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Expat's Eye
Print Edition> Expat's Eye
UPDATED: April 2, 2011 NO. 14 APRIL 7, 2011
Love Beijing, Love Beijing Not

STANDING ROOM ONLY: Passengers stand shoulder to shoulder on subway Line 1 during rush hour in Beijing (BRANDON TAYLOR)

A recent three-week visit to the United States after 18 months of working and traveling in China allowed me to get back into an American swing of things. I spent time with friends and family, ate food I'd missed and caught up on American television and local news. But the time at home had me missing certain aspects of my life in Beijing—and it made me realize there were just some things I could live without, no matter what continent I'm on.


Public transportation

My commute to work in the morning is made easy by Beijing's public transportation network. After leaving my apartment, I walk about a half football field's distance before arriving at my nearest subway entrance, take the train for 15 minutes, then jump on a bus which drops me off right in front of my office. In all, it takes about 40 minutes, most of which is spent waiting for the train or bus to arrive.

What's more so impressive is the relative cleanliness of the underground. The subway system in New York City, while much older than Beijing's, is in poor condition and not particularly welcoming for anyone who doesn't already call the Big Apple home.


Nothing beats naming your own price. When shopping at Beijing's many street markets, where knock-off products are aplenty, I can basically do just that, but not without a verbal confrontation with merchants.

I know now that most vendors assume that as a foreigner I'm "rich." As such, it's not surprising anymore that merchants try to do anything and everything to squeeze as much money out of me as possible, no matter what the item to be purchased may be.

Having learned the tricks of the trade I know that arguing over the cost and quality and showing a sudden lack of interest will get the price dropped dramatically. I just wish bargaining was more acceptable in the United States; maybe then I could have bought those new shoes I wanted for a lot less than $160.

Tailor-made clothes

I've never been a big fan of clothes shopping. The crowds, fact that stores never have my size and time needed to get to and from malls has always been a deterrent to shopping. The same is true in China, except here those three factors are compounded by the fact that my Mandarin is far below par.

My solution: have most of my shirts, pants and suits tailor made. Tailors are numerous in the Chinese capital, so I can have dress shirts made for the perfect fit at the perfect price, about 90 yuan ($13.6). My last suit cost about 600 yuan ($90.9).



On many an occasion I've been walking along the streets of Beijing admiring the buildings, people watching and enjoying the weather only to have the moment shattered by a loud ackkkk-tooof as someone gurgles up something from their throat and hawks it to the ground. And yes, I've almost been spit on numerous times.

Apparently, it's very therapeutic and good for your health—on days when I'm down with the flu, I've tried it and can vouch for its alleviating effects—but it's also distracting, to say the least, and can really ruin one's appetite during eating hours.

Rush hour traffic

Growing up in the calm, quiet hills of northeast Pennsylvania, I was never able to experience the chaotic-yet-comfortable big city life. Now I get to feel it every day. The only downside is that come rush hour all 19 million Beijing residents seem to be going exactly where I want to go, which delays me from anywhere between 10 minutes to over an hour.

I've spent the better part of two years standing while taking the subway to most locations inside the second ring road and absolutely dread having to use Line 1. Overcrowded buses feel more like sardine cans on wheels. And taking a taxi to Sanlitun from Dongzhimen any time from 5-9 p.m. has become such a hassle that I often just walk.


The air quality in Beijing at times can be a major pain, especially for someone with allergies as annoying as mine. In the two years of living in Beijing, there have been a noticeable number of days when I've just stayed indoors because the sky was an apocalyptic-looking red, brown or gray, or I couldn't see the buildings across the street from my apartment.

While back in the States, the cough I'd developed in Beijing, which I had just assumed was due to poor health and the frigid winters, vanished. I'm back in Beijing, and, after a few days of murky skies when I returned in mid-February, so is the cough. But since the alternative to solving this problem is to go back home or live in a bubble, I'll just grin, bear it and keep on wheezing.

The writer is an American living and working in China

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