Teach English in China - Aoife Quigly

Easter in China, by Aoife Quigley

From the earliest times, people in Ireland have marked the start of spring. They celebrated that the land had once again become fertile, birds began to lay eggs again and baby animals were born. When Christianity was introduced to Ireland, around the time St Patrick lived, many of these customs became connected with the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion, which is commemorated on Good Friday. Hence, the pagan beliefs around the rebirth of nature joined with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection.

Being a young Irish person, two things spring to mind when I think of Easter; the panic inducing, alcohol free Good Friday and the ill – fated Easter Rising of 1916. Leaving Easter itself in the back seat.

However, for the 78.3% of the population that identify as Catholics, it often means a whole lot more.
I remember as a kid, my granny would have a conniption if you put your cup of tea down on the table on Easter Sunday, as the priest was on his way to bless the house. I also remember that she’d get her haircut on Good Friday and God forbid we didn’t go to mass at least once during the holiday.

I also remember going from relation to relation’s house, collecting way too many Easter eggs than anyone should finish in a lifetime.

As I grew up, and started receiving money rather than eggs, I realized that Easter wasn’t just for the kids and the elderly. I was exposed to the pre-Good Friday alcohol shop and the Fairyhouse Festival, one of the most prestigious horse racing events of the year.

While it’s not really celebrated in China, some of the established churches with buildings treat it like a mini Chinese New Year complete with red paper slogans called chūnlián (春联) on the church building and in the homes, special bands or music, and special decorations.

And of course, if you’re looking for your Easter chocolate fix, Baopals can sort you out..

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Teach English in China - Kaia Murray

Christmas in Beijing, by Kaia Murray

Christmas is a time most of us spend with family. The thought of spending the holiday season away from home can therefore be a bit daunting. Fortunately, with a little ingenuity and flexibility, it’s entirely possible to create a festive atmosphere here in Beijing.

In China, Christmas is acknowledged in the same way that Valentine’s day is in the West. It is viewed as a light-hearted day to spend with friends rather than a family-focused day built on traditions and customs. In the lead up to Christmas, decorations, Santa Claus and Christmas Trees start popping up around the city. Many can still be seen standing days after New Year’s Day. Christmas and New Year’s almost merge into one extended event. Although Christmas is not widely celebrated in China, many businesses will acknowledge the event and friendly locals are eager to wish Westerners a merry Christmas. This makes celebrating Christmas easier.

Getting into the Christmas spirit is simply a matter of figuring out how to bring Christmas to you. What can you do to make it feel like Christmas? Fairy lights, decorations and plastic Christmas trees are easily obtainable online. Carrefour and Wu Mart also include a Christmas section in December if you are looking to decorate. Playing Christmas carols and organizing a Christmas morning present swap are great ways to create a shared, festive atmosphere.

Aihua organizes events and activities to help bring Christmas to its centres and teachers. At the end of last year, as Christmas approached, each centre organized a Secret Santa and a meal for the staff there. Both local and foreign staff got together and had a great time. For Christmas Day, the foreign teachers from all centres were invited to a buffet dinner at a nearby hotel. It was a day filled with food, fantastic people, laughter and all things jolly. Both the buffet and Secret Santa helped to spread the Christmas spirit.

Spending Christmas in China is undoubtedly different to spending it at home, but getting into the spirit is simply about figuring out how to bring Christmas to you. Decorations are obtainable, Christmas trees are displayed throughout the city, and Aihua organizes activities to ensure its teachers are surrounded by people just as eager to celebrate the day. Creating a festive atmosphere is entirely possible with a little bit of effort. What makes Christmas merry?

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Teach English in China - Rachel Goodwin

Fun bits of Chinese culture, by Rachel Goodwin

I have been in China for a year and a half now and one thing I still cannot get my head around is Chinese culture. It is absolutely fascinating and I feel like I am always learning new things. They have so many little things and superstitions that some would think are crazy but I think they are endearing.

One superstition I find very interesting is not to buy clocks for a gift. For secret Santa, we wanted to be sure we wouldn’t offend anyone with a gift and we were told not to buy any type of clock or watch because it is a bad omen. It is seen to be counting down the days to death. I am very glad I was told because back at home it is pretty common to buy someone a watch for Christmas!

Drinking hot water is another one. Hot water seems to be the cure for everything here. For every ailment I have had someone has told me to drink it. Everyone is really sweet and even if you just cough or sneeze once someone will run to get you a cup of hot water.

