Beijing, China Report of what it's like to live there - 01/26/10
Personal Experiences from Beijing, China
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not my first. As an adult, I have lived in France, Switzerland and Italy.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
France. Between 15 to 20 hours, with Paris as the connection.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
3 years with an International Organisation and 12 years as a trailing spouse and educator.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
A lot of variety now in housing and plenty of it.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Chinese groceries are cheap, but they have had a lot of food scares such as melamine in milk and all flour products, growth hormones in milk, problems with pork production etc. Imported food is safer but more expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Clothes, shoes, medicines and toiletries.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Plenty of fast food, American and local. There are some decent restaurants in different price ranges.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis, but not much else.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Letters are fine. Parcels are subject to surveillance for banned literature etc.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Easily available at between 10-15 rmb per hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Plenty of private healthclubs.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
An increasing number of ATMs. Debit cards are easily available.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I understand there are some American churches here.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
You can have subscriptions for most newspapers and magazines, although sometimes they disappear and sometimes they arrive with pages ripped out. Some satellites are available (although illegal).
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need the basics to be polite, shop, take taxies etc.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It has improved, but there is a history of hiding disabled people away in China, so I think it would be quite challenging.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local trains, buses and taxies are relatively safe and cheap.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
No need to bring, both local and imported cars areavailable (although parts are not). Petrol is relatively cheap.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Your main problem with the internet is accessibility. Now (January 2010) no access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, IMDB, Google docs or any nings. Intermittent access to Google and google images, wikipedia etc. Censorship is by keywords in the url, so you cannot look at information on a range of topics related to Chinese modern history.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Easily obtainable and cheap.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Don't know about now. Didn't use to be.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
No. Veterinary science is still at a low level here. There is now a foreign vet who commutes from Hong Kong, but local vets have quite a high attrition rate.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Not really. You need a full Z visa to work legally here and the employer gets that for you. Foreigners are guest workers and not expected to stay here. There are age restrictions also for people over 60.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Neat, clean and tidy and not overly casual. The Chinese are not sloppy!
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Depends on your point of view. There is not much crime as it is heavily policed, but the downside is your lack of access to outside information i.e. internet.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality is the main health concern. There are a couple of expensive but good quality foreign hospitals here.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality in Beijing is appalling and many families leave because of it. There are many days in the year where the AQI is very high. Wikipedia has a good guide to AQI in Mainland China. Beijing rarely falls under 100 and is often over 400 (when we do not allow students to go outside).
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot humid summers and cold dry winters with dust storms in between.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most of the schools are national schools in an international setting. So ISB provides the American curriculum, the French Schoolthe French curriculum, Japanese the Japanese etc. There are only three international schools who provide the full International Baccalauriat curriculum: WAB, BISS and BCIS. All are good schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
WAB has excellent support for special-needs students at all levels of the school and at most levels of need. Some schools do not take special needs students. It is better to assess this before you come.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Quite a variety now at varying levels of price and interest.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Sports Beijing runs a comprehensive programme of sports for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Generally good, with some irritation at the vagaries of daily life!
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I came as a single and left as a couple! Its okay for families as long as no one has asthma or any respiratory issues.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Used to be dreadful - a bit more open/less illegal now and there is a 'scene'.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not so much gender prejudice. Religion is a difficult issue in China, and so is race.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
My Chinese friends.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hiking in the mountains, visiting temples etc.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Furniture and silk.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Having closer access to Asia.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Clean lungs and books on Tibet.
3. But don't forget your:
Moisturizer and medicines.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Beijing Coma. - read before you come, its banned here, as is Lonely Planet China.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
If you don't care about current affairs and have a robust constitution, you can be perfectly happy here and have a reasonable standard of living.