This Expat Life: Month 27 (Beijing)

After moving abroad in July 2014, I started compiling monthly roundup posts about life as an expat in Asia and all the nitty gritty that goes on behind the scenes here at Travel Lush. You can find all of my previous monthly roundup posts here.

The past few months have flown by. I can’t believe I left Bali two whole months ago. I seriously can’t believe I moved to Beijing eight months ago.

The month of October went by so quickly that it’s actually kind of a blur. I keep thinking nothing of note happened last month, but that’s actually not true at all. I took a pretty big trip last month. And no, it wasn’t to some exotic location. I went back home to California for my niece’s wedding.

At first I wasn’t sure if I should make the 13-hour trek back to San Diego. After all, I had work to consider, and I could only manage to get away for six days. But in the end, family comes first so I went for it.

It was definitely the right choice. Not only did I get to see a large chunk of my family in once place, a big rarity since I moved abroad a few years ago, but I got to hang out with all of my siblings, got to see my beautiful niece get hitched, got to spend quality time with my parents, and got to eat lots and lots of Mexican food. All the makings of a successful trip!

I also indulged in lots and lots of American food and craft beer!

I really wish I could have stayed longer. But life back in Beijing beckoned.

Back here in Beijing, things were pretty much business as usual in October. Fall is transforming into winter at a freakishly rapid pace. It’s now cold outside. Like freezing (literally) cold.


Looking back on this old post, the winter is one of the things I was dreading the most about moving to Beijing. I’d heard that the bone-chilling cold and the dystopian-esque smog are particularly brutal from November to February.

Because I moved here in mid-February, I’ve only experienced the shoulder seasons of winter thus far. Give me two more months and I’m sure there will be no end to my complaining about how cold it is in Beijing, but so far I’ve actually enjoyed living in my first-ever cold climate. In some ways it’s a very welcome change to the incessant heat and humidity of Southeast Asia.

walking around the Forbidden City
My winter getup.

There are drawbacks to the current weather, however. If you’ve never lived in China then you probably don’t know about certain quirks – why would you? Here in Beijing the government provides free heating to everyone who lives here. In my apartment I have floor-to-ceiling radiators in every room – and I love them! But the kicker is, that the government also controls when the heaters turn on. As a general rule, the heat is switched on every year on November 15 (and it turns off on March 15). However, if Beijing is unseasonably cold they will sometimes turn the heating on early.

Well, winter came early this year, and we will be getting our heat turned on a whopping two days ahead of time. That’s good news because without heat it is really cold inside. Even during the day I’m usually wrapped up in layer upon layer of clothes, donning wool socks and a beanie and on a few occasions I’ve even had to type wearing fingerless gloves because it’s been that cold. And I’m inside!

Though I am ecstatic for the heat to turn on (I really love the heaters in my apartment) I’m less than enthused about what this is actually going to mean for the air quality in Beijing. While the air has been OK during most of my time in Beijing, it was consistently bad throughout the month of October, and it’s been really bad so far in November.

To put it in perspective, the air quality reading is currently 10 in San Diego (anything between 0-50 is considered “healthy”). The air in Beijing reached around 400 during the first weekend of November, which is considered “hazardous.” The smog was so dense it cut visibility down to 100 meters at one point. Hundreds of flights in and out of Beijing (a city of over 20 million) had to be grounded that day because the pilots couldn’t see. Yeah…

Lama Temple
In this photo the sky is actually white from pollution. This was taken when the air was around the 180 mark.

The majority of this pollution is generated by coal being burned in and around Beijing. And guess what powers those heaters I love so dearly. Yup, coal.

Suffice it to say, once those heaters turn on we’ll be experiencing a lot more “hazardous” pollution days in Beijing. And I’m not looking forward to it.

Anyway, enough pollution talk.

Finally, last month was, of course, Halloween. I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to venture from my out-of-town apartment down to the incredibly cool center of Beijing. So on Halloween Aaron and I did just that and found ourselves at our second local punk show of the month. Aaron and I both went to a lot of punk shows during our respective high school careers, so it’s something we both like doing. And the anthropology major in me loves seeing what punk culture is like in other countries, especially in a country like China.


It was a great time, indeed. And spending more time downtown has made me realize, all the more, that I really need to move there. My time in Beijing is too precious to be squandering it in my apartment on the outskirts of the city. So hopefully I can get my act together soon and find a place downtown. We shall see.

There are no buildings like this where I live. I need to move downtown.


There are some exciting things on the travel front, actually. Not only did I get to take a trip to Seoul, South Korea, in the beginning of November but I made some very exciting travel plans for the winter. And no, I’m not going to give you any more information than that.

Seoul is awesome!


This might be the first month I’ve been downright awful at consistently posting Instagrams. It’s not for lack of photos to share, I’m just so busy I’ve fallen out of the habit. That being said I did post a few and they might be some of my most popular ever. Because who doesn’t love Thai food and Balinese sunsets?



There’s nothing like a beautiful sunset over #Bali’s rice terraces.

A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on

How did your October shape up?

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.

6 thoughts on “This Expat Life: Month 27 (Beijing)

  1. Thanks for describing what winter in Beijing is like. I had my reservations about them winning the 2022 Winter Olympics bid as I didn’t think that it would be cold enough (due to the smog) for them to hold any “winter events.” Sounds like I am actually wrong.
    Ray recently posted…Wrigley Field Tour

    1. As far as I understand most of the snow events will be held in a city near Beijing. I believe that city gets much more snow than Beijing does. But yeah, it’s definitely cold enough! And supposedly they’re trying to improve the air quality by 2020, but given that I’ve only been here for eight months I can’t say whether or not it’s actually improved.

  2. I had no idea that the government controlled and paid for the heating over in Beijing…does it only come on at certain times of the day, and how does that work for people who do shift work or work unsocial hours? As they would need the heating on at different times to everyone else!

    1. I didn’t know it before I moved here either. The heaters actually stay on all the time, from Nov 15-March 15. It’s odd though because you can’t turn them off (or even control the amount of heat) to conserve entry. The radiators are just always on, even if you’re at work or out of town. Haha, it’s now Nov 16 and the heaters aren’t working in my apartment. And I’m not happy about it! I’m really hoping they get fixed or I’m going to freeze this winter 🙁

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