So I just got back from a trip to southern China a few days ago. I was in a “small” (6 million people) city named Qujing in Yunnan province, the province that borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. My company is starting a program there where foreign teachers will go to teach special classes. My job was to go spread the good news and get to know the school staff and students. I was there for a week and although the city itself is not particularly exciting, it did make me consider what I am doing in Beijing. Food is cheap in the south, weather there is MUCH better than Beijing (basically everywhere is better than Beijing), and people are really friendly (partially because there are no foreigners). I spent a lot of time at the school and got to know a lot of the students. Some of them were crying when I left, gave me presents, and were just welcoming and excited to talk to me in a way that I haven’t felt in a while. My job in the office is usually pretty boring, but this aspect of my work helped recharge my mental batteries, because these kids really were inspired and inspiring. A lot of the students only heard me talk for an hour, but during my week there many students approached me and told me that my advice to them made them decide to try this or do this. I also got to speak on Qujing’s FM radio 2 days in a row, entirely in Chinese. I was really nervous the first time, but it went better than I thought and it was a pretty cool experience. My time in Qujing reminded me of a lot of the good and bad things about China, but the friendliness and innocence of the people were striking. I was ready to leave Qujing, but not exactly ready to go back to Beijing…

Life in Beijing is as it was. Summer is here after about 2 weeks of decent weather. Very hot, sticky, and polluted. I know my lovely parents are always wondering when I am coming back, and I haven’t really thought about coming back that much (sorry parents!), but I have thought more and more about leaving Beijing. It is an exciting, fast-paced, interesting, and dynamic place to live, but the once-majestic appeal of the sights and sounds of Beijing have lost a little of their luster. I do love the people here, but I think I would like people in most places that I would choose to live. I have no doubt that I will not live in Beijing permanently, but it does offer a chance to learn a lot and have a lot of free time, which I like. I know people read about the pollution and people here, but you really can’t understand how bad the pollution is and how many people are here until you see it. As I said before, Qujing has 6 million people and is considered a small city. Most Chinese people have never even heard of it. This was amazing and exciting to me before…now it seems more like a burden.

I am also getting more and more disappointed with myself. I have been given so many amazing opportunities, talents, and been surrounded by the best people that I have met in my life. I have done, seen, and enjoyed so much in my life, but I feel this growing anger with myself for not doing more. This has always been a feeling I have had, but I always thought I am different or special in some way and things will work out for me. I still feel that things will “work out”, but I want to work hard and not just work out. I have never really felt this way before. People always say that you need to find something that you really love to do, and then it doesn’t feel like work. I am trying to do this now for the first time, and hopefully can gain enough intellectual capital so that I am able to create a job for myself rather than continuing to be employed by other people.

I told you that this blog was going to get more bloggy. I need a place to vent and will turn to this every once in a while when my friends are tired of hearing it from me. Everything is good here though and I will hopefully talk to some of you soon. Hope everyone is doing well, 再见 (bye).

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Hey everyone, just wanted to let people know that I will be in the USA starting April 20th. I am coming with some colleagues for work and don’t have a lot of time, but it would be good to see people if you have any time. Schedule is as follows:

April 20 – Arrive in SF
April 21 – Palo Alto then fly to LA
April 22 – In LA then drive to SD
April 23 – SD then fly to Seattle
April 24 – In Seattle and Tacoma, then fly to Boston
April 25 – In Boston
April 26 – Boston start driving to NYC
April 27 – In NYC/NJ
April 28 – NYC driving to DC
April 29 – DC/Charlottesville
April 30 – Chinese go back to Beijing, me in NoVA
May 2 – Back to Beijing

I get to go to some cool cities for a few hours…at least I get to see the fam for a while and recharge the batteries at the end of the trip. Look forward to eating a bunch of Mexican food and hopefully seeing people. If anyone in any place can meet or have any suggestions on what to do/see, let me know. Take care.

Greetings again. Just wanted to make a quick post to give people a glimpse into the life in Beijing. Monday-Friday days are pretty much the same, go to work, come home, cook or go out to eat, maybe gym, maybe bike ride, shower (maybe), sleep. Now that the weather is finally getting decent, I can ride my bike somewhat comfortably at night, which is one of my favorite things to do. Food is a combination of stuff I make (40%), foreign restaurants (20%), and Chinese restaurants (40%). My apartment is located in a great area directly adjacent to a foreign supermarket with a deli and everything, as well as any type of foreign cuisine and local Chinese snack you can think of. In terms of food, it is an ideal location.

It is nice to live in a city as big as Beijing because there is something for everyone. My apartment is located in between the two most important subway lines for my life because they get to the areas I go to the most often very directly. It is also a 5 minute walk to some of the best restaurants, stores, and general entertainment in the city. Weekends usually consists of some type of work during the days or maybe nights, whether it be interviews, actual work or research, or a meeting of some kind. After that, meeting up with a few different groups of friends that are all tangentially connected, either to eat or party. It is a fun city. Here are some pictures of my apartment. You can see my room is big enough to fit a king sized bed, sofa, and a carpet. People tell me my room is very girly, but I love it. Plus, the apartment had no furniture in it at all when we moved in, and I went to second hand Chinese markets to buy all of it, which is an experience you can pretty much only get here. Thought people might like to know what it is like to live here…similar to most places, only with about 100x as many people! Haha. That is all for now.

