A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about beijing

TEFL Training and First Impressions of Beijing

Welcome to Beijing!

overcast 27 °C

After an emotional departure from Pinggu (for students and teachers alike) our next stop was South-West Beijing to complete our TEFL courses. We took the first afternoon to visit Tian'anmen Square, which was colossal, and the famous Wangfujing Street, off which there is a very narrow and busy street where they sell snacks, such as live scorpions on sticks...

Tian'anmen Square

The TEFL course ran from 9am to 8.30pm for three days and on the third day we had to give a demo lesson and take a theory exam and then, for a few short hours we had freedom!! For the first time since I arrived I had nothing to do. So Will popped over from where he was staying in Beijing and I repacked all my cases, ready for my big move to my school.

On Tuesday, I was delivered to a roadside in Beijing somewhere and promptly collected by my Waiban, the lady who looks after me and acts as my chief interpreter at school. I had some serious sleep to catch up on so had a wander round the area down to the big supermarket and then headed back for an early night. I was completely free on Wednesday too, so I headed to Behai Park on the subway. It was my first lone adventure and it was kind of a strange day. I realised for the first time just how far from home I am and how much I need to learn Mandarin. Turns out the only people in Beijing who speak English want to sell you something or give you a ride in their Tuk-Tuk.

Behai Park

The school I will be working at has two campuses, North and South. I live on the South Campus and my room is lovely. It's very big and airy with an ensuite and there is a communal lounge area with sofas, a coffee machine, microwave and mini-fridge, despite all the meals being included. The lounge is beautifully decorated with Chinese light shades and wooden panel walls. Which leads me to the North Campus. It is possibly the most beautiful school imaginable. The entrance hall is white marble with a grand piano that is frequently played by incredibly talented students. It backs onto a garden area with a water feature and fish swimming in little rivers. There is a traditional Chinese tea room that is open to teachers and students to relax during breaks and out the back there is a Pagoda next to the state of the art sport facilities.

My New Office

The whole thing has blown my mind. I cannot believe the facilities and the beauty of the school. I haven't taught yet, my first lesson is on Monday. Now I'm starting to get settled, I'm looking forward to having a routine and working in that beautiful building. There's still a lot of things to be sorted, such as bank accounts etc but I'm slowly getting there and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled with the school so far... watch this space...

Posted by amysblog 04:13 Archived in China Tagged city china beijing tefl efl Comments (0)

396 students, 12 classes, 2 Campuses, 1 Grade

Teaching Grade 8

sunny 30 °C

So I am halfway through my second week of teaching Grade 8 at school. Each week I take 12 classes, and so each week I teach 396 students... yep, the classes are pretty big. My smallest class has 27 students in it and my largest has 39. The students are aged 13 or 14 in Chinese years, which is 12 or 13 for us. The variation in the ability of the classes is quite interesting. In some classes the students can hardly understand simple sentences, and in others I am able to have a joke with them. Sometimes this difference is evident even within a single class, which initially caused me to completely overestimate the ability of my first ever class.

For my first lesson, I did an introductory lesson about me, the students, and my expectations for classes. I tried to get a seating plan for every class, although it transpired this week that most of the students move seats each week. So, I'm wondering how on earth I am going to learn 396 names. And the names themselves come with their own challenges. Most students have an 'English name' that they use in English class because... well actually I'm not sure why... but generally it has made my life easier than if I were incorrectly pronouncing their names. However, there are some interesting choices of English names, my personal favourite being Bling Bing and others such as Fairy, Dipper, Paper Box and Watermelon Three Years Old, which I absolutely could not condone and so Watermelon is now known as Chris.

I'm also very much aware that I am learning on the job. This has come to light this week especially, when I was just generally unhappy with how my first lessons went on Monday. They just didn't flow and there was no progression. So after a bit of tweaking, my two lessons today seemed to go a lot smoother. I'm hoping that this is the sort of thing I will just one day know how to change... but for the time being, my poor Monday morning class will be the guinea pigs for the week.

Last weekend I had a first real taste of Beijing's nightlife. I had previously ventured to a few bars on a couple of occasions, one where the triple G&Ts cost £2.50 and another that we realised too late was full of old western men and young Chinese ladies... And so, so far my experiences had been quite variable.

Anyway, I was exhausted on Friday and so decided to meet some other teachers for "one drink". Famous last words. After some pre-drinks at the university teachers' accommodation, we headed to an area called Wudaokou (Woo.dao.koh) which is quite lively and cosmopolitan. We managed to get free entry to Global Club and free drinks virtually all night. Next thing I knew, it was 5am and I was in a taxi back to my friend's apartment where I got some much needed sleep. Let's just say that Saturday was a challenge.

On Sunday I met my friend Lauren, in an area called Dongzhimen, where we had some incredible lunch. We then headed to Sanlitun, which is another area known for its nightlife. However, this was a daytime adventure so there was only 1 G&T involved (though it was rather strong) and it was a great opportunity to have a look round the district which is absolutely buzzing and full of young people.

