This Beijing Life: Month 16

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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!

Christmas Enreach

Merry Christmas from China!

Yes, I know the month is half over. But you know what? I was busy!

I considered abandoning writing this December review altogether, especially considering I gave you all a yearly review already, but then I realized I’d be giving up on the one thing I do on this blog with actual consistency.

So, here we are! At least December was interesting.

Where I Went

I stayed in Beijing the whole month of December right up until the last few days where I took a flight home to Seattle!

Highlights

Tai Bai Mountain

Wonder why it took so long…

1. So… I’m No Longer Single

Yeah, THAT happened.

Remember that one time I published an article about my quarter-life crisis and had a job and a plan just one month later? Well, I guess all I need to do is publish a viral article on Huffington Post and Matador Network about how travel is ruining my love life, and then the sexy traveling men come running!

If you read my writing with any consistency (or follow my Snapchat), I’m sure you know exactly who I’m dating. If not, you’ll figure it out when I head to Sumatra with him in two weeks.

So, what’s changing now that I have an actual real relationship and not just 3-6 month casual flings? Well, we’re going to write a couples blog together!!!

… Just kidding.

Pretty much nothing with change except for the fact that I’ll be going on my annual Chinese New Year trip with him instead of solo. There will probably also be less self-deprecating jokes about my 5-year single cat lady status.

Edmonds

Edmonds Washington on a rare clear day

2. I Went Home to Seattle

At the very, very end of the month, I headed home to Seattle for the New Year. Since I wasn’t allowed to go home for Christmas, my family had a fake Christmas for me (on January 1st, I’m a cheater!) where we ate Thanksgiving food and exchanged gifts from me and one of my aunts who was sick and wasn’t able to make the real Christmas celebration.

I’ll spill more Seattle details in my next monthly recap (in two weeks) since most of the fun stuff happened in January. But I will say that it was so nice to go home! The air was fresh and crisp (and not polluted), and it was great to see my family and a few friends after such a long time apart.

As usual, I kept forgetting I could drink water from the sink and flush toilet paper. I also had trouble sleeping on my bed because it was too soft. #ChinaProblems.

Houhai

Wandering Houhai Lake

3. My Sexy Man Came to Visit Beijing

Okay, I’ll stop.

But in all seriousness, after almost two months of not seeing each other, a quick visit in December was a great boost to my busy work life. We exchanged Christmas gifts, tried out my favorite restaurants, and had a great time despite the cold and pollution.

My favorite day was probably the one where I took him on a little self-guided hutong tour. After a morning brunch with all of my roommates at Cafe Zarah, I took him to Houhai lake. While unfortunately, it wasn’t frozen enough to ice skate on yet, we walked around the whole lake and even saw people swimming in the freezing water!

Then I took him to my favorite cat cafe for a quick coffee and a hutong Christmas market filled with vendors selling mulled wine, jewelry, locally made products and some pretty awesome homemade peppermint chapstick. Afterward, we ate dinner at my favorite Sichuan restaurant, Zhang Mama, and had alcoholic pie shakes (yes they are as good as they sound) for dessert at Rager Pie!

Enreach Beijing

An EPIC seafood dinner!

4. Office Christmas Party

With admissions season being very intense, having a fun little Christmas party was exactly what I needed! We did an office Secret Santa where I was tasked with finding a gift for a young Chinese coworker. I know she has a penchant for good Baijiu (strong Chinese liquor), so of course, I gifted her a bottle!

She absolutely freaked out, trying to figure out who gave her the gift. My coworkers had a great time teasing her, telling her the head boss gave it to her. Eventually, she discovered it was me after a day of accusing all the coworkers.

In addition to cake and pizza for lunch, the head boss took all the college counselors out for a fantastic seafood dinner. We ordered a giant platter of delicious lobster, crabs, shrimp, crayfish, regular fish and more. We made a pretty good dent, but we definitely needed at least two more people to finish it off!