Guess what everyone?! I (David) am going to restart this bad boy! I know you have been frantically checking your emails and google searching for the blog for years, holding your breath in anticipation of another wonderful post from me and Erin. You can finally exhale. Obviously a lot has changed in the time that has gone by. This blog was started by a young couple living and learning about China together. We are still doing that, just more separately than before. We are no longer dating but still good friends, living only a few minutes from each other and still see each other a decent amount. It has been a year and half since we broke up, but I am glad we are mature enough to still be able to talk without (much) difficulty. She’s the best (I am also the best). 😉

OK, I am going to get more bloggy/emo I think, meaning I plan on just writing about whatever I feel like rather than explaining in detail my travels or some aspect of China. To quickly catch people up to what I am doing, I am still working for an exchange student company in Beijing. It is a decent gig, I love my boss and most of my coworkers, there is a decent amount of traveling involved, and it has some interesting moments. I live in a pretty nice apartment (very nice for Chinese standards) with my Finnish roommate and rabbit. I recently traveled to the USA for work, then went directly on vacation for 2 weeks to Singapore and Malaysia with my Chinese girlfriend (now potentially ex gf). I will try to add some pictures of my apartment and the trip to Singapore and Malaysia which I will describe a bit later. For now, I want to talk about pretty much the ONLY THING I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT FOR LIKE 3 WEEKS, which is the relationship with the Chinese girl I just mentioned. I told you this was going to get more emo…(if you don’t know, emo is a derogatory slang word for emotional).

Anyway, I met this girl about a year ago and we had an instant connection which is hard to explain (or could have just been I thought she was really hot and funny, but that isn’t very romantic). She reminded me in some ways of Erin, mainly in that she was unafraid to tell me what she was thinking or that I was wrong…maybe too unafraid because we fought A LOT at first. We had an on and off again relationship which involved some really intense, wild, but mostly stupid fights about nothing in particular, until finally last fall I couldn’t take the instability anymore. I asked her to be more serious or I couldn’t keep seeing her, and she agreed, which began our real relationship.

A lot of Chinese girls are not confident, meek, vengeful, and nervous to the point that they can’t stand up to the everyday pressures and demands of life. My gf has pressures from her parents/job/relationships, but deals with them as best as she can. She is the life of the party and easy to talk to, and unlike most Chinese people (women in particular), she is a PITBULL. When she is angry she is pretty much unstoppable and extremely difficult to calm down, which I liked most of the time, unless it was at me. An example of her confidence/fury/nature occurred at the zoo. The Beijing zoo is a fairly depressing zoo with horrible habitats for the animals, and the Chinese visitors are as poorly behaved as people can be when viewing animals in unnatural habitats. We made a good time of it, walking around the various exhibits, finally getting to the big animals section. As we looked at a tiger pace back and forth in his tiny jungle, a young kid on his dad’s shoulders poured coke onto the tiger. I tried to say something but everyone was laughing too hard to hear me. When he did it a second time, my gf went ballistic. She started yelling at the kid and then his dad then all the people laughing saying “This is why the world looks down on us”, “I shouldn’t have to raise your stupid kid” and “you are an embarrassment to the Chinese people”. I am rarely at a loss for words, but I could only watch in disbelief and excitement at her screaming what I wish I could have. When I say screaming, I mean SCREAMING. Nobody did anything to the poor tiger after that, and this was one of the first times I told her that I loved her. Chinese people NEVER confront strangers like that…it was pretty amazing and I will hopefully never forget it.

For months after this, things were pretty stable and we hung out more and more. She helped me in every way that she could…find a new apartment, get cheap furniture, teach me some Chinese…and my friends all liked her being around and could easily see why we were together. It takes a rare girl to put up with all of the stupid things that I do and say, but this girl did it and even liked it most of the time. She was my favorite Chinese person without a doubt, and of course she had her problems, but we talked and listened to each other and things kept getting better and better.

We decided to travel to Singapore and Malaysia during the Chinese New Year because her family was not in Beijing. Traveling with your significant other elevates the emotions in my opinion, and as I definitely experienced with Erin and my family, there are going to be some tense moments. We had a few fights, but nothing too bad, and overall the trip was great. We were both a spectacle for most of the Malaysian people we saw in the rural areas we traveled, especially her wearing a bikini or short dress. The Malaysian women wore long pants and head scarves so it seemed that the Malaysian guys appreciated seeing her wardrobe choices. We really explored a lot of both places, and neither one of us was ready to go back. Things were serious between us, but also seriously good. I still had one lingering doubt throughout the relationship. I had a slight nagging feeling that I was going to crush her the longer that we dated.

I am 28 and 1.5 years out of an 8 year relationship…I still need some time to meet people and figure out what I want. She is 32 and talked about wanting kids before she was 35, even saying that even if we were not together, she would want to have a baby with me because my genes are the best she has encountered (go Jacobs/Stewart DNA!). I thought there was only a small chance that I would marry her, which had less to do with her and more to do with my maturity level. I am simply not ready to make that commitment to her or anyone and I don’t think I will be for years, if I ever will be (sorry family). People tell me this changes when you get to around 30, but I don’t think I will be ready by then either. Anyways, we had a long discussion about this and for whatever reason I decided it was best if we broke up. I consider myself pretty logical and try to be “tough”, but I was a wreck for days, crying more than I had in years. She did everything right, treated me so well, and I still hurt her in the end. She put no pressure on me but I do think she understands where I am coming from. We haven’t really talked in 3 weeks, but like I said before, she is on my mind constantly. I am worried if I meet any girl in China, I will never even give them a chance because they won’t be as good as she was to me. That is pretty much where I am at today…no idea what to do, want to be with her but sort of feel like I should end it for the reasons I explained. My friends are tired of hearing about it, but when it is the only thing I am thinking about, what can I do? If anyone still reads this blog, give me some advice! Haha.

