Adventures of Life in Beijing

Western Academy Beijing

Learning has no boundaries.



Western Academy Beijing

Since many of you have asked, I wanted to tell you a little bit about what school will look like for our sons in Beijing. Starting in August they will be attending high school at Western Academy Beijing, a k-12 international school located just on the outskirts of the city.

Western Academy Beijing

We have had an opportunity to visit the campus, which is a colorful blend of traditional and modern Chinese architecture, featuring sculptures, green spaces and a tranquil pond in the center.

There are even bamboo trees and a koi pond  in the lobby of the high school building.


They will be joined by 430 other high school students representing 39 nations and 26 languages. The IB World Curriculum will be taught in English with elements of traditional and contemporary Chinese culture woven in through guest speakers, language classes and week-long field trips to other regions in China.

The facilities rival that of a college campus, with first-rate science and technology labs, visual and performing arts centers (with three theaters), libraries, dining courts and cafes, sports amenities including soccer fields, swimming pool, climbing wall and three full-sized gyms. For heavy pollution days, activities take place inside a purified air dome.

To say this is an amazing opportunity is an understatement, and if my kids had a dollar for every time an adult has told them that recently, they’d have fat wallets. But it’s hard, hard, hard to leave friends behind, and I get that. I’m feeling it right there with them.

Have you had an opportunity to live abroad or travel for an extended period? What were the highs and and how did you manage the lows? We’d love to hear from you.



Comments (4):

  1. Maggie

    March 23, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    I moved to Orlando when I was 24, I19 years ago, I had everything and everybody I loved back in Brazil. The first 6 mos were terrible, a mix of bitter and sweet. All new things and new friends and the feeling that something was missing in the same time, specially my family, and it was super hard to deal with. But day after day you start to get used to it . Back then I didn’t have the internet working as today which for them will be easier, keep in touch with everyone here. I feel a little bit what the boys are feeling, but the fact that you are going to be together makes all the difference amd besides, by my understanding, you will come back soon or later right? I believe that the most important thing is keep contact to friends and be sure to be together as a family and always always be close to God. I pray that your experience will be a great opportunity to grow and learn. Praying for you all! God Bless.

    • Kirsten Harrington

      April 3, 2019 at 4:43 pm

      Thank you so much Maggie. Yes, technology certainly makes it easier. I know God is making a way for us. Wow, look how your life has changed😊

  2. Shari

    March 23, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    What a hard but oh so good opportunity!! Xoxoxo

    • Kirsten Harrington

      April 3, 2019 at 4:44 pm

      Yes! I pray that all 4 of us can embrace every moment, good and bad.


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Snake Skin

I’m really sorry I let you down. I made promises I just couldn’t deliver.

If you recall in my last post Chinese Medicine I planned to drink a pot of Chinese herbal tea everyday to try and improve my reptilian skin, itchy scalp and overall parched demeanor caused by Beijing’s cold dry winter. I know you were hoping I could share the results of a miracle cure.


Traditional Chinese Medicine moisturizing tea


The concoction, brewed from a collection of beige roots and twigs, smelled a bit like a musty wool blanket that had been stored too long in a closet. It didn’t taste bad but as the holidays approached there was too much competition.

My first-ever  homemade eggnog with a splash of Captain Morgan’s did nothing for my skin, but it uplifted my spirits tremendously in the weeks leading up to Christmas.


You can’t buy eggnog in Beijing, but homemade was so easy !


Then there was the buttery yellow Chrysanthemum tea given to me by a friend. The color just made me happy, and I’d choose the floral aroma any day over the musky medicinal potion.


Chrysanthemum tea


And then there was the treasured Cadbury’s hot chocolate mix, which felt like such an indulgence topped with homemade whipped cream.
(Instant hot chocolate is a foreign luxury good, not readily available.)

Peet’s Coffee made its debut in Beijing this winter, and Santa brought me a shiny red mug for Christmas. It just didn’t seem right to fill it with Moisturizing Yam Tea.



With all of the competing beverages, I just couldn’t face another cup of astralagus root and dried yam tea.

In an effort to soothe my winter-weary skin, I turned to another (this time external) popular Chinese remedy: snake oil.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s what those fly-by-night traveling salesman used to sell at carnivals in the early 1800s, right?

