I’m Moving to China!

So the suspense is finally over.  Come February I am moving to China!  Beijing to be exact.

Looking back over my previous posts it is not lost on me that this is the third “I’m Moving …” post I’ve written in the past 18 months.  I still can’t believe I’ve moved so many times in such a short amount of time.  From Jakarta, Indonesia, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to Beijing, China.  Honestly, I never expected things to unfold this way…

I always knew that I would only be staying in Jakarta for one year, but those of you who have been following along for a while know that I had planned on staying in Phnom Penh for much longer than six months.  But sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.

Since I left California to start traveling in August of 2013, my life has been full of unexpected twists and turns.  I never imagined that a year of travel would lead to a move to Jakarta and then Phnom Penh.  And never in my wildest dreams did I think that nearly two and a half years later I’d be moving to China.  Life, especially my life, is crazy!

Beijing Lonely Planet

So why Beijing you ask…

Well, to make a long story short Aaron was offered a job at a university in Beijing a few months ago.  We spent a lot of time mulling over whether or not this move would make sense for us.  And in the end we decided to take the adventurous route and just go for it.  We both know it’s going to be very different and very challenging but we’re confident that this is the right move for us at this point in time.

Part of me feels sad that things didn’t work out in Phnom Penh because I really do love that city, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s time to move on.

During the past few years Southeast Asia has become my second home.  I’ve lived in both Indonesia and Cambodia and had the luxury of traveling to almost every country in the region multiple times (except Myanmar, which somehow still alludes me!).

I feel like I’ve really gotten to know Southeast Asia, in all its religious, cultural and ethnic diversity.  But East Asia is completely foreign to me.  It might still be Asia, but I know it’s going to be completely different.  This is the very first time I’ll be moving to a city (and country) that I’ve never traveled to before.  And to be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure what I’ve signed up for!

Beijing will be a challenging city for myriad reasons – the pollution, the weather, the censorship, the crowds, the culture shock, to name a few.

Beijing will no doubt be challenging.

The pollution:

Beijing has been on the news a lot lately because of its extreme air pollution.  Seeing images day after day of a city so full of smog that’s so dense people literally can’t see across the street is disturbing, to say the least.  And knowing that constantly checking the air quality levels and wearing anti-pollution masks will be a reality for me is kind of terrifying.

The weather:

I’m just going to come right out and say it:  I am from San Diego, the land of the world’s most perfect weather, and I am a wimp when it comes to cold weather.  Also, I have spent nearly three years sweating it out in hot and humid Southeast Asia.  My attire for the past few years has been jean shorts, tank tops and flip flops.  But in Beijing things are going to be much different, at least in the winter months.  Right now it’s about 20°F (-6°C) in Beijing.  For me, that is freezing!  Right now I’m in San Diego where it is 66°F (19°C) and I am covered head to toe and wrapped in a thick blanket as I write this.  I’m pathetic.  Suffice it to say, I am going to be screwed in Beijing.  Also, I have no idea how to dress for winter weather…like, I’m clueless.  So feel free to give me any tips in the comments section below!

The censorship:

Clearly this is something I’m not a fan of and I’m really not excited to deal with it in my daily life.  In China things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google are all banned.  Basically everything a blogger (and freelance writer) needs isn’t allowed.  Luckily there are loopholes and I will be using a VPN.  But still this censorship thing is already not cool.  That being said I’ve always had a kind of obsession with communist and socialist governments, especially the propaganda part, so part of me is oddly excited to experience what it’s like on the ground in China.

The crowds:

Beijing is massive.  Like, a population of 20 million people kind of massive.  I have never lived in a city quite that large or populated, so I find it a bit daunting.  Traffic and commutes are also supposed to be horrendous so I’m expecting that getting around the city (especially if I have to commute at all) will be challenging for me.  Luckily though there is a wonderful public transport system, including a metro stop right near where I’ll be living.  Taxis are also relatively cheap, which will hopefully make matters easier.  Communicating with taxi drivers in Mandarin, however, will be a whole other issue…

The culture shock:

I’ve lived in some pretty foreign places but I have a feeling that I will experience the biggest culture shock in China.  Again, I’ve never traveled there so I don’t know exactly what to expect.  But I have been reading a couple of Beijing-oriented expat blogs (Adventures Around Asia and Paper Crane Stories) for years, so I’ve learned a thing or two about what to expect.  Dealing with things like the language barrier, the constant pushing and shoving by elderly ladies, and the rules and regulations are just going to be the tip of the iceberg.  This is going to be an adventure!

But Beijing will also be amazing!

