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Our Beijing Punk Band, by Rob Warman

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I have always been into music. Back home I frequently did gigs on my own with my acoustic guitar as well as wrote my own songs. When I first came to Beijing I was able to continue this in a lot of the local bars and venues. It is great that in Beijing, there are not only venues open all week with live music, but people who enjoy watching different kinds of music. This gives many of the bars a vibrant atmosphere and a great place to play or just watch and listen.

What really stands out for me in the Beijing music scene is Punk music. Punk was really in its heyday in the 90’s in Beijing but there is still a really exciting scene full of angry fans and angrier bands. After going to one of the local shows three of us were inspired to form our own DIY band.

We were all working for Aihua English Academy so it was easy to find time to practice together and we were lucky enough to find a great little jam studio where a lot of the top locals bands practice. We managed to write several horrible little songs in a small period of time. We practiced several times a week after we had finished evening classes at the school.

We got our first gig by chance in a local noodle bar dedicated to Punk. The bar is run by a big Chinese chap named Lei Jun. He is actually a singer in one of the popular local Punk bands. The walls of his noodle bar are covered in old Punk memorabilia and the noodles are great!

We mentioned to Lei that we had just formed a band and we played him one of our songs which we had recorded on my phone. He instantly went out of his way to find us a gig. He got on his phone, and by the time we left his shop we were booked in to play at one of the local venues along with many Chinese punk bands!

We realized that our set so far, was only about 6 minutes long and we would need quite a few more songs to be taken seriously. We went back to the jam studio with the deadline over our heads, the desire to play a good show and not be torn apart by some of Beijing’s angriest citizens.

A week before our Punk show, we decided to play a local open mic night. This open mic is usually dedicated to Jazz and Blues, a great place to go if you want to relax and hear some mellow sounds.
Being a hardcore punk band, we were totally out of place there, and I think we ruined the evening for delicate looking Chinese girls sitting in the front row!

Finally the day came for our Punk show. The room was filled by people with Mohawks and leather jackets, drinking beers and waiting for the first band to come on. Us! We played through our short but angry set fast. The crowd seemed to like us and our friends from Aihua all came down to show us support and jump around to our tunes.

I got a chance to meet some of the Punks after the show and everyone was really friendly and interesting. The greatest part of the night however was the offer to play at an even bigger venue later in the month!

Our second and final gig was at the famous Mao Live House. This was a huge music venue and we had the honour of supporting the guy from the noodle bars band “Misandao”.

They stuck us on last so we ended up going on when everyone was really drunk and crazy. The band that went on before us were getting beer cans thrown at them (in a nice way) and everybody had decided to stick around to see the English band at the end.

We played as hard as we could as we knew this would be the last time we would play together as our singer was leaving China. The crowd seemed really excited to hear our tunes and they all jumped around like drunken maniacs. God bless alcohol!

It was an amazing experience and yet another cool thing I have had the opportunity to do since I started my time teaching English in Beijing. I would advise anyone coming to Beijing to check out the Music scene. In many ways it is better than the scene back at home, and it feels great that that we were a part of it for a while.

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Hiking Badachu, by Tyler Feucht

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Hiking Badachu was an early goal of mine when I arrived in Beijing in early August 2011. Looking outside my balcony window every morning, I’m reminded of the mountains that surround Beijing and their mystical beauty. China’s history is so vast I often wonder what might have occurred in these mountains long ago.

The morning of the hike I woke up with high spirits. A handful of foreign teachers, including myself, met at the Gucheng subway station early in the morning waiting for the Chinese teachers so we can transfer on the 958 bus and head to Badachu. After about ten minutes of waiting we jokingly thought they forgot about us, but soon enough the Chinese teachers had arrived and off we went.

My new, and very Irish, friend Paul was telling me that the night before he randomly stood next to a worker at a store and took a very quick picture with her. She was incredibly surprised to say the least. I mean, who wouldn’t be? I thought it was hilarious. So as we waited for everyone at Changyin to arrive at Badachu, Paul and I made it our mission to take what we call “force photos” with the rest of our co-workers.

We were debriefed the day before that as employees we would be divided into teams. The first few teams to make it to the top respectively won prizes. I thought it was a fantastic idea, however when we walked through the Badachu gates everyone went on their own pace and individual goals set in.

Personally, I’m a competitive person. I’m also 6’5 (almost two meters) with gargantuan long legs that can make me walk as fast as a normal person jogs! So it was hard for me to walk slow or slow down. I stopped to take a few pictures of the beautiful scenic mountains and peaceful Buddhist temples, yet I wanted to get to the top and fast. However, so did my co-workers.

Unfortunately, I was not first. Jordan and Hannah, the U.K power couple, and Paul were the first to arrive. Paul cleverly took a secret horse trail and incredibly found his way to the top where everyone was supposed to meet. As we sat there reminiscing of what we just climbed and accomplished more and more employees started making their way to the top. Some were eager and some I can say were sluggish. I will not say any names. Sadly, my team came in very last place! Once again, I will not say names.

The way down Badachu was more peaceful and adventurous than the way up. We decided to take Paul’s secret horse trail. Minus maneuvering around horse feces, the trail was a fun experience in itself. The landscape on the that side of the mountain reminded me of Southern California. We passed random horses with their Chinese masters along the way and we would politely move out of the way, say “ni hao” and move on.

