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Things in China that just make sense: the best bits about living in Beijing

There will eventually come a time when I will leave the beautiful city of Beijing behind. There will be some things I won't miss- Looking at you aunties and uncles hacking up phlegm. But there is plenty I will miss. My recent trip home (first in nearly 4 years - that's for a different post) has taught me I'll miss the following best bits of living in China.


1. WeChat


WeChat is the main application for your phone when in Mainland China. IT DOES EVERYTHING!! Want to message your friends- WeChat. Want to read an article from a magazine- WeChat. Want to order food- WeChat. From booking train tickets and flights to paying for your groceries- EVERYTHING is on WeChat. Also, during covid times, our covid test results also appear on a WeChat mini program, meaning we don't need a slip of paper to prove our green negative status. WeChat is just easier and quicker than other messaging services with better graphics too. I didn't realise how I took this app for granted until I had a heavy bag to carry around with me!

I'm not sure I want to leave my WeChat life behind as it is so convenient- Other countries- please take note!!


2. Alipay


Alipay is like WeChat's cousin- a money transfer service. But it also allows you to pay your phone line, find and buy flights/ hotels, as well as take out or movie tickets, transfer your rent to from bank account to bank account. Alipay is a convenient app for anything that involves paying as it tracks the companies and payment transfers more explicitly than WeChat. Also, Alipay has been permitting International Bank cards for payment purposes for some stores which is also really helpful. All you need to do to pay is scan a QR code, input your PIN number and the money transfers instantly. This isn't just in person- this also works online too. Definitely a download app you need when visiting Mainland Chia=na, and one I missed at home.


3. Supermarkets


Supermarkets are located in the basements of shopping malls... usually next to the parking area. This means you don't need to go outside in the cold to get your groceries. Or trail about a shopping mall then stop at an out of town supermarket on the way home. Everything is under one roof. Depending on the style of mall, depends on the supermarket that is offered. For example, at Kerry Centre (Linked to a hotel), the supermarket is April Gourmet- a western style store offering international products. This makes sense- hotel residents will be travellers looking for products they recognise. However, my local mall, harbours BHG/ Bravo branded stores suited to local residents and citizens who live in China and are used to buying alternative products. More about this further on!


Also, come Winter, the handles of shopping trolleys (shopping carts), are covered in materials such as fur to ensure your hands don't get cold.


4. Taobao/ Baopals


Chinese Amazon. ANYTHING you want or need you can find on here. Just upload a picture of what you want, and it feeds back with all the results that "match". So convenient, you can track the status of your order, as well as have it delivered within 2-3 days (on average). It is also a margin of the price of Amazon. Shoes for under 100RMB. Tops on average 40RMB... You can't go wrong. Most of my home furnishings are from Baopals (the English language version of Taobao). I introduced my mum to Baopals over the summer and she couldn't believe how easy I had it!!


5. Metro system


Beijing's metro system is awesome. Not only is it REALLY cheap, it spans most of the city. With trains arriving super regular, AC in the summer and heating in winter, it is so convenient. No food is permitted to be eaten on board so the carriages are very clean. Not only do they announce which stop is next, each carriage has a tracking system of the line and a lights indicate which stops are to come and which one is next, as well as lights indicating which doors will be opening ready for you to disembark. So much more convenient than London's Tube system. MetroMan is a great app for finding your way around the metro system- as long as you know where you are starting and ending your journey, it will offer varieties of routes that you can take depending on your situation.


6. Portable phone chargers


Every restaurant/ shopping mall you visit, they will stock portable chargers for your phones. As mentioned earlier, if you want to do ANYTHING in China, it has to be done via your phone. No good if you run out of charge/ battery I hear you say... NAY NAY. Not a problem when you can pick up a charging power bank for as little as 20 RMB (2GBP average) ... If you forget to return it... don't worry- It will charge you a maximum of 100RMB (10GBP average). Still cheaper than buying a new power bank. During my stay at home, knowing I had to bring a portable charger and cable with me everywhere I went was such a pain- again added weight to a bag!!


7. Kuai di- delivery


In the UK, we have Deliveroo and JustEat. HOWEVER, China ups this game dramatically. You need painkillers at 1am- meituan. You want McDonals breakfast at 5am after a night out- meituan. You need groceries but you don't have time to visit the store after work- meituan. Lost your headphones and you're going on a trip in an hour- meituan. ANYTHING you need or want you can get delivered to your doorstep in less than an hour. Meituan is the most popular delivery app- the little yellow kangaroo. It is all in Chinese so a little translation is sometimes needed. BUT, you can order pretty much anything you could possibly think of. Many a day at home when I was missing an item, I thought how easy it would be to have meituan, and how much I missed the convenience.


8. White noise


I never thought that I would miss a country because of NOT understanding the language. BUT HERE I AM. One thing that struck me (and others) was the sensory overload of my home country, Walking into a supermarket and understanding every conversation, every label, every sign. Having more than 2 options of a product makes life haaaard! I find in Beijing I am often more focused on tasks when out and about. When trying to read at a coffee shop back home I could hardly get beyond the first chapter due to all the conversations I could hear. In BJ, can mark 30 essays in an afternoon as I can't hear or get tempted by the busy gossip.


What "just makes sense' about where you live?

Copyright Lauren Toner 2019- 2023

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