When we were getting started with Tea, we met Braden & DeNai Jones, the founders of Petunia Pickle Bottom, at a New York trade show. We connected instantly – fellow entrepreneurs building great products for mamas. Emily and I returned to our office in San Francisco to find a (surprise) floral arrangement from our new friends at Petunia! The crush was mutual.
Our paths continued to parallel not only through building our businesses, but also in building our families. Braden & DeNai also have two boys: Sutton (8) and Miller (6); just a year ahead of my two boys! I have enjoyed keeping up with their families these past few years – especially when they packed up their kids and took them to visit their vendor partners in Asia.
Now, it is my turn! Once each year, I travel with a few members of our production team to visit our partners abroad. It just so happened that my husband’s calendar opened up around the time of this year’s trip, so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity for a family vacation! Our boys are very excited about an extra long spring break.
As soon as we started planning the trip, the first call I made was to Braden & DeNai for advice, which was beyond helpful. I felt selfish keeping their suggestions to myself, so read on for the full details of my conversation with the Jones’ and get tips for your own kid-friendly trip abroad.
Leigh: David & I are concerned about jetlag for the kids. It’s one thing for adults because we can just push through as long as we have an extra coffee. But that doesn’t work for kids!
Braden: I try and put the family on a sleep schedule during takeoff to give us a jump on the time zone we are traveling to, before we arrive. That tactic seems to help the boys with jetlag.
Fun things to do in Hong Kong when you aren’t working?
Braden: There are some great activities we do to get the boy’s legs moving; we like the Tian Tan Buddha, we visit the HK Zoo or ride The Peak Tram up the hillside. Ocean Park was a big hit with the boys too. Most of the time we just enjoy walking the streets, exploring temples, and browsing markets and other nook and crannies of the city.
How about the food? My kids like some Asian food, but they tend to rely on their go-to favorites like Pad See Ew and avocado sushi – does that even count as Asian food or sushi for that matter?
DeNai: Our boys usually enjoy trying new foods, but for those times when they aren’t feeling as adventurous, Cup Noodles is always an option. You can get these just about anywhere or bring them with you. I also like to bring granola bars wherever we go as back-up. When I can find western grocery stores, I’ll stock up there on things I know the kids will like.
I’m excited to take our 7-year-old to our factory outside of Bangkok. I can’t wait to show him how clothes are made! Plus, we have known our partners and their families there since Adam was born. I think it will feel like a family reunion! Our partners in Hong Kong have invited my family to join for dinners too. It will be a pretty amazing “take-your-kids-to-work-day”! Any tips?
Braden: Honestly, it’s an amazing experience for everyone. We first brought our boys along so that we could work for several solid weeks without having to be away from them for too long. It’s a very family centric culture, so bringing our kids really enhanced our relationships with our colleagues, friends, factories and staff. The boys join us for work, dinner and entertainment, and our partners love to see Miller and Sutton grow over the years. As hard as it is for them sometimes, I will tip my hat to my boys for being along for the ride and being great sports about it.
The Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Shanghai airports are a lot bigger than San Francisco… Not to mention the number of people and languages! Do you have any practical tips?
Braden: A time saver I suggest, is to grab a stack of Customs Cards (Arrival or Departure forms) and fill them out before you are in the customs line. It’s much easier to focus on keeping the family together when you’re not fumbling with the papers and passports. I also memorized all of the passport numbers, saves time for border access and if you lose a passport.
How about hotel recommendations? Any specific kid-friendly, designer-y hotels? You two always seem to find the perfect stylish hotels!
Braden: Finding a room with multiple beds in HK is hard, but it can be done. Most websites only allow you to add one child (not two) when you make your reservations. I suggest making the reservation with one child and then explaining (with a smile) that you need a hide-a-bed for your second or third child once you arrive. On the Kowloon side we tend to stay at the ICON Hotel. It’s new, modern, has every amenity for a great price. On the Hong Kong side we have stayed at the Hotel LKF right above LAN Kwai Fong. At this hotel you are right on top of the party street, restaurants and activities. Other child-friendly hotels we have visited in Asia are: The Racha Hotel in Phuket, Thailand, the Osaka Hilton in Japan, the Lotte World Hotel in Seoul, South Korea, and the Hotel Majestic in Vietnam.
