Exactly one year ago, I boarded an Air China flight to Beijing and set foot on Asian soil (well, concrete) for the first time. I was traveling with a group of fellow students from the University of Houston, and together we spent five weeks studying Chinese at a local college and exploring the city, which contains more than 20 million people (more than three times the size of the greater Houston area). While so much about China is unfamiliar, I discovered similarities between Houston and Beijing too. And now that I’m back, it seems like something reminds me of last summer every single day. Talk about ways to keep a vacation alive…
Living in Beijing has allowed me to feel almost appreciative as I sit in traffic on I-45 each morning. Traffic in Houston is bad, but traffic in Beijing has earned it the nickname “Shoudu”—capital of traffic jams. Beijing is notorious for its air pollution, so addressing the city's traffic congestion is even more critical for its government, which has introduced a lottery system to regulate the number of vehicles citizens can buy, placed restrictions on out-of-city vehicles and even prohibits vehicles with a certain license-plate digit on certain days. It almost makes you grateful for the freedom to sit in Houston traffic, huh?
Like Houston, summers are brutal in Beijing—the hot, humid air sticks to you the minute you step outside. Houston’s got a leg up on the Chinese capital in this respect, though; it’s called the most air-conditioned city in the world for a reason.
As American students looking for a night out in Beijing, one of our favorite pastimes was to find a nearby KTV (karaoke bar), purchase a lot of beer and pack into a small room to badly sing along to pop music from the early 2000s (the Chinese love old-school Britney). Luckily, Houston has a KTV of its own in Bellaire, and while it doesn’t serve alcohol (making it a bit harder to stumble out into the street still singing, “Oops, I Did It Again”), you can bring your own beer.
If you want to recreate a drunken night in China, head to Spec’s and pick up a six-pack (or two) of Tsingtao, one of China’s most popular beers. It’s got a special place in my heart as the first drink I tasted in Beijing, and you can order it all around Houston at restaurants and bars.
My inner foodie cries with longing when I remember the taste of Peking duck, a Chinese delicacy from Beijing. It’s expensive but worth it; I had it twice during my time there. Seriously, if it’s cooked properly, Peking duck is a divine experience, and while you need to eat it in Beijing to fully understand its glory, there are restaurants in Houston that offer versions of the dish as close to its Beijing counterpart as possible. Check out Bellaire’s reasonably priced Peking Cuisine (make a reservation if you plan to order the duck).
The dim sum
Everyone knows Houstonians love their brunch, so next time try it the Chinese way and go out for dim sum. Houston’s on top of its dim sum game—from Fung’s Kitchen to Kim Son, there are so many options around town.