order a chinese banquet
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. 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).
Aside from the food, people will appreciate your knowledge of Chinese banquet etiquette. Always use two hands when presenting someone with a tea cup. The host should sit down first, which is the guests’ cue to sit – the more important you are, the closer you sit to the host. The host should sit farthest away from the door. You should always leave some food on your plate to show that your hosts were overly generous. Never stick your chopsticks into your rice – it resembles funeral incense. Finally, paying the bill can take a while and is full of boisterous one-upsmanship. In the end, the host traditionally foots the bill.
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 recheck the seams, zipper and buttons for strength.
buy 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. Ask your tailor for 100 percent wool or even imported, brand-name wool like Ermenegildo Zegna. Request full-canvas construction (全麻衬 quánmáchèn), 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 will cost at least RMB 2,500.
Bring in your favorite suit as a reference, and 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.
relearn 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.
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. But oddly enough, 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. To find out how to get your driver’s license.
beat the expat spouse 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. Spouses should actively think about what they want to do. 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.
Beijing is full of organizations designed to help you adjust to your new life. Try INSPIRED, an organization that specializesin providing social, emotional and professional support for expat spouses. The International Newcomers Network (INN) organizes regular events and meetings for newbies and old-timeBeijingers alike. There are also plenty of volunteering opportunities. Visit Lasso-china.org for a comprehensive list of China-based charities. See Directory listing for details and visit us online at beijing-kids.com/events for upcoming INSPIRED and INN meetings.
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 Decathlon (see Directory for listing).
Getting to the Wall: Drive from Sanyuan Qiao on 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.
talk to cabbies
Getting around in Beijing is easy. Take the subway, ride a bike, hop on a bus, or do what most people do and catch a cab. 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. Be polite and address him (or her) as shīfù (师傅). Here are some phrases to get you started:
Shifu, hold on a moment. I’m calling for directions.师傅， 等一下，我打电话问地址。
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 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.
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 examiningthe 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).
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. 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. As a general rule, your opening bid should be a third of what the seller starts with and your final price should be no higher than half of the seller’s opening price. Exceptions to this rule include the Zoo Market and most electronics markets,where prices are either very low or are essentially set. And remember: Don’t be rude if you don’t get your price. 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.
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
T-shirt: RMB 20-150
use small talk
Whether you’re running into neighbors in the building 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.
The transition to Beijing can be tough on the stomach. Memorize these basic rules:
• Don’t drink tap water. Ever.
• 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. You can find veggie wash at Jenny Lou’s and April Gourmet (see Directory for listings).
• 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 undercookedor old, don’t eat there. Lamb kebabs will probably be safer to eat during the winter months, not in the summer when they’ve been sitting outside all day.
• Do not swim in Houhai (or any lake, for that matter), 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. Both are available from IQ Air (see Directory for listing).
spot organic food labels
Beijing’s supermarkets love to stick "organic" labels on everything, but what do they all mean? We did a little digging to find out what’s behind a name. Remember, labels can be copied, especially in a country where this phenomenon is rampant. It’s best to shop at larger, international providers with good quality-control systems.
Fangyuan Organic Food Certification Center (FOFCC)
The Fangyuan Organic Food Certification Center (FOFCC) is one of the earliest organic certificationagencies to be approved by CNCA and CNAS, and can be used to certify organic farming, breeding, production and processing. FOFCC is a member of the China Certification and Accreditation Association and member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). FOFCC now cooperates with the European Union, the American Natural Organic Program (NOP), and is recognized by the Italian QC&I, the Brazilian IBD and other international certification bodies. www.fofcc.org.cn
Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA)
The Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA) is the authority that has been set up and authorized by the State Council to perform administrative functions, unify management, supervise and coordinate the national certification and accreditation processes. CNCA established the unified logo for organic products, so consumers can easily identifythem. They also published the "Organic Product Certification Management Regulations." Visit their website Food.cnca.cn, to verify your organic products.
China National Accreditation Service for Conformity
The China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS) is the national accreditation body of China, and is universally responsible for the accreditation of certification bodies, laboratories and inspection bodies. It was established under the approval of the CNCA and is authorized in accordance with the regulations of the PRC. In short, CNAS is responsible for the accreditation of organic certification organizations, so you will often find their logo next to the organic logo.
The Organic Food Development Center (OFDC)
Founded in 1994, the Organic Food Development Center (OFDC), is the oldest and largest specialized organic research, inspection and certification organization and the only organic certifier in China that has been accredited by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and ISO65. The logo is strictly controlled, and while the size of the logo can be changed according to the needs of users, the shape and color cannot be changed. OFDC provides organic certification services to the National Organic Product Standard of China and OFDC Organic Certification Standard. www.ofdc.org.cn
China Organic Food Certification Center (COFCC)
The China Organic Food Certification Center (COFCC) is a professional organization responsible for organic food certifications and management under the Ministry of Agriculture of the PRC. As the first organic certificationorganization accredited by CNCA in China, COFCC has been registered by the Bureau of Industry and Commerce,and it has also been approved by CNAB. www.ofcc.org.cn
Beijing Wuyue Huaxia Management and Technology Center (CHC)
The Beijing Wuyue Huaxia Management and Technology Center (CHC), is one of the first organic food certifications in the history of organic food development in China, and has been managed by CNCA since 2004. As a member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and the China Certification and Accreditation Association (CCAA), CHC is also accredited by CNAS. CHC manages to provide high-quality organic products certification services and by being "fair, objective, rigorous, and realistic." www.bjchc.com.cn
It takes one to three years of transition for a farm to obtain the official organic product certification after its initial application. During these three years, the farm must process the production in full accordance with the organic certification standards and requirements. During this time, the Conversion Organic logo is used.
有机食品 youji shipin organic food
有机产品 youji chanpin organic product
有机蔬菜 youji shucai organic produce
绿色食品 luse shipin "green" food
interview an ayi for your newborn
So you’re a pro. You found a nanny agency, checked out the group’s official certification (shanggang 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 by following 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?" For more information on hiring an ayi.
pick 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 hopes for their child (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.