19 mini-lessons on living like a Lao Beijingren
How to order a Chinese banquet to impress a guest
The traditional delicacy Beijing duck (北京烤鸭 běijīngkǎoyā) will impress any guest – succulent meat, thin pancakes, a variety of sauces, and the spectacle of watching the chef prepare the duck. Laowai cai (foreign dishes) won’t disappoint foreign tastebuds; try kung pao chicken (宫爆鸡丁 gōngbǎo jīdīng), “fish-fragrance” shredded pork (鱼香肉丝 yúxīangròusī), and fried green beans (干煸四季豆 gānbǐan sìjìdoù). Moreover, Sichuan hotpot, with both mild and spicy broths, allows guests to participate in cooking. Other no-fail dishes include fish in spicy oil (水煮鱼 shuǐzhǔyú), pineapple rice (菠萝饭 bōlúofàn), a Yunnan dish that combines rice with the sweet-tart fruit, and of course, dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi). Cecily Huang
How to get a custom-tailored qipao It’s easy: Go to the top floor of Yashow or 3.3. Pick a fabric and style. Let the tailor take your measurements. Come back for a fitting or two, and voilà! Now, the nitty-gritty. Decide on your top priority: beauty or comfort. It’s an unfortunate fact of fashion, but a form-fitting qipao that turns heads probably won’t allow you to sit with ease or even, regrettably, take a deep breath. The more practical the qipao, the looser it should be around the stomach and hips. If you haven’t been blessed with a swan-like neck, request a collar that opens deeper in the front. Insist on a silk lining, and, as with all custom-tailored clothes, check and re-check the seams, zipper and buttons for strength.
Next? Master Maggie Cheung’s walk from In the Mood for Love. Michelle Tsai
How to make dumplings
1. Mix together one part water, at least three parts flour, and a pinch of salt to form dumpling skin dough. Let it rest for 30 minutes; dough should be smooth and barely sticky.
2. Meanwhile, mince the meat. Briefly saute peppercorns in oil to release flavor. Combine oil, vegetable ingredients, salt, onion, ginger and soy sauce with meat. 3. Knead dough, then divide into sections the size of golf balls. Roll out into flat circles.
4. To wrap a dumpling, place a spoonful of meat in the center of a skin. Wet the edge of the skin with water, fold into a half-moon shape, and seal by pinching the edges.
5. Place dumplings in a pot of boiling water. When the jiaozi float to the surface, add a bowl of cold water. When the dumplings float again, they’re ready. CH
What to look for in a bespoke suit
Beijing doesn’t have the long tradition of Western tailoring that Hong Kong has, but with some knowledge of fabric and style, you can have yourself a bespoke suit that you’ll wear with pride.
Fabric will make up the bulk of the suit’s cost, so get the very best that you can find, advises Nels Frye, local fashion guru and the man behind street style website Stylites.net. Ask your tailor for 100 percent wool or even imported, brand-name wool like Ermenegildo Zegna. Request full-canvas construction (全麻衬 quán má chèn), which means the suit jacket has a free-moving middle layer – ideally made of camel hair – that allows for better stretching, draping and breathability. A decent suit should not cost less than RMB 2,500.
Bring in your favorite suit as a reference, though be sure to tell the tailor what features you like and don’t like. You can also bring in a magazine photo of a suit style you like – infinitely preferable to vague comments such as “I just want something that looks good.”
Sartorially challenged? You can’t go wrong with traditional styling: a single-breasted jacket with two to three buttons, a notch lapel, and one or two vents. Pants with pleats keep their crease better and have a better drape, though they do add a bit of girth to the hips. Order an extra pair of trousers while you’re at it, as they’ll wear out faster than the jacket. The small details matter: Plastic buttons can cheapen a suit from a mile away, so go for horn.
Keep going back to the tailor for fittings, and don’t be shy about asking for adjustments – even after you’ve brought the suit home. MT
How to drive
The rule to remember when driving in Beijing is this: Always assume the other guy is about to do something dangerous. Because nine times out of ten, you’ll be right. This rule, applied religiously, should keep you out of harm’s way most days on the road.
I’ve been driving since I first got my learner’s permit at age 15 back in Los Angeles. I still remember my teacher Vic, who must’ve done something very wrong in a past life to come back as a driver’s instructor. He droned on and on about defensive driving before he even let us get behind the wheel.
Vic was right. You need to drive defensively to survive the Third Ring Road. But you also have to drive offensively, looking for the gaps and aggressively merging, or you’ll never get anywhere.
Right on red? Optional. Turn lanes? Just a suggestion, really. Beijing drivers don’t follow any rules at all. (Transplant one to an L.A. freeway at rush hour and he’ll be dead within minutes – a victim of road rage.) Here, no one has road rage. And you shouldn’t either. When you see someone pull a spectacularly boneheaded move, don’t honk and curse. Instead, file it away for later use. Learn from him.
