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How to travel in China with a baby

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Many new parents fret over their first big holiday with a new traveller in tow. The flight, additional packing, nap times, crying spells – is the worry even worth it in the end? Fresh off a trip to China, new parent Erin Reed says that it is.

“Maybe planning a trip to China with an eight-month-old was a bit too aggressive, babe!” Words spoken by my husband, Corey, as we struggled to calm our crying baby not even half way into our six-hour flight from Singapore to Beijing.

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His words struck a nerve since travelling in our pre-parenthood past-life was one of our life passions. I was more than itching to get out of our baby-toy-maze living room and start experiencing the world again and, better yet, introducing our little girl to the world. As Corey’s words echoed in my head, the visions I had about what our first family vacation was supposed to be quickly succumbed to the reality of a red-faced and miserable baby sitting in my lap. I was forced to recognise that he was probably right.

Fortunately, a good night’s sleep can bring a fresh perspective for mum and dad and recalibrate a baby’s system. We got an early start the next morning and hit the road running…after double and then triple checking a long list of what was required to survive a day in China with a baby: nappies, check; sunhat, check; pacifiers, check; toys, check; baby food for three meals, check; iPad for desperate entertainment measures, check…the list went on and on and on!

On day one, my daughter, Leighton, managed to take a few naps despite not being a “stroller-sleeper”. We finished a long list of must-see sites and, knock on bamboo, I was thinking, “Looks like we have another little traveller in our family.”

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By day two, Leighton was broken of her stroller-induced napping difficulties. She napped in an assortment of additional apparatuses: baby car seat, baby carrier, hiking backpack, and even our arms, which has not happened in months. By day three, she was on cruise control and going with the flow.

Beijing with Baby
A completely new travel phenomenon was the astronomical amount of attention Leighton received in Beijing – she brought in the masses! Every day crowds of ten to twenty people would encircle her and unabashedly take photos and videos of her, laugh at her, tickle her, scold her mama if she wasn’t wearing socks, and most shockingly, scoop her out of my arms!

Interest in her was so genuine that Corey and I didn’t know how not to let people show her love and attention. Call us “newbies”, say what you will, but to us it was very, very sweet. Even our tour guide was surprised and joked that the local tourists found her more fascinating than the 2,000 years old sites. Although we were forewarned that babies receive a lot of attention, we couldn’t have imagined the magnitude. We were just thankful she enjoyed the attention.

We spent a total of four full days in Beijing and accomplished all we had planned. Our touring hours started around 9am and went until 8pm. We compared an itinerary we made years ago to what we accomplished, baby-in-tow, and found we did everything we had planned to do pre-baby!

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We took in the major sites: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Olympic Stadium, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Lama Temple, and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. We enjoyed an afternoon rickshaw ride around Old Beijing and a touring a traditional hutong. We indulged in an array of local cuisines: steamboat, Peking duck, Sichuan, Beijing noodles, and a quick walk around Snack Street to investigate what fried scorpions look like, not taste like. Leighton might be a good eater, but not that good an eater! We were even able to do a little bit of shopping at both Hongqia Market (Pearl Market) and Liulichang Cultural Street. We did, however, commit a minor parental blunder by taking a baby to the evening Chaoyang Acrobatic Show. According to Corey, the acrobats’ skill level well exceeded that of a Cirque du Soleil show, but the music was loud, and the theatre was very dark. Leighton wanted nothing to do with it. Oh, the steep learning curve of parenthood; thank goodness for video cameras.

The highlight of Beijing was definitely having the opportunity to hike the Great Wall. Pinch! During our three-hour hike, we let Leighton crawl around. Hey, if we got to walk it, shouldn’t she get to crawl it and have the claim to fame for the rest of her life? The spectrum of looks from our fellow climbers varied from shock and horror to friendly chuckles and applause. My bias remembers one specific comment, “That baby is the Great Wall’s smallest and coolest visitor ever!”

Soldiering On in Xi’an
After Beijing, we headed to Xi’an. Why stop while you’re ahead?

The Terracotta Warriors were the most fascinating travel experience in either of our lives, and that includes Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal and even the Great Wall. We even had the chance opportunity to meet one of the four farmers who originally discovered the site. We also toured the Xi’an City Gate, Drum and Bell Towers, Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an Water Show, Muslim Street, and Great Mosque.

Maybe all the visions I had conjured up of what our first family holiday was supposed to be weren’t so far fetched after all. I truly believe that one of the biggest parental lessons I learned this trip was to not limit Leighton just because my mind limits her. All of my fears, anxieties and worries were wasted energy. She exceeded every expectation I had for her.

Having her with us added an entirely new dimension of excitement to seeing such a monumental place in history. After all, our hope in travelling with her at such an early age is to give her an appreciation of experiencing new things, a respect for the diversity of culture and a sensitivity for people. This trip has given new perspective to one of our favourite bedtime stories. Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go says it best:

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

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