Moving to a huge foreign metropolis like Beijing can be daunting. And no matter how much research you do, there are bound to be surprises. Some will be enjoyable, others surprising and frustrating. But with a bit of advice, you can hit the ground running.
Brush Up on Your Bargaining
You will soon learn a very important, yet tricky skill: bargaining. Except for goods with labeled prices in the supermarket, food vendors, and boutiques, bargaining with a seller can almost always be done, especially in markets like the Silk Market and Yashow Market. Get a tough skin though, because bargaining can be like waging a battle.
As a general rule, your opening bid should be one-third of what the seller starts with and your final price should be no higher than half of the seller’s opening price. One of the best bargaining tricks is saying your highest price and walking away – if the price isn’t too low for them and they really want to sell it to you, they’ll run after you. If that happens, it is rude if you don’t buy it. If they let you walk away, it means your price was too low, and keep that in mind when you see a similar item at another stall.
Before you head out, know how much goods and services should cost. Even if you don’t shop online, checking prices in advance at a site like Taobao.com will give you an idea of going rates. It’s possible to pay very little or a lot for most things, depending on the quality of the goods and where you buy them. But here’s a crib sheet for a few basic items:
Bottle of water: RMB 1.5-2 in small stores
Bottle of local beer: RMB 3 in a local shop, RMB 20 at a restaurant
Coca-Cola: RMB 3 for a bottle, RMB 2 for a can
Snickers bar: RMB 4-5
T-shirt: RMB 30 and up at a market.
Plastic sunglasses: RMB 30 and up at a market.
Umbrella: RMB 10 for a low-quality umbrella sold on the street, RMB 80 for a higher quality one from a supermarket.
Speak the Local Tongue
In high-density expat areas like Sanlitun and Shunyi, expats can get by speaking only English. But hop in a cab or buy ice cream in a small shop and you’ll need to speak Chinese. Have no fear: There are plenty of places that offer Chinese lessons, from universities to private schools, group classes and private tutors. Beijing Language Culture University, Tsinghua University and Peking University (Beida) are popular choices for studying at a university. However, if you can’t commit to being a full-time student in the Wudaokou area, consider a private language school in your area instead.
Learn Cabbie Lingo
Getting around in Beijing is easy. You can take the subway, ride a bike, or hop on a bus. But sometimes, taking a cab is the most convenient mode of transport. New restaurants and malls are popping up in Beijing every day, so you can’t be sure that the driver knows the location of your destination. Even if you know how to say the address in Chinese, be sure to have it written down in Chinese characters, and, if possible, bring a map printout. Also, take the phone number of the destination or that of a Chinese-speaking friend who can give directions to the driver. There is a fuel surcharge of RMB 3 for distances over 3km, so don’t be surprised if the amount charged is RMB 3 more than what’s on the meter. Also, knowing just a few sentences in Chinese could save you a lot of trouble with your driver. Be courteous and polite, addressing him or her as shifù (师傅), which translates to “master.” Here are some phrases to get you started:
Shifu, hold on a moment. I’m calling for directions.
Shī fù, děng yí xìa, wǒ dǎ dìan huà wèn dì zhǐ.
Shifu, can you please take the phone (to get directions)?
Shī fù, nǐ kě yǐ jiē yí xìa dìan huà mā?
Shifu, we’re going to this address.
Shī fù, wǒ mén qù zhè gè dì zhǐ.
Turn left/right at the traffic light.
Qían mìan hóng lǜ dēng 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 …
Zaì zhè’r tíng yí xìa, ràng tā mén xìa chē, rán hòu jìxù dào …
Please give me the receipt.
Má fán nǐ geǐ wǒ fā pìao.
Please turn on the meter.
Má fán nǐ dá bǐao.
English Books Are Available
The range might not be as broad as in your home country, but there is a nice selection of English-language books at The Bookworm, Page One (which is opening branches across the city), and Wangfujing Bookstore. For online shoppers that can read Chinese, there is an English selection on www.amazon.cn and www.taobao.com (China’s answer to eBay). If you’re an avid reader, consider loading up an e-reader with your family favorite reads.