Tips for packing? We’re gone for more than two weeks and I can’t bear the thought of packing enough clothes for such a long stretch! I’m not worried about clothes for the kids because Tea has that covered! Always easy to mix & match, comfortable and great looking. Next time you go, promise me you will call so I can send some Tea for your boys – I would love to see your Instagram pics with your beautiful sons in some Tea!
DeNai: We always pack a lot of black and gray clothes for the kids because they hide the messes and can easily dress up or down. We tend to bring about four to five days of clothes and use the laundry service at hotels to refresh the selection. We’d love to dress Miller and Sutton in Tea next time!
How about emergency kits? And I mean all types of emergency: medical, long layovers, sleepless nights….
DeNai: I usually pack my Petunia Pickle Bottom Wistful Weekender for traveling. It has plenty of storage space and I have a handful of emergency-type items stored inside for the boys: everything from a thermometer and Dermabond (liquid stitches), to small toys and a travel art set to fight boredom. Oh and Cleanwell hand spray is the best germ spray out there!
You are amazing! Thank you! Such practical, helpful tips. I couldn’t be more excited. Keep an eye on my Instragram! I hope to have lots of pictures to capture what will undoubtedly be a crazy & beautiful trip.
Note: Tea is currently hosting a fun baby sweepstakes, which includes our friends Petunia Pickle Bottom. Please sign up for a chance to win over $3,000 in prizes. Perfect for new mamas!
What Should We See & Do in Thailand and China?
I fell in love with Thailand nearly 15 years ago. My husband and I had a six week trip bopping around Southeast Asia & the South Pacific the summer before we started business school. We visited Buddhist temples and rode elephants and ate our way through the country.
And now we return… with our kids! Maybe it won’t be as romantic, but I have a feeling there will be a ton of falling in love. This time we’ll get to see the Buddhist temples, elephants, and delicious food through the eyes of our 5 & 7 year old boys.
After a week in Bangkok and Hua Hin, we’re heading to China! We’ll visit Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Yangshuo — and we want advice! We have our flights and hotels booked, plus lots of time planned with our beloved Tea vendors. But there is a lot of open time for sight-seeing and digging deeper into the culture.
So please share any must-see sights or must-do activities! I have loved reading through advice on Oh Happy Day and Design Sponge — what other blogs are out there with insider tips, especially with perspective on family travel?
Preparing The Kids For The Experience
I think a lot about preparing my kids for life. Education, manners, planning ahead, keeping an attitude of gratitude, etc, etc. Of course I like to think that I have a huge impact on their lives through all of the thoughtful preparation, but sometimes I admit to myself that I am just here for the ride. Every day is a new world and new discovery for a kid.
I remember my first trip to Manhattan. I arrived via the train, then transferred to the subway with a friend from Long Island. We came up the subway escalator and I just kept looking up and up and up. I was in college and I had seen a thousand pictures of New York, but when I came out of that subway station, I FELT it. I felt the height, the energy, and the life of New York. I was in love to the bone.
So, no matter how many maps and documentaries we show our boys, I have a feeling that I can never fully prepare them for the size, energy, and life of Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Of course I still have to try. So here is the plan (and I welcome your feedback)…
- We have a huge world map on the wall in the boys’ room. That helps a little with the context. At least I think so!
- David found a great documentary from 2008 about China. It is certainly dated and the population numbers are probably 20% higher now, but it is well done and riveting for all four of us. I keep wondering if it is stealing the power of the first impression…. and then I remember my escalator ride up from the subway in NY for the first time.
- Adam takes Mandarin at school four days/week. We are trying to use common phrases for familiarity: thank you, hello, and my name is…
- We order in Thai food regularly. Does that count?
- I’m researching ways the kids can take pictures & blog on their own. Maybe Kidblog.org? I would love to see what pictures and captions they would post. Plus, their friends could write questions and comments, which could create a fun conversation.
- Of course we have to expedite passport renewals. You can see from these pictures that not only are the passports expiring, but the photos are a little out of date!
Traveling with Kids Overseas
I have been asking globetrotting families for advice about the travel itself. Here are the tips I have received so far:
- iPads. How did parents travel before Apple? The trick is that the kids really like to stream videos on Netflix, which won’t be possible for much of our trip. So I need tips on apps–both educational and entertainment. I am just not sure Star Wars Angry Birds will get us from SFO to BKK!
