Monthly Archives: November 2019

Hùtōngs: Greetings from Beijing! (九)


感恩节快乐 (gǎn’ēn jié kuàilè)! (Happy Thanksgiving!)

Note: internet has been extra problematic recently; I thought I posted this on Thanksgiving, but it only decided to go through today (still has a 12/28 time stamp). Fun!

~ Today’s Mandarin Lesson ~
character: 九 | pinyin: jiǔ | definition: nine | pronunciation: geeoh
character: 胡同 | pinyin: hùtōng | definition: alley; lane | pronunciation: hootong
character: 商店 | pinyin: shāngdiàn | definition: shop; store | pronunciation: shangdeeyen

I’d to like to talk a little about hutongs, as they are an integral part of Beijing and we’ve finally gotten around to checking out a few.

First, what are they? Directly translated, a hutong is a lane or alley. Physically, they are formed by traditional courtyard compounds – walls, more or less – lining both sides. In terms of width, they can range from a petite 40 centimeters to 10 meter mammoths. There is no rhyme or reason to their layout; they can be ramrod straight, curvy, or a mess of turns.

Hutongs are much more than all of that, though. Each one has it’s own personality, making them fun to explore. Some are residential and easy to get lost in while others cater more to the public and are lined with bars, restaurants, food stalls, and various shops.

Thus far, I have bopped around two of the more popular ones: Wudaoying (with Kyle) and Nanluoguxiang (on my own).

Wudaoying is considered hip and popular with young Western expats; probably why it was recommended to Kyle. It’s known for shopping, sightseeing, teahouses, and restaurants. We spent an afternoon walking in and out of shops, eating tasty food, warming up with mulled wine, and we even crafted hot toddies at a cat cafe. Overall, it was a very nice time.

A gargoyle keeping watch over the Wudaoying hutong.
One of the cats (I think a Scottish Fold mix) at the L’infusion cat cafe. As you can see, he has claimed this humans coat. It is now his. Furever.

Nanluoguxiang is the “most famous of the gentrified hutongs”. I spent my Thanksgiving afternoon and evening here as I had the day off work and the weather/air was nice (unfortunately, Kyle had classes). It is said to be best visited at night for the plentiful pop-up bars, places to eat, and micro-breweries. I definitely had some good snacks but didn’t find out about the micro-brewery scene until afterwards… looks like I’ll just have to go back. I also plan on having Kyle come with me so we can try the more uhh… interesting snacks (see photo).

“Interesting snacks”: scorpions, tarantulas, sea horses, centipedes, starfish, and other creepy crawlies.
Gate at the Nanluoguxiang Hutong entrance.

There are many more hutongs left to explore, and we definitely won’t be able to see them all. Beijing as I may have mentioned, is a humongous and sprawling city. Per my research I’ve settled on a few others I will try to hit before leaving, so stay tuned!


Pollution Predicament: Greetings from Beijing! (八)



~ Today’s Mandarin Lesson ~
character: 八 | pinyin: bā | definition: eight | pronunciation: bah
character: 好 | pinyin: hǎo | definition: good | pronunciation: how
character: 很 | pinyin: hěn | definition: very | pronunciation: hen

I’ve had a handful of people ask about the pollution over here as it is widely known to be a problem. I’m sad to say these are not rumors, although it’s not quite as bad as I had anticipated. Let’s call it a DEFCON4, sometimes a 3.

Basically, we have good and we have bad periods. There have been entire days where I need to wear my menacing mask whenever I step outside, but that is rare. More often, there are periods throughout a day where the pollution will be bad enough to warrant a mask, usually late at night. During those times I don’t go out unless it’s necessary. I can say that it is quite ominous when you can actually see the pollution lingering in the air. Eep.

We watch our air quality app (AirVisual) like hawks, which gives a reading for the current moment as well as predictions for the rest of the day and the upcoming days. It’s pretty highly regarded, so I take it at face value. It’s the first thing I check when I wake up. I also take my inhaler every morning as a precautionary measure, something I only do back home when I’m sick.

Some screenshots of our AirVisual app showing the fluctuations of Beijing air quality.

Mornings are better on average, which works for me since that is when I’m outside commuting to class. There is some correlation with wind: more wind = less pollution hanging about. I’ve been told the pollution also gets worse during colder weather due to indoor heating systems being turned on, but I can’t say for sure on that front.

