It’s one thing to move to a country where there is access to good English speaking services, and you are sure most people will have a basic grasp of the English language or culture. But to move to an entirely different culture where the culture and political mind-set is vastly different can be unnerving to say the least. I am glad to say my haphazard approach of never planning for anything, leads me to great stress in the beginning, but good learning in the end. Hopefully I am paving the way for others to feel more at ease. Being an Expat in Beijing for me was easy from the start, but I am also a man, and like everywhere else I go, including London, it requires some common sense.
1. It is very easy to get around in Beijing and the underground is run very efficiently. The cost is minimal in comparison to the extortionate London prices. Think 50p each way. There are also plenty of cabs and here wisdom is required. It’s always best to get one booked from the hotel or hostel to ensure a fair charge and safe journey but worst case scenario might be, being handed a few dodgy notes that are fake or being charged a bit more than usual.
2. Although I was and still am older than the rest. I managed a few bars and the odd club and saw a very open-minded culture as long as you are not waving flags pledging allegiance to other things. Common sense is required if you are a girl and always best to be with friends or your Chinese friends. SanLitu is a well-known nightlife area for Expat’s in Beijing but can also be a bit tacky so best to consult Timeout or your Chinese co-workers.
3. Of course you have your visa already but if you are planning to work then it is wisest to get a residency permit before you leave. If not then you need to report to the police station first to register yourself for residency. Then you are able to apply for work through the usual outlets online. From there on it becomes the same as most other cities. Yes, there are lot of English Language teachers in Beijing but also many students, tourists and business people working for well-known corporations.
4. Eating is no problem in China and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from in well-known districts. If you do have a gentle stomach then maybe stay away from the vendors selling snacks, except the Wanfujing Snack Street, until you have acclimatised. There are many modern shopping centres much like in the west which you might like to get away eve to avoid the fog on a bad day. One of the best is The Place, Jia No.9 Guanghua Road, Beijing 100020, China. There are also many markets where you can find well-known brands for knock-down prices. Very handy for travellers. If you need to escape the madness then you can go for a quiet walk down one of the many Hutongs offering a glimpse of old Beijing.
5. The smog and the environment will shock you although it is improving, so it is best to get a face-mask to wear because as well as the environment there is also a lot of building work going on in the city. You will look up to the sky most days and wonder if you are in a dystopian science-fiction novel with an orange haze across the sky but again common sense knowledge not to walk near the busy streets all the time will help. Visit the parks, walk down the hutongs, and try the small bars down the busy alley ways, and you will have a fun time in Beijing. Just don’t visit on a national holiday the place is packed.