Postcards from Beijing

A man prepares to kick a jianzi, or Chinese hacky sack, in front of the Drum Tower.

A man prepares to kick a jianzi, or Chinese hacky sack, in front of the Drum Tower.

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Nanluoguxiang, which was built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), is one of Beijing’s most popular hutong, or alleyways.

A couple chats at the edge of a lake in Houhai, a popular nightlife destination where many residences have been converted into restaurants and bars.

A couple chats at the edge of a lake in Houhai, a popular nightlife destination where many residences have been converted into restaurants and bars.

Jin Ding Xuan, a well-known dim sum restaurant chain.

Jin Ding Xuan, a well known dim sum restaurant chain.

Air pollution and dust are huge problems in Beijing. The Chinese government has vowed to reduce pollution by closing factories and restricting the number of vehicles on the road.

Air pollution and dust are huge problems in Beijing. The Chinese government has vowed to reduce pollution by closing factories and restricting the number of vehicles on the road.

A car after a dust storm last summer.

A car after a dust storm last summer.

The Lama Temple,  a temple and monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism, after a snow last winter.

The Lama Temple, a monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism, after a snow last winter.

A waitress at a bar on Wudaoying Hutong. With more than 350 million smokers, Chinese is the largest consumer and producer of tobacco.

A waitress at a punk bar on Wudaoying Hutong. With more than 350 million smokers, China is the largest consumer and producer of tobacco.

Inflation’s bad sting find its way to Beijing

“You’ll be amazed at how everything is so cheap here,” a friend told me about Beijing, after I accepted a job to work in the city.

And for a time, I was. A tall bottle of beer and plate full of meat skewers cost around 20 yuan ($3.29) at a restaurant near my office. Cab fares, with a flag-down rate of less than 10 yuan, were less than half of what you’d pay in a large US city.

Apartments I priced near the Lama Temple — an area popular among expats for its bars, cafes and traditional Beijing alleyways — were around 4,000 yuan a month, or $658, not bad for a city of more than 20 million.

Fast-forward three years and rent at those same apartments has increased more than 1,000 yuan ($164) a month. Groceries have also become more expensive, and that beer and plate of meat skewers now cost closer to 30 yuan ($4.94). Continue reading

Knowing when to say give

As tourists file into the Yonghe Lama Temple, a woman carrying a gray sack stops near the entrance and gets down on her knees.

She bows, lowering her head so close to the ground that her shoulder-length hair hangs inches from the concrete. Still hunched over, she extends her hands, palms up, toward a plastic bowl in front of her body. The bowl is filled with coins and a few yuan bills.

Most people walk past the woman without looking down, pausing only to snap a few pictures of a historic arch outside the temple – a Buddhist monastery that is one of Beijing’s most visited tourist attractions. Continue reading