We have a big air purifier in our apartment that I always keep on, so the air I breath most is clean and my asthmatic lungs are satisfied. I’m lucky and work from home, so I don’t have to leave if air quality isn’t great. Unfortunately, Kyle doesn’t have the same luxury. I recently discovered that the classrooms don’t have air purifiers, which I find appalling; same goes for their offices. There’s a professor here who has been pushing for getting them in all the classrooms, but no dice. So, she lugs her purifier back and forth. I would probably be that level crazy, too — though is it actually crazy? I think not.

I can attest that pollution headaches are a thing. I very rarely get headaches, but there was one instance where quality was bad – though not the worst we’ve seen – and I didn’t wear my mask to grab dinner. About 30 minutes later I had a doozy of a headache. Kyle also had one after spending a few hours in his office with the window open on a bad pollution day (his office mate – a Beijing native – opened it, and yes I scolded him for not saying something). Other than that, I haven’t noticed any symptoms, but again, we are pretty proactive.

In case you were curious to see the mask IRL, here’s a snippet of a video I sent to one of my fave humans.

It blows my mind how so few locals wear masks, and those that do are the ones you see in hardware stores or in surgery rooms… i.e. not airtight and they definitely don’t filter out the smaller pollution particles.

When quality is good, I have all the windows open despite the cold to get as much fresh air as possible into the apartment. I’ve always been an outdoorsy person and value clean air, but you bet yer ass it’s not something I’m going to take for granted after this stint.

I think that’s all on the subject? If you’ve got any questions, holler at me or post below so everyone else can see the answer. xx

Peking Duck: Greetings from Beijing! (七)



~ Today’s Mandarin Lesson ~
character: 七 | pinyin: qī | definition: seven | pronunciation: chee
character: 北京 | pinyin: běijīng | definition: Beijing (China’s capital city) | pronunciation: bayjing
character: 吃 | pinyin: chī | definition: to eat | pronunciation: chee

On Saturday night, Kyle and I decided to check off one of the items from our “must do while in Beijing” list. In this instance, the goal was to try Peking duck.

In case you are unaware, Peking (‘Peking’ is an older spelling of ‘Beijing’) duck is a famous dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era (aka a very long time). The meat is known for its thin and crispy skin and if you go to the right spot, the cook slices it for you next to the table.

I am a very research oriented individual and came to Beijing with a laundry list of things to do and places to see (mostly food or drink related). There were a few places on my list known for exceptional Peking duck, so I took my data and cross-referenced it with some locally sourced reviews. We landed on Beijing Da Dong, a highly regarded restaurant that had the benefit of being an easy subway commute from our place.

Let me tell you, this place was fancy! They fitted our coats with seat covers for optimum comfort and gave us warm hand towels upon sitting down. As I mentioned in a previous post, the food in Beijing is absurdly affordable, so despite dining at a “$$$$, Michelin star quality” restaurant and ordering a few dishes plus a bottle of wine, we paid a total of $120. Crazy, right?! You won’t see me complaining.

Our fancy table setting, complete with some adorable chopstick holders.

Now, the duck. I very rarely eat it; partially because my family used to have two pet ducks – one of which I hatched in biology class – which makes me a little queasy and partially because it’s always been too rich and fatty for my tastes. This Peking duck, though, was phenomenal. The skin was reminiscent of crispy candy that gives bacon a serious run for its money. It was also a unique experience seeing it carved table-side.

The tasty goods.

The way to eat Peking duck is also unique: you wrap the slices of meat and skin up in a thin crepe with varying sides, such as spring onions, cucumbers, cantaloupe, mushrooms, hoisin sauce, and sugar crystals. It was a very cool and tasty experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting the area! We plan on going at least once more before we head home; it was that good.

Until next time. xx

Touristy Things: Greetings from Beijing! (六)



~ Today’s Mandarin Lesson ~
character: 六 | pinyin: liù | definition: six | pronunciation: leeoh
character: 地铁 | pinyin: dìtiě | definition: subway | pronunciation: deetyeah
character: 天 | pinyin: tiān | definition: sky/heaven | pronunciation: tyen

Last weekend, Kyle and I took a private tour of some of the big tourist attractions in Beijing. We normally don’t go for private tours, but this one taught you how to use the Beijing subway system; a big draw for us. To our surprise, all of the stops show the character and pinyin, and some stations even announce things in English! We now regularly use the subway, making life a lot easier. I take it every morning for my commute to class.

