Censorship, crazy drivers and hidden hotspots are all part of teaching in Beijing.
Angie and Steve were having a going-away party. But I had no idea where they were going away to.
Right as we said our goodbyes, I hugged Angie and asked, "By the way, where are you guys moving?"
"Lima, Peru" she replied.
"Oh my god! I want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu so bad!"
"We're planning a trip. You should come!"
"I will!" I declared.
And I did.
And we've followed Angie and Steve around the world, planning trips with them, including the Ankor Wat complex in Cambodia, when they were living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Now they're teaching in Beijing, China, so I decided to see what it's like to be an American expat there. Here’s what Angie had to say. –Wally
What’s your favorite thing about Beijing?
I love the expat community we live in. Living in Beijing can be tough, but we live and work with some really great people.
The facilities at the school we work at are also really amazing, so it's easy to do all you need to do before you go home at the end of the day.
Least favorite thing?
Chinese drivers. We aren't allowed to drive a car, which puts us at the mercy of everyone.
I have a little tuk-tuk I drive the five minutes to work every day, and the subway is about a 10-minute drive away, so it's usually okay.
What’s the craziest thing the Chinese do?
In general, I find Chinese people to be oblivious. They walk into the street without looking and will run you over if they are lucky enough to have a car.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten there?
I'm not a very adventurous eater, so this isn't really the best question for me. We tend to eat mostly at home or at a few of the Western restaurants that are around.
Have you experienced any instances of censorship or authoritarian government?
Everything here is censored.
Through my job and the really expensive direct line internet they pay for, I have access to almost anything. But outside of that, you're really limited. I can't even get Google Maps without using a VPN, and that’s hit or miss, depending on the day.
It seems to get worse depending on what is going on. Any special holiday or celebration, and everything will be locked down tight.
This is definitely not the place for you if you can't live without Facebook!
Most useful Mandarin phrase?
Duōshǎo qián? How much is that?
If you know that and your numbers, you can at least go shopping!
What do the Chinese think about Americans?
I've found my interactions with Chinese people to be mostly positive. The language is a big barrier, but if you can get past that, they're open and friendly.
Best secret spot in Beijing?
The hutongs: hidden areas of old Beijing, where you might find a tiny Korean taco fusion joint next door to an old Chinese family doing laundry.