- Adjust clocks when you board the first flight. Easier said than done of course. We depart at 1:45pm which is 4:45am in Bangkok. So do we get on the plane and I try to convince the kids to sleep?? When I fly to Asia each year for work, I usually try to sleep as little as possible so that when I arrive at midnight at the hotel in Bangkok, I can crash — even though my body will think it is 4pm the next day. I’m hoping those iPads are REALLY entertaining.
- Snacks. Snacks are actually the cure to many problems wherever we are! I’ve heard Clif Bars, Tic Tacs, and soy sauce packets have gotten many families through China. Rice is available almost anywhere and with soy sauce, we should be okay.
What else should I keep in mind?
Leave a comment below — I welcome all feedback & suggestions and can’t wait to hear from you!
There is no denying that packing up a household and a family and transporting them across the world is a hardship… but when the destination is Morocco, and you have the good fortune to not just visit but live in this vibrant country there are many more delights than difficulties.
Many people asked us how we would manage with a young toddler in Morocco. It’s true that the usual protections you become used to in the United States (rubber playground floors, clean organic vegetables, etc.) are conspicuously absent in Morocco. But the warmth of the people, towards children in particular, and the wide array of experiences you can expose your child to more than make up for it.
There is so much to choose from… ancient buildings, bustling markets, tanneries, cafes, beaches and more. Here are some of our favorites for kids from our year in Morocco.
The Majorelle Gardens: Marrakech
Marrakech isn’t hot year round, however, the summer is particularly brutal. But even when the thermostat hits 105 in the busy media, the Majorelle Gardens beckon with a promise of cool shade and lots of running space!
When you visit Morocco with a child, particularly a toddler, keeping them off the ground is key given the number of mopeds, donkeys and carts that are competing for the limited alleyway real estate. But in the Majorelle Gardens, it is strictly pedestrians only.
The Gardens were designed by a french expatriate and were loved and owned by famous designer Yves Saint Laurent. It houses various species of plants and birds as well as a museum of Berber Culture. It is a beautiful introduction to Morocco for all ages and a welcome oasis of calm.
The Old Kasbah: Aït Benhaddou
If you want to get up close to the Morocco of legend, then you have to head to Aït Benhaddou. There is something for children of all ages. The little ones will love the (mostly) empty, winding alleys up to the fortress and older ones will be thrilled to know they are standing where the stars have stood since films and series from Gladiator and Game of Thrones have come here for the ancient backdrop. You can even stay in an 11th century mud brick Kasbah (watch out though… no electricity!). The best part of our little one? Your baggage porter is your local obliging donkey. We named him Hercules.
The Clock Cafe: Fes
There is of course no better way to get to know a country than through its cuisine. If you have an opportunity to visit a Moroccan restaurant near you, be sure to indulge in a fragrant Tagine (pressure-cooked, spiced meat dish) and any of the sweets on offer. In Morocco, the best food is to be found in a family home. But one restaurant that came close for us, was the Clock Cafe, deep in the Fes Medina. The Clock has reinvented many traditional dishes and offers menu choices like a camel burger, which is sure to thrill your adventurous eater.
For the more squeamish, there is delicious almond milk, Moroccan salads and other delicacies! Don’t miss out.
Natalia Rankine-Galloway is the founder of CultureBaby; seeking out new global products and hearing from mothers worldwide about how they celebrate culture with their kids. You can read more about her personal adventures at The Culture Mum Chronicles.
We are a family of experienced travelers – having visited more than 20 countries, from Canada to Jordan. On our far-flung jaunts, we enjoy immersing ourselves in the local culture, language and cuisine, experiencing the locals’ lives.
Our latest voyage was our longest – 3 weeks, 7 countries, from Copenhagen south to the D-Day beaches of Normandy and back again. This time, our itinerary was carefully planned with the tastes of our 12-year-old son Michael in mind. Michael, with his zeal for ancient history, medieval weaponry, seafood, and chocolate, and strong opinions to boot, sets the tone for our activities. As always, he did not disappoint.
Leaving Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport in the morning, we began our GPS-aided foray into downtown Copenhagen on an unseasonably warm day. Although temperatures hovered in the high 20s Celsius, low 80s Fahrenheit, the lack of humidity was summer time bliss for us, natives of Washington, D.C.’s sticky suburbs.