The places we visited were: Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City. Below are some photos we took while playing tourist. Enjoy!

The Temple of Heaven was visited annually by Emperors for ceremonies of prayer for good harvest.
Theses colors and painting style are common throughout Beijing; I find it super pretty!
At 44 hectares, Tiananmen Square is huge! It can hold up to 1 million people.
Within the walls of the Forbidden City. Another monstrosity located at the core of Beijing. Previously a palace for Emperors, but since their eviction is now open to the public.
I’ve got a fascination with the Chinese lion statues, and these did not disappoint!

Stay weird, loves. xx

Getting Learnt: Greetings from Beijing! (五)



~ Today’s Mandarin Lesson ~
character: 五 | pinyin: wǔ | definition: five | pronunciation: woo
character: 好 | pinyin: hǎo | definition: good | pronunciation: how
character: 学生 | pinyin: xuéshēng | definition: student | pronunciation: shwayshung

Exciting news: I have begun taking Mandarin lessons!

I love languages, and try to learn as much of the mother tongue as possible for any area I visit. It’s been a challenge living in a country where very few people speak English, turning normally menial tasks into daunting ones.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting a better handle on this language that is totally different from my own. Classes meet for 7.5 hours each week, so hopefully by the time I come back to the states I will have enough skills to converse successfully with a toddler. Wish me luck 🙂

Now, for your reading pleasure, here are some more interesting things I’ve learned about China whilst residing here.

  • They. Love. Plastic. The extent of which single use plastic is consumed here is actually terrifying. I truly don’t think locals understand this is a problem, which frightens me further. Now, I admit I am on the extreme other end of the spectrum – I use beeswax wrap instead of plastic, have washable neoprene snack bags, wipe off tinfoil to use again, keep reusable bags in my car, you get the picture – but over here it is obscene. Reusable shopping bags are not a thing, and the first time we asked a store clerk to put goods in our tote, we were regarded as if we had sprouted tentacles from our eyeballs. We have been rinsing and reusing the plastic bags forced upon us, and they definitely think we are weird Americans, but oh well. Kyle plans on starting a discussion about this during one of his Environmental Economics classes and I am extremely proud.


  • Food is phenomenal. I really love food in general, but in Beijing it is delicious and SO CHEAP… and we’re living in the capital! Later I will do an entire post dedicated to the epicness that is cuisine over here (spoiler alert: “chinese” food in the U.S. is a joke), so I won’t go into specifics now. To get an idea about cost though, we spend less than $5 on average for both of us for any given meal where we live. The most expensive meal we’ve had so far was a “$$$$, Michelin star quality” extremely fancy restaurant – they put seat covers over our coats and gave us hot hand towels before the meal – and we spent $120, total. It’s worth noting that we also ordered a bottle of nice wine. We dine like kings on the budgets of peasants. It rules!!


  • Physical activity is important (and funny). This should be a no-brainer, but the sad truth is that back in the states, not many people take this seriously. Over here, regular physical activity is the norm, but their workouts are also kind of hilarious. My office window overlooks the campus track, field, and fitness area, and it gives me immense pleasure to watch the locals do their daily exercises. The idea of running in workout clothes hasn’t really caught on, so you see a lot of people running in their puffy winter coats and jeans; some people are even in full-on business attire. They also do some strange group activities that are too bizarre to put into words, and the kung fu and karate chops are just how you see in the movies. As much as I like to poke fun, I really do admire their habits.

As a sign off, here is a picture of a plant Kyle bought for our place. We can’t bring it back home due to custom regulations, but Kyle really loves it, so if anyone is able to identify it, please let me know so I can buy him a new one when we get back! Also note the green space outside the window, that’s the track/field.

