How I chose where to live in Chongqing

Having moved to a few different cities in China myself over the years, I have, sort of, worked out a list of things that I look for when I choose my apartment. I have been living, a little like a nomad for the past few years, even changing apartments within the same city a couple of times. Most recently that has been in Chongqing where I have lived for the last almost five years, so this is going to be my reference point.

Moving to a new city, especially if you’re also moving to a new country, is a big deal, and I put a lot of focus on where I choose to live because that, in turn, helps decide my experience in that place. Personally, I prefer to live somewhere near the center of the city, well-connected to transport and with everything within reach. Some may be more focused on prices, which is also an important thing to consider, and some would prefer to be near a specific area, close to parks or such. Thankfully, China is all about conveniences and in any major city, there are several websites and accompanying apps that can help you! If you are new to China and not comfortable with Mandarin just yet, Google Chrome’s website translation function will serve you well! If you know basic Chinese and have some basic knowledge of the city you are moving to, the apps will be even more convenient.

My personal favorites are http://www.fang.com, http://www.anjuke.com, http://www.lianjia.com, and http://www.daojiale.com They’re well organized, they offer apartments that you can buy, and also rent either directly from the owner, or you can rent apartments directly through the community that owns the building. These four websites also have apps that allow you to search on your phone.

When you sign a contract with your school or employer, they will undoubtedly help you find a suitable apartment but I like to look into things myself by getting to know the central districts of the city I am moving to and the locations that I will need to visit most, such as my school, nearby supermarkets, public transportation and so on. In Chongqing, my location of choice is 渝中 district. 渝 is an old name for the city of Chongqing, and 中 means middle which means that it is the central district. Living in (or near) the city center is going to be more expensive than living closer to the edges of the city, and with the very efficient subway system in place in Chongqing, you do not necessarily need to live in the middle. Using the websites, you can quickly get a feel for the kind of apartments you can find as well as the price levels in each area.

The area in 渝中 (YuZhong) where I live is called Daping. And one of the main reasons I chose this area is because of the central location. I am close to two of the subway transfer stations, so I have easy access to subway lines 1, 2 and 3 the three main subway lines in Chongqing. On those subway lines, I can reach all 10 school campuses, the airport, the train station and the Jiefangbei, Nanping and Guanyinqiao shopping centers. Also, the subway station, one of the biggest shopping malls and the hospital are within a 10-minute walk from my apartment, and it is about a 20-minute walk to the Chongqing Olympic Sports Center where you can play basketball, bowling, badminton, table-tennis, and tennis.

Apart from being central, another thing I really like about this area is how much there is to explore. The shopping mall has nice shops and restaurants but often when you want something different or more authentic, you need to look along the smaller streets or in the nearby community areas. Attached to the mall near where I live there is a small community of apartment buildings where the lower 4 floors are all small private shops and restaurants. I actually used to live inside of this area in the past, but now live across the main road because it is quieter here. But that community area is full of shops, 24-hour grocery stores, hairdressers, you name it all within a 10-minute walk from home.

But, there are my other very attractive places to live in Chongqing. Shapingba district is considered the educational center of Chongqing and has most of the training schools’ main offices and lots of universities. Jiangbei, north of YuZhong district is very modern and vibrant, home to another large shopping mall area and the city’s most famous bar street. Jiefangbei which is the financial center of the city at the edge of YuZhong district and then there i Nanping, south of YuZhong which is also fairly large and well-connected!

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How to improve your lesson planning with Board Order

Over the past several years, I have witnessed training schools moving from a more traditional style of teaching that mostly focused on either a blackboard or whiteboard, to using modern multimedia content and interactive whiteboards. However, when I started teaching, almost 8 years ago now, I learned to teach my classes only with a board and the occasional PowerPoint presentation.

Despite being a tech-savvy guy, it took me a while to get comfortable with using interactive whiteboards and I still, to this day, teach more than half of my lessons using the whiteboards. It is a habit, at this point, because this is how I got into teaching in the first place, but it is also because I feel like children and students spend enough time looking at computer screens already, and I can teach entertaining classes without having to turn on a computer. Also, I also like being prepared if the computer doesn’t work, the software doesn’t load, or another problem keeps you from using the interactive board.

A critical element that I paid a lot of attention to, during my own teacher training was board order. I think board order is included in pretty much every TEFL program today, but it is something that I think many teachers, new and experienced alike, tend to pay less attention to. But for me, board order is just as important to teach a class, as it is sketching out my PowerPoint presentation before I start making it. It gives me an idea of how my lesson is going to progress and transition between steps of your lesson.

