For a country that spoils its kids rotten, finding something free for children to do in China is surprisingly hard. Especially in the larger cities like Beijing. And I mean just something as simple as a park.
Some of the larger parks or shopping malls contain play areas but they charge a fee that is usually around $3 per child. Nevertheless, I actually felt somewhat grateful for this as the country’s large population, and Beijing’s in particular, would make any free place super crowded.
What they do have is various exercise equipment smattered all over sidewalks and parks. This is intended mostly for older people (as my husband explains, to keep them occupied and thus less trouble for the government) but the boys loved it too. They put their feet on, held tight and swung their legs for dear life.
We were blessed to rent an apartment across from the Friendship Hotel where we had formerly lived. In our oldapartment complex was the coolest playground in the city, complete with an elephant slide. As we were known there, nobody minded if we went to play anytime. However, I regret to report that it was torn down around the time we left to make way for more “Olympically acceptable” items.
What we discovered kids do if living in an apartment complex is hang out on the community square. So this is how we spent most afternoons, with the boysriding the scooter we bought them around in circles or borrowing others’ bikes. This was actually enjoyable and it helped them to make friends and we got to know our neighbors as well. This communal aspect of Chinese living is something I really came to appreciate.
Though you’d be hard pressed to find a McDonald’s with a playland anywhere in China, just like in the U.S., playing in a toy store such as a Lego’s shop or one that sells lots of noisy devices can be a free option. Just don’t overstay your welcome!