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Brekkie with Ladies
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Sometimes expat-housewives are just as "desperate" as the characters from Desperate Housewives. Rather than the laundry or their late-returning husbands, these housewives asparate for breakfast!


Starting at 10 AM sharp, expat-housewives from the International Newcomers Network gather monthly at a new breakfast location. Watch them as they carry their forks and knives, sweeping across "brekkie" spots in Beijing.


The Breakfast Club?


First started by a group of expatriate housewives who met up once in a while for coffee and chit-chat, small-circle gathering between neighbors expanded into a public expatriate association, the International Newcomer's Network (INN), in 1994. As a non-governmental support network helping expats settle in Beijing, INN is run by a group of volunteers, expatriate-wives who organize social activities like "brekkies," neighborhood coffee mornings and, most recently, cocktail nights to help newcomers build social networks in Beijing.


Still in its experimental stage, the breakfast gatherings have only gone on for one year. Nonetheless, Nonni Langale, a housewife from Canada, finds "brekkies" the ideal starting point for connecting. "It's like being a newcomer at school, I actually feel it's harder for children to build networks in a new environment, adults have more initiative. It's always been warm and welcoming here," she said.


July: My Big Fat German. Brekkie tucked away in an old-cottage house covered by a net of wild-dandelions, the scent of fresh-brewed coffee hovers at the doorstep of July's breakfast spot: German-cuisine specialists Schindlers Anlegestelle in Sanlitun.


Heading for the meeting point, the murmurs get louder and louder. But they are not clickety-clackety putonghua, but an ensemble of quick English repartee. Just through the door is a conference of hair colors-blondes, brunettes, red-heads, dark-haird-sitting and cuddling together like bees. By the end of one espresso, you can already know the profile, hobby-list and family tree of a new "friend" next to you-women at INN are friendly like that. Without the trouble of having to spoon-feed their son cereal or the fuss over a daughter's lunch box, expat-moms can enjoy a sip of coffee and a moment of peace. Every month, organizers Susan Trimble and Rebeca Malzacher invite special guests to give a morning lecture.


July's guest speaker and store owner of Ling Ling Pearls is a deft hand at luring housewives. Along with tips on how to spot fake pearls and hands-on jewelery-making workshops, housewives sit biting their nails in anticipation of who will win the week's lucky draw: a pair of pearl earrings."When we invite speakers to events, they are usually more popular", Susan Grant, president of INN, said. "Usually, we expect 40 to 100 people. I'm impressed by the turnout rate today, because a lot of members are away on holiday," she saMystery brekkie.


A new idea brought up by INN volunteer, Susan Trimble, "Mystery Brekkies" or "Mystery Breakfasts," gives a new twist to cntional "jam and bread" mornings. Liz Taylor, like many other expatriate-wives, followed her husband to Beijing five weeks ago. She already knows half the members by their names and has already attended two months of "bekkies" in less than a month in town."My sister said the first thing I should do after I land is to contact this group--she highly recommended it". she said. With her two daughters studying back home in Brisbane, shays that mystery breakfast excursions have definitely helped ease her homesickness. "Last month, we traveled all the way to the mountains near the Great Wall to have breakfast. It was one of the best trips I've had sin my arrival." INN Volunteer Rebecca Malzacher said June was the first time the group hosted a "mystery brekkie." Given no informationbout the location, they were led by Susan Trimble, tour guide of the day, to Valley View Resort in the country-side for breakfast. "In September, we are planning a surprise called a 'Surprise brekki!'" Malzacher said.


We're a communit


As an expat-only club, INN members are all foreign passport holders.


"Our community has a broad age range, you see newly weds in their twenties, as well as retired couples in their sventies," Grant said. She explained that events organized by INN are not only a means for new members to make friends, but a way for older members to expand their social network. "Half of the people who attend brekkie and monthly meetings aren't newcomers: some women have lived here for more than two years, and [in that time] their friends might have left. They need opportunities to make new friends," she said. With the expat-scene in Beijing growing faster than ever, the need for socializing has exploded. In particular, Grant hopes to accommodate the needs of busy husbands and working women. "It occurred to us that, so far, our activites like 'coffee mornings' and 'brekkies' were restricted to stay-at-home wives," she said. "We began 'cocktail nights' two months ago at theHotel and Kerry Center to try including husbands and working women in our events."


Another popular but lighter housewife gathering, "Coffee Mornings," was set up for Shun Yi only. Grant said that as more volunteers helped, the community was able to set up a second "coffee morning" point in Sanlitun five months ago.


She said that INN activities rely intensively on volunteer support, and is disappointed that they have not reached Haidian. "We can only do as much as volunteers are willing to take the time and effort," she said.


Wanna meet up?


Open to: Expats living in Beijing

For: Monthly opportunities to meet new friends and chat! Topics discussed: schools, medical facilities, culture clubs and charitable organizations.

Where: The Capital Club Athletic Center (Jingcheng Dasha Julebu), 3rd Floor, Low Rise Capital Mansion, 6 Xinyuan Lu, Chaoyang

When: Anyone interested is free to join. Start off by attending an INN monthly meetings, open to all foreign passport holders. INN Meetings are held on the last Monday of each month, except December, from 10 AM to noon.

Cost: There are no membership fees, but expect to pay at least 40 yuan for coffee, tea and pastries.

Tel: 010-8486 2225 ext 136


By Bessie Ng


(China Daily July 31, 2007)

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