Posted by: dscythex | December 17, 2012

Beijing final week – reflections and thoughts

OK so I ended up not being able to write a post for each week. No surprises there. The posts would have taken too long, and I’m not sure it would have been worth the effort. Instead what I’ll do is post some closing thoughts and remarks about my trip, now that I’ve had time to think and reflect.

Cost of living

After living in Beijing for almost 3 months, and doing some travelling and shopping during that time, my total expenditure comes to about 27615 RMB and 2232 AUD. That’s roughly 6430 AUD if you use today’s rate of 6.58 RMB for 1 AUD. This includes everything, tuition fees and accommodation, except my airfare to and from Beijing. That number probably doesn’t mean a lot to you though, unless you’re thinking of planning a trip to China to study Chinese.

What might be of more interest is that my expenses for most weeks ranged roughly from as low as 500 to 900, depending on whether I shop or not. That’s roughly $140 AUD a week. If I had to pay for all my meals in Australia, $140 would last me at best 3 days. And if I did any shopping, that might last me maybe a day or two.

So the cost of living in Beijing is remarkably cheap compared to Perth, something which I tried to abuse as much as possible when I was in Beijing.

Eating out in Beijing

Nevertheless despite me indulging in snacks and bbt whenever I could, I found myself actually losing weight when I was in Beijing. I ended up at around 68,69 kg. That’s 3-4 kgs less than before I left Perth. It’s not because the food in Beijing is any healthier that’s for sure. Beijing food can be very oily. For example, for breakfast at the place that I was staying, I used to rinse the vegetables in a bowl of hot water before eating them. At the end of breakfast, the bowl would be filled with oily water. Also, it’s definitely not because I’ve been working out more in BJ. On the contrary, I actually stopped exercising altogether when I fell sick during week 6. I wouldn’t say I have to do much walking either. Sure I walk to and from class, but that’s a 5 min walk at most. The rest of the day I’m sitting on my ass in class.

I think what it comes down to, maybe, is that food is harder to get when you’re living by yourself. At home, mum usually cooks more food than necessary, so there’s always food somewhere. In Beijing, I may have access to food and snacks nearby, but I have to get off my ass and buy it and bring it back to my room, or eat out. Something that’s not that fun to do during winter.

Anyway, it’s made me realise that I probably don’t need to eat as much food as I’ve been doing in Perth. A useful tip before I start working life.

Friends

On the social front, my time in Beijing really felt like my 5.5 years of uni life compressed into the space of 3 months. You know how at uni there’s the stage where you’re new and so’s everyone so it’s easy to make friends. And then there’s the stage where you’ve met your friends and you start hanging out with them and going to parties etc. And then there’s the stage where you’ve gotten to know people better and groups start forming.  And then, fast forward a couple of years and people are too busy studying and don’t have as much time for you, but at the same time,your true friends start emerging. That, more or less, describes my experience in Beijing. It reminded me of how much fun it can be to be in uni, at least during the first few years. More generally, it reminded me of the fun it can be to meet new people, and form long-lasting relationships.

I consider myself fortunate to have made 4 close friends with whom I talked to a lot in Beijing. Will they continue being my friends in a few years time? I don’t know. Invariably distance will take some toll on them. But I’m glad for the opportunity of meeting them. And more importantly, they’ve really encouraged me to continue investing in people. That’s a concept I’ve never placed a strong emphasis on in my own life. I’ve always been so concerned about myself that I never make the effort to work on my relationships with others. Hopefully, now that I’ve rediscovered the enjoyment, but also the importance, of making and maintaining friendships, I’ll put this concept into  practice more often.

Beijing in general

My short trip to Shanghai really gave me some perspective on what it means to live in Beijing. Although the two cities are Chinese cities, they are very different from each other. Shanghai felt very modern, very western, filled with all the things a young adult brought up in a capitalist society could want. Beijing on the other hand feels traditional, steeped in history and culture. I’m not saying of course that Shanghai lacks history or culture. I’m sure if I looked around more, I’d find plenty of that in Shanghai as well. But in Beijing, the history and culture can be seen very visibly from the tourist attractions down to the way people live out their lives on the streets. Beijing is also a place where the Government’s presence can be most strongly felt. It’s quite a common sight in Beijing to see people in military uniforms walking around. In contrast, I don’t think I saw one military uniform in Shanghai.

Overall I found Beijing a very interesting place. It’s a very pretty place in Autumn, but during any season it has it’s own charm.

My future with China

It’s hard to predict what will happen in the future. We can make as many plans in life as we want, but life always has a way of stuffing up your plans. I don’t think I’ll have an opportunity to go back to China anytime soon. But I am keenly interested in going back to China one day. There’s so much of China that I haven’t seen, particularly the southern parts. And of course I’m keen to keep up with some of the friendships that I’ve made in Beijing. For now, my plan is to continue with my studies in Chinese. I don’t know how that will fit in with work, but I’m hoping studying Chinese is something that will lead me back to China one day.

Thank yous

I just want to end this post by saying a quick thank you to everyone who has been reading my posts. You guys are the reason I even write these posts. Otherwise they’d just be stuck in my head, eventually fading with time. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

Posted by: dscythex | November 9, 2012

Beijing Week 7 – Cycling around in Beijing

It’s actually week 9 at the moment so I’m a couple of weeks behind, but I’m gonna take my time and try and write about a different topic related to living in Beijing each week. As I foreshadowed in my last entry, this week is about cycling.

