My first week in Beijing

After getting over feeling extremely daunted in a completely foreign land and unable to communicate with people, Beijing has slowly grown on me. Our introduction to Chinese bureaucracy is still ongoing- we sent 7 boxes via freight to China (the day before we left) and they are still held up in customs after 1.5 months. WELCOME TO CHINA!

Beijing is great with many eating places and cheap to travel by bus/subway. Last week, a friend took us to dinner at ‘Hua’s Courtyard Restaurant’ ( or ) which is at Guijie (Gui means bowl or ghost and jie means street. Guijie is a long street at Dongzhimen area with many many restaurants). Its at a traditional courtyard/hutong type place and at night the lights make the green trees glow. The red lanterns really looked beautiful too). However, the food wasn’t the traditional type as they make it more suitable for foreigners. For example, the Peking duck had side dishes of pineapple or rock melon slices, but incredibly tasty nonetheless!

Apart from eating heaps, Andrew and I try to learn new words here and there. Although we are tourists, I feel exhausted from mentally trying to remember things (streets, names, vocabulary) as this is now our home (ignoring the 3.5months in Thailand). We did a trip to the local 4 storey supermarket called Jingkelong, which resembles more of a mini-mall than a supermarket, and found some interesting things – noodles for babies, fruit with markings on them.

The difficulties so far are finding a job in an area that is of interest and learning Chinese. But we are enjoying improving our Chinese (lets ignore the stressful times when we are trying to do important transactions like opening a bank account but cannot communicate properly) and it has made a difference being here – we are learning new vocab as we go along in life. Biking around the city is also incredibly fun with bike lanes everywhere. Buying a push bike costs around RMB100-200 (RM 50-100 or NZD20-40) so comparatively cheap to elsewhere. However, dont be shocked if your bike gets stolen at least once during your stay in Beijing!!! Biking around is a killer -there are no rules apart from ONE: Bike to survive!!!! Surprisingly drivers dont honk at pedestrians and bikers (and at each other) like they do in New Delhi. That is a pleasant surprise indeed.

Despite having been here only for a week, I think we have familiarised ourselves as fast as we can with some bargaining at a local market, getting our bearings right when we travel (which is relatively easy due to the roads generally going North/South or East/West and a huge block/grid system similar to New York and 6 ring roads through Beijing city).
Last Friday we attended a KEA (Kiwi Expats Abroad) meeting. My sister in law is the Beijing chapter head and it was great to see her at work doing her thing. Then on Saturday, we attended a Rotary Ball!!! It was a very well organised charity event where I won a RMB2000 dinner voucher to an upclass club restaurant. Hopefully it will be enough for 4 people! I met some lovely people, including some who have done amazing things through their NGOs here in Beijing. One guy was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship for setting up several hundred libraries (see ‘the Library Project’ in China) around China. Another person was also granted that award for their NGO’s work with autistic children. AMAZING!!! There are some very interesting NGO projects starting up in China. We attended the launch of Compassion for Migrant Children (CMC)’s refurbished containers last Thursday. The containers are the ones used for transporting sea freight but were brightly painted red, blue, green or yellow. The interior were transformed into classrooms so that when migrant settlements are bulldozed, the containers can be easily transported to new settlements. CMC is only 5 years old but is considered a old NGO for Chinese standards. To survive, NGOs have to be GONGOs- Government Operated NGOs!!!! (ie endorsed by government).

Anyway, you may get the feeling that it has been all fun here, and it has been. But culture shock is still difficult to work through. Its even more frustrating when you know it has to take place and that all the feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety will come eventually. I have a week left in Beijing (and a speaking engagement at the Beijing Rotary club tomorrow) before I head to Bangkok for my peace-building course which I am looking forward to. I have 18 course mates from around the world and of different professional backgrounds- professors, police, consultants, NGO programme managers etc. And also great will be seeing my two nephews! YAY!

3 Responses to “My first week in Beijing”
  1. Fiona Reid says:

    So great to read your news Elaine. Thanks for taking the time to document and keep us all in the loop here. I feel so blessed that we have been there and can identify in some measure with the things you talk about.
    The next chapter will have a new set of experiences and insights! Lots of love, Fiona

  2. Karen Teasdale says:

    Hi Elaine! Just found your blog through your Facebook page – how cool is this! Didn’t know you had a blog, so thrilled to find a way to hear about your travels! Thinking of you in all your new environments – thrilling and exhausting all at once – what is cool, is that over the years, I think the whole world is going to become your playground, and it will all feel familiar – or big parts of it, at any rate. So proud of you! Love, Karen

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