Alyssa: Beijing Reverie
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Beijing, etc.
Alyssa Cendrowski, I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, USA and lived in New York, New York before moving to Beijing in the fall of 2013. I’m a journalist whose work has appeared in Fortune Magazine, SmartMoney Magazine, Marie Claire Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I decided before we left for Beijing to chronicle parts of my experiences, primarily for my own preservation. When I was in college, I spent a semester in Kenya and Tanzania and while blogs weren’t really around as much then, I chronicled so many of my activities, thoughts, concerns, excitement through long emails sent to my parents. My mom saved those and put them into a scrapbook for me and it’s so wonderful to look back at my thoughts on things. You evolve so much when you live abroad, even for short stints, and those emails bring back so many fond memories. I wanted to replicate a similar online scrapbook, in a way, through my blog.
Of course the other reason was to keep family and friends informed! My blog entries aren’t always regular, but I try to keep them interesting, from trips we take to my observations of daily life in Beijing. It’s so easy to get used to new things and I didn’t want to forget that first sense of awe and wonder when you see something new and different.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- One of my favorites is about my first trip back to the U.S. For so long, expats think about and pine for what was their home, wherever it may be. But sometimes, that home isn’t the way you remember it, or it’s jarring and different based on where you live now. I encountered this more than I expected on my first trip back to the states and found some comfort in writing about this.
- I also am fond of my first blog entry, just because I was such a fish out of water, jet-lagged, unsure and scared. Reading this one, after living here now for more than a year, reminds me of that initial “Oh my gosh, what did we just do” feeling. I love that.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Beijing differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Yes! I write a lot about this on my blog and tried to keep it light through a series I call “Oh that’s different.” Whether it’s a new custom — boyfriends carrying their girlfriends’ purses, for example — or just a new word or phrase, I like to discuss it. My life is so different from back home, from work (going full time to contract/freelance) to our apartment (so much more space!) to out of this world vacations. I try to show some of this on the blog.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Beijing? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I would’ve learned Chinese, or started learning it earlier. Hands down. That’s probably the biggest decision I could’ve benefited from.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh wow … I have so many. Well, probably one of my favorites occurred in the back of a taxi cab. The conversation went like this (in Chinese, no less):
Driver: “Where are you from?”
Driver: “Oh, so you’re a jiandie.”
Me: “I don’t understand.”
(I pause and look it up in my phone app.)
Me: “Oh, no, I’m not a spy! I’m a writer.”
Driver: “Yeah, right.”
It cracked me up that this driver thought I was a spy and shed some insight into how China views the U.S., even on just an individual level.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Beijing?
- Learn the language, or at least try. Even if I say something wrong, making the effort is so import in the eyes of the Chinese.
- Be prepared for the bad pollution. Soak up as much time outdoors at home before moving here. It really is as bad as people say it is.
- Be flexible. It will be tough at first and small victories, like going to the grocery store, will be exhausting. But give it time and it will become so rewarding. I adore living here now.
How is the expat community in Beijing? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It’s amazing! There are so many adventurous, fun, smart expats in Beijing. I haven’t had a hard time finding friends, though what is frustrating is the revolving door of expats — once you find a great friend, the next year, he or she might be leaving!
How would you summarize your expat life in Beijing in a single, catchy sentence?
Life in Beijing has an energy that makes New York City look dull.