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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Working with Children Every Day, by Emma O’Sullivan

Working with children every day is by no means a walk in the park, however, neither is a trudge through a fire swamp! It takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm but it can be really rewarding. When the kids react to your energy and start to get excited about learning and participating in class it’s incredibly motivating. Even if you are feeling weary and a little indifferent, those feelings won’t last two minutes in a classroom with eight 5/6 year olds! You have to be familiar with the material you’re teaching, of course, but also, you have to be animated and excited about it! Yes, it can be difficult to fain interest in the fact that ‘It’s a chair!’ but once you see the kid’s faces light up you actually will be delighted that ‘It’s a chair!’. It can be tiring at times, definitely, but I think being tired after a day of teaching young children is a pretty amazing reason to be tired.

You need to patient and flexible when working with young children. Unfortunately, they usually cannot be reasoned with. Logic is not something they are familiar with! If they are upset, they will let you know. If they are hungry, they will let you know. If they are tired, they will let you know! Most of the time they can be distracted, if you look like you’re having fun they will want to join in. If the other children are having fun they will want to join in. You have to be able to quickly adapt to different situations that could arise at any moment. Young children can be unpredictable but as long as you keep your spirits up they will usually follow along. Dealing with these situations every day can be tough, thankfully, they don’t usually happen every day. And all you have to realize is every situation you deal with makes the next one that bit easier to handle.

Working with children every day is many things; it’s rewarding, it’s challenging, it’s tiring, it’s fun, it’s demanding, it’s exciting. However, the one thing it never is, is boring.

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Learning Chinese, by Rory Spittle

Learning Chinese in China is one of the most rewarding things that you can do. At first it seems impossible, incredibly difficult as you are obsessively comparing the language structure to English. Then something clicks. You forget about the constant comparisons as you are actively trying to engage in conversations with locals. There are laughs as you struggle but the people really do appreciate the fact that you are making an effort to communicate to them in their mother tongue.

The free lessons that Aihua offers are a great way to start learning the language and to inspire and motivate yourself to continue learning the language. As the language at first appears difficult it is easy to give up, but once you start interacting with the Chinese people around you it becomes fun. The free lessons are flexible and you have a choice of attending a group lesson with many other foreign teachers, or alternatively you can attend a V.I.P class where you have a solo lesson with the Chinese teacher. These for me are a much better way to learn as you don’t need to worry about the speed that everyone else in your class is learning at. The Chinese teacher makes the classroom a great atmosphere to learn, it is fun and challenging at the same time. Looking back over my year and a bit in China my Chinese has progressed a lot.

From the day I arrived, not being able to say anything but hello to now being able to tell a taxi driver exactly where I want to go, or ordering food or even asking for directions. Learning Chinese is certainly handy and it makes your experience in China that much better as it makes your life easier, and the interactions that come from the conversations are very memorable and fun. I recall trying to ask someone on a train which home town they were from and I mixed up my grammar and didn’t ask correctly, however they knew what I was trying to say and promptly followed by teaching me the correct sentence structure and teaching me some other things. Chinese people are very patient and will help you if you struggle with the language., I think learning Chinese has been a highlight of my time here as it improved my social interactions and allowed me to complete basic tasks such as ordering food when I travel around.

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Living in the “Shan”, by Victoria MacFarlane

What an incredible 7 months it’s been. Back home in England I had lived in a small village my whole life, which had its advantages in offering a quiet and scenic backdrop to my childhood, but the move to Beijing has been liberating and vastly different.

Here in Beijing, I live in Shijingshan District (simplified Chinese: 石景山区), but everyone calls it the Shan. It lies to the west of the urban core of Beijing and is part of the Western Hills area. It’s one of the smaller districts, but is still home to nearly half a million people (huge by my standards!). The western stretch of the easily accessible 5th Ring Road lies in this area, and the Bajiao Amusement Park Station on Line 1 of the Beijing Subway is located really close to the apartments where I (and the other Aihua teachers) live. For me, the Shan is the perfect balance of city living with easy connections, while being far enough out of the city centre to escape some of the madness.

I am also a keen runner, and being a little out of the city means being close to some beautiful mountain trails, as well as a leisure park which has been a great place to run this summer, though I may have to switch to a gym now that the chilly winter is nearly upon us.

In an neighbourhood with your fellow Aihua teachers and in a city containing millions of people, finding a social event to attend is never difficult. Hop on the subway and the potential for a good day or night out is endless. The diversity of Beijing allows you to learn about local cultures and others too, and discover shared interests with someone from a totally different background. Also, I love food and have loved trying all the authentic Chinese food on offer, but often still have a craving for Mediterranean or Mexican food! Beijing offers countless options when it comes to international cuisine. The Shan works as the perfect home base to shuttle into and out of the heart of the city, even if it’s just to get some tacos and burritos. Yum!