Well…hopefully this is the first of many posts that I make in the near future. I also hope you keep reading and I will keep you updated on any exciting developments in my life. I am not sure she will want to, but if Erin wants to post again, I hope she does. Take a look at the pics from Singapore and Malaysia…the famous Merlion, swimming monkeys, Langkawi island, and some pics of the lovely girl I just discussed. Hope everyone is doing well, peace.

Yet again it’s been way too long since either of us posted…but David and I just compiled some tips for a friend coming to visit, and I thought it might be helpful to share this list with the world!  Its taken nearly two years in Beijing to concoct our “Insider’s Tips” to this massive city, so hopefully it will help someone  out! 

Our Beijing favs: (Can you tell who wrote which?)

-Temple of Heaven in the morning to watch the elderly chinese exercise

-Great Wall at Mutianyu (reserve shuttle via The Schoolhouse, 100RMB) or go with Great Wall Fresh/China Culture Center/Intrepid Travel, all good for day tours

-Do a hike with Beijing Hikers

-Beihai Park

-Gulou Street, around the corner from my work ( for awesome cooking classes and our tea tour is amazing if you are interested in chinese tea

-Houhai Lake at night, pretty reflections of lights on the water

-Wanfujing Night Market for non-typical but hilarious street foods like scorpions

-Check out The Beijinger and TimeOut for the best restaurants, but it depends on the type of cuisine.  Happy to meet up, great HotPot/duck/yunnan/dongbei/sichuan, as well as coffee shops with wifi all around my work.

-798 Art District will be nice to walk around at that time, but for a more authentic chinese art experience, check out CaoChangDi village, can link you up with a friend at Three Shadows Art Studio there

-Dong Jiao, typical chinese wholesale market, worth a trip for sure

-i also love biking around guomao, the central business district really early in the morning/late at night when there is nobody around.  crazy to bike around some of the tallest building in the world with no cars or people.

-silk market/yashow or any fake clothes place is also pretty fun.

 -walking around qianmen and tiananmen square at night is exciting.  so many people just walking around.

-summer palace or yuanming yuan are amazing on a nice day.  u dont feel like u are in beijing.

-taking the subway (especially Line 1) during rush hour is an experience everyone has to witness.  getting pushed into the subway by employees whose job it is to push people into the subway…pretty crazy.

-Dancing ur ass off at a club can be fun too  😉

*Despite the fact it’s been so long since I’ve posted on the blog, I have published photos from my trips to Harbin, Taiwan, Anhui and Fujian on Facebook!

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Wuddup everyone. Haven’t blogged in a very long time (I am sorry) but I have been traveling a lot for work and been generally busy/sick/this website has been blocked. I am back now though, don’t you worry. I have recently been “marketing” for my work, which basically consists of me and some coworkers going to random provinces with little to no plan and trying to recruit students. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked that well, but (again needless to say) I have been the star everywhere we went. It is a pretty cool opportunity because we are going to places that are not on the typical “places to see” list for China, and these cities also have little to no foreigners so the people there are super excited to see a white guy. I have been to Yunnan and Guizhou provinces twice in the last 4 weeks, which are down in Southern China. I was in two cities for the majority of the time, Qujing in Yunnan and Guiyang in Guizhou. Guiyang has a special significance for Erin and I because when we first decided to come to China, we were offered teaching jobs in Tangshan and Guiyang, ultimately deciding on Tangshan. I don’t regret choosing Tangshan, but Guiyang definitely had some qualities that Erin and I both would have enjoyed.

Guiyang is the capital of Guizhou province, a poor province way down south. Guiyang has multiple translations, but all the locals that I talked to said that it meant “Precious Sun”, which gives you an idea of one major negative and one of the original reasons that we didn’t choose to live there. Basically, the sun doesn’t shine there. It is a wet place, and the city is usually covered in fog or clouds, which was true for about 90% of the time I was there. Due to it being so wet, there is also lots of trees and plants that grow without the help of thousands of Chinese workers planting them, which was different from Tangshan. It is hard to enjoy warmer weather if it is drizzling or not sunny though, and it is REALLY hard to enjoy cold weather when it is drizzling and there is no sun. This point is only enunciated by the lack of indoor heating in the south, which was really ridiculous during these trips. The second time I went to Guiyang, I went by myself to “market” and lead two European students around the city. Beijing was unbearably cold when I left, but I felt significantly colder in Guiyang. I was staying in the house of a Chinese family that was friends with my company’s contact down there, and they would leave the doors and windows open like it was summer! It snowed 3 inches one day when we were there! I am not a big fan of sleeping with clothes, but even I wore sweatpants when I slept. The focus of the house was the old fashioned stove in the dining room, where we would all huddle around everyday and night just because it was the only tolerable place in the house (the bathroom floor was heated so that was nice too). The family I stayed with was great and their house was very nice. They were typically gracious Chinese hosts, and their two kids, a 16 year old named Venus and 12 year old named Andy, were really cool and funny. I also slept with my Guiyang girlfriend during my stay, a one year old cockapoo named Mengmei, who immediately dove under the covers every night when I went to sleep because she was also freezing.