The Bookworm 书虫书吧
Daily 9am-2am. Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District
(6586 9507) www.beijingbookworm.com 朝阳区工体北路4号院
1) Daily 10am-9.30pm. B2/F, China World Summit Wing, 1 Jianguomenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District (8535 1055)
www.pageonegroup.com 朝阳区建国门外大街1号国贸商城三期地下2层; 2) Daily 10am-6pm. 18 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (8426 0408) www.pageonegroup.com 朝阳区酒仙桥路18号
Wangfujing Bookstore 王府井书店
Daily 10am-9pm. 218 Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng District (6513 2842, 6525 2592) 东城区王府井大街218号
Stock Up on Selected Items
Beijing is becoming a very cosmopolitan city, but there are still a few items that are difficult to find, like clothing that fits foreign sizes and shapes and bras and shoes in big sizes. Health and beauty products like tampons, shaving cream, deodorant and sunscreen can be found here, but they might not be the type or brand you prefer – or they come with a hefty price tag. Check beauty stores Watson’s or Manning’s around town for these toiletries. A wide array of medicines are available over the counter at most pharmacies, including liquid children’s pain relievers – but you’ll have a hard time finding things like antacids. If there is medicine – prescribed or over-the-counter – that you require, your best bet is to bring enough from your home country.
Cash Trumps Credit
Beijing is a cash society and there is no tipping here. While almost all stores accept Chinese debit cards, only some take foreign credit cards, and all of them prefer cash. To apply for a Chinese debit card, take your passport to the bank. Most banks have at least one helpful English-speaking employee, but it doesn’t hurt to bring along a Chinese-speaking friend. ATMs have English-language options and are easy to find throughout the city.
Finally, don’t tip your taxi driver or waitress. If you do try to give service staff a tip of any kind, it can result in some awkward smiling and confusion. Note, however, that upscale restaurants and hotels routinely charge a 15 to 20 percent service fee. An exception to tipping is if you have a regular ayi or driver; don’t forget to give him or her a hongbao (red envelope with cash) as an annual or Spring Festival holiday bonus.
The Great (Fire)Wall of China
Internet speed is slow in China, and there is limited access to specific social networks. You can’t do much about the speed, but to reach any and all websites, consider purchasing a virtual private network (VPN). Reliable VPNs include Viscosity (www.thesparklabs.com/viscosity) and Astrill (www.astrill.com). When Google isn’t running smoothly for searches, try Yahoo, Bing or local favorite Baidu.
Affordable Goods and Spa Treatments
Manicures, pedicures, facials and massages are an affordable luxury you should learn to embrace. Get a foot rub with free snacks (like toast or dumplings) at Oriental Taipan, Bodhi Sense, or Bodhi Therapeutic Retreat. Or have an out-of-body experience at Peninsula Spa,
Hummingbird Spa, or Le Spa. The latter two offer manicure services as well as massages. Lily Nails in 3.3 Mall is the most popular destination for nails, and they also offer head and foot massages.
Foreign-language films are available in almost any DVD store around town. Expect to pay an average of RMB 8 per disk or RMB 15 for a DVD-9 (highest quality). If you’re itching to get the complete experience, there are plenty of movie theaters around town that show movies in English with Chinese subtitles. Mega Box in Sanlitun even has salty popcorn (while most places carry only sweet popcorn) and a membership card for RMB 20, which gets you big discounts. If you can figure your way around the Chinese site Taobao.com, you can find almost any product at a reasonable price.
Oriental Taipan Massage and Spa 东方大班保健休闲会所
Daily 12pm-midnight.1 Xindong Lu, Chaoyang District (8532 2177) 朝阳区新东路1号 See Directory for more locations.
Lily Nails 美甲
Daily 11am-10.30pm Rm2049, 2/F, 3.3 Fashion Plaza, Sanlitun, Chaoyang District (5136 5829) 朝阳区三里屯3.3大厦2层2049 See Directory for more locations.