After an awkward and tense last few months at work, the Christmas party and seafood dinner smoothed things over a bit. We also got to celebrate getting a kid into Princeton! While he wasn’t one of my students, I did spend 5+ hours coaching him for his admissions interview, so it was great to get a shoutout from my manager when he got in. At least I know I’m kind of valued!

Enreach Beijing

Me not crying in the office on Christmas

Challenges

1. Not Going Home For Christmas

Like I said last month, I wasn’t allowed to go home for Christmas due to the whims of my boss and manager and rules that didn’t make any sense. While I was perfectly fine working Christmas eve (seriously, it was a slow day), and spending the evening watching a movie while munching on a Turkey and mashed potato pie from Rager Pie (and a pecan pie for desert!), the pity I got from others was really annoying.

It felt like everyone was absolutely shocked I couldn’t go home, especially since I was one of the only ones. All of my roommates flew home, except one, and pretty much all of my foreign coworkers too.

Every student who came to the office was shocked to find me there. Every Chinese person I encountered that weekend asked me why I wasn’t going home. People assumed I at least should have some grand Christmas dinner at one of the foreign restaurants, or a potlatch with all my friends.

Well, you know what people? I had no friends to hang out with on Christmas and I was FINE WITH IT. I didn’t even mind looking at everyone’s Christmas pictures and snaps on social media. I just wanted everyone to stop pitying me and let me enjoy my Christmas pies and massage in peace.

Enreach Beijing

and we celebrated with a lot of seafood

2. The End of Admissions Season

IT’S OVER.

US college admissions season is finally over. All of the millions of essays and stress are OVER. This should be in my “Highlights” section, but since admissions season lasted until January 1st (with a second deadline for some schools on January 15th), I don’t officially get to celebrate until my next monthly recap.

Last month was pretty stressful getting everything done, and I wanted to bang my head on my keyboard more than once. I had students changing their intended major half-way through a 200-word essay (SERIOUSLY??). I had kids giving me 800-word essays for a prompt that only allowed 450 words. I even had to edit a recommendation letter from a parent about her son (?!) which is NOT in my job description. She just needed help getting it down from over 1,000 words to 600. At least she loves her kid?

3. Absolutely Horrifying Pollution

What’s new? We had a 3-day red alert in Beijing, which meant that all the schools were closed… but I still had to go to work! The WHO recommends PM2.5 levels stay under 50, but for a Red Alert in Beijing, the pollution forecast needs to be 300+ for 4 consecutive days.

Guess how high the pollution was in Beijing? BETWEEN 600-800!!!!

At least it wasn’t as bad as surrounding Hebei province, that had some cities with pollution over 1,000! Let’s just say I lived in my pollution mask and had my air purifiers on constantly. I also developed excruciating headaches, but now I’ve discovered the headaches are actually from me needing new glasses (I think).

Cafe Zarah

A giant roomie brunch!

My Most Popular Post

You all seemed to really love my post on eating like a local in Beijing’s hutongs. I absolutely love Chinese food, and the hutongs, so a hutong food tour was right up my alley. It was so fun to discover all of these incredible places to eat right near my apartment, and I loved being able to share all of them with you!

Best Instagram

Just when I was starting to run out of decent photos of myself, an angel in the form of my friend Sarah delivered a bunch of cute shots of me in Vietnam. This photo of me temple hopping in Hue Vietnam was the post popular!

Song of the Month

For those of you who watch my Snapchat, this song might sound a little familiar. I started most of my Seattle snap stories with this one and I’ve had a lot of people ask about it. Thank god for Spotify Discover!

What I’m Reading

This last month I read 1.5 books and a manuscript for a book my friend is writing! Here’s my take on the two books you can actually buy and read.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those “school books” I should’ve read growing up but never did. But when I discovered Hulu is making a tv version with Elisabeth Moss as the lead, I figured I should probably get around to reading the book.