Park Explorations: Greetings from Beijing! (四)


你们好 my darlings –

~ Today’s Mandarin Lesson ~
character: 四| pinyin: sì | definition: 4 | pronunciation: se
character: 们 | pinyin: men | definition: plural marker for nouns (i.e. we, you all, them) | pronunciation: men
character: 公园 | pinyin: gōngyuán | definition: park | pronunciation: goongyewen

I was told Beijing winter’s are pretty terrible, so Kyle and I took advantage of the nice weather the first weekend I was in the city to hit some outdoors tourist attractions. Below are some highlights. Enjoy! xx

A view of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park (23 hectares) in the heart of Beijing.
Stunning dragon art made of flowers and foliage in Beihai Park.
More than half of the 71 hectares in Beihai Park are covered by its lake, so we rented a (very slow, battery powered) boat and spent some time cruising around and enjoying the day!
Some of the funnier looking boats docked on the lakeshore at Beihai.
Another epic flower/foliage sculpture we stumbled upon while walking back to our hotel.

For All the Tea in China: Greetings from Beijing! (三)


你好 🙂

~ Today’s Mandarin Lesson ~
character: 三 | pinyin: sān | definition: 3 | pronunciation: saahn
character: 茶| pinyin: chá| definition: tea | pronunciation: chaah

This past weekend was tea-filled and glorious!

On Saturday after hiking, our friends – Beijingers for 8 years – took us to their favorite local tea shop. As you can imagine, tea culture in China is kind of a big deal.

If you go to legit tea shops, you don’t just walk in, look/sniff around, buy tea, and leave. No, no. You walk in, ogle at all the goodness, ask some questions (if you speak Mandarin), and then you drink. A lot. Snacks are usually involved to avoid getting “tea drunk”. Tea is serious business over here, ladies and gents. There is a lot of paraphernalia involved that I had no idea about, but more on that later.

I digress. Post-hiking, we spent a good hour+ sipping some tea, having snacks, and learning about the tea we were tasting. Kyle and I then made some sweet purchases to expand our tea collection.

On Sunday morning, we headed towards the heart of Beijing to meet up with our tour guide and group for the day. As an early birthday present to Kyle, I bought us tickets to a tea market tour at the Maliandao Tea Market in Beijing. With over 900 stalls featuring anything and everything tea related, it is basically the Mecca for tea drinkers.

We spent over 6 hours in Maliando sipping, smelling, snacking, learning, and just being completely engrossed by the atmosphere. It was a lovely time, further accentuated by the relaxed pace of vendors and no pressure to buy. Once again, we bought some things to amp up our tea status. Needless to say, we will be going back before flying home. Feel free to hit me up with some requests!

I’m going to dedicate a separate post to discuss the types of tea and various tools used to drink tea as the Chinese do, so for now, please enjoy some photos of our tea experiences.

Setup at the local tea shop.
Snacks: to avoid becoming “tea drunk”.
Kyle playing the role of tea master.

Stay weird, friends. xx

Scream It from the Mountains: Greetings from Beijing! (二)



Prepare yourself; I’m going to throw some facts at you real quick. Don’t freak out, you can handle it.

First, the above characters (你好) mean “hello” in Mandarin. If you were to say those characters out loud, it would be “nǐ hǎo”, pronounced similar to “knee how”.

Next, the words “nǐ hǎo” are a concept called pinyin, basically the alphabet for the Chinese language. Mandarin does not have an alphabet; they use characters. Thus, if you need to learn how to pronounce a character, pinyin is used. You won’t see pinyin used in everyday life, just characters. Yes, it makes learning the language hella hard.

Okay, last learning bit! Mandarin and Chinese are not the same thing. Chinese is an umbrella language term that encompasses multiple languages/dialects, one of which is Mandarin. Others include Cantonese or Hakka.

I bothered telling you all that because I’m going to try and incorporate some Mandarin into my posts. Nothing intense – I’m not even remotely skilled – but it’s fun. And well, this is my blog. Note the 二 in the post title; that’s the character for “2”. “Èr” in pinyin, pronounced sort of like “are”.


Now, want to hear something fun?

Kyle and I went hiking with some folks today and we learned that when the Chinese (at least those in Beijing) go out exploring in the elements, they like to scream at the top of their lungs. I’m not joking. You’ll be bopping along a trail just taking in the sights, trying not to die from pollution and BAM! someone screaming bloody murder. It’s unsettling. Even more so because once one person screams, it sets off a chain reaction of screams from anyone else within earshot.

The juxtaposition was too good to pass up. Welcome to China.