It’s simple, really. Just watch out for crazy drivers. Pass on the left. Or the right. Or wherever. If another driver leaves a gap, take it, whether you fit or not. Avoid hitting pedestrians, bicycles and other cars whenever possible. Poor Vic. His life’s work, ruined. Donna Scaramastra Gorman
How to spend a lavish weekend at the Great Wall
Ready for a country escape worthy of emperors? Live it up at the Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski, a resort made of villas designed by 12 Asian architects. Reserve an apartment for two or splurge and rent the entire house. The resort is located off the Badaling Expressway, a 60-90 minute drive from downtown Beijing, but don’t fret about getting there; chauffeur service is available. Drop the little ones off at Commune of the Children club, which has programs for arts and crafts, swimming and storytelling (RMB 150-290 for club). Then, indulge in a massage at the on-site spa or go hiking on the Great Wall.
Standard king or twin room, RMB 2,500 per night; deluxe king, RMB 3,300; deluxe suite, RMB 4,300. For villa rates or room reservations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 8610 8118 1888. Jessica Pan
How expat spouses can beat the blues
It’s a challenge for anyone to up and move to a new country, but the transition is especially tough for spouses with families. Kids attend school and make friends, while the employed spouse has a business card and a job – and therefore an instant identity and social network. For expat spouses, adjustment is trickier; they have to forge their own network and routine.
Jasmine Keel of INSPIRED, an organization that specializes in providing social, emotional and professional support for expat spouses, suggests meeting as many people as you can in the beginning, and then trying to meet like-minded people. “Socialize whenever possible, even if it means talking to someone at the pool at your complex or at Jenny Lou’s, attending a religious group, or getting involved in national groups,” Keel says, although she stresses meeting people from other nationalities as well.
Spouses should actively think about what they want to do here. Don’t be afraid to attend professional networks, even if you don’t have a business card. And don’t underestimate the importance of creating a routine. Set up a project or study new skills such as photography or a foreign language. In many ways, recreating one’s life can be enriching; it’s a chance for people to explore interests they never had the courage or time to do before. JP
How to choose a language exchange partner
Picking a language partner is a bit like picking a roommate. You’re going to be spending lots of time together if all goes well, so compatibility is important.
Rule #1: Don’t confuse language exchange with dating. Likewise, make sure your partner doesn’t have the wrong idea. Consider picking a language partner of the same gender.
Rule #2: Know thyself. For instance, if you’re certain that your goal is to learn the Beijing accent, you’ll avoid pairing up with someone who has just moved here from Guangzhou. Rule #3: Play fair. For an equal
exchange, it’s best if both partners are similarly proficient in their respective foreign languages. Agree in advance on how each meeting will work. For example: 45 minutes in English, then 45 minutes in Mandarin. Meet regularly, but not so often that you run out of new things to say. MT
Where to recycle
It’s easy to spot the trash bins with different sections for recyclable and non-recyclable materials, but these divisions are often ignored. If your apartment complex doesn’t have separate bins for plastic, glass and organic materials, ensure your recyclable goods get to the right location by dropping them off directly at these locations around town:
• 30m east of 7-Eleven on Xinzhong Jie (Chaoyang)
• Shuangjing Qiao, Dongsanhuan (Chaoyang)
• Shique Hutong by Beixinqiao subway station (Dongcheng). Take southeast exit from the station and turn left. Go to the first large intersection on the southwest corner.
• Xiaojie Qiao Hepingli Dongjie (Dongcheng)
• 200m south of Jishuitan Qiao, 100m west of Xinjiekou Beidajie (Xicheng).
If all else fails, leaving bags of recyclable goods next to a big public bin is also an option. Many locals pick up bottles and cans and turn them into recycling points for money. JP
How to camp at the Great Wall
Head to the Simatai-Jinshanling area, about a two-to-three hour drive from Beijing. Unpack at the Jinshanling section, the only section where it’s legal to camp overnight. Camping is a great way to avoid the crowds – after dusk, families can have the Wall to themselves. Entry is RMB 50.
To rent or purchase camping and outdoor gear, visit stores such as Explorer, Extreme Beyond, or Sunwind Outdoor, or check online at www.sanfo.com/en. By car: Drive from Sanyuan Qiao on the Third Ring Road and take Jingshun Lu all the way past Miyun. At Gubeikou, follow signs toward Chengde and then follow signs to Jinshanling Great Wall.
