Living in Beijing, by Anthony Ryan


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When I first came to Beijing, I expected to find a city packed with people and chocking on the pollutant fumes of its own success; in fact when I think of it like this I wonder why I came at all. However coming here has opened my eyes to the wonders of Chinese culture and the joys of Mega city living. Yes, there is smog (although it’s not nearly as bad as you think), it is crowded and the incessant beeping of car horns could push you over the edge if you were having a particularly bad day; but, the city is charming, it worms its way into a place in your heart and it never leaves.

Beijing is the setting for a war between history and modernity, a city fixated on the goal of progress but anchored in the past. It has ultra-modern, westernised area’s such as Sanlitun and areas which would not look out of place 500 years ago. In the centre of the city there is a sprawling network of shanty houses called Hutongs which are the heart of Beijing’s character and charm, here one can wander for hours constantly discovering new places to eat and drink.

The people match this description also; it is not uncommon to encounter an elderly man or woman staring into the screen of a brand new IPhone or a young couple playing Mah-jong on the street. Perception is a dangerous thing here as what you perceive to be the truth is not often the case and city life moves along guided by subtle societal norms which only become apparent after living here for some time.

One is example is the oft overcrowded but amazingly efficient subway system, from the outside looking in it is difficult to imagine how the Chinese can fit so many people onto their mass transit systems, but once you get used to it, you realise that everybody on the carriage needs to get somewhere and to do this in a timely manner they collectively sacrifice some of their personal space (something which is already at a premium in Beijing), this idea of collective sacrifice for the greater good is almost wiped out in the west but here in Beijing it’s second nature.

Day to day living in Beijing is like living in a pantomime where none of the actors know they are actors and the audience is uninterested anyway. Right next to a bastion of western culture like MacDonald’s, it is likely you can find a farmer selling fruit or a vendor selling delicious street food.

It is a different world to back home, a city which runs on its own time and to its own unique beat. If you are the type of person who enjoys a challenge in life you will love Beijing, it is an amazing place with all the creature comforts of home, plus a few new ones to discover.


Pre-Beijing Fears, by Emma Moran


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Moving to Beijing was a huge deal for me. Just out of university, a very socially awkward person and not the slightest clue what I was getting myself into. Three months later, here I am loving life in Beijing.

I had so many worries before coming over, what will the food be like, how difficult is it to learn the language and how the hell am I going to use the transport systems, being many of the questions I asked myself. These are questions I researched and researched until Google ran out of information and I ran out of time.

So I ditched Google, packed my bags and boarded the plane. I was expecting a place where I would starve ( as a picky eater), get lost ( it happened and wasn’t the end of the world) and never be able to communicate with the 20 million people around me. All the worries slowly washed away in my first few days here. Slowly but surely I’ve adjusted to life here (other than the people staring and spitting of course!).

So here it is in a nutshell:

The food: All of my family laughed and laughed about me, the pickiest eater in the world, moving to China. The jokes were flying about how I would come back and be so skinny and would starve within a week. I’m now a stone heavier from the beautiful food and nowhere near starvation! There is so much variety in Shijingshan alone for food, never mind venturing out to downtown Beijing. The food here is amazing. Whether your a picky eater or just plain homesick you can always fulfill a craving. From Dumplings to a nice burger, hotpots to Italian, there is something for everyone! If not, you can always head to the western supermarkets for a taste of home!

The language: Yes I wont lie, its extremely difficult. Especially when your laughed at for trying most of the time. But with three free lessons a week I have definitely improved. I can order food and get around day to day saying the basics. The main thing is to just go for it and make a fool of yourself, let them laugh, laugh at yourself and just keep trying until they finally understand you just want a bottle of water! So yeah it is difficult but sure god loves a trier!

Transport: Reading about the transport in Beijing I was so worried that all the signs being in Chinese I would never make it further than the local supermarket. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only were the subways in English but it is the easiest system to master! You will never get a seat and will be occasionally crushed and have your personal space severely invaded but hey that’s all part of the experience. The subway system is amazing and can bring you anywhere in the City within the hour. Its in English, its cheap and its fast- what more do you want?

