Tag Archives: expat

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.

Making My Peace with Hongbao Culture in China

As of writing this article, the population of China is just over one and a quarter billion people. That makes it the most populous country in the world. It also makes it hard to get special attention or treatment for any problem you might have. 

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Chinese have developed a way to get that attention and its called the hongbao (red envelope stuffed with money).  This is both literal (yes sometimes you have to bribe people), as well as metaphorical (more often the case that your “hongbao” will look like a special gift or service). 

As a foreigner, I naturally stand out and therefore receive special treatment more easily than others. However, I also see the constant exchange of this both literal and figurative hongbaos as I mentioned above. 

They are given to people like doctors, teachers, policemen, and government officials in exchange for things like heightened attention on a loved one or the expedition of an important document.

For outsiders, and even for many Chinese themselves, this practice can be particularly hard to live with. It undermines the law and seems unfair. However anyone who stays here for a longer period of time must understand and adapt to this practice or else risk insanity.

For the time being, it is a part of life in China.

Hongbao Plus One

This past weekend my girlfriend received a red envelope in the form of an invitation to a resort in the north of the city: on the border of Beijing and Hebei. The parents of some students in her class wanted to solidify their relationship with their children’s caregivers and therefore offered the invitation to the student’s homeroom teachers. I went as the plus one.

The resort was the recently opened water town called Gu Bei Shui Zhen (古北水镇), which is basically a replica of a water town that you might find in the southern city of Suzhou.

For people not familiar with China, this is like saying that somebody built a replica Virginia tobacco farm in upstate New York. I don’t really like these kinds of places. They feel very fake, like the very soul of the place is missing.

Normally when I travel, I like to visit local places. I don’t stay in fancy hotels, and opt for budget accommodation like a hostel or cheap hotel. I like to focus my time and resources on visiting places, rather than staying in my room. To me this is what traveling is all about- talking and experiencing life as the locals would see it- rather than an airbrushed resort version. 

Chinese, and coincidentally enough my girlfriend, are the opposite. They don’t mind if something was made particularly for them. The most important thing is that it’s beautiful. If a place’s architecture doesn’t match the geography and history of an area, well, so what!

At least there is a nice pool. 

Moreover I found the entire situation slightly unnerving. The parents essentially decided the schedule and, even though they were very nice people, it felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells around them. It’s not that I don’t think it was very generous of them, it just felt a little odd to me.

The differences in our expectations of teacher-student relationships as well as travelling experiences tell us a lot about Chinese and American culture.

I would never choose to go to a place like Gu Bei Shui Zhen on my own. As I said above, something about its in-authenticity repels me.

I would also never invite my child’s teacher on vacation with me. Just like Gu Bei Shui Zhen, it feels slightly unauthentic and uncomfortable. 

How to Develop Cultural Literacy

The challenges posed by a clash of cultures here is a great metaphor for the challenges of living in another country. When confronted with these types of situations, the best thing you can do is to adapt- if only for the sake of preserving harmony- which is perhaps the most you can hope for when living abroad.

Even though I often feel like speaking out against these types of cultural practices in china (specifically the practice of giving envelopes and superficial relationships), doing so would accomplish nothing. In fact, it would make me more stressed out.

In the end I am not in China to change it. I am here as a visitor. I hope that my presence and interactions help to open them up a little bit to outside ideas; but ultimately I don’t plan on naturalizing.

The Result

As a result of practicing this cultural literacy I was able to lay back and relax with my girlfriend. Even though I did have the urge to criticize both the resort and circumstances under which I had come, I restrained myself and am very happy that I did. The most important thing was that she enjoyed herself and the parents felt like we were being reciprocative of their generosity.

This experience served as further proof that I rarely have all of the answers, and my own expectations are often wrong. I can’t change the way I feel about these types of places and relationships, but I can seek first to understand and not to be understood.

