Contribute to the Art Scene in Beijing, by Daniel Ritchey

“Get out and be a part of the creative life here in Beijing,” one of the voices in my head thundered. It was easy to find someplace to have my voice heard. I grabbed my guitar and my guts and took Paddy O’Shea’s open mic night by storm. Okay, maybe that is a tad too-strong description for the nerve-wracked performance I gave, but I am going back again with a vengeance. I have since been invited to no less than three open mics in different parts of this vast city on different nights. It is a thrill to get up and play anywhere, but there is something special about doing it here, so far from home and amidst so many people from far different places.

There are galleries, publications and websites hungry for creative content, films and television shows needing the voices of native English speakers for dubbing. There are writers and artists of all stripes gallivanting around Beijing looking for others for inspiration and collaboration. Working at Aihua English introduced me to some of these other artists, who happen to be colleagues, within days of arriving in Beijing. Getting out in the city to the art district and seeing Chinese art and attending a stunning theater performance opened up my eyes and ears to the fierce beauty of Chinese history and expression. My schedule at Aihua allows me the time to experience and contribute to the rich arts scene here, and that freedom is one of the many things I love about my job.

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Speaking Chinese…, By John Iuga

There is a reason why a common expression in English is to tell someone they’re speaking Chinese when you can’t understand them: because there is absolutely no way to understand Chinese. It is so vastly different from any western language that the only thing you can do when a Chinese person speaks to you is to look at them blankly.

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To add to your woes you can’t guess what they’re saying because Chinese does not have the same Latin base as a lot of western languages have (French, Italian etc.). Also, you most likely didn’t learn Chinese in school and therefore you can’t use any of the five phrases you learned in school: “¿Dónde está la biblioteca?”

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However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: you can just learn it! I’ve been living in China for 14 months now, and after the first four months of studying I was able to talk platitudes with the taxi drivers and ask McDonald’s employees for the chef’s special of the day. I started learning because I wanted to make my life easier for myself instead of relying on Google translate and ridiculous hand gestures and I am quite proud of how far I’ve come considering I only knew three words when I landed in Beijing. Reading and writing Chinese characters is still the hardest thing for me to get my head around, but all that takes is daily practice. I’m not saying you have to immerse yourself to the point where you find squatting a more viable sitting position that sitting on a chair….

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…but if you can get over the initial fear or just asking people or just sparking up a conversation with your colleagues in their native tongue, you will find people won’t be as judgmental as you think, you’ll be able to laugh together about how bad you are at speaking, and you might actually pick up a thing or two along the way. Thankfully, Aihua provides a very good Chinese teacher who can help you regardless of your level of proficiency. There are also many Chinese learning apps such as HelloChinese and Duolingo which can help you along the way (they did for me!).

Life is what you make of it and if you keep telling yourself you will never learn such a difficult language then that is all you will achieve. Put your head right and just try! You will find it was worth it for the fun!


The Chinese Comedy Scene, by Rochelle Beiersdorfer

Laughter is a universal language, a great equalizer and the best type of medicine. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love to laugh!? We all love to laugh! The endorphin rush feels great and it can transcend differences and bring people together, regardless of language or cultural barriers. In China, Xiang Sheng (Crosstalk) is the traditional method to elicit laughter. Xiang Sheng is a type of comedic, interview-style banter that’s usually between two individuals. In a Xiang Sheng performance, one performer “interrogates” the other performer with questions ranging in topics from, but not limited to, everyday life, differences in Chinese dialects and politics. Starting centuries ago, Xiang Sheng is very well-loved in China’s popular culture and, until recently, was the only form of comedic performance in China. But, like with the rise of craft beer, western styles of comedy are becoming more prevalent and very accessible, especially in Shanghai and Beijing.

From international, household names performing at posh theatres to local celebrities doing a quick 5-minutes set at a dive bar’s open mic, there are many opportunities in Beijing to go watch and even try your hand at stand-up comedy and improv. Both in English and Chinese, you can see shows at the Bookworm and The Local in Sanlitun or at Paddy’s in Dongzhimen. If you’re itching for a more Chinese experience with your dose of western humor, you can go venture to the USCCC (US-China Comedy Center)’s hutong headquarters or to a few of the hutongs’ eclectic bars, such as The Great Outdoors. So, when you’re feeling stressed, blue or just fed up and need a good dosage of laughter, there are plenty of opportunities in Beijing to get what the doctor prescribes. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

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Living in “the Shan”, by Ismael Milligan

Shijingshan or as it’s affectionately known “the Shan”, is a district of Beijing in the West part of the city. To the West you can see the low mountains that overlook the city and to the East the bustling city of Beijing. If you have a northern view you can see the Ba Jiao amusement park and the Ferris wheel that is often lit with neon lights. Aihua’s apartments are located near the district’s eastern most border and are conveniently located near a subway station on line 1 that takes you straight into the heart of the city.

