So despite deciding to call time on working in Beijing after just two years, I can say there were good aspects about the city, enough to write a positive post.
As the capital of China, it’s a world city which at least 95% of people in your life will know or have heard of. This means you don’t need to spend time explaining where it is or what it is, nor why you’d want to work there (other than livability and human rights concerns of course). Indeed, Beijing is not an easy city to live in. There’s the bad air pollution, the crowded subways and awful traffic and the unpleasant aspects of society like deceitful rental agents and rude service staff. However, there are certain nice things, some of which are obvious and others less so.
So in no particular order, here are some good aspects of Beijing:
–Historic world-famous sites
Beijing has a history of over 800 years and has been China’s capital for most of that time so it has a historical heft. You can see that from the range of impressive historical attractions like the massive Forbidden Palace, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall, of which there are several different sites, as well as the Temple of Heaven and the Marco Polo (Lugou) bridge (famous for two events over 700 hundred years apart).
There’s the gigantic National History Museum in Tiananmen Square, which covers over 2,000 years of Chinese history up to 1949 (when everything became perfect in China) but the Capital Museum is a lesser-known but fascinating modern museum dedicated to Beijing.
Capital Museum, there’s an entire display inside the green tubular section on jade.
These lanes filled with one-story homes are probably Beijing’s most well-known characteristic but they’re sadly dying out as they get torn down and replaced by modern buildings. Some expats really love them and even live in them and a few have become gentrified and turned into tourist attractions. I’m no hutong lover but I got to say some of them have a lot of good things going on with restaurants, galleries and bars.
Wudaoying hutong, by the Yonghegong Lama Temple
–Top division football
Beijing Guoan is Beijing’s top club and is one of the best-supported clubs in the country, often attracting crowds of over 20,000. It’s also one of the most reviled ones too though Beijingers don’t give a damn. I went to a game in May and it was a good affair, both on and off the pitch.
–Diversity of Chinese and international food
From Chongqing hotpot to Shanxi noodles to Yunnanese food, basically all regions of China have their cuisine represented in Beijing. Meanwhile, there are a lot of different food outlets like foreign restaurants, pubs and cafes.
Sichuan laziji or pepper chicken, the finest Chinese dish I’ve eaten, which I first tasted in Beijing
In winter, the rivers freeze and you get scenes that can be semi-charming like people ice-fishing and kids riding wooden chair sleds. You might even get snow, like it did once in 2014 but not this year, and things even look nice.
–Free English-language expat mags
Beijing has a lot of them – four. They’re regular (monthly and biweekly) so every month I’d make it a ritual to pick them up. I read them not for the food and party reviews, but the articles about people, events, books and travel as well as cool feature stories. The best are That’s Beijing and TimeOut Beijing, while bi-weekly City Weekend Beijing, which I’ve done freelance stuff for, is pretty decent. The Beijinger has the coolest name but is ok at times.