compound living (january 28, 2011)

The last of the furniture we bought our very first day in Beijing arrived today. That, plus a few more expeditions to Ikea, and our house is starting to feel like a home! Although, not a very well constructed home.  When John had his first shower a big chunk of tile fell on him and every time we open a closet door the knob comes off in your hand. Several of the doors don’t shut and the wind blows through the windows.

We live in one of a series of gated communities. Our compound is called Yosemite, and its east border is across the street from the boy’s school, very convenient!  It is divided into three areas.  We live in the Spanish or B section.  I have no idea who thinks it is Spanish… I have certainly never seen anything like it in Spain.  All the houses are vaguely alike, and pretty big. Everything is planned… a tree every 5 metres, a garbage can every 100 metres, and between every garbage can is a mushroom shaped sign telling you to keep your dog on a leash or to pick up after him.  No one but me actually does.

There are guards on every corner. I am not sure why…. Maybe it’s dangerous, but I don’t think so.   Maybe it makes people feel more secure.  They make Chowder jumpy! I practice my Chinese on them. There are hundreds of maintenance people, sweeping, trimming, and wandering around.  I practice on them too.

Everything is khaki coloured.  The houses, the bushes, the grass, even the evergreens are kind of khaki coloured. It is very cold and very dry. Dusty. But no snow.  Or rain.  The only exception to this monotone expanse is right in front of the sales office of the compound.  Here are pots filled with poinsettias, beds full of grape hyacinths and yellow flowers at the base of all the trees.  They are bright, cheerful, plastic and a bit odd.  Chowder has left his mark on each and every one of them.  I think the guards want to tell him off, but are a bit scared.

New compounds are being built everywhere around us.  More traditional communities are being moved or just destroyed to make room for them.  Surprisingly, they are not just for expats.  As China is getting wealthier, this is where, and how, everyone wants to live. I sometimes feel like I am caught in the “Truman Show” or some Sci Fi movie.  It is not unpleasant, just a bit strange.

Lots of people have been asking what I think Amy Chau’s book about the Chinese tiger mother.  What I am sensing here is that most Chinese think it is an outdated style of parenting.  They realize it takes more than just great marks to be successful and that universities and employers are looking for well-rounded individuals with strong interpersonal and communicating skills. There is a huge demand for places in the international schools.  You have to hold a foreign passport in order to enroll, but many wealthy Chinese are getting second passports from countries that will give citizenship to large investors. Clever parents seem to be taking the best from both systems and traditions. I can’t help wonder if my kids have a hope given their Canadian/American/UK golden retriever mother. O well, at least they will have lots of experiences!