Practical Beijing

After three months, I have figured out how to get most of the essential bits –for my conception of “living well”– in place. I can buy food; I can buy office supplies; I can mail things; I have a Western gym; I can re-charge my subway card. I’ve decided to record some of this in case it might be of use…I wish I could have found another silly American girl’s record on this ahead of time, but given that I didn’t want to inconvenience my Chinese hosts too much, I figured it all out myself–so maybe my record can help the next silly one.

So! There is a chain of food stores called “Dia”–they have their own house brands for things like peanut butter and yogurt, and they are cheap and frequented by locals. The total price is usually visible on the monitor at check-out. There is a produce market in front of the Dia I go to, behind Gulou on Doufuchi Hutong, where you can buy enough vegetables to fill your backpack for 20 kuai or so. Until I got enough Chinese to express myself more properly, I pointed and gave hand signals for “more” and “less”; they have no monitor for the total but are friendly and happy to repeat numbers. You can get eggs, fish, tofu and seaweed at the produce market too (same deal as the veggies, just different vendors).

For office supplies, there are a variety of markets up and down Di’anmen. You go in the front door of what amounts to a multi-story flea market, and each individual vendor has an individual stand wherein they display their wares. No prices are marked, but if you get really lost they’ll use a calculator to display prices. So far I’ve bought Christmas cards, hand weights, a thermos, suit hangers, and fingernail care supplies here. Better prices than a more Western-style store–at least some of the time. Those with actual bargaining skillz will doubtless make out more like bandits–my situation more probably resembled a deputy sheriff’s.

There are post offices, and there are international post offices. I failed to find an actual address for the international one, so I went to one near the Qianmen subway. China Post has a green logo, and the term “EMS” is often associated with it on signs. I just lugged all my Christmas/New Year’s cards and other mail over to one, walked in, didn’t take a ticket, went to a “comprehensive mailing service” counter, paid the 6-10 kuai per envelope (was it the best price? No idea.) and saw each one weighed and stamped while I stood there. All without Chinese–nay, without talking, except for them telling me the price–also visible on the monitor–and a “bye-bye” at the end. I would have called a friend to help with the “mailing options–can I do this cheaper? issue–but I had left my cell phone at home. D’oh.

Back in the day, I needed to find places to run: now that the weather and the ridiculously hard park paving stones have taken their toll on my outside running, a gym was in order. I searched far and wide and determined that there were no reasonably accessible gyms near Houhai. However, I am taking Chinese class near the Dongzhimen subway, and decided to look there for gyms. I found two: Hokay/Hosa, a large, dark, basic gym; and Powerhouse, of US provenance and decent reputation but completely unfindable. I went to Hokay first, since I happened to walk past on my way to somewhere else. With my dinky bit of Chinese and a sales guy’s dinky bit of English, I arranged a tour and concluded it was spacious and serviceable. It’s in the basement of the East Gate Mall near the Dongzhimen subway, exit C. They offered me 1699 kuai/2 years and a free yoga suit, but only if I would sign up on that day. I hate pressure. A couple days later, after still failing to locate Powerhouse, I called and was fortunate to find they had a guy who could speak some English. He picked me up from the subway and led me to their gym, which is small but bright and clean. (The locker room is VERY small and sort of decrepit, but the showers are clean and hot.) After trying out everything I thought I might use–a free trial workout, over the course of 2 hours–I agreed it was good and sat down to talk price. 6 mo would put me out 2000 kuai; 1 year would cost 2500. Without too much hard bargaining they offered me the full year for the price of 2009 kuai–good luck as 2009 was on its way out. I said yes, and I have had an excellent three workouts so far. Powerhouse has better hours than Hokay, too: 7 am to 10 pm on weekdays, 10 am to 10 pm on weekends. I am so happy not to have to run in the cold every fricking day, and the weight-lifting machines are really quite excellent too.

As for Powerhouse’s location, I knew from my internet searches that it was in the Kenzo Oriental Plaza. It turns out KOP is actually comprised of four buildings surrounding Ginza Mall (each does have a separate outside entrance, marked Apartment A, Apartment B, etc, but I don’t recommend going outside to get to Powerhouse). If you get out at Dongzhimen C, and take the Ginza mall exit, you can go through the mall–don’t go back outside– past the ZD Nail Salon inside Ginza Mall and find the elevators–take it to floor 3, and then wind through a series of signs and corridors and another wooden staircase just past the Hong Kong Cafe–and then there is Powerhouse. NEVER would have found it myself. Dude.



Cameron | February 3rd, 2010 


Your information is great and I will come into Connections to support.

Can I ask if your Powerhouse Membership is for anytime of the week without restrictions and does it include the swimming pool? I’ve been there recently after previously using Nirvana and they are quoting me a lot more.

Also great to hear your Gulou related stories. I live very close to there.


maria | February 7th, 2010 

Hey Cameron–thanks for the support! :)

Re: Powerhouse, yes, my membership is for anytime of the week without restrictions (though the locker room gets really crowded on some weeknights), but it does not include the swimming pool.

They did ask during my negotiation of the membership price if I wanted pool use, but I’m not much of a swimmer so I just said no and didn’t find out how much it would cost.

I’d love to hear about your time in Beijing if you feel like dropping a note!


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