Our first stop was Amalienborg Palace, where we enjoyed the sun-splashed morning and jostled with tourists of various nationalities as the changing of the guards unfolded. Soon, our jet lag caught up with us. We craved rest, finding welcome relaxation amidst a fountain and flower garden. Michael inspired our second wind, styling with my Tea Collection FashionABLE scarf.
After our car’s GPS led us astray a few times in the capital city and around Copenhagen’s teeming crowds of bicyclists, we found the Nationalmusset, home of the new Viking exhibition, featuring the Rothskilde 6 – the world’s longest surviving Viking ship. Michael enjoyed the exhibit’s interactive computer program, where he lived the Viking life. Not surprisingly, his pillaging, negotiating, and trading earned him the title of Viking.
After several wonderful days in Denmark, we headed south. Our destination was the Netherlands, through Germany via the Autobahn. While my husband Bruce enjoys life in the 130 plus km/hour lane, I take things a bit slower. After watching dozens of German drivers zip past me on the left, I wanted a break for lunch. Finding an Autobahn rest stop, we toasted each other with German bottled water, cheese, chocolate, and fruit.
The soaring cathedral, marvelous architecture, and canals of Utrecht, Netherlands, warmly welcomed us that evening. Utrecht is a university town, with its share of cyclists admirably navigating the narrow alleys and cobblestone streets. After the bicycle overload of Copenhagen, Michael noted that Utrecht’s two-wheeled denizens were much fewer in number, although no less brazen while driving through pedestrians and forcing cars to avoid them.
Our early morning Utrecht departure was marred by heavy rain. Fortunately, our rainy drive to Ghent, Belgium was short. Michael was excited about Ghent’s 12th century Gravensteen Castle, with its “Museum of Judicial Objects.” These torture instruments, racks, handcuffs, and knives, were used to extract confessions. If no confession flowed from the persuasion, the guillotine awaited. We eyed the castle’s own guillotine, pondering its gory past. As the rain continued pelting us, we found salvation in our hotel and a bag of Belgian chocolates.
Sunshine marked the next morning when we drove to France for nine days. We all eagerly anticipated croissants, baguettes, cheese, and much more.
From our wonderful gîte in Caumont l’Evente, we drove the narrow Norman roads to the magnificent Bayeux Tapestries, cathedrals, abbeys, and chateaux, highlighted by the stunning Chateau de Carrouges and William the Conquerer’s birthplace in Falaise. Everywhere we went, monuments, flags, and markers reminded us of World Wars I and II, and of course, D-Day, June 6, 1944.
My great-uncle from Pennsylvania came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day and was killed in action. Michael wanted to know more about what his ancestor did that day so we visited D-Day beaches, inspected German fortifications, talked about the allied landings, and gazed somberly at the starkly white grave markers of the American military cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer. While walking among the American graves, Michael quietly noticed the number of soldiers killed on D-Day and those who died during the war’s final days.
We topped off our last day in Normandy with a fantastic dinner at Chateau d’Audrieu, a marvelous 18th century abode and a one-star Michelin restaurant. C’est magnifique!
Wrapping up our journey, we headed east, visiting Alsace-Lorraine. Michael enjoyed the many Roman artifacts we saw. While my husband and I marveled at the Roman Empire’s ancient reach, Michael shrugged, assuring us that this was old news to him.
Driving through Germany on the way back to Copenhagen, we stopped in Cologne. There we visited the city’s magnificent cathedral and our priority – the Schokoladenmuseum. Michael loved learning how chocolate was made, enjoying a Willy Wonka-esque sample.
Three weeks later, we returned home with great memories, wine, chocolate, jam, crackers and tea that will keep our trip alive for a long time!
To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).
Tami, one of Tea’s creative guru’s, took a week to herself to indulge in a simple, quieter way of life.
Disclaimer: The observations below are generalizations that could come off as negative stereotypes (which is not my intention) and certainly do not represent China as a whole, but rather, the small sliver of life I’ve been exposed to – from my own naive western perspective, wink.
We are an American family of four living in southern China. I’m often questioned about what my experience is like living here with two young children (they’re 2.5 and 4.5). Is it difficult? Culture shock? How are the kids adjusting? And generally, my answer is something to the tune of we’re great! Surely it’s not because we aren’t confronted with new cultural norms every corner we turn – it’s just that we’re open to them (us by choice, the kids by nature). Chinese culture is just about as far as one can get from American culture, as I see it. These two systems are fundamentally different. One rooted in communism, the other in self-determined, independent democracy. As such, each culture has evolved very different cultural norms – norms that often produce a non-judgmental, furrowed brow.
