Health and Fitness in Beijing, by Evan Noonan

Hey, my name is Evan and I hail from Galway, Ireland. I have been living and working in Beijing for the past ten months, and have been thoroughly enjoying my experience here. Before making the move to the Big Smoke, I had my worries as everyone does, about how different life would be compared to back home. How could I ever get used to those throngs of people all the time, being the peaceful country lad I am? How would I ever manage to learn some Chinese, when I still couldn’t speak a lick of Irish after fourteen years of it in school? And worst of all where would I get my daily allowance of potatoes?!
Thankfully, all these fears were put to rest not long after I arrived. The school and all the staff were and are extremely helpful, what with guiding us around, providing Chinese lessons which are a surprisingly very fun, and pointing me in the direction of all my potato needs.
My biggest concern coming over here, however, was in regards to my health and fitness. Back home, I was a self-confessed health and fitness nut. I had played hurling with my local hurling club (big shout out to Tommie Larkin’s GAA Club!) since I was seven years old, had always been active in school and university with various activities ranging from a bit of GAA, boxing, athletics, swimming, and a smidgeon of kayaking. Upon graduating from university, I discovered Crossfit, and immediately fell in love with it, joined the local Crossfit gym (or box as its known) and began following a Paleoish lifestyle!
Has Beijing been my undoing? Absolutely not, the city has so much to offer when it comes to promoting an active, healthy lifestyle. In February, I bought a bicycle, which has been of great benefit to me, making the commute to work faster and healthier, as well as allowing me to better see and explore the locality with a simple bike ride. There are two very good gyms in the Shijingshan district, within a ten minute walk of each other, where most of us Aihua teachers join, and have all you could want in terms of facilities and equipment. There is a wealth of clubs in the city, and although I have not gotten around to them all just yet, I will mention the most noteworthy. The Beijing GAA club provides the opportunity to play Gaelic football, is a ton of fun, and also helps with any homesickness that creeps in from time to time. Beijing Hash House Harriers, a running club that prides themselves on being a drinking club with a running problem, is a great way to see the city and meet some new people. There’s a copious amount of soccer, boxing, kickboxing, and martial arts clubs dotted all over the place. And best of all, a Crossfit gym! Although some of these places require a little more time and dedication to get to, the end result is more than worth it. It is a great chance to get your fitness fix, and meet interesting people from all over the globe.
Coming to Beijing, I initially had a fear of my body rejecting the food I would find myself eating, after spending the majority of my time back home either cooking for myself, or eating what I like to think of as “safe” foods (Mexican was about as exotic as it got for me!) However, I have found the transition to Chinese dishes very smooth, and have come across some of the best food I have ever eaten! The majority of restaurants in our locality have a great selection of popular Chinese dishes, which, although sometimes are quite oily, are tasty, cheap, and would definitely qualify for my Paleoish eating habits once I get back on track! The stir fries and wonton soups are particularly good! It is incredibly easy to find cheap, healthy food, whether it is in the supermarkets, or the local markets (always a good place to practice your Chinese). It is fun to mix up your cooking by trying some Chinese ingredients and spices, and even trying your hand at some simple stir fries like gongbao chicken, or the ever popular chow mein. And never fear in those times when miss the simple delights of home, there are plenty of nearby supermarkets where you can pick up all manner of western goods!
Far from unravelling my fitness levels, my move to Beijing has been of huge benefit to me. No matter whether it is going to the gym, travelling to and from work, teaching a class full of excited and active students, or hiking up the Great Wall, I have found myself moving and exercising more than ever. I have tried new foods and adapted to a different diet. Meeting and talking with like minded people, fitness-oriented people, has given me new methods and techniques to improve myself. I hope I have done the same for them, and for you reading this. Embrace and enjoy Beijing, get out there on those days when the skies are blue and the sun is beaming, climb a mountain or jump a lake as Christy Moore would say!

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