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It's a Dad's Life: dad in local community - Damien Thirriard

Damien Thirriard talks about being a foreign dad in a local community outside central Beijing

In our interview series 'It's a Dad's Life', Time Out Family meets interesting dads in the Beijing expat community. In this interview, we talk to Damien Thirriard, freelance graphic designer and father to son Loup, about being a foreign dad in a Chinese neighbourhood. Want to be featured? Contact us at family@timeoutcn.com.

When did you come to Beijing?

Almost four years ago. I met my wife who is Chinese, in my home city Toulouse in France. She was studying there, and we decided to move together to Beijing. We now have our son Loup, who is nearly 23 months old, and we live near Guanzhuang station, outside the city centre. It was my first time living abroad, and I was keen to see something completely different. It was also a good chance to have a change in my life. So, when the opportunity came up, I didn’t hesitate!

What language do you use in the house? We speak French to each other, as my wife lived in France for nearly ten years. Loup understands both French and Mandarin. His grandmother, my wife’s mother, looks after him regularly and speaks Chinese to him.

You work at home. How do you balance your job with looking after Loup?

His grandmother helps look after him in the morning, and in the afternoon he sleeps for a couple of hours so I get some work done then. When he wakes up, I take care of him. My wife works at an embassy, and comes home in the evening. Last year I was working full-time, and in a way it was easier and even more fun. I’d come home tired at 6pm, but as soon as he smiled at me and we went for a walk together, it felt amazing. There was something new happening everyday. Now, it’s harder in some ways to balance work with Loup, but I know that if I got a full-time job tomorrow, I’d miss him.

How well do you get on with the local community?

We live in a very local neighbourhood, and there are virtually no foreigners. So I try to talk to people and become part of the place. If you don’t do that, it’s a pity and it’s not natural. Loup and I use the playground in the neighbourhood and go for long walks. Everyone is kind and talks to Loup – they all know his name! It’s not always fun, the cultural experience can be difficult. For example, we put diapers on our baby but the Chinese don’t do that. So I often get old people telling me that it’s too hot and not good for Loup, and I do get tired of responding every time. But generally, the local community is very supportive of me as the father looking after Loup. They say it’s very good!

How often do you go back home to France?

We went back for a month when Loup was three months old, then again at Christmas. It would be great to go at least once a year. My mother is visiting soon and we’ll be travelling together, and my father came last year. At first, he was a little anxious about me, but he soon saw that everything was great.

How do the three of you spend time together as a family?

At the weekends, we have a routine. On Saturday morning, Loup goes out with his mum to a small play centre nearby, and I go to play badminton. After lunch, he has a nap and everyone rests. Later, we might go swimming. On Sundays, we often go to a shopping mall that has a baby club where Loup can play with other children.

Are you planning to move back to France sometime?

We haven’t decided yet, but maybe we’ll go back in three or four years. The way of life in Toulouse is just a little bit easier. We won’t have to worry about pollution, and it’ll be easier to get around as the city isn’t so big. Plus, we’ll have the sea and the mountains just nearby! But of course, when we do go back, I’ll miss Beijing.

What advice do you have for other foreigners who are starting a family with Chinese partners?

It’s always best to try and adapt to the environment, and be accepted by others. I admit it can be really difficult, because you have your own culture and your partner and their family have theirs. You need to adapt to each other, and for that, you need to talk. And at times, you have to swallow some things, and think to yourself, ‘That’s fine, as long as our baby is okay’.

Are you a dad with an interesting story? Write to us at family@timeoutcn.com.

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