Before I go on, let me give you a little back-story. The need to understand and experience new cultures is very much part of me. Thus, after I became we and we became three, and then quickly, four, I knew that putting my wanderlust on the shelf wasn’t an option. Our children have been on more planes and trains than I had been on until I was well into my 20’s (though, I’m not so proud of the carbon footprints we’re making for them – a tradeoff I don’t know how to remedy). We’ve taken so many 14-hour flights at this point that I don’t even blink an eye at a 5-hour flight – they know the drill all too well. And so, when my husband was presented with an exciting new job opportunity that meant relocating to China, we [for the most part] gladly accepted.
One of the most spectacular qualities in a child is their ability to adapt and recalibrate to a new normal. I believe that this is because whether they have spent their entire life living on the same street, or have lived a life on the road, their perspective is ALWAYS fresh and ripe for discovery. In this way, as a child, living abroad really isn’t all that different than living in the same house they cried in as a newborn – there will ALWAYS be new discoveries to make and new information to absorb.
Often times, I expect my children to react more profoundly when confronted by new culture, or rather, for them to validate my reaction.
Isn’t it peculiar how everyone pushes and shoves to get on and off the train, with seemingly no acknowledgment of his or her neighbor? Children: isn’t this just how people do it? (Housing more than 1/7 of the world’s population, China’s people have evolved to have little space recognition – out of shear necessity. So unless you’re related, good luck not getting cut in front of getting onto an elevator…7 months pregnant, holding the hand of your two year old child.)
Don’t you find it strange that we’re being served chicken feet as our gratis appetizer? Children: silent while chewing on said chicken foot. (Chicken feet are only one example of the obscure – to me – animal parts people chew on here.)
Holy mother, did that dude just hawk a loogie on the sidewalk next to me? Children: yes mom, yes he did. Wait, what’s a loogie? (Spitting in public spaces is a norm that is on its way out, thankfully.)
If another car tries to cut me off as I cross the street [while holding the hands of two young children – on GREEN], I’m going to cry. Children: Calmate mama, calmate. (Chinese car culture has only just developed over the last few decades and for some reason has evolved as CAR IS KING and pedestrian as road-block, which makes you feel like an ant waiting to be squashed.)
As you see, being from a western culture (and particularly the United States, where personal space and property has very much defined who we are), living in China takes some perspective adjusting – and child rearing is no exception.
On infants: babies are often bundled and wrapped and smothered while outside, as I pass by with a sweat drenched forehead and shorts on – our cleaning lady often gestures her disapproval/concern over our children running around naked in the air-conditioned apartment.
Babies and toddlers are often dressed in splitpants (pants/rompers with a slit up the bum, basically) – to support the Chinese form of Elimination Communication – which they’ve been practicing for, oh, I don’t know, a few hundred more years than us westerners. I’ve been told that older Chinese women see diapers as a sign of lazy parenting.
Most babies are cared for by their maternal grandparents. It warms my heart right up every time I see a grandma carrying her grandchild around in her oh-so-cute matching pajama set. Grandparents care for their grandchildren until they are school age so that the mother is able to work – this way, adults can work in their most productive years (though I could argue that being an at-home-parent/grandparent is the more difficult position).
On young children: most evenings you can find kids playing outside until 9 or 10pm and then up ready for school and out the door by 8am – our kids are in bed by 8pm and we’re lucky if we’ve remembered to put on underwear when the little lady leaves for school at 9am. The main reason for this is because it’s a sub-tropical, most often hot and humid environment, so being active at night just makes sense.
Children are served mostly warm beverages because it is thought to be better for digestion (adults also most often abide by this rule) and kids drink formula until they’re well into their toddler years – our kids are regularly offered warm milk at restaurants and brought warm water – our two year old has learned to be clear that he wants bing – cold, water.
On car seats: they don’t exist. Well, rarely. Because a Grandparent most often accompanies the parents, someone is always in the back of the car to hold the child. My first Chinese friend had such a hard time imagining me out and about by myself driving with two children.