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Golden Week, by John Iuga

Would you like a legally enforced week off from work? Then come and work in China during the the National Day Holiday. October 1st is the day China commemorates the founding of the PRC and has done so every year since 1950. The holiday itself is actually only three days, but somehow the government rearranges the weekdays and essentially ‘stitches’ the two weekends on either side of the week together to effectively give everyone seven days off, hence: ‘Golden Week’. Expect to see jaw dropping queues and traffic-jams which last for days – this isn’t surprising considering over 700 million people travelled in that week in 2018 alone!

During this time myself and a few of the other amazing teachers at Aihua took an organised trip to Inner Mongolia, a large region in China to the west of Beijing. This was an opportunity to see a side of China we previously hadn’t had the privilege of experiencing yet: yurts with semi-functioning toilets, desert theme parks and traditional Mongolian death metal concerts (these are all real). I would have to say that aside from the horrendously arduous 10+ hour bus journey, we had admitted that once we had arrived and the activities started it was all immediately worth it: how often can you say you rode a horse, zip lined, rode an ATV in the desert, wrestled in horse manure and watched the sun rise from a yurt all in one day? If you love to travel as much as I do, then this holiday will immediately become one of your favourites.

This long holiday is one of the many amazing things about China: it just offers you the opportunity to do so many things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do back home. The tour companies here are excellent if you want to make friends from all over the world, and there was an amazing mix of people from countries you wouldn’t expect as well as plenty of locals wanting to get involved. Relatively speaking, we didn’t venture too far away from home, with others opting to go further afield to South Korea and the Philippines during the week-long holiday, just because. Other people used the time to just catch up on important things such as work and life-admin activities or relax with a nice book, which sounds just fine too. Just think: what would you do with a free whole week off?

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Jump outside your comfort zone!! No regrets!!, by Shane McCormack

So, my name is Shane and I am living in Beijing for more than two months now. I come from a small village in Tipperary, Ireland with a population of 150 people, so when I chose to come to Beijing my biggest fear was the population and how I was going to cope. Beijing’s has slightly more people than my village back home (22 million) so I thought to myself “how will I be able to move, to breathe, will I be cramped on the subway…..”. This, to my surprise, is not the case at all. The public transport is amazing, I can go anywhere in the city in a short time, I have lots of space to move and I have proven this by practicing my Irish Dancing skills, and I need a lot of space for that!

For as long as I can remember I always wanted to explore and China is the perfect setting for exploration. The vast amount of places to see is endless, and the sights are beautiful. In Ireland, I graduated with a Degree in Law and I worked in a governmental position, but I had itchy feet and I knew if I didn’t jump at an opportunity to travel I would regret it in years to come. So here I am, as happy as can be and I will explain to you why you should also jump outside your comfort zone and take the opportunity that is in front of you :)

If you are into food, Beijing is the place for you. The food is incredible, the service is top class and I promise you that you will never leave a restaurant hungry. In Ireland I used to love eating Chinese food, you know chicken curry, sweet and sour chicken, chow mein etc etc… When I arrived here I was shocked at how different the food was compared to back home. Beijing has more food types than bicycles (and there are a lot of bicycles). If you are a foodie like me, then you will be very much so in your element here.

I am a sports fanatic, and back home I played GAA which are the Irish games of football and hurling. I played soccer, tennis, really I played a bit of everything. I knew coming to China, I could be leaving my sports at home but again I was wrong. The choice of sports to choose from here is endless. There is a GAA team, many soccer teams, facilities for every sport you can name. This was a big plus for me as without sports, I think I would go mad.
Aihua has made me feel at home here. There is a fantastic network and support system here and if the Chinese language gets too confusing, Summer and Tina are two incredible ladies who always go above and beyond to support me and help in any way. The training they provide is done in a professional yet fun manner and me being a big child at heart had the opportunity to show my youth again without judgement (let’s just say more moments I believed I was 5 years old again).

What are you waiting for? Come on this adventure and JUMP outside your comfort zone. Become the person that is itching to get out there and explore and live life with no regrets.

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Ah, She’ll Never Come Home., by Aoife Quigley

These were the words echoed around the restaurant where I used to work. I graduated in 2017 with a BA in Irish and English. I’ll admit, Irish may have been a naïve choice for someone who was told that “she’s only fit for export” since the tender age of 13. I knew as soon as I started secondary school that Ireland wasn’t for me. I had mad notions of moving to Dubai, or working as anything in New York. I had watched my mother and father dread going to work for as long as I can remember. My mother is a nurse, and as many of you may know, working conditions for Irish nurses are horrendous. They take care of the nations sick and vulnerable and in return they get underpaid and over worked. She’ll always be the real MVP in my eyes. I knew that I wasn’t the type of person who could do that without complaining to anyone who would listen, or even those that wouldn’t. Conditions for new Irish teachers aren’t much different. Admittedly, I missed out on getting my Bachelor of Education by 5 points in my Leaving Cert, but to be honest, it was the best misfortune that could ever have happened.

