Beijing, You’re Not So Scary After All!

Beijing, You're Not So Scary After All! - Travel Lush

China wasn’t my first choice of countries to live in.  Not even close.  In all of my 14 years of travel, I’d never really thought of traveling to China, let alone living here.  So when Aaron pitched the idea of taking a job at a university in Beijing I was hesitant, to say the least.  It actually took quite a bit of convincing to get me on board with the whole moving to China thing.  The pollution, the censorship, the weather and the cultural differences all had me balking at the idea of moving here.  But, ultimately the practicalities of employment came first.  So now here I am, living in Beijing, China.

Beijing, You're Not So Scary After All! - Travel Lush
Outside of the Forbidden City.

And guess what…I kinda like it!

Perhaps I’m in the midst of a honeymoon period with Beijing, but so far I am seriously smitten with this city.  Sure I’ve faced my fair share of challenges thus far.  I’ve been stranded on the side of the road, shivering in the 20F degree weather, because I couldn’t communicate with any taxi drivers.  And then there was the time I ate nothing but Veggie Delite sandwiches from Subway (yes, they have Subway in China) for two days because I couldn’t find a grocery store near where I live.  At the moment, I can’t for the life of me open the door to my washing machine, where my wet clothes are quickly mildewing.  (Why are Chinese appliances so difficult to use?)

But tiny mishaps aside, my first week in Beijing has been pretty incredible.

Because Aaron and I arrived in Beijing during the final week of Chinese New Year, when many Beijingers leave the city, we couldn’t move into our apartment right away.  While I was super eager to see where we were going to live for the next 18 months, getting a hotel downtown ended up being the best thing ever.  We spent five carefree days recovering from jet lag at an amazing hotel located a literal two-minute walk from the Forbidden City, a sprawling 500-year-old complex and one of the most iconic sites in Beijing.

For the first time in a long time I was able to step outside of expat mode and be a traveler again.  I stood in the middle of Tiananmen Square, got lost in the city’s mazelike hutongs (traditional villages) and stuffed my face with fresh veggie dumplings.  I got my culture fix at the stunning Tibetan Buddhist Lama Temple, marveled at the seriously bizarre foods that populate the food stalls at the Donghuamen Night Market and discovered true Chinese kitsch at the trendy Nanluogu Xiang.

Lama Temple - Beijing, China
Tibetan prayer flags at Lama Temple.
dumplings in Beijing, China
Dumplings around every corner!
Qeird food donghuamen night market - Beijing, China - Travel Lush
Um, no thank you…

This city is kind of rad!  There are a mind-boggling amount of things to see and do.

I don’t know what it is but I’m feeling more at home here than I ever did in Phnom Penh.  It’s a bit odd considering I can’t communicate with anyone or read any signs…

And all those things that I’d been fretting over ever since I learned I’d be moving to Beijing haven’t really been an issue – at least not yet.  I’ve actually done surprisingly well adjusting to the frigid temperatures.  Sure, every time I step outside I have to literally cover myself head to toe in boots, long underwear, a down jacket, scarf and beanie.  But the cold weather is kind of a nice change of pace compared to the oppressive heat of Southeast Asia, where I’ve spent the majority of the past three years.  And at this point I’m definitely not looking forward to Beijing’s brutally hot summer months.

Beijing, You're Not So Scary After All! - Travel Lush
My Beijing getup.

The air quality has also been shockingly good since my arrival.  A week in and I’ve only experienced one mildly “unhealthy” air day.  The rest of the time I’ve been blessed with clear blue skies.  I realize that I will fall victim to Beijing’s infamous “airpocolypse” soon enough.  Rest assured I will be complaining about the city’s poor air quality before too long.  But for now I’m enjoying the fresh(ish) air.

Even our living situation turned out to be surprisingly decent.  I tend to have a knack for picking the world’s worst apartments to live in (my awful apartment in Jakarta is a prime example).  Because of my poor track record, I was seriously dreading seeing our apartment.  But it’s really not so bad.  Like most apartments in Asia, it’s on the small side and it does have a creepy grandma-style aesthetic.  But it’s clean and it’s quiet.   And somehow we lucked out and got a unit on the top floor, which means no annoying upstairs neighbors.  Can we say score?

I have no doubt that this move will be a challenging one.  Trust me, I’m reminded of that by every foreigner I’ve met who lives in Beijing.  But one week in and I’m very pleasantly surprised.  So far, so good!

Have you ever moved abroad?  How did your transition go?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

24 thoughts on “Beijing, You’re Not So Scary After All!

