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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Teach English in China - Megan Lucas

Riding the bus, by Megan Lucas

Riding the bus is a very daunting experience in a foreign country. It is especially scary in a country that doesn’t speak English. Riding the bus in China for the first time is next level stuff. If you do not have a basic understanding of ‘transportation’ Chinese then you’d best do a little research before you step onto the bus. It’s only difficult in the beginning. Once you get familiar with the routes, you can traverse Beijing quickly and cheaply.

Getting around Being is very cheap generally. Taxis are obviously the priciest and while you could probably afford to take a taxi now and again and not break the bank, riding the bus costs CNY 2. If you have a transportation card, your trip only costs you CNY 1.

A transportation card takes care of your bus rides all through Beijing but not outside of Beijing. Do not go to Shanghai and think you can ride their busses with your Beijing money. The transportation card can also be used on the subway. You can top it up at any station with as little as CNY 10 and as much as CNY 500. When you purchase the card for the first time, there is a CNY 20 deposit. The prices of your bus ride will be clearly displayed on the door of the bus.

Here are few things to help you ride the bus like a professional.
1. Busses have numbers
There are hundreds of routes running all through Beijing and to create some kind of order, there is a bus number system in place. I haven’t quite figured out the system but it has something to do with certain busses only riding at night and others travelling further distances. Certain numbered busses only run within the 3rd Ring Road for instance.
2. Tracking the bus with technology
If you know the bus you’re going to take, you can look up the number on Baidu Maps and you will able to see where it is in real-time. This helps when it’s raining or the middle of winter and you’d much rather be dry and warm than standing on the sidewalk looking up and down the street in a confused daze because you don’t understand where your bus is.
There are many apps you could use to find out routes and real-time locations. One of them is Che Lai Le. Unfortunately, for now, this app and its impressively accurate by-the-minute updates on bus arrival time is limited only to busses fully equipped with WiFi.
3. Bus Times
The busses run from around 5am depending on the bus and the last bus is at around 11pm which is also the time the subway stops running. Make sure to look at the sign at your bus stop if you plan on using the same bus to return home. It would be a nightmare to be stranded in an area where the only thing you recognize is a bus number that is not coming for you.
4. Ask for help
You could ask a ticket conductor for some help. They may seem a little unapproachable at first but if you don’t try then the answer remains no and you remain lost. Show them the name of your destination in Chinese characters to confirm that the bus you are on is the correct one. Nine times out of ten you don’t even have to ask them to tell you when to get off because most of them tend to take you under their wing naturally. You can ask them the following phrase or if you don’t know how to read Chinese, just show them.

I want to go (name of destination) please tell me when we are almost there
我想去(name of destination) 快到那个站时请提醒我
Wǒ xǐang qù (name of destination) kuài dào nà gè zhàn shí qǐng tí xǐng wǒ

A few things to remember:
• While the busses are incredibly efficient, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a traffic jam.
• Take care of your personal belongings. China is relatively safe but people are people and if there is a cellphone dangling in a backpack in front of some people, they’ll think it’s a gift.
• Some busses only permit boarding from the middle door and exiting from the front and rear doors while others have no system and even if you find yourself standing in a line, as soon as the bus arrives, you will find yourself standing in another line waiting for the next bus because you’ve been pushed out of the way.
• Bus stops are announced and displayed in Pinyin for your convenience.
• All announcements are in Chinese so it is perfectly fine to put your earphones in and drown it out until there is some sort of an emergency. In the event there is an evacuation or a sudden malfunction, just follow the crowd or wait until you are roughly ushered out.
• During rush hour, be prepared for a lot of pushing and squeezing and total disregard of personal space.

Gird your loins and happy travelling.

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Teach English in China - Andrew Cooper

Being a foreigner in Beijing, by Andrew Cooper

With its vast population, pirate accents and passionate love for karaoke, Beijing may seem an overwhelmingly alien place at first. However, in the same way that people back home have come to view hot dog stuffed crust pizzas as a socially acceptable thing, time and familiarity eventually accustom you to the quirks of being a foreigner in Beijing.

Back home, if you catch someone staring at you, one of two things happens: they notice that you’ve clocked them and quickly shift their gaze, or you begin to wonder if you’ve left your zip down all day. Again. An insistent stare can be the cause of some discomfort, but in Beijing it is quite a common occurrence. It mainly comes from children, who then alert their parents to the presence of a “wai guo ren”. The parents have usually seen a fair few foreigners before and usually shrug it off with the Chinese equivalent of “Whatever, I’m trying to play Candy Crush.”

During the holidays, when Beijing is busy with Chinese tourists from the countryside, the stares become more intense and people might also stop you for pictures. This is your chance to indulge your fantasy of being a C-list celebrity and become a part of someone’s holiday sightseeing itinerary: Forbidden City, check. Summer Palace, check. Random foreigner on the bus, check. If you don’t take it with good humour, it would probably get quite annoying pretty quickly, but you can inject a bit of fun into it by telling them that you’re a famous actor in your home country. That way you get a taste of the celebrity lifestyle without the money or acclaim, and they get to tell their friends and family that they met a genuine movie star who, now that they think about it, didn’t give the names of any of their films and whose identity is completely unverifiable. It’s win-win!

