Things I’ll miss about Beijing

In case you forgot, or never knew in the first place, 同一个世界 同一个梦想 (tong yige shijie, tong yige mengxiang) or “One World, One Dream” was the motto of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  I won’t miss seeing and hearing that all the time, but this post is about things I will miss.  “Things I’ll miss least about Beijing” will have to be another post for another day.  I will have lived in Beijing for three years in July when I planning on leaving, and here are some of the things I’m going to miss.

  • Cheap food. An expensive Chinese meal is 25-30RMB, which is $3.60-$4.40.  A really cheap meal is street food, like a bunch of chuanr, grilled meat on a stick, for 1-2RMB each ($0.15-$0.30), or a quarter of a pineapple on a stick, also 1-2RMB.  Or practice your chopstick wielding skills on a bowl of niu rou mian, beef noodle soup, for 10RMB ($1.46).  A meal at the school cafeteria is 9RMB ($1.32) for rice and two sides.  I can cook something with chicken and vegetables to last me for two meals for 6RMB ($0.88).  I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve lived in China for 31 months now and I’ve never had food poisoning.
  • Transportation. Beijing has buses (4 mao to 2RMB, $0.06-$0.30) that go everywhere and the new subway lines (with more on the way to make it the most expansive subway system in the world sometime within the next five years) can take you to most corners of the city for only 2RMB ($0.30).  It’s flat so you can bike or walk most places around your residence.  The most expensive taxi ride I ever take is to the airport for about 100RMB ($14.64).  Getting around without a car is super easy and convenient.
  • Travel. Like its food, travel in China is also cheap and easy.  The country itself has a massive railroad designed to move millions, connecting every city to just about any other city.  There are trains that can even take you to Tibet, Vietnam, Mongolia, Russia, and some of China’s western neighbors, like Kazakhstan.  It’s a great launching-off point to explore a very interesting area of the world that most Americans don’t know much about.
  • Exercise. I get more day-to-day exercise in Beijing than I ever would at home in New Jersey.  Need to go to the grocery store?  The subway?  It’s 1/4 mile just to the east gate of my school, so I do a lot of walking and biking as part of my normal routine, not to mention climbing stairs in buildings without elevators.
  • Being a novelty. My apartment is a novelty, my hair is a novelty (straight sometimes, curly other times, wow… how does she DO that??), my Apple computer is a novelty, my classroom management is a novelty, the creations that come out of my kitchen are a novelty, and the list goes on.  My way of life and living is just as foreign to my Chinese friends, colleagues, and students as their life is to mine.  When they come to my apartment the first thing they do is check out the decor, bedrooms, furniture arrangements.  They’ll usually remark about how much room Anna and I have in an apartment that few Americans would consider not enough space for two people.  It’s not that I enjoy the attention, but that I learn more about Chinese culture when I see what intrigues them about my culture.  I’ve come to expect it and anticipate it and it doesn’t seem strange to me anymore.  Although, it was slightly unnerving to have six Chinese guys watching me get my hair cut this week.  I’ll amend that sentence to say “it doesn’t usually seem strange to me anymore.”
  • Expat lifestyle. You couldn’t made a NJ mortgage payment with my entire foreign teacher monthly salary and there’s no 401k or significant savings in US dollars, but it’s plenty to live on comfortably in Beijing with a lot of it left over each month for activities with students or a little traveling.  It won’t bankroll the cost of living in the US, but I’m not lacking where I live in Haidian District, Beijing.  Plus, there are two subway stops within a half mile in each direction from my home, good restaurants, and several malls.
  • Everyday adventure. Daily activities are an adventure when you don’t fluently speak the language, the customs and way of life are drastically different from your own, and you have to avoid moms helping their toddlers pee on the sidewalk when you’re just walking along and minding your own business.  Every time I step out of my apartment I never quite know what might happen or what kind of experience I might have.  Every day I’m learning new things and coming home with a funny cultural story.
  • Bartering. I have a lot of friends who hate bartering.  They would much rather walk into a store and pay the sticker price.  There are some things I prefer to pay for this way, but for everything else I love the experience that goes along with getting the best possible price.  My goal is always to get the Chinese price, and nothing makes me more mad than getting ripped off.  To that end, it’s a game and you have to go into it with a thick skin and your game face on.  It’s fun, really.  🙂
  • Cheap services. All forms of labor are cheap in Beijing.  A woman’s haircut is 20RMB ($2.93), a manicure is the same price, a custom made 2-piece suit is $95.
  • Simple life. I live a simple life in a simple apartment without a lot of stuff.  There’s no pressure to keep up with the Jones’ or the latest fashions (believe me, you’ll never be tempted by the latest Chinese fashions) or have the nicest _____.  I’ve learned to be content with what I have (does that sound familiar?) and not be tempted to pursue happiness by buying the latest and greatest stuff.  Spending quality time with good people doesn’t require an interaction over a $5 latte, not too much can beat a good book, and there is no earthly measurement to label other activities here that have worth beyond this world.
  • Cooking. This is equal parts love and hate, which you might have guessed if you’ve ever seen my closet kitchen.  Once you walk or bike to get the food you have to cook it from scratch, thus cooking is not easy.  However, this has also been good because I can say I’ve truly learned how to cook.  If you’ve never made salsa, tomato soup, spaghetti sauce, tortillas, cakes, caramel, icing, pancakes, etc. without anything from a can/packet/mix then moving to China will teach you how!

Whether you live overseas or not, what things do you think you would miss most about the place you live right now?

3 Responses

  1. Although we really enjoyed living in the Philippines, the things I missed from the U.S. were hot showers, green salads (we couldn’t eat raw vegetables there), and a predictable steady source of electricity.

    Julie, when you leave Beijing in July, I’ll miss your fascinating posts of your experiences there. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

  2. bartering does sound interesting. I am sure you could still live simply when you come back to the U.S. I don’t have much in my place because I am a bit of a minimalist (and feel I still have too much). . it makes life easier.

  3. Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!

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