For the uninitiated, we will be relocating to Beijing very likely in October this year for at least 2 years. For someone like me (well into my forties and well on the way to fifty) who have grown up with my roots well entrenched here in Malaysia, this is definitely going to be challenging. Of all the countries that I have visited so far, China is one of the country I least favoured. After having been to Kunming for a business golf trip and another one to Shenzhen on a holiday, where I was totally unimpressed, visiting China is clearly not one of the top destination I would consider, let alone living there.
We have been toying with the idea of relocating to another country for quite some time now but have not really work on it. Anyway, of all the countries in the world, China has never even come up in our list of countries we want to stay in. So, when my wife was offered this exciting and challenging role in Beijing, China, it certainly caught us by surprise.
But we took it with good faith, and thanks to some very sound advice from some of our friends who have moved from country to country for work purposes, we braced ourselves for the journey ahead, with an attitude that nothing is impossible and nothing is bad if taken positively and at the end of the day, our stay in Beijing would be another GREAT LEARNING experience for the whole family.
With that, our process to relocate was set in motion with our first visit to this HUGE city.
Well, Beijing is certainly a culture shock to us and, the first few days, I must say was exceptionally difficult for me at least to get used to.
Starting off with the negative, Beijing is definitely a polluted city with a perpetual haze the entire week we were there and talking to the locals confirmed that these happened rather often. Air filters are strongly recommended.
The sight of people sitting by the side of a busy street in the city center with their shirt half rolled up, revealing their belly can be rather shocking. Of course, then there is this local practice of the need to perpetually spit anywhere they find it convenient, which is ANYWHERE. On the humour side, we were visiting a bookstore and they have this little corner when visitors are encouraged to write something about Beijing in six words. This one caught my attention, "You spitted, I dodged, You missed!"
For a banana like me, framing up words to form a sentence to get around is a real challenge, especially since I hardly need to use my very limited vocabulary back here in Malaysia. I think that the two words I am so used to hearing and using during my trip there this round was "什麼?" (What?)
If you think that driving in KL is horrific, wait till you got onto the roads in Beijing. They are all right hand drive which is already something different from us but it is not which side of the road you should be driving that scares you, it is the attitude and the manner of which they drive. Basically, it seemed that everyone has the right of way and everyone is right at some point. So, it is all about how daring and stubborn you are on the road. It is certainly nerve wracking even for a seasoned driver like me.....
And the locals seemed to have this need to gamble. You can literally see people gambling by the road side almost anytime anywhere. While on a apartment scouting trip, I could see a couple of cars, vans or lorries parked by the roadside and a group of four or five people sitting there, playing cards, men and women alike. Simply unbelievable. When I was at Temple of Heaven, a popular tourist site, there was this walkway packed with locals gambling!
The local crowd, both man and woman, young and old, happily gambling away at the Temple of Heaven, Beijing.
The standard of living in Beijing is certainly exorbitant, not only to the locals but all the more so for foreigners like ourselves. Anything imported is unbelievably EXPENSIVE! An advice to those thinking about relocating to Beijing, negotiate and re-negotiate your package.
A decent 2 rooms apartment among the affluent locals or foreigners starts anything from RMB12000 (RM6000!) and a 3 rooms apartment could easily sets you back anything between RMB15000 to RMB22000 (RM7500 to RM11000). Unlike in Malaysia, where your apartment would already comes with full facilities such as the gym and swimming pool, these facilities are normally offered by a privately owned club where membership fees alone sets up back another RM3000 to RM5000 a year.
Our biggest challenge would be stuff related to our children. Sourcing for Pedisure mild powder in Beijing was certainly challenging. Of all the supermarkets and stores we went to, we only found one that have Pedisure and the price for their small can is the price of the big one we are getting here! A box of Kellog cornflakes is close to RM20 and Kraft cheese single pack is RM25!
Children education here is expensive for foreigners unlike the locals. Of the all the pre-schools that we visited, the cheapest and the least impressive is still RMB80,000 (RM40,000) a year or RM3300 a month excluding transportation and lunch. The more decent international ones that we were interested in cost between RMB140,000 to RMB160,000 annually (RM70,000 to RM80,000) or RM5800 to RM6700 a month, and that is only for children between 4 and 5.
But after spending an entire week in Beijing, are there anything positive about staying here? Well, there certainly is.
Beijingers are a friendly lot (if you can understand them or get them to understand you). We have made a number of friends during our week there.
Although imported stuff are normally expensive (with the exception of beer), there are several very popular online stores that offers good quality stuff at reasonable prices with free delivery, trusted by both the affluent locals and expats alike.
Taxis are easily available and not exactly expensive. Cars are definitely much more affordable here. You don't see many local cars like the Cherry in Beijing. Beijing is packed with VW, BMWs and Mercs. Even Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans are a minority. A brand new 2.4 litre VW Passat Turbo is only around RM140K while a brand new Merc C class apparently cost a little more than RM150K. Fuel however are expensive at RM4 per litre.
Food is not unreasonably expensive and plenty of variety as in KL. The only advice of course is not to be overly adventurous while attempting street side delights.
Being a metropolitan city with an increasing influx of foreigners working and staying in Beijing, the government has done exceptionally well in making sure that the foreigners are well taken care of. There are two special, well equipped clinics set up to cater mostly for foreigners. The SOS clinic for example even have a 24 hour call center that one could call anytime and to ask for anything if assistance is required. For us, that is another one of our top priority need that we have to address, not so much for ourselves but more so, for both Ryan and Chenya when we are there.
Beijing offers a great diversity of attractions from lavish shopping malls offering the best and most expensive there is to historically rich relics and structures that will greatly enhance one's understanding of a proud civilization.
There are certainly some mega rich citizens in Beijing but majority are still average income earners like ourselves trying to make a decent living.
After one week there, as we got ourselves more familiarized with this new city of which we will soon call HOME, we began to feel more at ease and comfortable dealing with the changes, preparing ourselves for our next trip in August where we would have to decide on the school and hopefully a reasonably priced and decent home.
After all, we are taking this as our NEXT GREAT LEARNING EXPERIENCE that will greatly enhance our knowledge and experience in life and widen our perspective on how we look at other cultures, appreciate them and at the same time, appreciate what we have been having here in Malaysia.