my first 10 days in Beijing

So here I am! …in Beijing…. July 10, 2015.

After a few months off in Germany, having finally the greatest time ever enjoying family, old and new friends… resting, having fun, and, after 15 years away, discovering once again my home-town and -country, with some visits here and there in Europe. And here I am now settling into my “new world”.

During 9h15min on this direct flight in a A380 from Frankfurt to Beijing, I am not able to sleep one single minute. At the airport in Beijing driver Wang picks me up with my name on a sign, bringing me to my little studio apartment in Chaoyang. Some first traffic experience (wow, how many cars! and honking all the time!), and some first confusion as Wang did apparently not bring us to the right entrance gate, and without having checked-in, the security guy at the gate could not let us in – though he has a cute smile for me 😉 Wang is on the phone several times, and it takes about half an hour to get us through the different levels of confusion, with 1-3 security guys around us…

Wang does not speak English (except of “Hello”), and even if I am motivated to check on him with my first words of Mandarin – it does not happen: he is not that kind of guy to get on an easy going small talk conversation between strangers. My first successful words happen when I am asking the guy a couple of hours later, at the reception desk, to know where to find a cab – and it works: he tells me to go in one direction, where I immediately find a cab! 🙂 I do also successfully understand that my 2 beers at the shop that night cost 12 RMB. Well, so far so good! 😉

On my first day, after lunch with 2 friends of a friend from Berlin, a nice coffee at their apartment, I go to buy my first basics at the international supermarket chain Jenny Lou: Water, milk, cereals, yogurt, fruits, toilet paper. Have brought an Italian espresso machine with me from Germany, with nice espresso coffee… tomorrow morning is safe on café au lait! 🙂

Did also a little walk in the area that night, to keep myself awake. I’m in Chaoyang District, North-Eastern Third Ring Road, in the Eastern part of Beijing. And 5 foot-minutes away from my new office.

There are lots of business buildings around, but just across my street is an area with lots of little food places, people sitting outside eating local stuff. And the street further is full of restaurants, small shops etc. Just south is Sanlitun. The main area where foreigners live, with several diplomatic buildings, as there are lots of Embassies in the area.

…and this first night at 10pm I was sleeping, going for a good 12-hours-sleep.

On the second day, I walked over to Sanlitun – it’s about 35min walk from here, very easy. I come over a little river where quite a few men are fishing. A few days later I could see that some men are swimming in this river even if there are clear signs that it’s not allowed. I’m not sure if I would want to swim in this water…. but well, who knows?! And then the street goes right into the Embassy area. Apparently the complete Sanlitun area is owned by the military police: there are some closed areas, with military police men as security at the gates. A little bit strange knowing that Sanlitun is the most popular bar street in Beijing, and that there is a huge shopping center now. The shopping district is quite impressive: it’s organized in blocks, and all Western stores are there (American Apparel, Nike, H&M, Swarovski etc.) as well as some Asian cloth chains (UniQLO), combined with obvious food and coffee chains (Starbucks) as well as local ones.. There is a square in the middle with water fountains (loved in the heat by the children and envied by the adults… it’s 36 degrees the first days) and a huge screen in the back, with intense advertising running (ex. Beijing Fashion Week coming up!). It is all very new, very clean, it actually all feels fake, not like anything you would imagine for “real China” (well… whatever “real China” is!)

The same night I had dinner at a beautiful Chinese restaurant, with a bunch of Germans. The food is just beautiful, so tasty, fine, different. Chinese drink beer while eating… I feel that I will drink a lot of beer here. 🙂

For those interested in the air pollution topic, here is how to read the Air Quality Index (AQI):

Yesterday, Saturday AQI was at 102.

Often it is between 100-150. But it has been a few days under 100 as well.

50-100: “Moderate”.
100-150 = “Unhealthy for sensitive groups”.
150-200 = “Unhealthy”.
Basically nobody on the streets is wearing a mask so far. Saw 1 or 2 people. Guess they wear the mask when they are sick themselves. During the whole week, the air was fine: it was often under 100, the highest was today, at 174.

People say that they wear a mask when it gets over 200. When over 300, they do not leave the house. Over the past year he was wearing about 5 times the mask. One week was particularly bad, and they did not leave the house. Sounds alright to me. 🙂

Getting myself everything I want sometimes takes a while…. went to the drug store downstairs in the building to buy a few things….. not sure if I really bought shampoo and conditioner, or maybe 2x shampoo…. I will find out soon when using it! It is obviously all written in Chinese…. the thought to b Kleenex box I bought turns out to be some pink miniature tissues… the toothpaste tastes like jasmine tea… but hey, what would life be without surprises!!! Had already accidentally bought yogurt instead of milk the other day…. note to myself: yogurt is NOT good in coffee…..

The last nights I have been looking for an apartment. On August 10 I will have to move from this temporary place into my own place. On this one website, there are just SO many!! and with HUGE price differences…. there can be a 3-bedroom for 5,000RMB (approx. 700 Euro), or a studio-apartment for 12,000RMB (approx. 1,700 Euro). It’s crazy.

I will have to start visiting soon, to understand the differences. But, every foreigner so far told me that I need to go with a Chinese person. These real estate agents always rip off foreigners. The areas I want to live in is either Sanlitun, or Dongzhimen.

There are a few of these international compounds, several high apartment buildings with integrated gym, security etc., though I am wondering if they are too “sterile” for me. And, they are obviously very expensive.

Then there are older compounds, not as high buildings, often a bit less renovated, still with security.

Or there are renovated Hutong houses, little duplex in a regular Chinese residency area (Hutong), normally with a courtyard, often with a roof terrace. It apparently depends a lot on the renovation that has been done, as the initial house did not have any bathroom or toilet – the residents used to share the common bathhouse on the street.

I have 3 weeks to find something good. But as there are so many free apartments in Beijing, I’m not worried about that.

The weekend I really need to sleep a lot. Lots of new things, places, people, situations…. I was tired Friday night.

Saturday I went to Carrefour to do some additional shopping… what an insane consume place, big surface, huge amount of people, craziness. Funny. Yes, this seems to be China.

Did already find some new girlfriends: 2 young Chinese girls and 1 Taiwanese – all 3 super-nice! We had a real good laugh together last night, and a late Tacos dinner, with Margaritas – great to make new friends! Loving it!!

Have signed into WeChat now as well: it’s like WhatsApp, but Chinese, because WhatsApp is blocked (like FB, Twitter, Youtube) {- Note added later: WhatsApp is not blocked, in the end. But WeChat works much better. :)}

WeChat is huge here, they use it all the time, for everything, even to pay taxis. I will need some time to get to understand it. Will get tomorrow the old IPhone 5 from my colleague, to have a personal phone. The Blackberry is driving me crazy…….

Just came back from another great Chinese dinner with another German woman. “Madame Zhou” was our restaurant, beautiful atmosphere, and food. I love the Chinese food already – it tastes so different than Asian cuisine in Western countries. Lots to discover – I’m looking forward!!

So this is it for now. I am in some sort overwhelmed by what is happening around me…. but at the same time it feels SO good! Like the fish being thrown back into water. I’m pretty sure I was a fish in a former life… 🙂

Hope you are all well…. more stories and photos to come, for sure.