The Handmaid’s tale is INCREDIBLE, and it’s by far the best book I read this year. A patriarchal totalitarian Christian dystopia, this book really made me understand what it must be like to live as a woman under the Taliban or ISIS. The story centers around Offred, a woman who grew up in modern New York and experienced the Gilead revolution.

Separated from her husband and daughter whilst trying to escape to Canada, Offred becomes a “handmaid”. Due to a nasty strain of syphilis, most of the population is infertile, so handmaids are given to the commanders to help them bear children. Not a concubine or even a sexual object, Offred’s sole purpose is to help repopulate the world.

Seriously, everyone should read this book and then watch the show when it comes out!

cat cafe beijing

Who needs babies when there are cat cafes?

2. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding- Kristin Newman

I’m not quite finished with this book yet, but I’m already obsessed! Written by a screenwriter for shows like How I Met Your Mother and The Neighbors, Newman chronicles her comedic and romantic travel adventures for the last decade and a half.

After spending all of her 20’s in serious relationships, Kristin takes her 30-something commitment phobia to a new level, having wild, sexy, and hilarious adventures abroad. I actually can’t put this book down!

Houhai Lake Beijing

Hello Houhai!

The Best Blog Posts

Here are my absolute favorite blog posts of the month!

Six Ways Living Abroad Made me a Worse Person– Matador Network

I really enjoyed this post by Isabelle Sudron on Matador because it’s so relatable! As an expat, sometimes it’s hard not to fall into the trap of not learning the language, only associating with other expats, basking in unknown privilege, and judging your friends back home. I consistently work not to fall into these traps, but sometimes it can be hard!

Asia is Not Your Dumping Ground– Adventurous Alexis

I see this less in China (Chinese people kind of treat their own country like a dumping ground), but I encounter this phenomenon a lot in Southeast Asia. Entitled backpackers and tourists arrive and drink themselves sick, refuse to respect the culture, experiment with illegal drugs, dress inappropriately, and trash pristine beaches.

Southeast Asia might be like a Disneyland for adults but it’s also home to many people with way less privilege than you. When you visit someone else’s’ house, you respect it.

Cafe Zarah

Enjoying latte and a pasta at Cafe Zarah

How Moving to Mexico Helped My Family Cut Bills by 55%– Tim Leffel

Shocked? I’m not.

Every time I go home people still don’t understand why I’m living and working in China. They see the smog and the culture difference and assume I’m sacrificing a lot to live here. But I feel the same way when I see my friends cutting coupons back home.

People are shocked when I explain how I’ve saved almost $20,000 USD in 1.5 years without even really trying. I live in downtown Beijing in a pretty nice apartment (with 5 roommates… hey, rent is expensive!), I eat out, I get $5 coffees and drink craft beer or nice cocktails at hidden hutong bars. I travel to places like Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines during my holiday breaks. I take taxis whenever I feel like it, and I even have a bi-weekly maid.

Sure I have to wear a mask a few weeks out of the year, but I have a pretty great life in Beijing!

This Beijing Life

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What’s Happening in January 2017?

Well, January is already half over, but it’s going to be a great month! I got to spend the first half of it home in Seattle, and now I’m back in Beijing for just a week and a half. Chinese New Year is early this year, so at the end of the month, I’ll be heading to Sumatra Indonesia! This will be my first time in Indonesia and I’m so excited!

While most people go to Bali, I just didn’t quite feel like going to a touristy island. I don’t know why, but I just never found Bali super appealing. I would go live there for a few months as a digital nomad, but I wanted to go somewhere a bit off the beaten path this time around.

I went to Thailand but skipped Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. I went to Cambodia and spent only 2 hours in Sihanoukville oh the way to Koh Rong. I visited the Philippines and skipped Boracay in favor of Siargao and Siquijor… I guess you can say it’s a pattern.

Happy New Year Everyone! How was your December?

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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.

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