Moving to a new city on the other side of the globe can be an exciting, yet daunting experience. How much of the local language do I need to know? What are the must-try foods? And what are the places to visit?
Beijing, for centuries, has served as the country’s capital and continues to both be the gatekeeper of history and culture, as well as the catalyst for unprecedented development. Sharing some of the local sights and sounds–and even smells, our team members offer a glimpse of what life is like in this unique and bustling city:
Software Engineer, France
Software Engineer, US
Jr. Marketing Associate, US
What would you recommend reading / watching / listening before coming to Beijing?
Mike Fischer: River Town by Peter Hessler is a classic, even if modern life in China bears no resemblance to Hessler’s account of a sleepy village on the Yangtze. And make sure you’ve got at least a basic understanding of recent Chinese history (i.e. since 1911) — if you’re American, Kissinger’s On China is a great start, despite the controversy surrounding its author.
Joyce Tang: An HSK book. They’re standardized Chinese learning books—think the Barron’s of SAT. While you don’t have to be fluent, having a basic grasp of Chinese can make getting around a lot easier. But for anything you don’t know, there’s Pleco—the handy, offline translation app.
What is your favorite thing about Beijing?
Making dumplings – 饺子 (jiaozi)
Yoann Cerda: My favorite thing about this city is how historical and well-preserved it is. The city attracts people from all around the world, but it proudly holds onto its history and culture that’s reflected in their traditions and architecture.
JT: The pace of this city. When I look back to when I was abroad here in 2014, I’m astonished at how much Beijing has changed. It’s so exciting to be living through this transformation. A by-product of all this? I can leave the house with just my phone, because digital payments for the win.
MF: Of course it’s the people that make this place what it is. Beijing attracts some of the best and brightest in China, as well as globally-minded people from all over the world who like to venture off the beaten path. It’s hard to imagine a place where it’s easier to make such a diverse group of friends.
I didn’t live until bike-sharing became a thing. – Joyce
What are some things you’ve learned since living in Beijing?
YC: This city never sleeps. There’s always something to do, whether it’s a weekday or the weekend!
The beloved bike-sharing fleet
JT: I didn’t live until bike-sharing became a thing. But in all seriousness, going back to my previous comment about the constant changes happening throughout this city, I’ve learned to embrace uncertainty and see things with more empathy.
MF: If you’re open, it’s easy to make friends anywhere, no matter how different countries look on paper or in the news. Staying in hostels, couchsurfing, sometimes traveling alone — that’s the best way to see the world.
How is China not famous for its BBQ? Because Chinese BBQ is awesome. – Mike
Where do you like to hang out?
YC: I really enjoy going to bars with live music. It’s a great place to unwind.
The city escape to the Wall
JT: Nothing beats a good hutong rooftop or patio with friends in the summertime. But when I need to escape the city, I’m lucky that the Great Wall is just a drive away!
MF: Like most expats, I spend a lot of time in the central and east side of the city (imagine NYC’s Chinatown an alternate universe where the city is Chinese and the Chinatown isn’t…it’s a little like that). But I also love the opposite: camping and staying at farm houses in the mountains while exploring old sections of the Great Wall.
What is your Chinese catchphrase?
YC: 我叫永安，我是法国人 (‘My name is Yoann and I’m from France’). I’ve lived here for several years, and despite learning more of the language, this is still my go-to greeting.
JT: 我的天 wo de tian which means ‘OMG.’ A direct translation of the most versatile response ever.
MF: 爽 shuang: it’s a Tsingdao beer on a hot summer evening, a cool breeze in the mountains after finishing your hike. For extra Beijing flavor, go with 倍儿爽.
What is one book/movie/song that describes Beijing?
MF: I know it’s cliche, but 北京北京 by 汪峰 perfectly captures the balance of promise and challenge I feel here sometimes.
YC: I would say the song 北京欢迎您 (‘Welcome to Beijing’). Another cliche… but it’s the first song I heard in Beijing and the lyrics are so catchy. Whoever you are and whoever you want to be, Beijing always has a place for you.
This city never sleeps. There’s always something to do… – Yoann
What is your favorite food discovery?
YC: As much as I love hotpot, Beijing is definitely the place I have re-discovered western food, so I’d have to say the Fry Burger (fries stuffed into a juicy burger) from Slowboat.
JT: Sichuan peppercorns. A numbing, tongue-tingling ingredient that seamlessly blends into—and at times, can overpower—any dish it’s in! It’s a spice to be reckoned with!
Mouthwatering BBQ aka 串 (chuan’r)
MF: How is China not famous for its BBQ? Because Chinese BBQ is awesome. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串儿) aren’t as cheap as they once were, but they’re still every bit as delicious.
What is the hardest thing to get used to in China?
YC: I come from a small town in France, and to me, Beijing feels like a huge city. Despite living here for a few years, I’m still getting used to the size of this city.
JT: Saying goodbye. People come and go in this transient city. *plays ‘Closing Time’ by Semisonic*
MF: Beijing is transient — people come and go all the time, not just expats but Chinese friends as well. The consolation, I guess, is that you end up with friends all over the world.
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