One of my friends asked me a ton of questions about daily life in Beijing, and I thought the answers might be interesting to a wider audience. Here are his questions:

China is a black box to me. A couple questions/observations…

– You mention the air is particularly bad in the Winter. Is it typical for natives to us…e air purifiers, or is that more rare? Humidifiers?
– How much equipment did you lose in customs? Is it just tied up, or completely disappeared? or?
– Is it typical to dry clothes outside? Are dryers an uncommon thing?
– If you don’t mind me asking, how much does the apartment cost each month?
– Your laundry room looks like a death trap – grungy exposed power strips with the possibility of random water 🙁
– You mention that paper towels, cleaning products, etc are weaker. That’s surprising to me for some reason.
– Is most public signage multi-lingual, or is it just the particular building because it has tourists?

Great questions, Jaime! Here are my answers:

  1. The air is really bad all the time, especially in the winter. Everyone has humidifiers, some people have air purifiers as well, although these are very expensive because there is a luxury tax, and good ones (e.g. German or American) have a high import duty as well. I brought mine from the US in my checked luggage, and I’ll probably buy another one on my next trip. It’s kind of a hassle that I have to run it on a voltage converter, but I would not have found the same type here and would have had to pay more than double for one that isn’t as good.
  2. Electric clothes dryers are incredibly uncommon – no apartments are wired for them and they’re nearly impossible to find. You only find them used commercially here (or in the homes of expats). Chinese people believe that the sun kills bacteria in your laundry and it isn’t healthy to dry your clothes other ways. Also, they don’t see why they should pay for an electric clothes dryer when you can hang up your laundry for free. Some things you can just chalk up to cultural differences and this is one of them.
  3. My apartment costs about $1,500 per month including utilities. Yes, it is a death trap and I don’t have fire insurance yet. However, keep in mind the neighborhood – I am two blocks from the Confucius temple, within walking distance of the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) and also within walking distance of Nanlouguxiang. You know those maps of cities that show the entire metropolitan area and you live somewhere in there and then there’s the central city on the other side with all the cool stuff and nobody can afford to live there? Well, I’m on THAT side of the map. I’m not really paying for the apartment as much as I’m paying for the location.
  4. Ever been to a dollar store where everything is made in China, and marveled at all the stuff you can buy for $1 that will fall apart as soon as you get it home? That is the typical quality level of everything in general in China, except for imported luxury goods which are top end everything (you can get your Gucci handbag and Prada clothes to wear while you drive your Audi A6) and cost double or more what they do in the US. There really isn’t anything in between. So, you can buy imported paper towels for $4 per roll (good quality ones from the US) or you can buy the local stuff at the prices you’d expect, except they are terrible quality and fall apart and don’t work well. Same with other paper products, cleaning supplies etc. That’s why I shipped all this stuff from the US.
  5. Customs didn’t seize any of my personal goods. However, there are still some difficulties in clearing certain items and this is an ongoing negotiation. I understand these things can take time, although it’s been about 4 months of negotiation so far. Hopefully the problem will be solved soon.
  6. Street signs and subway signs are mostly bilingual. Some other signs are as well – keep in mind, Beijing went to great lengths to make the city navigable for the 2008 Olympics. In restaurants, there are sometimes English menus (but if there are, check the prices against the Chinese version of the menu because English menu prices are often higher). When you get outside of Beijing and Shanghai, English signage becomes less and less common. Interestingly enough, in Xinjiang there is Chinese and Arabic (rather than Chinese and English) signage.

Great questions everyone – keep them rolling in! The details of daily life in other parts of the world are always interesting to me, and I’m happy to share my Beijing experience with anyone who is interested.