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A scooter for Beijing, by Nicholas Flesch

There are few adventures that match riding an electric scooter through Beijing. Best of all, this adventure can be had every day. The electric scooter has replaced the bicycle as Beijingers’ transportation of choice, and as such they are everywhere. Little dealerships are located on almost every street corner, and you can pick one up for less than $500 new or $200 used. They’re great for getting around, too, so long as you can develop a Zen attitude when it comes to traffic.

Traffic rules are fluid here; people do what’s convenient when it’s convenient. For every person going along with the flow of traffic there is another person going against it, and for all those people there’s going to be someone coming at you from the side. I don’t know how it all works out, but somehow between the slaloming between oncoming traffic and slow moving grandpas no one gets hurt and everyone makes it to where they’re going more or less on time.

Although in the first month or two a scooter, new or used, feels like a big investment it’s worth it. The freedom it gives is great. It makes getting around so much easier. I don’t have to figure out the bus schedules or wait for the buses. I just walk out my door, hop on my scooter, and take off to wherever I want to go (within about a 20 kilometer range).

The only word of advice I have for buying a scooter is to expect nothing, and that way you will expect everything.

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In the spotlight in China, by Sonja Magnus

I have been in China for almost three months now. Before I came to Beijing I didn’t really have any expectations for what it was going to be like. However, after only a short amount of time here I have come to realize that not only is China an extremely diverse and interesting country but the people here are also some of the most interesting individuals I have ever met.

Chinese people are welcoming, hard-working and very family-oriented. They are also rather curious about foreigners, which often leads to funny encounters with the locals on daily basis. That being said, one of the things you have to get used to China is getting your pictures taken. The way Chinese people do this is not subtle to say at least and I often spot someone taking a picture of me on the subway, bus or on the street without even trying to hide it. It can come as a bit of a shock in the beginning when random people approach you and suddenly you realize you are posing for a “selfie” with a Chinese family. Especially for a lot of the mainland Chinese people, it is very exciting to see a westerner and it just adds to their excitement if you try to speak some Chinese with them. I have no idea of what they actually do with the photos of my confused face but I’m just trying to embrace it and get used to these moments in the spotlight.

Probably the funniest encounter I’ve had so far was a couple of weeks ago on my way to work. I was walking towards my center from the bus stop when an older Chinese man spotted me. His whole face lit up, he raised his hands in the air and joyfully started running towards me. Speaking in extremely fast Chinese (way beyond my non-existent Chinese skills) he excitedly pointed at my hair and did a funny dance around me. Then for my amusement he got on one knee, took my hand and obviously jokingly proposed to me. People around us were clapping and cheering. Then this sweet man disappeared as fast as he had appeared and I was left on the street with a confused smile on my face.

It’s little encounters like this with the locals that add to the experience and make your stay in Beijing so much more memorable.

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Walking on Ancient History, by Matthew Jones

For two weeks every year, inter-city transportation in China is buzzing with tourists. Famous attractions and sights have queues around the block. Chinese flags sprout up everywhere, and in the most unlikely of places.

But these are not foreign tourists. It’s time for a ‘Golden Week’, when residents of China travel, relax, and spend time with family and friends. These are two seven-day national holidays around Chinese New Year, in January or February, and National Day, at the beginning of October.

So, three of us lovely teachers at Aihua – residents of China – were faced with a problem: how could we visit a national treasure, during a national holiday, and avoid the crowds? Our solution: a two hour bus journey, followed by three hours of hiking on challenging terrain, to a remote section of the Great Wall.

The scenery during the hike up the mountain was spectacular, but nothing could surpass the views along the Wall at the top. Did you know that parts of it are over 2,300 years old? Whilst much of where we hiked had been restored we were still, literally, walking on ancient history.

Having spent some time exploring and taking photos, we set up our tents and our guides cooked us dinner. We looked at the stars, sat round the fire and – rolling back the years – roasted some marshmallows. Eventually, we went to sleep. How many people can say they have slept on a ‘wonder of the world’?

The next morning we climbed down the mountain and began the journey back to Beijing, safe in the knowledge that our memories (and photos) of the trip would always be with us. If you decide to work in China, which you should, camping on the Great Wall is a priority. That is, if you like once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

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Riding the buses in Beijing, by Patrick Watters

