Who are you, where are you from and how long did you live in Beijing?
My name is Ginny, I’m from Richmond, Virginia, United States. I’ve been living in Beijing for almost three years now.
Why did you choose to live in Beijing?
I live in Beijing because I was accepted to the medical school of Peking University, and also because it is close to Shanghai, where my parents live.
What do you do for a living?
I am currently a student at Peking University.
Do you speak the main language (Mandarin) that is spoken in Beijing? If not, what are the main difficulties that you faced while you first lived there?
Yep, I am fluent in Chinese but I do find that from time to time I have difficulties understanding the accents of the different dialects and local slang.
Do you like or hate the public transport in Beijing? Why so?
So it’s kind of a love-hate relationship for me when it comes to public transport. The traffic in Beijing gets really bad so the metro is the easier way to go. While the prices are very cheap, usually averaging less than one us dollar per trip, it does get very crowded around rush hour. It is clean (although sometimes smelly) and overall a great way to travel the city.
Tell me 1 must-do thing in Beijing.
Go camping on the Great Wall (on a pollution-free day)!! The view is absolutely breathtaking and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything more enjoyable than watching the sunrise with my friends while cuddled in our sleeping bags. Even if you don’t spend the night, the climb up is still an amazing view.
Tell me 1 thing that you wish you had done but haven’t done so in Beijing.
I actually have not visited many of the tourist sites in Beijing but one thing I wish I had done is to watch the sunrise and flag raising at Tiananmen Square.
What are your 2 most-loved neighbourhoods in Beijing?
I think personally my 2 favorite neighborhoods are 798 and Sanlitun.
798 is an art zone that used to be an old factory compound, it’s a fun place to explore and get lost in. It’s full of small shops, art galleries, sculptures, and cafes. It’s definitely one of my favorite places in Beijing.
Another one of my favorites is Sanlitun, which is one of the more western parts of Beijing. There’s a lot to do in Sanlitun ranging from shopping, eating, and hanging out but I think it’s more well known to foreigners for its nightlife. A lot of bars and clubs can be found around Sanlitun and if you know a promoter you can enjoy a whole night of free drinks which is a pretty good deal if you ask me.
Tell me your top 3 restaurants in Beijing.
Top three restaurants is a tough one, there’s a lot of good food in Beijing.
My first would have to be Tairyo, it’s a Japanese all you can eat teppanyaki. There’s many locations in Beijing, but I would say the best location is in Sanlitun. It has different meal prices starting from 228 rmb and the food is fresh and delectable.
My second choice is Jindingxuan (金鼎轩). It’s a dim sum restaurant that’s open 24 hours and generally pretty packed if you go during regular dining hours. There are multiple locations but I hear the most “authentic” one is by the Lama temple. It’s not expensive but also not the cheapest food you can find in Beijing. My favorites here are the dan dan noodles (14 rmb) and the pork cha siu (18.8rmb), but to be honest I’d eat anything off the menu.
Lastly I would say any hot pot restaurant that is rated highly or if you happen to pass by one with a long queue, it’s probably worth your while. I would also suggest Haidilao (海底捞) since it’s one of the most famous hot pot brands and there are many locations scattered around Beijing.
Your favourite bar in Beijing?
I actually have a few favourite bars so I will just name the three.
West bar is a hiphop bar, known for the music and beer pong tournaments. It’s one of my favorite bars because the crowd is very easy going and consists of both Chinese and foreigners.
Unico is an upscale restaurant that turns into a live music bar at night. The crowd is also mixed with Chinese and foreigners and it’s overall a pretty classy joint.
Heavens Supermarket is a bar with a supermarket inside. The supermarket consists of a variety of drinks from all over the world. Beer, liquor, champagne, pretty much anything you want you can find. It’s a cheap but good place to predrink and conveniently located beside all the clubs. The environment is loud and smoky but it’s a nice place to hang and chat with friends.
What is the the cheapest and the best alcohol you can get in Beijing?
Mojito man is the place to go for cheap and good alcohol. Sometimes you even have to wait in line to buy one of these famous mojitos. Located in Sanlitun bar street, for only 15 rmb (2-3$) a couple of these will guarantee you a fun night ahead.
Tell me 3 local specialities that you must get in major supermarkets in Beijing.
You can purchase the famous 全聚德 (Quanjude) peking ducks precooked and sealed in packages at supermarkets in Beijing, although I’ve never tried I hear they’re quite yummy. Arctic Ocean is like the Chinese Fanta, but better. It’s sold in most supermarkets and restau-rants. The last one you must try in Beijing is sour prune juice, most people either love it or hate it. In Chinese it’s called 酸梅汤 (suanmeitang).
Where do you normally shop for clothes?
For clothing there are many choices to shop, from online (Taobao), Sanlitun, Xidan, Wangfujing, to the fake markets. I love fake markets because you can find a lot of knock off stuff for really great prices and practice your bargaining skills.
Where do you normally shop for food?
Because it’s not so convenient for me to cook, I order food a lot. In Beijing there are 3 main online food ordering apps, Elema, Baidu Waimai, and Meituan Waimai. You can pretty much find any type of food on the apps. When I do decide to cook, I head to the local markets or supermarkets.
What’s the Craigslist-equivalent in Beijing ?
In Beijing we use Wechat for any sort of advertisements. There are plenty of second hand trading/selling group chats, job searching group chats etc.
How much do you spend for a month living in Beijing?
