We love Beijing but semi-sympathetic if anyone came back after the holidays and wasn't entirely enthused about it. So, if you're looking for new pastures, think about...Ulaanbataar.
Whether you spell it Ulaanbataar or Ulan Bator or just UB, our northern neighbor has become a bit of a boomtown, or so the article from Foreign Policy seems to say. As materials like gold and copper hit record high prices, and China needs a continuous supply of coal, the capital of the nation of 3 million has sprouted a class of nouveau riche -- think the Palace Hotel basement circa 2002. It's like the whole Shanxi coal zillionaire thing writ small.
How does life there compare to Beijing? Well, the whole country has fewer people than Chaoyang District (plus), one-third of that country lives below the poverty line (minus), there's a huge Irish pub just off of the national square (plus), it's colder than in Beijing right now (depends on how much you like the cold), if you thought Mandarin was hard, wait until you try learning Mongolian (and no, recruiting a language partner from Maggie's won't help, big minus), but in the summer, head in any direction away from UB and it's like finding yourself on the set of Dances with Wolves -- it is an outdoor paradise. So, depending on how much of that list you liked or disliked, you may wish to go north, young man or woman.
Although January isn't exactly the best time of year to visit Mongolia, going now would at least allow you to believe that the better parts of the year are on their way. Tomorrow's forecast: a high of -16°C, low of -30°C. Bi chamd hairtai, Ulaan Bataar (I love you, UB)!
Ulaanbataar is a 36-hour train ride from Beijing, departing daily from Beijing's main train station. Mongolia's national airline, MIAT, and Air China fly there at least daily.