carrier bags if it helps....
School: Yes, the kids do take the school bus to and from school but I felt that I might be able to be slightly more active at school if I go there whenever I want, It's about 10K from our apartment.
Rain: Recently I found myself with our niece Margherita who was visiting from Italy. It rained all day one day and we wanted to go to the market, go to a lunch place I like and I wanted to treat her to getting her nails done. Well from waiting for taxis under the rain and going to 3 different parts of the city, we came back soaked in the afternoon. "Ok you've lived 13 years in Belgium and a bit of rain scares you'??
Ok WHO AM I KIDDING?
We didn't NEED the car. We bought it because it offers freedom. I love my bike but I also love the freedom behind the wheel! Want to go somewhere NOW? A nice day trip outside the city? Pick up guests from the airport and pay them that extra service? A luxury, I know but YOLO as they say!
Meet our old Volvo
We agreed that a used car would be perfectly fine! So we bought - well a very used car. A Volvo S80 from 2003. 100.000 kilometres already but in perfect condition. In fact, back in the day it was a luxury car. Automatic transmission, leather seats, car phone (museum object nowadays), TV (which works!), DVD player and even a fridge. All well looked after by the Swedish embassy where it was used for official visits etc.
So yes. We contribute to the pollution and we're not too proud about that. But honestly - the ol' Volvo was a good decision. You can see pictures of "her" (and our first self-drive family trip to the Thousand Mountains scenic area) in the gallery below.
Did you know that?
It's normally not that simple for foreigners to buy a car in Beijing! You must enter a lottery to buy a licence plate. Also, there is normally a test to sit in order to get your foreign drivers licence converted. Furthermore, in an attempt to limit traffic, there are rules about which number plates can circulate on which days. Many expats who work in the private sector in Beijing have a "package" that includes a car and private driver. We don't - but as diplomats we are exempt from the above rules and could therefore buy a car.