Tag Archives: beijing

10 Ways to Relax like a Local Expat in Beijing

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Tourists in Beijing often prioritize visiting places like the Great Wall and Forbidden city. They have good reason to. These are not only beautiful attractions in their own right, but also emblematic of China.

However a lot of people don’t want to deal with the crowds or stress of traveling around and trying to check off every box on their Fodor’s travel guide. They want to experience the city as a local might.

This list is for those people.

We all love China. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that sometimes a guy has got to eat a slice of pizza and try to visualize he is anywhere else but here…in China.

Don’t judge me, OK?

1. Visit Wangfujing Bookstore and have a coffee above the Oriental Mall 

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View From Starbucks at Jiangguomen Wai 

Location: 东城区王府井大街218
218 Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng District

Wangfujing and its adjacent snack street filled with scorpions and fried shark fin is a great place for tourists. However, those whom live in Beijing prefer to skip all that and instead visit the Wangfujing Bookstore, located directly across from the snack street. The store has six floors of books, with the third floor containing English books as well as Chinese language learning materials (in case, you know, you want to be less helpless in the city).

After visiting the book store you may be tempted to try fried scorpion… Take my word for it, you can skip that. Instead, ride the escalator up to the office buildings above the Oriental Mall and have a coffee at one of the most underrated Starbucks in Beijing next to the Hyatt. This is a great place to get a view of Jianguomen Wai and some buildings beautiful examples of contemporary Chinese architecture. 

2. Eat pastries and drink coffee north of “The Village”

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Pasticceria North of “The Village

Location: 三里屯北小街1
1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie

Sanlitun Village is the de-facto foreign quarter of Beijing. 

The reason for this being that it is surrounded by many embassies and is beside the city’s main business district. North of of the main area for restaurants and shops, called by many “The Village”, is a tidy corridor of cafes owned primarily by an Italian gentlemen who I have never met. Anyway, you can get meals there and, more importantly, eat sweets at the pasticceria while sipping a cappuccino.

 

3. Eat Nachos in Sanlitun Village

Location: 朝阳区三里屯路19号三里屯Village南区4号楼3S4-32
S4-32, 3/F, Bldg 4, Sanlitun Village South, 19 Sanlitun Lu Chaoyang District

Taikoonli is an upscale shopping center in Sanlitun Village, and is also home to a few restaurants that Expats swear by; one of which is called Cantina Agave and has some of the best Mexican food in town. Sure, Chinese food is good and all, but what self respecting traveller doesn’t enjoy a good dose of sour cream and guacamole from time to time?

4. Relax in Changping and Mentougou Districts  

Link (Mangshan National Park): http://www.ebeijing.gov.cn/feature_2/BeijingParks/BeijingParksA_Z/t1177019.htm

Tired of honking horns, screaming mothers, and heavy pollution? Well, Beijing’s mountains in the west of the city offer some of the best medicine for urban headaches. 

Completed in 2015, the Changping Line departs from Xierqi Station in Hadian and travels out into Beijing’s Changping District. The Dongguan subway stop provides access to Mangshan National Park nearby the Ming Tombs, which is a nice hour hike up to a pagoda. This is but one of the many options in Changping.

Another way to take advantage of the surrounding mountains is to ride Line 1 until you reach Pingguoyuan, the most western station. From there you can access Mentougou district, which is a popular area for villages and buddhist temples. One of the most famous Buddhist temples in Beijing, Tanzhesi, is located here.

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Tanzhesi Temple

5. Relax With A Massage 

Location: 朝阳区工体北路17
17 Gongti Beilu Chaoyang District
Link: https://www.thebeijinger.com/directory/bodhi-therapeutic-retreat

Massages in China are considerably cheaper than in western countries. You should take advantage of this! Remember, you won’t be here forever. One of the most popular places to get a massage is at Bodhi in Sanlitun village. They offer a solid middle of the road option. 

6. Ride the Beijing Subway

Taxis are cheap in China. Yes, I know it. But you know what is even cheaper? The subway. It used to be that you could travel anywhere in the city for just 2 RMB. Now it’s gone up to a distance fare system where the most you pay is 7 RMB. Still, nobody is complaining.

