If everything goes according to plan, by the time you read this blog I will be well on my way to the airport.
I’ll admit that when I left Beijing after living here from 2009-2012, I was glad to go. I was fed up with the pollution, never-ending traffic, constant food scandals… the list goes on. However, after living in the US for two years now, coming back for a month has been amazing. I realize more how lucky I was to have had the experience of living here..
As I say goodbye to the ‘jing again, I have compiled a list, in no particular order, of ten things that I will miss about Beijing.
1. Cheap and Delicious Chinese Food
This is so obvious, but I have to include it. As I sat in the hip jianbing restaurant Huang Tai Ji this morning, I thought about how I will probably not have another jianbing, or any bing for that matter, for a long, long time.
Out of curiosity, I recently looked up jianbing vendors and restaurants back in the US, and it turns out there is one food truck that offers it – but for USD 7 (RMB 43) each!
The list of food I miss could go on and on, but at top is definitely good Beijing kaoya, special regional cuisines like vinegary Shaanxi noodles and roujiamo, and cheap jiaozi and baozi.
2. The Morning Market(s)
As I explained in this post, I really do love the Chaowai Morning Market. However, honestly I love all fruit and veggie markets in Beijing – this one is just the biggest and closest. These open air markets are like farmer’s markets only better: they are permanent, daily, and cheap!
I also can’t overlook this one. It is so easy to forget how many amazing sites Beijing has until you are about ready to leave. When I lived here, going to the Forbidden City seemed ordinary, and even boring. However, once I found out I was leaving, I wanted to go back and experience it all over again.
Similarly, this month I have turned into a somewhat-crazy tourist, trying to squeeze in visits to all my favorite places on the weekends.
4. Meiwenti-ing Everything
Something that never gets old about China for me is how so many responses end with “meiwenti!” (no problem”)
Last night, I headed to one of my favorite restaurants in Worker Stadium, only to find there was an event going on that required a ticket to enter the stadium area. I explained my situation to a worker, who immediately told me “bukeyi;” I couldn’t enter.
The restaurant was within spitting distance of the gate where I was, so I asked if he knew the restaurant’s phone number, or could somehow help me order. He told me to wait a moment and went to talk to his boss. Just 20 seconds later, he came back and suddenly began moving the gate door behind me to block off the line behind me, and motioned me to go through.
“No” is rarely a definite answer here. I want to enter ticketless in a place that requires tickets? Meiwenti.
5. Ease of Transportation
Seeing the masses constantly jaywalk never ceases to amaze me. Foot traffic doesn’t abide by traffic lights, but rather whenever the number of people on the sidewalk reaches a tipping point everyone just spills into the street, preventing the (now honking) cars from moving. I am pretty sure Chinese are born with no fear of being within inches of a moving car.
6. Trying New Things
Beijing or not, living in a different city, especially in a different part of the world, is exciting. I love that even simple things in daily life like heading to the market or going to the bank are learning experiences.
Even familiar brands are different. Where in the US can you find iced tea Lay’s potato chips or grape Oreos?
7. “Casual Dining” on a New Level
The freedom to shout “fuwuyuan!” (“waiter!”) at the top of your lungs, keep your elbows on the table and spit bones on your plate, yet still be accepted in society is truly exhilarating. After living such a significant portion of my life in Beijing, I still have to remind myself to leave a tip at restaurants.
8. The People’s Gym & Other Outdoor Activities
I really admire how older Chinese always seem to be socializing. One of my favorite touristy places in Beijing is the Long Corridor right next to the Temple of Heaven. Seeing the number of benches full of retirees playing mahjong or cards, or those huge groups of dancing and singing Chinese ladies makes me wish that daily casual outdoor gatherings were the norm back home too.
9. Plentiful Opportunities
Partly because Beijing has such a small percentage of foreigners and partly because Beijing is a constantly changing city, the opportunities here seem endless. Although I’ll admit it can be frustrating that favorite neighborhood shops can close overnight, it is equally exciting to see what will pop up next.
10. The People
I don’t want this post to get too sappy, but it’s true; I really miss the community here.
Because the percentage of foreigners living in Beijing is small, it is so easy to meet and make new friends. You haven’t lived in China your whole life? Instant friendship. You speak English? Let’s have lunch. You have kids in school? We probably have at least ten mutual friends.
Even though moving away is a normal part of life, Beijing has such a tight-knit expat community that is truly irreplaceable. Regularly keeping in touch is difficult, but I know that I can start up conversations with friends I have made here easily and it is like nothing has changed – the sign of a true friendship.
Goodbye for now, Beijing!
Photos: Leah Sprague
Leah Sprague is a high school senior and beijingkids’ intern for July. After living in Seattle for two years, Leah is super excited to be back in Beijing, where she lived from 2009-2012. When not at the office, Leah can be found biking or subway-ing around the city, soaking up everything before she leaves again in August.