Several studies have shown that people derive more happiness from experiences than material possessions. Part of that is because experiences can’t be compared like salaries and gadgets; my vacation story and your vacation story are unique. Memories also gain value over time while the novelty of material possessions wears off within months. To start the year off right, here’s a list of 5 experiential gift ideas unique to Beijing.
Memberships and Subscriptions
The long-running Hutong has it all: cooking classes (more on those below), tea tours, cultural experience, events, and more. A general membership costs RMB 200 per year and entitles the holder to 10-25 percent discounts on all Hutong programs and events. After the year is up, the membership can be extended for only RMB 100. If there’s an enthusiastic home cook in your life, consider the culinary membership (RMB 1,500 per year) for up to two people, which includes any six cooking classes. ‘
Several international culture centers also offer memberships. I’m a member of the excellent French Cultural Center’s Médiathèque, a lending library of books, periodicals, and DVDs with a children’s corner. I initially joined the library to keep up my French but have found that the Médiathèque offers a clean, quiet space to work as well. Regular membership costs RMB 240 per year (RMB 120 for students and teachers) or RMB 100 per quarter.
The Cervantes Institute also has a lending library with Spanish-language books and materials. Membership costs RMB 210 per year (half price for students, retirees, and children).
Founded by Frenchman Gael Thoreau, Beijing Sideways specializes in tours of Beijing and the Great Wall by motorcycle sidecar. Options include two-hour, four-hour, and one-day tours of Beijing; a two-hour night tour of Beijing; a one-day tour of the Wild Great Wall; and the deluxe two-day (or 1.5-day) tour with an overnight stay at the Great Wall and a Beijing city tour.
Each motorcycle can take up to two passengers; assuming two people per bike, the two-hour city tour costs RMB 1,100 for the first passenger and RMB 600 for the second while a four-hour city tour costs RMB 1,400 for the first passenger and RMB 900 for the second.
Food is one of the best ways to access a country’s culture and history. What better way to spend a frigid winter afternoon than making and eating your own Chinese dishes with friends and family?
The Hutong has a variety of cooking classes featuring Chinese regional cuisines such as Sichuan, Yunnan, and Shanxi as well as specific dishes like xiaolongbao, hand-pulled noodles, and dumplings (RMB 300 per person, RMB 260 for members).
Black Sesame Kitchen also offers lunchtime cooking classes every Wednesday and Sunday from 11am-2pm (RMB 300 per person) out of its hutong location near the Forbidden City.
Closer to town, China Culture Center has a class on dumpling-making and hand-pulled noodles, with private events available for 1-20 people. Regular classes cost RMB 250 for adults and RMB 180 for kids under 12.
Dive the Great Wall
I’m hopelessly biased when it comes to scuba diving. Not only is SinoScuba founder Steven Schwankert a former colleague, he’s also a friend and my dive instructor. My sister and I first dived with him in July of 2013, an experience that eventually led me to Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines for further PADI training. Last July, Steven certified me as a Rescue Diver in Puerto Galera, Philippines.
However, Beijing residents don’t need to go far to suit up. Every year, Steven leads scuba diving trips to a submerged section of the Great Wall at the Panjiakou Reservoir. Sure, you won’t see exotic fish or enjoy 60m visibility, but you’ll be joining an exclusive club of people who can say they’ve dived the Great Wall. Prices and dates will be available by the end of the month.
Offbeat Fitness Classes
Crossfit Slash is best-known for, well, CrossFit, but it also offers a rapidly-expanding array of fitness classes from its studio, including aerial silks, poledancing, Irish dancing, aerial hoop, bellydance, and burlesque. RMB 180 per class.
Led by the rock-hard Alona Vostrikova, Alone Pilates offers two unusual fitness classes apart from its signature Pilates: a hula-hoop class focusing on sculpting the butt and “Pilates cardio ballet,” a ballet-inspired class using a barre. Call for prices.
Today happens to be my boyfriend’s birthday; because he’s a foodie, we’ll be celebrating with a home-cooked dinner tonight and a private cooking class at The Hutong on Sunday with friends.
Sijia Chen is a contributing editor at beijingkids and a freelance writer specializing in parenting, education, travel, environment, and culture. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, The Independent, Midnight Poutine, Rover Arts, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @sijiawrites or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Creative Commons image courtesy of kris krug on Flickr