Rediscovery Beijing: 25 Things I Learned About Beijing 2016

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It’s 2016, and boy has Beijing changed.

It was three years ago when we left Beijing and returned to Korea, pregnant with our firstborn. And now here we are again, this time armed with two kids and a truckload of baby gear, ready for another adventure.

And believe me, has it been quite the adventure indeed. From supermarket misunderstandings to mobile applications that make Beijing life extremely convenient, the past two months have been quite a whirlwind of new experiences. And as the saying goes, experience is the best teacher.


BABY BACK 'JING! (2)

So read on to learn what ‘Teach has taught me so far, and let’s start with the one that gave me quite a panic:

1. Supermarkets don’t sell knives anymore. (Legally anyway.)

Image courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seemed like a joke the first time I heard it, until a second supermarket had finally confirmed this strange scenario. According to the saleslady I had spoken to, the only way I could buy a knife was by purchasing it at a registered knife shop along with a local’s ID. I silently cursed our shipping company for the one-month delayed arrival of our cargo and landing me in this very unexpected situation. How were we going to get a knife now? (Our table knife just isn’t cut out for the rough life on the chopping board).

Fortunately our former Ayi was able to procure one for us at her local mart who—off the books—sold her one. Yay for us!

2. Fruit Got Face!

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I’ll admit that I initially thought that it was freaky. Our helper tried to ease our fears by confirming that A. it wasn’t poisonous, B. I wasn”t going to be cursed after eating it and C. the fruit with the face in it was a marketing ploy. So, quite obviously, the ploy worked on me. (According to this article, it’s a pear.)
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3. Air pollution is so bad that Beijing-Kids magazine dedicated their March edition to air pollution.
(Fortunately it wasn’t this bad three years ago. I hope that the Beijing government can solve this problem.)

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4. Also, many homes now have their own air purifiers and air quality checkers.

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5. Bye Bye Bike.
I am honestly surprised that I don’t see that many people biking nowadays compared to when I was here last. I don’t have the stats to back me up, just that I don’t see people on bikes flooding the streets like I once did.

6. WeChat: Let’s Talk Money.

A local restaurant shows its customers that they accept WeChat payments

Three years ago, Wechat was a mere chat app where people communicated, shared memories and connected to groups. I’m just floored at how, in three years’ time, it has also becomes a means of payment, making transactions between businesses (both big and small) and its consumers extremely convenient. I don’t even need to take out my cash or card to pay for anything—my WeChat does most of the talking. Some people even get their salaries via the app. (I’ll need a whole new blogpost to elaborate my points, so stay tuned for that!)

What’s even more amazing is that this app plans to take their business overseas. According to their English website, they will soon be catering to overseas clients/companies as well. I’m excited to see what else is in store for Wechat users like myself.

*I asked my husband about whether or not the Korean KakaoTalk has a similar function, and he said yes. But to be honest I’ve never actually tried it. If anyone knows about this I’d love to have you share it with me here on the blog! 🙂

7. Wechat Moments Takes Privacy to Another Level
I really missed Facebook, so I decided to give Wechat Moments a chance. I posted a photo which only one or two people liked. I admit that as a blogger, I really wanted to find a way to promote my posts to get more “Likes”. I’m more used to social apps that allow its user to invite more “likes” by tagging friends, hashtagging, sharing it on another social media platform, etcetera etcetera. But Wechat Moments just doesn’t work like that. The only people who can see your posts are your Wechat friends, and the only way you can tag anyone in a post is when you’re actually writing the post by clicking the “Mention” box below and tagging your friend. I’ve seen quite a few quotes and stories I’d like to share on the spot but just can’t. Also, no hashtagging. While it may seem like I’m complaining, I’m actually not—not anymore, anyway. It took some getting used to, but I’m suddenly appreciating this social media of (forced?) limited exposure.

8. Taking the VPN-less Challenge Wasn’t Easy.
I had initially planned on going VPN-less, but a month before coming to Beijing decided that I probably wouldn’t survive it. Wouldn’t you know it, I was kind of right, but not for the reasons I expected:

A. Not being able to access Facebook wasn’t the problem. It’s just that there were a lot of apps and programs that I couldn’t log into because of my username (blabla@gmail.com, or I had probably logged in using my Facebook account). This was when I realized I had become very Google and Facebook dependent, something I suddenly wasn’t very comfortable with.

B. Simple search terms done in English usually landed me nowhere, so I had to search for topics using my very poor Chinese. Funny thing though: it actually helped improve my Mandarin a bit. I’m kind of liking it, to be honest.

C. I had to convince friends and family to download WeChat for me since it was so hard to connect to Skype. My family did. My friends know I can’t resist Facebook.