The buses are a little trickier. But once you know what bus to get and have the bus stop written down its a piece of cake. Within the first week I had taken the bus alone, got to where I wanted to go and did not get lost (personal achievement!). I was petrified of how to know whether to get on the middle door or the front door, where to pay etc. Then I realized, just follow the other 100 people getting on the same bus as you- and don’t queue- once the bus arrives the calm, single file line turns into people suddenly panicked and need to get to where they are going NOW! But hey, just follow the crowd, you will get on eventually!

All in all, life in Beijing is pretty amazing. All my worries are long gone and as I sit here eating a chocolate bar, drinking a cup of tea I have to wonder. Why was I worried in the first place?


Arriving in Beijing, by Trish Flahive


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So you have packed your bags and boarded the flight. You are happy that the suitcase full of headache tablets and cold medicine seemed to slip by unnoticed. Relieved that you are no longer a walking pharmacy and comforted in the knowledge that the Beijing winter can do its worst. You have enough cold and flu medicine to help a small army recover.

If you are like me then you will have spent more time worrying about what to pack rather than the logistics of making the long trip alone and arriving in a huge and let’s face it, daunting city. I set off on my trip full of the joys of life and as it turns out completely unprepared.

Things go well at first. Bag is not overweight and I have a couple of hours to take it all in and to make a last few weepy phone calls. Two hours into my flight and the pilot announces an emergency landing. Not the best news for a nervous flyer. Then I start to think of the logistics. This means I’ll miss my connecting flight. Now my lack of preparation becomes stunningly apparent. I don’t have the school’s address on my bag. Wait! I don’t even have the school’s address. Any contact numbers are in my email and who’s to say I will be able to access that.

Cue a dash through Abu Dhabi airport and an unexpected few hours in Shanghai. By now my scheduled flight has arrived in Beijing, but I’m not on it. I try my best to contact the school from Shanghai but that’s a no go. Alright get to Beijing and try to figure out what to do from there. I finally arrive in Beijing, as I expected my luggage is missing. Ok just head out and try to find the school I guess.

Walk into arrivals and there it is. My name on a piece of paper and a very friendly young woman holding said piece of paper. I have always wanted to have my name on one of those pieces of paper at the airport. I tell you I could not have been happier. Jesse and Sam had waited for me all day. The school had been frantically trying to find out where in the world their newest recruit was. We all had a good laugh about it after.

After a long journey full of mishaps it was such a relief to know I was going to work for people who care. It becomes all the more apparent that you are going to work for good people when you have an experience like mine.

The city itself is as crazy as you expect. The smells are interesting, the people are rushing, you will be stopped in your tracks several times a day, you will have moments when you feel overwhelmed, you will have moments when you feel underwhelmed, you will get lost, people will “look closely” at you, you will try and fail to speak some Chinese and you will have the best experience of your life. You will work with, play with, moan to, gossip with, experience with and laugh with a great group of people. It’s cheesy and perhaps a very Irish mentality but we are a community if not a family. Like I said Beijing can be daunting but you will have the best resource a new comer could ask for; a group of friendly, ridiculously helpful and quite frankly pretty remarkable people to help you when you arrive.

So if you are thinking about making the move to Aihua or if you are already booking flights to join us, be prepared for travelling mishaps, have numbers and addresses. Be ready for delays and diversions but be assured that someone will be there to greet you.


Introductory Training, by Laura Colburn


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Aihua English School offers a two week training course before your first term and there are a lot of great things about this course. First of all, the course is 3-6 hours a day four days a week for two weeks. It goes over every topic you might have questions on about Aihua and their teaching style. Some topics include lesson planning, working with Chinese teachers, introductions to the course books and much much more.

The teaching style here at Aihua is centered on learning through having fun. This is the same teaching style you will receive in training. It’s not a lecture for three hours where you sit and take notes. You are having pair discussions, group discussions and group activities. You will also participate in the same style games you will use in your own classroom. Honestly, as a person who has never taught before I felt completely confident to enter the classroom after this training.