Another one I find interesting and I would love to learn more about is, people burning what I believe is fake money on the streets. I was told that it was to send wealth to their dead loved ones. I think it is also a sign of respect. It’s an amazing thing to see, people setting small fires on the streets.

I think one of my favourites is not being able to write names in red pen. I remember on my first day, my very first class. I asked my class to write their names on the board and I gave them a red pen. The first kid comes up and looks horrified, but still does it. I have no idea what is happening. The second kid came up and explained to me along with the CT that they believe it’s again a bad omen to the person whose name is written. (I think it is also wishing death upon them or something too) and I have never been so horrified in my life!

I could be wrong for the reasons behind any of these because I have just been told in passing or it could be that people believe them for different reasons or not at all. Either way I find the quirks in the Chinese culture fascinating. Every culture has it’s quirks but here they are so different to back home. I could never imagine someone casually lighting a fire on a street corner back in England!

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Teach English in China - Luke Edwards

Learning Chinese, by Luke Edwards

I`m coming up to 7 months being in China. It`s been an incredible experience thus far, I`ve met lots of interesting people, made life-long friends and seen so much of what China has to offer. One thing that was on my mind before coming here was the language barrier. I asked myself, `How will I live in another country not knowing the language?` So I set about learning useful phrases and commonly used vocabulary before I set off to Beijing. I recommend that prospective teachers do this as it will help you immensely, even the slightest bit of knowledge on the structure of the language and useful phrases will go a long way here. There are many apps you can use to aid in this, I used a great app called “Hello Chinese”, which I got for free on the Google Play Store.

That being said, don`t feel too much pressure to learn everything before you can get here as you can make it here with the most basic of phrases and even gestures can get you what you want.

Aihua provides a great environment for learning Chinese. All foreign teachers get two free lessons per week in classes ranging from beginner to advanced. In addition to this, teachers have the choice to get a third class which is called a `VIP` class where it`s just one on one which is great for catering to what you want to learn specifically. (Apply to this early as the demand is high for these classes). The group classes follow a book which the Chinese teacher will follow. It`s such a fun experience to start learning with all the new Foreign teachers as most of you will be rookies to the language. This means you will all learn together which makes for a more enjoyable experience (and funny).

The Chinese teacher is called `Tashina` and she`s an experienced, very friendly and caring teacher. She`s more than willing to answer any questions you may have. All Aihua group classes are in the morning time which keeps you nice and busy. Due to the comfortable work hours at Aihua, (afternoon weekday starts), you have complete freedom to further your Chinese studies how you see fit. Many teachers go into their schools early to work with their CTs and get help from them learning the language, they are very happy to help you study, a language exchange if you will. You create great friendships through this, even just chatting in the workplace can become a lesson in itself.

Another great medium for learning Chinese are private lessons. I get tutored by a teacher once a week in addition to my regular Chinese classes, I believe that this has taken my Chinese to a higher level, the prices are very reasonable too. That being said, it`s all choice, if you`d rather just take the free Aihua classes then you can do just that. Just being proactive and getting out to see Beijing can aid your studies, be it on the subway hearing Chinese conversations or attempting to order food at a restaurant, it`s a language lesson just being here and taking it all in. There are also many language exchange groups that you can partake in and meet very friendly Chinese people to befriend and study with too. Personally, I`ve been on many trips with `CET` (Culture Exchange Trip) where I`ve met great friends, those of which I regularly meet up with to study with and improve my Chinese.

The opportunities here are endless if you`re looking to broaden your language learning so it all comes down to you and what you want, if you want it, it`s all here for you.

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Teach English in China - Faye Rodger

Living in Rongjingcheng, by Faye Rodger

Rewind 10 months ago I landed in Beijing with a some expectations. As one of the most populated cities in the world, I half expected the streets to be shoulder to shoulder with people and every building to be a sky scrapper. To my surprise, this wasn’t the case. Of course the streets are busy, but no more so than any populated city in the UK. Of course there are sky scrappers but again, no more than you would find in certain cities in the UK. But with time, I came to truly appreciate the size of Beijing. Lets just say, you can be driving for a few hours and you’re still in Beijng!!

Fred, the Foreign Headmaster picked me up at the hotel I had been staying (I arrived a few days earlier than others, through my own choice) and brought me to Shijingshan, a district west to central Beijing. I was taken to my apartment in an area known as Rongjingcheng. Rongjingcheng consists of a series of high rise apartments in different complexes, that all have the same exterior. I remember my first day vividly, my future housemate was still on holiday, I had yet to sort my foreign SIM card out. I decided to go for a walk which lasted 5 minutes for the fear of getting lost.

