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Counting the cost of living in Beijing

By Geoffrey Murray (Global Times)

10:15, July 12, 2013

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Hot issue: Living in Beijing on monthly income of 10,000 yuan

Is it getting too expensive to live in Beijing?

Surfing the Internet the other day, I found several websites hosting arguments raging on this very topic., which provides cost-of-living indices for various cities around the world, was one such website I browsed.

Web users' comments lamenting the high cost of jeans, leather shoes, imported alcohol and rent in Beijing were inevitably countered by comments along the lines of, "If you think that's bad, you should try living in (insert rival city)."

Any contribution from me would be unscientific, but I do know this: 20 years ago, I could go out shopping or dining with perhaps a handful of 10 yuan notes. Nowadays, my wallet contains the equivalent in 100 yuan notes - and there isn't much left over in change.

Inflation amid rapid economic growth is something we all have to live with, but has it become as unbearable as some people seem to think?

Justifiably, accommodation is the biggest concern.

As a teacher, I could live on campus almost free; however, I have my own suburban home, so my employer tops up my monthly salary with a 2,000-yuan ($326) housing allowance - perhaps enough for a dog kennel these days.

July figures on put the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Beijing's city center at 5,000 yuan and 3,000 yuan in the suburbs; the comparative rates for a three-bedroom apartment are 13,500 yuan and 6,500 yuan. By comparison, postgraduate students in London typically pay around 8,500 yuan per month for a single college room.

Our food bills are also growing. I wouldn't dream of walking into a decent supermarket these days without 500 yuan in my pocket.

I could probably save money by shopping locally, but food scandals have made me wary of buying anything unfamiliar. Unfortunately, this means relying on expensive imported products.

The same applies to restaurants; 200 to 300 yuan for two people to enjoy a modest meal is not very extravagant today.

Many factors make inter-city comparisons difficult. China's strengthening yuan means foreign tourists get less after currency conversion. Britons are well aware of this, having seen their pound gradually shrink in value by almost half over 20-odd years.

It also depends on where you work. Someone at a multinational firm probably doesn't feel too pressured. One Web user innocently asked on if he could "survive" in Beijing on $110,000 per annum.

However, there are a large number of people working for the State - teachers and media foreign experts, for example - on fixed, somewhat low incomes, who may have to "count the pennies."

Beijing has some way to go to catch super expensive cities like London, Sydney and Tokyo, where cost-of-living indices are twice those of China.

My monthly salary in Beijing at least is adequate for survival, even if converting it into pounds and going "home" to London would probably mean living in a cardboard box under a bridge.

The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.

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