I've been here a little over a month now, and truth be told I'm in love with Beijing far passed any of my original expectations. It's not as pretty as Japan, it's not as warm as Taiwan, the food isn't as good as in India, the people aren't as friendly as in Colombia, but I'm in love none the less.
First of all, Beijing is HUGE. I've been here a month and still feel like I haven't seen anything. The number of restaurants, neighborhoods, hutongs, clubs, museums.... it's all staggering. I live on the affluent more westernized east side in the right next to the Times Square of Beijing: Dongzhimen. It's a fantastic place and a convenient meeting point of several train lines.
I guess I should fill in the blanks to how I got here?
I arrived December 8th in my usual flurry of excitement. There are few times in my life I'm as happy as when my plane is touching down in a country I no very little about, but am going to live in for the foreseeable future. Tammy met me at the gate and for the first two weeks I stayed in her small studio apartment. After the first two days of resting/getting acclimated/finding a bank where I could withdraw Chinese currency, I set about starting an actual life here.
That meant finding a job.
Which ended up being as easy as simply showing up.
Long story short, any doubts I had about finding a job teaching English were quickly dismissed. Every single interview I had ended with me not only being offered a job, but sometimes being heavily pushed into accepting their offer. I interviewed for everything from High schools, to kindergartens, to private tutoring cram schools. Working hours, wages and conditions varied broadly across my 18 or so interviews during that first week, but seeing as how I ended up taking the job at the very last place I interviewed with, I'm glad I stuck with my sometimes exhausting trek around the greater Beijing area in search of gainful employment.
So now, Monday through Thursday I teach at a Kindergarten in Wanjing 4 to 5 hours a day, making roughly $30 an hour. Friday is my day off, and on the weekends I teach 6 to 8 hours a day at a private cram school in Yonganli (where Tammy lives). At the kindergarten I teach two hours in the morning, and two to two and a half in the afternoon. I use my 4 hours lunch break to go to a local cafe and study Chinese from some new textbooks I've purchased. These long breaks are part of the reason I took this job and not something more full time. For the first time since my classes in Taiwan, I have a structured study schedule. While my Chinese IS improving day by day, little by little. I will admit there are times I want to throw my hands up in the air and just give up with this godforsaken language. I have never had to claw and fight so roughly through a language before. My daily continued attempts to master this language prove ever humbling.
Long story short?
CHINESE IS HARD.
After getting a job it was time to find a place to live. Once again, it was the very last place I went to where I found the perfect fit.
My job is in Wanjing, which is actually kind of an inconvenient location. It's not on either of the large loop lines that encircle Beijing. When I was staying with Tammy in Yonganli, my commute was a grueling hour and a half slog through the morning rush of Beijing's subway stations complete with not one, but two separate line transfers.
It was exhausting, it was stressful, and it needed to change.
I looked at the subway map, and started using some of my free time to search out locations and neighborhoods where I wanted to set up camp.
I instantly fell in love with Dongzhimen. It's perfectly located on the subway map. I'm dead center in the middle of all the cool neighborhoods and areas (Sanyituan, Gongti, the Hutongs) and it's the midway point between my job (no more line transfers in the morning!) and Tammy.
Now all I had to do was find an apartment.
This is where I was introduced to the absolutely terrible world of Chinese real estate agents. I spent the better part of a week chasing down every listing I found for the Dongzhimen area. My results were frustrating. In China as it turns out landlords don't just give their listing of an empty apartment to one Realtor agency, they give them out willy-nilly. This lead me to being shown the same 5-7 apartments in Dongzhimen repeatedly by 5-7 different agents working for different agencies.
So this is how apartment hunting in Beijing went for me.
Step 1: Show up at Dongzhimen station.
Step 2: Meet way-too-friendly Realtor agent.
Step 3: Climb on the back of their broken down scooter or electric bike and feel my heart rise to my throat as we zigzag through insane Chinese traffic to the available location.
Step 4: Be depressed when I realize they have taken me to a location I've already been shown by another agent.
Step 5: Tell them that I've already been shown this location.
Step 6: Be assured that I have not in fact seen this apartment.
Step 7: Be shown the apartment I've already seen 4 times and given a new and different price each time.
Step 8: REPEAT AD NAUSEAM.
Add to that, the fact that while the modest monthly rent is definitively within my budget, the 3 month's rent deposit, along with the 1 month of rent agency fee and I was getting the sinking feeling that I wouldn't be able to get my own place until I had gotten my first TWO paychecks two months later.
I wasn't excited.
When my hopes had started to scrape rock bottom I stumbled upon an ad on thebeiginger. For those not in the know, thebeijinger in the premier source of info, classifieds, and want ads for expats and foreigners living abroad in Beijing. The ad was simple:
"Looking for roommate. Dongzhimen right next to subway station. Nice area. Nice room. Laid-back room mates. $2,800 a month for the largest bedroom in the place. Available ASAP. Can't get pictures to load on here. Give me a call at xxxxxx".
I was a bit discouraged by the price. $2,800 was significantly lower than any of the other places I had seen that were the bottom of my standards. I didn't really want to start off my adult life by living in some midden heap, but having tried the more conventional means to no avail. I decided to give the guy a ring and check out the place.
I show up. I meet Scott at the station and he immediately comes off as a very friendly, genuine man who's lived in Beijing for the better part of 6 years. We walk five minutes to the complex he opens the door, and I'm stunned.
The place is amazing! Huge flat-screen TV, beautifully furnished, full kitchen, two balconies and best of all a fully enclosed western shower (a true novelty and luxury in most Asian apartment complexes). My room is huge and gorgeous. A king sized bed, amazingly huge wardrobe with a large three sided terraced window facing south.
"Oh, he says. Sorry that only the largest room is available. Hope you don't mind paying an extra 100RMB a month."
100 RMB is roughly 16 dollars for the record.
"Oh, we also play poker every friday."
I love poker.
"We also have some friends who play Dungeons and Dragons if you're into that sort of thing," he mentions nonchalantly.
I feel my heart-rate increase.
"We also drink and play video games kind of a lot. We've got a modded X-box and a huge stack of games. Wednesday's are usually Whiskey/Jenga night."
SLOW DOWN HEART. SLOW DOWN.
"Oh, I hope this isn't an issue, but we also have a cat named 'Wicket'."
I have officially died and gone to heaven.
So here I am now. I sit in my own apartment in downtown Beijing just before Chinese New Year welcomes in the year of the Dragon. I am employed, I am making more money than I know what to do with. I have friends here, I have work to do, I have a language to learn, and I have a life to start.
Last year after New Years in Las Vegas I wrote an entry here wondering where I'd be in a years time, speculating for all I knew, that I'd probably be playing golf on the moon.
The answer turned out to be better.
I'm playing Texas-Hold-Em tonight in Beijing.
State of mind:
Melody: The Traffic of Beijing