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Living in Beijing post 180 days

December 4, 2011

By now, I have been in Beijing for 6.5 months. There are a few things about Beijing (or China) and living here that are now ingrained in my mind, the few things that I’ll talk about when people ask me, “What’s interesting in Beijing?”

1. The weather

Alright, we can’t really talk about a place without its weather. The smog in Beijing still does me wonder. One day it’s smoggy, another day it’s clear and sunny. If it is indeed pollution that covers the sky, why do some days not have smog? Also, don’t be disillusioned by the no-smell smog. It’s not like vehicle exhaust which is usually black and smells funky. It’s still dangerous air even though there is no smell. A colleague once told me that the US embassy has their own pollution meter, with readings that can vary from the Chinese government’s ones.

Looking outside TW office on a clear day

Looking outside TW office on a smoggy day

How cold is it here? I have not been through its core winter months yet. But even though it’s degree-wise warmer or about the same as in Chicago, I have to wear warmer clothes here, because I am outside a lot more, either walking or biking. I now enjoy the warmth of a 雷锋 (Lei Feng) hat and snow boots 🙂 — can’t live without them.

2. The bikes, and who’s on them!

There are so many types of bikes here: the regular old-style bikes, e-bikes, mountain bikes, scooters, carriage bikes, and those specially for people with special needs. I love that there are bike lanes everywhere! I have biked all around the 2nd ring, to church, to dance lessons, to check out new places up to 10 km away. Plus, I don’t feel weird or in danger. Yes, I do sometimes, but imagine trying to bike in downtown Chicago or Surabaya, oh no no.

To be honest, I like watching couples on the bike, especially when they first get on it. One person pushes, then runs a bit and gets on the back of the bike. A colleague once told me that you’re more Chinese once you have someone ride on your bike :D. Every once in a while I also see dogs in the bike rack, adorable! They just sit there obediently, without leash or tie to the bike. The dogs trust the owner and vice versa. I wish my sister’s dog would do that in the car (he once jumped out of the car’s window!).

3. Love stories

I think Chinese people are known for their love stories. In 2007, a group of hikers found a 6000-step ladders on a mountain that a husband carved for his wife and children in his 50 years of marriage. Just Google ‘chinese old couple love story’ and you’ll find it, or follow this link.

Nowadays, the younger generation is getting more open to show their relationships, emotionally and physically. Couples, regardless of age, hold hands on the road, in the bus or subway. Once in a while, I see people kiss, in various places. There are a number of TV programs that feature couples stories, whether the guy is proposing to the girl, or young people looking for boyfriends/girlfriends. There is a controversy whether these programs are really trying to help people find dates, or are more interested in getting high ratings. Read this article for an example. While on tour in Shanghai (see my past post), I came across a public event where parents are looking for matches for their daughters and sons. I have only seen this in China.

4. Prices are unexpected and unfair.

In India, I can go to small store on the block and buy shampoo with the same price as it is in a large supermarket. Prices of common goods are actually the same about everywhere. Granted, buying fruits and vegetables need some bargaining skills, but nothing out of ordinary.

In Beijing, I can get 3 dragonfruits for 10 yuan from a street seller, but only 1 fruit from a supermarket. A hair pin can cost from .5 yuan to 100 yuan, depending on where you buy it. Malls sell everything in a high price, even higher than the same goods in the US. I have stopped looking at things in the mall just because I don’t want to afford them. I go to the markets where I can bargain and get just good-enough functionally items.

House prices.. oh don’t ask. The cost of an apartment on Beijing’s 5th ring (suburb) is more than my 3-bedroom townhouse in Chicago’s suburb. It does not look that big different unless we realize that the average salary for the middle-class workers (such as IT engineers) are 20-30% of the comparable workers in the US. I understand salaries range a lot depending on the company, city, and a multitude of other things. I am making a generalization from my knowledge friends who work in Beijing and Chicago. Prices increase due to high demand from those with money, thus consequently, a majority of people, middle-class or lower, cannot afford buying any house for their future.

Just yesterday I went to have my bike tires pumped from my fav bike guy on the roadside. Kind of like this bicycle repair guy with his pet dog but not the exact same. He charged me 1 yuan for both tires! In contrast, I usually pay 15 yuan or more for my meal. Living gets easier for the richer, and harder for the poorer.

4. Policies

The China government enforce a number of creative policies, given the huge population they work with. For example, to control the traffic in Beijing, there is a lottery for license plates, meaning you can buy a car but not drive it until you win the lottery. Cars with certain license plates pattern cannot be out on certain days, meaning on some days, you may need to take the public transportation. Not only there is a one child per-family rule, there is also one car per-family rule.

To be honest, a majority of the cars I see around are really nice cars, such as Audi and BMW. I suppose since it is very hard to get a license plate, once one owns one, he/she just might as well get a nice car to go along with it. Can’t keep it for a second car.

Just a few days ago I learned about the pain truth dog owners have to deal with in Beijing. For each dog, they are to pay about 6000 yuan each year (about US$ 1K). It’s like dog tax. I wonder why the government impose this, as I think owning dogs should be encouraged so there can be less stray dogs.

5. Simple living

The last has to be something related with my living. I am really enjoying my small-but-spacious apartment and the less stuffs I have in Beijing. There is less cleaning I have to do;  you can say I’m lazy, but why spend a whole weekend cleaning a big house? There is a minimum of what I need in the house, and I have proven that less clutter translates to a happier me :). I don’t have to deal with boxes of unused items in the garage and checking which cans of food are going to expire soon. Not having a car is a surprisingly an added bonus in Beijing. I don’t have to pay the insurance, oil change, car wash, and maintenance. I can get anywhere by bike, subway, and taxi — for cheap.


My biggest challenge is still in the social life circle, as I tend to prefer my little quiet space at home and going around by myself. If I am to live here longer, I should dare to go out and meet people more regularly. But for now, I’ll spend my extra time with God, books, blogs, and preparing for 2012.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2011 8:37 pm

    Nice story. Like a whole summary of your life 🙂 nice to hear u can still enjoy life there. Do live happily and be yourself.


  1. Reflections on 2011 « A Journal of Learning

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