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Urban Living with the Rajkumar Family

June, 2009
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  The wide windows along the wall of this 18th floor apartment frame the vibrant city below, with the SOHO New Town complex looming large across the expanse of bustling Jianguo Road. As the sun begins to set, lights from the street and buildings across the way illuminate the skyline, creating a dazzling urban view from the Rajkumar’s living room.

  The Rajkumars are used to city life, having lived in Guangzhou for five years before moving to Beijing eight months ago when Samarjit accepted a job at an advertising firm and brought his wife and children with him. Elina, who was born in Guangzhou, glides into the spacious living room on her Bugs Bunny scooter, drops it with a clang on the wooden floor, and scurries up to the couch to cuddle up next to her mother. Kalpana, better known as Kuku, gently tries to engage her daughter in conversation. Elina grins shyly in reply, displaying her missing front teeth—the universal milestone of many a five-year-old. Quiet in front of strangers, Elina and her sister Anushka, who is three years older than her, have no problem when it comes to making friends their age. “My older daughter was so worried about leaving Guangzhou and all her friends and school, but she was the first one of us to make so many new friends,” says Kuku with admiration. Parent (2)

  Although the girls are completely adjusted to life in Beijing, Kuku admits to missing their community in Guangzhou as well as their family back in their native India. (Kuku is from Mumbai and Samarjit is from Imphal, in the eastern part of India.) “I can say I’m 60% adjusted to Beijing, 40% still to go,” she confides. As a stay-at-home mom, she is often occupied with her girls and other family affairs but she still finds time to keep up with her friends from afar through emails, phone calls, and exchanging photos online.

  She reminisces about the friendly people she encountered while living in Guangzhou who were so open and approachable. “Once they see you and [realize] that you are new, they automatically come up to you and ask you what you need,” she says. Even though her experience in Beijing has not been exactly the same, Kuku has not given up on familiarizing herself with the city. She may still be adapting, but has come to appreciate what she is seeing. 

  Having last visited in 2005 before moving here, Kuku is surprised at how much Beijing has changed since that trip. She remarks at the size and growth of this metropolis in such a short period of time. “There are so many new buildings and everything is so well kept,” she marvels. She is also pleasantly surprised by all the new greenery and flowers that have bloomed this spring. “I love flowers!” Kuku enthuses, as she talks in awe about the abundance of colored roses planted along the ring roads circling the city.

  What has helped the entire family adjust to Beijing is living in a centralized location right in the heart of the Central Business District (CBD). Every member of the family has a reason to be happy with living at Gemdale International Gardens. For Samarjit, this means his office is just walking distance away from home and he can skip the often long commute that those living farther from the city must endure. One of the nicest benefits is having more leisure time to himself and to enjoy with his family.

 Parent (1)  Kuku is fond of the liveliness of the area and the convenience of having Wal-Mart just steps away, as well as Carrefour further down south on DaWangLu. Living in Gemdale also means that there are a myriad of restaurants and shopping options nearby at Shin Kong Place and China Central Place Mall, which the family can explore on foot. Shops and bakeries, as well as the Wanda Cinema, are also just steps outside the gates of the compound. Not too far away in Sanlitun, Kuku finds familiar spices and foods at the Indian supermarket.

  Anushka and Elina have also taken advantage of living in an apartment complex by making the most of the compound’s open space. They play freely in the garden-like areas and children’s playground where they sometimes bump into classmates from The British School of Beijing’s Sanlitun campus. Kuku and Samarjit looked at several schools before settling on The British School for their girls. They considered factors such as the system of education and the kind of curriculum that the school offers, the reputation of the school, the tuition and related expenses, and the location of the campus. Kuku found that first impressions mattered as well. “We liked the way the teacher expressed the kind of education that the kids would receive,” says Kuku. They also valued what other friends and acquaintances had to say about the school and were impressed by the good things they heard. Kuku and Samarjit feel confident that they made the right decision, especially since the girls are enjoying school so much and have made lots of friends.

  Living in the city offers benefits that extend past the routine of the week as well. On weekends, the family likes to spend time with each other, try new foods, and go on outings. The abundance of city parks and the ease of getting to them have also attracted their attention. “We like to pack a lunch, a tent, and spend a whole day at the park. That’s how we do it,” Kuku says of their family ritual. The family also likes to bring kites to the park so that they can fly them high above the city on a windy day. They are on a quest to visit as many parks as they can while the weather will still allow. Some of their favorite places so far are nearby Chaoyang Park and Ritan Park, as well as Beihai Park.

  Although the convenience of city life means having the subway, buses, and taxis at your disposal, the Rajkumar’s recently purchased a car. How did she overcome the fear that many expats have of driving in an unfamiliar place? “I had a driver show me around all the roads for a week before driving by myself,” she explains. “There were a lot of rules to learn about too!” she adds. Now that she has begun driving on her own, she’s relishing the extra independence that having a car brings. The family is now able to use the car for short trips on weekends and holidays. They recently packed the kids in the car and left the flurry of the city during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday to relax at Beidaihe, a beach resort area several hours’ drive from Beijing.

  Kuku concedes that although urban life is enjoyable, there may be one drawback to living in the middle of the city now that she drives here—having to endure the relentless Beijing traffic.


By Vicky Li Yip

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