Are you thinking about moving to Beijing? Perhaps you’re an English teacher like me and are trying to choose where to apply for jobs. Well, let me tell you why I both love and hate living in Beijing.
The Good Stuff
Every kind of food and dining imaginable is available in Beijing. I have access to all the Chinese food I could ever want to eat and the same with all kinds of international food. There is something for every taste in Beijing, and plenty of vegetarian restaurants as well.
Lots of Work for Expats
Unlike many other places, expats in Beijing have access to pretty much every job imaginable. Fashion designers, bankers, writers, international school teachers, bartenders, ESL teachers, students, business people: they are all thriving in Beijing, which creates a very rich community of expats all at different stages of their careers and lives. Due to this, there are a number of facilities and resources available for English speakers: sports clubs, exercise classes, English magazines, book talks, dining events, craft beer, talks by visiting authors and so much more!
Opportunities for Travel
You are in China, and China is huge! There is an endless list of places to visit! I have already experienced numerous holidays traveling throughout this country, and I have barely seen even a sliver of it! There are major cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, the areas of Tibet, countryside, mountains, rivers and historical sites. Also, you can jump on an international flight and arrive in Seoul less than 2 hours later, or Tokyo in 3 or Bangkok in 4. Vietnam and Myanmar are also very easy to access.
The Mix of New and Old
Beijing is a stunning mixture of the new and the old. There are the old Hutong alleyways, where a barber will still cut your hair on the sidewalk, and the cloud-scraping towers of the CBD. From the fancy locations in Sanlitun to the restaurants that are no more than a tiny hole in the wall. I love all of them! Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, The Great Wall, Lama Temple. Yup, there is all of that and so much more!
The Bad Stuff
It is bad for you and it is disgusting. You also feel guilty for not spending every possible second outside on the perfectly clear days. There really is not much more to it than that. Just gross.
Beijing is extremely crowded. After a while I have adjusted to the massive crowds and total lack of personal space, but I know it is often overwhelming for many visitors. However, you will get used it and there are a number of quiet places where you can get away from it all.
China does not share a Western point of view on the rights of animals. From the mistreatment of pets to the eating of pretty much anything, to the inappropriate cages of animals in aquariums and zoos, to the disrespect for sea life and wildlife, and do not even get me started on the location near Harbin where you are allowed to hold a live chicken above a tiger cage while the animal rips it to pieces. Suffice it to say, not the greatest place for animal lovers.
There may be a lot of major skyscrapers and bright lights in Beijing, but there is also a lot of extreme poverty. The difference between the newly rich and the desperately poor can be a little sickening. Of course, there is poverty all over the world, but the differences in Beijing are stark and so are the lack of social safety nets. Apparently many beggars are extorted by gangs, so I do not give money to beggars.
There are way too many cars. More than just that, there are far too many awful and scary drivers. I enjoy hopping on the incredibly cheap subway instead of taking taxis, but it is not always that convenient. There is a lack of stops near where I work, and the system is not designed very well. Some line changes will have you walk for what seems like miles.
The censorship of the Internet and restrictions on the freedom of speech are among the worst things about Beijing. Do not talk about Tienanmen on the 4th of June, disrespect Mao or attempt to access Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Google, New York Times or WordPress. Lots of people use a VPN to access those sites anyway, but having to watch everything you say can be extremely frustrating.
Mandarin Is Really Hard
Mandarin is notoriously hard to learn. It feels more like you are learning three languages at once, as opposed to just one. You need to learn the words with the right tones, you need to learn to write and read the different characters and you need to learn the meaning of the words instead of their literal translation. Mandarin is a big commitment, which can be frustrating for people who are used to picking up a passable familiarity with the language where they are staying.
There is always something new on the news: toxic toothpaste, poisoned baby powder, hormones in milk and antibiotics in water. There is also the worry about gutter oil that is dredged from sewers and resold. I stick to imported toothpastes and milk, and I never touch the water. However, I have that option, unlike millions of Chinese who do not have access to clean water.
And there it is: the best parts and the worst parts of expat life in Beijing! I do love life here and love learning everything about new cultures, but I have been honest about the difficulties that expats face here. However, I believe that the bad is outweighed by the good in the end.