Archive for December, 2010

So, it turns out things in Beijing got quite hectic (or shall I say, somewhat depressing and full of red tape?) soon after I arrived. To make a long, boring story very short, I’ll just say that setting myself up in that city was tiring and not entirely fulfilling. Mostly I’ve spent my time completing bureaucratic paperwork, finding (and subsequently repairing) an apartment, the roommates to go with it, attending language school, going to the gym and trying not to starve when out of the house. So far what I miss the most in Beijing is my husband (duh). The chaotic lifestyle of the typical Beijinger, who cares very little about the polluted environment or learning how to clean it up and much more about one-upping me with what he/she can buy, are not really my cup of tea.

The main problem I’ve had in Beijing is the air pollution. I routinely check the  air pollution index site to determine if I need to wear my air mask (口罩)before heading out the door. I’d say that about 75% of the time I wear this thing, especially if I were going outside today in Beijing with this reading: 12-22-2010; 00:00; PM2.5; 570.0; 500; Beyond Index. (A “normal” range in almost any North American or European city falls between 20 on the low end and 60-70 on the high end–above 100 or 150 is typically considered hazardous. In Beijing, the authorities decided to throw that out the window and come up with their own index. And no, the “500” index is not a joke.)

To say I am not accustomed to this level of pollution would be an understatement. I contracted a bacterial sinus infection sometime around week 2-3 and until I took antibiotics in week 6, the infection did nothing but get worse. Around the time I started feeling bad, I got an air purifier, the air masks, a humidifier, and eucalyptus oils. I’d been taking my multi-vitamins I bought in Berlin, along with drinking plenty of fluids and eating lots of fruits and veggies. It so happens that find veggie dishes in Beijing isn’t as bad as I thought (thankfully!) but sometimes it costs a small fortune to get quality veggies not covered in sauces with msg.

There are a few great restaurants near where I live in Yonghegong (Lama Temple), such as Fairy Su (cheap, $3-4 per meal seat) and Xu Xiang Zhai (68 RMB/ $10 for the buffet). I’ve actually been to quite a few of the restaurants in Beijing off the Happy Cow list and I recommend both these places for Chinese-style vegan foods (be warned that the buffet is not 100% vegan, but they do properly label what has egg, in English).

In terms of running, options have been slim but more promising than when I began. I met a group of Swedes/Germans who run outside maybe twice per week, and the third (?) weekend they took me along for a two hour run outside the city in Badachu, which is by far the best running experience thus far. It took most of a Saturday morning, but these were actual trails in low hills and far more interesting and deserted than anywhere else I’ve been. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any precipitation at all since I arrived (!), so the trees that do exist are bare and the ground is very dusty and brown. All in all, I was just glad to get out of the city for a bit and meet other marathon runners.

On Saturday mornings, some of the Swedes and Germans get together at Chaoyang park around 8:30AM for some laps and sprints in the park. It’s nice to have company and to be in a park, and I actually like the fact that they charge 5 RMB to get in (about 75 cents) because otherwise it would be too crowded, like the rest of Beijing. Aside from this running, when the pollution count has fallen below 90 or so (which is about once or twice every 10 days) I have gone to Ditan park near where I live to do some laps and sprints. The park is smack in the middle of the city and it’s quite small, but I love how the trees shelter the park from the noise, apartment buildings, shopping malls, and all that other commotion in the city. It’s quite peaceful when it’s only me and elderly people, some of whom practice Gong Fu (Kung Fu), Taiqichuan (Tai chi), or Ticao (calisthenics or light exercises) while I’m running around. It costs 2 RMB to get into that park, but at night the guards don’t notice me running through the gates in all-black, so I’ve only had to pay during the day.

Most days, the pollution count is too high to exercise outdoors. The Swedes have started something called Heyrobics!, which I’ve gone to a few times. It’s not bad, but it’s only once a week for me because the location(s) are quite inconvenient to where I live. I also joined the Nirvana Fitness gym near my house and have been using the treadmills and attending spin/indoor cycling classes there. Every now and then I drop in on a pilates, body pump, or cardio kickboxing class. I am not a big fan of going to these classes because the music is quite loud and they’re crowded. Have I mentioned that in Beijing the population is like 17 million? So. Many. People. ALL THE TIME. It takes some getting used to me thinks.

In other news, my Chinese language classes have kickstarted me back into the language and I’m re-learning how to read, ha! I had forgotten a lot. The more important things about these classes is that 1) they’re one-on-one at the times I want, 2) we only discuss stuff related to my research or things I want to talk about, and 3) the school has a proper coffee machine from Europe that pumps out cafe cremas, and they don’t care how long I sit in their lounge to take advantage of both the machine and the free wifi. Yay!

Last week I flew home for the holidays. 😀 😀 I guess I don’t really need to explain how freaking happy it makes me to see my husband and realize that Beijing’s insanity is only temporary… although I really really REALLY wish they would stop playing (on repeat, no less) Christmas carol CDs in all the stores while I’m grocery shopping or at the cafe. Even in Germany they’ve cut that crap out — only at the Christmas market, after some people have drunk enough Glühwein, do carols actually get sung (as it should be!). And wow, is the Glühwein good here, not to mention the 3 kilos of chocolate and sweets my mother-in-law sent us, and the vegan buffet brunch at Viasko last weekend. On top of that, my health is doing much better: I’ve been outside running every day since arrival and I no longer have a sinus infection or trouble breathing. With that said, I’ve firmly decided, and my husband will be happy to know, that after I’m done with this year in Beijing I don’t plan to return to it ever again for an extended period of time. I am much happier and healthier with him and life in Berlin!

In conclusion, I was so happy at the Christmas market today I finally bought a silly hat I half-jokingly told kungfuramone I would someday purchase. Happy Holidays everyone!



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