Chinese Dynasties- what order?

Chinese DynastyWhen I visit Museums here in China, the English captions are often not very informative. And with the little knowledge I gained about China in school (China was pretty poor still then I guess), I am often puzzled how long ago artefacts were made. 5.000 years? 2000 years? 300 years?

Therefore, I am currently doing a great course about China on EdXto improve my China knowledge- it’s free! it’s online without VPN! And best of all it’s from Harvard! In the course, the professors have devised a nifty little song to remember the order of the Chinese Dynasties. The order is Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Republic of China, People’s Republic of China. So next time I visit a Museum, I will be able to mentally put the dynasties’ artefacts on a mental timeline.


Beijing Grey Sky Days: 5 Fun (or useful) Things to do

Buying a good mask is also a useful thing to do on a grey sky day... Try Torana, April Gourmet or

Buying a good mask is also a useful thing to do on a grey sky day… Try Torana, April Gourmet or

Winter is not coming. Apparently it is in Beijing already. After three consecutive days of “grey skies,” and an Air Quality index around 400 (Hazardous), I am already trying to find indoor things to do, both for myself and my toddler. So, instead of being gloomy, I am trying to approach it as an opportunity to have indoor fun :) Or to finally tick some things of my to do list. Like writing a new blog post.

  1. (Themed) Play Date: Organise an impromptu play date: your toddler’s little friends will probably be bored out of their brains too, as are their Mums. So invite some folks over  to your home for an extra dose of entertainment. Even if your regular play date is on a Monday and its now a Friday. Perhaps set a theme like music (sing songs together), art (bring out the stickers), or cookie making with older toddlers.
  2. Dance around: Have an indoor dance party (can be combined with number 1 obviously). Put on the sunniest music in your collection and teach your baby the mambo.
  3. Summer time! Pretend its summer: put balls in your baby’s swimming pool, blow up all his rubber swim toys, stick little umbrella’s in his fruit and switch on all the lights- perhaps even coloured ones if you can find one. If your kid is old enough, you can even bring out the Kinetic sand (I saw it for sale at Counting Sheep Boutique in Indigo Mall)
  4. Set up a Taobao Account. You’ve heard many people about it but never got round to it? It will save you from going out when it is really freezing cold. City Weekend recently published a tutorial, though do check whether the Lakela way of paying is possible again before setting it up, it seemed to be discontinued a while back. Also see my previous post here. You can buy toys and craft supplies there for upcoming grey sky days. Warning: Taobao is addictive :)
  5. OrganiseSpend one hour to do little chores: I finally polished all my shoes and my husband’s (the shoe shop in our expat compound is ridiculously expensive). I tidied one messy cupboard (ayi does not know which things can be thrown away), but also think of sorting out the summer baby gear, exchanging that gift you did not like that much… My toddler was amazingly attentive of shoe polishing when I have her a piece of cloth and an empty pot (she is obsessed with opening and closing bottles, boxes and doors these days). If you limit yourself to one hour, cutting up bigger projects if needed, it is easier to start and finish.
  6. Bonus tip: Swap Toys! organise a toy swap with friends. Swap your digger for their baby walker, exchange the farm for a doggie etc. Borrow it for a few days and give it back. Apparently there are companies on Taobao that allow you to rent toys, but I am yet to find out the details about it.


Getting lost in Beijing

Not all those who wander in Beijing are lost

Not all those who wander in Beijing are lost. From

Not all those who wander are lost.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

In this city of officially 20 something million and unofficially 30+ million people it is easy to get lost, but not in the way I would have expected. The street plan in Beijing is actually quite straightforward. The six (and counting) ring roads encircle the city, and at the end of small streets there is usually a major street crossing east –west or north- south, direction indicated on the street signs. Even in the narrowest hutongs it is easy to return to a main artery. And yet, on the way to appointments in unfamiliar places I often feel lost rather than am really lost.

