The Chinese Visa Office: Fun With Kids?

Katherine Strous Expat Life, Kids, Traveling, Wordschooling Leave a Comment

It is not one of Shanghai’s top kid destinations but somehow my children were able to make the visa office fun. It has taken about 2 months but we have finally arranged visas for the whole family.  This has required multiple trips out to the visa office in Pudong, sending documents back to the Netherlands, a visit to the US Embassy, and lots and lots of patience.

But the kids were brilliant through all of it. They are, of course, 4,2, and 9 months old so it would be lying to say there were not any ups and downs. There are ALWAYS ups and downs. Small kids are basically roller-coasters of emotions and energy.  But it was actually fun.

First of all, it was an hour-long drive out to the Visa office. It is not that it was very far but traffic in Shanghai is terrible.  But the kids loved riding in the taxis.  I am guessing it was the lack of car seats, which is thrilling for them and terrifying for me. Sometimes, if we were lucky we might get a nicer taxi with seat belts but then I still had the baby in my arms, so… still terrifying. And for the ride back, my kids, especially Miss A, learned that taxis are very comfortable for sleeping. They continue to amaze me with how adaptable they are.

Once at the visa office, my kids would quickly scout out other kids to make friends with and then look for ramps, walls, anything that could be climbed, slid, or ran on. Moving to China has been great for their social skills because they are always meeting new people. Because of this, they have become more open. They are ready to make friends anywhere. Language doesn’t matter as long as the other kids are willing to play.

Making friends at China visa office

It is also wonderful that people really love children here and they are very tolerant of them just being children.  It is considered adorable for the children to be loud, run around, and play like children are suppose to do.  I still have to reign them in sometimes, especially when we are visiting official places like a visa office, but it is nice they can be a bit more free.

I wouldn’t recommend the visa office for any sightseeing but I completely recommend taking your kids with you. It is sometimes a hassle to bring kids everywhere but they also make everything fun. They are interested in everything and they can learn so much from participating in these day-to-day activities. Also other people are more open and friendly when you are with kids (at least here in China). Kids just make the world a happier place.

Katherine StrousThe Chinese Visa Office: Fun With Kids?

Walking the Former French Concession with Kids

Katherine Strous Expat Life, Kids, Traveling, Wordschooling 2 Comments

We just had a long lazy brunch at a friend’s house. It was nearing nap time for our middle child. Melt downs were happening.

“Maybe we should just go home?” My husband said.

“No,” I said, “It will be fun. She can sleep in the taxi.” Though I was seriously doubting if it was a good idea. But one thing I have learned from the last 4+ years of being a Mom is that sticking to schedules and naps times can mean never leaving the house and kids are more flexible than we often give them credit for.

So we all hopped into a taxi and surely enough my 2-year old fell promptly asleep. I directed the taxi to take us to the famous Ferguson street in the Former French Concession area (FFC). My husband lifted Miss A onto his shoulders where she kept sleeping and we started walking around. The Former French Concession area is one of the most beautiful and green parts of Shanghai. It was once home to the bulk of Shanghai’s adventurers, revolutionaries, gangsters, and writers (according to the Lonely Planet). And it is still one of the hippest parts of Shanghai.

Carrying Sleeping Toddler

It is not the first place one would put as a top kid’s destination in Shanghai but I think they enjoyed exploring the area as much as we did. Though we find it key to let the kids set the pace and to let them explore what they find interesting. Which is how we spent a good half hour or so watching a bridal party have pictures taken, but our daughters loved it and they refused to leave until the bride was driven away in her smart Rolls Royce.

Ferguson street is cool. Very hip with good restaurants and art galleries. After our brunch we were not very hungry and, to be honest, we are not very hip. With three small kids we are like a constant moving tornado of energy, which, in the nice interiors of trendy cafes and restaurants, makes me nervous we are going to destroy something. So we tend to like places where dirty children (and parents) can run around and feel at ease. I will say the FFC seems to have a lot of low-key but funky cafes hidden away in its leafy streets.