My trip to Badachu was an incredible experience. When you live in a modern industrious city like Beijing, these mountains almost seem forgotten. Sometimes you need to escape the stress a city brings and clear your head. What a better place to do this but hiking at Badachu with your friends.

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Zhongguancun Staff Activity, by Rosemary Garfitt

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The Chinese QingMing festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, usually falls about a week before our Easter. In any normal week at Aihua it’s hard to find a day when everyone is free, as our day’s off are all different, but around public holidays everyone’s week is rescheduled to give everyone the same days free, so at ZhongGuanCun centre a group of six of us leapt at the chance to do something together.

One of our Chinese co-workers had heard of a small place way up in the North of Beijing where you pay a set fee for a cook-it-yourself all-you-can-eat barbeque. Sounded great!

We took the metroline 4 to its northernmost tip, then stood on a bus for over an hour, to a place called something along the lines of “The Popular Red Resting Spot”. The weather was very pleasant and we had a half-mile walk along a riverbank (along with approximately half the population of Beijing!) to a small, noisy, deliciously smoky, meaty-smelling, sunny yard with several trees, a couple of pagodas and a vast number of happy people.

Having queued in several different queues for cooking equipment and trays full of various shish-kebabbed meat & veg, two by two we carried our lit stove and wooden picnic table and benches around to find a space big enough for both them and ourselves. After losing a couple of territorial discussions with others in the same predicament, we happened upon an ideal spot of excitingly undulating ground wedged between two spindly trees and prepared for our banquet.

The food, beer and soft drinks were limitless: the only requirement being that you finish everything you have, otherwise you pay for anything that’s left uneaten – several pairs of eyes were bigger than their owners’ stomachs that day! We ate extremely well, and had an excellent time. When the last morsel had been coaxed down we played pool and pingpong in a large dusty building that resembled a disused aeroplane hangar.

All in all, great fun!

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Sculpture Park Activity, by Mike Lamariana

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Aihua held an Easter activity for our students at Bajiao Sculpture Park. One of my classes was chosen to take part in this activity. This event included teaching the students about certain fun activities that may take place during Easter.

We colored eggs with markers and also made unique designs on them. We also had an Easter egg hunt, where the students had to search the park and look for eggs that were hidden by the teachers and staff before the students arrived. We also sang an Easter song and handed out candy.

Teaching outdoors and with tangible examples was an enjoyable experience. Because of the interactive aspect of this activity the students were able to get a glimpse and a feel for how families may celebrate Easter abroad.

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Skateboarding in Beijing, by Paul Clarkin

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Skateboarding in China is very different than in Ireland, mainly due to the fact that where I come from skate boarding is new and different. Hence, due to this fact, some people can be quite abrasive towards it, seeing it as a pastime for troublemakers rather than an actual sport. However, upon coming to Beijing, which is also quite new to the skateboarding culture, I was welcomed to completely different reaction.
As it is completely new to a lot of people in Beijing, they seem more inquisitive towards to the ‘new form of transport’ rather than shunning it altogether. Old people especially, which is quite strange to me, seem to have a lot of respect for it and often give me smiles and thumbs up as I skate by, which never fails to make a foreigner feel welcome in such a big city.

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Message from the Director

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When I was a young man, in the time between completing my undergraduate and beginning my masters degree, and again in the time between completing my masters degree and beginning my doctorate, I took time off to work, to get out of the library and to see what the world was like. During both of these periods I went tree planting along the west coast of Canada. This was a rough, mud-caked job, and my co workers were mostly hairy French Canadians. We lived in our own tents, and spent our days stumbling up and down grim mountainsides, through bracken and bramble, and in some cases through napalmed landscape. Celtic DeerIt was a great adventure, sure, but at the same time it was a very difficult way of life. We would work for ten days straight and then have one day off. During the ten days working we could not shower or change clothes: our hands and feet were calloused and blistered; our bodies welted and swollen with every sort of insect bite. Sometimes bears stole our food from under our pillows while we slept.
Although I am happy to have had this experience when I was young, I really wish that I had taught English in China instead. As far as developing skills that might have been of use for my future, tree planting gave me preparation only for a job involving manual labour. As for dealing with people, or preparing and presenting ideas, it did nothing. Also, it was an awfully hard and lonely life. People who come to teach English in China have a laid back life teaching only 18 or so 40 minute periods per week, and they can use their free time to meet new people or to better themselves in some way.
I have been in Beijing for eight years, and I love it here. Admittedly, it does not have the natural beauty of Ireland, or Canada, but the people here are wonderful. Furthermore, every day I am faced with the shock of the new: everyday I see something that I have never seen, or even imagined seeing before.
Of course, it is a big step into the unknown to come to China: this is part of the enticement, of course, but it should also be a reason for hesitation. It is very possible for a teacher to step into a nightmare scenario here, to be cheated, used, stranded or coerced. This, however, will never happen at Aihua. To any teachers who come to work at Aihua, I give my word of honour that we will abide by the terms of our contract.

Furthermore, while you are with us I will consider your well being to be my primary responsibility: I will not hold your hand every step of the way, as finding your way through a strange new world is the most interesting part, but if, god forbid, something happens, the school, and all of our people, will be ready to support you.
Sincerely,
David Cotter

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