When you arrive Aihua gives you a guide to the local area to help you find restaurants, grocery stores, or other things you might need like utility buildings, banks, or electronic stores. For the first few weeks I kept it in my backpack and took it everywhere with me. As I learned more about my area, I’ve needed it less and less and now I feel like I know our neighborhood as well as I knew my own, back home.

Right by the gates of the apartment complex are loads of restaurants, a few grocery stores, and a barbershop which is super convenient if you are from a country like the US where to do or buy anything includes at the least a 10-minute drive. All of these places are comparatively cheap compared to other parts of Beijing and new fresh produce is delivered every morning to the grocery stores. Also, if you’re lucky there might be a jian bing cart (a delicious breakfast crepe, with a crunchy cracker inside, popular in Beijing), knife-sharpener, or house-plant salesman outside. Commodities I didn’t think I’d ever care for until I moved to China.

Often when I am shopping or stopping by a restaurant, I’ll run into some fellow teachers which always makes for a good conversation or plans for later. There is a great German bar that is short bike ride away where I often go to for an after-work beverage and a nearby mall where you can watch movies or do some shopping.

After living here for a few months, the “Shan” has really become a second home to me. It’s familiar and it’s friendly. The people here are kind and helpful and I have never felt uncomfortable here. As you come to be more familiar with it and where you are, it feels more and more like home. After I went on vacation and flew back to Beijing and was driving back into Shijingshan, I could feel the relief and relaxation of being home after a long journey. Something I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel living in China. It really has become a special place to me and a place I love to call ‘home’.

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Back to Teaching, by Wyatt Edwards

The last few days of Winter vacation could not have gone quick enough. The break was much needed, however the buzz and excitement to get back to teaching was overwhelming. The thought of seeing my students, fellow colleagues and new staff members was such a thrill.

The Welcome Back meeting, an occasion whereby all the staff members gather, was an awesome get-together that re-kindled friendships, ignited new ones and all-in-all was a successful day. I could see that others too were eager and charged up to get back into the swing of things and get their respective classes underway.

For the next couple of days, preparation for classes were taking place. Whether you were doing promotional work, which consisted of promoting Aihua English centers to schools around Beijing, or just general class prep, it was a busy time at Aihua. Work ethics were high and enthusiasm levels were through the roof. Once the preparation for classes came to an end, classes commenced. Let the teaching begin!

It was obvious that students were ecstatic to be back as their running footsteps echoed through the corridors as they hurriedly rushed into class. Lively as ever, both teachers and students got their classes underway. Students were really cheerful and upbeat about being back in the classroom where they can safely learn in a fun and entertaining environment. The first week flew by and everything was running like clock-work again.

The start of another successful term at Aihua has commenced, and back to teaching has never felt so great!

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Christmas in China, by Antoinette Schoeman

This year marks the fourth Christmas I’ve spent away from home, and my first in Beijing. I wasn’t expecting any kind of festive experience, so imagine my happy surprise when walking around in Wangfujing and Xidan, shops blaring Jingle Bells and Rudolph, some interesting Christmas trees all around, and a few really beautiful window displays.

A hearty Christmas meal with friends was also on the cards – complete with turkey, gammon, lamb chops, and roast potatoes.

Another highlight for me was the Secret Santa at our centers, where foreign and Chinese staff exchanged gifts and celebrated this Western holiday together.

This was the first time that Christmas away from home actually felt like Christmas. China is full of surprises, and experiencing Christmas here as I would have back home (at least, in part), has been the perfect end to a great year.

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Getting Around Beijing, by Eddie Ayala

Coming from a small town, moving to Beijing and being able to get around seemed very daunting to me. Luckily it wasn’t bad at all! Here are the 5 reasons why it’s great.

1. Ability to get anywhere. As you can see in the picture below there is a lot to see in Beijing but everything is spread out. Luckily the subway station can get you just about anywhere in Beijing and even on the outskirts of the city which is amazing.

2. Bussing around. Luckily we live not too far away from a bus stop which can get you to and from work. The buses come about every 8-15 minutes depending on what time it is. You can always hop on the bus to local markets or to the subway as well which is great.

3. Maps. So how will you know how to get to places, well just like you do at home most likely, type it into your app whether its apple maps or another type. This is what I do all the time! When I wanted to go to the Summer Palace, I typed it in and it let me know what bus to go on and what subway stops I needed to get onto and off at. Truly as simple as that.