By bus: Take a Chengde-bound bus from the Dongzhimen long-distance bus station and get off at Jinshanling. Then take a cab to the entrance for RMB 10. JP
How to talk to cabbies
It’s not hard to get around in Beijing. Cabs are everywhere and they’re mostly affordable. Even if you don’t know exactly how to say the address of your destination in Chinese, knowing just a few sentences could save you a lot of trouble with your driver. Also, be polite and address him (or her) as shīfù (师傅). Amani Zhang
Shifu, hold on a moment. I’m calling for directions.
Shī fù, děng yí xìa, wǒ dǎ dìan huà wèn dì zhǐ.
Shifu, we’re going to this address.
Shī fù, wǒmén qù zhègè dìzhǐ.
Turn left/right at the traffic light.
Qíanmìan hónglǜdēng zuǒ/yòu zhuǎn.
Pull over at the pedestrian bridge.
Tīanqíao pángbīan tíng.
Pull over after this intersection.
Guò zhègè lùkǒu kàobīan tíng.
Pull over here and let them out, then we’ll go on to …
在这儿停一下， 让他们下车， 然后继续到。。。
Zaì zhè’r tíng yíxìa, ràng tāmén xìachē, ránhòu jìxù dào …
Please give me the receipt.
Máfán nǐ geǐ wǒ pìao.
Please turn on the meter.
Máfán nǐ dá bǐao.
How to spot counterfeit bills
Fake money in China is not that easy to spot – especially at night in a dimly lit cab. Methods of identifying funny money include examining the color, watermark, paper and the Braille dots. The colors of RMB notes are hard to copy, and the images on counterfeit bills are usually fuzzy and the watermark unclear.
The best way to test the paper is to look at it under a black light. There is a Braille number corresponding to the bill’s denomination in the lower left-hand corner of the front side. It’s hard to feel, but the dots are slightly raised on the surface of the paper. If they are not, this is also a sign that the money is fake. You should also be able to feel raised dots on the lower outline of the model worker or Mao Zedong (on the 100 yuan bill). Jerry Chan
How to get the best price
You will soon learn a very important yet tricky skill: bargaining. Except for goods with labeled prices in the supermarket, bargaining with a seller can almost always be done, especially when they try to sell something at an unreasonable price. Get a tough skin, because bargaining can be like waging a battle. Remember, you can just walk away – if they really want to sell something, they’ll run after you. Basic bargaining smarts start with knowing how much goods and services should cost. Here’s a crib sheet for making sure you aren’t spending exponentially more than you should. CH
Bottle of water: RMB 1.5-2 in supermarkets, RMB 3-4 in small stores
Kung fu shoes: RMB 15-30
Purse: RMB 30-200
Bottle of Yanjing beer: RMB 3-18
Umbrella: RMB 10 for a low-quality umbrella. When it rains, however, many vendors near subway stops or on the street try to charge higher prices. Plastic sunglasses: RMB 20-40 on the street
How to be polite: Small-talk edition Like it or not, small talk plays an important role in daily life. Whether you’re running into neighbors in the building, meeting people at parties, or bumping into an acquaintance on the street, you’ll find that small talk in Chinese can be quite different from typical English chit-chat.
When you bump into a Chinese acquaintance:
• It’s normal for an English speaker to ask “What are you doing here?” But don’t translate that literally into Chinese (你在这儿做什么? Nǐ zaì zhè’r zuò shénme?) – it may come across as if you’re prying into their personal affairs. Instead, use a less direct expression such as “What a coincidence to run into you!” (真巧在这儿碰到你! Zhēn qǐao zaì zhè’r pèng daò nǐ!). This way you’ve sidestepped the landmine of being nosy, and it’s a good opening for a conversation.
• If it’s a friend that you know well, it’s okay to ask where the person’s going: “你现在上哪儿去?”(Nǐ xìan zaì shàng nǎ’r qù?). But if the person is more of an acquaintance, try a more tactful method: State the obvious. If you see each other in a shopping mall, you can say “You’re window shopping?” (逛商场？ Guàng shāngchǎng?), or if you’re in the street, a statement such as “You’re heading to work?” (上班去？ Shàng bān qù?) would suffice.
• There are several ways to accept a compliment in Chinese. The more traditional way is to be humble and say “You’ve flattered me” (你过奖了。Nǐ guòjǐang le) or “I don’t deserve that” (不敢当。 Bù gǎn dāng). The modern way, which most young adults follow nowadays, is to be confident and accept the compliment with a “Thank you!” (谢谢！xìe xìe!) and a smile. Also, a return compliment is always welcome, such as “Thanks, you’re pretty, too” (谢谢，你也很漂亮。Xìexìe, nǐ yě hěn pìao lìang).