So because I live in the student dorms, the rent is cheaper than an apartment. I live in the Haidian disctrict, rent can range anywhere from 1,500 rmb to over 5,000 rmb. It’s about an hour away from the city center going by public transportation. My boyfriend who lives in Chaoyang district, which is approximately 35 minutes away from the city center, lives in a two bedroom apartment. The total rent of the apartment is 7,000 rmb. You can find apartments through wechat groups, agencies, or facebook groups.
On average every meal I spend about 20-30 rmb if I’m cooking.
Public transport will generally be under 5 rmb one way, which is significantly less than a taxi or a Didi (the Chinese uber). However, taxis in Beijing are still relatively cheap compared to the US. If I wanted to go from my dorm to Sanlitun which is about a 13 km it would be around 40 kuai which is roughly $7.
When it is sunny, how do you spend your day?
When the weather is nice in Beijing I like to see what events are going on around the city. During spring time in the 798 area and Wangjing SOHO they have many events such as food festivals. There’s basically something going on every weekend you just have to search a bit. There’s also a man made beach in Chaoyang that’s pretty nice to go to during the summer. The Mutianyu Great Wall is also beautiful and it’s a less touristy part of the Great Wall to visit.
When it is rainy, how do you spend your day?
When it is rainy or if the pollution is really bad, I’ll go for indoor activities such as shisha, escape room, movies, massage, cooking classes, or just visit a nice cafe and hangout. One of my favorites is Cinker Pictures in Sanlitun, where you can have cocktails and food while you watch films.
Let say you are taking a small trip over a long weekend, where would you go and what would you do?
I think I would go to Shanghai or Hangzhou for a short trip. Aside from Beijing, those two are my favorite cities in China. Hangzhou is absolutely gorgeous, but I would recommend to not go during a public holiday because there are ridiculous amounts of people out at all the scenic spots. Shanghai is a great city to explore especially if you only have 3-4 days
Let say you are taking a small trip over a week-long holiday, where would you go and what would you do?
Not near Beijing, but I would go to Taiwan for a week. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, and there’s so much to see. I especially like Kenting because the view is breathtaking. You can rent a scooter and check out all the tourist spots or just drive along the coast as the sun sets.
What souvenir would you buy for your family or friends from Beijing?
I prefer to do a lot of gift shopping at the fake markets when I’m about to return home. You don’t necessarily have to buy a knock off purse or something, they actually have a lot of stuff at these markets. There’s Chinese candy, silk scarves, traditional Chinese clothing, jewelry, snacks, pretty much anything can be found. My favorite to bring friends is this famous Chinese milk candy called 大白兔奶糖 (white rabbit toffee).
A habit that you have picked up while living in Beijing?
Going places without any cash because Wechat pay and Alipay are accepted everywhere in the city. It gets kind of bad because then I don’t realize how much money I’m spending.
Must-have apps in Beijing?
You definitely need to have 大众点评 or 美团 (dazhongdianping/meituan). The first one will show all the restaurants near you, how they are rated, which dishes people recommend to order there, and other helpful information. The second one shows you different kinds of dis-counts that are available near you, can be for restaurants, massage places, ktv, hair salons, or even cleaning services.
Also another one I want to add is Pleco which is a translation app.
The biggest culture shock that you have seen in Beijing?
This applies to everywhere in China, but the public toilets still scare me after living here for almost three years. The toilets are just holes in the ground and the smell alone will make you think twice about if you really need to use the restroom.
If not Beijing, where then?
I think if not Beijing I would like to live in Shanghai. I find that while both are big cities in China, Shanghai is more modern and western than Beijing. To me Beijing is the perfect place to live because it’s a perfect fusion of Chinese and Western culture.
What advice would you give to someone who is planning to move to Beijing?
Do all the touristy things that are suggested but also take time to explore the little parts of the city. If you plan to live here for a while, invest in a good quality air filter and face mask. The air quality gets rough here sometimes, this year it’s been better but there are still bad days. Also don’t forget to buy/download a VPN before you come! There are lots of free ones but they get unstable sometimes when you really need them.
Your worst experience/ memory in Beijing?
My worst experience in Beijing is when one night around 11 pm I was taking a taxi with a friend from Sanlitun back to the Wudaokou area. Usually this trip wouldn’t cost more than 50 rmb and somehow the meter was displaying 90 rmb. I had heard about black cabs that mess with their meters but not the legitimate taxis. My friend and I asked the driver what was going on and we explained to him that there was no way the ride cost 90 rmb. After some back and forth arguing with the driver, he pulled out a taser and locked the doors. We didn’t think the situation would escalate that fast so we paid the money and got out as fast as we could. It hasn’t ruined taxis for me as it has only happened to me once my entire time here, and there are precautions you could take to avoid that. Use the Didi app whenever you need a car as the app will have all the driver’s information so it’s less likely that something will go wrong, always sit in the back and try to get out asap if you sense something is off.
Your best experience/ memory in Beijing?
As cheesy as it sounds I think most of my best experiences in Beijing are just experiencing this city with friends. You get to meet so many people from different backgrounds and it re-ally broadens your perspective of the world.
Anything that you would like to add?
The whole Beijing experience has been a roller coaster ride. It’s modern but at the same time it preserves all the traditional parts of the Chinese culture. Being here has opened my life up to so many opportunities I never would have had back home and I think it’s a life-changing experience if you embrace it with an open mind.