One Year in Beijing: Advice to My Former Self

Published on, August 10th, 2019


Today marks exactly one year since my husband and I arrived in Beijing. 

It’s been quite an adventure for us both, and as with any life change, I've learned, grown, and changed a lot. Mostly because I did everything ass-backward. There were moments when I've wished that a future version of myself could whisper the secrets of Beijing in my ear and smooth the path before me. But if I actually had the opportunity to go back in time and share such pieces of advice, what would they be? 

Dear Anna from a year ago,

People are great here. Really. The expat community is friendly, supportive, and so eager to network and help you out that you'll find it strange, especially having come from the relatively private and closed society of Paris. Trust me, remain open to meeting new people and you will not regret it.

The really gross smell coming from your bathroom is due to a local quirk in the plumbing! And it’s very simple to deal with, here’s how.

It’s ok to use the English versions of popular apps (like Sherpas and Baopals) for now. The Chinese versions are almost always cheaper, but just stick to what works for you. You don’t need to take on every single challenge all at once.

Riding a bike in Beijing is really fun and easier than you might think. There is this thing called "negotiated flow," you see … 

Getting into political discussions about China can be a minefield, and you don’t know who you might offend. For now, maybe just keep your mouth shut, and your ears and mind open.

READ: One Month in China: The Biggest Mistakes I've Made so Far

You’re supposed to face the door when you’re using a squat toilet. I know, it’s not obvious. And frankly probably doesn’t really make a difference. Just FYI.

You’re going to go through a few rough patches, but making your home a sanctuary where you feel snug, cozy, and safe, will be key to getting through them. So print out and frame those family photos, buy that scented candle, and dot your home with things that you love.

烟 yān means smoke, as in cigarettes. I know it looks like a man getting onto a bus, but it’s totally unrelated. Actually, forget I told you this, you’ll get more enjoyment out of puzzling over this character for months, than if I tell you right now.

Similarly, 点 diǎn is not a small picture of a tank. It means a point, spot, select, location, place.

The water is very mineralized here, but here's how to use white vinegar to transforming your crusty gross faucets into gleaming show-room worthy bits of art.

When the phone rings, most of the time it’s just the delivery driver saying “kuadi!” to indicate that he's arrived. You just say “hao de!” and go grab your stuff. Easy, right?

Everybody will go on, and on, and on ad nauseum about how much better Beijing was before you moved here. How you missed the most amazing era of cool hutong bars, and how it’s so expensive, and boring, and restrictive now. And they’re probably right. But let it run off you like shuǐ off a yāzi's back, and stay focused on finding and enjoying your Beijing.

The heavier a pomelo is, the juicier it is. The best watermelon is the one with the darkest yellow spot.

Don’t buy that ugly plastic water dispenser that looks like it belongs in an office. This minimalist stand is so much nicer, and cheap too.

Good job creating a habit of adding tags and notes to your contacts as soon as you met people. Your WeChat contacts add up really fast and those quick edits really help you to understand who in the actual hell everyone is months later.

There’s no escaping WeChat.

Living in Beijing and trying to be ecological and responsible is hard. You’re going to find the wastage and apparent disregard for the environment quite shocking sometimes. But soon, you’ll also see how many people are trying to make things better. And how exciting it is to be in a city where positive changes can be enacted on a grand scale, and fast.

Most of the air purifier industry is based upon fear and misinformationYou really don’t need to spend much at all to breathe easy.

You took the right job. Working at the Beijinger will open many doors for you, both professionally and personally. You'll meet some truly great people who become close friends; come to understand and appreciate Beijing and Chinese culture, expand your career in ways you really didn’t anticipate, and have a lot of fun. And most important of all, this job will help you to feel welcome, purposeful, and settled in this big ole city.

Oh, and men from Shenzhen are called Shenzhentlemen (or at least they should be).

Go on, keep reading, I’ve got heaps of stuff to distract you. Click here to read more of my travel and adventure experiences.