It’s the distance that does it. Countless times I’ve wandered the streets of this city looking for a restaurant or landmark where to meet a new found friend. Armed with the exit information of the metro, the Beijing taxi app or a map I set out for the meeting place. After ten minutes of brisk walking I start wondering whether I’ve missed it. Surely it wasn’t that far? I stop to consult directions, which are inconclusive. I suppress the urge to call the friend. I continue walking for another few hundred meters and arrive at my destination. No, in the end I was not lost. Not really anyway.

Feeling lost doesn’t have to do with directions. I’ve felt lost in places that I’ve been to often, felt lost at a friend’s party and felt lost for words when a Beijing friend shared her grief about her mother dying back in her homeland. Sometimes I feel I will drown in a sea of Chinese people, sometimes that sea makes me feel safe, sticking out with my white face and blonde hair. Initially I felt it had to do with a lack of control as in I like to be in control of the situation. But its more, it’s another c word, connecting. Connecting to people more than places. When I’m happy in China, I feel connected to all the black haired Zhongguo ren around me. But when I need a break, I’m a little vessel drifting without anchor in the Gulf of Bohai.

Every two months or so a warning sign goes off in my head, when I find myself thinking or muttering “bad expat speak.” In my book “bad expat speak” only focuses on the negative sides of China, the air pollution and the spitting, the staring and the food scandals. The clichés in other words. In that mood I have the urge to tell people to get lost, shout at waiters, or break down in tears of frustration when lost in translation with a worker.

There’s so much more to living here, blue sky days and autumn leaves, having a holiday feeling on a walk in a hutong and the discovery of tasty Chinese dishes. When I find myself in a BES mood, I know its time to get away from Beijing for a bit. Sometimes a walk near the Great Wall is enough to restart my China appreciation, sometimes a weekend getaway does the trick. And once or twice a year, in the heart of cold smoggy winter or the height of hot smoggy summer, only a few weeks away help to get back on track. Getting lost is part of life, and the detours can make you discover treasures. Just stop and check the map or ask the way, do not continue racing down Negativity Express Way.

Expat DNA?

Expat DNA

Interesting infograph, but where are patience and sense of humour?

Just came accross this visual via Iwasanexpatwife- Do you have Expat DNA? Factors include (obviously) the ability to adapt to change and enjoying the life like locals do (eating, going about). Interestingly, it explicitly excludes being well travelled- I thought this was certainly beneficial to expats, as it has exposed them to other cultures.

What I miss in the graph is patience and good humour (or at least the ability to remain smiling in stressful circumstances). I think to be succesful as an expat these qualities can make or break your expat experience. Here in China, patience is needed when trying to figure out what people mean and you are not sure what is happening. A smile will help more than becoming upset or angry. Then again, these qualities also come in handy at home, right?

Beijing Change

Beijing in 1947

Beijing has changed tremendously since Ukranian Dmitri Kessel took this picture in 1947.

After one year of living in China, there is one word I associate with this country: change. Changes happen here at a speed and on a scale that is unknown to Europe. That is not to say that changes are not carefully planned, yet things can literally change overnight here. For example, a shop that is open one day has disappeared the next.

This week I saw pictures of Beijing in 1947. So much has changed in the streets of this city. Ten years ago, or even three years ago things looked very different. Most of the CDB landmark office and popular expat compounds were not yet built, nor was Sanlitun Village or Soho. A visit to the Beijing Urban Planning Hall shows that more changes are ahead. Luckily, the government is now protecting some hutongs, where you can still feel the spirit of old Beijing. Sometimes I pass a lao Beijingren in the street and think about what this little old man or lady has seen and experienced. I can only begin to imagine, but these pictures give an impression of what their world was like.