So we started walking down the leafy streets of the Concession area. We headed up Wukang Street, which is a great part of the FFC. Beautiful old houses and lots of small cozy shops and boutiques. We hadn’t walk too far when it became apparent that Miss A was becoming uncomfortable to keep carrying. Luckily we came across the cafe, Le Salon du Chocolat.

If there is anything that can make an area kid friendly it is chocolate. Hot chocolate, cold chocolate, chocolate cake, and it was all so so good. Except for the techno music playing in the background, it felt almost French. But the chocolate was all excellent. Miss A fortunately woke up towards the end to also get a couple sips of chocolate and a piece of cake. It would not have been the first time that she slept through a yummy family dessert.Chocolate in the Former French Concession

With the kids (and us) floating on a sugar high we continued to explore the streets. We came across a photography class, which my daughter decided to join with my iPhone. They had a model doing some posing. We couldn’t understand the instructions in Chinese but we chatted with a couple of the students and made some fun pictures.

Photography French Concession

In return one of the students sent me a couple pictures he had made of me and the family. This is part of what I love about traveling with kids and worldschooling. Learning is everywhere and people are often more open and friendly when you have kids. And we even, almost, got a decent family picture (which without some photo editing is often impossible).

Family Former French Concession, Shanghai, China

It was then that Miss O spotted the bridal party. Like many little girls she is obsessed with all things princess, sparkly, and beautiful. This woman in her gorgeous white dress and her bridesmaids were no exception. She was in love. Once we left, Miss O spent the rest of the afternoon telling me she needed a wedding dress and that she needed to get married. I kept saying okay hoping that we didn’t come across anything that resembled a wedding dress.

Former French Concession, Wedding, Shanghai

After over 3 hours of walking around we decided to take the metro to Xintiandi (New Heaven and Earth). Xintiandi is still part of the FFC though a bit more touristy with lots of indoor and outdoor cafes, restaurants, and shops.

Getting there looked simple on the map, we just needed to change metro lines once. It ended up being a whole lot of walking since the metro lines were not actually connected and we needed to walk between them a few blocks. And Chinese city blocks are very very long. We are quickly learning that changing metro lines in Shanghai is often not as simple as it looks, especially if you have 3 small children with you.

But, on the plus side, after all that walking we decided to end the day with dinner at a German restaurant, Paulaner Brauhaus. My Dutchies love their sausages and sauerkraut.

I thought my oldest was going to fall asleep at the table. I will admit I was proud of her. We didn’t have a stroller and I had to carry our 9 month old and Papa was often carrying Miss A, so this meant Miss O walked the whole time. Around 4 hours of walking for a 4-year old (with breaks, of course) is nothing to laugh at. Actually I couldn’t believe she did it. And never once did she even asked to be carried. As the Chinese would say, Li4hai or awesome.

Katherine StrousWalking the Former French Concession with Kids

Moving to China

Katherine Strous Expat Life, Kids, Traveling, Wordschooling 4 Comments

We knew it was coming, we were pushing for it, dreaming about it, and then finally it happened. We were able to move to another country again. My husband found a job in Shanghai, China. We were excited, we celebrated, we started discussing what to take and what to leave but then all the doubts starting hitting. Was it healthy for a new baby and 2 small children? What about school and family? What about my great job, should I just give that up? How would I manage 3 kids in the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s busiest cities without losing one of them or letting them get hit by a car? Wasn’t our life in the Netherlands pretty great with good jobs and good security? Was it smart to give all that up?

We debated these questions a lot but in the end our desire for a new adventure was stronger than our fears. And perhaps, for us, we were even more afraid of not going. Our lives were good but we never wanted to live in one place, settling down as many call it. We always planned to travel with the kids, explore the world together. We did it before they were born and now we wanted to experience it as a family. So we took the plunge and I gave up my job, he took a new one, we boarded a plane, and unbelievably we moved to China with 3 small children in tow.

