Teach English in China - Andrew Cooper

Teach English in China with Aihua
Being a foreigner in Beijing, by Andrew Cooper

With its vast population, pirate accents and passionate love for karaoke, Beijing may seem an overwhelmingly alien place at first. However, in the same way that people back home have come to view hot dog stuffed crust pizzas as a socially acceptable thing, time and familiarity eventually accustom you to the quirks of being a foreigner in Beijing.

Back home, if you catch someone staring at you, one of two things happens: they notice that you’ve clocked them and quickly shift their gaze, or you begin to wonder if you’ve left your zip down all day. Again. An insistent stare can be the cause of some discomfort, but in Beijing it is quite a common occurrence. It mainly comes from children, who then alert their parents to the presence of a “wai guo ren”. The parents have usually seen a fair few foreigners before and usually shrug it off with the Chinese equivalent of “Whatever, I’m trying to play Candy Crush.”

During the holidays, when Beijing is busy with Chinese tourists from the countryside, the stares become more intense and people might also stop you for pictures. This is your chance to indulge your fantasy of being a C-list celebrity and become a part of someone’s holiday sightseeing itinerary: Forbidden City, check. Summer Palace, check. Random foreigner on the bus, check. If you don’t take it with good humour, it would probably get quite annoying pretty quickly, but you can inject a bit of fun into it by telling them that you’re a famous actor in your home country. That way you get a taste of the celebrity lifestyle without the money or acclaim, and they get to tell their friends and family that they met a genuine movie star who, now that they think about it, didn’t give the names of any of their films and whose identity is completely unverifiable. It’s win-win!

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Teach English in China - Tom Bruce

Teach English in China with Aihua
Chinese people, by Tom Bruce

Interactions with Chinese traveling or even living abroad can often be an unpleasant experience. Chinese tourists are increasingly notorious for their rude behavior and even outrageous actions when traveling. Those that have settled in cities from Sydney to Vancouver are often little better and are equally notorious for their rude behavior and extravagant displays of conspicuous consumption. The experience of living in Shijingshan contrasts sharply with this aforementioned behavioral notoriety and is continually and pleasantly surprising. The local population is exceedingly polite and a friendly smile or casual nod immediately turns a curious stare into a broad grin and reciprocated wave. Doors are constantly held open, a limited English vocabulary vigorously used at every opportunity, and an amused patience is exercised when attempting to order food or engage in any other routine seeming action. The kindness and desire of Shijingshan locals to help is overwhelming and humbling. It endears any visitor or resident to this small, almost quasi-village in the West of Beijing and permits the seamless feeling of both inhabiting a small community and one of the larger urban areas in East Asia.
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Teach English in China - Campbell Wang

Teach English in China with Aihua
Beijing Duck, by Campbell Wang

Beijing duck can be bought in most restaurants but it is worth paying that little bit more if you really want the best experience. I have tried the cheapest, which costs around £4 for roast duck on the bone. I have also bought duck for around £20 which is much better quality.

The cheapest has bones, the skin can be chewy and the meat is quite dry. The more expensive duck is finely sliced. The golden/brown skin is light and crispy. And the meat is tender, it tastes delicious and has no bones. This type can be wrapped up in pancakes brushed with a dark sweet sauce accompanied with stands of cucumber and onions.

One taxi man told me of his dislike for roast duck. He said it was often cold and unpalatable. Although it can be cold it tastes like heaven. In my opinion, it is one of the best things to eat in Beijing and is my personal favourite.

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Teach English in China - David Ruane

Teach English in China with Aihua
Biking in Beijing, by David Ruane

I love bikes, and had cycled everywhere at home in Dublin, so one of the first things I did in Beijing was to buy a bike. I did almost have second thoughts; the traffic here is wild. As far as I can tell the rules of the road are 1) don’t get hit and 2) don’t hit anyone. Even as a pedestrian it can be daunting – red lights are often ignored and crossing the street can require a degree of bravado.

That said, there are cycling lanes on almost all roads, and most of these are separate from traffic. Admittedly, you will have to share these with people walking in the cycling lane; other cyclists who aren’t paying any attention; bikes going the wrong way; people cycling the wrong way while on their phone; the odd taxi. Overall though, it’s much safer than it seems.

