A great opportunity opened to our family. My husband and I are working in projects in which China collaboration is included. It is challenging for a mom to leave her family for two weeks so we came into conclusion of taking the kids with us. Our decision became even easier since my colleague in Tampere University of Technology also has collaboration plans in Nanjing. Inspired by our joint plans, also she decided to take her family and travel to China with us. We took a babysitter with us, and we would have 3 kids who can entertain each other.
Many colleagues were a bit surprised about our decision to take the kids for a long travel since they are 2 and 4 years old, and my colleague’s son is 3. I was most afraid of the flight and time difference. They were a challenge, especially the time difference which made the first days full of angry wining kids… and parents. However, we made it. A lesson learned: Do not leave any work for the flight if you have kids with you. Luckily I am a person who prepares everything in advance.
It has been relatively easy to combine business and pleasure. The Chinese working days are so long that there’s a possibility to make flexible days, like go to lunch with family in the middle of the day and then continue in meetings at the evening. We were also asked to take the kids in some places, like in a high school for people heading abroad for studies. We were having a presentation about Finnish education and research. However, they wanted to have the kids at the end of the lecture, as examples of Finnish people, and the kids stole the show! In general, I felt that bringing the kids after meetings or lectures made us more human.
“I felt that bringing the kids after meetings or lectures made us more human.
It is nice that Chinese people are punctual what comes to time. All the meetings have started on time as planned. However, the schedule may change one day before meeting which makes it difficult to plan the days in advance. You also have to take some extra time for travelling and unexpected “Chinese fuzz”. It is not rare the taxi driver is taking you to a wrong campus or train station. Long car travels allow plenty of time for frustrating hyper energetic children for fighting and crying, and standing on the car seats, since not all cars have safety belts. The traffic, really, is scary here.
Accessibility issues are from our point of you the biggest challenge. We have two baby carriages + the luggage. We have been in Shanghai, Changzhou and now on Nanjing. In the train station there’s no elevator (or there’s one but not in all the places where we needed to go). Also most of the signs are in Chinese. Now I really get to experience how it feels to be disabled, unable to read and stuck with the kids and luggage in the train station with only a couple of minutes before the train comes. Luckily we ran into a western lady living in China. She helped us, as she had been in the same situation.
“In general there is huge benefit of travelling in China with the kids
In general there is huge benefit of travelling in China with the kids: the Chinese do like children, and they adore small children with blond hair. We have been like celebrities. People are following us and taking pictures, especially in Changzhou where there are less tourists. It is also quite secure to travel by foot, since in case of a crime there is always this fun club to witness it. Also the subway stations are relatively clean and safe due to constant supervision.
My kids have been given small gifts and a lot of loving smiles and touches. However, this is not so nice when the children are acting bad. The fun club probably does not want to see angry mom screaming at these “lovely western almost god-like babies”. Once a lady gave my younger daughter a Barbie to calm her down? Well, you don’t give gifts for bad behavior.
The infrastructure is not ideal for walking with baby carriages, and there are no playgrounds like in Finland. Some good restaurants though have very nice child parks with a babysitter and also video. The parents can eat and have lunch meetings and at the same time watch their kids from a tablet. This we must bring to Finland!
In general, this trip has been worth it. My children have been enjoying the attention, gifts and pretty desserts, and we have managed to make a lot of progress from the research collaboration point of view. We are now much richer in mind. This country is mystic. You never know what happens in China!
Text: Sari Merilampi
Photos: Sari Merilampi & Antti Koivisto