On school: kindergarten starts at age 2.5 and often times even earlier. And we’re talking Monday through Friday, from 830 to 4. Which basically makes it daycare, but it’s not, it’s very much “school”. The fact that I still have an almost 3 year old at home with me is strange.
On TWO blonde children, only two years apart: The phrase, liang ge! – translated, simply means 2! I’ve heard this short phrase iterated with exhuberence upwards of a thousand times since we arrived in China. Though we do hear it while the kids are scampering about, nothing brings in the liang ge’s! like strolling down the road (or through a tourist site) with a Phil and Teds double stroller filled with two blond-haired children who are often mistaken as twins. The kids are beckoned for photo op’s with strangers on a daily basis. We’ve considered doing a little social experiment and setting up shop at a touristy location and charging 5 Chinese Yuan per photo – we think we could make at least 500 Yuan in a few hours. I’d say that the kids are agreeable 60% of the time – they’ve made it into thousands of travel albums at this point.
On mothering and life: kids and houses are kept IMPECCABLE, yet you very much get the feeling that a staff infection could be picked up on every street corner. A perfect example of this happened right in front of me recently – a young girl was told to pee right in the middle of the side-walk, but her mother/caregiver was sure to pull out a tissue and wipe her afterwards (if that had been me, it would have been dirt, with no wiping,). I’m in NO way a germaphobic mom. My kid’s fingernails are regularly found dirty and I’m only good about washing hands after climbing around at playgrounds half of the time. And then we moved to China. Now, their fingernails are actually clean most of the time and I don’t go anywhere without hand sanitizer. However, they are often found with food spattered faces and I can’t tell you how often a Chinese woman pulls out a tissue to do the job for me.
In the same regard, children are doted on by their caregivers like flies on horse poop. I’ve learned to just politely smile, rather than mumble a snide remark, when a woman clearly perceives my lack of hand holding as neglect. My kids are jumpers and can regularly be found dismounting off of four or five stairs; when this act is witnessed by a Chinese woman, it looks to cause the skip of a heart beat – but is almost always followed up with a warm, giggly smile.
Nannies and cleaning ladies are the norm (they are called ayi’s – translated, means Auntie). Before moving here I had NEVER paid anyone to help clean my house. In China, just like most other developing places, labor is cheap and so everyone, foreigner and Chinese alike, take advantage of the affordable help. Most families I know have full time help, 6 days a week. It is normal to see a mom out walking her baby in a stroller, with an ayi by her side (and, sometimes, a grandparent as well). Though I still have a bit of a guilty complex surrounding it, we do have an ayi who helps clean three days a week, three hours a day – and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty amazing.
We live in a very international apartment compound (roughly 50% foreigners, 50% Chinese), with expats from all over the world. Because of this, there are restaurants, bars and grocery stores that cater to foreign tastes and make the area feel much less China-like. For us, being here is largely about experiencing the culture and so we try to walk beyond our perimeter as often as we can – which only means walking a few blocks. A short stroll from our apartment and we could find ourselves in a variety of culturally interesting locations: a make-shift fish market, where you can buy live fish directly out of small plastic tubs. A variety of seafood restaurants, with fish proudly being displayed in tanks outside – the kids treat them as their own personal aquarium EVERY time we pass one – which could occur up to four times in one walk – it’s a regular battle to get them to move on. Or a wet-market, where sides of pig, fresh tofu (available in 10 different forms), and live chickens, make for a true dazzling of the senses.
A morning stroll may take us past a few dozen people doing Tai Chi, a group of men sitting around a table drinking tea and playing Mahjong, or to a restaurant to eat food that we are only accustomed to eating for dinner. An evening stroll often finds us passing large groups of women dancing (for exercise) in a courtyard, kids in roller-blading lessons (we didn’t realize that people did this anymore) on a random sidewalk, and small groups formed serenading the park with their music. Here, rather than turning on the television after dinner, people go outside – which is so refreshing coming from the United States.
Our 4.5 year old daughter attends a Chinese Montessori school and our 2.7 year old son will start later this fall. Our hope is that when it comes time to leave, we’ll all have a firm grasp of the language (Mandarin) that we can take with us wherever we’re headed next. As time passes, I’m sure that we’ll all culturally recalibrate and before we know it, we’ll be cutting in the train line and encouraging our kids to pop a squat in (or around) the street – OH WAIT, we already do – we’ll see about spitting and chewing on chicken feet.