Le Spa at River Garden 水漾会馆
Mon-Thurs 10am-10:30pm, Fri-Sun 10:30am-11pm. River Garden Villas Clubhouse, 7 Yuyang Lu, Xi Baixinzhuang, Houshayu, Shunyi District (8046 6558) 顺义区后沙峪西白辛庄榆阳路7号裕京花园俱乐部
Peninsula Spa by ESPA 半岛水疗中心
Daily 10am-10pm. 3/F, The Peninsula, 8 Jinyuhutong,
Wangfujing, Dongcheng District (8516 2888 ext 6090) 东城区东城区王府井金鱼胡同8号2王府半岛酒店3层
The Wellness Spa by Hummingbird
Daily 10am-12am (massages), daily 10am-10pm (all other services). Unit 103, Central Park Tower 26, 6 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District (6533 6922) 朝阳区朝阳门外大街6号新城国际26号楼103室
Daily 11am-12.30am. 2/F, Somerset Grand Fortune Garden, 46
Liangma Qiao Lu, Chaoyang District (8440 1495) www.bodhi.com.cn
Bodhi Therapeutic Retreat 菩提会所
Daily 11am-12.30am. 17 Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District (6417 9595) 朝阳区工体北路17号
Mega Box 美嘉欢乐影城
Daily 10am-12am. B1/F, Sanlitun Village South, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District (6417 6118) 朝阳区三里屯路19号三里屯
Expand Your Palate
You can find almost any type of cuisine from around the world in Beijing; you can also pay almost any price. A bowl of noodles at your local hole-in-the-wall costs as little as RMB 10, while you can pay RMB 70-200 at a restaurant with foreign food. Whether you’re looking for cuisine from back home (p61) or want to explore new tastes, Beijing has it all. Be sure to test out the range of Chinese food, from In and Out’s Yunnan fare to hot pot from Haidilao.
In and Out 一坐一忘丽江主题餐厅
Daily 11am-10pm. 1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie (next to Jenny Lou’s), Chaoyang District (8454 0086, 6467 5235) 三里屯北小街1号 (婕妮璐旁)
Daily 10am-3am. A2 Baijiazhuang Lu, Chaoyang District (6595 0079, 6595 2982) www.haidilaohuoguo.com/english 白家庄路甲A2号
See Directory for more locations.
Beijing isn’t known for having the cleanest air or water, so take the necessary precautions while living here. Here are a few guidelines:
- Don’t drink the tap water. Purchase a water dispenser or reputable water filter.
- Wash your hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer. Also carry tissues, as most public restrooms do not have toilet paper.
- Scrub all vegetables under cold water with soap or even salt. Veggie wash can be found at Jenny Lou’s or Lohao City. Also, peel and discard outer layers of fruits.
- Eat organic. Order from trusted farms, like Little Donkey Farm, De Run Wu, or Green Cow Organic Farm. For more info, see p14.
- Keep an eye on pollution levels with the US Embassy’s data on the Beijing Air Quality app. Another good app is the China Air Pollution Index, or check the official Beijing site (Chinese only) at http://zx.bjmemc.com.cn. If the Air Pollution Index (API) is over 300, stay indoors.
- Invest in an air purifier to combat air pollution at home and humidifiers to prevent cracked lips and dry throats in the winter. IQ Air, Blueair, and Alen offer effective air purifiers.
- For face masks, look for the N95, Respro, or Totobobo masks, which can fit smaller faces. They are available from Torana Clean Air Center, World Health Store, and Jenny Lou’s.
Jenny Lou’s 婕妮璐
Daily 8am-midnight. South of Chaoyang Park’s West Gate, Chaoyang District (6501 6249) 朝阳区朝阳公园西门南侧
See Directory for more locations.
Lohao City 乐活城
Daily 8am-10pm. B1/F, Yinzuo Mall, 48 Dongzhimenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District (6415 0104) 朝阳区东城区东直门外大街48号银座MALL地下1层
Little Donkey Farm 小毛驴市民农园
West of Houshajian Village, Sujiatuo Town, Haidian District (138 1095 6036, 186 0102 2820, firstname.lastname@example.org)
De Run Wu 德润屋
Strawberry Fields, Xinzhuang, Xingshou Town, Changping District (8459 0809) 昌平区兴寿镇辛庄草莓园
Green Cow Organic Farm 绿牛有机农庄
Houshayu Zhen, Shunyi District (8046 4301, 135 0113 6920, email@example.com) www.greencowfarm.com 顺义区后沙峪镇
Daily 10am-11am. 5/F, Household Appliance Area, Youyi Shopping
City, 52 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (158 0136 1601, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.iqair-china.com 朝阳区亮马桥路52号燕莎友谊商城5层
Beijing Torana Clean Air Center
Offers Blueair and Alen filters, and Totobobo masks.
Daily 10am-8.30pm. Unit L110, 1/F, Europlaza Mall, Shunyi (8459 0785) 顺义区天天竺镇裕翔路99号欧陆广场L110
Based in Shanghai, but air purifiers can be purchased online with free delivery in Beijing. (5979 8115, email@example.com) www.alencorpchina.com