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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.

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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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Moving to Beijing, by Brennan Grocholski

Moving to Beijing was quite the change of scenery for me. Previously, everywhere I had lived were small communities so the transition from small town to one the world’s biggest cities was a big change. After arriving and getting situated by the amazing Aihua team, it was time to venture out into the vastness that is Beijing. At first, I was hesitant to go out on my own as I potential of getting lost seemed quite high and I only spoke a few basic words in Chinese. The curiosity of living in a completely new city, country and culture took over quickly and I was out exploring.

I have lived in Beijing for four months now and this city is quite spectacular. There really is everything you could imagine here – from amazing public sporting facilities to some of the best food I have ever eaten. Beijing’s public transportation is also very easy and convenient to access which made the initial transition period to life in the city quite comfortable. One of my biggest concerns about moving to Beijing also turned out to not to be quite true. I thought that the vast majority of Beijing’s public areas were going to be full of people and I would have to walk amongst massive crowds of people – not true. Only once in my time here so far have I been in a huge crowd and that was at Tiananmen Square on a National holiday. For the most part, walking down most streets is no different than being back home, other than getting looked at for being a foreigner.

The most pleasant surprise and my favorite thing about Beijing is the people. The local people here are such kind-hearted people and have gone to great lengths to help me even though there is a huge language barrier. For example, I was biking to work a few months ago and my wallet fell out of my pocket without me knowing it. People on scooters and other bikes were yelling at me for a minute until I pulled over to try and figure out what was going on. Turned out, a lady behind me say my wallet fall out, stopped and picked it up and chased me down to give it back! That is what the majority of my experiences with the locals of Beijing have been like and that is why the people are my favorite part about this city.

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All the Help You’ll Need, by Jack Parker

When preparing to leave for China, thoughts about the teaching environment were constantly racing through my mind: “What if, I won’t be able to teach Chinese children?”; “What if the students are out of control?”; “What if, the class sizes are as profuse as the population in China?”; “What if…”

After arriving in Beijing, I was comforted when I was greeted by the teachers who would be assisting me. These are native Chinese teachers, ones that could communicate in Chinese as well as English. With their experience and translation skills, it’s made managing the classroom easier than I thought. Yes, it does help that the class sizes are much smaller than I originally thought. (My largest class size has ten children and my smallest has only four.) Still, to have someone in my class that can directly relate to the learners is by far the most useful tool I have, working at Aihua.

These Chinese Teachers are more than just helpers: they communicate to parents, regulate the classroom, and assist me when I don’t know what to do. They are such an integral part of Aihua, and yet they are sociable. The work environment is so pleasant with them around. Even if I have a question that is outside of work, they are quick to help me in anyway possible.

I owe a lot to the Chinese Teachers at Aihua, and I try my best to keep in close contact with them outside of work. Aihua is more than just a company, it’s a community of teachers that care about one another.

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Food in Beijing, by Chanel Venter

Beijing is a beautiful city full of delicious local food secrets. In Shijingshan where I live there are a lot of small local cuisine restaurants walking distance away. Kung Pao chicken is one of my favourite dishes full of chicken, onion and a little bit of chillies to spice things up. Beijing is also very famous for their Peking Duck (I must admit I have not tried it myself, but I have heard that it is beyond exquisite). The best food is sold in small local restaurants and you can find them around every corner.

When I got to Beijing I tried to stay away from actual Chinese dishes. I proceeded to find places with western food. Yes, the western food is great here too, but I must admit now being here for a few months my view has changed. Why have western food when you can have Chinese cuisine?

It is easy to get ingredients here for cooking. Yes, it might be a little different to back home but, in the end, it is still easy. My housemate and I make a lot of curries and soups. She is vegetarian. In the beginning, it was quite a struggle for her to find vegetarian dishes but as time passed, we have realized that it is not that difficult to find vegetarian options and cook them too. There are fresh market shops all over Beijing with the best produce.

Please see attached photos of some of the best dishes I have had.

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Living in Rongjingcheng, by Jan Lutter

Rongjingcheng is a take away from the rest of Beijing, so close to the main attractions of the Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square, but minus all the costs from staying near the inner city!

Everything that you may miss from home is right here, 10 minute bike ride away is the local mall Wanda Plaza with Carrefour, a French supermarket stocked full with a foreign section of goodies, Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC, McDonald’s and a huge array of clothing stores in case you think the Chinese clothes sizes are too small for you.

For the local options, right underneath the apartment complexes that you will be staying in, there is a whole row of Chinese cuisine to try out. From vegan Mongolian dishes to a BBQ restaurant I would recommend trying them all out and finding your favourite. If you want to try you hand in cooking there is also a local supermarket 2 minutes away that is full of fresh meat, fruit and veggies that you can make into a local masterpiece.