Experiencing and sharing the world with our children is a priority for us – adventuring together, learning together, and broadening our perspectives together. My hope is that our children will grow up open to and understanding of new cultures, ready to embrace and be stewards of the vast, beautiful, and magical world around them.
Lauren writes about family travel and muses about motherhood at safariRoo.
We have been traveling as a family since the kids were really small. I want them to see everything and I want them to be curious about the world we live in. Most of all, I want them to know who they are.
This last trip we took was really important because we decided to take my guys to meet my mother’s family in Japan.
After a 9 hour plane ride and almost as many hours on trains we arrived in Kochi, a little town on the island of Shikoku in the south of Japan.
My guys were a little nervous at first. Who were all these people?
But here we were in the very place my mom lived until she was about their age. And it was pretty magical seeing it all through their eyes.
We visited some neat sites; an old castle, the bustling Harume market and a famous little bridge.
We also stopped by a beautiful shrine perched high on a cliff on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from where we live now. The boys were amazed that the same ocean touched this beach and the beach near our house.
My favorite moment was walking the road between my grandpa and grandma’s family homes, realizing how close their families lived to one another in this little town; watching my kids run with glee.
Why on earth did my grandpa and grandma leave all this and move to North America so many years ago?
We traveled back up north to see the boat my mom journeyed to Canada on with her little sister and my grandma. The Hikara Maru is now a museum in Yokohama Japan.
Traveling with all our luxuries now: cell phones, laptops, ipads and easy commercial air travel I realize how brave my grandmother was traveling alone across rocky seas to a foreign land with two small children in tow.
“Do you know that my grandma came to Canada on this boat?” I overhear one of my guys telling the other.
“So did mine!” his brother says.
And so did mine.
I’m so glad we made this journey. In trying to help my kids figure out who they are, I’m learning so much about myself.
To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).
Esther, who handles catalogs and emails here at Tea, traveled with her family to Germany to catch up with relatives.
Every summer, my husband and I take our kids (now 8 and 7) to Germany to visit our families. The kids always look forward to seeing their Omas and Opas, aunts, uncles and cousins in Bonn and Cologne. It is important to us that our children are immersed in the culture of their parents’ native country, that they get to experience German traditions and learn to appreciate the similarities and differences between countries and cultures.
Every year while in Europe, we go on little adventures. We have taken the children on quick trips to Paris, Brussels and Berlin. Always by train – their favorite means of transportation. The ICE train travels at up to 300 km/h (186 mph). It often runs parallel to the freeway and the children love being faster than the cars – especially when there is no speed limit on a particular stretch of Autobahn!
On German trains, children under 15 ride free when traveling with an adult. During the summer months, there are special kids’ tickets, which can be exchanged for goodies on the train. In the past two years, children received a free Popsicle. This year, the goodies were a coloring book, colored pencils and a toy ICE train.
Our 2013 adventure took us to Nuremberg, where we strolled through the old streets, marveled at the medieval castle and its almost fully intact wall (with moat!), and enjoyed the local specialty of Nürnberger Rostbratwurst. To satisfy the children’s need for playtime, we went to the Playmobil FunPark, adjacent to the original Playmobil factory.
On the way back to Cologne, we opted against the high-speed ICE trains and chose to take the scenic route through the picturesque Rhine Gorge instead. If you asked my kids, they would say it’s “the river with all the castles”. They don’t understand the meaning of UNESCO World Heritage Site yet.
The train ride along the Rhine Gorge also took us past the Lorelei. This rock soars high above the water where the Rhine is at its narrowest. A strong current and rocks just below the waterline have caused many boats to sink here. Our children of course wondered why I was taking a picture of a rock. I told them the legend of the Lorelei, who sits on the cliff, brushing her golden hair, singing an enchanting melody, distracting shipmen and causing them to crash on the rocks. I’m sure someday they will understand the beauty of the poem.
As we were getting off the train in Cologne, the kids asked what our adventure is going to be next year. That’s when we knew we had done something right.
As a 7-year Beijing resident, I’m so excited to share more about discovering the best of the city that was the inspiration for Tea’s Fall/Winter 2013 Collection.
As Emily mentions in her introduction to the Fall/Winter Collection destination inspiration, “China is so big it’s hard to take it all in. The cities are huge, the palaces are massive…” which both the Busy Beijing Tee and the Traffic Jam Pajamas illustrate pretty well.
