If I were a city, I’d be Beijing, by Aoife Quigley

I come from a small town in County Wexford, Ireland where there’s maybe 10,000 people. Even Ireland only has a grand total of 8 million. Moving to Beijing, a city, with over 24 million, was a daunting experience. How was Mary down the road going to know my business here?

I had recently graduated University and had no idea what to do with my life. I tried au pairing for a while in France, where I was bitten by the travel bug and I soon felt it was time to move on.

When I moved back to my hometown, working ridiculous hours as a waitress, I was itching to leave. I jumped at the opportunity to work in Beijing.

I quickly fell in love with the city. Within my first week I realized that I could spend 10 years here, and I’d still have only scratched the surface.

The skyline is ever changing as buildings are torn down and new ones replace them. The city is growing, and so am I. This city gently forces you out of your comfort zone. My first night here, I was petrified to even cross the road for fear of being hit by a scooter. Now, 2 months later, I own my own scooter which I literally use for everything, including going to the restaurants which are a two minute walk away.

When I first arrived, ordering food was petrifying. Thankfully, all of the menus have pictures, but as they say, ‘looks can be deceiving.’ Is it going to be chicken feet? Is it going to be pig’s spine? Who knows. You eventually get over it and it simply becomes an issue of hit and miss. I’m not going to lie though, sometimes it is just more convenient to order a pizza straight to your door.

After devouring a pizza (or whatever your chosen source of nutrition was.) and you feel like hitting the tiles, there’s an abundance of places close by. Assuming you’re ready to leave before 11pm, there isn’t a place that the subway wont get you close to. If not, taxis are amazingly cheap, especially with the taxi app, DiDi. There’s also a nightclub here for everyone, if Coppers (the most well known nightclub in Ireland) is your thing, there are many nightclubs that will cater for you. (Just don’t expect to see ‘cultchies’ in there gingham shirts and brown shoes.) If you’re more of an Indie Cindy, or into Drum and Bass or whatever, there’s also a few pretty cool places dotted around. There are also table quizzes, drink and draw nights, amazing rooftop bars with pools, there’s even an archery bar. (Haven’t scoped that one out yet, but it sounds promising.)

When I first arrived, I felt like the language barrier would be more difficult to find my way around than it actually is. I find that my charade skills work a charm, however, it’s no harm to have a few simple phrases, even if your pronunciation is questionable. I’ve found that Chinese people are very happy to help you, and will more often than not, go out of their way to accommodate you in whatever way they can.

If you’ve a hobby from home that you wish to continue over here, it’s more than likely possible. For the Irish sports fan, there’s a well established GAA team, there’s also both ladies and mens soccer teams, rugby teams, I’ve even managed to find an English speaking ballet class!

The ballet class is conveniently located close to my favorite part of the city, the Art District, also known as 798. Here you will find a huge contrast to the rest of Beijing. Graffiti literally covers every inch of wall available, and there are sculptures around every corner. There are a number of galleries in this area that are free and a number of them worth paying for. I once blindly walked into a gallery, only to be greeted by the artist, who, it turns out, is quite famous, Zhao Bandi. That same day, I managed to get tickets to the Eifman Ballet’s performance of Anna Karenina in the National Centre of Preforming Arts. (If you don’t know what that place looks like, Google it, or if you’re already in China, Bing it.) There’s honestly so much to do here. During the National Holiday, a group of us took a two hour bus journey, completed a two hour uphill hike and camped on The Great Wall, which truly was bucket list worthy.

While people are rebuilding Beijing, Beijing is building me.

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