Actually, it turns out that snake oil has a long history of popularity in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Made from the oil of water snakes, this omega-3 fatty acid rich substance has been used to soothe skin, cure dandruff, relieve split ends and reduce arthritis.

A quick visit to Wal-Mart and I strike gold: there’s snake oil cream right next to snail slime extract. Maybe these cold-blooded creatures can help.



Online shopping offers more choices, from Snake Oil exfoliating gel to Snake Oil hair removers and whitening creams.


I’ve ordered a moisturizer and a scrub. I passed on the snail slime. I’ll check in again in a few weeks and let you know things are coming along.



Pick up Sticks

Who Says You’re too Old to Play with Your food?

From meaty, cumin-scented lamb skewers to sweet, candied hawthorns, Beijing is filled with food on a stick. These fork-free dishes are perfect for strolling, sharing, dipping or indulging. If you’ve ever cooked over a campfire or savored a popsicle, then you remember that hand-held food is fun for all ages.

Local Flavors

Head to Qianmen or Nanluoguxiang to start, and grab some lamb skewers, “whirlwind” potatoes, squid or sausages on a stick.


Cumin-rubbed lamb skewers are a must try.


Called “whirlwind” or “cyclone” potatoes, think of them like fresh potato chips on a stick, seasoned with salt and pepper.


Choose your squid and have it cooked to order.


For the truly adventurous, there are scorpions, silkworm larvae and tarantulas, perhaps best left for capturing with your camera and not your taste buds.


They’re mostly a gimmick, but you’ll find scorpions and tarantulas too. See the starfish in the back?


For an experience that’s a little more off the beaten path, head to Xinmin market (subway stop Guloudajie) and spend the morning exploring the produce, spices and wet market. When hunger strikes, look for the ma la tang stand selling a variety of skewers including mushroom bundles, quail eggs, meatballs, broccoli, lettuce, noodles and much more. Don’t worry – there’s no menu to decipher; just point to a skewer that looks good and give it a try. For just a few kuai a skewer, it’s a fun, affordable outing.


Tofu, potatoes and broccoli are my favorites. Choose “spicy” or ”non-spicy.”

Travel the Globe

Don’t limit yourself to Chinese food. Beijing has a whole world of flavors just waiting for you to try. Grab a map and start checking off your destinations. At Athena Greek restaurant the Chicken Souvlaki comes on a suspended skewer.

Nearby Alameen offers a platter of mixed Lebanese kebabs, and a taste of Turkey is just a hop, skip and a jump away at Turkish Feast.

Branch out from curries at your favorite Indian restaurant with a skewer of cheese-like paneer or head to NomNom in Haidian District for Indonesian mutton or beef Satay with a side of Sambal Kecap, sweet soy sauce mixed with chilies and shallots. And of course, don’t forget to stop in Thailand for some peanut-y Chicken Satay.

If you’d rather take cooking into your own hands, Café Zarah offers Cheese Fondue every evening after 6pm. Each bowl of melted cheese-y goodness comes with crunchy cubes of bread, vegetables, cornichons and a bowl of pineapple.


A cozy evening at Cafe Zarah.


Cheese fondue.

Sweet Endings

Winter is the season for tanghulu, those shiny, sugary fruit sticks decorating the city like ornaments.

Round red hawthorns are the most popular, but you’ll also find grapes, kiwi slices and Chinese yams. There are even some Santa-themed ones with marshmallows and strawberries.


Freshly dipped in molten sugar water gives fruit a crackly, sweet finish.


Santa-themed fruit skewers.

Keep an eye out for purple sticky rice dipped in sugar or waffles on a stick that spell “I Love Beijing” in Chinese characters.


Warm glutinous rice dipped in sugar makes a filling snack.


Waffles on a stick make it easy to snack and stroll.


Find your zodiac sign fashioned in sugar candy or grab a stick full of sweet-and-sour shan zha (dried Hawthorn).


Floral scented gui hua cake drizzled with syrup beckons with its golden yellow hue, derived from Osmanthus flowers.



For a more interactive experience, head to Qianmen Kitchen restaurant  to make some S’mores. Roast American marshmallows over your own charcoal brazier, add some Lindt Chocolate and sandwich it all between Biscoff cookies and digestive biscuits.


Lastly, don’t rule out ice cream just because it’s winter. Beautiful rose-shaped ice cream and vibrant fruity popsicles (at Nanluoguxiang) will make you forget how cold it is outside, even if just for a moment.