We did some things other than freeze though. We saw some random sights which were about the same as every other city that I have been to in China. We climbed a mountain which was populated by hundreds of monkeys, which was awesome because I love monkeys, but sad because most were obviously sick, had traps attached to their limbs, or were eating trash. One afternoon we went to a legitimate pig feast/slaughter. We got to watch them slice and dice a full sized pig which we were then served an hour later, which didn’t bother me other than the fact that it was raining pretty heavily. The bulk of our activities involved the Guiyang agent taking the three foreigners (me, a 16 year old Swede named Kevin and a 17 year old Fin named Venla (they were both awesome)) to local high schools and parading us around, talking with students, meeting the principals, and taking LOTS of pictures. I played basketball with a high school basketball team and nearly collapsed after like 15 minutes of them sprinting full speed (I am getting old). I also don’t know what is in the water in Guiyang, but people were acting like I was a supermodel. High school girls would giggle wildly and be shaking from nervousness, and all the student’s moms would constantly comment on how good looking I was. It was weird but something I could DEFINITELY get used to. The trip would have been pretty miserable with different travel companions, but luckily Kevin and Venla put up with the activities/lack of activities with a smile, and we had some good times.

I think that is a good post for now. I am back in Beijing and don’t have work for the next week because of Spring Festival aka Chinese New Year, so I will try to remember to post again a few times. Erin is off to Taiwan as we speak, so it is my week to have custody of our child/rabbit, Tutu. So, two Happy New Years to everyone, hope you are doing well. Peace.

– means try to save the dead horse as if it were alive…the impossible is possible

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Got a bit busy with the holidays, but finally wrapping up my final week of the challenge, from Tangshan!

Tuesday, November 22nd
After waking up multiple days with neck pain, I thought it would be appropriate to make my first trip to a Chinese chiropractor recommended by a friend. Having been to a few chiropractors in the US, I found the experience quite similar yet overall less comprehensive than past experience. Instead of taking x-rays and asking about my lifestyle, I just pointed to where it hurt, got a massage, an adjustment and was given some magnesium to ease muscle tension. The massage was a nice component, which I have never received in the states, as well as the doctor being bi-lingual (since he also practices in California.) However, I only spent a total of twenty minutes with him and was quite shocked to get a bill over 700RMB! I’m interested in visiting a more traditional office, but my Chinese isn’t good enough to go without a friend to translate.

That evening I attended Carol Liu’s inspiring documentary, Restoring the Light, about rural blindness and healthcare issues in China. The movie was exactly what I needed, a good cry and reminder of problems bigger than paying too much for the chiropractor. Professor Scott Rozelle from Stanford also gave an insightful talk about healthcare and priorities, illustrating for example, that eliminating one-third of China’s budget to reach the moon could fund vitamins, food and worm detection for all of the children in western, rural China. In my eyes, the event also highlighted another theme of local culture; China’s discomfort with allowing foreigners (or anyone) to highlight social issues. More than one Chinese audience member responded on the defensive to Professor Rozelle’s statistics regarding rural poverty and healthcare, citing that Obama’s healthcare plan also didn’t make significant strides in solving US healthcare issues. It’s unfortunate that this is the message gleaned from such fieldwork, but addresses some of the sensitivities present in beginning to accurately diagnose social problems in China.

Wednesday, November 23rd
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Malaika Hahne, the new Executive Director of Little Flower Projects. She took me out to their orphanage in Shunyi, where I was incredibly impressed by not only the facility and organization of the center, but the compassion and dedication of the staff. Although each ayi is responsible for two babies, many of the staff seem to know each child intimately. Malaika’s compassion to help these children was genuinely heart-warming, and her efforts seem to be paying off, as Little Flower Projects is making quite a name for itself in the local community. Nothing puts a smile on your face more than holding a little smiling baby.

For lunch I had a locally-sourced lunch made from Chef Sue’s trial-run dishes for a future class, and hosted a charity cooking class at The Hutong.

Thursday, November 24th
On Thursday I either completely lost my mind, or decided that I really needed to go all out during the last week of the challenge. Fighting off the urge to go across the street to Jenny Lou’s for soymilk and kitty litter, I ran in the freezing cold to Jinkelong. The run back ended up being much colder and difficult than I expected, and it took all I had to waddle home clutching my bag of litter with both arms and freezing hands.

Thursday night was Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with a group of expat and Chinese friends; turkey and gong bao ji ding was quite the combination!

Friday, November 25th
I spent the morning biking around the city doing errands and buying supplies for a corporate holiday party. In the evening I met up with Joel Shucuat from The Orchid, who introduced me to the social networking wonders of WeiXin. I spent the night leaving voice messages, throwing bottles out to sea, and shaking to find friends. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the WeiXin app, it’s a great way for foreigners to make Chinese friends and practice their Chinese! We also snacked on some local Hainan chicken while Joel frantically arranged dinner preparations for the guests at his hotel.