Expat magazines in Beijing

the beijinger

One of the many expat magazines, The Beijinger, has an active forum

Currently, there are five expat magazines published in Beijing- and I may be missing some. They are all free, published bi-weekly or monthly and can be picked up at expat oriented restaurants, language schools, shops et cetera. They provide a good overview of everything that goes on in the city, though some seem to focus mostly on new restaurants. Two magazines are aimed at parents, but also contain articles of more general interest. The websites for the magazines usually provide an overview of things to do in the coming weeks and a directory of restaurants and shops, but also sports clubs and schools.

5 questions to ask yourself before moving to Beijing

emotions and questions

Moving to Beijing can bring about questions and confusion.

Let’s face it, moving to China is no piece of cake. Transitions will be made easier by good employers, but in the end, you find yourself on your own in a strange country where you do not know anybody and (probably) do not speak the language. Looking back at my first year here, I would advise everyone considering the move as a “trailing spouse” to ask themselves the following five questions:

What are MY needs?

As an expat wife or partner, it is easy to get caught up in other people’s needs, especially your kids and your partner’s. Moving to China is a great opportunity for his/her career! The children will benefit from being exposed to other cultures! Let’s live close to the school/ the office to minimize commuting time! Don’t get me wrong, these are all good and reasonable thoughts. In the end, you will be the one spending most of the time in the house though. So make sure you like the neighborhood too, not just because it is convenient. Will you have a car and driver (for your partner mostly?), or is it easy to jump on the metro or even bike to get around town? If you had hoped to explore Beijing, take classes in town or work and you find yourself in Shunyi from where the commute into town can take quite some time, you may end up feeling frustrated, unless you have made the conscious decision to live there also taking your own needs into account.

Do I want to work?

If you come here on a Z (dependent) visa, you will not have the right to work. Of course, you may find a job and get a work permit. However, do realize that it may not be as easy as you like to find a job if you do not speak Chinese. There are many local, qualified people with decent English nowadays, for whom an employer does not need to go through a work permit procedure. Also, some companies are not allowed to hire foreigners, or only a limited number. Part time jobs are not as common as in e.g. Northern Europe, and you may need to work many hours with few holidays for a pay much lower than what you are used to.

If I want to work, what will I do?

Sorry if the above has discouraged you, that is not my intention. However, it is better to realize beforehand that the days where just being foreign could be a good enough reason to be hired in China, are definitely over. The main career option still seems to be teaching English, but if you don’t like teaching or your English is not that good (or, unfortunately, if you do not look Western), it may be harder to find something. Do research whether you can do the job you did at home in China. In a company here, or discuss with your employer the possibility of freelancing for them at a distance. Could you do consultancy for clients in your home country? If you wish to do something completely different from what you were doing at home, consider what this might be. Starting your own business? In what? Teaching yoga or aerobics? Start a cooking school? Check job sites to see what other jobs attract you. Continue reading

Beijing soundscape

My Favourite Beijing Sounds

My Favourite Beijing Sounds is an album by Brit Peter Cusack

What does Beijing sound like? A news item about the sounds of The Netherlands made me wonder about this. Walking home from my Chinese class I came up with the following list:

  • the sound of impatient traffic on a big intersection, with taxi’s and cars honking their horns
  • somebody clearing his (usually it is a he)throat and nose followed by a spitting sound
  • the murmur of tourists below when you are standing on the hill at the Summer Palace
  • the sound of people singing, dancing and making music in one of Beijing’s parks
  • the automatic woman’s voice announcing that the bus is coming
  • the sound of traffic on the third ring road
  • the next stop announcement on the metro
  • the noise of a Chinese restaurant at lunch time, with someone shouting “fuwuyuan” at the top of their voice
  • the sound of an orange clad worker  sweeping the street with a broom
  • the hissing of chuanr and other cooking pots
  • someone speaking in a “rrrr” heavy Beijing accent
  • construction work
  • the wind blowing between the high buildings

A lot of man-made/created noises if I look at the list. Others have thought about Beijing sounds too. Read here what British musician Peter Cusack has to say about the sound of Beijing and check out his Favourite Beijing Sounds album here.