Yes, that is a Stephen Covey line. And while I am not promoting his whole system, I do think it is an important building block of living in another culture happily.

The Salty Foreigner in China Rant

A new theme, a new look, a new cold and icy season. OK, winter is here in Beijing and we are all starting to get… what’s the word for it? Christmassy? Irritable? Irritably Christmassy?

Anyways it’s pretty cold out right now. I still ride the bike to work. As long as I remember to wear my long underwear, winter jacket, and a scarf I keep warm.

China.

I want to get out of here. Really, I can’t take it anymore. For so many justifiable reasons it feels like my head is splitting in two all of the time. (And not the kind of splitting when it feels like a headache. The kind of splitting when it feels like your literally going insane because you can’t accept reality.)

I don’t want to speak Chinese. I don’t want to eat Chinese food. And I especially don’t want to listen to my Chinese boss.

I suppose these are the fruits of international life, developing an expatriate complex, and eating at subway everyday.

OK, I admit it. I am just being a stereotypical, salty foreigner.

Yes, this country is different and there are many things I will never completely acclimate myself to (nor should I want to- for that matter). Yes, I am treated very differently, almost like an alien at times, and it is so very outrageous, isn’t it?

Well, all in all its not such a big deal. The whole thing will be over soon enough anyways. I mean, I will either leave the country or die. I suppose those are my two options.

And the whole time, while I am bitching and moaning and skyping my parents back home to tell them that I can’’t possibly finish out this contract, people are out there… foreigners and Chinese, having the time of their lives.

Isn’t that just… ironic?

Yes, ironic. Quite ironic. This whole damn thing is so fraught with irony that if you were to ask me who planned it, I would say no other than William Shakespeare himself. But, please forgive me if I don’t laugh.

No, I have got to take myself less seriously! Study more Chinese. Go out with the locals. Visit the hutongs. Do Taiqi…

No, I refuse to do Taiqi. I would look ridiculous out there in a white gown, making those gestures with my hands. You know the ones.

As you might know from my previous post, I have started studying Chinese again. I can say that does make the entire world of difference. Not only does it give me a goal, but it also connects me to the world that I am living in.

Is there a correlation between me not studying Chinese and falling into a bit of a depressive spiral? Well, I guess god alone knows that truth. That is, assuming someone up there is watching us. I wouldn’t be so bold as to tell you, my dear reader, what to think.

Taking care of my apartment has also been a good way to fend off the depressive spiral. Moving things into their proper places, sweeping the floor, cleaning the hair out of the drains, keeping my dish sink empty, and countless other little chores that I can do help me to stay sane. I guess that even if I will never be a complete member of this society, I still have my home.

Being there for other people.

Last week I was in an absolute rotten mood for Thanksgiving. When we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. I completely ruined everything when I said, “the bill” (as I need it for a tax write off), and the fact that we were eating at an Indian Buffet (which I thought was slightly ironic, albeit was a little bit of a stretch).

It takes a very salty foreigner indeed to use the gratitude period of a perfectly cheery Thanksgiving dinner to equate happiness with his individual tax exemption benefit and a nation’s history of oppression.

I have to be careful. Sometimes when I think I am being funny one half of the room thinks it’s clever and the other thinks I’m drunk. I guess there is just a little part of me that wants to see any happy moment in life shatter. I have been that way ever since I was a kid.

The point of that whole tangent is though, I can’t stick myself alone in my apartment all week. I need to go out and see friends, have dinners. That kind of thing. Be there for other people and in the minimum, complain together. It’s just better that way.

I’m happy to say that today it feels like I am coming back out of the spiral. I am feeling like me again. Maybe it’s the writing. Maybe it’s the fact that I have decided work can be a positive, if I decide to approach it like that.

It’s not easy for me. It’s not exactly the way that I am used to behaving. But the alternative is being an angry curmudgeon (why does it seem everyone is using that word lately?) and engaging with the all too alluring downward spiraling, depressive cycle, of expat blues in China.