Conclusion: Going VPN-less hasn’t been easy (because the Chinese online world seems to be under stricter control nowadays), but frankly it’s been quite worth it. I’ve spent less time on Facebook and more time on the things that matter: time with my family, WeChat calling the Gramps, my blog, and most importantly, God.

6. Online shopping is SO EASY.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but online shopping in China is so much easier than online shopping in Korea—the techno capital of the world, in my case it’s because of Wechat Pay. I’ll be doing some comparing and contrasting once I’ve put the info together in another blog post.

9. Supermarket Misunderstanding: How to Take Forever in a Supermarket (A Long Story)
I was at a local supermarket doing my grocery when I chanced upon a water heater that I happened to like. So naturally, I picked it up and put it in my shopping cart. Suddenly, a man (probably younger than I) approached me and told me that I had to pay for the water heater at the counter before I continued shopping. I asked him why I had to do that and he said it’s just the procedure.

Now, I had a cartload full of items so naturally I asked if I could pay for all of these things together. He said No, that I could only pay for the water heater and would have to go down one level to pay for the rest of my groceries. When I asked him if I could just pay for it later after getting one or two other thing since I was almost done with my shopping, he answered by taking the water heater and just dumping it (practically throwing it) into my trolley. Imagine my shock!

Naturally, I felt quite insulted. I tried explaining that I didn’t understand what was happening and this was my first time to experience this, plus I didn’t initially get the procedure. I also added that what he did was extremely rude. He started saying things that was beyond my Chinese level and so, embarrassed and frustrated at the ongoing scene, I just put the item back on the shelf and walked away.

That was when a kind lady in another lane explained what had happened. In (larger) Chinese supermarkets, its common to pay for the more expensive items first before being able to proceed to buy other things. For example, if I chanced upon a pricey pan during my grocery shopping, I would have to pay for the pan first at a designated counter before proceeding with my shopping. If I wanted to buy a water heater soon after, I’d have to pay for that first, too, and then continue shopping. After all that, I’d have to go to the general payment counter and pay for everything else. So basically I could have paid five times (or more) on that trip to the supermarket, something that would have been a bit unusual back in Korea or in the Philippines.

Personally, I think it’s a hassle. But it’s a hassle I guess I’ll have to deal with from now on. This has only happened to me in Carrefour though, and though the lady mentioned that this was common practice here in Beijing I’ve yet to experience it elsewhere.

10. Cab apps have grown in popularity since I left.
No surprise there, though. From smelly, smoker cab-drivers to fake money schemes , no wonder cab apps have such a market here in Beijing. There’s even a cab app that caters to specifically to moms and families–wow!
*Just found this about one cab app in particular: Didi Dache
Here’s another about Yidao Yongche.

16. The One-Week Ayi Deal
We hired our Ayi through a local agency dealing with helpers and decided that she really wasn’t what we were looking for during our first week with her. The Ayi company, unfortunately, only informed her on the tenth day. It turns out that the Ayis and their company have this deal, where Ayis pay a certain amount of money to the agency in exchange for finding them long-term employers. If the employer isn’t satisfied within a week then the Ayi can get her money back. So if you’re not going to keep your Ayi, tell her immediately otherwise she’ll lose the Agency fee she paid for (I’m still not sure how it ended with our former Ayi and her agency.)

17. Chinese stuff are more expensive now than I remember them to be.
The Silk Market, Ya Show, and some of the other big mall-types specializing in fake clothes and accessories have now been renovated into proper department stores selling non-fake items. I mourn the loss of those beautiful cheap and fake items. Fortunately I can still purchase cheap stuff online.

18. Chinese people aren’t as loud as I remember them.
In the older days you’d hear people shouting at each other, only to discover they’re actually just talking—and I’m talking about inside malls and hotels. There seems to be less of that now. One time I was in a restaurant shouting “Fu Wu Yuan!” (waiter) the way I remembered everyone did before, and people actually turned and stared at me. I wanted to sink into my chair.

13. Coupang blocked in China
Coupang is a Korean e-commerce company that I NEVER EXPECTED CHINA TO BLOCK. Come on, China. WHY???
Interestingly, Coupang’s competitors aren’t blocked in China. Again. Why?!

20. More English-friendly.
I noticed that there are more English signs in certain malls and even in our elevator (proper English, mind you) than before. Part of me is wondering if this is really still Beijing. (Oh Beijing Ren, you care about us foreigners after all!)

22. Affordable Korean
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I admit that one of the things that currently baffles me about Beijing is how expensive things have become in such a short span of time. Fortunately, I can still get my Korean fixes at affordable prices, so long as I go to a shop in Korean-owned shop (the one I go to is in Wangjing).