My husband and I had lived in China before. In fact it is where we met and fell in love. So we had an idea of what to expect but we had no idea how it would be with kids. It made me realise that I had never paid attention to how children were treated in China. Being young and (originally) single, kids were the last thing on my mind when I lived in China before. But any fears we had about the kids quickly disappeared once we arrived. We have only been here a few weeks but we love it.

Yugarden, Shanghai, China

Everywhere we go there are so many kids and families. People are so friendly and sweet with the children. There are definitely no lack of playgrounds and we are quickly discovering the many parks around us. We are lucky to also be living in a fairly expat-dense area that is very family oriented. So while we do get a lot of attention because we are a big family (in China most people can only have one child) we are also not that strange of a sight.

Jing'an Temple, Shanghai, China

People are so interested in where we are from, what it is like to have 3 kids, and why we are living in China. Every day we feel like we are making new friends. In fact, my four-year old often exclaims, “I want to go make friends” and rushes to go get her shoes on to go outside. So while some of my original concerns do linger it is better than I could have hoped for. And what I love the most are the experiences my children are having. They are meeting people from all over the world, seeing many different ways of living, trying lots and lots of new foods, and getting a sense of how diverse the world is but yet how well we can all get along if we just all share our toys.


Expat Life with a Double Buggy
Katherine StrousMoving to China

Being Not Busy

Katherine Strous Simple Living 1 Comment

For a few weeks this month I went offline and it was wonderful. In the Netherlands there were two long weekends in a row and we took advantage by taking a couple of mini-holidays to go camping. Our phones were shut off, there were no computers, no electricity, and we didn’t even make any pictures (okay I made one or two). I said to my husband later that we will probably regret not having pictures from those weekends but it was so nice to just be in the moment. There was no posing, no fake smiles, no artistically angling the camera to make everything look better than what it was. The moments were just what they were, the good, the bad, the simple, and they will continue to live in our memories the way we choose.

Happiness is about Being in the Present

Given my lack of presence in the virtual world a friend said to me today that it seemed like I had been really busy lately. I was so surprised by the comment that I stumbled over an appropriate answer. On one hand everyone is supposed to say that they are “too busy.” It makes us sound important and productive. And most of us are really busy, at work and at home. But the fact is, is that lately I make a specific point not to be busy. I don’t want to run around frantically, stressed-out, and over-worked. I want to live slowly. It is my intention to live a simple, natural, healthy life firmly grounded in the present.

So no, actually I have not been busy. Sometimes things get a little hectic from visiting friends, preparing the holidays, running after my two toddlers with my enormous pregnant belly but actually these days I often leave my phone in another room so I can’t hear it buzz or ring. I take time to sit a few extra minutes at the breakfast table to enjoy my coffee and catch up with my husband, and yes sometimes that means a child or two in my lap. I spend endless amounts of time reading stories, playing legos, walking slowly down the streets, and pushing swings to allow my children to play at their pace and to be fully present in the moment.

I spend extra time cooking meals to allow my kids to participate and to enjoy the textures and smells of the fresh flavours before us. I spend the evening on the couch talking to my husband rather than always pulling out the computer or the phone. And often times I just do nothing, which is wonderful. For myself, and for my family I want us to take pleasure in the world around us. To breathe in the fresh summer breeze flowing through the house, to sit at the table laughing and sharing stories, to just be.

So, no I am not busy, not at all. I am just enjoying life.

Katherine StrousBeing Not Busy

Maastrichts Mooiste: Running for Father’s Day

Katherine Strous Celebrations, Health, Kids 1 Comment


Maastricht's Mooiste

For Father’s day this year my 3-year-old ran the 400 meter race in the Maastrichts Mooiste with her Papa. There were so many things that could have made this day and this experience a complete disaster but instead it became one of the most beautiful father-daughter moments I have seen between my husband and our daughter.