Back home I was not someone who would typically use public transportation. That option is usually a last resort. In America we are so accustomed to driving our own cars everywhere that we forget about the benefits and possibilities of such a service. Since the traffic in Beijing is scary and daunting at all times of the day, I told myself I would not purchase a scooter or motor bike for the fear of ending up at the hospital. Therefore, public transportation is the way to go for me and after my first month it has really grown on me now. I am both a fan of the busses and the subway system, however I tend to use the busses on a more regular basis to get to and from work. I never learned the schedule because they arrive five to ten minutes in between each other so I can catch one at any time essentially. Most of the time I stand because they are crowded, but this too has grown on me. I don’t expect a seat anymore. It is very cheap to ride the bus so when another coworker mentions grabbing a taxi instead I find myself declining the offer because what’s the point? Sure it may take a little longer and you make be squished in with what feels like 100 other people, but you get to your destination in the end. As a foreigner you do get stared at a good amount, and this is no different on public transportation. Many people stare at me and if they are close enough, try to look at my phone and see what I am doing or what music I am listening to which I find pretty funny. You most likely will hear people practically yelling into their phones, but odds are they aren’t mad they are just having a regular conversation. A tip to remember about riding the bus though is to make sure you scan your card before getting off, otherwise you pay more in the end. Trust me its happened once or twice and I wonder where all my bus money went after only a handful of rides. All in all it’s an interesting experience each day I go to work.

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Arriving in China, by Peter Campion

As I am writing this, I am marking the end of my sixth week with Aihua in Beijing. Every day presents new challenges, however these challenges have made this experience more enjoyable and I am definitely looking forward to the months ahead. My impression of Aihua from the outset was positive. Throughout the interview and visa application process, communication was clear, comprehensive and prompt. Since my arrival, this professionalism has continued and helps to make life in Beijing somewhat easier.

Training
During our first two weeks, we complete a training course with the school’s Training Managers. For somebody coming from a non-teaching background, we were provided with practical advice on managing your class. Beyond this, our Foreign Centre Supervisors are on-site to provide us with help and support when issues arise.

Work
Following the training period, we were allocated to one of Aihua’s six centres in West Beijing. I was assigned to Wanshang. I work alongside four foreign teachers, our Foreign Centre Supervisor, five Chinese teachers and the Chinese sales staff. From the outset, we were made very welcome with offers of food on a daily basis, as well as a welcome gift following our first month. Besides working with a fantastic bunch of Chinese and Foreign Staff, I was pleased to discover a coveted “Western loo” on the third floor of our building! It’s the small things…

Accommodation
Aihua provides all Foreign Teachers with accommodation in Shijingshan. West Beijing is traditionally not frequented by many westerners and consequently, we are a novelty for many of our neighbours who frantically force their grandchildren to speak English with us. Nevertheless, people are very welcoming and friendly.

The accommodation is of a Western standard. I share a two-bedroom apartment with one other Foreign Teacher. We have been unfortunate enough to experience a number of maintenance issues over the last few weeks, however Summer (foreign affairs officer) has come to our rescue on each and every occasion.

Administrative Support
Aihua provides Foreign Teachers with a Z visa, which is necessary to work legally in China. Luke (foreign affairs officer) completed this timely and complicated process on our behalf. We had to make one visit for a medical check and one visit to the visa-processing centre. Both visits were uncomplicated and fast. During the first few days, Summer and Luke also helped us to open a bank account and buy a SIM card. Again, without Summer or Luke, both processes would be timely and almost impossible.

Food
Food is cheap and plentiful in Beijing. You can enjoy a Chinese meal for 10-30RMB. Nevertheless, after a few days of fried food, a trip to a Western restaurant is welcomed. Many Western dining options are available in Shijingshan, however they do tend to be somewhat more expensive than a Chinese meal. Grocery stores are also common and offer a variety of Western products.

Beijing
Beijing is an awe-inspiring city. As the capital of the PRC, it has a long a long and varied past and this is seen in it’s people and it’s architecture. Over the past six weeks, I’ve visited many of the tourist sites in the city, as well as making a visit to a village outside of Beijing. The highlight of my experience thus far has been visiting the Great Wall. This mammoth structure is something to reckon with and I will most definitely return.

As week seven approaches, I’m looking forward to our October holiday and the coming months. I’ve yet to experience a “bad China” day and I am confident with the support shown so far, these days will be very few and far between.

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Misadventures in Chinese, by Sinead Hegarty

While my love for China and the Chinese people grows most days, the language barrier is still one issue that refuses to let go. Every day brings new challenges and tests in communication. One such test occurred when ordering my favourite breakfast food – baozi or 包子 – a small steamed bun filled with meat or vegetables and typically dipped in a concoction of chili and vinegar. Delicious. Now, when you first start learning Chinese you soon realise the importance of choosing the correct quantifier for each word, for example it’s not one water it’s one bottle of water. In my excitement for baozi all this went out the window and instead of ordering a plate of baozi I ordered one tiny little bun with a side dish of one bemused waitress. Being too embarrassed to admit my mistake I explained how I had already eaten today, ate my tiny baozi and left. Never will I neglect my Chinese grammar again.

