And you thought Your Chinatown was big

This place is massive. Eschewing my occasional, though, I dare say, frequently hilarious use of hyperbole, I will try to convey the sheer vastness of Beijing: Our hostel here is only four blocks from the subway, a very short distance by Beijing standards. Those four blocks, moving along at a steady trot, take 35 minutes to walk. Blocks here are frequently over a kilometre long and the local corner store may not even be in the same district that one started in.

Here, following, is a list of Everything You Wanted To Know About Beijing (But Were Afraid To Ask):

1. Buddha Likes Fish Oil While visiting a Lamaist temple here, I noted that numerous supplicants had left gifts at the feet of Buddha statues throughout the temple. These gifts included flowers, money, incense and, at the deified piggies of each statue, litre upon litre of fish oil. Curious, but not quite as much so as the box of Chips Ahoy cookies left by some benevolent and sweet-toothed young soul.

Eating Seahorses and Cicadas and Beetles, oh my!

2. The People Here Are Happy That is to say, they have names like "Happy". Many Chinese people, when dealing with foreigners, choose a western name rather than having us butcher their Chinese one. Most of these people pick reasonable names like Sarah or Rupert. Some, however, simply pick words that they like. Inasmuch, we have met people named Apple, Ice, Happy and a slightly immodest bellman by the name of Handsome. We also encountered a sweet and pretty teenage girl with the rather unfortunate name of Alan. (No offence to the Alans of the world - you guys have enough problems already)

3. In A Country With No Official Religion, Superstition Has Become One Chinese people are famously superstitious, one example being how some have moved en masse to suburbs of Vancouver, Toronto and Melbourne with the name "Richmond" due to their aural similarity to the words "Rich Man". Numbers are also considered a source of fortune here, with 8s and 9s being particularly lucky and 4s to be avoided at all costs. Mobile phone numbers, when first purchased, have different prices dependent on the numbers of 4s, 8s and 9s in the number, with a lucky phone number costing up to ten times more than a set of unlucky digits.

Chinese Lion - Lama Temple, Beijing.

Despite many people's strict adherence to the rules of superstition, they still manage to have fun with it. For example, when people sneeze, the amount of sneezes expunged has different meanings: If you sneeze once, it means somebody somewhere misses you; if you sneeze twice, it means somebody somewhere is cursing you; and if you sneeze three times, that just means you have a cold.

4. There Are No Buns In The Oven I refer here not to the Chinese single-child policy but rather to the fact that nobody here has an oven. I have been in dozens of apartments in Beijing, none equipped with more than two gas burners for cooking. Eating out at restaurants is a very large part of Chinese city culture, which is one possible explanation for this lack. However, no apartments I have seen have shower curtains or a bathtub either, so perhaps Beijing restaurants are offering other services I don't know about, but should.

5. There Are Lots Of Tigers, And Very Few Sheep This time I am refering to the single-child policy. Due to the combination of only being allowed one offspring and a strong belief in superstition, many Chinese elect to have their children in a year of good fortune, as according to the Chinese Zodiac. This has made Rob and I believe it a wise stock market investment to sell Trojan shares in the year of the Dragon (luckiest) and buy, buy, buy in the year of the rat (unlucky).

6. They Spit. Like Crazy People here spit absolutely everywhere and absolutely any time. This unfortunate habit is due to a widespread belief that swallowing saliva is bad for one's health, unaware of the irony (or, apparently, of SARS) as they hork on the sidewalk beside you, inside stores, even in the middle of restaurants. I am starting to get used to it, though I am still caught off-guard when I see a petite middle-aged woman release a That-Was-Well-Brought-Up-So-Why-Weren't-You loogie from the depths of her being.

7. Beijingers Are Ready To Rumba One of my favourite tidbits of Beijing culture is the dancing. In the late afternoons here, people find any open space they can, be it park or parking lot, and they dance. A group leader with a megaphone belts out instructions to dozens upon dozens of couples who waltz, jive and cha-cha-cha beside freeways and stadiums until the dark of night stops their toes from twinkling.

Chinese Pensioners shake their groove things.

8. It Is The Land Of Rancid Butter Milk And Honey The opportunities thrusted upon foreigners in Beijing are overwhelming. In a month here I have been interviewed to teach film to local students, manage the WWF's China website, write for the largest English language magazine in the country, DJ for a nationwide radio station and potentially to host a travel show.

Interviews, however, are the easy part; getting hired is tough. I have found things to move very quickly and then stagnate - a sort of manic molasses. English teaching is a ridiculously easy fall-back, though, and the pay is over-the-top - one hour of teaching per day can pay for 3 meals out, a taxi ride to and from work and the daily rent... on a 4-bedroom apartment. Any extra hours worked are just gravy (or beer, depending on one's spending preferences). It makes me feel guilty and awkward, however, that my being born in a English-speaking country can be such an economic boon in a country where so many people struggle to get by.

9. This Place Is Complex That is to say, it can give one a complex. While obesity here is on the rise, and rapidly, many people here are still wafer-thin. There is a local clinic that deals with obesity - it's website is www.49kg.com.cn 49 kilograms - I think most North Americans weigh that number in reverse, thereby adding dyslexia to our obesity affliction.

Please note that there are NINE important points to mention about Beijing. Not that I am superstitious or anything.