The apartment itself is lovely. Very spacious with two good size double bedrooms, living area, bathroom and kitchen. To my surprise, there was no oven in the kitchen. My intention of cooking regularly soon evaporated. Thankfully though, there are lots of restaurants within a short walking distance, all of which are Chinese!!! If like me, you crave pizza or KFC from time to time, there are many apps that will deliver such food to your door which is a god send in winter!!!

I live in one of the smaller complexes but some of the larger ones have fantastic communal gardens which in warmer months are lovely. Its not uncommon to come across Chinese people doing their group exercises, such as dancing or Tai Chi. Also, during the warmer months little street venders selling fruit and vegetables pop up in such areas.

Rongjingcheng is around one mile away from the nearest subway station. In spring and autumn it’s a pleasant walk that takes around 20 minutes, however from experience during summer said walk can result in you dripping in sweat and in winter, well its just freezing. The nearest bus stop is a 10 minute walk for me, the buses come very regularly and are very, very cheap. Alternatively, you can MoBike to and from the station. MoBike is a bike sharing app and again, costs very little and can cut your journey time in half.

A vast majority of the other FTs all live in within this area which is great for socializing. Whether it be going for food after work, ordering in and gossiping or having a roof top gathering (party) the possibilities are endless. Rongjingcheng is a community within a community and a great place to live.

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Teach English in China - Buffy Arbman

Western food in Beijing, By Buffy Arbman

Eating in Beijing is a wonderful experience. There is a large range of foods and styles to choose from, including southern and northern inspired Chinese dishes, dishes from specific provinces, as well as other Asian based cooking styles – who can go past a delicious Mongolian hot-pot, or a Korean BBQ restaurant? But after a while, what you really want is a familiar taste of home, and cooking that looks like something you or your mum would cook. There is a good range of western restaurants and eateries in Beijing, including well known chains like McDonald’s. KFC, and Starbucks. These places usually have the standard international menu, as well as including a couple of dishes that are more suited to the palate of the local Chinese people.

For those of you that like to cook – and I’m one of these people – cooking poses its own challenges. The local supermarkets are well stocked with local produce, so I suggest that you are adventurous and try the fresh seasonal vegetables in your cooking. Most of them are variations of vegetables that you get at home – even if they don’t initially look like it! Meat is meat – you can buy beef, lamb, pork and chicken, as well as many different types of poultry. Coming from New Zealand, I haven’t seen many these birds readily available in the supermarkets before, so that has been an interesting experience. If you are going to cook meat, it would pay to learn the Chinese names for the various types of meat, especially if there is a type you don’t like or don’t eat.

The fun starts, however, when you get to the flavouring of the food. I haven’t managed to sort out all the herbs and spices in the main supermarkets, but they carry a range of spices. There are also many types of peppers and chilies. Curry is available, as well as stock in liquid or jelly form, and sugar and salt. The main problem with the spices is that they are labelled (of course!!) in Chinese, which if you don’t read Chinese, can be a bit of a problem. Many of the packets are starting to come out with English written on them as well, but you then arrive at the next problem – not everyone calls the herb or spice by the same name. Be prepared to do a little bit of research, or to be adventurous when buying spices.

If you really need or want a specific herb or spice, there are the international stores around Beijing, and they specialize in bringing in western foods, including the jams, herbs, spices and other things we often take for granted back home, and learn to appreciate while we are in Beijing. Of course, anything that is imported into China is more expensive.

If you come with a ‘can-do’ attitude, as well as the flexibility and willingness to try new things and new techniques or tastes, then you will do well in Beijing!

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Teach English in China - Irene Doolan

From Ballinasloe to Beijing, By Irene Dolan

So I am living in Beijing for nearly four months now, and it’s been some journey! I come from a very small town in Ireland so moving to Beijing was a big step. I finished studying Social Care in 2016 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I decided one day that I would do a TEFL course and see where it took me, and here I am, in China!

My first couple of weeks were crazy; getting used to people staring, spitting and the squatter toilets. I am used to being stared at, but the other two – I will never accept! These are the only negatives I have to my experience so far.

The people are great, and the food is great – although sometimes the meat can be a bit dodge I do enjoy the food here. The flavors are great, sometimes oil is used a little bit too much but hey, it’s tasty! It can be fun ordering in a restaurant – usually it involves me pointing to a picture and hoping whatever I have ordered is edible, but I’ve been very lucky so far. It is also very cheap to eat out, so I rarely cook dinner. Cooking can be awkward as I don’t have an oven, so I crave lasagna, oven roasted vegetables, roast chicken etc. from time to time.