For entertainment we are surrounded by some local gems only a maximum 10-minute taxi ride away from where you would live. One is the Bajiao Amusement Park, the name of the subway stop you would take to go into the city. It is a must see if you want to have a laugh at some of the Disney copy paste rides and scenes. The garden expo is a short bus ride away with its very own temple with commanding views of the area around us if you’re a natural born photographer. Lugu or Marco Polo bridge is not to far away either, I would recommend entering on the western side to walk over and enter the old fort on the eastern side.

A lot to see and do on this side of Beijing and if your willing to go out for a walk or a cycle you too can find your own gems of Beijing hidden on the western side of this amazing city!

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I Found a New China, I Found a New Home, by Abigail Scott

I Found a New China (South African cockney rhyming slang word which means ‘good mate’ or ‘good friend’), I Found a New Home!

If you’re anything like me, then teaching in China, or anywhere in the world that’s not ‘home,’ is what you need to do next.

My move to China marks my first travel experience abroad. I know, it’s crazy right? For someone like me who thrives on change and making big, sometimes-drastic decisions having moved out of my family home to another province and city pretty early in life, one would’ve thought a trip abroad would be first on my list. Well, when the opportunity came along I thought now is as a good a time as ever. I strongly believe that if you’re going to do anything great with your life, starting small will only make the process that much harder and honestly speaking, I’m getting older, so there’s definitely no time to be taking my time!

I didn’t come here because I’m taking a year off from my life (I wish I could afford to do that). No. I came here because I am a teacher. My name is Abigail Scott and I’m a teacher. It’s what I do, it’s what I love, it’s who I am. I’ve been teaching for the last 4 years and I needed to see if what I had chosen to pursue as a working career back home in South Africa, would be transferrable for me to do anywhere else in the world. When I think about China, I think HUGE! I figured if I could make it happen here, if I could do this solo trip and end up being happy doing what I am truly passionate about, then I could go anywhere else after this experience and be successful… well hopefully.

I’m about to hit the 3-month mark living and teaching in Beijing – you can clap yes! One of the biggest regrets I’ve had so far was researching “Terrible things about China” before arriving. I wasted so much time trying to pre-empt the negatives and now that I’m here, those very things don’t concern me at all! It’s not at all as bad as what Google makes it out to be. China is more ‘normal’ than you may think… with some exceptions!

Yes, they drive on the opposite side of the road in the most chaotic manner I have ever observed. In South Africa, I thought our minibus taxis were crazy but China takes first prize on bad driving. The ‘robots’ (South African term referring to ‘traffic lights’) ALWAYS work here though, come rain or shine. Yes, the concept of western toilets is foreign in China and so we’re subjected to the use of latrines which requires you to know how to squat really well, and never ever really smell great.

Yes, you are constantly pushed and shoved about in and out of lifts, buses, subways, walkways… just about everywhere. Yes, and probably the most unsavory aspect about China and its people, that I have witnessed with my very eyes, ears and on a number of occasions, through feeling a couple of splatters on my skin (eeek)… the Chinese have a revolting habit of spitting! It happens anytime, all the time and anywhere without any prior warning and I have not, and don’t think I ever will get used to it. To be fair though, I’m sure there are some things in your country a Chinese person visiting is going to think are weird too.

Word of advice for those considering travelling or living in China; come to China to appreciate what you didn’t know you loved back home.

I didn’t know how much I would miss my car. The freedom of just being able to get in and go out at my own leisure, was something I didn’t realize I took for granted. I’ve recently purchased a scooter here though and it seems to be slowly easing the yearning for my little vehicle.

I would never have anticipated just how much I would miss a traditional South African ‘braai’ (South African slang word for ‘barbecue’ or ‘grill’). But, thanks to China, or more so Baopals, a site where you can literally find and buy anything, a couple of fellow South Africans that have been living in Beijing for a while managed to get a good braai stand and voila! We were able to have ourselves an authentic rooftop braai with all the lekker goed (South African Afrikaans word which translates in English to ‘superb or fantastic things’) like mielies (South African Afrikaans word for ‘corn’ or ‘maize’), rooste broodjies (South African Afrikaans term referring to ‘roasted bread’), wors (Term for traditional South African sausage), chicken and lekker braai potatoes. We even managed to order Savanna ciders (Popular alcoholic cider beverage widely available and consumed in South Africa)!

The point I’m making is that China, or any foreign place can become your home away from home. All the not-so-nice things just become another part of your daily routine. It’s all up to you to decide what you make of an experience that is in the end, all yours. And as for me? Well, I’ve decided to call this huge, chaotic, smelly and completely foreign China, my new home.

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