Have you ever wondered what a Beijing version of the classic board game is Monopoly looks like? Wonder no more!
British expat Ian Steele, who works in admissions at Harrow International School, is the founder of Custom Beijing. As the name suggests, products (mostly) related to Beijing are all customizable.
Ian Steele, British expat and founder of Custom Beijing
One of Steele’s most recent creations is “Beijing-opoly,” a Beijing-related take on the classic board game we’re all too familiar with at those family gatherings.
A Beijing-opoly Community Chest card
With Community Chest cards such as “AQI reaches 300. Spend 50 RMB on genuine N95 masks” and Chance cards reading “You forgot to lock your Mobike and someone drove it to the other side of Beijing Pay 25 RMB user fee”, this version of Monopoly presents scenarios that many expats in China are all too familiar with.
A Beijing-opoly Chance card
It is spoke to Steele and asked him about the inspiration behind Custom Beijing, the type of custom products he sells, and where people can find out more about this exciting project.
What brought you to Beijing in the first place?
I traveled around the world for quite a while. Before coming to Beijing, I had lived in Cyprus, Thailand and Peru. I started teaching when I was in Peru and realized it wasn’t necessarily for me. Having done admissions work while I was in Thailand for five years, this job in China came on my radar completely randomly. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
I had actually vacationed in China about five years ago. To be honest, I really didn’t like it when I came. Coming here without WeChat, without AliPay, without Didi and without knowing the language was very difficult. The AQI (in Beijing) was also pretty horrible at that time.
I thought I would never come back to Beijing. But I happen to be here. I have been here for almost two and a half years now. It’s a million times better than what I remember from my vacation.
Recently, you worked on Custom Beijing. What kind of things are you doing on this project?
Custom Beijing started just with me making a map. The inspiration came from my time in Pattaya, Thailand. When I arrived there as an expat, I found it really difficult to discover good places to hang out, find accommodation to rent, pay electricity bills, etc. There wasn’t really any help for expatriates.
In fact, it took me about a year and a half to write an expat guide to the city of Pattaya. In this guide, there were maps that I collected of the area. The mapping software I used was very basic. It took me about six months to create a map of a small town of 100,000 people, street by street, place by place.
A bespoke map of Beijing
At Christmas time we were doing a Secret Santa activity for which someone in my group of friends gave me a map of Beijing. However, it was literally only five of the ring roads in black and Beijing written below. I said to myself: “I can do better than that!”
You also directed the Beijing version of Monopoly or ‘Beijing-opoly.’ Tell us a bit about that.
It’s really just a fun take Monopoly. Much of the content is aimed at expats who have been living in China for a long time and presents familiar issues that many of us may have faced. Many people have played the classic board game and some have played the Chinese versions of the game. I think I have seen pretty much every version available on Taobao. The quality of many of them didn’t look great. There wasn’t much either Monopoly boards available in English.
The Beijing version of Monopoly, known as “Beijing-opoly”
I thought it would be nice to create a version of the game that focuses on some of the issues expats in Beijing may have faced.
On the Custom Beijing website, there is information about the guide you created for expats living in Pattaya, Thailand. Do you think writing this guide sparked a passion for helping expats settle in various places?
Many things in Pattaya were so different including culture, language etc. I had lived abroad before, but never in a place where there was so little information for expats. I just thought, “I could create something that would be useful.
The plan was to simply put together a brochure. And then it just got bigger before finally becoming a 200-page booklet.
I don’t necessarily think it was about helping people per se. It was just to highlight the place where I lived. The guides mainly focused on other cities in Thailand such as Bangkok or Phuket.
With Beijing, I would probably never attempt to write a guide. It’s too big and the city is changing so fast. It would just be too much of a task, but I can definitely make maps and Monopoly boards no problem.
Would you consider Custom Beijing becoming a full-time project or will it always be something you do alongside a full-time job?
I think it will probably remain something I work on part-time. It’s really just a hobby. In theory, I could do it full-time if it really took off, but I’m very happy to do it alongside my full-time job.
How can people learn more about Custom Beijing products?
They can go to the Instagram page @custom.beijing. This page contains many photos related to Beijing as well as photos of the board of Beijing-opoly. There are also lots of pictures of the cards I made.
I also started a website but there is still a lot of work to do on it (to visit http://www.custombeijing.wixsite.com/home). On the website there is a bit of information about me and my background. There is also a store where people can buy the products. People can also contact me directly via WeChat (WeChat ID: Beijing-2021-).
For more about Custom Beijing, check out the Instagram account @custom.beijing.
This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
[All images via Custom Beijing]