I have lived in Beijing for almost two years and many people have asked me the question: Why? What about the pollution(污染)? Aren't there a lot of people?
Yes, the pollution can be off-putting. Yes, there are a lot of people in the city. A lot of the things that you have heard about Beijing are true. The negative aspects(坏处) of living in Beijing are very obvious characteristics(特征) as anyone who spends 48 hours in the city can probably discover(发现), but the positive aspects(好处) of Beijing are things that you slowly discover. Living in Beijing has enriched my life in so many different ways and given me a whole new world perspective(视角).
Don't get me wrong, I will not stay in Beijing forever. Beijing is a transient(暂住的) city where people come and go. For most foreigners, it has an expiration date(有效期). The time will come when I will leave Beijing and move my life to another place but that doesn't mean I haven't loved the city. This flawed(有缺陷的), gritty(坚韧不拔的), crazy(疯狂的), exciting(令人兴奋的), and historic(历史悠久的) city has been my home for almost two years now. So let's move on to what I've come to love about Beijing.
I remember buying my first bicycle in Beijing. It was spring 2013 and everyone and their brother was telling me how I needed to own a bicycle. My first day riding a bike was full of struggles(麻烦事) because I had not ridden a bicycle in the last decade. My balance was off and I would occasionally fall over(摔倒). Beijing is a city that is made for bikes. Every road has a bike lane(自行车道) and some of the narrow alleyways and roads in the center of the city (hutong) are ideal for bikes. It is the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient way to get anywhere in the city. It is also the best way to see and understand the city. Beijing is a grid-system(网格系统) and once you have a basic understanding of the city, the city is relatively easy to understand. There's something really nice about living in a city and knowing it.
Which brings me to the city
After riding my bike all over the city, I've come to know all the different parts of the city. Beijing is a really cool, interesting(有趣的), old, and beautiful city. It has grit and soul(勇气) like few other cities that I've seen before. In many ways, the city has held onto its culture(文化) (EXCEPT FOR DESTROYING GULOU). The small streets and alleyways in the center of the city are called hutongs and are filled with really cool restaurants, shops, and bars. The hutongs give you a feeling of really living in China. The communities(社区) within these hutongs make it feel smaller and the best places in Beijing are the places that you have to be taken to. There is a nice mix of modern(现代的) and historic(历史的). When the weather in Beijing is good, the city is really very beautiful.
Beijing is also a huge city where there is always something going on. It is the capital of China and there is always to do, see, eat, or experience. There is never a dull moment in this city. Beijing has something for everyone. From Swing dancing(摇摆舞) to Chinese traditional medicine(中药) to stand-up comedy, Beijing has so many different activities and events. If you need to get out of the city, you can take a bus(坐公共汽车) an hour or two outside of the city to experience the beauty(美) and nature that lies outside of the city limits. The first thing that I noticed back in the United States was how unnerving(令人不安) I found the open space and silence(安静). Where were all the Chinese people? Where were the noise(噪音) and the excitement(兴奋)? The Excitement was back in Beijing's Expat community.
The Melting Pot Expat Community
I've been to other cities and I haven't seen an expat community like the one I've seen in Beijing. It's a mix(混合) of different interesting people who are from different places, with different jobs, and different experiences. Chinese people(中国人), foreigners(外国人), business professionals(商务人士), students(学生), and teachers(老师) are all hanging out and sharing their different experiences. Beijing expats are willing to connect with and welcome other people into their lives. Beijing expats are young(年轻), fun(有趣), well-traveled(见多识广), knowledgeable about world affairs(了解世界大事), independent(独立), ambitious(上进) and active(积极). Many expats are really open(开放) to trying new things and say yes to weird and unique experiences. It makes going out in Beijing an interesting experience. Sidebar: Bars don't close until sunrise and you never have to drive everywhere. Taxis are cheap and city is laid out in a surprisingly organized fashion.
Challenging(挑战) what you know and who you are
If you have never lived outside your home country, living abroad(在国外生活) is truly an eye-opening(大开眼界) experience. You are not a tourist or a student. You live here and Beijing strangely enough starts to feel like home. After the shine and excitement of your honeymoon phase(蜜月期) wears off, everyday is just a regular day in Beijing. You are taken out of an environment(环境) that you are comfortable in and into the chaotic(混乱的), disorganized(杂乱无章的), and fast pace(快节奏的) place that is Beijing. While you obviously learn a lot about China, I've also learned so much about my home country(我的祖国) as well as the countries of people who I've met along the way. The time and space that I have had away from America has allowed me to reflect(反省) on my worldviews as well as challenge some of the American cultural norms(文化规范) that had defined my way of thinking for so long. I've learned about the different ways in which people interact and communicate(交流). How deep do you think my knowledge of Slovenia was before I had two Slovenian Roommates? It was as deep as a puddle but I know use the population of Slovenia as a benchmark for everything. Did you know there are as many people in the prison system in America as there as in the whole country of Slovenia? (2 million!).
Most Rewarding(成就感) Experience
I've had countless amazing memories(记忆) out in Beijing and met some truly amazing people, but one of the most rewarding experiences has been the progression(进步) of my Chinese. When I first came back to Beijing, my Chinese was at a very awkward point. I knew a lot of words but I didn't know how to use them and my listening and speaking were not very developed. Everyday tasks that used to be simple and easy were now frustrating(令人沮丧的) and discouraging(失望). Through hours and hours of classes and studying, my Chinese dramatically improved(提高了). If you don't speak Chinese in Beijing ,at some point you have to depend on other people to help you. I did not like that feeling and hated the idea of being helpless(无助的). There came a time when everything just clicked and I was speaking much more naturally and without hesitation(毫不犹豫). There is always room for improvement but I have made a lot of progress in my time in Beijing.
Living in Beijing is full of ups and downs but no one lives this city without taking some valuable experience with them. I have so many memories, friends, and experiences that I will never forget and that have permanently shaped the way I view the world.