Life in Beijing

Imperial Beijing has existed since the Western Zhou Dynasty, approximately 1066 B.C. Today China's cosmopolitan capital is synonymous with commerce, glamour, liveliness and fast-paced modernity. Beijingren, as the residents of the capital are known, are proud of their style, sense of humor, courtesy, and culture. People from all over the world gather here to study, do business, to work and to live. Beijing's diversity not only stems from its expat population, but also from the Chinese from all corners of the country who have immigrated to the bustling metropolis. All of China's 56 ethnic groups are represented in Beijing and they've created a dining scene like no other. 

Like most cities in northern China, Beijing enjoys four seasons with cold winter temperatures in January as low as -10C (13F) and hot, muggy summers reaching 32C (90F). Early autumn and late spring are probably the best times to explore the city, when winds from the north help clear the city's air, and temperatures are ideal for exploring the city's outdoor sights.

While Beijing's importance as a government and business center assures that the city is always on the go, the pace is less frenetic than Shanghai. Beijingren enjoy taking time out for walking, kite-flying, or sharing a pot of tea or cup of coffee with a friend. Expats, in particular, congregate in the Sanlitun and Houhai areas, and there's a lively student scene around Haidian: these neighborhoods are dotted with Chinese and Western restaurants from just about every corner of the world. International food choices run the gamut from Italian to French, from Indian to Mexican. The same thing can be said about the capital's Chinese restaurants-you will find every kind of cuisine from around China represented. The most expensive and luxurious of Beijing's restaurants serve Imperial Court Food, once reserved only for the members of the dynastic royal family. 

Beijing's shopping streets are too numerous to list; some of the most-visited include Wangfujing, Dongdanbei, Dongsi, Longfusi, Xidan, Qianmen and Xiushui Alley, Women's Street, Dazhalan Street and Liulichang Cultural Street. These streets offer all the domestic and international brand-names you'd expect, but knock-offs at markets like Yaxiu and Silk Street Market are probably even more popular. If you can't find anything in your size, professional tailors and seamstresses can be found just about every neighborhood. Just take a picture of what you want, and they will make it for you.

Western ingredients are not difficult to find in Beijing. Stores like Carrefour, Wal-Mart, Trust Mart, April Gourmet and Jenny Lou's will have the cheeses, cereals, coffees, pasta and other food you're craving. In fact, in areas with high concentrations of Westerners, many neighborhood markets will offer them as well.
There are many hospitals and clinics that provide services to foreigners. Some of the best known include:
Beijing SOS International Clinic, Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinic and Beijing Friendship Hospital. Many more listings can be found in our International Hospitals category. Expat community forums offer advice about which hospital or clinic offers the most economical services. Similary, international schools are abundant in Beijing for everyone from kindergarteners to college students. Many international schools follow Western curricula and employ Western teachers.

Taxi fares in Beijing begin at RMB 10 for the first 3 km and RMB 2 for each additional km. The budget-conscious will want to take time to learn the bus routes (RMB 1 or RMB 2, depending on distance). The subway system (RMB 2) will get you to within walking distance of most places in the city center, and is undergoing a massive expansion as part of Beijing's preparation for the 2008 Olympics. In late 2007 a new line, Line 5, was opened, and several more are scheduled to open before the games commence.

Since 2001, when Beijing was selected as the site for the 2008 Olympics, housing prices have skyrocketed. Search the web and you'll find many English-speaking realtors that for a fee will help you find a place that fits your budget. As of 2006, a one-bedroom fixer-upper cost approximately RMB 1267/mo; a mid-range, one-bedroom apartment about RMB 3000/mo; a luxurious apartment equipped with Roman bathtub, central air, and a swimming pool and gym on premises might start at $10,000 USD/mo.