This Beijing Life: Month 1

Since I’ll be moving to Beijing for the next two years, I figured it would be fun to do monthly recap posts talking about the highlights and challenges of my time in China’s bustling capital (or wherever I may be that month). I’ve noticed that the more I travel and the busier I become, the more impossible it becomes to keep up with my travels in real-time. Well, never fear, monthly recap posts are here!

September has been a month of big changes. Firstly, I packed up my life to start over in China’s bustling capital. I finished grad school, started a new job, found an apartment and began making a life here.

Overall, the move to Beijing has been a good one. While my job may come with minor frustrations, I really enjoy the company I’m working for. I have a beautiful new apartment. My coworkers are awesome. I live in a decently cool area, and China Post didn’t lose all my clothes in the mail!

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Beijing Enreach

My office is cooler than yours

What I’ve Been up to This Month

I spent the month of September trying to get settled in my new home. I feel like I’ve barely explored any of Beijing in the last three weeks because I’ve been trying to get accustomed to my new life here. Apartment hunting, starting a new job and exploring my neighborhood has taken up pretty much all of my time.

My new job is pretty intense and keeps me really busy. I’ve been working from 10am-7pm, 6 days a week, which is exhausting! Technically I only need to work five days a week, but if I work an extra day I get to accumulate more vacation days. Since I’m heading to Thailand for TBEX, I figured I’d squeeze in a few 6 day weeks to get everything done before I head out.

After a few weeks of working at my new company, I have so much to say! But since this is a recap post, I figure I’ll save all the juicy details for another day.

Places Visited

I spent most of September exploring Beijing’s Zhongguancun neighborhood where I live and work. This neighborhood is full of amazing high schools (hence, why I work here), China’s top universities (Bei Da, the “Harvard of China” is here), and China’s tech district. I live walking distance from Microsoft, Youku, Tencent and Sinosteel. No wonder my apartment is so expensive…

Beijing Enreach

The Beijing Enreach Office!

Highlights

I like my job!

My job as a college counselor is much more enjoyable than teaching English to 1,000 students. I get to actually form connections with the kids, and consulting is much more relaxing than teaching. I feel like I get a lot of human interaction, rather than just spending the day staring at my laptop. Whether I’m meeting with students, collaborating with the Chinese counselors, or meeting with the other Western counselors, I don’t feel like I’m glued to my computer screen.

I also feel somewhat challenged in my current job. How do I make this essay incredible, without re-writing it myself? How can we restructure your resume to make you stand out? How can I teach you to sell yourself in an interview? What’s a cool way you can showcase your amazing artwork? Sometimes I feel like my brain is going to explode from all the creative thinking and problem solving I do every day!

Beijing Enreach office

I have an espresso machine!

My office is amazing

Cubicles are my worst nightmare. Not only are they ugly, these little partitions cut you off from the rest of the office and discourage collaboration. Thankfully, the design of my office is amazing: bright colors, open floor plans, classrooms and meeting spaces… I definitely don’t mind hanging out here all day. Many of the counselors have even ordered exercise balls for the students to sit on during sessions.

Also… we have an espresso machine. I’ll just let that one sink in for a minute. ESPRESSO MACHINE.

Purple office

#purpleoffice

I have my OWN OFFICE with a view!

I was actually shocked when I arrived on my first day, and I was shown my own private office… and it’s PURPLE. My office has a large window that overlooks the city, and I’ve decorated it to feel a little more like home. Yes… that is grumpy cat. My students love him.

Beijing Enreach staff

Mooncake party with my coworkers and students

I actually have friends

I’ve quickly become friends with both my Chinese and Western co-workers. Thankfully, I live in the same apartment complex as three guys from the office, who I often spend time with on the weekends. I also really like my Chinese co-workers, and I have lunch with them every day. One co-worker and I are headed to a “Vintage Festival” in Western Beijing tomorrow!

I LOVE my apartment

I have a beautiful studio apartment with a large window that lets in tons of light. I’m also obsessed with my super comfortable, big blue couch. My apartment is walking distance from work and the subway, which is really nice, and it’s surrounded by restaurants and cute coffee shops.

Challenges

Beijing has gotten WAY MORE EXPENSIVE

Beijing has taken gentrification to the extreme in the last 3 years. All those cheap dumpling shops where I could get dinner for $1 USD have been replaced by bubble tea chains where you can spend $2 USD for a tea fix. Seriously? Also, the subway is no longer less than $.50 everywhere you want to go, and the bus has doubled in price as well.