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Teach English in China - Tom Bruce

Chinese people, by Tom Bruce

Interactions with Chinese traveling or even living abroad can often be an unpleasant experience. Chinese tourists are increasingly notorious for their rude behavior and even outrageous actions when traveling. Those that have settled in cities from Sydney to Vancouver are often little better and are equally notorious for their rude behavior and extravagant displays of conspicuous consumption. The experience of living in Shijingshan contrasts sharply with this aforementioned behavioral notoriety and is continually and pleasantly surprising. The local population is exceedingly polite and a friendly smile or casual nod immediately turns a curious stare into a broad grin and reciprocated wave. Doors are constantly held open, a limited English vocabulary vigorously used at every opportunity, and an amused patience is exercised when attempting to order food or engage in any other routine seeming action. The kindness and desire of Shijingshan locals to help is overwhelming and humbling. It endears any visitor or resident to this small, almost quasi-village in the West of Beijing and permits the seamless feeling of both inhabiting a small community and one of the larger urban areas in East Asia.
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Teach English in China - Campbell Wang

Beijing Duck, by Campbell Wang

Beijing duck can be bought in most restaurants but it is worth paying that little bit more if you really want the best experience. I have tried the cheapest, which costs around £4 for roast duck on the bone. I have also bought duck for around £20 which is much better quality.

The cheapest has bones, the skin can be chewy and the meat is quite dry. The more expensive duck is finely sliced. The golden/brown skin is light and crispy. And the meat is tender, it tastes delicious and has no bones. This type can be wrapped up in pancakes brushed with a dark sweet sauce accompanied with stands of cucumber and onions.

One taxi man told me of his dislike for roast duck. He said it was often cold and unpalatable. Although it can be cold it tastes like heaven. In my opinion, it is one of the best things to eat in Beijing and is my personal favourite.

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Teach English in China - David Ruane

Biking in Beijing, by David Ruane

I love bikes, and had cycled everywhere at home in Dublin, so one of the first things I did in Beijing was to buy a bike. I did almost have second thoughts; the traffic here is wild. As far as I can tell the rules of the road are 1) don’t get hit and 2) don’t hit anyone. Even as a pedestrian it can be daunting – red lights are often ignored and crossing the street can require a degree of bravado.

That said, there are cycling lanes on almost all roads, and most of these are separate from traffic. Admittedly, you will have to share these with people walking in the cycling lane; other cyclists who aren’t paying any attention; bikes going the wrong way; people cycling the wrong way while on their phone; the odd taxi. Overall though, it’s much safer than it seems.

I bought my bike on Taobao, the Chinese equivalent of Ebay. Taobao can be a bit bewildering at first, but there are two important things to remember: there’s an English language version just for us westerners; and if you do want to attempt the Chinese version, your Chinese co-workers are always happy to help. In the end I paid about 250 RMB, or about €30 for mine. If you prefer to buy one in store bikes start at about 700 RMB in nearby sports shops.

If you don’t want to buy your own bike, Beijing has several rental bike programs. You’ll probably see hundreds of these parked outside bus stops, subway stations, apartment blocks – they’re everywhere. Just download the app, scan a QR code on the bike and you’re good to to.

If you’re a bit more serious, Shijingshan, where Aihua is based, is where most of the Olympic cycling venues are – there’s a velodrome and quite a few mountain biking routes. Mixed in with the rental bikes and scooters are hundreds of people kitted out in lycra riding expensive road bikes.

Another great thing is that bike theft isn’t really a thing around here. Only a week after buying my bike I cycled to the subway, left my bike by the entrance and took the train into the city. After some sightseeing and a beer I took the last train home, only to find my bike had disappeared. Resigned to buying a new bike, I told my supervisor it had been stolen. “I doubt it, go back and look around the bike shed. If you can’t find it message one of the Chinese staff and they’ll find it.” And as it turns out the police had just moved my bike in off the street. I went back to the subway, found my bike and cycled home.

And finally, Beijing is a very flat city, so while you will have a lot to take in, it won’t ever be uphill.


Working with Chinese Children, by Sinead Hegarty

Having never worked with very young children before it was certainly daunting walking into my first classroom. I expected chaos: children climbing the walls, tearing each other to pieces. They were, after all, only four years old. What greeted me instead was a group of well-behaved children, albeit a little scared and teary. I could see them looking up at me and looking back at their parents – a definite question of ‘why are you leaving me with this strange foreign looking person?’ in their minds. Once I realized, however, that we were both scared of each other I was able to calm down and focus on teaching them English. That was the real challenge: how to encourage and educate Chinese children who rarely have any knowledge of the English language outside a classroom. Whilst Chinese children start learning English in school from a young age they hardly every have a chance to practice it, particularly their speaking and listening skills. Consequently they are usually extremely shy and anxious when it comes to communicating in English. This is why you have to make it fun through games and music and, essentially making a prat of yourself!

There is huge pressure on children to do well in school and succeed academically here in China. From a very young age they have a lot of homework and monthly exams, culminating in the terrifying Gaokao exam when they are eighteen. Therefore by creating a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, playing games and removing their desks you are able to give them the freedom to play and learn through play. It’s such a joy to see a child’s confidence increase and to see that happiness on their face when they finally get an answer right or correctly pronounce that difficult word. As the term has progressed both mine and my students inhibitions have disappeared and, whilst their behavior may not be always perfect, their enthusiasm and enjoyment rarely wanes.