I bought my bike on Taobao, the Chinese equivalent of Ebay. Taobao can be a bit bewildering at first, but there are two important things to remember: there’s an English language version just for us westerners; and if you do want to attempt the Chinese version, your Chinese co-workers are always happy to help. In the end I paid about 250 RMB, or about €30 for mine. If you prefer to buy one in store bikes start at about 700 RMB in nearby sports shops.

If you don’t want to buy your own bike, Beijing has several rental bike programs. You’ll probably see hundreds of these parked outside bus stops, subway stations, apartment blocks – they’re everywhere. Just download the app, scan a QR code on the bike and you’re good to to.

If you’re a bit more serious, Shijingshan, where Aihua is based, is where most of the Olympic cycling venues are – there’s a velodrome and quite a few mountain biking routes. Mixed in with the rental bikes and scooters are hundreds of people kitted out in lycra riding expensive road bikes.

Another great thing is that bike theft isn’t really a thing around here. Only a week after buying my bike I cycled to the subway, left my bike by the entrance and took the train into the city. After some sightseeing and a beer I took the last train home, only to find my bike had disappeared. Resigned to buying a new bike, I told my supervisor it had been stolen. “I doubt it, go back and look around the bike shed. If you can’t find it message one of the Chinese staff and they’ll find it.” And as it turns out the police had just moved my bike in off the street. I went back to the subway, found my bike and cycled home.

And finally, Beijing is a very flat city, so while you will have a lot to take in, it won’t ever be uphill.


Teach English in China with Aihua
Working with Chinese Children, by Sinead Hegarty

Having never worked with very young children before it was certainly daunting walking into my first classroom. I expected chaos: children climbing the walls, tearing each other to pieces. They were, after all, only four years old. What greeted me instead was a group of well-behaved children, albeit a little scared and teary. I could see them looking up at me and looking back at their parents – a definite question of ‘why are you leaving me with this strange foreign looking person?’ in their minds. Once I realized, however, that we were both scared of each other I was able to calm down and focus on teaching them English. That was the real challenge: how to encourage and educate Chinese children who rarely have any knowledge of the English language outside a classroom. Whilst Chinese children start learning English in school from a young age they hardly every have a chance to practice it, particularly their speaking and listening skills. Consequently they are usually extremely shy and anxious when it comes to communicating in English. This is why you have to make it fun through games and music and, essentially making a prat of yourself!

There is huge pressure on children to do well in school and succeed academically here in China. From a very young age they have a lot of homework and monthly exams, culminating in the terrifying Gaokao exam when they are eighteen. Therefore by creating a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, playing games and removing their desks you are able to give them the freedom to play and learn through play. It’s such a joy to see a child’s confidence increase and to see that happiness on their face when they finally get an answer right or correctly pronounce that difficult word. As the term has progressed both mine and my students inhibitions have disappeared and, whilst their behavior may not be always perfect, their enthusiasm and enjoyment rarely wanes.

Teach English in China - Rachel Goodwin

Teach English in China with Aihua
My year in China, by Rachel Goodwin

I have been in China at Aihua for a year now and I am staying even longer. China was never on the top of my bucket list so I don’t know exactly what made me decide to come. But I am so thankful I did.

Throughout my year here I have learned so much about Chinese culture. Some aspects I find incredibly strange just as they must find some things strange with us. But some things are really interesting and amazing. Things like what a caring culture they are. They always want to talk to you and help. The language is so interesting! I love attempting it. There are so many places to visit here; the great wall, the summer palaces, the forbidden city, the Ming tombs, the list is endless.

Getting around is easy, public transport is extremely efficient. Although I will never get used to trying to get off with a flood of people getting on at the same time!

I really enjoy working here too. The kids are so much fun to work with. The classes are exciting. But not only that, the Chinese staff are fantastic to work with. They are all so kind and helpful. The other foreign teachers are also brilliant. When I first came out I was pretty worried about coming with such a small group of people because let’s be realistic, 50 people isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. But I literally spend every waking moment with at least one of these 50 people and I absolutely love it!