17. Disneyland Got Trashed
How sad. It hasn’t even officially opened yet! Click here to read more.

Mommy-Related Discoveries

I’ll be frank: Seoul would score higher on my Mommy Life score sheet compared to Beijing, and for very valid reasons. I don’t want to get into those right now, but expect a post comparing the two modern cities soon. One reason in particular though is because it’s hard to find other mommies to connect to. Fortunately, the Beijing Mama’s Yahoo Groups is a good start. This e-mail group of more than 3,000 subscribers is a venue where moms (and dads as well!) can ask questions and share resources regarding life in Beijing. A lot of people also sell their stuff via the group. Another way to meet more moms online is by joining Wechat groups like the Bumps2Babes and the Beijing Mommy Group. Unfortunately though Wechat has this policy that groups with more than a hundred members have to be invited before being able to join a group, so even if you searched these names you wouldn’t be able to join.

17. Kid-Friendly Churches and MOPs
Church
One of the struggles a mother has with religion is, well, logistics. There are a few things a parent has to consider, like “what’s the optimal time to go?” or “what activities can I bring to distract my kid while I try to listen to what God has to say to me this morning?” Fortunately the church I go to, BICF, has a kiddie area where parents can leave their older toddlers to attend Sunday school and a place where those with younger children can either leave their children as well or stay with their children in the room.

I’m also really glad that MOPs (Moms of Preschoolers) has reached Beijing soil. I love the talks and childcare service!

18. Lilliput in Beijing!

Okay, so if you’ve been following my blog for a bit you’ll know that I’m a big, biiig fan of Korean kids cafes. I’m almost certain that this will still stay true during our stay here due to the fact that we will not be hiring a full-time helper (a cultural difference I will tackle sometime in the future). Fortunately though there are now kids cafes here in Beijing too, where else but in Wangjing (aka Korea Town)!

19. Indoor Playgrounds can get Pricey.
I was at Solana awhile back and was surprised that their indoor amusement park cost 200 RMB per child—including my ten-month-old. They say that it’s because it’s the full-day price (there’s no half-day price), but still I think it’s a bit much for a baby who naps every few hours.

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20. Outdoor Playgrounds are Scarce.
One of the things I miss about my neighborhood in Seoul are the playgrounds. There are about five in our neighborhood, so we’re never really bored with any one of them. Other than the playground in our compound, there aren’t really many places nearby for my kids to play in.
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21. Chinese are Now Allowed to Have Two Children.
Hooray for this! I’m really glad that the Chinese can now have the option of having a second child. Frankly I think a lot of Chinese are excited about this news, too, because…

22. Double Stroller Options.
…my kids on our double stroller seem to be attracting a lot of attention! People are either surprised at discovering a little baby on the bottom seat, or pointing at us saying, “We gotta get us this kind of stroller when we have our second kid!”

23. Kids Here Love Pororo, too!

This bird has seriously conquered the world. No matter which country we are, there’s always a kid pointing at a Pororo item of my kid’s squealing “Pororo!” (his local name, anyway). He’s everywhere!

24. Beijing is in Some Ways, Kid-Friendly.
Malls are starting to have breastfeeding rooms, buying products for kids online is easy, etcetera. (I have a lot of DIY projects for my older daughter already, and she loves them!) One of my favorite malls at the moment is Indigo Mall in Lido because it’s sooo kid friendly. More on that soon as well.

25. I’m still a Mom in Korea at Heart
Honestly? There’s a part of me that misses Korea. I miss the playground accessibility, my red brick home, our kimchi refrigerator, my friends and more. Most importantly though I miss my Korean family. My in-laws are sweet folks who spoil/discipline/looooove the kids and I miss watching them and the kids playing together. But nonetheless, we’re slowly getting used to this city, and I’m looking forward to learning more about her.

See you later, Korea. Beijing, we’re back. 🙂

Thanks for reading! If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments section below. Also, feel free to contact me for any questions you might have about raising little Koreans here in Beijing.

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7 comments

  1. Fascinating! We are yet to visit this part of the world. I think the world is changing so fast, wherever you are. Blog posts like this will preserve many memories 🙂

  2. Great post! I found your commentary on the technology – WeChat, Life without a VPN, and taxi apps -really interesting. I am an expat and also have a love/hate relationship with the VPN. (netflix – you’re killing me!) Enjoy your time in Bejing.

    1. Thanks Jo! I guess most of us using VPNs will have experienced that love-hate relationship with it. Fortunately we’re slowly learning to be less dependent kn it nowadays.
      Except for the pollution we’re mostly enjoying Beijing. I hope you’re enjoying it, too! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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