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Aihua in China’s Technology Hub, by Janus

 

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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.

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Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, by Janus

 

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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! “

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The Aihua Cup of Nations, by Liam Cunningham

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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.

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Rock Climbing in Beijing, by Rob Warman

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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!

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Beijing vs Shanghai Football Night, by Emmet Gates

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Last Sunday most of the teachers at Aihua went to their first ever Chinese Super League game at the Workers’ Stadium. There was a good 15 strong crowd of us, eagerly hoping we would all get tickets. Before the game I did some research and saw that the stadium has a capacity of 66,000 and Beijing’s average attendance is somewhere in the 43,000 figure. I was quite confident we would get tickets, even if it was a local derby of sorts against Shanghai Shenxin.

Thanks to our fellow teacher Rob and his friend, we all got tickets at a very reasonable price of 60RMB. Most of us, excited by the prospect of the match to come, bought Beijing merchandise to show our support for our local team.

We all went for a pre-game pint in a local bar just around the corner from the Stadium. The beer, it has to be said, wasn’t that nice…but we didn’t care.

On a personal note, it was a very strange experience to be able to bring my drink not only into the stadium but also to my seat. I have been to live games in Italy, Germany, Spain & England and this is always a major no go!

Anyway, on to the match! In the first half, Shanghai was by far the better side, dominating Beijing and rightfully being two goals up by half time. Beijing had offered little and couldn’t keep possession of the ball. It was fair to say we were all underwhelmed with our first time to the Workers’ Stadium. Out for a half time pint we went.

We actually missed about ten minutes or so of the second half by the time we had gotten our drinks and made it back into the stadium. Thankfully, we were all sitting together as the stadium looked half full. We were positioned behind one of the goals in the curva.

Beijing had started brightly and then came the game changer, their ace in the hole, the man who would change the entire complexity of the game. One Frederic Kanoute.

It was my surprise to learn that Kanoute had ended up in China, having been a star with Sevilla in their best years under Juande Ramos, winning two consecutive UEFA Cups. Here he was! He clearly wasn’t 100% fit as he would have no doubt started the game if he had been.

His presence seemed to lift the side, the crowd could sense it and shortly after his arrival, Beijing won a penalty which Kanoute himself scored to make it 1-2. The wind was now in the home team’s sails, and the equalizer came shortly after. It was now 2-2!

Both of Beijing’s goals happened at our end of the pitch, so all of the Aihua teachers went absolutely nuts for the second goal. I threw my beer into the air in celebration!

Beijing then pressed on, in the hope of a third goal. Once again, Kanoute was involved, laying the ball exquisitely for Guerron who hit the ball on the volley from about ten yards out, and skimmed it off the crossbar. It was fair to say that if the strike had gone in, we would have ended up 6 rows down from where we were sitting!

The match ended 2-2, unfortunately. The home side couldn’t find the eventual winner, but it was a superb second half performance. We owed it all down to one man… Freddy! Freddy! Freddy! We chanted his name whilst leaving the stadium.

After the game we went to a restaurant called “Tube Station”, which served undoubtedly the biggest pizzas I have ever seen in my entire life! And everyone scoffed them down without thinking twice about it!

It was a cracking night from start to finish. Beer, Football, and Pizza. How can you top a night like that? We are all planning to get down to another game soon!

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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.