During my summers in university, I worked as an au pair for the most amazing family in Cannes. Su and Si, an ex-pat couple, inspired me in ways that I didn’t think were possible, and then their kids, Oisin, Senan and Cara inspired me even more. During my time in France, I was bitten by the travel bug and I realized everyone was right. I was only fit for export. Su and Si’s generosity knew no bounds. They brought me to California, a trip which was an unforgettable experience. I began looking into ways to get to America but my BA degree let me down, as it had done in Ireland.

I eventually had to go home in order to earn some “real money.” The reality that I wasn’t Peter Pan, and had to grow up at some point hit me hard. I got a job in a local hotel back in Enniscorthy , County Wexford. Don’t get me wrong, the staff were amazing but I could feel that I was falling into the same bracket of people as my mam and dad. I needed to leave.

Like most ex-students in Ireland, I still used my student card to get discounts (they never really check the expiry date..) and sometimes I would read my college email, purely for the sense of nostalgia it gave me. Anyway, one day, I came across an email which was actually intended for ex-students. Shock, horror. It had a list of job opportunities both at home and abroad. There, nestled in amongst the 9-5 office jobs, was the opportunity to teach English in China with Aihua. Obviously, I updated my CV and sent it in. What did I have to lose? The first person I told was my father who replied with “I always told you to get your degree and then you can travel the world.” To be fair, he did.

After going through the interview process and sorting out my visa, I began to tell people my plan. “Ah Jesus, you’re mental.” “This is the last we’ll see of you so.” These were the most common responses. Closely followed by “Why China?” to which my only response was “why not?”

Turns out, everybody was right. China won me over. Working with Aihua has been the greatest experience. We work short 25 hour weeks, which means that we have plenty of time to explore locally, and we also have generous holidays which means we can travel further afield. We are also paid extremely well for the work we do, which allows us to fund these adventures. The support system that the company has is incredible. If you have a problem with anything, Summer and Tina can be contacted and it will be sorted out within 24 hours. Also, with regards to “teaching problems” your FCS and the Training Team are always available, I could swear that they are oracles and know the answer to everything. More importantly, the friends that you make while working here are second to none. Everybody is in the same boat and are always happy to talk about problems over a glass of wine. They truly are a special breed.

Needless to say, I’ve signed up for (at least) a second year here with Aihua. I think that the Chinese staff are becoming afraid that I will never leave.

Maybe being only fit for export wasn’t a bad thing.

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Beijing is a Great Home Base!, by Nicholas Flesch

Nestled in the northeast of China is a quaint little known hamlet called Beijing. It has a charmingly small population of 22 million people. Yet this little destination is quickly growing in popularity, and for good reason: through a fantastically fortunate stroke of luck all railroads lead to Beijing. This fact, in turn, makes this relatively unknown village a great place to explore China from.

If you want to see the bustling international metropolis of Shanghai, then take the speed train for 6 hours and arrive in time for lunch. If you’re more in the mood to explore the tomb of China’s first and most eccentric emperor then take a 5 hour train ride to Xi’an and get your picture taken with some terracotta warriors. Perhaps you have a three day weekend and have always wanted to see North Korea but never wanted to step foot inside. Well, aren’t you in luck. Go on up to Dandong and you can remain safely in China sipping a coffee on the city’s waterfront while taking in the breath taking views of North Korea just across the river. Go see where the Great Wall meets the sea in Shanhai Guan, only 2.5 hours from Beijing, and take a walk on the beach while you’re there. Perhaps you’re feeling a bit blue and need a taste of home to pick up your spirits. The place to get a nice slice of home is Tian Jin, a mere 40 minutes outside of Beijing, where those rascally European colonists did up the down in their home country styles. It’s still like that today but with less imperialism!

So what are you waiting for? Come on over and live in Beijing for a nice quiet experience of China and Chinese culture. But remember, when you’re itching for an adventure it’s just a quick rail trip away.

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Sports in Beijing!, by Matthew Jones

It is easy to watch or play almost any sport you can think of in Beijing, or indeed any major city in China. Speaking for myself, I have been practicing Krav Maga (read: taking beatings), an Israeli martial art, for over a year now. Taught both in Chinese and English, it also serves as a free Chinese lesson, and was easy to find and join.

