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CHINA BOUND: A Guide to Academic Life and Work in the PRC
Researchers with families and tight budgets living in dormitories face the greatest challenge. One researcher accompanied by her husband and two children describes their living situation:
Our living conditions. . .were quite spartan. The four of us lived in a single room in the old foreign students dorm, with a gas ring and bathroom down the hall. As we were on the third floor, we frequently had water stoppages due to the low water pressure in Nanjing. There was a communal washing machine available, but it was frequently on the fritz. . . . We had to haul hot water up three flights to wash diapers and children. After the first few months. . .we were able to get a second room as a study. The biggest problem for us was our 6-month-old son who was just learning to crawl. The rotting wooden floors were uncleanable and it seemed impossible to find for him a place that was reasonably clean. We finally enclosed him within a structure we made of numerous hempen mattresses and their bench-like supports.
Several parents interviewed in China expressed concerns about the difficulty of keeping floors clean while children are still crawling. People living outside Beijing recommended bringing a gallon of chlorine bleach from the United States as a cleaner and disinfectant. Parents with small children also pointed out that plastic bicycle seats for children are not available, and many preferred those to the less sturdy bamboo constructions commonly used in China. They suggested bringing a bicycle seat and a child's helmet from the States if children will ride with you. Cotton swabs and disposable wipes are also difficult to obtain outside the most Westernized cities.
Schooling options for families with children are varied and include a limited number of international schools in several large cities, Chinese schools, and home schooling. Many people with preschool children hire an ayi, at least part time. With continuing economic decentralization in China, capable ayis are relatively easy to find, although people urge you to rely on the recommendation of a good friend. An American doctor in Beijing suggests obtaining a health certificate guaranteeing that the ayi does not have tuberculosis, which is fairly common in China. In addition to helping care for your child (and for additional money), people have relied on an ayi to wash diapers, do housekeeping, cook, and market.
Many people with nursery- or kindergarten-aged children put them in Chinese schools, with great success. The family described above put their four-year-old daughter in a full-time nursery school:
It was difficult for her at first, as she was one of two foreign children, but she quickly adjusted and learned quite fluent Nanjing dialect by the end of the year. Her teachers were extremely solicitous and caring of her. We paid Chinese rates for this child care and it was an almost unbelievable bargain.