Welcome to our blog! Let us start with the obvious: yes, this is one of those blogs (there are thousands of them out there!) where families describe their unique adventures in a foreign country. In this particular case, this blog is an attempt to document our six month stay in Beijing (roughly from February till August of 2013). There will be postings about cultural shock, our adventures trying to find an apartment and a school for the kids, pictures of the food we eat, the places we visit, and probably more pictures of our kids than you may care to see. We do not claim to have any particular insight or wisdom on what we post (about China, Beijing, its people, its culture)…it is just our experience after all.
Pam and I will both be posting things here so you will get to see our, sometimes, different perspectives on daily life in China.
Pam and Manu
I guess it is standard to say something about yourself in this section in case someone who doesn’t know us stumbles (probably by mistake, so apologies in advance) onto this site. My name is Manuel Lopez and I am a graduate student in the religious studies department at the University of Virginia. I am in Beijing with my family working on my dissertation research (I’ll spare you the details of it but let’s say I spend a lot of time in 10th century Tibet). Although I am originally from Spain, I have been living all over the place for almost fifteen years studying Tibetan Buddhism: two years in Tibet and two years in the States where I pursued an MA in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, between 2003 and 2008 my wife and lived in Kathmandu, Nepal while we co-directed the SIT Study Abroad Tibetan and Himalayan Studies program that took us all over the Himalayas (India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan) exploring Tibetan culture with undergraduate students. At the very end of 2008 we came back to the States where I am trying to finish my Ph.D., which brings us back to Beijing and why we are writing this blog.
I know that people usually also add to the profile some interesting personal facts. I wish I had a “thing” I could say about myself, like I like to cook Senegalese food, or that I founded an NGO that works with grassroots organizations in India, or that I play the banjo, but I am afraid that besides reading and watching movies and a few TV shows, I am not all that interesting (I will work on it, I promise).
WordPress recommends to have a goal for your blog, a mission of sorts. I am not sure we have one. On my side, I think this is a journal of sorts, in which we can keep track of our daily life in China, a journal that our kids can look back on in the future and see (hopefully) what it was like to live and study in China, even if it was only for six months.
I’ve always loved to travel. My first time outside the country was when I was fifteen and my family lived together in Cardiff, Wales for seven months, while my father, a professor, led a study abroad program. I mapped out plans for us to visit different castles every weekend, loved our visits to London, and couldn’t get enough of traveling throughout the U.K. When I applied for my first credit card during my freshman year in college and with it got two very inexpensive vouchers to travel anywhere in the continental U.S., I made my first two trips to California within the year. And when I considered where to spend an undergrad semester studying abroad, I knew I didn’t want a “normal” European experience, but instead spent my senior fall on a Tibetan Studies program in India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Having grown up (Hamilton, NY) and gone to college (Trinity College in Hartford, CT) on the East Coast, I moved to the S.F. Bay Area after I graduated, where I lived for almost six years before moving to Charlottesville, VA for grad school in History of Religions with a Tibetan Buddhism focus at the University of Virginia (UVa). While I earned an M.A. (and did much of my Ph.D. coursework), I had the chance to return to Asia to study language during the summers, so went one year to India and two years to Lhasa, Tibet. During the first summer in Tibet I met my future husband, Manuel (Manu) Lopez, from Barcelona, Spain, who was coming off two years of studying language on his own in China and Tibet and was about to start grad school in the same program I was in at UVa.
In January 2003 Manu and I began co-directing the same semester abroad program I’d done as an undergrad (SIT Study Abroad). For six years we were based in Kathmandu, Nepal, but never spent more than about six weeks in one place, as our transnational program moved throughout India, Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan (in large part dependent upon the current geopolitical situation). During those years we spent portions of our time off in both Spain and the U.S., but also visited Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Fiji, and Ghana. For over two years we co-directed the program with our firstborn daughter, Sophia (now 6), in tow.
Then we had our second child, a boy, Dylan (almost 4), and returned to Charlottesville for Manu to finish his Ph.D. Since July 2009 we’ve been leading a comfortable life in Virginia and have made some great friends. We do fun, local activities together as a family most weekends and the kids have settled into a comfortable school routine. We also had our third baby, a girl, Isabel (1.5), who was born outside in a birthing tub in the backyard of our townhouse. Our life had a certain predictability and comfortableness to it with our spacious townhouse, great weather, a Honda Odyssey, and lots of fresh air and parks.
While we always knew that 2012-13 would be Manu’s research year, where he’d be required to spend time abroad, the prospect of our whole family picking up and moving to Asia had become somewhat less appealing to me. Where was my adventurous spirit with an insatiable appetite for travel? The realities of lugging around 3 young kids and their stuff in less than optimal conditions seemed too tiring to even envision and I struggled with the tension in myself that half-dreaded all the energy it would take to relocate to China.
But, here we are now in Beijing, in our 18th floor apartment overlooking Minzu University, where Manu is a visiting student. The two older kids will start Chinese kindergarten in March and I’ll be spending my days with Isabel navigating the city and trying to learn some Chinese, working on a couple of Nia routines, and co-writing a blog with Manu. Although it isn’t always easy to move around with the three kids, living here already has both Manu and me exhilarated and we feel very fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to live in Beijing, while giving our children a chance to live in China, learn some Chinese, and see and experience a much broader world beyond the safe haven of Charlottesville that they’ve known.