While I would love to say this is my only mistake in Chinese, unfortunately it is merely the beginning of a very long list. This list includes ordering pig intestine rather than mushroom, realising I was saying diarrhea instead of thank you, ordering 50 dumplings rather than 15 and buying a train ticket to the completely wrong city. The final mistake was only rectified when I started speaking to people in the queue and realised I was about to travel 700 miles north of where I wanted to go. However, despite my frustration with Mandarin the language has allowed me to make Chinese friends, experience the amazing variety of food that this country has to offer and see the most breathtaking landscape.

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My first month in China, by Lucille Van Niekerk

If you had asked me a year ago where I would find myself living and working I would most assuredly have said somewhere in South America. Yet, here I am in China. The question that begs answering is, why? I instinctively knew that it would be the antithesis of my own culture and upbringing. In this contrast and difference I have experienced a plethora of emotions. I have vacillated between extreme joy and frustration. Now, now before you go and diagnose me with a personality disorder let me explain further.

The things that have made me so happy are the following;

On arrival to Beijing I was met by the Recruitment Manager, Rob. He was the epitome of friendliness and truly made me feel welcome. It was later that I found out that he and a new teacher fondly known as KB, our Georgia peach had waited for me for 6 hours. Despite this extreme punishment for them and imposition both were lovely and had to be subjected to my verbal diarrhea for an hour. How they never landed in therapy after that is beyond my comprehension. These two individuals allayed any anxiety I might have had and made me feel that coming to Beijing was a good choice.

Meeting the other new foreign teachers just solidified my belief that my China experience would be good. They are truly a bunch of gifted, talented and intelligent people. I have read most of their dissertations which is a newly discovered passion of mine and they are truly a clever bunch. The older foreign teachers have gone above and beyond to facilitate an easy transition and to assist us with anything.

The school’s foreign affairs officers, Luke and Summer are the reason we function so easily in China. They have patiently and kindly assisted us with everything. I mean everything. You struggle to communicate with the plumber, telephone guy we call poor Luke or Summer. Despite this these two individuals still smile and are not yet on antidepressants.

The Chinese staff and teachers known as CT’s were very welcoming and kind. They truly made an extreme effort to make us feel welcome. My first centre meeting they arranged food for us and eagerly laid out the table. There was an abundance of fruit and health drinks and for a brief moment I thought they were hinting I need to diet. Fruit however, is a big deal in China and this was their way of making a big deal to welcome us.

All of the above bears mentioning as without it my story would have read differently. If I was surrounded by people I did not have an affinity for and not felt welcome no matter how many treasures China had I would have missed it because my vision would have been distorted. So, to the lot of you thank you.

I have discovered that Chinese people love salsa dancing. A common passion we share. Beijing has Salsa clubs and I attended a class at the International Art Plaza. I was the only foreigner in the class and it was so much fun.

Music is a great love of mine and Beijing has a treasure chest full of gems I am still discovering. KTV is a karaoke club and normally it would not be something I enjoy. Karaoke in China is just so much fun and different. I enjoyed it so much I lost my voice.

Getting lost in any foreign country I find is an adventure. China is no different. I had such a great experience whilst wandering in the street trying to find a restaurant. A Chinese guy noticed that I was discombobulated and decided to help me. The next thing I know a woman on a scooter tells me to hop on the back and proceeds to take me to the restaurant.

Another joy filled moment for me was whilst I was travelling on the subway. I had a 20 minute discussion with a Chinese lady each speaking our own language and gesticulating profusely. Pure joy! I think we solved the world’s issues in those 20 minutes and I reckon on some strange level we really understood each other.

My frustrations are based around the following;

The toilet issue – It has to be said. I now value, love and respect western toilets on a level I never thought I could or would. When I find one it is one of the greatest joys of my life. I can truly say with utter conviction that I will never truly get comfortable with squat toilets.

My ineptitude at learning Chinese – I feel I have regressed and feel mentally challenged as I point and nod all the time when communicating with Chinese people. I order my food by pointing and a noodle restaurant I frequent has now become so accustomed to my pointing that when I walk in they point. It’s not hard for them as I order the same thing every time.

Chinese traffic rules – China has a unique interpretation or set of traffic rules. When crossing a road at the pedestrian crossing be careful green means a scooter will still ride and cars too even if you are walking across the street.

Rush hour traffic on a subway – I have never experienced been jammed like a sardine before. I still can’t conceptualise how so many people filled one train compartment. I spent an hour with my face in a guy’s armpit due to been vertically challenged and squashed from all sides.

Beijing is truly a vibrant, beautiful city. It has cast some spell on me this surprises me the most. I find the mountains, temples and sites magical, alluring and just beautiful. I feel at home here already. I feel at home in a country where I cannot communicate effectively, have toilet and pollution issues and am afraid of rush hour on the subway. I have found with my travels that anywhere you go you will be faced with frustrations and issues but I warn you Beijing will seduce you with its unique charm.