I’ve been planning this post for a couple of weeks, as I wanted to write about adapting to life in Beijing. For the reader, sorry it took so long for an update. I remember going back every week to check on a Beijing Blog to see if there was any new updates, when I was in my “research Beijing” phase.
I’m Chinese by race, so while my Mandarin is on the poor side, it can still get by. People here seem to expect Singaporeans as an “Asia” person, so they are always surprised when we speak Chinese, albeit poorly. They will always ask where we are from and will praise our poor Mandarin as “quite good”! I still converse with my family in English when we are out. While it earns us a few curious stares, it also helps prep the locals to be more forgiving when we try to express ourselves in Mandarin.
Despite the horrific PSI reports we always hear about Beijing, hazy days are actually a lot more tolerable than in Singapore. It’s not that it happens often, but more that the weather is more friendly. There isn’t the “end of the world in Sahara desert” kind of feeling, nor do the plants parch up and turn yellow, nor the sun shine through a doomsday orange filter – unlike in Singapore. Skies are still blue. Trees are still green. Weather is still cool or warm or whatever that day’s forecasted temperature is. The only difference is that the visibility is more blurred. There isn’t even any charred, acrid, awful smell like back home during those hellish months. No one is going to cough more and choke if we actually forget to don the mask for a couple of minutes (though I would never recommend it). Life is not affected much, not because we are used to it, but it doesn’t create as much a bother as it does in Singapore. We are just more mindful to don or masks when necessary.
Humidity is low here, so we don’t perspire as easily either. Infrared is horrible though. I went out in 27 degrees the other day in a black and white raglan tee. My black covered shoulders felt sunburnt compared to the rest of me. That was the first time I realise the truth of the common saying – “black absorb heat”.
The crux of all Singaporeans’ existence. Food.
Initially it will seem as though everything here is 麻辣 (ma2 la4). That’s numb + spicy. It can get very sian (boring+ no interest) after a while seeing mala everywhere, but as you go on, your eyes will adapt beyond seeing those words and you will discover other food. For example, halal restaurants that look nothing like those in Singapore. They are called 清真 (qing3 zhen1). They look like regular Chinese restaurants and usually have a kebab grill window that looks like a takeaway counter at the restaurant’s outwards-facing wall. Their traditional noodles 传统拉面 are actually noodles served in a light beef broth, few tiny beef cubes and lots of spring onion and parsley. Very delicious. Must try. If you’re not as adventurous, there are lots of Japanese, Korean, Western and other food options available as well.
If you feel homesick, fret not. “Singapore” is very popular here. Just google for any Capital Mall 凯德Mall (there are several of the same name + location combo) on Baidu, or visit the Raffles City (also owned by them) and you will see plenty of familiar brand names in the mall! Awfully Chocolate, Toast Box, Breadtalk, Bee Cheng Hiang, Charles and Keith, and even DBS bank to name a few. Local food such as Chicken Rice and Laksa can surely be found in a restaurant or Toast Box within the mall. Newer local malls such as Grand Pacific Mall at Xidan, have Singapore restaurant City Garden, serving Chilli Crabs. Yuet Da Sing at Raffles City also serves up Tian Tian Chicken Rice and Katong Laksa, plus some other “famous foods” that I myself have never heard of.
When I first ate the McDonalds here, I wasn’t able to get chilli sauce with my fries. It can be quite boring eating fries without the garlic chilli sauce. Just like when we had KFC and no sweet chilli sauce. We never gave up asking though, as I could not believe that a nation that ate 麻辣 mala could do without any. I was finally rewarded two weeks ago with this. And yesterday, with the mcD’s! So all along they had it but our words were just not the same or they didn’t understand our request.
Have money can buy:
Real chilli can be found at the fresh market. They carry small red chilli, though nothing as spicy as our chilli padi. While small in size, their spiciness level is only as good as our large red chilli. They carry large green chilli, twice or thrice as large as our large green or red chilli back home. These are good for making basic preserved chilli in vinegar.
To reassure those who plan to start packing bottles of their favourite chilli sauce along, actually these can be bought in supermarkets as well. Bottled. Maybe not Sinsin brand but Maggi or something. I’ve seen brands such as Singlong, Amoy, Ayam, with types like garlic chilli, sambal and even sambal terasi. There’s even a dedicated section at Carrefour called ‘imported goods’. BHG marketplace is like our Jason’s or Tanglin Marketplace, catering to imported foods. There are small outfit chains such as Jenny Wang and Jenny Lou catering to expat needs as well, though I have not seen Maggi Curry noodles at any of the mentioned yet. Thankfully, for everything else, there’s Taobao (throw sparkly stars effect).
I think that’s all for now. If I think of anything else, I’ll add to this post.