If you are into having a good time and enjoying a drink, China is the bee’s knees. Everything is cheap. We live about 45 minutes taxi ride away from the big party area called Sanlitun, but they have bars and clubs that cater for everyone. There are other areas like students areas which I prefer myself and they are closer! “DiDi” is a great app to get – it allows you to order a taxi and you can follow it on the map. Sometimes they ring you and the fear sets in that I won’t understand so usually I hang up and send them a text message.

The language barrier was a big worry for me. People try to talk to me in the lift and I have no clue what they are saying. So I just look at them and say I don’t understand in Chinese (I’m not going to attempt to spell that word!!) I have started Chinese lessons which are provided by Aihua. I’m slowly but surely learning. I don’t expect to be fluent, but to know the basics.

I have not been a great tourist as of yet – a lot of my days off have been spent sitting on the couch watching TV, a waste really – but I’m here for a year (at least) I went to Temple of Heaven – it was nice, but I got a little bit bored there after seeing a couple. But that’s just me! I did hike uphill the Great Wall and went camping. It was a tough hike carrying a big bag, water, tent, etc but it was worth it. The views were incredible, it was so much fun meeting new people and we partied until the early hours! It wasn’t that expensive either.

Getting around China is graaand. Between “DiDi”, buses and the subway you can manage. The subway is easy to follow. I bought a bike at the start of the year so I used to cycle to work, but now I have a scooter so I am in my element. Cycling/scooting on the China roads is very daunting at first. People walk out in front of you, car doors open and cars can turn right on a red light. So you have to have your wits about you – but you get used to it. Also get used to cars beeping their horns, sometimes it goes through me. Some people beep just for the sake of it. It can be quite annoying.

Working for Aihua has been great. The Chinese Teachers are very nice. Everyone is more than happy to help – I was unfortunate enough to lose my phone and bank card, and the staff at Aihua were very helpful bringing me back and forth to phone shops and banks. You never feel alone. The apartments are great, we all live near each other it’s like a little community.

Overall I am really enjoying my experience, I probably left out quite a few things that I wanted to talk about but this will do. 

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Teach English in China - Aoife Quigly

If I were a city, I’d be Beijing, by Aoife Quigley

I come from a small town in County Wexford, Ireland where there’s maybe 10,000 people. Even Ireland only has a grand total of 8 million. Moving to Beijing, a city, with over 24 million, was a daunting experience. How was Mary down the road going to know my business here?

I had recently graduated University and had no idea what to do with my life. I tried au pairing for a while in France, where I was bitten by the travel bug and I soon felt it was time to move on.

When I moved back to my hometown, working ridiculous hours as a waitress, I was itching to leave. I jumped at the opportunity to work in Beijing.

I quickly fell in love with the city. Within my first week I realized that I could spend 10 years here, and I’d still have only scratched the surface.

The skyline is ever changing as buildings are torn down and new ones replace them. The city is growing, and so am I. This city gently forces you out of your comfort zone. My first night here, I was petrified to even cross the road for fear of being hit by a scooter. Now, 2 months later, I own my own scooter which I literally use for everything, including going to the restaurants which are a two minute walk away.

When I first arrived, ordering food was petrifying. Thankfully, all of the menus have pictures, but as they say, ‘looks can be deceiving.’ Is it going to be chicken feet? Is it going to be pig’s spine? Who knows. You eventually get over it and it simply becomes an issue of hit and miss. I’m not going to lie though, sometimes it is just more convenient to order a pizza straight to your door.

After devouring a pizza (or whatever your chosen source of nutrition was.) and you feel like hitting the tiles, there’s an abundance of places close by. Assuming you’re ready to leave before 11pm, there isn’t a place that the subway wont get you close to. If not, taxis are amazingly cheap, especially with the taxi app, DiDi. There’s also a nightclub here for everyone, if Coppers (the most well known nightclub in Ireland) is your thing, there are many nightclubs that will cater for you. (Just don’t expect to see ‘cultchies’ in there gingham shirts and brown shoes.) If you’re more of an Indie Cindy, or into Drum and Bass or whatever, there’s also a few pretty cool places dotted around. There are also table quizzes, drink and draw nights, amazing rooftop bars with pools, there’s even an archery bar. (Haven’t scoped that one out yet, but it sounds promising.)