By including board order in your lesson planning, you can reduce the time it takes you to get the information you want on the whiteboard, it reduces unnecessary erasing and re-writing, which will, in turn, help your class to flow better. As a teacher, you are engaging in a sort of public speaking, and one of the critical rules of speaking to an audience (your students) is that you have to face them. Talking into the whiteboard dramatically reduces the students’ ability to hear you, and the more time you have to spend facing the board, the less time you have to interact with your students. Also, what are your students doing while you’re writing on the board? Most likely, they’re doing nothing which is precious seconds taken away from your class time.

Many teachers put a lot of thought into how they progress through their lesson plans, their instructions, gestures, target language, and teaching aids. But less focus is being put on how you put all that information on the board.

If you know, that you will need to have your target sentence structure on the board, along with flashcards for an activity or a game, try to plan how you want it presented to the students so that they understand it. Make sure that, by the time you want to put up your flashcards, you do not need to spend 15-20 seconds erasing the board first. You cannot entirely avoid having to erase and re-write words or phrases, but you can limit it by planning your board use along with your class.

Just like with a PowerPoint presentation, seeing your slide can often help you remember what you are going to talk about next. Including a board order drawing along with your steps in your lesson plan, can sometimes help remind you of what you’re going to do next, and often, looking at your drawing will be faster than reading your teaching steps.

Here is a quick example using vocabulary as the part of my lesson I will illustrate. Now, this is not an in-depth lesson plan but it demonstrates how I make a simple plan for using my board in advance.

I am teaching 6 new animal words, in this lesson and what I like to do, with classes like these is that I start out with a brainstorm to get the students talking, and also get a sense of what animals they already know. So the first picture (top left) is my brainstorm, using most of the board, but arranging the animals my students tell me in a grid. Now, if they happen to say one of the word I am teaching today, I write that animal in one of the 6 boxes I marked on the left. All other animals go randomly into the other boxes. This means that my vocabulary is where I want it to be, for the next step. Once I am out of spaces or (even if some of the target vocabulary is missing), I will fill out the rest of the vocabulary words and move to the presentation.

Picture two (top right) I have erased the words and boxes I don’t need, and replaced them with a larger box or drawing area that I can use for illustrating each vocabulary word as I present it, and maybe have my students think of a few adjectives to describe each animal as we talk about it. I’d have the students do a crude drawing of the animal, write the word underneath with the adjectives we all mention in class and go through the animals one by one.

Picture three (bottom left) I will stick flashcards to the board inside of the large drawing area and remove the vocabulary words from the left hand side. Now, the left side will become a list of 6 example sentences, one for each animal, that we make as a class. For example “1. Tigers are very scary”, “2. Monkeys are very naughty”, and so on.

Finally, on picture 4, the right- hand side turns into a circular target area where the students can throw a ball and select a word, and now they can use the example sentences on the left to make their own sentences with the target vocabulary.

This method and procedure is very simplified, but illustrates my use of the board and minimizing my need for erasing and re-writing words. It gives me more time to teach and to interact with the students and less time where I am turning my back to them trying to get the board cleaned up for my next part.

Living Like a Local: DiDi Car Services

If you’re like me, and you tend to move around a lot, having to hail a taxi and try to explain to them where you want to go, can be a struggle, even if your Chinese is pretty good. As I live in Chongqing myself, many of the taxi drivers speak a local dialect of Chinese, which I do not fully understand and in turn, they do not always understand my mandarin. Also, the Chinese traffic is, on occasion, a little rougher than what many westerners are used to. But fear not, there is a quick and efficient way to get around town in a hired car that is easy to use, efficient and of good quality. Uber didn’t really take off very well in China, but instead, another app called Didi has become hugely popular, and now their app can also be found in English.

Apart from being in English, one of the things I really enjoy about DiDi is that you select your pick-up location and destination ahead of the car arriving, meaning that the driver already knows where you are going. Usually, they will use their own GPS to take you to your destination, or you can ask the driver to use his own judgment.

From the DiDi app, you can call a regular taxi, an express car, premium or even a luxury car. The different categories have different prices, but an estimate of your trip will be displayed before the car is ordered. You can also order a car for the next day, for example, if you are going to the airport early the following morning, you can arrange the car now, and the driver will pick you up at the arranged time.

