Shunyi is a burgeoning suburban district located about 30 km (an hour’s drive) from downtown Beijing. It’s far enough away from the dense hustle and bustle of central Beijing to feel like a town in its own right, and expat residents certainly convey that mood. The broad boulevards and gated villa communities of Shunyi are more reminiscent of suburban California than a Chinese neighbourhood, and abundant Western conveniences such as large shopping malls and excellent health facilities make it a self-sufficient area for many expat families. Shunyi is also home to Beijing’s two largest international schools, is very near Capital International Airport, and contains far more parks and green space than any other expat neighbourhood in the Beijing area.
For these reasons, Shunyi is very popular with expat families who crave space, calm and convenience for raising their children abroad. Shunyi can seem like an ideal suburban recreation – making it easy to forget that you’re in China, let alone near one of the world’s largest and busiest cities. The calm of Shunyi may be a finite resource, however, as it has been connected to the city by the recently extended subway Line 15, which has spurred many new development projects. For singles or those who would like to integrate into Chinese culture, Shunyi can feel isolated and monotonous.
Most families live in expat villa housing, ranging from small townhouses to large, luxurious villas. Shunyi housing is generally within secure gated villa communities that include clubhouses, gyms, swimming pools and tennis courts. Living in gated housing communities with patrolling guards may seem strange for most, but it’s the norm for expats here, and doesn’t necessarily point to a lack of community. For families, living in a villa community means traffic-free areas for kids to roam, great security and far cleaner air than in Beijing proper. Supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and the ubiquitous Starbucks are a walk or short drive from most housing. The sprawling Beijing Riviera is an example of top-end housing, with massive villas equipped with European furnishings, fitted kitchens and five-star amenities. Rents at this end start at around RMB35,000 per month. Apartments and townhouses in Capital Paradise or Euro Village, which are more than adequate but smaller and with fewer amenities, start at around RMB10,000 per month.
Health and wellness
Shunyi itself has convenient health care options, or alternatively residents can make the short drive to Chaoyang, which has several hospitals and clinics that cater to Westerners. Families living in Shunyi usually go to the Beijing United Family Shunyi Clinic in Pinnacle Plaza. This serves Beijing’s suburban area and international school district, providing internationally-accredited family medicine, pediatrics, rehabilitation, counseling, laboratory work, Traditional Chinese Medicine and pharmacy services. The staff is multinational and English is spoken. The United Family Dental Clinic is around the corner. It’s easier and more convenient to stay fit in Shunyi than in other Beijing expat enclaves, as most expat villa communities maintain excellent health clubs and sports facilities. Some of the larger gated communities also offer group fitness and yoga classes, which also provide a great opportunity to get to know your neighbors. If your children attend one of the international schools, it’s likely that you can join dance, yoga, kung fu and fitness classes. The Shunyi Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Park was built to host Olympic events and is a tremendous facility for adventure sports training or just to view water sports. As a newer and planned suburban district, Shunyi also has some of Beijing’s nicest green spaces, highlighted by the well-kept Shunyi Park and the very pleasant Jian River Park. Shunyi also has golf clubs, fishing lakes and riding stables.
Most of the city’s international schools are represented in Shunyi – one of the main draws of the district. What’s more, they usually boast the best facilities in the Beijing area. Dulwich College Beijing, recipient of the 2011 British International School of the Year award, boasts extensive, state-of-the art facilities that include IT suites and recording studios. There have more than 1,000 students from pre-kindergarten to Year 13, in a curriculum based on the English National Curriculum up to Year 9, IGCSE course for students in Years 10 and 11, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma for Years 12 and 13. The International School of Beijing (ISB) has students from more that 50 countries and is Beijing’s largest international school. The ISB offers the International Baccalaureate program, some advanced placement classes and an excellent Chinese immersion program. Other prominent international schools include the Swedish School of Beijing and the Western Academy of Beijing. The Sunshine Learning Center is the best school in Beijing for children with learning disabilities, and students have access to the facilities at Dulwich College.
Shunyi is essentially a suburban district, and it’s almost mandatory to have a vehicle here. Unlike most of Beijing, distances are often large and walking is not a reasonable option. Most expats in Shunyi rely on cars to get around, either by getting an international driving license or buying a car and hiring a driver. Driving in Shunyi is generally easy, as the boulevards are wide and traffic far less aggressive than in the city. Parking in Shunyi is also easier. Shunyi is between the Fifth and Sixth Ring Roads, and the main road through Shunyi is the Airport Expressway, which heads from the Capital Airport into Chaoyang District, about a 20-minute drive from Shunyi depending on traffic. Driving into Beijing’s central districts takes about one hour, which will limit your visits there. Taxis are few and far between unless pre-arranged. Public buses aren’t very convenient either, though a few routes run from central Shunyi to downtown. International school buses run from Shunyi to other Beijing campus sites, such as Sanlitun, and these can be taken advantage of by families with children enrolled at the larger schools. The big transport news in Shunyi is that the new subway Line 15, connecting Shunyi with Wangjing (and by extension, Beijing’s entire subway network), has recently opened. A bicycle is an option in Shunyi for tooling around the neighborhood to visit local shops and attractions, and cycling is much safer than in most of Beijing.
Shopping and amenities
Shunyi has its own shops, supermarkets, restaurants, salons and, increasingly, entertainment. More new shopping and entertainment options are opening all the time as Shunyi grows, particularly since the opening of Line 15. Pinnacle Plaza, next to Eton International School, is a varied shopping center with clothes, electrical goods, music and sports gear. You’ll also find the expat-favorite international grocery store Jenny Lou’s here, as well as April Gourmet. Nearby, expats can check out books at the foreign language library Bookmark. The iconic Orchard, an organic farm, restaurant and shop, draws visitors from all over Beijing. The Exquisite Bakery in Riverville Square is another Shunyi institution, selling steamed cakes, decorated cookies and party supplies for every occasion. There are plenty of furniture, homeware, interior and fabric shops in Shunyi. In nearby Chaoyang Park, there are several Carrefour locations, well as an IKEA on the Fourth Ring Road, which claims to be the largest outside Sweden. For entertainment and dining, Shunyi provides an ever-growing number of options that cater to expat tastes, including bagel shops, pizza parlours and cafes. Shunyi is not a prime nightlife destination; for a big night out you’ll need to head into Chaoyang Park. However, there are a few sports pubs, highlighted by a Blue Frog, which is a great place to meet other expats over beers, burgers and sports on television.