Living and Teaching in Beijing, by Howard Johnson


I have been living in Beijing for coming up to five months now, and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. I feel that I have barely scraped the tip of the iceberg of what Beijing has to offer.
The city is dynamic and there is a great deal of variety here, and it caters to a wide range of hobbies and interests. I have found that the local people in Beijing are extremely friendly, and I am often impressed by their warmth and the lengths they will go to in order to try and help me out. Few people speak English here, so having an interest in learning Chinese makes life a lot easier for day-to-day occurrences, even if that means learning some basic functional language.

As Beijing is the capital of China, there are many tourist attractions and places of cultural and historic significance and interest. The city is vast and there are so many different regions that I have yet to see. I consider the main areas of interest to be Sanlitun, Wudaokou, and Gulou, and each area has its own distinct atmosphere.

Sanlitun has a lot of high-end shops and restaurants, and is a great place to visit if you’re missing Western food as there are excellent restaurants in this area. It also has great nightlife and is the main area for bars and clubs.

Wudaokou is the student area. There are also lots of great places to eat at prices that are more affordable than those of Sanlitun. I have found it very easy to meet people as the atmosphere here is friendly and multicultural.

Gulou is very picturesque. The area has a very traditional Chinese feel to it and I enjoy exploring the hutongs, the narrow streets and alleys. I am a fan of live music, and many of the bars here have open-mic nights. There is a thriving music scene in Beijing and I have seen some superb blues and rock bands.

Along with many other teachers at Aihua, I live and work in Shijingshan which is situated in the west of Beijing. In contrast to central Beijing, Shijingshan is more quiet and peaceful. I love Chinese food and there are many great Chinese restaurants here. I don’t usually cook for myself, given that eating out is so cheap and convenient compared to back home. There are also Western coffee shops, restaurants, and clothes shops within walking distance of my apartment.

Everything is easily accessible from Shijingshan by subway. It is very cheap and Tiananmen Square is only a 30 minute journey away. I enjoy the Beijing nightlife and Wudaokou, the main student area, is only a 20-25 minute taxi ride away. Taxis are cheap, particularly in comparison to England, and it usually costs around 70 RMB to get there. Getting to Gulou is a similar price and about the same distance. There is a good social life among Aihua teachers, and many people head uptown in groups on a regular basis.

I really enjoy working at Aihua. Everything at the school is well organised and each class has its own course plan and book, so that which needs to be taught on any given week is clearly mapped out. Most classes are small and have seven or eight students, although occasionally I teach the odd larger class. This semester, I teach two larger classes each week of 12 and 13 students respectively. The classes are very active and the children learn through participating in lots of games and activities. There is always a Chinese co-teacher in the class to provide assistance. Before coming here, I was teaching in South Korea and was used to teaching my own classes, so I was unsure if I would like the idea of co-teaching. However, I now consider it a major advantage having another person’s assistance and energy brought to the class.

Most people teach around 21-22 hours a week, and I find that I have a good amount of time free each week to plan my classes as well as pursue other interests such as learning Chinese. The students are a pleasure to teach, the Chinese co-teachers are very friendly and put themselves out to help you, and there is ongoing training sessions in which teachers get together in order to swap activities and discuss different approaches to teaching. I also really like the fact that the school employs a large number of foreign staff because there is a real community feel here.

Teachers at Aihua are supported in every aspect of living in China. This has been my personal experience and during the first couple of weeks, members of staff at the school helped me to get set up. Assistance was provided for opening a bank account, setting up my mobile phone, and shopping for my apartment. I have found this support to be ongoing, and if I have difficulties with anything, there is always someone on hand to help out.

Moving to China to teach English can be a daunting experience, but I am happy that I made the decision. I love my lifestyle, and I look forward to the rest of my time here and seeing more of Beijing. I would urge anyone with an adaptable mindset who is considering coming here to teach English to embrace this exciting and challenging opportunity.

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