Despite the challenges I know I’ll face as an expat in Beijing, I’m actually starting to get really excited about my imminent move.  While I was sitting in the airport in Phnom Penh earlier this week, waiting for my plane back to California, I picked up a Lonely Planet Beijing.  As I flipped through it it finally hit me that I’m moving to what is actually an incredible city that’s an amalgamation of ancient and contemporary.  Things like Tiananmen Square, the old maze-like hutongs, the 798 Art District and the Great Wall are all a stone’s throw from my apartment.  So much history and culture!

And then there’s the food!  Despite the fact that I’m a vegetarian all of the different (and oftentimes baffling) foods on offer in Beijing sound kind of amazing.  One of the many things that Beijing has going for it is that virtually every type of regional Chinese cuisine is represented there.  And supposedly you can actually find vegetarian-friendly food in Beijing.  I know being a vegetarian will be a big challenge in Beijing.  But really, what’s new?  I’m actually really excited to start sniffing out all of the amazing vegetarian food on offer in the city.  If anything, I’m excellent at doing that.  And mark my words, I will find every mock meat eatery in town!

Mock meat kebabs Mercy House Phnom Penh
Fake meat kabobs at a Chinese restaurant in Phnom Penh. Yum!

I’m also really excited to have the opportunity to start exploring more of East Asia.  Not only are there some pretty incredible places to travel within China, but I am jazzed about the idea of visiting places like South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.  I feel like this move opens up a whole new part of the world to me, which is exciting!

Clearly, I’ll be writing in depth about all of these things once I actually get on the ground and experience them for myself.  While my blog has pretty much always focused on Southeast Asia, obviously things are going to change a little bit.  I hope you’re as excited as I am to experience something new!

Thanks for following along!  As always you can keep up with my crazy expat life and travels on Facebook and Instagram.

Are you surprised by my next big move?  Have you ever been to China or Beijing?

Where I’m staying:  After a bunch of research I’ve decided on the Hotel Kapok Wangfujing, located in the heart of Beijing’s historic center.  I’ll give a full review of this hotel upon my arrival!

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.

45 thoughts on “I’m Moving to China!

  1. Your blog got me excited for your move! Well kinda, you will still be very far away! But I can see why an adventurous woman like you is excited. You will have to post lots of pictures, if you can do it without getting arrested!! I have an old friend in Bejing, a Chinese movie star who once lived in Ojai. Perhaps you could look her up! See you soon!

  2. I really like Beijing, besides the major problem with pollution. I think you will enjoy it, and there is a big expat community there.

    The pollution is bad, really bad. I remember taking taxis at night when there are fewer cars around, and still not being able to breath. If you open the window, it just lets more bad air in. 🙁

    For the winter, be aware that most buildings in China have TERRIBLE insulation. You will feel just as cold inside as you will outside. My ex-boyfriend is Finnish, and he said it was the coldest he’d ever been and didn’t like that part about his time there (he was also living in Shanghai, which is a bit south of Beijing so the winter would be a little different).

    For the censorship bit, I think it will be interesting to talk to locals and find out where they get their news and what they think about censorship (if they are aware of it, etc.). There’s a lot that the government does censor, but then there is some that they don’t (which makes you think maybe they are selectively allowing some things through).

    You are right though that Beijing is a great city! It’s the cultural hub in China, so there are a lot of music and art things going on. A lot of the old neighborhoods are preserved, unlike in other cities where most of them have been knocked down and replaced with taller housing. Theres lots of great underground music which I haven’t experienced that much of but have heard about it!.

    I’m looking forward to living vicariously through you! I haven’t been to China in a few years, and I’ve been dying to get back to a place where people speak Chinese!
    chewy recently posted…An American’s guide to British English or how to not feel like an idiot in London

    1. I’m glad to hear a positive review of Beijing! And I’m so glad you enjoyed your time there. The pollution does look and sound horrific. That’s honestly the number one reason I was hesitant to move there. I already know that’s going to be a major issue for me, so let’s hope I can cope! Jeez, that’s crazy that your Finnish boyfriend was THAT cold there. That freaks me out a little bit. I did buy a very nice coat yesterday so let’s hope I can manage to stay warm!

      1. I didn’t mean to scare, but just warn if you aren’t used to feeling cold indoors, that it might happen. The worst part for me is getting out of the shower and just being so cold immediately. I’m used to wearing just a few layers in winter in New York, and adding a pair of socks if it is really cold. In London, this winter hasn’t been so bad, but I do wear a sweatshirt and thicker bottoms than I would normally, even after I’ve sealed off my window with a plastic film!
        chewy recently posted…An American’s guide to British English or how to not feel like an idiot in London

        1. Ha, don’t worry you only scared me a little 😉 My apartment looks like it has some burly heaters, so that’s good. But I suppose you never know! I still need to get on buying some more layers…I’ve barely done any shopping in preparation for this move. Yikes!