Saturday, November 26th
I taught in the morning and was informed by the school nurse that there was 500+ API…perhaps the most polluted day I have experienced in Beijing. I waited til the air cleared a bit in the evening, and went on my last training run before the half marathon. I know I shouldn’t have run, but it was my last reasonable period of free time before the race. Although I noticed the cold a lot more than the air quality, my clothes reeked of coal when I got home. This was the first time I had noticed the pollution is such a tangible way, and was quite disheartened to think about how much Beijinger’s lives are affected by the poor air quality.

Sunday, November 27th
On Sunday I was a real expat. I helped plan a traditional American birthday party alongside my co-workers, which included homemade birthday cake, baseball and rugby in Chaoyang park and flipping burgers at The Filling Station in Shunyi. It was incredibly fun and decidedly UN-local.

Monday, November 28th
On Monday I recruited my friend Tom Pattinson to show me his favorite Shaanxi restaurant around the hutongs where we work. We chowed down on their famed roujiamo and dumplings, which was perfect a perfect meal for a cold winter day. That evening my friends arrived from the US and we had a feast at Jing Zun duck restaurant. Eating local is quite ful-filling!

Tuesday, November 29th
On Tuesday I became tour guide for a day and took my friends to Dong Jiao Market, one of my favorite spots in Beijing. I showed them around some food stalls, the wet market and tea warehouse. During an extended tea ceremony we bought way too much tea and learned more about Nanjing greens, Taiwan oolongs and Huyi Shan blacks. They liked the black and oolongs, while I preferred the greens and whites. It was so fun to briefly introduce friends to the Chinese tea culture I love, and pick-up a bag of awesome An Ji Zhejiang cha. That night we also had hot pot on Gui Jie!

Wednesday, November 30th -END OF CHALLENGE
Appropriately, I celebrated the last day of the challenge with KTV! The Hutong staff and I donned Santa hats and rockstar gear and belted out tunes from Michael Jackson to The Carter Sisters, to which my Chinese colleagues knew the lyrics better than I. Chinese culture never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, December 1st
I promptly went to Jenny Lou’s and loaded up on Silk soymilk and cereal, the two things I missed most during this adventure.

Saturday, December 3rd
I headed off to Shanghai to run in my first Chinese half-marathon. Race day was a story within itself, but overall the race was a big success and despite gaining a few pounds, my predominantly Chinese diet did not prevent me from crossing the finish line with a personal best.

I think it’s pretty obvious that my lifestyle is far from local. Throughout this challenge I bounced between feelings of guilt and satisfaction, but overall feel content that this personal quest helped me reflect on my expat lifestyle and motivate me to seek out new experiences in the capital. I realized that while I loved living in the typically Chinese city of Tangshan, it’s the ability to choose between western/international and Chinese options that makes me most content about living in Beijing. However, this experience made me miss my Chinese “hometown” so much that I’m writing this conclusion from a brief visit back to Tangshan.

To sum up my experience, I thought I would give a few tips gleaned from living and traveling for nearly two years in China, for us lao wais who want to have a more local China experience:

1. Learn basic Chinese. Although I haven’t taken formal classes, I often carry around a dictionary, notebook and ipod full of Chinese lessons. I can’t tell you how much more fun China becomes speaking a bit of Mandarin. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to happen in a classroom; I prefer getting one-on-one Chinese lessons from taxi drivers, masseuses, shop owners, co-workers and even my elementary-aged English students. Start with pointing in markets and go from there!

2. Make Chinese friends…but how? Cheesy as it sounds, lots of normal and friendly local Chinese use social networking sites like WeLiveInBeijing, BJ Stuff and The Beijinger to find language partners and friends.

3. Spend time in a smaller Chinese city. It’s nearly impossible not to learn more about Chinese food, hobbies and language if you live in a place with far less foreign exposure, and there are a variety of solid programs that will assist you in this experience. My friend Robbie Fried runs the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, which I would highly recommend for this type of immersion. Additionally, Tangshan is only two hours east of Beijing, and private English centers there are always looking for foreign teachers; I would be happy to connect you!

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November 16th
Day one and two of week three were a complete local failure. In a very expatty style I went to yoga, had a lunch meeting at Flamme, bought vitamins and protein powder from the World Health Store and attended an 85 Broads Event at the Royal Smushi House. Luckily I’m only losing this challenge to myself, and I got to hear May Xue (recently appointed CEO of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art) give a talk about her one-woman charge to try and officially register UCCA as the first foreign NGO in China. Go May!

November 17th
Back on track. While grocery shopping I made it my mission to explore the nooks and crannies of Jinkelong, really trying to read packages and understand the contents of mystery jars instead of just assuming that I wouldn’t know the ingredients inside. To my surprise, I could understand more of the pinyin on the packaging than I imagined, and in general the aisles felt a bit more familiar than we I first arrived to China. I bought ingredients for a big stir fry, but still find it hard to produce quality Chinese meal without significant amounts of processed carbs like noodles, rice and bread, which isn’t the best diet for running. (Hence the WHS trip.)

November 18th
I finally checked out Bao Yuan Jiaozi restaurant with my co-workers from The Hutong, and was impressed by the décor and colorful dumplings! (I also went to a talk given by the founder of Heyrobics, and had a work dinner at Carmen.)