4. Costs. If you’re like me then you are probably wondering what all this will cost you and let me tell you it’s not going to cost you much at all! It’s extremely cheap to go anywhere using the public transport. Whether its down the block or on the other side of the city. To get to work it cost 2 yuan for me, if I want to get to the city center 6 yuan. Which equates to less than 1 us dollar, amazing!

5. Getting lost. Now if you are anything like me you will most likely get lost. I’ve found that sometimes I forget to get off at the right spot but luckily you just get off the subway or bus cross over to the other side hop on to opposite direction and go back to your destination. You also have the other option to just explore a new part of the city that you hadn’t planned on visiting.

It can be scary moving to a new city where you don’t know the language but just know that luckily signs are still in English characters so you got that on your side. It’ll take time to familiarize yourself with it all but luckily the transportation system is easy to adapt to.

Hope you have a great adventure and always be kind to one another.

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WeChat Wallet, by Gregory McLaughlin

Or How I Learned to Love China and Truly Be a Lazy American.

When you first get to Beijing, one of the field trips you go on is to set up your bank account. Right around that time, you will also be required to get yourself the WeChat app on your smartphone. At the time I didn’t realize how this would be game changing. WeChat comes with WeChat Wallet. WeChat Wallet is like something out of a sci-fi novel. It basically IS your bank. Let me explain.

You link your Wallet to your bank card. You can get money into your Wallet in two ways. The first way, is just to have it deduct your spending straight from your bank account like digitally swiping your bank card. Alternately, you can preload the Wallet with funds from your account and spend from this pool instead. This is great if you need to stick to a budget. Throw a few thousand RMB into your Wallet for the month and you can always see the balance. Can I go on a boozy weekend pub-crawl? Let me check my Wallet.

Now, if you are from the States like me, you might think ‘Yeah, seen that before in other payment apps…so?’ WeChat Wallet’s true functionality comes from the way it is linked into a huge variety of 3rd party apps. Let me start with the ones I have used personally. I top up my mobile every month through the Wallet. I never have to go to a cellular provider or give one my bank account info. “Tap tap tap” and paid. Need a ride home after the buses stop running? Call a Didi (Similar to Uber). “Tap tap tap” and done. Don’t want to spring for a taxi? Bike sharing is huge here. “Tap tap tap”. Want to get dinner but not put on pants? “Tap tap tap” and the food is on its way.

Seriously, using the Wallet along with all the affiliated apps you could never leave your apartment. If you do desire to treat your skin to some life giving sunlight the Wallet can help you there too. Need movie tickets? Plane tickets? A hotel in Shanghai? The Wallet is like that friend who always “knows a guy” that can help. If I was forced to give one singular best thing about WeChat Wallet is that I have yet to find a place that doesn’t take it. I have heard that there are some but I have even seen street vendors with the little scan code signs on their carts. My roommate hired a housekeeper to come clean our place and he just transferred money to her Wallet from his when he paid her. It really is that simple.

So, come to Beijing, get your bank card, put it in your physical wallet and never look at it again. Just make sure to keep your phone charged. No one likes the guy that says ‘Can I just send your money later, my phone’s dead?’

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Teach English in China - Welcome to your new home

Welcome to Your New Home!

Have a closer look at the school’s living arrangement in this video! The video introduces the arrival procedure as well as the apartment arrangement for the school’s foreign teachers.


Working with Chinese Colleagues, by Daniel Ritchey

The first time I stepped into the center at Zhongguancun, the first face I saw was that of Lydia. Having just been remodeled, our center was a whirlwind of construction dust and stacks of books and computers and furniture which needed to be dusted and moved back into the offices and classrooms. Lydia, all 121cm of her, seemed to be in charge of the process. Her bright, beaming smile greeted me that day and she then proceeded to blow my mind with her strength and determination and laughter as we attacked the job of putting the center back together for the new term, my first. Lydia works the front desk at Zhongguancun and that bright, beaming smile greets me every day. She speaks about as much English as I spoke Chinese when I arrived those months ago. We communicate with smiles and laughter and an occasional nod.

Working with our staff of Chinese teachers and administrators is as rewarding for me as the work with my students. The Chinese teachers speak English well, and the team approach we truly have at Zhongguancun has made an incredible difference for this new foreign teacher. I don’t have to pretend to be interested in my Chinese colleagues, and I don’t have to force myself to be kind. I enjoy their company and enjoy working with them. No matter how long I stay in China or where my life takes me after Aihua, I will never forget the experience of working with the team of people we have at Zhongguancun.

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