Ever wondered what a Beijing version of the classic board game 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 suggested by the name, the (mainly) Beijing-related products are all customizable.
British expat and founder of Custom Beijing Ian Steele
One of Steele’s most recent creations is ‘Beijing-opoly,’ a Beijing-related take on the classic board game we all know too well from those family get-togethers.
A Community Chest card from Beijing-opoly
With Community Chest cards such as “The AQI reaches 300. Spend RMB50 on genuine N95 masks” and Chance cards reading “You forgot to lock your Mobike and someone rode it to the other side of Beijing. Pay RMB25 usage fee,” this version of Monopoly features scenarios many expats in China will be all too familiar with.
A Chance card from Beijing-opoly
That’s spoke to Steele and asked him about the inspiration behind Custom Beijing, what kind of customized products he sells and where people can find out more about this exciting project.
What brought you to Beijing in the first place?
I’ve been traveling around the world for quite a while. Before I came to Beijing, I had lived in Cyprus, Thailand and Peru. I went into 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 totally randomly. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
I had actually been to China on holiday about five years ago. To be honest, I really didn’t like it when I came. Coming here with no WeChat, no AliPay, no Didi and no knowledge of the language was very difficult. The AQI (in Beijing) was pretty awful at that time as well.
I thought I would never come back to Beijing. But, as it happens, here I am. I’ve been here for nearly two and a half years now. It’s a million times better than how I remember it from my holiday.
Recently you’ve been working on Custom Beijing. What kinds of things do you make as part of this project?
Custom Beijing started just with me doing a map. The inspiration came from my time in Pattaya, Thailand. When I arrived there as an expat, I found it was really difficult to discover good places to go out, find a place to rent, pay electricity bills, etc. There wasn’t really any help for expats.
I actually took about a year and a half to write an expat guide about the city of Pattaya. Within that guide were some maps that I put together of the area. The map software I was using was very basic. It took me about six months to create a map of a tiny city of 100,000 people, street-by-street, location-by-location.
A custom-made map of Beijing
At Christmas time, we were doing a Secret Santa activity for which someone within my group of friends gave me a map of Beijing. However, it literally just consisted of five of the ring roads in black and Beijing written at the bottom. I thought to myself, “I can do better than that!”
You have also made the Beijing version of Monopoly or ‘Beijing-opoly.’ Tell us a little about that.
It’s really just a fun take on Monopoly. A lot of the content speaks to expats who live in China long-term and features some familiar problems many of us may have faced. Many people have played the classic board game and some have played Chinese versions of the game. I think I’ve seen just about every version there is available on Taobao. The quality of a lot of them did not look great. There were also not many 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 problems which expats in Beijing may have faced.
On the Custom Beijing website, it has information about the guidebook you made for expats living in Pattaya, Thailand. Do you think writing that guidebook ignited a passion for helping expats settle in various places?
Lots of things in Pattaya were so different including the culture, the language, etc. I had lived abroad before, but never in a place where there was so little information for expats. I just thought to myself, “I could put something together that would be useful.”
The plan was to just put together a pamphlet. And then it just expanded before eventually becoming a 200-page booklet.
I don’t necessarily think it was about helping people per se. It was just about showcasing the place where I was living. Guidebooks were mostly about other cities in Thailand such as Bangkok or Phuket.
With Beijing, I would probably never try to write a guidebook. It’s too big and the city changes so fast. It would just be too big of a task, but I can certainly do maps and Monopoly boards without a problem.
Could you envisage Custom Beijing becoming a full-time project or will it always be something you do alongside a full-time job?
I think it will likely remain something I work on part-time. It really is 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 find out more about Custom Beijing products?
They can go to the Instagram page @custom.beijing. That page has a lot of Beijing-related photos as well as photos of the Beijing-opoly board. There are also a lot of images of the maps I’ve done.
I’ve also started a website but there is still a lot of work to do on that (visit http://www.custombeijing.wixsite.com/home). On the website, there is a little 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-).
To learn more about Custom Beijing, check out Instagram account @custom.beijing.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
[All images via Custom Beijing]