7. Spend the Day at Ikea

The Swedish furniture importer is much more than a simple warehouse, it is also a place to sleep, hang out with friends, and eat. Chinese and foreigners alike enjoy going to Ikea on dates or just to kill time. Sound crazy? Well, some things you have to see to believe.

8. Bike Around the Hutongs Aimlessly 

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Beijing is a city known for its history, and a big part of that is its traditional houses called hutongs. Although the hutongs are rapidly disappearing as the city pushes into modernity, there are still plenty to see (particularly within the second ring road).

If the hutongs are Beijing’s most famous style of architecture, than the same can be said for the bicycle mode of transportation. Although the time of everyone riding on two wheels has long since passed, it is still a very pleasant experience to cycle in Beijing as its an extremely flat city. Spend a day either alone or with a friend and get lost in some of Beijing’s old inner city. 

9. Eat barbecue and drink watery beer 

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Kao Rou, Chinese For Barbecue

One of my first memories in Beijing was eating chuar (barbecue) and drinking watery yanjing beer late into the summer nights. During the winter this isn’t an option. But when the weather is still warm enough and you can get away with it, I highly recommend pulling up a plastic stool and ordering some roasted lamb and mantou bread. 

(I also recommend making sure that the restaurant you choose is at least halfway decent and that you are not going to eat anything questionable, such as rat or dog.)

10. Play Football in Chaoyang Park 

Location: 1 Nongzhan Nanlu, Chaoyang District
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Beijing is an international city and so it is only fitting that it has a decent football scene (soccer for us Americans). Chaoyang Park is located just east of Sanlitun and holds five on five games on various nights of the week. This is a great way to let off some steam and keep sane. Sometimes all you need to fend off homesickness is a to work up a sweat with some friends.

What’s Up With This Sharing Economy Thing?

“What’s up with this sharing economy thing?” I say to my friend Mike as I stare at the line of beat-up yellow bicycles parked at the foot of my apartment building.

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“It’s kind of like an agreement. We all put in some money and then share something.” Mike gestures to the line of yellow bicycles. “It’s kind of like everyone in the city buys a bicycle, but doesn’t lock them.”

“I see. Still, it seems a little odd to me. There are so many of them now.”

“Yeah, I know. Seems like people really like to share when everyone benefits.”

I nod my head to Mike. I guess I can’t argue with that. It’s nice to be able to ride a bicycle in any part of the city and not worry if someone is going to steal it or not. When you have a good subway system and access to bicycles at every stop it makes you wonder why someone would want to buy a car in the first place.

Then you get on the subway in the heat of summer. Everyone is sweaty and you can’t find a seat. Your clothes stick to your skin like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth and you suddenly don’t wonder so much why people still drive cars.

Mike and I ride our yellow bicycles out of the compound and down a dusty street in search of some stir-fried vegetables over rice. Still, I think to myself, there have been much worse ideas.

小黄车 xiǎo huángchē- a new word with Min老师

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Does Beijing Still Believe Foreign Technology Is “Clever But Useless”?

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Beijing has never been known for its hospital weather. Sandstorms, arid conditions, and pollution are all commonplace in the capital of the People’s Republic of China.

When you look at Beijing’s location on a map, next to the Gobi Desert and Mongolian Plains, it is incredibly difficult to understand why it is such a populous city in the first place.

That is to say, throughout history prosperous cities have had an ecological reason. Shanghai started out as a fishing town and Guangzhou made it’s name via port trade and industry, for example.

So, why are there so many people in Beijing today?

Beijing’s Political Clout

Beijing has little in terms of ecological advantage. In fact, the biggest reason for it’s importance today is the city’s colorful history.

  • Beijing was first dubbed a capital from 1264 until 1267 under the Khans’ Mongol empire.
  • In the Ming and Qing dynasties from 1421 until 1912, Beijing again regained its status as the center of China, only to be displaced by Sun Yat-sen in the forming of the Repulic of China via the Xinhai Revolution.
  • Finally, in 1949 it was made the capital again, as it remains today, when Mao Zedong and the People’s Liberation Army won out in a civil way against Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang (Singh, 2007).