Compared to Ningbo, Beijing is ridiculously expensive. I find myself cringing ever time I spend 20 kuai ($3 USD) on a bowl of noodles for lunch when I could have bought them for half the price in Ningbo. Why, Beijing, why?!

Beijing apartment

My beautiful new studio! (Before I rearranged the couch)

The Beijing Housing Bubble  

Last month I talked about my panic attack when I discovered I needed to pay over $1,000 USD for an apartment deposit on arriving in Beijing. Well… that was just the tip of the iceberg.

My office has given me a 6,000 kuai/month ($950 USD) housing stipend, which I assumed would be more than enough in Beijing. Well… I thought wrong. They didn’t even show me any apartments under 6,000! The cheapest place they showed me was 6,500 and it was dark, covered in trash, and infested with bugs. Where am I? NYC??!

The real estate agent basically only showed me apartments in the building I’m living in now, where the try to stick all the foreigners. There’s a reason why there’s four of us in this one building… I even tried to have them show me apartments in the Wudaokou neighborhood because it’s a bit cheaper, but they only showed me one place and it was 7,000 without furniture!

Beijing apartment

My rock-hard bed!

I ended up getting a really cute place for 7,000 ($1,100) a month, but I still think the price is ridiculous, especially considering I’m not even downtown! It wasn’t until about a week ago that I learned of all the really awesome neighborhoods I could live in with much cheaper rent. For example, one of my co-workers lives in Gulou, one of the coolest neighborhoods in Beijing, and her rent is 7,000 for a two-bedroom apartment she shares with her boyfriend. She said for 6,000 I could easily get a beautiful one-bedroom loft with free internet and a maid. Seriously?! The commute is only about 20 minutes by subway (30 minutes door to door).

My co-workers and I can’t figure out why the company doesn’t help us look for places that are under the stipend. Even my Chinese coworkers are stumped! I think they just assume that because we have a stipend, we can afford to live in a really expensive place? Maybe they just want us all right near the office to make their lives easier?

The worst part is that my rent isn’t actually $7,000 a month. It’s $6,500 for 6 months and then jumps to $7,500 for the remainder of my contract. This means that if I want to keep my apartment next year I’ll be paying $7,500 a month for the whole year. My whole apartment complex just keeps getting more and more expensive! My co-worker is currently paying $6,300 for a room whose equivalent is now running for $7,500. Seriously?!!

All I know is that when my lease expires in a year I’m moving to Gulou.

I’ve never been this broke

My expenses have been out of control this month. On top of a 7,500 kuai ($1,175 USD) deposit, I also had to pay 1,500 kuai ($235) for three months rent, along with another 1,500 kuai for internet for the entire year. While my apartment came furnished, I didn’t have any of the basics like sheets, pillows, cups, plates, etc. so I had to shell out for those as well. I still don’t have any cooking stuff because I can’t afford it right now!

Things have gotten so bad, I had to borrow money from my new job, that will be taken out of my paycheck over the course of the next three months. Not a great way to start out…

My first paycheck for the month of September doesn’t come until the 15th of October, and I’ll only be paid for 3 weeks since I started on the 7th. That’s in addition to the fact I’ll have a few thousand kuai deducted to cover my company loans.

I’m literally surviving on pennies. I have to eat cheap oily noodles, cut out any luxuries, and forgo travel for the National Day holiday. Not only am I $20,000 in dept for my student loans, I’m about $1,000 USD in debt to my company as well. I only have about $80 to my name to get me through the next 15 days. Talk about stressful! My money anxiety is actually out of control.

Haidianhuazhuang

The view from my office window

Tonsilitis… twice

As I was moving to Beijing I came down with a nasty bout of tonsillitis. Within one week I finished my dissertation and moved to Beijing. This was on top of all the goodbye parties and late nights I had with friends. Let’s just say, packing was a struggle considering I could barely get out of bed!

The UNNC doctors put me on antibiotics and I was better in a few days. However, three weeks later I was sick with tonsillitis AGAIN. I actually thought I was going to die, and for one day I ate ice cream for every meal (which really cut into my budget!).

Finally it got to the point where I had to miss work and head to the hospital. The doctor put me on a round of really strong antibiotics, and I was better in about 24 hours. After chatting with my mom, we think that the antibiotics I was given in Ningbo didn’t kill the bacteria, and it resurfaced. The antibiotics they gave me weren’t the right type for tonsillitis (thanks UNNC), and I was only given about half the dose I needed. Unfortunately, the real-deal antibiotics came at a steep price: almost $60!!!