To take away any intimidation of visiting this great city, I’m thrilled to point you to the best kept secrets and hidden gems of what makes Beijing such an exciting and special place to visit.
Obviously, you want to make sure you visit Beijing’s greatest hits: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City Palace Museum, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace. If you have private transportation sorted out and a great guide to help you make the most of your time in each place, you could easily discover all of those sites in two days.*
For culturally curious families who want to experience the best that Beijing has to offer, however, you’ll want to leave enough time to explore the off-the-beaten path sites and experience the city like a local.
Exploring Beijing’s Ancient Hutong Neighborhoods
The most important and locally unique activity you must save time to do is wandering through Beijing’s ancient hutong neighborhoods. Many of these historical neighborhoods have been torn down to make way for new modern developments, but a good number still remain in the city center.
A hutong literally means “alley,” and the hutong neighborhoods are labyrinths of alleys connecting Beijing’s traditional courtyard homes. In addition to homes, the hutongs house many different local businesses. Recently there has even been an upsurge in hip cafes, restaurants, and boutiques located in hutongs.
Wandering hutong neighborhoods, you can see residents living an integrated community street lifestyle that has been part of Beijing’s unique rhythm and spirit for centuries. You will see elderly residents playing mah jong, chatting outside while neighborhood kids play in the alleys, and various local vendors biking by, shouting the wares they sell.
Some of the most fun hutong neighborhoods to wander through are the ones surrounding the Drum and Bell Tower or the Lama Temple.
Vibrant Early Morning Park Culture
Early Beijing park culture is one of the most fun and unique experiences for visitors. Each morning, Beijing’s parks are vibrantly buzzing with activity like group tai qi, elderly men congregating with their caged bird pets, water calligraphy on the pavement, and women’s exercise groups.
One of the best parks to visit is Ritan Park in the Embassy District. Ritan Park is one of Beijing’s four ancient altar parks where the Emperor would go annually to make the appropriate sacrifices and rituals that would ensure peace and prosperity. Positioned symmetrically throughout Beijing–north, south, east, and west of the Forbidden City–Ritan Park is the sun altar park on the east.
The sun altar is still there, but nowadays you are more likely to find locals flying kites in the altar than stumble upon an imperial ceremony. Handpainted kite-making is a local craft, and taking the family to fly kites with locals in the ancient sun altar would be a great family memory and iconic Beijing experience.
China’s Hot Contemporary Art Scene
China is not only a wonderful place to discover ancient history and culture but also a place alive with modern energy, creativity, and exuberance.
In the last few decades, China’s contemporary art scene has exploded on the international art stage. A great place to take the family to explore Chinese contemporary art is the 798 Art District, the inspiration for Tea’s Modern Dot Bubble Dress.
798 Art District used to be an old industrial factory complex located between the city center and the airport. Local Chinese artists started moving into the abandoned factories to create studios and galleries slowly followed. Now what you have is a full blown art district with many of the world’s top art galleries present.
798 is huge, with lots of open spaces to run through and outdoor art and sculptures for kids to play on. Among all the galleries, cafes, and shops in 798, you don’t want to miss Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA). UCCA is a great museum built by dedicated contemporary Chinese art collectors that also has many kid-friendly and kid centered activities.
Nearby, Caochangdi (not walkable, you need a car or taxi) has more galleries and studios with a lot less visitors than 798. If you go to Caochangdi, don’t miss the beautiful Three Shadows Photography Center, which is the premier spot to discover contemporary Chinese photography exhibitions.
As Tea notes in their Destination Inspiration introduction, China is an enchanting land of contrasts and we are sure you will have a memorable time discovering the fascinating city of Beijing where the energetic optimism Tea noted is palpable and a fascinating combination of ancient and modern awaits your adventures.
*For help designing customized private itineraries with local experts who have experience guiding young families visiting Beijing for the first time, I recommend contacting Stretch-a-leg Travel.
Another great resource for visiting families is http://www.beijing-kids.com/ and the related free publication, Beijing Kids, you can find in restaurants and cafes around town.
Charlene Wang is a 7-year Beijing resident who runs Tranquil Tuesdays, a Beijing-based Chinese social enterprise dedicated to showcasing China’s finest teas and rich tea culture. To learn more about discovering Chinese tea, teaware, and design please visit www.tranquiltuesdays.com