China has been undergoing a sporting ‘revolution’ since the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics: China is a very patriotic country and its people were immensely proud when they topped the gold medal count in their home Olympics. Since then, the number of sporting facilities open to the (increasingly wealthy) public has been growing rapidly, and Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Some of these events will be held in Shijingshan (Aihua’s local area in Beijing), and you can already see the construction sites and marketing for this. There are also former Olympic sites from the 2008 games in the local area, many of which have been repurposed into parks and gyms.

Some of the most popular sports in Beijing are football, basketball, ping pong and badminton. Football is popular in schools and China’s premier football league, the Chinese Super League, is big business (you might have heard about Chinese football clubs buying up famous Western footballers). Basketball courts are everywhere, as are ping pong and badminton facilities. Some of these are outside and free to use. One reason basketball is so popular is because of Yao Ming, a retired Chinese basketball player who was vey successful in the NBA. You can find his face on advertisements everywhere in Beijing. Martial arts are perhaps less popular to practice than you might think, but culturally remain extremely important. If you head to the park early in the morning, you can still see groups of people practicing Tai Chi, and putting your (or at least my) flexibility to shame.

Watching sports in Beijing is also very easy – and cheap. You can watch any of the most popular sports in person and, because of the great public transport system in Beijing, this is straightforward. Beijing’s Guoan football club are about 50 minutes away by the subway, and a season ticket is very cheap. Large basketball stadiums are everywhere, including a new one only a few subway stations away. Of course, international teams tour here during their pre-season, so you can watch many of your favourite teams from home that way too. If motorsport is your thing, some teachers have also taken the bullet train down to Shanghai for the annual Formula 1 race there.

In China, just like the West, you can also watch any sport you like online (normally for free). China’s national broadcaster, CCTV, has two dedicated sports channels which cover many of the major sporting events, and can be watched on your TV or online. There are also ‘streaming’ websites that provide links for different events, and pay-per-view streaming sites that allow you to stream games at a very low cost. These are often bundled in with your basic subscription for things like movies and TV shows; think of Netflix with sports.

Yao Ming (that famous basketball player) said: “No matter whether you are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another.” Every newcomer needs some time to adjust to Beijing, of course, but after that initial settling-in period you’ll find everything you want or need, from ping pong to Papa John’s. Welcome to Beijing!

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Life in Beijing…, by Buffy Arbman

It’s funny how life goes on. I’m coming up on the end of my second year in China with Aihua, and I suddenly realized that after a while anything can begin to feel normal. It’s been an interesting and fun 2 years, and the absolute BEST experience I could ever have taken a chance on. When I first got here, I was nervous, wondering how I would cope, what would eventually annoy me, and I was feeling really nervous that I could last even 12 months.

The team at Aihua make it all very easy. And you adjust – surprisingly quickly! When I first got here, I got embarrassed anytime time someone stared at me, or took a photo of me. Back home, the number of photos my family has of me can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. Here? I couldn’t even begin to count how many pictures I have posed for with complete strangers! I’m in sneaky selfies – where the person walks ahead of you, then takes a selfie, ensuring you are in the frame! Quick snapshots – the amount of times someone has run / walked very quickly past me, then turned around and walked backwards to take a photo or a video. I’ve got to the stage when, if I see it happening, I smile and wave – it makes them a little nervous at being caught, but they generally come over and ask for a proper photo.

Having come from a country where everyone owns a car – or at least has access to a car, having no personal transport takes a bit of getting used to. I’ve worn out 2 pairs of walking shoes here, and my family thought it was hilarious that the official family couch potato asked for walking shoes for Christmas last year! I did get game here in Beijing and buy a scooter and a bicycle. The scooter was a lot of fun to ride until I had a couple of accidents on it (nothing serious, and pretty much caused by over-confidence on my part), but in the winter it was FREEZING to ride!! It didn’t matter how many layers you put on, you still froze. I have gone back to the buses as they are reasonably convenient.

It even becomes completely normal to walk around anywhere and realize that it no longer bothers you that you don’t understand a word of what is going on around you. I get by most of the time on sign language, and a smattering of Chinese – I’ve been really bad at learning the language. But then, with the tones in Chinese, it takes a while to learn to hear the difference in seemingly similar sounding words. I’m ready to give it another go, and this time, hopefully with better results…!

It might all sound scary and unknown sitting at home, but really, once you get over the initial fear of ‘what ifs’, China (and Beijing!) is an incredible and amazing adventure. It has been the most amazing outcome for a choice and decision I could ever have imagined. I’ve enjoyed it so much, I’m staying in China, and continuing to explore and learn about this wonderful country and its friendly people.

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