Thankfully I have really good insurance that covers 80% of doctors visits and medication, however I have to wait to be reimbursed. Who knows how long that will take! Since I’m already on a tight budget, that $60 was money I didn’t have to spare.

Beijing 3W coffee

Another coffee shop near my apartment

Getting my tonsils removed… IN CHINA. 

After I explained to the doctor that I’ve had tonsillitis 5 times in the last year, and twice in one month, he said what I’ve been thinking all along: these babies have to go. I basically freaked out and started doing an insane amount of research on the surgery and hospitals.

After talking to my family and spending countless hours on Google, I decided that I’m going to wait for a few months and see if the tonsillitis comes back again. If I get it again in the next few months, I’ll have my tonsils out in the spring when things calm down at work. Apparently I need to take two weeks off!!

Also, Beijing has a lot of really great hospitals, and my insurance covers 100% of surgeries and hospital stays, so I probably won’t be flying home for the surgery. Thankfully I live close enough to the office that people can take care of me. Also, I have 3 coworkers that live in my building that I can call if I need anything.

Beijing Enreach

The office waiting area

Most Popular Post

The most popular post I wrote this month was World Class Diving in Moalboal Philippines. I wrote about my experience scuba diving in one of the world’s most famous dive locations. I saw electric clams, frog fish and dove with giant clouds of sardines. I even made a video!

Best Instagram

Who doesn’t love elephants? My most popular Instagram was taken at Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park.

Have amazing travel photos of your own? Use the hashtag #AdventuresAroundAsia and I’ll feature my favorites on the blog!

Song of the Month

I’ve been obsessed with this new David Guetta song. It’s just so catchy!

What I’m Reading

A Run-In With the Norwegian Mafia– Heart My Backpack

Silvia vents about her struggles with bureaucracy trying to get internet in her Norwegian apartment. When I read this post I was ALSO having an epic internet struggle. This post was a good reminder that beurocratic crap happens everywhere, including developed Northern European countries like Norway.

Why I Cancelled My Trip to the Seychelles an Hour Before My Flight– Never Ending Footsteps

I loved this honest post by Lauren about her most recent anxiety attack and how she needs to slow down . Sometimes I feel guilty for not traveling ever single second I get, but we all have times in life we just need to stop, reassess and stay in one place for a while.

5 Reasons Why We Need to Stop Telling Women They Shouldn’t Travel Alone– Unbrave Girl

“Traveling alone is not that dangerous. Especially when you compare it to other things. Like boyfriends.” More amazing and hilarious insight from Sally about why there are plenty of other things we should be worrying about rather than women who travel on their own.

Coming Up in October 2015

The first week of October I have a whole week off for National Day! Since I’m broke, I’ll be using my time to explore more of Beijing outside of my neighborhood. I’m also babysitting a cat (!!!) for the week. His name is Richard and we’re already best friends.

Mid-October I’ll be heading to Thailand for TBEX!!! This will be my first ever blogger conference, so I’m beyond excited to attend. Anyone else going??

I just moved to Beijing! Here's my experience finding an apartment and getting settled in my new home

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Are you enjoying these monthly recaps? Let me know and I’ll keep them coming :)

Read Next: Take a look at what I was up to last month

Comments

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

24 comments on “This Beijing Life: Month 1

  1. Sounds like a lot of Stress, Richelle! But I’m sure it will all calm down before long and you’ll be able to stash a bit of money away for weekend trips. Settling into a new place is always tough on the wallet. Exciting that you’re enjoying your job, it sounds really rewarding!
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  2. Your new job sounds so great, I love how colorful the office is! And even though it is expensive at least you have a nice place:) Rent is so expensive here in Reykjavik as well, I just saw a posting for a room in a flat that didn’t even include access to the kitchen or a shower for over 500 USD a month, in Iceland! Crazy prices!

    • I’ve been curious, I don’t think I ever saw a post about what your job is in Iceland.. what are you doing over there? haha Yeah, I’ve heard how expensive Iceland can be. Now shower? How does that even work?

  3. i envy you Richelle. You have no idea how much i miss China…Not so envious about your financial situation though…that’s gotta suck :/

    • Yeah I definitely had a conflicting month. Overall, I’m super happy and things couldn’t have gone better, but my financial and health problems have been super stressful for sure.