When I first arrived, I felt like the language barrier would be more difficult to find my way around than it actually is. I find that my charade skills work a charm, however, it’s no harm to have a few simple phrases, even if your pronunciation is questionable. I’ve found that Chinese people are very happy to help you, and will more often than not, go out of their way to accommodate you in whatever way they can.

If you’ve a hobby from home that you wish to continue over here, it’s more than likely possible. For the Irish sports fan, there’s a well established GAA team, there’s also both ladies and mens soccer teams, rugby teams, I’ve even managed to find an English speaking ballet class!

The ballet class is conveniently located close to my favorite part of the city, the Art District, also known as 798. Here you will find a huge contrast to the rest of Beijing. Graffiti literally covers every inch of wall available, and there are sculptures around every corner. There are a number of galleries in this area that are free and a number of them worth paying for. I once blindly walked into a gallery, only to be greeted by the artist, who, it turns out, is quite famous, Zhao Bandi. That same day, I managed to get tickets to the Eifman Ballet’s performance of Anna Karenina in the National Centre of Preforming Arts. (If you don’t know what that place looks like, Google it, or if you’re already in China, Bing it.) There’s honestly so much to do here. During the National Holiday, a group of us took a two hour bus journey, completed a two hour uphill hike and camped on The Great Wall, which truly was bucket list worthy.

While people are rebuilding Beijing, Beijing is building me.

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Teach English in China - Matthew Jones

Oases of Calm in Beijing, by Matthew Jones

Out of all the cities I have lived and worked in, Beijing has proven itself to be the most interesting and – at times – most surprising. Of course, the language is fascinating (as is the culture), the food is delicious, the city is enormous, and more. However, the most surprising thing about Beijing (and China in general) has been how it balances the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ across two of these areas – language and architecture.

When you arrive in China, you will notice that almost every sign has both Chinese characters and an English translation. Starbucks, for example, is both ‘Starbucks’ and ‘星巴克’. This is very helpful for us foreigners, and reflective in general of China’s push to make itself more international. Meanwhile, countless millions of Chinese citizens have been reaching high levels of English fluency, and English has itself started to seep into the Chinese language. Perhaps the most obvious examples of this are the new ‘loan words': Chinese words which are made to sound like an English word. Some of these are for new ideas or products to China – bacon, for example, is 培根 (pinyin: péigēn), and guitar is 吉他 (pinyin: jítā). Others are just for high-frequency words in English that many Chinese people know – bus, for example, is 巴士 (pinyin: bāshì).

My favourite example, however, of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ is how Beijing places old-style and modern architecture side-by-side. Head to the very centre of Beijing, and you will find numerous temples, tea shops, and historic streets (called ‘hutongs’) sitting beside modern apartment blocks and shopping malls. So, you can walk out of a shopping mall, having bought a new pair of shoes and holding a cup of your favourite 星巴克 coffee, and explore a nearby temple or hutong should you feel like something more authentic. If you go at the right time, or find the right spot, these really are oases of calm in what is otherwise an extremely modern, dynamic, and exciting city. I’m not sure about you but, for me, having a coffee in the Confucius Temple is a pretty good way to pass the time before dinner.

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Teach English in China - Klaudia Long

Living in Beijing, by Klaudia Long

Each time a family member or friend asks me about the strangest aspect of Beijing, I always say the attention from the locals. Sure, I could say the bathrooms, but I like to keep it positive and telling people that I’m basically famous with strangers taking pictures of me tends to get a laugh or shocked gasp. I know I was certainly surprised when it first happened. While it does take a moment to become accustomed to the observations and pictures, I’ve grown to find it pleasant. It’s typically well-meant and your smiles, in response to the stares, are always returned.

A few times, however, I’ve needed to reflect some of the advances. A number of people have already approached me in numerous places, from the airport when I just walked off of the plane to the bathroom at a restaurant, to ask for private lessons. Of course, I have always rejected the requests since 1) I don’t have the time and 2) I could technically be deported for going against my work visa.

Typically, these approaches are pleasant experiences. One such time, I was visiting a landmark with a fellow teacher. A lady approached us speaking hesitant, but eloquent English. I was completely prepared to give her the usual immediate no to her forthcoming request to teach her or her children, but she was more interested in teaching us. We spent the next 40 or so minutes listening to this woman explain the significance of the site, partaking in the customs, such as circling the temple three times, and exchanging WeChat information with her. I’m looking forward to future meetings, dinners, and cooking lessons from this stranger turned friend- a classic example of the friendly attention from the locals and an occurrence that I could not have imagined at home.

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