Monday, 17 November 2008

What makes Beijing likeable ?

Today I received a comment on an older post saying: "just because you think it's a ugly city doesn't mean it's a ugly city, what's so great about paris or rome?..."

I am not sure if I have ever written that Beijing is an ugly city. However I have reflected on it in my mind, yes. It is when you have to say good-bye to something or someone and in order to not be too sad, you try to be not too romantic.

And for me, cities like Paris and Rome are more easy to like then Beijing. They are obviously beautiful.

Beijing has a lot of very dull and grey residential buildings which are typical for communist countries. After 3 years living in Beijing, I consider these tower blocks as part of the Beijing charm. They always share a garden area where older people can work out and kids can play. Balconies are decorated with plants or bird cages. Run down dusty areas with red lanterns (or a red chair like in the pic of my last post) and the old hutongs - not estimated by the locals, but appreciated by the foreigners - are making Beijing likeable. If you have an eye for that.

When you are only on a journey through, lets say for a 2 day business trip, you hardly can find beauty in Beijing. More likely you find smog.

To discover Beijing's charm, you need a bit more time or a local guide on your side. And if you even come here for a period of 3 years (the usual expat term) you have to adapt to your environment sooner or later otherwise you suffer.

The experienced expat will adapt quickly and find many things that make Beijing likeable.

Fans of Asia will like old Beijing, its hutongs, its hidden courtyard houses, the lakes, the parks, the temples, the Imperial architecture, the food (varies by region a lot), the markets (vegetable as well as clothes), the bargains,... ah and the red lanterns, e.g in Ghost street. Old people in the parks playing chess or doing tai qi. Flying kites in the middle of a traffic conjunction. The million bicycles. Winter in Beijing with skiing on slopes of artificial snow and ice skating on frozen lakes.

There are those expats from big companies that live a luxury expat life in Beijing: chic city apartments or US style suburban villas, drivers, ayis. But even for other expats who work for their own company or are employed with a local contract, Beijing live is still cheaper then back home. Eating out regularly is not a luxury anymore. The choice of international restaurants is amazing. Going out on Saturdays is normal for parents as ayis can babysit their kids (for little money). And taking a taxi is normal because affordable.

Shopping is also a big advantage of Beijing. These markets selling fakes and offering bargains are one of the tourist attractions. No tourist group that has not shopping on their itinerary. But not only fakes, also antiques and reproductions are highly on demand. And not only markets also luxury western-style shopping malls are on the rise.
Shopping is a popular exercise, not only for tourists, also for expats and of course for the local Chinese as well. Shopping from 9 to 9 daily.

I liked to live in Beijing because every day was different and there were several options for activities every day.
I could discover endlessly new things.

The expat community was quiet strong. It was so much easier to get to know other people then in any other town of my own country.
Although Chinese culture seems to vanish or not to be popular among Chinese anymore, foreigners can learn a lot.
There are million of photo motifs.
There are lot of possibilities for day trips (more then in Shanghai).

My son still like China better then Germany or Italy as he enjoyed a fun live. His ayi had always time to play with him and he could play in our calm street of the compound freely with his friend.

Related posts:
Beijing: Expat Interview
Beijing and what to do with your time
Charming courtyards in Beijing
Skiing in Beijing

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