These dates and the significance behind them illustrate why Beijing has had both incredible strategic and political significance through the past millennium in China. And while the strategic importance of Beijing’s position as a military location has decreased somewhat over the years as military technology has advanced, its political clout remains as strong to today as ever.

As mentioned above, the city’s geographical position is less than ideal. The air quality is abysmal and the climate perpetually arid. Yet, the Chinese still flock to the capital in search of opportunity, exacerbating  its overpopulation problems.

Notably the CCP doesn’t seem to be sitting on their laurels when it comes to the issue of making Beijing more livable. In fact, it is rapidly expanding and building more subway lines as part of its plan to help workers commute from the suburbs and mitigate the myriad of problems that come from so many people living in one area. 

A Short History Of Beijing’s Railways

train station

Beijing’s recent love affair with rail networks is very interesting when you consider their attitude historically towards outside influence. Moreover it is incredibly telling when discussed in terms of China’s march towards modernization and its relationship to the outside world.

When the British first tried to sell railways to the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century, one mandarin was famously quoted as having said that the trains were “clever but useless”.

(Sidenote: The source for this quote is broken on the wikipedia page where I originally read it. Perhaps it is misreported, but nevertheless is a good metaphor for how the Qing Dynasty viewed trains in the 19th century).

The British did not let their initial attempts to sale rail technology disuade them, and in 1876 the British trading firm “Jardine, Matheson, and Co.” built the “Woosung Road” railway. This ran from the American Concession to Zhunbei District in Shanghai. Presumably this was an attempt to market the such railway systems to the Chinese. But, it ultimately failed when the government decided to pull it up after two weeks of operation. 

In 1881, the Kaiping Tramway was completed by the imperial Railways in north China to transport Coal from Tangsun mines. This time the project was not undone, as it was backed by powerful government supporters. However, they did need the direction and guidance of the English engineer, Robert Reginald Burnett. 

Interestingly enough, in order to secure support for the railway, a government official made a present of a smaller railway for the Empress Dowager Cixi in 1888. This rail was built between her residence in Zhongnanhai and dining hall in Beihai.

The Empress Dowager, however, was concerned that the sound of the train would disturb the fengshui of the imperial city. She therefore decided to have her eunuchs pull the train, rather than use a steam powered engine .

Foreign Technology, Still “Clever but Useless”?

Today, it is safe to say that the original “clever but useless” sentiment towards foreign influence in China has made a one hundred and eighty degree turn. Now, we see both the CCP and private enterprise adopting foreign technology and partnering with foreign companies to help advance both the country’s and their own interests. 

In fact, the Chinese railway system, once decried as “clever but useless”, is now centerpiece to the governments modernization plan.

In 2016 “China’s top economic planner approved a 247 billion-yuan ($36 billion) railway plan to link Beijing to neighboring cities as part of a government effort to improve connectivity around the nation’s capital” (Lyu, 2016).

This rail system will effectively link Beijing with the neighboring cities of Tianjin as well as other cities in Hebei Province. If completed, it will represent a a project which is the first of its kind both in intricacy as well as scale.

Moreover, this project is just one of many in which the government plans to use foreign technology as the solution to their unique situation. The Bohai Strait Tunnel, subways and bridges in Guangdong, as well as the Gansu Wind Farm project are just some of the many examples taken from the governments thirteenth Five Year Plan.

With so many problems caused by overpopulation and the Party’s determination to meet GDP targets, China seems to have adopted a strategy in complete opposite to the late Qing Dynasty.

These projects, if completed, will certainly put China “on the map” and give them even more credibility in a time of uncertain global affairs. The question that seems to be on everyone’s mind, is if Chinese organizations can properly manage these types of never-been-done projects.