November 19th
I spent a good bit of the day biking around in attempting to collect my wallet because it was (miraculously) dropped off at a hotel near Dawanglu, and the management called my apartment complex when they saw my swipe card. Wow, complete miracle! I then headed with Chef Sue Zhou to check out some local spots in Tuanjiehu. She showed me a great baozi place called Bao Rong Xing Bao Jer, where I tried Si HuLuobuo fen tiao (carrot and starch noodle) baozi for the first time. Sue tells me that more and more restaurants are adding starch noodles as fillers, because it’s a cheap way to fill up the baozi. I also tried another bun with a surprise quail egg inside, very tasty! We also went to a typical Chinese pudding shop, where we had warm coconut and red bean pudding. Red beans are just about my favorite dessert, so it was the perfect snack.

November 20th
Typical Chinese-style lunch at school, otherwise not much to report.

November 21st
My friend Aveleigh and I checked out No. 8 Hot Springs Resort at Chaoyang Park West gate. These types of resorts are quite a foreign concept to westerners, but it’s definitely a must-have experience in China. First, the staff gives you silk pajamas before eating at their unlimited buffet. I get a kick out of seeing a whole room of adults sitting around in their pj’s eating food and relaxing. Next, it’s off to the spa! For 198RMB (including food) at No. 8 Hot Springs you can relax all day in the hot springs pool, sauna and steam rooms. The spa also offers other services at an additional cost, and I made the mistake of requesting a “peeling” thinking that this would be similar to a facial. Um, no. I got a somewhat painful full body scrub that polished every part of my body except my face… Overall though I felt like I was living in a fairy tale with pink silk pajamas, unlimited food and lounging!

November 21st
My bike lock broke on my bike, and I pushed it on its front wheel through the hutongs to the shop where I purchased the piece of junk. The owners smashed it off with a hammer in about thirty seconds and gave me a different type, no wonder so many bikes are stolen in Beijing. Then I met up with colleagues at the new U-Town Blue Frog for dinner.

I wonder if the local local gods are spiting me because of all the Western food I have been eating. First it was a bike crash, then wallet stolen and finally a broken bike lock…
Well gods, I feel guilty enough about my non-local choices, so I don’t need the reminder! This week I realized more than ever that I do still work in expat circles, and many of these mealtime meetings were just unavoidable. Maybe it seems like I have failed this challenge, but every week I have managed to have had new cultural experiences and I’m developing a more clear picture of why it is tough for foreigners to integrate into local culture. Don’t count me out just yet!

Beijinger article.

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It was obvious from first week of the Local Local Challenge that I needed some help. Throughout my time in Beijing I have been lucky enough to come across a variety of foreigners who have really immersed themselves in the local culture, so I called upon a few “expat experts” to enhance my participation in the challenge.

On November 9th I popped in my Pimsleur Chinese lesson and biked over to Jie GuLou #147 for tea at Zheng Yun Cha She with local artist, Helen Couchman, and tour guide Jeffery Schwab. Jeffrey had been friends with the owners of the shop for some time, and although the boss was away on travel, his employee treated us to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony complete with Pu’er tea served from a 5,000RMB yixing clay pot! He also explained that one of their tea table adornments was a bull because its representative of the hardworking and obedient nature of the employees at the tea shop. I got the chance to teach my local experts a few things about Chinese tea before they broadened my horizons around the city.

Helen has been living and making art in Beijing for six years (, and lives in a hutong off Guolou Dajie. She agreed to introduce me to her favorite Sichuan restaurant, and go easy on the spiciness. The two of us headed over to the corner of Gulou Dong Da Jie and BeiLuoGuXian on my bike (Helen pedaling, me holding on for dear life) and feasted on some of Helen’s favorite dishes. (I also brought my re-usable, eco-friendly chopsticks, courtesy of The Hutong We ate lazi ji, a spicy fried chicken dish loaded with hot peppers, ma jiang feng wei (fresh greens and sesame sauce) and san san hua dan dou huar, a salty soup with egg, tofu, mushrooms, tomato, carrots and peas.

Needing to get a bit of work done, I headed to Café Zarah and sipped more Chinese tea. (Perhaps this establishment is considered one of the gems of the expat community, but it’s locally run and I only ordered tea.) For dinner I headed to Sanlitun, but had a tang hu lu while waiting for a friend and then dined outdoors at the Han Zhou Xiao Chi restaurant. I ordered a standard xi hong shi jidan gai fan and tudou jiding, which I had never tried before and loved the flavor.

On November 10th my roommate helped me eat local by making an egg sandwich with bread from a local street vendor, and I managed to get a seat with fellow challenger Jessica Greene, at Noodle Bar in Sanlitun. That place was packed and rightfully so, as the flavors of the noodle dishes were excellent. Jessica and I talked a bit about the challenge, which had prompted her to cook a lot more at home and generally focus her Local Local efforts on not being so wasteful. Quite reflective of our experience Noodle Bar, she commented that even eating locally wasn’t necessarily a waste-free or inexpensive option, and we chatted about how the concept of “local” culture is constantly changing and quite hard to authentically capture no matter where you are.

On November 11th I shopped at Jinkelong for lunch and went to a traditional Chinese medicine treatment. I always find these treatments to be quite intriguing from a physical and educational standpoint, and this time I got huge needles stuck right in the middle of my stomach! I then proceeded to eat a roast and cheese, and drink wine at a dinner party, but I figure it’s only half as bad if I’m not paying…and I met the organizer for Monday Night Jiaozi nights, and planned to attend as part of my challenge!

