Many of my lovely readers are now arriving in Beijing. Welcome! Now that you are here, I thought I would let you in on a few (any more would add to the overwhelming state you may be in) things you must try to do immediately to help with your first few weeks here. These are things that I acquired from great helpers or found on my own...probably the hard way. Note: all expats lives in Beijing are different, so some of these may not apply to your situation. For example, if you have a driver (jealous!) you can disregard a few right off the bat.
As always, comment or email me with any questions you have!
Beijing Taxi Guide: If you are like me, my main source of transportation is walking, taxis, subways...and occasionally the bus. Taxi drivers in Beijing do not read PinYin. Some do not even read maps. The cards you get at restaurants or hotels are too tiny for them to read...so this book is worth it's weight in gold. It is around 50 RMB and you can pick it up at JennyLou's. It has almost everywhere you will ever want to go your first month here. Expect to visit Ikea more than once to help set up your new house.
iphone Maps App: I realize that many of you may not use an iPhone. Or if you do, it is tricky to get it to work in China (a whole other post). Getting your iPhone up and running is something that is very, very worth it!
There are many things that will help you on your iPhone, especially the Maps app that is already there. If you click on "directions", your current location will be your start point, put in wherever you want to go. The really cool part is at the top. Click the bus icon and it will tell you exactly how to get there on the bus (bus numbers, how far to walk to transfer, etc). If you are walking, click the man walking icon and it will give you the most direct walking path with time estimations. I've even been in a taxi and used the car icon, just to make sure we were headed in the right direction. It is also handy to be able to tell your drive where to turn. Surprisingly, this app is very accurate in Beijing!
The iPhone is also really handy for google translate, but be careful on phrases. It is a literal translation and, most of the time, phrases will not make sense in mandarin. Stick to using this for words only and characters.
Find A Network: Moving anywhere, especially a big foreign city, is very isolating! It can be exceptionally difficult for the expat spouse. Let's face it, our kids go to school and our spouse goes to work and we...do everything else! You may find yourself, for the first time in a long time, having to make friends from scratch! Check out this blog! Matt and Kara, although I've never met them, have helped me so much. They have free downloads and newcomers seminars. Kara even will do one-on-one consulting where she can show you around the city and help get you acclimated to your area. Amazing!
There is lots of support out there for you. Here are some links!
The Beijinger is a magazine with a great online forum for expats. We always check here first for questions.
Beijing Cafe is a yahoo group for expats. If you like lots of emails, this is for you. I am a part of it and a lot doesn't apply to me because I live in the city. I think many members live in Shunyi. I have heard the wait to be "accepted" can be a long time.
Churches, despite what people may think, are alive and well here in Beijing. My church network has been one thing that has been crucial to my sanity! Here is another option. If you have a specific denomination you are looking for, google it. You just may find it. Churches do function under guidelines from the Chinese government. More questions, ask me.
Learning key phrases: If you are like me, I was petrified to learn another language! But don't fret, I am not telling you to go out and find a chinese teacher...yet (if you need a good one, I have one). But learning just a few key phrases will drastically improve your life from day one.
1. Learn how to say your home in Chinese. Better yet, find a popular attraction right near your home, and learn how to say that. Ours is a tiny street that every single taxi driver knows because foreigners go there to buy furs. Yours may be a park or subway station or embassy. Trust me on this one. It is a relief when you at least know you can get home from anywhere in the city.
2. Learn how to say "left turn", "right turn", "go straight", and "please stop here". I would write them here but I don't know how to do PinYin on my Mac and you may not know what the little tone lines mean yet anyway. Once a taxi driver hears you speak the tiniest bit of mandarin, your chances of a successful ride go up!
Are you overwhelmed yet? If not, read on...
if so, stop here and come back later :)
Order food delivery from a few different places: You see, when you order from a place once they keep your address in their system. It is very helpful for you to know your building or compound name in Chinese. I love that almost every single restaurant delivers! It is perfect for those hectic nights or those nights that are TOO cold to go out (trust me, they are coming). It is so much cheaper for us to go out than to cook (if you have an ayi I am jealous again). We order in at least once a week and the only place that was a nightmare, and never did find us, was Papa John's pizza. It works out because there is so much better pizza here in Beijing! (Gung Ho is my fave)
Develop thick skin: Looking back, much of my stress of those first few months was because I felt insecure, frustrated and sometimes just plain stupid. Taxi drivers will scoff at you, maybe even kick you out of their taxi (it happened to us a handful of times). Market workers will grab and touch you. People will cut in front of you in lines. EVERYONE will stare at you. It will get better! Once you get used to it and learn that they really are not intending to be rude (okay, maybe sometimes the taxi drivers are) you will learn to love the people here. Try to look at all of the people who do admire you and help you daily and don't dwell on the one instance where someone didn't.
Like always, I could go on and on...I won't...for now.