Let’s start by talking about the bike. A normal bike can cost anywhere between 180 to 350 yuan. Here’s a pic of my little baby.

The whole set up cost 300yuan, which is, I think, actually a bit expensive. I got it back in the first week when I had just arrived in Beijing and didn’t really have a good idea of what was cheap or not. It seemed cheap compared to what I would get in Perth so I bought it. If you look carefully on the side, it actually says “lady bike”, and it’s too short for me. Of course, it also has no gears.

Having said all that, it is actually pretty sturdy, and I’ve been surprised with how durable it is. I’ve taken it cycling for hours on end over rocky roads, sandy paths, grass and even snow and ice without too much trouble. I’ve never had the chain come out, or tire go flat (but I have pumped air into it twice since getting it) or anything wrong with it at all really. The only problem I’ve had with it is the entire handle bar was shifting around once, but that was because the person setting up the bike didn’t tighten it properly I think.

It also comes with all the China essentials as you can see: Basket AND back seat. The basket is very useful for bringing back groceries if they won’t fit in a backpack, but cycling around with a basket full of heavy things (for example, a 5L bottle of water) can make it harder to steer. Back seats can actually be pretty useful for moving around with groups of people who don’t have bikes, although cycling with someone behind can be a bit tricky at first.

Cycling in Beijing is pretty fun and actually a very convenient method for getting around places. For getting to and back from most places, I actually recommend cycling on the road rather than on pedestrian walkways, which might be full of people. Beijing of course is full of cars, so it’s a bit daunting at first. But most major roads either have a wide lane designated for bikes, or have separate bike paths altogether. China drivers are also very good at avoiding pedestrians and bikes in general, so long as you don’t do anything sudden. They’ll usually be able to avoid you.

So if you’re going to be in Beijing for a while, would I recommend buying a bike? I personally think the convenience is worth it, but let me leave you with a picture of a biking adventure I had that week and an accompanying story.

This was a photo taken near Nanluogu hutong. It’s about 9km or 30-45min bike ride away from my university. I decided to go cycling here because I’d heard the best way to explore hutongs is via bike, since hutongs are supposed to be small interconnected alleyways. Nanlugoxian hutong however was a very commercialised and very crowded hutong, such that riding around on bike would have been impossible. The bikes did allow us to get between other streets, drum tower (the thing I’m posing in front of in the picture) and Nanlugoxian pretty quickly, but ultimately I think the trip that day could have been done just as easily via train to the nearest train station followed by more walking. Note that train tickets all cost 2 yuan, regardless of how far you travel. Also, everyone came back from that trip feeling pretty tired.

So yes, having a bike really is convenient for getting around relatively short distances. I think it could also be used to get around Beijing city in general, but you’d either need to be quite enthusiastic about cycling, or get a road bike or something better. Otherwise, it might be better for some people to simply save the 300 yuan and take the public transport instead, which in general is pretty easy to take and very cheap.

Posted by: dscythex | November 4, 2012

Beijing Week 5/6 – Falling sick in Beijing

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on my blog for a while. There a couple of reasons, one of which is because I’ve been extremely busy trying to balance studying with entertainment. That’s not usually a problem, but during weeks 5 and 6 I had an extra complication to deal with – sickness.

You might have noticed in some of my earlier fb photos that I was walking around in just shorts. Up to the end of week 4, the weather was still pretty nice. A bit windy maybe, but very very nice mid 20s weather. Then all of a sudden it just got cold overnight. Like 18 degrees cold. And on the night the weather dropped 5 degrees, I just so happened to be out clubbing (really, I don’t go out that much, just once a week). So of course I fell sick.

Not entirely sure why, but this was one of the worse colds I have ever experienced. I felt fine on Sunday morning, the day after I had went out. But by Sunday afternoon I suddenly got a really bad sore throat. By Sunday night I was feeling really tired. When I got back that night I started getting headaches, bad enough that I had to take panadol. Monday felt like death. The sore throat was so bad I was constantly sucking on lozenges. The headaches so painful my classmate got shocked at how much pain I looked like I was in. It was the kinda throbbing headache as well that would come back periodically.

So the morale of the story is: don’t underestimate Beijing’s weather. Make sure to always bring something warm with you, and always check the weather forecast. To give you a more recent example, today’s weather looked like this, even though just a few days before I was wearing just two layers.

Second morale of the story: don’t push your body too hard. Well, you could say I’m weak for falling sick after one night of clubbing, and you may be right. But still, don’t risk falling sick when you’re overseas and you should be enjoying yourself.

Oh btw, this happened about 3 weeks ago, so I should be well and truly cured by now right? Wrong. I’d been feeling fine the whole week. So I went out twice this week. That, plus the sudden drop in temperature led to a very boring weekend in bed, down with a blocked nose and slightly sore throat. I just hope it’s the same cold that got me three weeks ago and not some new bug that I have to deal with. When will I learn…

Next week if I have time, I’ll try and make a quick post about cycling in Beijing.

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