This Expat Life: Month 20 (Beijing)

After moving abroad 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.

Given how petrified I was to move to China, I’m still kind of surprised by how well I’ve adjusted to my new home.  In the first post I wrote when I moved to Beijing I mentioned that I must be going through some sort of honeymoon period with this city.  Honeymoon period or no, I’m happy to report that six weeks in and I’m still loving it here.  The people, the food, the cultural quirks still manage to surprise me (in a good way) every day.

This Expat Life: Month 20 (Beijing) - Travel Lush

I feel almost guilty by how much I prejudged this country and the people in it before I’d ever even stepped foot here.  While I can’t speak for the rest of China, Beijing has so far completely defied my expectations.  I expected people to be unfriendly toward me.  I’m not entirely sure why.  I just did.  I expected them to push and shove and yell at me.  Well, people do do those things, but not necessarily in an aggressive way.  Contrary to what I expected I’ve found Beijingers to be incredibly warm and welcoming.  So far, at least, I’ve not encountered anyone who hasn’t laughed jovially at my foreignness or genuinely tried to help me when I’m lost or just confused about how to do things.

That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges.  The language barrier does seem like it will be an almost overwhelming one to overcome.  At this point I know how to say hello, thank you, one, two and water.  Go me!  But the funny thing is that the people here don’t seem all that bothered about whether or not I can speak Mandarin.  People have a tendency to just rattle on and on and have full conversations with me, regardless of the fact that I’m smiling awkwardly saying “English?  I don’t understand” and shrugging my shoulders as they talk animatedly and keep re-explaining things to me.

Chili peppers at a Beijing market - Travel Lush

Down the street from my apartment is where my produce lady sets up shop each evening.  I go there on a near daily basis to buy my fruits and veggies.  When she sees me coming she always smiles broadly and starts laughing.  She doesn’t speak a word of English but she seems hellbent on teaching me numbers in Mandarin.  Every time she tells me the total of what I owe her she repeats the number about five times, slowing down each time.  And when she hands me my change with her soil-covered hands she does the same, locking eyes with me to hammer home the point.  The day I can actually understand her I have a feeling she will be really excited.

It’s tiny things like this that have made living in Beijing pretty wonderful, but it’s not all been easy.  I’ve been commuting into the city a lot this past month.  And commuting in this city is most definitely not for the faint of heart, especially if you live out in the boondocks like I do.  Not only does it take a minimum of an hour for me to get downtown from where I live but the subway is impossibly crowded during rush hour (which is pretty much every hour, if you ask me).  And it doesn’t help that I have to take the city’s most crowded lines to reach my apartment.

Braving the crowds at a Beijing subway - Travel Lush
Ah, the Beijing subway.

I never knew that perhaps I’m a teeny tiny bit claustrophobic until I started taking the subway in Beijing.  At times I feel like I’m fighting tooth and nail to get on these subway cars.  There’s honestly a mob of people making a mad dash to get on the subway, pushing and shoving me to get on. And I more or less need to do the same thing.  Otherwise I’d either never get anywhere or I’d get trampled.  Once I actually make it on the subway it really is like that whole ‘sardines in a tin’ thing.  Various body parts dig into my body, people breathe on me and cough on me.  It’s not pleasant.  And I’m pretty sure it was because of that exact scenario that I spent nearly two weeks sick last month.

The air has also been a tough one to cope with, though I’m dealing with it better than I thought I would.  Every day I wake up and look outside at a tall building that’s located a couple of miles in the distance.  If I can see the edges of its rooftop I know the air is going to be decent.  When I can’t make out the edges I know the air will be at an ‘unhealthy’ level and that I’ll need to wear a mask.  When I can’t see the building at all, then I know it’s going to really bad and that I’d rather not leave the house at all.  But hey, at least the mask protects me against all the germs on the subway?  Silver linings??

Crowds and pollution aside, one of the strangest things I experienced in March was watching the season change from frigid winter to balmy spring – and I swear it literally happened overnight.  One week I was bundled up in my down coat and boots and the next I was sporting t-shirts and flip flops.  One night all the trees in my neighborhood went from having bare branches to having blooming flowers.  The temperature went from about 20F degrees 70F degrees.  I went from admiring snow flurries to batting away mosquitoes.  It also occurred to me that this is the first place I have ever lived where I’ve experiencing seasons.