    2. I totally agree with you about the insulation, but that’s actually just a problem in Southern China. The southern half of China isn’t allowed to have heat, and the buildings are very poorly insulated because it’s “not cold”. I lived in Ningbo for 2 years, just south of Shanghai, and I can tell you it gets cold! You have to wear coats inside and purchase radiators. However, up in Beijing it gets much colder outside but all the buildings have heat which is usually free, even in your apartment. My apartment is actually boiling hot all the time! Everything is insulated pretty well, and there’s heat in all the buildings up here so definitely don’t worry about that. You will, however, need a pretty intense coat to survive these winters outside.
      Richelle recently posted…20 Signs You’ve Been Living in China For Too Long

          1. Thanks for the suggestion Chewy!! I bought a goose down coat that goes down to my knees but it’s a little on the thin side. I think I need to exchange it for something a little thicker…

    1. Thanks Katie! Yeah, it seems like there are surprisingly few China-based expat bloggers. But then again I suppose I’ve focused more on reading Southeast Asia blogs the past few years, so maybe I’m a little clueless. I am really excited to write about my experience though. It’s a country I know very little about – and I get the feeling I’m not alone – so I’m excited to report back on this new adventure!

  3. Wow! I did not see China in the cards at all after reading your last post! I thought maybe you’d be heading to South America or somewhere other than Asia, but yes, China will definitely be a wild ride.

    Though you do seem to have a knack for moving to my least-favorite places in Asia! 😉 As you know, PP was our least favorite place in Cambodia, and I have routinely said that Beijing is flat-out my least favorite city in the world. It probably doesn’t help that we found China very challenging to travel (we had only been traveling for 5 weeks when we made it there, so I am certain that played a part), but so much of Beijing just didn’t work for us. My fondest memory of the city was the amazing Peking Duck we ate but I guess as a vegetarian that won’t be in the cards for you! Definitely get a VPN before you go—I forget which one we used, but I wrote about it in our wrap-up post for China and it was invaluable. We couldn’t Skype or access Gchat or anything without it, and in China if you try to access a banned site, they tend to cut your internet connection for a full minute which was such a pain!

    Anyway, lots of adventures await you and I look forward to reading all about them. Despite our rocky time in China, there are parts that we didn’t get to see (because the country is massive) that I’d like to make a priority some day when we gather up the courage to return!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…A New Look and More Content

    1. I can’t tell you how much I fought this move Steph. I suppose that’s kind of obvious given the fact that I listed all of the things I’m really nervous about in this post. I know these things are going to be incredibly challenging but I’m hoping I can keep it together enough to enjoy all of the perks, of which there are many, and keep an open mind. It’s funny that you say I pick the cities you dislike the most. None of these cities would be even close to my first pick either, but in our case Aaron’s work dictates where we move…at least at this point. Ah the joys of being with an academic. We’ve found that a lot of international jobs for professors are in some seriously challenging places. We’ve definitely not taken the easiest path! The good part is that he gets GREAT breaks, so we should be able to do a fair bit of traveling during the times of year where the weather and pollution is at its worst. Yes, I’ve heard setting up a VPN beforehand is key, but thanks for the reminder because I almost forgot! Also, I am determined to find a mock meat version of Peking duck. It’s not the same, but it’ll do 😉

  4. I am so excited for you guys and your new adventure! China can be so crazy, and super challenging, but there are so many great things about it that I hope you enjoy. Plus it is huge, allowing for so much exploration. As far as pollution goes, it is always way more extreme in the winter, but can be bad all year. And don’t worry, you will be sweating it out again come summer! Good luck with your move, and I will be seeing you (finally) in June!!! Lets check out those hutongs!
    Terra recently posted…Why I Miss Living in China

  5. Wow, awesome! This is crazy! But it’s also so exciting – and very cool that you get to visit home before you go! I’m very jealous of all the authentic Chinese food you’re going to eat – especially the spicy Szechuan things. I’m heading to Bangkok next week after being home for the holidays and I’m already trying to eat all the cheese and Mexican food I can! (And yes, 20 degrees is absolutely ridiculous.)
    Rachel recently posted…A Fancy Foodie Weekend at the Albemarle Inn in Asheville

    1. I can’t believe you’re going to Southeast Asia now that I’m gone 🙁 But I am excited (and terrified) to have a change of pace. Haha, now that I’m back in California I’m eating so much Mexican food. And don’t tell anyone, but I have a cheese plate every night! Gotta stock up 😉

  6. Sounds absolutely incredible! I was always drawn to China myself, but somehow lost sight of it during my travels, not even sure how it happened. So I will be excited to follow along your adventures and even look forward to vegetarian food tips – while I usually do eat meat, some things in the Chinese cuisine do freak me out a bit, so that should be a good way to ease into it.

    1. I’m the exact opposite. China has always been off of my travel radar. I think that’s mainly because I’m really intimidated by the idea of traveling there. So the fact that I’m moving there is so crazy! Ha, sometimes I rue the day I became a vegetarian because I feel like I’m missing out on so much good food. But at other times I am so happy I don’t have to eat certain weird foods, of which there are MANY in China!