  4. Working in China sounds rough!I visited it twice (once in Beijing, once in Shanghai) and didn’t find it to be THAT expensive…but I wasn’t paying rent. It seems on par with Seoul here in South Korea rent wise…

    I also used to get tonsillitis a crazy amount of times…your story rings bells. Up your daily doses of vitamins everyday. I haven’t had tonsillitis in over two years :)

    • Yeah… I’m going to see how much of my deposit I lose if I break my lease so I might peace out after 6 months when the rent jumps from 6,500 to 7,500. Even if I lose my whole deposit I’ll still be saving money if I can get something under my stipend somewhere else. That’s good to know about the vitamins though. I’ll see if I can order some online :)

  5. Hey Richelle, glad to hear you’re settling well into Beijing (but definitely your rent is way too expensive!). I’m an expat Beijinger too, just home for the National holidays and looking to renew my travel insurance. Can I ask who you would recommend? Also I’ve been meaning to start a blog myself too and after a bit of research am still lost on which hosting sites to use. Do you know any that are easy to use for a starter? Cheers!

    • Good to know I got screwed! I might break my lease early when rent jumps up after 6 months. Even if I lose my whole deposit I’ll still be saving money.

      As for the travel insurance, I always use World Nomads.It’s not the cheapest insurance in the world, but it covered me no problem when my phone was stolen in Thailand, which is significantly better than all my friends’ travel insurance companies. Most of the big bloggers use and promote them as well (Nomadic Matt, Adventurous Kate, Blonde Abroad etc.)

      In terms of blogging, I actually wrote a post about how to get started if you want to check it out. I go over hosting, design, social media accounts and more. Personally, I use Bluehost which is great for newer bloggers. It’s the best of the cheap hosts, and most people recommend them for those who are just getting started. When you blow up and become famous, then you’ll have to move to a different host (still waiting for that day to come! haha). For now, Bluehost works really well for me :)

  6. For hospitals if you do need your tonsils removed then I recomment Beijing Family United. They’re really great and have been really helpful after I was in a motorbike accident.

    • Good to know! I’m going to wait it out and see if I get tonsillitis again in the next month or two. If I keep getting it consistently then I’ll take them out.

  7. Thanks for linking to my post, Richelle! I really hope you move to that neighbourhood soon. You would love living there. So glad the new job is going well! It sounds really great plus the office (and espresso machine!) are amazing! But I’m sorry to hear about your tonsillitis. I also suffer with that- it started at uni and I would get it every couple of months! But I think in the UK the rule was 7 times in a year so I never had them taken out. It died down but I get it every so often- I had it in Beijing once or twice. I know how awful it is. Hopefully you won’t have to have the surgery but at least you’ll have co workers to look after you. Not sure which insurance you have but if you can go to SOS international al they are amazing! But the most expensive though of course haha! Take care!! Looking forward to the next update!

    • Yeah you make the neighborhood sound so good! I’m going to try to get away with not having my tonsils out. I think I’ll only get them out if it happens one or two more times in the next few months.

  8. Thanks for sharing! I recently landed a job in Beijing and am planning a move from the states within the next month or so. I’ve been desperately looking for blogs with up-to-date articles about life, cost of living, etc. in Beijing and am so glad to have found yours :)

    Do you have any recommendations on how I should go about finding housing? Where should I look or how much I should budget for? This will be my first major trip/move abroad so any advice on making that transition would be much appreciated!

    • Usually a lot of jobs help you find your own housing. Where are you working? My job set me up with a real estate agent. I personally might move to the Gulou area, but it’s up to you! First, figure out where your job is and then you can hire an agent for a cool area near that job. Let me know where your office/school is and I’ll give you a recommendation! As for price, I lived in a shared apartment with my own room in Wudaokou 3 years ago, and I spent about 2,000-3,000 yuan and had my own bedroom, right now I have a studio for 7,000. Prices fluctuate wildly depending on where you live.

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  10. I’m looking through your blog all out of order, so I apologize for the haphazardness of my comments! But wow, what a whirlwind of a month! I’m glad to see that life has gotten a lot better in Month 2 post. That office looks absolutely awesome and your job seems like so much fun! And wow, that apartment is so spacious! I love the wall separation between your bed and the rest of your studio. That sucks though that your real estate agent screwed you over. Maybe he has a connection to the landlords? In any case, I’m glad things have gotten better since Month 1! Hope your tonsillitis doesn’t come back :)

    • Thanks so much Lauren! I have so many posts I wouldn’t suggest you to try to read them all in order (don’t even try to read the stuff from 2012, it’s all horrible!! haha.) Yeah my office and my apartment are really nice, but I definitely need to start getting out of my neighborhood more once I have the energy

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