I love living in the China bubble. It feels like you are disconnected from the rest of the world. Obviously not completely cut off that you can’t speak to friends and family back home but just enough that it makes your world feel very peaceful.

Overall I am so happy with my China experience so far and I am excited for the time to come!


My year in China, by Lucille Van Niekerk

A month into my Chinese adventure I wrote a piece about my experiences at the time. I am coming to the end of my year contract and guess what, I am staying. It would generally be a safe assumption to make that for most people when they start something new and like it they experience the ‘honeymoon’ phase and everything is just beautiful and great. A year later, my relationship with China has progressed and I am more in love with the place than when I started. I am more surprised than anybody that this has happened. I have lived in many countries and I seriously would not have put China on my bucket list but this place and it’s people have seriously cast a spell on me.

I truly feel after a year I am only just beginning my adventure as there is so much to do and experience. The affinity and affection I felt for the people I arrived with still exists and has grown exponentially. The group I started with turned out to be the nicest bunch of people I have had the privilege to meet and work with. The older foreign teachers also fall into this category.

I have worked at the same center for a year now out of choice. My work days consist of working with people I genuinely like, laughing so much my insides jiggle. The Chinese staff are wonderful people who are so kind and thoughtful who randomly buy you gifts and do little things because they know you like it. I have taught the same kids for a year and really love them. They have become so accustomed to my hugs that they have just resigned themselves to the fact that I am strange that way.

I have progressed with my Chinese from pointing to saying words now. Okay, so the pronunciation still leaves a lot to be desired but I can write in Chinese and feel like a real little artist. This is huge for me I am not at all gifted artistically. My English has experienced a wonderful fusion of different accents. I speak with a South African accent fused with Yorkshire and Irish and I attempt the Southern drawl. I have been asked to desist with this as I have caused my American colleagues to develop Angina as a result. An example of the Yorkshire, Irish is the following, You have nought (nothing) to worry about. It will be good ‘craic ‘for ye – loads of fun for you.

If you are considering coming to China I truly would wish for you that you have as wonderful adventure as I have. If you have never travelled or lived in a foreign country before I’d like you to keep the following in mind.

Most people don’t like hearing this but a lot depends on you as a person. How willing you are to go out and experience the place and embrace it’s people and culture. You could go to the most beautiful place on planet earth but if your mind set is rigid and you look for things to complain about and moan you will miss the beauty of the place and deny yourself the wonderful adventure.

It’s easy to get into the negative mind set when you faced with something so different but I dare you to laugh and find something humorous in it instead of negative. My relationship with squat toilets is still not a good one and I never think it will ever progress to a loving one but I’ve accepted it’s a way of life here.

Just pack your bag and come. Have no fear, be open minded and watch China weave it’s magic on you.

Teach English in China - Tayla Collins

Getting Lost in Beijing, by Tayla Collins

While touring Beijing it’s very easy to find the tourist attractions, but once you get inside it can be a bit difficult to find your way around because you don’t know which exact building you’re looking for, or the English signs are directly translated so they aren’t helpful. This can be a terrific way to get to see the entire site as you explore every nook and cranny. I have seen some amazing things that I would have never seen if I had known where I was going.

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Ba Da Chu is a great place to hike that is only a twenty-minute subway trip away. It has eight temples scattered throughout the grounds, which are still in use. You can’t get to all eight temples in one day so it is definitely a place that requires repeat trips. We were looking for the path to hike to get to the top of the mountain without using the cable car and we came across this cemetery that had amazing stonework and engraving.

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The Lama Temple actually contains a series of temples, one behind the other. If you don’t keep looking you would miss the best bit which is in the last temple. It is a gigantic statue that is about 4/5 stories high that was carved out of a single tree. It is an incredible sight to see, though it does make you curious to see what the tree looked like.

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While exploring the Confucius Temple, I thought I was exploring the music hall, then music started playing so I took a seat to listen for a bit. All of a sudden, I found myself watching a dance concert with music and commentary (that I obviously couldn’t understand). It made my week!