I also found that it was useful to teachers who had taught before. They said they picked up a lot of great games and learned about the books used at Aihua. But that’s just the format for the training. The true benefits of the training are getting to know your co-workers and acclimating into your new environment. I built a very close relationship with the teachers I did training with and it’s a great basis for our friendship for the rest of the year.

Every day we would come to training and talk about our daily triumphs and misfortunes in China and we were always giving out advice to each other on great places to eat or crazy shopping experiences.

A lot of English schools in China don’t offer a training course and they throw you into a classroom with no resources or support. Aihua not only provides a solid foundation for your teaching rapport, it also creates a friendly environment and you quickly accept your new coworkers as your family.


Aihua’s Great Wall Expedition, by Janus



In early October a large group of Aihua teachers not only visited and climbed – but camped and slept on top one of the most amazing wonders of the world: The Great Wall. Known for its architectural grandeur and historical significance, visiting the Great Wall is a surreal, breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime experience – never mind spending the night atop it.

Together with a few guides from BackpackingChina.com a group of over 30 Aihua teachers visited the Huanghuacheng Great Wall, one of the less crowded and more scenic parts of the Great Wall about 65 kilometers from Beijing.

This section of the Great Wall, surrounded with mountains and a beautiful lake, was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) and situated close to Jiuduhe Town in the Huairou Distric – about 2 hours’ drive from the Aihua headquarters.

Geared with warm clothes, water, walking boots, beer and other refreshments for the night – all teachers had to climb the steep wall carrying their sleeping bags, tents and ground sheets. A daunting task indeed!

After enjoying a beautiful sunset the night was spent relaxing, star gazing, chatting and enjoying each other’s company. Tired from the day’s climbing, it did not turn out a late night for most.

The next morning the tour was woken up by a beautiful sunrise over the mountains before packing up and heading back down the Great Wall to the waiting bus that took everyone back to the Aihua headquarters.

A big shout-out to Padraig, Heather and everybody else that not only suggested the trip but put it all together and made it happen! Absolutely an experience that will last a lifetime!by


Aihua in China’s Technology Hub, by Janus




With a few thousand students enrolled at its centres and through its offsite programs, Aihua is a recognizable and well established academy with branches all over Beijing. Truly a force to be reckoned with!

Working at Aihua gives you the opportunity to get to know and experience Beijing as you travel between centres before and after classes on your workdays. All Aihua’s branches are easy to reach by means of public transport and the school provides its teachers with more than enough time to travel comfortably in-between lessons.

Opened in September 2010, Aihua’s ZhongGuanCun branch was its third to open and is currently one of its smaller centres.

Situated in an area that is often referred to as “China’s Silicon Valley” and considered Beijing’s technology hub – Aihua’s ZhongGuanCun school boasts 8 classrooms, each equipped with interactive whiteboards, projectors and computers for the teachers convenience – as well as a teacher’s office and also a movie room for students.

Although not known to be very close to either the academy’s headquarters or most of the teachers’ apartments, getting to ZhongGuanCun is quite simple and there is plenty to do and see on your way to the centre, as well as close to and in the modern and popular ZhongGuanCun area.

Getting to to the centre takes about 45 – 60 minutes by subway and requires only one line change. Although taking a taxi might shorten the length of your journey, it could be a tad more expensive and not a very smart option for those who trying to save as much money as possible while in China.

Even though it is possible to get to the ZhongGuanCun subway station by changing to line 4 from line 1 at the Xidan station or from line 2 at the Xizhimen station – the easiest way to get to the Aihua centre is to do so via subway line 10 and getting off at the Haidianhuangzhuang station.

Baijo Amusement Park subway station is located close to Aihua’s headquarters and walking distance from all its teachers’ apartments. By getting the subway at this station and travelling on line 1 all the way to the interchange Gongzhufen station, it’s easy to change over to a line 10 train heading north towards Xidiaoyutai and get off at Haidianhuangzhuang.

Following the signs for exit A and then for exit A2 leads you through a long passage, usually past a street artist or musician playing some interesting local instruments, and straight into the heart of ZhongGuanCun.

Geographically situated in the northwestern part of Beijing, the ZhongGuanCun area is home to a dozen famous colleges and universities and well-known as a world-class scientific and technological zone in the city. There are many prominent IT and electronics markets and even a “PC Mall” within walking distance from the school – truly a geeky teacher’s dream come true!