I hate to say it, but by Saturday I was already getting sick of Chinese food. My school provides a ton of Chinese dishes for lunch, but thinking about eating all that oil before taking a run later in the afternoon was really not enticing. I had veggies (still doused in oil) and one of my favorite dishes, tangsu liji before purchasing some sunflower seeds and a red bean bun from Jinkelong. I was craving a western energy bar, but at least these snacks had a bit of protein. I also headed to a workout session that I won with fitness guru Tony Nicholson of 4 Point Fitness, who didn’t exactly support my attempts to eat more Chinese food from a health standpoint. I’m pretty serious about fitness, so that made it additionally hard to stick to the challenge.

(*Before I get attacked here, I realize that Tony is a foreigner and that personal trainers are a luxury, but he has lived here over ten years, speaks fluent Chinese and trains lots of locals…so we chatted a bit about the culture of exercise in China. This brings us back to the issue of what is really considered “local”?)

To make up for past transgressions, I really upped my local game on Sunday, November 13th. I woke up early to meet back up with Jeffrey at The Hutong for his Prophets, Prostitutes and Spies tour, and spent most of the afternoon at the Xi Xian Zhai Teahouse in the hutongs behind the Lama Temple. A group of us sipped Wu Yuan Mingmei Jiangxi Cha (婺源茗眉江西茶), nibbled on suan jiao (funny translation: “acid horn”) gummy candy, and ate a traditional vegetarian teahouse meal. and ate a traditional vegetarian teahouse meal. Next we headed north to Yuan Dynasty DaDu Park where Jeff amazed us with his skills as a Diablo master. For those of you that don’t know, the Diablo is a spinning top that can be made to do a variety of tricks as it spins on strings. This experience is worth an article on its own, but Jeffrey has been coming to this park for years and has fully integrated into the talented Diablo community. Everyone was so happy to see this American lao wai spinning his Diablo magic, and I could tell they respected Jeffrey’s ability and friendly nature. As Jeffrey puts it, “Playing diabolo replaces going to church…it’s my spiritual solace.” The masters graciously tried to teach me to get the top up and running, but I was almost a total failure.

To finish off the day, we walked around GuLou to visit some hot spots, such as the restaurant where Vice President Joe Biden recently dined. We then walked south to Man Fu Lu (满福楼) Xinjiang-style hot pot where we ordered an incredible feast of everything from mini jiaozi to pig heart…I think.

On a local high from my “Local Sunday,” I headed out to an organic farm with my co-workers, only to have my wallet stolen on the subway. Instead of basking in the glory of organic foods, I rushed home to cancel my credit cards. On a positive note, China Citic froze my account when the thief entered the wrong pin three times, and my co-workers came home with a pumpkin half the size of my body!


This week I branched out from simply eating locally to participate in quite a few more local activities. I’m lucky to know people like Jeffrey, who are exceptional at integrating into Chinese culture, and are quite willing to share their interests with others. I think I did a better job of going local this week than last, but this was primarily due to a temporarily decreased workload. I’m quite worried about next week, when things really pick up again.

Editor’s Version in The Beijinger.

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I’m happy to say that last week helped me accomplish one of my goals here in Beijing, to get published in a magazine! (Actually, I got 2 articles published in Agenda and one in The Beijinger. Can’t say I like the pic much in Agenda, but you can download my letter from the Editor if you so desire! pg. 3)

The following (for you loyal readers) is the full first installent from the Local Local Challenge, not just the editor’s cut!

It’s the last week before hosting the biggest event I’ve run in Beijing, I just moved to the expat-friendly area of Chaoyang Park West Gate, I’m training for a half marathon and I get a call from my friend.

“Hey, remember that local local challenge idea we were talking about? Let’s do it this month!”

Of course, being the impulsive and excitable person that I am, I don’t think twice and dive right in. The idea of the Local Local Challenge came about as myself and a few friends were discussing ways to more authentically participate in local culture in Beijing. The girls participating in the challenge and I have found our lives becoming increasingly western due to our jobs, lack of Chinese speaking skills and the comfort of participating in activities that are anything but local. We often hang out in Sanlitun, eat at burger and pizza joints, shop at Ikea, and buy groceries at Jenny Lou’s. To be honest, I probably would not have made it nearly two years in China without most of these creature comforts, but it’s a far cry from my initial six months in Tangshan, where I was one of the only foreigners in a “town” of 1.8 million people, was forced to carry around a dictionary because I couldn’t speak a word of Chinese, and avoided western restaurants because the only three were KFC, Pizza Hut and Alba Pizza. For a brief period of time I truly immersed myself in local Chinese culture, and still experience personal and professional benefits of that experience.

Since moving to Beijing my life has gotten a lot more comfortable, but I find myself less and less likely to explore the city and culture that initially brought me to China. Supported by my commitment to blog about my experiences for The Beijinger, I figured that this challenge would force me to re-discover Beijing, or at least push me to get outside of my increasingly expat comfort zone. The idea is simple; try to eat and play locally as much as possible. Chinese lessons and TCM are encouraged, as are riding bikes over taxis and supporting local farmers and food street vendors. My overall completion of the challenge, as judged by The Beijinger staff, will be based on a qualitative analysis of my effort to make cultural connections throughout the month of November. There’s no pretending I didn’t make a late-night McDonald’s run, or have a glass of imported Italian wine; opting for baozi and baijiu would be much more suitable.