Cherry blossoms at Yuyuantan Park in Beijing - Travel Lush

Springtime in Beijing - Travel Lush

Travel in March

Okay, okay this is cheating but because I’m still relatively new to Beijing I’m going to count my little trips around the city as travel for this month.  I haven’t had the time to get out too often since moving here.  Between working non-stop, being sick and living so far outside of the city center, it made exploring Beijing a bit challenging last month.  That being said I was able to see a little more of the city, including the ritzy Sanlitun District and the 798 Art District.

A statue in Beijing's 798 art district - Travel Lush

Yoko Ono's art exhibit in Beijing's 798 art district - Travel Lush
Pondering Yoko Ono’s art exhibit in the 798 Art District.

I’ve always been into places that have a little more grit to them so I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that the swanky malls and the trendy restaurants of Sanlitun far from impressed me.  But I did really like the 798 Art District.  Places with street art are going to win me over every time.

Street art in Beijing's 798 art district - Travel Lush

Beijing's 798 art district - Travel Lush
I’m typically not one for selfies, but I couldn’t resist.

I’ve also been able to sample a few more types of Chinese cuisines, mainly Sichuan and Yunnan.  I’m still trying to get a grasp on the food here.  This country is huge so it shouldn’t surprise me that there are so many different cuisine types.  But still, it’s pretty incredible.  I’ve had the chance to try some Sichuan dishes like spicy mapo tofu and some sort of mystery vegetarian Sichuan hot pot.  Honestly if you’ve never tried Sichuan pepper before eating it is basically the most bizarre thing in the world.  It’s not a spicy pepper, like most assume.  It’s actually a type of spice that literally numbs your mouth.  I’m not sure how I feel about it at this point…

Yunnan food is also pretty amazing, probably because it also happens to be really vegetarian friendly.  But seriously any cuisine where goat cheese and spicy mashed potatoes figure prominently is going to always be a winner in my book.

Yunnan goat cheese - Travel Lush
Fried cheese!
yunnan style mashed potatoes - Travel Lush
Thank god there’s a street food vendor down the street from my house selling these for less than $1.

Blogging:

In case you missed my last post I celebrated a big blogging milestone last month.  It’s a bit surreal to think that I’ve been doing this for two whole years.  But what’s even crazier is how far I’ve come in that time.  Blogging, however, has been a bit of a challenge simply because other projects have started taking up more and more of my time.  Sometimes I wish I could spend all of my time right here on this blog, but that’s just not how things work.  I do, however, plan to keep up with this blog.  Since moving to Beijing the ideas have been flowing and I already have fun and weird stories about life and travel in Beijing.

What I wrote in March:

Happy Blogiversary – Travel Lush Turns Two!

5 Fun & Weird Things to Do In Phnom Penh

This Expat Life: Month 19 (Beijing)

Instagram in March:

Most popular post in February…

So many colorful temples in #Beijing!!

A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on

That about sums it up…how did your March 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.

10 thoughts on “This Expat Life: Month 20 (Beijing)

  1. Its true Sichuan peppers are so bizarre. Tom thinks it tastes like soap, and avoided it at all costs. I don’t think its that bad, but takes time to get used to. My favorite part of living in China was visiting my vegetable lady. She too would talk and talk while I smile and nodded, but always seemed happy to see me. You really need to make your way to Yunnan, the food is amazing, and its way differrent than life in the city.
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    1. Sichuan peppers are so weird. I don’t think they taste bad but when you eat a ton of whole ones things get kind of weird. Ha, I love that you had a produce lady like mine 🙂 And yes, Yunnan is first on my list of places to go in China!

  2. 1. Oh my god your commute sounds horrific. ONE HOUR like a sardine? And I thought my commute from Gulou to Haidian kind of sucked.
    2. I 100% agree with you that it went from winter to spring overnight, literally.
    3. You will learn to love the Sichuan peppercorn
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    1. Ha, I’m commuting as I type! Well, it’s basically the last half of the commute where I’m pressed against others. And it does suck! Haha, I’m kind of getting used to the peppers…kind of. But yeah, eating massive amounts of them fully makes my mouth tingle. It’s so weird!

        1. Haha, I think Dali is a bit far away! I have to assume there are vendors somewhere near where I live. We do have amazing soy and tofu lady right down the street 🙂

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