Those who like to grab a quick lunch before their classes are spoiled with choice in the Gate City Mall, which subway exit A leads straight to. The mall has almost everything a hungry stomach could desire – from traditional Chinese restaurans to KFC, Starbucks, a BreadTalk bakery, Sunberry Frozen Yoghurt restaurant and way more.

Teachers who like to get some shopping done in the area enjoys both the Gate City Mall as well as the ZhongGuanCun Plaza Shopping Mall next door, also very easily reachable from the subway stop.

Leaving the subway exit the school is just a short walk away. Simply follow the main road on your right past the popular Zhongguancun Scientific and Technological Garden and cross the road at the first pedestrian bridge, turn right immediately and turn left and pass through the black gates opposite the ZhongGuanCun Hopsital.

A few bakeries, restaurants and clothing stores are situated right around Aihua : perfect for those with time to kill between classes at this centre.

Not all Aihua teachers have classes at this centre, but those who do will agree that the ZhongGuanCun branch is a pleasure to teach at and offers more than enough for those curious souls like me who wants to explore and experience as much of Beijing-life in-between as well as on their way to and from classes.


Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, by Janus




Having been here for just over a month, Aihua’s new Autumn intake teachers are already settled in and adopting to life in Beijing.

With everybody moved into their new apartments and sorted when it comes to their teaching schedules and classes, there’s much to look forward to during the next year.

Speaking as a new teacher at Aihua, I’m every day still overwhelmed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the Aihua personal, old teachers and Chinese staff. I’ve enjoyed and completed my two weeks training offered by the school, met and started teaching all my classes, made many friends, currently taking Chinese lessons with my fellow Aihua colleges and enjoy exploring Beijing and its magnificent sights in my time off. To tell you truth, it feels like I’ve been here for much longer than a month already!

I’ve appreciated a couple of Beijing’s landmark attractions on my days off and having explored all the streets and tried almost all the restaurants in my area, I’m personally very much looking forward to this week when I will have some time and the opportunity to explore some of the sights outside and around Beijing.

Aihua teachers will have a three-day holiday from September 19 to 21 for the Mid-Autumn festival, a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunisolar month – when the moon is supposed to be the brightest and fullest it’s been all year.

Believing the full moon to be a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion, the festival is the considered to be the second most important after the Spring Festival to the Chinese culture.

Even though it’s known to be a busy and crowded time to travel with millions of Chinese natives visiting their family and friends during this time, a few brave Aihua teachers (hopefully including myself) will travel to some of the beautiful towns and parks around Beijing during the three-day holiday.

Others will stay at home to enjoy their off-days and prepare for their upcoming classes. Luckily there are a few places and events in Beijing that Aihua teachers can visit and attend to participate in the Chinese festival.

Some Aihua teachers have mentioned that they might visit the beautiful Beihai Park in the Xicheng District, just a short subway journey from the Baijio Amusement Park Subway Station close to Aihua’s headquarters, to take a cruise on the park’s lake to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and moon’s reflection on the water. Others are thinking of treating themselves to some good food and sweet tea under the full moon at the Minghui Teahouse at Dajue Temple or walking along Yangtaishan’s tree-lined path lit up by the moon in the Haidian District.

To those teachers who consider spending their off-days days in bed Skyping with friends and family back home and being as lazy as possible, a short walk to their closest supermarket might be worth the trouble. Beijing shops are currently overflowing with delicious mooncakes, a treat only commonly found in stores before and during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Mooncakes are round in shape and consist of a pastry skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling.

With its price usually ranging from 70 to 340 yuan for a box of four, these delicious pastries are widely available in markets and supermarkets in Beijing and around China this time of the year.

There’s a lot of things to do and see in Beijing, even more so during the cultural festivities like with the Mid-Autumn festival. And don’t forget to say (or at least try to pronounce) “中秋快乐” to those you pass on the subway or rub shoulders with on the buses! And a happy Mid-Autumn festival to you too! “


The Aihua Cup of Nations, by Liam Cunningham



There comes a point when using a rolled up pair of socks as a makeshift football, and telling your girlfriend that the curtains are the goal and she’s Joe Hart, just doesn’t cut it anymore. It was fun for a while but the magic had gone. I needed more of a challenge. She knew it. I knew it. Even our new Chinese neighbour had lost interest in watching.