Sources

Singh, R. (2007, Jan 20). When did Beijing become the capital of China?
Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/When-did-Beijing-become-the-capital-of-China/articleshow/1343312.cms

Lyu, D. (2016, Nov 28). China Approves $36 Billion Rail Plan for Cities Around Beijing
Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-28/china-approves-36-billion-rail-plan-for-cities-around-beijing

Wiki Background Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rail_transport_in_China

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiping_Tramway_and_Imperial_Railways_of_North_China

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohai_Strait_tunnel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-year_plans_of_China

 

Literary ADD

Will’s weekly update

Writing is such a curious thing. It is as if in the beginning there is a large boulder you need to push by yourself. Just you, your bare hands, and some geological components. 

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This past week has been a big one in terms of writing. I finalized a piece of flash fiction that I have been working on for a while now (will be released in June). I finished a larger piece which I was just kind of stumbling through (not sure if that will ever be released 🙂 ). Finally, I also wrote the first draft of another which I think could be pretty entertaining.

In a way it feels like I have a little bit of literary ADD. So much so that I actually haven’t read anything longer than a web page- besides Robert Greene’s, “Mastery” (and even that I am listening to).

I decided to revisit this book because of a youtube talk show, Creative Live (featuring Robert Greene), that I watched the other day during lunch. (My last blog post was about some of the main ideas in the book).

Sidenote- Greene does not think there is necessarily a correlation between how many words you write a day and your ability to write.

I agree with the caveat that we are assuming said person is still a prolific writer. Interesting food for thought. Actually, to a certain extent, having a tight per day word count can be quite stifling and actually counterproductive.

It could, for example, be easy to fall into the trap of just trying to get words on the page. I know that sometimes we all have to do this, but still, there is a different environment when you are writing for a word count versus the story itself.

I was aiming for a minimum of 2,000 words per day on my most recent piece. I would occasionally find myself at the end of a chapter, only to realize that I needed a couple hundred more words. Eventually, I decided that I should just start on the next chapter, rather than extend the one I was working on. However, it took some trial and error before I came to this decision.

Anyhow, it was a productive week for me, and I am looking forward to an equally productive one this week. Hope all is well with y’all out there in cyberspace.

– Will

Better To Stay Loose

Leaving Seoul today. I knew that it was coming but still, for some reason or another, it’s hard. I don’t want to go back to Beijing. I have responsibilities there.

I am writing this while sitting on the airport express train. That old, peculiar feeling of leaving a place or a friend has sprung up again.

For some reason it always feels like it’s raining on the last day of a trip. Rain drops splatter against the sides of window panes as the questions run through my mind.

What if I don’t leave?

What if I do?

What if it’s all a mistake?

seoul black and white

Hill top in Itaewon, Seoul.

Traveling to a new city is always like living in a dream. You meet new people and see new things. You walk around and imagine yourself in every cafe and on every street corner.

But you know you’re just kidding yourself. You don’t love this city anymore than the last. It’s all just that hopeless romantic side of you. Not made to fit in anywhere because, actually, you enjoy not fitting in.

I mean… what I mean to say is, you don’t like staying anywhere too long. Then the shine wears off and you see that everyone is human again.

Better to stay loose. Better to keep moving.

Modern and Drab Seoul

I recently completed my goal to visit the triumvirate of northeast Asian Mega-cities: Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Seoul lights in Gangnam.

Seoul lights in Gangnam.

All of these cities are massive. But they are also unique.

Beijing, where I live, is gritty and brutish.

Tokyo is dazzling and unique.

Seoul is…

Seoul is modern.

I knew that it was technologically advanced, but I didn’t expect so many free internet access points and for everything to be so clean. That’s a big plus, especially when you are coming from China’s tight internet restrictions and less than ideal sanitation.

It’s geography is also quite nice. It’s hilly and that gives it some character. Maybe I’m partial because Beijing is so flat.

And while Seoul is ideal for tech and cleanliness, it is also a bit bland. In terms of architecture, at least. The buildings are all pretty similar and leave something to be desired.

(I would also comment on their music/movie scene, but I feel it’s too early for that. They might have something unique there, but it still needs time. I will give them the benefit of the doubt- even though Gangnam Style is a little… OK moving on.)