• Chinese people who are not familiar with Western culture may ask you about your income, age and other subjects you may consider to be private. In such a situation, give a vague answer such as: “The income is average” (收入一般吧。Shōurù yìbān ba); “It’s alright” (还行。Haí xíng); or “Can’t complain” (过得去。 Guò dé qù). Otherwise, make a joke like “My age is a secret” (我的年龄是个秘密。 Wǒ de níanlíng shì gè mìmì). They’ll probably get the hint and stop asking.
How to stay healthy
The transition to Beijing can be tough on the stomach. Memorize these basic rules.
Don’t drink tap water – you might want to invest in a water purifier for around 800 kuai from Da Zhong Dianqi (大中电器), while most people go for the large water jugs.
Scrub all vegetables under cold water; peel and discard outer layers – it’s also a good idea to use soap to clean fruits and veggies. Wash hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer.
Come to Beijing with an adventurous palate, but use common sense. If a restaurant seems excessively dirty and the food undercooked or old, don’t eat there. Lamb kebabs will probably be safer to eat during the winter months, not in summer when they’ve been sitting outside all day. Do not swim in Houhai, even though you might see others braving the water. Invest in an air purifier to combat pollution. Humidifiers help prevent cracked lips and dry throats during the winter. JP
How to fly a kite
Professional kite fliers say you can fly kites year-round – if you’ve got the skills, that is. Spring and autumn are usually regarded as the best kite seasons because of stable winds.
First, buy a good kite and make sure it can fly. Beginners should try the triangle-shaped kites; some fancy-looking kites work better as decorations on your wall. If you buy the kite on the street, ask to test it out. Kite sellers are willing to teach you if you buy from them.
Here’s a bare-bones lesson. When you start, don’t run. Holding the string, swing the kite upward when there is a gust of wind. As the kite ascends, the string will become tighter, so give the string some slack. If you feel the kite dropping, pull it tighter several times so the kite catches more wind and climbs higher. You might struggle the first few times, but if you keep practicing and come across the right gust of wind, you’ll soon be kite-flying like a champ. CH
How to start a band
Jon Campbell, founder of blues band Black Cat Bone, member of jazz group RandomK (e), and contributor to True Run Media’s Immersion Guides, gives advice on putting together a band.
Where to buy instruments
Tom Lee Music offers professional instruction for every instrument it sells. The shop is slightly expensive, but it’s the music super store in Beijing. You can also try stores on Gulou Dongdajie by the North Second Ring Road or Xinjiekou Dajie south of Jishuitan subway station.
Finding studio space
Most international schools have music rooms. Contact music teachers at Harrow, BCIS, WAB, BISS, and ISB for information on renting or borrowing space. Many studios are available inside the city: Beijing Monday Studio (223 Guang’anmennei Dajie 北京广安门内大街223号), 6301 5927 (Chinese); Beijing Crazy Dream Studio (Rm B2, Gate 8, Bldg 4, Jiaodaokou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District 东城区交道口东大街4号楼8单元B2), 6481 0680 (Chinese). Visit http://bbs.guitarchina.com (Chinese) to find more information on practice studios in Beijing.
Best venues for live music
Mao Livehouse (rock); 2 Kolegas (rock); Yugong Yishan (rock); Star Live (fusion); Jiangjinjiu (acoustic); Jiang Hu (fusion, with Sunday afternoon Q&A sessions with musicians); East Shore (jazz); CD Jazz Café; OT Lounge (jazz). Check www.thebeijinger.com for details. AZ
How to interview an ayi for your newborn
So you’re a pro. You found a nanny agency, checked out the group’s official certification (shang gang zhen), scoured the contract, and figured out whether the ayi will be doing laundry and cooking or just changing diapers. Now that it’s time to interview some actual ayis, what should you ask?
For starters, ask the ayi how many years of experience she’s had and the age levels of babies or toddlers she’s cared for. You can get a good idea of her ability and whether her skill set suits you if you follow up with questions appropriate to the age range you are looking at. For instance, “What formula have you used in the past?” “Have you ever dealt with colic?” “Which diapers, in your experience, have you found to be the best?” JC
How to choose a Chinese name
Now’s your chance to give yourself a new name, hopefully one that you like and that locals can pronounce.
Some foreigners try to choose Chinese characters that sound close to their English name but have no meaning – for example, Isabella as 伊莎贝拉(Yī Shā Beì Lā) or Paul as 保罗 (Bǎo Luó). Another option is to choose simple words like 大山 (Dà Shān, Big Mountain) – names that are easy for Chinese people to remember.
The ideal name sounds like the Western name and has a good meaning in Chinese; one example is Lily and 莉莉 (Lì Lì), which is related to the word for jasmine in Chinese. Take inspiration from Chinese parents, who sometimes choose names related to their children’s birthday and their wishes (This explains why many Chinese boys are named 聪 Cōng, meaning smart).
Lastly, always check with a native speaker – you don’t want the name to have a weird meaning or be a taboo. CH