My husband and I both love to run and, therefore, our kids are also excited about running since they are still at the stage that they think everything we do is wonderful. But at 30 weeks pregnant I am taking a break, though I admire those women who do manage to run through their whole pregnancies. So it was normal when my husband decided to run the 16km run with a friend in the Maastrichts Mooiste which happens every Spring. It is a beautiful race that takes place in the center of Maastricht. In addition to the 16km, there is also a 10km, a 5km, and a kid’s run. Most kid’s run are 1km or further which would have been too long for our little 3-year-old, but this year Maastricht’s Mooiste also had a 400 meter run for the smallest participants. My husband decided it would be fun to enroll our daughter. I agreed with him that it would be really fun for her and the distance was manageable.

But the morning of the race was not as smooth as it could have been and I will admit that there were some unpleasant words (mostly from my side) exchanged between my husband and myself that morning. We had spent the night at my in-laws and our youngest daughter decided she didn’t like the sleeping arrangements and kept both of us up for a good part of the night. In addition, the kid’s run was directly during everyone’s nap time, and it meant I had to take the kids myself during lunch time because my husband would already be running his race. I was very tired, very pregnant, and, frankly, angry at my husband at making me do all the work while he was off having fun running with his friends. I was expecting temper tantrums, melt downs, and a  lot of tears (mostly from myself). In addition, I wasn’t even sure if my daughter would want to run. Would all this trouble be worth it? That morning I wasn’t so sure.

But surprisingly, contrary to my worst fears, everything went really smooth, in part thanks to my very involved sister-in-law. Every kid (and parent) should be so lucky to have an aunt like my sister-in-law. She loves being with them, is patient, calm, and has the uncanny ability to carry on extended conversations with my 3-year old.

So with a little encouragement from us, my daughter excitedly put on her running clothes and shoes. We luckily found parking near where we had to pick up the race numbers and not too far from the starting line. We grabbed some lunch, met up with the rest of the family, and watched my husband come running through the finish surprisingly early. Maybe all my yelling before the race motivated him.

And then it was my daughter’s turn to run. I have to admire how my husband, who had just ran 16km on very little sleep, picked her up and quickly moved through the crowds to get to the starting line of the kid’s run. His endurance and athleticism still surprises me even after all these years. I would have been totally exhausted.

Kids run Maastricht's Mooiste

My daughter was in the first group to start. As she was walking to the starting line she saw me, waved, and gave the biggest smile. I knew she was excited. Then I saw how my daughter smiled when they started running, and how she smiled the whole time she was running and my heart melted. At that moment I realized this was the best idea my husband ever had. Watching her run reminded me what running and life should be about, purely enjoying the present moment. For her it was not being about being fast, winning, or making a personal record. It was about joy.

And later that evening after finally getting the kids home and to sleep at the very unreasonable hour of 11pm, my husband said to me that today was probably one of his favorite moments as a father. I smiled and felt bad for our fight in the morning and reminded myself that sometimes it is worth letting go of nap schedules, consistency, and even sleep, and just taking a chance that everything might go wrong in order to enjoy incredible moments like today.

It also confirmed once again to me that experiencing together and being together to celebrate special days like Father’s Day or birthdays or anniversaries gives so much more to the heart and soul then gifts that end up in the back of the closet. My daughter will most likely forget this day as she gets older, but maybe it created a little bit of love for sports and running that will continue to grow as she gets older. I also believe that sharing a special moment with her Papa and the joy she experienced while doing it will somehow stay with her. My husband now has another favorite moment, a moment of fun, love, and joy that he will keep in his heart and continue to cherish in his journey of fatherhood and those memories, those feelings, are so much more special than any material gift me and the girls could have given to him.

Maatricht's Mooiste Finish



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Katherine StrousMaastrichts Mooiste: Running for Father’s Day