This week’s column comes from one of Kaiser’s answers originally posted to Quora on February 15, 2016:
Is Beijing a good city to live in?
and January 10, 2016:
Best Things About X: What is the best thing about Beijing?
Whether a city is good to live in is entirely subjective, of course: Different people will assign different weight to all the pros and cons of a given city, and the scales will tip differently.
The most prominent negatives of life in Beijing are well known: Air pollution and traffic would top most people’s lists, and there’s no question that neither of these is exactly pleasant. Others would also cite the city’s sprawling enormity, its inhuman scale and lack of walkability except in some quarters, its cold and dry winters, hot summers, and cruelly brief springs and autumns. The cost of living is high for a Chinese city, especially if you eat out all the time, don’t take public transportation, and insist on living in high-end housing in fashionable neighborhoods. And then of course there’s internet censorship and other manifestations of authoritarianism.
But Beijing also has a great deal to recommend it. For me, the single greatest thing about Beijing is Beijingers. I’ve described them in other writings as garrulous, potty-mouthed, obsessed with politics, deeply ironic, quick to laugh, often very cynical but somehow still generous, huge-hearted, and steadfast in friendship. Everyone you meet is kind of fascinating. If you chance upon a dullard, good chance they’re not actually from Beijing. They can talk a blue streak about just about anything. They’re always up on political gossip, can hold forth on music or arts or literature, all seem to have an encyclopedic command of history, all seem to be gifted raconteurs. The pride at being at the heart of so much of the action (political, cultural, historical), the fact that while they may seem insufferably arrogant they’re actually just incredibly nice, and they’re actually far more cosmopolitan than the surprisingly parochial Shanghainese even if Shanghai seems superficially and architecturally to be the far more cosmopolitan city.
Beijing’s expats too are a good bunch: They tend to actually engage with Chinese history and culture, make Chinese friends, and speak the language. It’s a fabulous food city, with excellent restaurants at all price points and in virtually all cuisines. It’s got a very lively music scene covering virtually all genres. It’s also a very safe city, where women for the most part feel perfectly safe walking alone late at night. There’s a very large tech start-up scene. And by last count there are some terrific microbreweries, all with some delicious very hoppy IPAs.