*OK, so I stole this name from an annual INN event (see below)
Now that we’ve been here for a few months, I thought I’d share my Top 10 Tips for others who might be following our footsteps and planning an imminent arrival in Beijing:
- Bring a ton of passport photos. You’ll need them. For health checks, visas, registering with the police etc etc.
- Pick up a copy of The Insider’s Guide to Beijing – it is indispensable for finding restaurants, shops selling everything from furniture to German cheesecake. You’ll find it at most western supermarkets (Jenny Lou, April Gourmet), some hotels and English language bookstores (especially The Bookworm).
- Pick up a copy of The Taxi Book at the same locations. It has major destinations in the city written out in Chinese characters. A lot of taxi drivers are migrants, don’t know the city and often need pointers. Unless you are already fluent in Mandarin or supremely self-confident in your miming skills, you will need this book. Don’t feel like a fraud for using it, we all do. Also, get used to calling restaurants and shops for detailed location information. It is extremely common to phone a place (or friend!), ask for help in finding them, and then to pass your phone on to the taxi driver.
- A 21st century taxi book alternative for all the cool kids out there; if you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, download the Beijing Taxi Guide from the iTunes applications store. It has free monthly updates to keep up with the ridiculously high turnover of restaurants. Another program, TravelIn Beijing,will allow you to make your own electronic taxi cards on computers that support Mandarin characters, which is very handy for home and work addresses. (Mr B loves the flashing taxi hailer that comes as part of the application).
- Pictures speak a thousand words; pick up a photo dictionary (a visual bilingual dictionary to cite the correct moniker) -so handy when you need something specific but are not sure how it is pronounced. Dorling Kindersley publish a great one. By the way, you’ll get used to smiling and pointing things you want and miming. Lots of miming. Which leads me to…
- Start learning Mandarin as soon as possible. It is daunting but knowing just a few words (especially numbers) will really help you feel much more in control. There are tons of schools and tons of ways to take classes so there really is no excuse.
- If you’re not a Mandarin speaker, find one to help you open a bank account (and get a mobile phone account for that matter) especially to take you through paperwork to send money overseas which is a tedious, labourious process that, sadly, you’ll have to do every time. No direct debit system here. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of joint accounts either.
- To counter-act culture shock and meet new people, join one of the many, many groups here. There are groups by nationality (the Aussies and Irish are very active apparently), for toddlers and for different sports. The International Newcomers Network holds coffee mornings in different parts of town and monthly meetings. Everyone is super-friendly and it helps to hear that you are not alone in feeling disorientated and lonely.
- For an introduction to the more cultural elements of the city, check out the China Cultural Center who do great walks and weekend trips that come highly recommended. Another good option is The Hutong which has a gorgeous setting.
- For nights when you don’t feel like cooking or when it all gets too much, and you don’t want to venture out, try Beijing Goodies – an online (in English!) portal that allows you to order food for delivery from restaurants in your area. A godsend for Remedial Wives!…
- More of a P.S. really, but given the authorities are, shall we say, a little “enthusiastic”, about pulling foreigners aside and into quarantine fearing Swine Flu, Remedial Wife has heard that expats are now taking aspirin/paracetamol/ibuprofin an hour or so before landing to ensure their temperature readings are absolutely normal as they pass through the airport scanners. Perhaps not the best way to help contain a global pandemic but desperate times and all that.
If you have any other tips, I’d love to hear them.