Beijing: Just Grin and Bear It

How’s that for an uplifting title?

The truth is I’m struggling in Beijing.  But it’s not Beijing’s fault.  Beijing is just being a city, and I happen to dislike cities.  Immensely, as it turns out.

But it is getting better.  I just had to get through a rough patch over the weekend that involved breaking down into tears on the subway.  Between sobs I tried explaining to Ryan that I “h-h-hate living in B-B-Beijing”, which is when I realized I needed a major attitude readjustment.  I’m here for awhile, I may as well try liking it.  Well, try hating it less, at least.

And so I developed a routine.  I’m exercising six days a week, alternating running and power yoga.  I work on sciencey/research stuff in the mornings, and travel/creative stuff in the afternoons.  Sometimes I bike to a coffee shop and work there (a harrowing experience every time), and other times I take the subway into a different part of the city and explore.  Ryan and I meet up for meals throughout the week, and on the weekends we meet up with friends or head out to explore some famous aspect of the city.

Today's explorations took me to the Silver Ingot Bridge.

Today’s explorations took me to the Silver Ingot Bridge.

The routine helps because it forces me out of the apartment a few times daily, yet also allows me to spend a good chunk of the day in the apartment without feeling guilty about it.  There’s only so much of the seething masses beyond my door that I can stomach in a given day.

I’m also getting a little more comfortable with the language.  New additions to my vocabulary are I would like, yes, no, this, that, please, thank you, you’re welcome, water, cold, and the numbers one through seven.  My pronunciation is getting better, too, so place names are less daunting (though the nearby subway stop Qinghuadongluxikou remains a tongue-twister).

Me, Ryan, and Chairman Mao at the Forbidden City.

Me, Ryan, and Chairman Mao at the Forbidden City.

One of the best improvements of the past week is food.  Oh my god, Chinese food is amazing.  I heard a lot of horror stories about the food before I came over here, and while some of it is true (remember the pig stomach soup?), most of it isn’t.  I’ve discovered biang biang mian, a spicy soup made with noodles the width and thickness of a belt; thick, flaky pastries stuffed with tangy vegetables and meats that only cost $0.30; milk tea and chrysanthemum tea; and a type of sour yogurt that’s sold on the street everywhere.

Biang biang mian with its thick, delicious noodles.

Biang biang mian with its thick, delicious noodles.

Malatang is another amazing dish.  A malatang restaurant is like a build-your-own soup buffet, and when you’re done adding ingredients to your bowl, you hand it off to the kitchen where they cook it up in spicy broth and serve it back to you with a side of peanut sauce.  The array of possible ingredients is daunting: a dozen different kinds of leafy greens, piles of mushrooms I’d never seen before, various meats and shellfishes, seaweeds and more.  Swimming around in my malatang were hard boiled quail eggs, an amazing porous tofu that soaked up the peanut sauce like a sponge, and another kind of tofu that was soaked in duck blood (much tastier than pig or cow blood, my friends assured me).  Yummy.



I’m so happy that I forego my vegetarianism when I travel.  It would be a crime to turn down other people’s generosity or miss out on a delicious and important part of the local culture just because it doesn’t fit my diet.  Case in point:  the marinated chunks of lightly sauteed pig skin I was slurping down last night while showing pictures of Colorado to my wonderful AirBnB hosts.  Again, yummy.

So, yeah, things are improving.  I still can’t take more than half a day at a time out in the big city, but I’m no longer waking up in the morning wanting to throw myself in front of a rickshaw.  That’s what we call progress, people.

Looking forward a bit, I’m hoping to take some videos this week to show you what it’s like here in Beijing (words truly don’t do it justice).  Then I leave for Japan next Tuesday, and I am so excited.  I’m going to hike, and breathe fresh air, and look at the stars, and track Richard Halliburton like the stalker I am.

By the way, thanks for reading this post despite its less-than-adventurous content.  I should be back on track soon!

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  1. I think creating a daily agenda helps. I heard Olymbic forest park great place t see birds.

  2. Sarah. As I have mentioned before, Halliburton had his emotional ups and downs too but like yourself he popped back up to enthusiastically savor adventure another day. Good to see you have found culinary delight among the ubiquitous revolving round tables. We were in a China tour group several years ago that encountered the same. Most of our fellow travelers rushed to McDonalds for meat when we reached Hong Kong. I was happy to see you mentioned Halliburton again when you alluded to your Japan trip. I hope to read more of him in your news of your future wanderings.

  3. I think you and Ryan were in Beijing the same week I was there. I struggle in Beijing, too. Let me know if you are in Hong Kong. I can buy you a Carlsberg.

    • I’m in Hong Kong all next week, but don’t drink beer. Shoot me an email or contact me on Facebook if you want to meet up!

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