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Exploring Beijing made me realise that sometimes it’s a good thing to not know where you are going or what a sing says because it makes life so much more interesting. The best way to see and explore is always to get lost.

Nicholas Blog Photo

Learning Chinese, by Nicholas Flesch

Many people come to China because they’re interested in learning the language. Chinese, to a foreigner, is a mysterious but fascinating thing. Are characters words, letters, or neither? How do you know what sound is associated with a given character? What’s the deal with ‘tones’?

Whilst detailed answers to these questions can be found on Chinese language learning websites, I will give my personal opinion on perhaps one of the most pressing issues: how difficult is it? The answer is simple: it depends.

In some ways, Chinese is an easy language to learn.

Whilst some of the sounds in Chinese are different to English, there are far fewer: it has roughly 1,300 different syllables, whilst English has 10-15,000! Of course, this runs both ways: it makes speaking easier (once you get used to tones), but listening more difficult, since many words can (or do) sound the same, with meaning determined by context.

Another interesting thing about Chinese is how ruthlessly logical some of its words are, which makes them much easier to remember. Consider the word ‘computer’ in English. How could you convey this idea using only two basic words? How about ‘electricity brain’? That’s how they say it in Chinese: 电脑. ‘Taxi’? Go out rent car: 出租车. ‘Lighter’? Hit fire machine: 打火机.

In other ways, however, it’s an extremely challenging language for the learner. Needless to say, learning to write characters is a time-consuming process. You need to be very consistent and organized and, in my experience, practice writing the characters by rote – every day.

But what if you don’t want to write by hand, but only read – or even write on a phone or computer? Then you’re in luck.

Reading characters is much easier than you think. In English, we don’t read words letter-by-letter, but view the word as a whole, and I believe something similar happens with characters: you can read and understand it without necessarily being able to write it.

Similarly, writing characters using technology is much easier than you think, because there are some very intelligent predictive keyboards available. When I wrote the word for ‘taxi’ above, I typed ‘chu zu che’ into my computer and it knew what I meant. I didn’t even need to remember the tones.

So, how difficult is Chinese? It depends on your objectives. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy – no language is easy to learn – but I certainly don’t believe it’s as impossible as you might be led to believe. With consistent study, a good attitude, and the right reasons for learning the language, you can succeed. Good luck!

Teach English in China - Andrew Cooper

Street BBQs in Beijing, by Andrew Cooper

Honey glazed chicken on a stick! Cumin spiced lamb on a stick! Bread. On a stick! These are some of the delights available to you at one of Beijing’s millions of street food carts that occupy pavements and block cycle lanes at this time of year. Whether it’s a backstreet or a major junction, anywhere is liable to become a hotbed of bustling bodies and incredible smells: traffic flow be damned!

Some hardy species of street food can be found out and about at all times of the year. The humble jian bing (an egg pancake fried with sesame seeds, coriander and spring onion, artistically painted with a smear of thick soy sauce) is an ever-present even during the depths of winter. Lettuce and a crispy cracker (called bao cui) add bulk to this delicious, decadent wrap. You can also add one of the alarmingly sweet sausages that are unaccountably popular here if your taste buds are beyond saving.
Baked sweet potatoes are also a year-round feature of the Beijing streetscape. There are few things more comforting than struggling through a bitingly cold morning and getting a noseful of the warm, earthy smell of a wood stoked brazier stacked with a dozen sweet, sweet potatoes.

As for the summer arrivals, those fair-weather BBQs that can’t offer the reassuring stodge required in winter, the most common type of fare offered is chuan. These are like a typical shish kebab: skewered pieces of generously flavoured meat flame grilled to perfection. Vegetarian options are available too in the form of sweetcorn and, less interestingly, bread. Chuan are extremely addictive. It’s dangerously easy to stop for just one or two and end up requiring a taxi to take you home, weighed down by the 2kg of grilled meat sitting in your stomach and the crushing weight of your food shame. I’m an optimist though, and I always reason that this extra weight must be partially offset by my lack of self-control.

As with all street food it is wise to indulge in moderation, although I tend to do so twice in one sitting.

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