On the whole, I think it’s not quite a bad place at all. Safe, clean, and technologically advanced. In terms of style it’s no NYC or Tokyo, but that’s OK. I suppose that may be a title not everyone actually wants. 

It’s nice to finally visit all three cities. It took four years and I feel like I now have a really strong breadth of this area. 

Funny that even though I have noticed many unique characteristics, I have found that these three places actually have far more similarities than differences. The food, family values, and culture of face all seem ubiquitous.

While I feel like this trip definitely closes a chapter in my traveling career, I also look forward to visiting these places again someday. Each has a very youthful vibe and it’s almost like you can taste the change in the air.

I like that. I like when people push the status quo.

 

Questions That Effective Language Learners Ask Themselves

Have you ever wanted to learn something so badly that you studied it all the time?

If you are like me, then you have experienced the point at which studying becomes counterproductive.

When learning something new, it is important to take intermittent breaks. This practice allows you to replenish your “focus muscles” and reflect on your progress.

In fact, this past weekend I took a break from my Mandarin studies.

I knew it was time for the break because I had lost both my focus and desire to sit down with textbooks, flashcards, movies, etc. Moreover this period coincided with a three day weekend courtesy of Qing Ming Festival in China (I live in Beijing).

Qing Ming is a time for Chinese to visit the tombs of their ancestors and pay their respects. For me, it was a good time to let my brain relax.

While I relaxed, I noticed how my brain actually had a hard time cooling down. It seemed like I was constantly looking for things- anything I could consume- a book, movie, writing in my diary, anything to distract myself.

(I am very aware of my own preoccupation with being occupied. I find that meditation, exercise, and eating healthy are good ways to keep myself sane.)

But sometimes I still blow up little things, like my language learning hobby, and create new areas of stress.

That’s why I take breaks. And when I take breaks I also ask myself some questions.

I like to reflect and consider these areas of stress within the context of my life.

Once I do this, I can better understand why I am acting in such a way, and then change my behavior if it will help to decrease my stress (or accept it and move on if there is nothing that I can do in that moment).

I wrote down these questions for language learners, but you could also apply them to other subjects/areas in your life.

OK, so here it goes…

1. Why am I interested in learning this language/subject?

The most successful students have a good answer to this question. Such answers normally go deeper than the surface. They are tied to our likes, interests, and backgrounds/childhoods.

In terms of language learning, people who live in a target country have a strong reason to learn. People with family ties to a language also have a strong reason.

Try asking yourself a few questions about why you are learning a particular language.

  1. Do I enjoy the culture?
  2. Do I plan on living/visiting this country in the future?
  3. Do I have familial ties to the language?

2. What are my goals for learning the language?

Tests and courses are popular for learning because they give people clear learning outcomes. They become even more useful when they are tied to industry or academic standards.

People who are studying English, for example, often take the TOEFL or IELTs to enter university or acquire that highly sought after raise. Such reasons are powerful motivators.

These questions should help you judge the efficacy of your language learning goals.

  1. Do I have a professional use for the language?
  2. Will I use the language outside of my job?
  3. Am I interested in the culture that the language resides in?

3. How much time and resources do I have to put towards learning the target language?

People have different amounts of time and resources available at different times of their lives. When you are younger, then you need to consider your studies. As you get older, professional and familial responsibilities take up more of your time.

Tutors, language courses, books, apps are all good resources but they also cost money.

A student, for example, will have much more time than a single mother. A young sales clerk might fit somewhere in between.

Consider these questions to help better understand the limitations of your time and resources.

  1. What are my personal and professional responsibilities?
  2. How much free time do I have and when do I have it?
  3. How much money can I allocate towards learning materials?

Wrap Up

These three questions are a good start to understanding 1) why we are interested in a language (or subject for that matter), 2) what we hope to accomplish, and 3) if we are being realistic or not.

I find that being realistic is perhaps the most important of all the three. If we are not being realistic, then we are apt to either overstretch or underestimate ourselves.

Of course, a large part of this practice is the art of understanding yourself. The more practice you have in learning new things then the easier this will be for you.

Do you use a process similar to this? Is there anything that you agree or disagree with in the article? What language are you learning now?