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Getting savvy for a capital time in historic city

By Mark Graham | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-05 07:17

Like many newcomers to Beijing, Sarah Keenlyside was intimidated by the size and scale of the capital city and frustrated by being unable to speak, read or write the language when she first arrived in Beijing seven years ago. The picky eater was also wary of the unfamiliar food.

But instead of griping or getting on a plane home, the Briton formulated a plan to build a business that focused on making life easier for new arrivals - whether they were residents or tourists. That operation, Bespoke Beijing, began on a small scale: Clients were issued with a guidebook and a mobile phone that offered access day and night to an individual who knew the city and could speak English and Chinese.

Getting savvy for a capital time in historic city
Sarah Keenlyside says she founded Bespoke Beijing so people would not have to waste the time that she did learning about the city. [Photo / Provided to China Daily]

It has since grown into a fully fledged events and travel company that organizes corporate shindigs - usually with an offbeat twist - and tailored itineraries for individual visitors who want to know the real Beijing.

Paradoxically, the once-fussy eater is now something of an expert on Chinese cuisine, able to speak with authority on the different regional styles and recommend the best places to dine.

Keenlyside says: "We live in the city daily and focus only on Beijing, which means we are able to dedicate our time to trying new things out and, when they open, ensuring our clients are the first to know about new and better opportunities.

"We are creative and contemporary, always staying on top of what is new. We are always imaginative, and the way we price it is much more transparent. We don't mark everything up. We always give our clients the honest price of the suppliers and then we charge for our time. I think people like that level of transparency."

A typical Bespoke Beijing itinerary might involve dinner in the courtyard of an ancient temple, a team-building treasure hunt designed to foster company camaraderie, or a tailor-made chauffeured tour to a little-visited part of the city.

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