With that in mind, I decided to organise a football tournament at Aihua. One of our affiliated schools very kindly allowed us to use their pitch, and I sent an email out trying to drum up interest. The turnout was fantastic. It seemed I was not alone in sharing the frustrations of recreating goals in the living room. Foreign teachers signed up in their thousands (there was at least 14 of us).

Additionally, when I started to discuss the possibility of a football tournament with some of the Chinese staff, it turned out that they too were interested in participating. A key member of the IT team (Fang) let it be known that he would put together a team that would challenge the foreign teachers. The anticipation for the event was palpable. Whispers could be heard throughout the corridors of the three Aihua centres. Who would win? Who would be the top goal scorer? Would anyone be able to run for more than 10 minutes?

The day of the tournament arrived and Shijingshan’s finest descended upon the hallowed ground of Gu6. Immediately, it was clear that there was going to be a triumvirate nature to the day’s proceedings; English, Irish and Chinese. The teams were based on nationality and a time limit of 10 minutes was set for each game. An early talking point was the controversial decision of Geoffrey O’Tian to play for the Irish team as opposed to joining his native Chinese team. A quick Wikipedia check confirmed that Geoffrey’s great Uncle had once played poker with Tony Cascarino, and the eligibility issue was resolved.

The tournament was a great success. The foreign teachers and the local Chinese players enjoyed some very competitive games, and the whole event was played in a friendly manner. After initially being outplayed by the Irish team in the opening game, the Chinese team made some phone calls. Now my Chinese is not the best, but I think the words being shouted down the phone translated as something like “Son, we need you and the best players you know to get down her sharpish!”

An injection of youthful exuberance allowed the Chinese team to be much more competitive throughout the rest of the tournament. They were cheered on by a vociferous home crowd that had gathered to watch and encourage all of the players involved.

I think the only black cloud over an otherwise sunny day, was the news that broke shortly after the tournament had concluded. The Irish team (perhaps sensing the English team’s natural finesse would overawe them) had secretly been holding daily practice sessions. They had hired a fitness coach and a motivational speaker (Ray Murphy) to aid their preparations for the tournament. This unfair advantage was evident in the opening games as the Irish team looked like a side that had played together for years. Of course they refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing during the tournament. But we know the truth.

Since the tournament concluded, I have been working hard to find a regular venue to play a weekly game of football. We are going to a place tomorrow that will hopefully be perfect for what we need. Fingers crossed that we can maintain the interest and have a regular activity outside of work that brings together the foreign and Chinese players.


Rock Climbing in Beijing, by Rob Warman



Recently a few teachers and I decided to get into rock climbing. We discovered there were a few different places to have a go around Beijing. The first place we visited was in a park near the Chinese Business District.

We arrived to find a large wall with many Chinese children using it. I still can’t believe how good they were! It was like they had been taught to climb by Spiderman! This made a lot of us nervous because we didn’t want to look like amateurs when even little kids were good climbers.

Soon enough our turn came. I managed to rent some climbing shoes in the hope it would enhance my performance. It didn’t.
I started strong and tried to use my height as a way to get up the wall faster. This worked until I couldn’t find any rocks big enough to hold on to. My arms began to shake as I scanned the wall with my eyes for a suitable path upwards.

I grabbed a small rock and lifted with all my might, managing to get a foot higher up the wall. At this point, I had not even considered looking down. Then I did…I instantly regretted that decision!

My savour came in the form of one of the girls screaming up at me saying that I had made it as far as the other lads. That was enough for me. I released my sweaty hands from the rocks I had so desperately been clinging to and called it a day.

Joking aside, it was a really great experience and I look forward to building my skill and strength over the coming weeks. Another teacher has mentioned another place with an indoor wall. It sounds bigger than the park wall and should be a great challenge. Fingers crossed there will be no casualties!