I'm really looking forward to this weekend. I have booked train tickets to Shanghai to visit Will. Getting my hands on the tickets was a stressful experience that I could write an entire post on alone, so I will just say that I was directed here, there and all around the huge station in broken English and it was almost impossible to pay with anything other than a Chinese bank card. But I managed! And even just buying train tickets is something that I am really proud of myself for doing haha! So I will be travelling via High Speed Rail on Friday afternoon and arriving in the evening. I'm excited to see another city and how it compares to Beijing.

Posted by amysblog 06:31 Archived in China Tagged city china beijing nightlife teaching tefl efl Comments (0)

Camping on the Great Wall

Wohushan Mountain, Gubeikou

sunny 27 °C

I've had another amazing weekend. My Mandarin school organised an overnight camping trip to a remote and non-restored section of the Great Wall. I figured that the trip would be a pretty unique experience but, in fact, it surpassed my expectations by [approx. 13,170] miles! We set off by bus around midday on Saturday and it took about 2 hours to get to the small village of Gubeikou, where we were abandoned by our bus driver on a concrete platform next to a railway line.

And then the adventure began.


We spent around two hours climbing a very narrow and fairly treacherous path. Although it wasn't too physically taxing, most of the Wall in this area was basically in ruins, which meant that the rubble could be quite unstable and it was easy to lose footing, especially on the steeper sections. To add to the challenge, we were all carrying our camping supplies and food for the evening, as well as plenty of water, so our backpacks were heavy which made us unbalanced.

The weighty bags posed the most difficulty on the steepest parts of the Wall. When I say steep, I mean steep. At one point I was literally rock climbing; people were passing bags up to each other because it was too dangerous for us to climb with the bags on - the Wall was practically vertical. There were times when I was genuinely scared but overall, the climb up was an incredible experience and a great way to get to know the others who were on the trip with us.


Along the Wall there are several watchtowers, which are all in varying states of disrepair. Each watchtower that we got to had a different and more spectacular view of our mountainous surroundings and we passed some other small hiking groups that had started to settle inside them for the night. As the sun started setting, we decided to stop at a watchtower that had a particularly difficult approach. It felt like such an achievement to have reached our camp! There are many little sections inside the watchtowers, which are two-storey structures, and Will and I managed to find a sheltered alcove, away from some of the more exposed spaces.


After sunset, the wind was fairly strong and whistling through the crumbling structure, so a large group of us huddled in one of the dusty alcoves and set out sleeping mats to sit on. We sat around eating barbecued food and noodles, drinking and chatting by torchlight. It was so surreal and gradually the wind died down, meaning that the watchtower stayed surprisingly warm throughout the night. I was amazed at what a good sleep I had!

This morning, we got up for sunrise at about 5.50am. At first, it seemed as though it was too cloudy for us to really see anything, but at about 6.15am the sun emerged as a glowing, orange orb above the ruins of the Wall, which we could see stretching along the mountain tops for miles and miles. After packing away we started the hike back down. I was expecting the way down to be easier but we took a different route, which was essentially an overgrown path consisting mainly of loose rocks and boulders. Despite this, we descended surprisingly quickly (without any major casualties!).

At the bottom of the mountain, we carried on walking towards the nearby village where a small guesthouse had produced an incredible meal for us all, consisting of fish, pork, tofu noodles, vegetables and century eggs - an interesting Chinese delicacy). It was the perfect way to finish our rural escapades before heading back to Beijing's bustling streets.


Thanks to the other happy hikers for sharing some of their photos

Posted by amysblog 04:43 Archived in China Tagged mountains hiking china beijing camping great_wall Comments (0)

Beijing Blog

Part 1

10 °C

Over the last few weeks I have begun to live a ‘normal’ life here in the capital. Whilst the temperature has dropped dramatically, I've been braving the cold and to discover some of Beijing's different neighbourhoods. The first thing I’ve realised is that Beijing is HUGE. I’m not sure that there will ever be a point when I can say that I really know this city, but I do feel like I'm getting to know parts of it.

Recent weeks have been especially interesting because of the Communist Party meeting that took place here. Beijing was in near lockdown for just over a week, with increased security everywhere, bars closing early and shops around subway stations shutting to stop crowding…

Despite this, I’ve still managed to have quite a lot of FUN. My most exciting discovery has been that of The Hutongs. The Hutongs are a network of charming pedestrianised streets not far from Tian’anmen Square. Originally dwellings of poorer Beijingers, some of them have now been converted into snack streets and shopping streets where there are many independent coffee shops, bars and craft shops. There’s an amazing atmosphere - day and night - and it’s a great place to wander around.

Entrance to Wudaoying Hutong

Not far from The Hutongs, stand Beijing’s Bell and Drum towers. I spent a [hungover] afternoon climbing the extremely narrow, extremely steep staircases of these two buildings, whose purpose was city-wide timekeeping before the invention of clocks. There was a lot of information about the old Chinese calendar which was interesting to read, but the highlight was the view of the city from the top. Although it was a bit smoggy, it was the first time I was really able to gain any kind of insight into Beijing as a whole and work out where things were in relation to each other.