  7. Exciting! I have to admit, I loved your PP posts, as I am intrigued by Cambodia, but I am inspired by your sense of adventure and willingness to try new things! My Mandarin teacher is from Beijing and she never stops talking about how amazing it is, so I am sure you’ll have a great time. Best of luck, and I can’t wait to read about your experiences in China!
    Paul @ Voyages and Vistas recently posted…Exploring Red Rock Canyon – When Hiking Up and Down the Las Vegas Strip Just Isn’t Enough

  8. Ahh so exciting! Looks like my guesses as to where you’re moving weren’t too far off 😉 I can completely understand your hesitations, but I’m sure it will turn out to be an amazing experience regardless of the challenges. I’m so jealous of the food you’re going to be eating, and your proximity to Japan and Taiwan – which are two countries I’m dying to visit!
    Ashley recently posted…Expat in Edinburgh: Month 8

    1. Haha, I just got a box of the anti-pollution masks in the mail today and I was a little scared! But I’m actually really eager to get on the ground. Despite all of the challenges I’m excited for the change. I know…Japan and Taiwan (and Russia!) are all places I’m dying to go to. Hopefully I’ll be able to check those off my list soon!!!

  9. Wow, China! I sort of had a feeling you weren’t leaving Asia just yet 🙂 Sounds like a very exciting move for you guys, I’m a little nervous for you but you’ll find your way in no time, I’m sure! Can’t wait to read all about life in Beijing. The cold isn’t so bad, really–your tolerance will build quicker than you think. After being in Stockholm for the winter (the coldest I’ve seen yet is -14C) everything warmer than that feels like t-shirt weather! Like the 8C I’ve got right now in London. Positively tropical! 😉 Good luck Justine!!
    Leah recently posted…A Low-Key Month in Koh Tao

    1. I think the pollution and then the weather are two of my biggest concerns. I still can’t figure out what I need to buy to deal with the winter weather! I’m going to be so unprepared 😉 Haha, good to hear that you’ve adapted to the cold so quickly. I can assure you that 8C could never feel tropical to me…Enjoy London!!

  10. Ahh so exciting! The food you are going to eat there!!! Definitely an exciting area to base yourself in 🙂 And at least there are plenty of shopping centers to run to when you realize that you aren’t prepared enough for the cold, haha. No, but yay, so excited to follow along this next chapter!
    Silvia recently posted…An American in Rauland – Why?

    1. Thanks Silvia! Haha, I have heard that the buildings are incredibly well heated. So that’s a plus! I also have the super hot summers to look forward to…

  11. Congratulations on your next big move! I’m not really surprised as it’s all part of the experience! I haven’t been to China proper yet, only Hong Kong which was amazing, but there is a large expat community in China, Taiwan and South Korea so you won’t be on your ownsome lol!
    ‘Look forward to reading all about it!
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted…How to be an embodiment of urban, provocative cool: Berlin Fashion Week – Autumn/Winter 2016 – PART I!

    1. Thanks Victoria 🙂 I am really excited to visit Hong Kong. I have heard wonderful things and I’m sure I’ll be headed there during my obligatory visa runs. Yes, the expat community should be great in Beijing. Another perk is that I already know another blogger who’s based out of Beijing (I met her at TBEX!), so I won’t be alone 😉

  12. I’m so excited for you. I’m not going to lie – Eastern Asia definitely takes some adjusting but I think you’ll do fine. 😀 I’ve actually found that people are incredibly friendly during my brief trips through China so have always been left with a good impression. Of course, I’m sure living there will be another story. I love that we are kind of trading areas of Asia – You’re heading from the South-East to the East, and I’m heading from the East to the South-East. Love it. 😀 Can’t wait to read about it from you.
    Ceri recently posted…Books Read in 2015

    1. So where exactly are you going next? It’s funny, I feel like so many people I’ve met through blogging have recently move on from China and East Asia right when I moved to China! So far my impression of Beijing is far exceeding my expectations. People are definitely really nice and I find the city to be endlessly fascinating. I know that there will be challenges but I’m honestly less scared now and really excited about what’s to come 🙂 I hope your next move turns out to be a good one!

  13. Amazing! You always move to such amazing places! I have always wanted to go to Beijing and I am planning to visit this city in the next two years. I wish you to have a lot of fun there. I know that the pollution is really bad and the crowds are very big, but still it is a magical city! Thanks for sharing!

    1. It’s kind of crazy that I have moved so much in the past two years! I definitely didn’t intend for any of this, but it has been a pretty incredible and eyeopening experience thus far. Beijing is definitely a magical city in spite of its flaws. I hope you get to come here soon Sherri 🙂

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