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.
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.
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.
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?