Beijing Bell Tower

I’ve been getting to grips with Chinese culture too. I’ve been taking Mandarin lessons twice a week, and I’m starting to use it - albeit irregularly - in my daily life. I’ve still got a long way to go, especially when it comes to characters, of which I know around twenty out of several thousand... Still, twenty is better than none, right? Put it this way, my students were amazed when I wrote the characters ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘up’, and ‘down’ on the board! I also partook in a two hour long Chinese paper cutting class. My initial reaction was probably the same as yours; how can you cut paper for two hours? The answer is that Chinese paper cutting is addictive, challenging and surprisingly rewarding.


Some of my creations

Finally, normal life has taken a turn for the better. I’ve managed to find a really nice group of people who are doing the same thing as me, teaching English in schools and universities, which means I have been much busier during the week and have enjoyed having company to sample some of the food that Beijing has to offer outside of my school canteen, including the local curry house(!), Korean BBQ and various noodle joints. I’ve also started using the sharing bikes, which has changed my life. I’m not exaggerating. Being able to cycle has halved my morning commute and meant that I can see the city as I move around it, rather than being underground on the subway the whole time.

Whilst there are still challenges everyday, like restaurants without English menus, not being able to find a bike when you’re in a rush and then there being several at your destination, and general communication, Beijing has so much to offer, and I still have so much more to see.

Posted by amysblog 07:09 Archived in China Tagged travel city china beijing asia mandarin hutongs tefl Comments (0)

Beijing Blog

Part 2

sunny 3 °C

So it’s been a while (almost a month!) since I’ve written about what I’ve been up to and that’s mainly because I’ve been suuuuper busy. Right now it feels a tad strange to be here in China when at home as it seems like the festivities are in full swing. Every time I log into social media I see pictures of people at Christmas Markets and Christmas trees… I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t making me miss home a bit. Here in Beijing there are a few reminders that Christmas is approaching. Some of the bigger malls have lights and trees up and Starbucks is playing Christmas music. But it’s not quite the same.

Despite feeling as though I’m missing out on the run up to Christmas, I’m still having a wonderful time here. This month I’ve been making the most of a couple of extra days off and exploring more of Beijing. Notably, I have finally been to the Forbidden City. I went with my friend Lou on a cold day when the skies were a brilliant blue and made for a magnificent backdrop to the bright red buildings. The Forbidden city is absolutely enormous. Its huge squares stretch on and on further than you can see and it is framed with narrower streets leading into smaller gardens. Although technically, I was standing in the centre of Beijing, it felt extremely far removed from city life; you can count on one hand the number of skyscrapers visible above the huge walls that guard the area. The 2 hour visit surpassed my expectations and I still feel that there is a lot more of Beijing’s Forbidden City to explore.


Another tourist spot I’ve hit this month is the Summer Palace (yes, I know it’s winter). I visited the Summer Palace with Will and we turned up under the impression that it was a big park and therefore not particularly enthusiastic. That changed more or less as soon as we entered the gates, the clue is in the name I guess, yes it was a park, but there was also a huge lake and several temples and pavilions sprawling across Longetivity Hill. We spent a couple of hours climbing up the rocky hillside until we reached the top where we could see the lake and the full expanse of the ‘park’. It was absolutely crawling with people but the manic-ness, along with a severe lack of health and safety, added to the uniqueness of the Summer Palace and made it a fantastic experience. Visiting the Summer Palace in late autumn was another bonus, because the rich colours of the leaves on the surrounding trees really complemented the vivid colours of the buildings.


More recently, I visited Beijing’s Olympic Park. The first word that comes to mind to describe the experience is COLD. As we are getting closer to mid-winter, the temperatures here are dropping… fast. It’s barely making it over 5 degrees and the forecast for next week has lows of -8. The bad news? Apparently this isn’t even *that* cold. So yes, visiting the Olympic Park was first and foremost chilly. It was a very cool space to be in, huge (obviously) and The Bird’s Nest is a fairly iconic piece of architecture which is undoubtedly impressive in real life. We were there for sunset, hoping to see the stadium lit up. Disappointingly, that particular evening it was not, which was a shame.


On the same evening, I FINALLY sampled some Peking Roast Duck and boy oh boy it did *not* disappoint. We went to a restaurant that one of my Chinese friends recommended. There was little English spoken, and whilst my Mandarin is improving, I don’t have the technical duck vocabulary that was required. So after much pointing, gesturing and some broken Chinese, we had ordered an entire duck between two of us. Obviously that was going to be far too much for two people, so we decided to eat what we could and take the rest home. The problem? It was ducking delicious. We ended up eating AN ENTIRE DUCK but I have absolutely no regrets. It was the perfect introduction to the local speciality. It’s fairly similar to what is served in Chinese restaurants in the UK apart from they carve the duck into delicious mouthful-sized slices, rather than shred it and the sauce is slightly different.

So all in all, November in Beijing has been a great month. I also went to Xi’an, which I will write about soon. This weekend I am going to Datong which I am looking forward to. However, temperatures are set to be even lower than they are here, so if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that I’ll definitely be packing my thermals…

Posted by amysblog 05:59 Archived in China Tagged buildings sky landscape history travel lake city china beijing mandarin Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 9) Page [1] 2 » Next