Living and Working in Beijing, by Fiona Sheils

Celtic Dragonfly

Since arriving in Beijing one cold, blustering night three months ago, I have seen temperatures pick up, cherry trees blossom and old men roll up their shirts – embracing the age-old ‘Beijing Bikini’ look. I have admired Empress Cixi’s birthday gift collection at the Summer Palace, revered in the smoky incense of the Lama temple, toured the Forbidden city, marched around the guards on Tiananmen square and camped on top of the Great Wall of China. And yet I’m far from done – there is an abundance of history and culture at your fingertips when you live in Beijing.
When I’m not taking part in the aforementioned activities, I’m at my centre teaching. I say that in the most casual and offhand manner now, but when I first arrived in Beijing the thought of walking into a classroom full of expectant children terrified me. I had no Chinese, and they were just starting to learn English – how would we communicate? How would they understand my lessons? My fears proved baseless. Not only do we all teach with Chinese co-teachers, who are wonderful at supporting and assisting you should you meet any serious language barriers, but I soon discovered that I had underestimated how intelligent and deductive children are; even with the youngest classes, tone of voice and body language are more than sufficient to convey instructions to the students.
Though it’s not used in the classroom, learning Chinese is vital if you want to fully experience all that Beijing has to offer. Aihua provides lessons for all levels, and these are a great basis for learning how to navigate life here – order in a restaurant, direct a taxi driver, haggle at the market. However my favourite Chinese teacher is the lovely woman who operates the lift in my apartment building. We’ve struck up an unlikely friendship, and she has taken me, the building’s lost and confused looking foreigner, under her wing. Every morning when I enter the lift she teaches me a new word through actions, and every evening when I take it back up to my floor she quizzes me on that day’s word and corrects my pronunciation.
It’s not just my wonderful lift operator either, all the locals are incredibly friendly and disarming. When you eat out they’re always eager to come over to your table for a chat and a toast, along with a group selfie. If you move to Beijing, you can expect to end up in more photo op’s than you can count!

Posted in Uncategorized.