The first week of October is a national holiday in China. And the beach is still more comfortable than the British Columbian beaches, lakes and rivers I grew up swimming in. We just spent a whole day body surfing, building sand castles and catching crabs with another foreign family (because our Chinese friends won’t come to the beach in October). I could hardly believe it was October. The view from our tent:
During sānfú (三伏), the 30-40 days of official hotness according to the lunar calendar, we don’t have to invite our Chinese friends to the beach on weekends; they’ll invite themselves. But in May and for most of September we have to go with foreign friends, because our Chinese friends are unlikely to come. Nevermind how the weather is on a particular day, it’s just not the right time of year. On Oct 1 there were still lots of Chinese families on the beach, but nearly 100% of the Chinese kids were in long sleeves, long pants, and double layers. It was only the seven foreign kids who were allowed to go swimming.
Our giant sand castle usually draws a nominal amount of attention, but stick a naked blond 2-year-old on top (not pictured) and it’s like lighting a candle in the middle of a dark room. His parents were super tolerant though, and the castle was big enough that people mostly kept their distance.
Once the weather gets too cold for Canadian families to spend Saturdays at the beach, we’ll take our Saturdays to the local mountains for day hikes and picnics. And when it’s too cold for that, there are large local parks for the kids to run around in. It’s really only the dead of winter in Qingdao when you have to try hard to not get cabin fever.
If you’re a foreign family in Qingdao, it’s understandable if the thought of spending a summer day at the beach makes you twitch. I mean, come on, it’s July in Qingdao; who’s gonna march their little yangwawas through the middle of this?
Your kids already get more than enough attention on a normal day from the relatively cosmopolitan, local Qingdao urbanites. But throwing them into the middle of a beach that’s packed with domestic tourists like a boiling pot of jiaozi ? That’s just cruel and unusual. And that’s why we know long-term, well-enculturated, fluent-in-Chinese families here who simply don’t do the beach at all.
But when it comes to our family, we’re a little more desperate. Not swimming outdoors in the summer would be… we might as well all be in summer school. So we’ve tried numerous things over the last four years, attempting to make the beach worthwhile. And I think we’ve pretty much got it down. Behold! This is us, on the beach in Qingdao, in July:
Where are all the people? Why isn’t there a ring of photographers around your little blond, curly-haired children? How is it that I can see where the sand ends and the water begins? Over the last few years we’ve distilled a few tricks, like our particular place and times, and the result is that photo (four of those seven bodies are us). We do this nearly every Saturday in not-cold weather from June to September.
A “successful” beach day for us isn’t perfect, of course. On the day that photo was taken I had to politely turn away two requests for photos with our kids, and passive-aggressively angle-out photo attempts from two other people. Drawing a circle around our tent and sandcastle works as an effective barrier on about 95% of the people who pause to look, meaning only one person all day stepped over it to try and get their kid to stand next to ours for a photo (this is pretty much always a domestic tourist from an inland village or small town, where social norms are different). Most passersby don’t stop to look, but those who do merely stand outside the circle for a moment before moving on. An ATV drove up once to check us out. But that’s all in 5+ hours at the beach, which imo is a very reasonable amount of attention to tolerate as a foreign family in a wannabe 2nd-tier Chinese city.
You can see less-successful beach attempts from summers past here:
I’m on my third Chinese gym in three years. The first one got kicked out by the landlord (and didn’t refund the remainder of our membership fees). The second one operated with no electricity for over a month before the management suddenly locked the doors and disappeared (and didn’t refund the remainder of our membership fees).
But my third and current Chinese gym has Chairman Mao speaking English:
I was sold.
It was also the cheapest by far of my remaining options.
But it turns out this quote from some calligraphy by Chairman Mao in 1952 is famous, and was used in propaganda posters:
Sure, we cry too much about the air pollution. But this one’s darkly humourous, I promise.
I routinely ask the oldest classes, “How’s the weather?” while pointing out the windows. And they automatically take a glance and usually reply, “IT’S SUNNY!!!” (“Sunny” is their favourite. But they can do cloudy, raining, windy, snowing, hot, and cold, too.)
So today I ask them. They glance out the windows. “IT’S…” A couple weak “sunny”s peter out among the 30 students. They can’t tell if it’s sunny or cloudy.
Because even though it’s bright outside, THEY CAN’T SEE THE BLOOMIN’ SKY. There are no clouds, but it’s all grey, and where’s the sun?
Later I check, and every air quality monitoring station in the city is maxed out at 500:
Below 50 is “good”. At 100 we close all our windows and turn on all the DIY home air purifiers. At 300 the preschool cancels all its outdoor activities.
Half-way up one of the many paths on Qingdao’s Fushan mountain.
We do this hike with our 4-year-old, but it’s tricky in spots. The dirt roads are actually really slippery and steep in places, and that makes it tedious (and a little dangerous) for the little people.
Our friends were recently apartment shopping. All the best deals were near this local mountain. But the husband’s father wouldn’t let them buy near the mountain because it’s covered in graves.
In addition to the thousands of graves sprinkled all over the mountain, the local authorities have created a formal graveyard and erected communal areas for burning paper offerings to the ancestors, rather than have every family burn paper at each grave on the mountain. We pass multiple fire hazard signs every time we hike here. Tomb Sweeping Festival is next weekend.