A DAY IN THE LIFE
Alarm goes off. As I slowly awaken and rise from my slumber the first thing I do is cautiously open the curtains to check the horizon of crowded buildings. If I can see the looming glass building of the ICBC bank, I know that it is not a smoggy day. The smogginess of the day will often determine my mood as Beijing without smog is normally blue skies and sunshine.
As I live on the RDFZ campus, it takes me 5 minutes to cross from my flat, over the football pitch and into my lesson where a group of 15 students greet me. Chinese students are hard-working, homework obsessed and think our foreign teachers English class is a bit of a joke. It’s as if they see it as their time to muck about. Their school day begins at 8am and finishes at 4:15pm, with 3 hours of homework waiting for them after school. I almost want them to relax and have a break in my class.
After my first morning class I’ll stroll over to the University market and form a queue for the handmade dumplings being speedily prepared behind the counter. I’ll pick a selection of pork, mushroom and vegetable dumplings (or Jiǎozi) and pour the tangy chili and vinegar sauce over the top. After my afternoon lessons, depending on the weather I may jog around the running track or play tennis in the mellow afternoon sunshine on the University campus.
The best thing about living in Beijing is that you can eat out for dinner every day, which is exactly what the other teachers and myself normally do. A group Wechat will be sent around and about eight of us will usually meet in the corridor – maybe to our favourite Xinjiang restaurant. A quick 10 minute walk and we will arrive at our much-loved local haunt – the flavoursome Muslim restaurant – where we eagerly await some chuàn (kebabs). Fifty-sixty sticks of lamb chuàn will be ordered, and our other favourites will be rattled off without the need for a menu. Spicy udon noodles, fried bread with lamb and peppers, cold spinach and peanuts, green beans loaded with garlic, chili and Sichuan peppers. With reckless abandon we tear off the chunks of lamb off the metal skewer, the fat melting in our mouths, the spices hitting our taste buds. By the end our lips are red and greasy from the chili oil and stomachs are satisfied.
Friday nights and weekends may consist of going for drinks in the more lively area of Sanlitun. The bars we normally go to have rum and cokes for 20 kuai and beer for even less. Then maybe onto an infamous Chinese club called ‘Mix’ next to the workers stadium, where 100 kuai gets you entry and unlimited drinks. Inside are mainly groups of middle aged Chinese men sitting around tables decadently decked out with bottles of champagne, whisky and fruit platters. If you’re lucky and they spot you as an interesting ‘Wàiguó rén’ or ‘foreigner’ they may invite you over where you both speak at each other in broken Chinglish. After a short ‘Gānbēi’ or ‘cheers’ over a glass of whisky, you disappear off into the throbbing lights and heavy bass.
After escaping the smoky, sweaty haze of the club, an early morning feast in the 24/7 Chinese restaurant always sounds appealing. We slide onto the lime green booths, and slurp up the delicious greasy courgette dumplings, greasy fried rice and greasy baozi (do you get the theme?). Perfect after a boozy night out. My new favourite thing to do is go to the station outside the Lama temple where there is a 24/7 dim sum place, and at 4 in the morning get all my favourite treats. Steaming Char Siu Bao, a fluffy white bun filled with bbq pork. Or Char Siu Chong Fun, a large white noodle chopped up and filled with the same bbq pork and drizzled with a sesame, soy sauce. The bacon and turnip cake named Law Bok Gow will definitely soak up the alcohol or maybe the sticky glutinous rice wrapped up in a bamboo leaf.
I think you get the picture, but the food in Beijing is great. At any time, night or day. The city is diverse and vibrant. But the food…the food!