One of the best things about living in China with kids is the abundance of children’s activities. Tiny cars, mini merry-go-rounds, inflated bouncing rooms, obstacle courses—all these and much more can be found easily as your family explores a city. But before you give in to the desperate pleas of your little guys, take a second to look things over. Equipment is simply not maintained in China; you never know when something will break. Call me overprotective, but I would never let young children ride a roller coaster at any Chinese-run amusement park. Besides, just because someone calls it an activity for kids does not mean that you can trust it to be safe for them. When we agreed to let our boys try a park’s archery range, we didn’t realize the arrowheads were genuinely razor sharp. The Chinese aren’t known for taking safety precautions. You’ll find plenty of pedal boats and bumper boats on ponds and lakes, but you won’t find any life jackets.
Child abduction is not a common problem in China. Though your kids will almost certainly not be taken from you, you might very well misplace them. The swarms of pushing crowds in busy areas can easily separate you from your children. Stay close, keep emergency contact info on your child at all times (hidden in a shoe or sewn into a coat or backpack), and be sure your older ones know exactly what to do if they can’t find you. Or better yet, get everyone in the family their own cell phone and make sure even the littlest ones know how to use it in an emergency. We always discuss a recognizance plan with our kids before subway rides on the off chance that we get separated while trying to enter or exit the train. Luckily China is a place where people adore children, especially foreign ones. Most kids who go missing are eventually found having a grand old time with a group of delighted Chinese adults.
Tourism can pose additional threats to kids. We once spent two days cursing ourselves as foolish parents as we hiked up and down Yellow Mountain with our three-year-olds in icy weather—nobody told us we’d be on the edge of slippery sheer cliffs most of the time. And I can still feel the fear when I remember taking them on a sightseeing ski-lift ride in Nanjing where one wiggle could have slipped them through the bars and sent them dropping to the treetops far below us. In both cases we didn’t realize the potential life-threatening danger to our children until we were past the point of no return. It won’t take too many harrowing experiences like these before you’ll get a good feel for what is appropriate for your kids.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in China.