Having lived in Mexico City a few years before moving to Beijing, I felt that I was up to the challenge of living in another big city.
Both my husband and I found Beijing to be challenging, but also exciting and extremely interesting. The language, the food, the people, the climate and the culture were all very different from what we had experienced before and it took quite some time to adjust to the new reality.
Living in Beijing - I could only speak for myself because my life as the spouse of the Barbados Ambassador to China had many dimensions.
I would say that my time spent there was devoted to supporting my husband in whatever way I could and to take part in helping underprivileged women and children through charity organizations. Diplomatic Support – One of the first things we did during our first few days of arriving in China, with the help of a real estate agent, was to start looking for a home that would become the official residence of the Embassy of Barbados in China; we found one at the end of the first month. We also enrolled in a Chinese class. Learning a new language at our age was not a piece of cake, but we stuck with it.
We attended classes twice a week for two hours during our first year; in the second year we attended the Hanban School where we attended classes for half day every Saturday and graduated with certificates.
Life became very hectic because of the numerous social activities that we had to attend each day.
Most of the countries of the world have their embassies in Beijing and on any given day, one can attend two or three formal national events. I had to keep a very varied wardrobe and a good memory to remember which outfit I wore at which function, so that I didn’t repeat outfits too often, because we tend to meet the same crowd all the time.
At times, we didn’t return home until 10 pm because Beijing is a very big city and some of the embassies and other venues for the events were far away;, further, the traffic that is associated with all big cities was always a challenge.
Speaking about events, the Barbados 50th Anniversary of Independence was a grand celebration in Beijing.
A large number of ambassadors from various countries, Chinese high level dignitaries, heads of business corporations, our students studying in China and friends of the Barbados Embassy participated.
A Barbadian chef flew in from Barbados to China to give our formal dinner an authentic Barbadian touch. I did something that I never thought that I could do: I sang the Chinese National Anthem in Chinese together with a student, Mr. Christopher Lee, and a Chinese couple who belonged to a charity group that we supported.
We all sang both the Barbados and the Chinese National Anthems in each other’s language.
Although hectic, I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying my husband to various events because it is the heart of the work of the diplomatic corps. We had close friendships with all the Caribbean diplomats and quite a number of the African countries; we cooperated as a group and always attended each other’s events.
It was always a joy when groups or individuals visited our embassy or residence; I made sure that I did my part in welcoming foreign guests, taking them shopping and occasionally hosting them at our residence.
There was never a dull moment; one of the last things I did before leaving Beijing was to participate in a half- hour show on CCTV called Connections, to promote Barbados food and culture.
I was asked about the sugarcane crop as it relates to Crop-Over as a festival, I also prepared a cou-cou and fish menu on TV; of course flying fish was not available, so I used tilapia.
I was accompanied by a famous Chinese chef who compared a dish similar to cou-cou but which is prepared in parts of China. He also referred to a festival that was similar to Crop- Over. The idea was to show that Barbados has a few things in common with China, as it relates to food and culture. The host and hostess were fascinated.
Travel outside of Beijing – Another beautiful thing about living in China, one can travel to various provinces, towns and cities with great ease. We had the pleasure of going on many official trips throughout China by plane or high- speed train. We travelled as a group with other diplomats. These visits were always educational, stimulating and informative. We visited Suzhou, Xian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Sichuan, Shanghai and Hong Kong, to name a few. Humanitarian efforts – During my second year in Beijing, I was invited to attend a meeting of a nonprofit organization called the Commonwealth Society in Beijing (CSB) which was established in 1993 with the aim of supporting under- privileged children and women in China.
It is a charitable organization comprised of female spouses of diplomats and heads of international organizations of commonwealth countries stationed in China.
These ladies were passionate and committed to the development of women, children and senior citizens. I became a member and soon after, was elected vice- president. Unfortunately, the president had to return to her country shortly after being elected, I then stepped in as acting president for the duration of the term. The following year I was elected the president of the organization. My two years as head of CSB were the most interesting and the busiest time of my life. Our members were from every colour, creed and race, which taught me so much about coping, understanding and appreciating the cultures and people of the world.
We held meetings once a month and hosted our grand charity event in June of each year in order to raise funds for our charities in Beijing and other parts of China. Our charity event is a formal Gala; we catered for approximately seven to eight hundred participants, mostly from the diplomatic corps and private sector. Although it was a lot of hard work and dedication, I am happy to have had the experience of heading such a distinguished group of ladies.
As president, I did my best to foster love and togetherness among our members. We understood that having left our countries for our adopted home, China, our friendship was our bond. Once we became friends, we were able to work together for the purpose of helping those that needed our help the most. We received strong and steady support from the private sector and as a result, I was privileged to meet and greeting Chinese from all walks of life that came to support our efforts.
We were also able to interact with the Chinese people and Chinese culture in a very natural and relaxed way. Our responsibilities also took us outside of Beijing to visit the various charities that we supported. We were always given a warm welcome by officials of the cities we visited and there we got to meet the people that benefited from our efforts.
I always gave interviews and photos were taken for television and newspapers. We sometimes had the pleasure of seeing ourselves on the local news and in newspapers before saying goodbye.
I truly enjoyed my four years in China and I would encourage all Barbadians to visit the country.