  1. Great to hear you are enjoying it thus far, and that you got a decent apartment! I highly suggest taking a few language classes, although its time consuming, it really is helpful. Its a fairly difficult language, but just knowing a little will go a long way! Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures!
    Terra recently posted…Umeshu Plum Festival in Dazaifu

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely going to need some lessons. This language is extremely challenging and it really doesn’t help that I can’t read any signs or write anything down. This will definitely be an adventure 😉

    1. I have!!! I’ve already been to a few pure vegetarian restaurants in Beijing. And I’ve found that there are a lot of veg choices at restaurants. I would be clueless about what to order if I were on my own. But luckily I know a few people who speak Mandarin so they’ve been able to help me order. The food here is so good 🙂

    1. Leah, I swear the lamp next to my bed is haunted. I might just have to write a post about the quirks of my apartment, of which there are many. I really am loving it here so far! Actually, I’m shocked by how much I like it 🙂 Come to China!!

    1. Thanks Amanda! Ah, it’s nice to hear from someone who’s lived here for so long. That must mean you like it here? I’m going to have to go blog stalk you now 😉

  2. Oh, Justine, I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying it. Even if it’s the Honeymoon phase, embrace it, girl. Love it. I’m so excited to hear about everything you end up discovering in your new city.

    Question – Did the university Aaron’s working for arrange the apartment for you guys or did you do it before you got there? (Still trying to figure out which way’s going to be best for my move too 😛 )
    Ceri recently posted…Sunday Post: Black History from Maya & Sammy

    1. I’m definitely embracing it! There have been some funny quirks so far. Like today I spent about five hours going around the city, trying to find boots. I wear a size 7 and couldn’t find them anywhere. How do people have smaller feet than me?! And then lo and behold there’s a shop right down the street where I found some. Score!

      So our housing is provided by the university. It means that we have no say in where we live which is always sketchy. That’s why I was so nervous about it. In our case it turned out okay, but you never know. In Phnom Penh we had the option to find our own place. I suggest doing that if you have a choice but definitely house hunt with people who speak the language and are knowledgeable about the area and things to look out for. We got a little overeager in PP and did not choose our apartment wisely…I will say that one perk of having housing provided is that you don’t have to deal with the hassles of finding a place and throwing down huge deposits…

  3. Congrats on your big move! East Asia is quite a switch from where you’ve been. I understand what you mean about somehow just feeling at home. That’s how I feel here in Korea. I haven’t been back to visit China since early 2008, and I’m kinda craving a trip back to see how much it’s changed…I bet it’s a lot! 🙂
    Shelley recently posted…Travel Memory: Italy’s Grotta Azzurra

    1. Thanks Shelley! We’re so close to each other now 🙂 I’m sure I’ll be heading to Korea at some point on a visa run so perhaps one of these days we can meet in person! Oh gosh, I can only imagine how much China has changed since then. I first went to Phnom Penh 8 years ago and I was shocked by how much it had changed. It’s a trip revisited places that are in the midst of building booms!

  4. I love reading about your Beijing experience, as there aren’t really a lot of bloggers living in that part of Asia lol! Keep ’em coming!

    Have I ever moved abroad? Sure! I moved to the Czech Republic, Slovakia & Germany. I was thinking about Hong Kong but I changed my mind, and got married instead lol!

    How did your transition go? Wonderfully!
    When I “moved”to Eastern Europe and I didn’t really know that I was moving as such. I was told that I would be out there for 6 weeks and came home 2 years later lol!

    When I moved to Germany, I just squashed everything into the car, got a couple of friends to accompany me, and then we drove from England to Berlin! It was a bit of a laugh and that was that! Highly recommeded! 🙂 🙂
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted…How to be a savvy travel blogger with 10 tips to help you prepare, and find your way around! – ITB Berlin.

    1. It sounds like you’ve had such great experiences moving abroad. Ha, I’ve had a much rougher go of it in the past. But so far Beijing has still been a fairly smooth transition! Ah man, you’ve lived in such cool countries Victoria. I hope someday I have the chance to live in Europe! Berlin sounds like an especially wonderful city…

    1. We’re having another blue sky day today. Yay! So far I think I’ve only had to wear a mask three times in roughly three weeks. Well, there were two pretty bad days where I just didn’t leave the apartment!! But so far it hasn’t been THAT bad. Haha, I need to write a post about my apartment. It’s so weird 😉 Good, but weird…

  5. I can’t say how much I envy you and Aaron, Justine. I have been to Beijing five times and it has become one of my favourite cities in the world. I spent quite some time in Beijing and I think I have been to the Tibetan Lama temple – my favourite temple – about twenty times. My Beijing friends already joked that I should lead tours there because they say that I probably know the temple just as well as some of the locals. I really hope to get back to Beijing soon and that I will live there as well for some time in the (near) future. Enjoy your time there, it’s an amazing city.
    Vanessa @ The Travelling Colognian recently posted…Hiking on the wild Gubeikou Great Wall

    1. So excited to hear the Beijing love! I’ve only been here for a month but I’m still really loving it. I just wish I lived in the heart of the city! I would do anything to live near the Lama Temple. I agree it’s an amazing place! Something tells me you’re going to get back here very soon 🙂

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