The challenge began on November 1st, and I have been taking photos and notes about my experience for a week now. Day one started out quite strong. Breakfast consisted of a TCM-appropriate meal of oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. I donned a sweater and shirt I recently bought at the Ladies’ Market in Liangmaqiao and headed off on my bike to register at the local police station. What could be more authentic than good ‘ol Chinese bureaucracy? Next I headed to Yoga Yard, which isn’t exactly the most local of activities, but the bi-lingual classes are a good place to practice my Chinese listening skills. Thinking about lunch was causing me anxiety as I headed to work in Guomao. My limited speaking and inability to read Chinese characters often dissuades me from conversing with local shop owners about what’s on their menu, because I have to point at food or simply ask if they have certain items on the menu. They often look at me like I’m a bit deranged, pointing to the poster-sized Chinese menu on their wall. Fortunately, I came across a di gua (sweet potato) street vendor and baozi shop when I purchased lunch with dou jiang (soy milk) for 9.5RMB. Simple, yet delicious and filling. Unfortunately my schedule was so hectic that I only managed to grab a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner, but overall a good first day.

On Wednesday morning I biked down the third ring road and really paid attention to just how many breakfast vendors are out in the morning. Before 10am it’s quite easy to find these kiosks anywhere from Jinsong to Beitucheng along this route. I made a mental note and headed onward. I had to make a pick-up around Chaowai SOHO, and bought lunch at the very local but traditionally Chinese establishment of 7-11. I always get a kick out of seeing how this American franchise has adapted to the Chinese market, with slurpees and Doritos being replaced with Chinese buffets and to-go noodles. Clearly the strategy is working, as the lines out the door for 7-11 lunch in China far surpass those in the States. One culinary delight that is a staple in both countries are the hot dogs, mmm. I bought pears, chestnuts, to-go noodles and sliced bread. Incidentally, there is a great Chinese canteen on the 6th floor of Chaowai SOHO building A, but I didn’t have time to stop in. On my way back from work I stopped for the first time at the fruit vendors under the Tuanjiehu bridge and purchased bananas and persimmons for 16RMB. I was so happy I took a break to stop and chat, as the vendor a jovial guy who threw some free zao (Chinese dates) into my bag! I was a little disheartened to see that despite my efforts to buy local, the bananas were from the Philippines!

Thursday morning I was making program deliveries for Chi Fan for Charity to the Sanlitun restaurants, and really noticed just how little Chinese food exists in the Village. Since the evening food vendors weren’t out, I grabbed a quick lunch of fried bread with bean paste and lettuce (jidan guanbing) from the only vendor available, and staved off my extreme desire to get a mango and red bean ice drink from Herbal Café. I almost made the exception due to the red bean…but I’m committed! For dinner I was in a rush and stopped by for the first time to eat ma la tong on the Sanlitun food street. I soon realized that this dining style is not exactly the ideal selection for a quick meal, and ended up waiting for about twenty minutes for a bowl of veggies. I do miss healthy, quick options like sandwiches and salads…but I digress. A big bowl of ma la tong was satisfying and only 16RMB (1 kuai per stick.)

On Friday morning my roommate made me a “Chinese sandwich” with jian bing, spring onions, cured pork and hoisin sauce. A car hit me on the way to work (I’m ok, minimal bruising, and what could be more authentically Beijing?) and the Chi Fan for Charity silent auction team ordered a great Chinese dinner of dan chao fan (egg fried rice), tu dou si, di san xian and spicy green beans. (name?)

On Saturday morning my knee was a bit swollen, so I opted to take a cab to work. I teach at an international school on Saturdays and we always order a local Chinese feast for lunch. I stopped by Jinkelong instead of Jenny Lou’s to pick up some groceries and purchased a seasonal favorite, nan gua xiao mifan jo (pumpkin porridge.) Unfortunately for the challenge, after the porridge purchase my weekend morphed into an entirely indulgent 3-day expatty rampage. I helped run the 3rd Annual Chi Fan for Charity dining event and ate at Hercules and drank imported alcohol at Hatsune. However, we raised over 300,000RMB for local Beijing charities Bethel and New Hope, so that has to help me gain back a few local points!

By Sunday I was completely wiped out from work and thinking about going local. At the request of friends (and a party to which I had previously committed to help host) I bought German bread, imported cheese and wine, and generally failed to do anything local. On Monday the most local thing I managed to do was fix my internet with the phone company, and attempt to eat at Noodle Bar in Sanlitun with a friend. Unfortunately the noodle bar was completely packed and we opted for nachos and Vietnamese at Luga’s Pho Pho. Aya! I WILL make up for these non-local splurges!

The intricacies of going local as an expat in Beijing are challenging in different ways than I expected. Yes, language and general lack of time pose significant barriers, but I found it most difficult to balance the inconvenience that it causes other expats in the bubble. After a long day of work, it was hard to suggest to a tired friend that we explore the city and perhaps have a frustrating experience in efforts to discover an awesome hole in the wall restaurant. Scheduling a business lunch at a local dive or food street isn’t exactly practical, and I run the risk of seeming unprofessional to make this suggestion with clients. I wanted to suggest going completely local for my friends’ party, but they were already excited to offer champagne and cheese, so I didn’t think it was worth a fight. Despite my best efforts to remain frugal, I still spent 642.50RMB (325.50 if you don’t count the party I helped host), which is far more than I should really need to spend. Overall I made much more of an effort to go local than during my previous time in Beijing, but I still didn’t get far outside the bubble.

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