Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Part two: 4 Good & Bad Things about Living in Beijing

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The Good: Cheap Accommodation. Accommodation in Beijing is not as cheap as you may think. It is, after all, the capital of China and increasingly overpopulated. But good deals can still be had. For example, I lived in a place that cost me RMB 3600 for three months (£120 per month). In China, you often pay for three months at a time. My apartment now, which is about seven times bigger than my previous place – and a whole lot nicer – is RMB 7500 for three months. Some of my friends pay more than this, but they get pretty decent bang for their buck: free internet, large living rooms, a cleaning service etc. The Bad: Poor Accommodation. So things may be somewhat cheaper but this can also mean things don’t work properly; tiny kitchens and nasty bathrooms. My current apartment has a king size bed that is almost collapsing, curtain rails that are held up by glue (which fell down) and a toilet that doesn’t refresh its flush reliably. The worst thing is probably the dirty and incredibly small kitchen which I would use more often if it weren’t so. But Beijing is full of old, poorly constructed housing, and new housing with poor attention to detail, so these are compromises you will be forced to make.  

Beijing’s subway can be crowded

The Good: The Subway. It’s cheap, fast and reliable. It costs RMB 2 for all journeys. There are a surfeit of lines and it’s a convenient way to organize meet-ups. The Bad: The Subway. Commuting on the subway is horrible. It’s hot, sweaty and there are far too many people crammed in. Queues are disorderly and ill-mannered, and people still haven’t grasped the concept of first off, then get on. And services finish too early: by around 11.30pm (some lines close earlier than others).

The Good: The People You Meet. In Beijing, I’ve made Japanese, German, Italian, American friends. I’ve met people from Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Nigeria. It’s easy to befriend such people because you’re all foreigners in a foreign land; it’s a common bind that makes striking up conversation easier. The Bad: The Smallness of Circles. Work friends and people you may see regularly for whatever reason become your friends in China. This limitation means your friendship circle can be suffocatingly small. From what I’ve observed your best bet is to make three close friends who are all mutual friends too; a strong base from which to branch out.

The Good: Great Opportunities. The opportunities that are afforded to you, especially in media, business, marketing, architecture, technology and fashion (to name just a few), in China are legion. People move up rungs of the ladder far faster here and your foreign status accords you instant prestige. In practice, this means that simply because you own a foreign passport, you are paid a salary far higher than your Chinese nationality co-workers (even if you work less than they do). It is not fair and although it is more competitive than it was five, ten years ago, such is the relative dearth of foreigners in China that demand still outstrips supply. The Bad: The Sense of Entitlement and White Face Worship. This treatment of foreigners means many a foreigner in China develops an inflated ego. I’ve met plenty of people who expect others to take an interest in them, rather than reciprocate and those who demand higher salaries for no apparent reason than the fact it’s simply not what they’d expect from back home. Those who are foreign will face some harassment, but those who are non-white will face discrimination they might not expect. For example, those with Asian faces may expect a few clubs demanding entrance pay while their white friends walk in for free.

Part One is available here.

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