There are two little caveat’s to using DiDi though, that might be worthwhile to mention. While the English version of the DiDi app does support finding locations in English, generally you’ll see fewer results, but if you have the Chinese address of your destination, you can easily find it by searching. Another small obstacle is that even though the app is in English, the drivers in most cases may not speak English. After ordering a car, the driver will usually call you to confirm your pickup location. Thankfully, the GPS location on the map is generally pretty accurate, but knowing a little Chinese might help. Fortunately, a friend can order a car for you, in your name if you need the assistance. In some cases, if I cannot understand my driver, I’ll send them a picture of my current location and send it to the phone number they called from.

DiDi has also, very successfully, been integrated into both WeChat and Alipay, the predominant social media platform and payment apps. These mini-apps are only in Chinese but the primary function of the app is the same, and if you’ve already learned a bit of Chinese you should be able to pick up how the app works quite quickly.

Another great feature of DiDi is that, like in a taxi, you can ask for a receipt. When your driver has taken you to your destination, you can step out of the car and pay at your convenience. After the ride has ended, in the DiDi app you can then request a receipt (fapiao) to your email to use if your workplace will reimburse you for your trip.

Didi is very easy to use. You can find it in any app store under the name DiDi or (滴滴). Once open, you’ll be able to choose your service (the type of car), your pickup location, which is usually automatically filled in, and where you’d like to go.

 

After choosing your pick-up location and your destination, the app will search for a moment until a driver accepts the trip. This sometimes takes a few seconds and sometimes a minute or two depending on the time of day. Once that’s done, you’ll be greeted with a screen that shows the driver information, the make and model of the car (likely in Chinese) as well as the license plate number.

The driver will call you to confirm your current location, and when they approach they often have all their blinkers flashing. Keep an eye out for the license plate number.

This screenshot is one I took after a finished ride, but the information shown will be very similar. For this trip, I had a driver who already has a rating of 5 stars, and I can choose to call him or message him or review his trip. The drivers are very professional, some are wearing suits and gloves (premium service) and will have free water in the car for you. They are also quiet, they drive really well (smooth) and some even open the door for you when you arrive.

I tend to prefer renting these cars over taxis because of the overall better experience and convenience, and because they drive very well I can relax more while I am in the car, even take a little nap.

So, if you’re going somewhere, and you don’t want to be in a crowded subway or a bus the comfort of a  nice car ride (of course subject to traffic) is right in the palm of your hand!

 

Enjoy your ride!

Living Like a Local: How Do I Get WeChat?

I arrived in China before WeChat had taken over everything. In fact, I still remember carrying cash around and routinely taking out money from the ATMs. But I also lived in Luoyang at the time, which isn’t as developed and modern as Beijing and Shanghai. But I remember relying on the desktop version of QQ to contact people (QQ was all the rage back then) but there was no English version for phones just yet, and naturally the phone version of QQ did not include a translator. Things have sure changed!

Launched in 2011, QQ’s owner, Tencent, launched Wechat. A new instant messaging app that has since then taken China, and some parts of the world even, by storm. Similar to WhatsApp, Line, and other messaging apps, on the surface, but WeChat has developed a very sophisticated network of mini-apps, games, payment options, taxi-hailing, and bike-sharing. You can access just about anything form WeChat these days, and it can seem daunting at first, but believe me, just like Alipay, WeChat is a must have for anyone living in China.

Stay Connected

The most critical function of WeChat is to connect with people. You can stay in touch with friends and relatives, inside China and out. I had my family back in Denmark get WeChat on their phones because I do not always have access to Facebook. So now I can chat and call my parents and my sister with ease. You can send text messages, voice messages, videos, share your location, send a location, do voice- and video calls. WeChat has it all.

You can also let the world around you know what you are up to, using your Moments. Moments are similar to Facebook posts, and allow you to post short video clips, up to 9 pictures or text messages that others can “like” and comment on. This is how my family knows what I am doing every day.

You can add users based on their WeChat username, their phone number, QQ number (if they initially had one) and a personal QR code.

In WeChat you can also create chat groups. Groups can easily hold up to 500 members, and with some upgrades, they can have up to 1000 members. Groups are great for a couple of friends organizing an event or activity, or just putting your whole family together or even your department at work.

Shopping

WeChat pay, a feature similar to Alipay, has also become one of the cornerstones of WeChat. Restaurants, shops, even street vendors now allow you to pay with WeChat. You can have money in your WeChat wallet, or you can link your WeChat wallet to your bank-card as you do in Alipay and then do payments via scanning their QR code and sending the specified amount of money, or you can open WeChat pay, and they will scan your payment code. It is simple, efficient and very safe.

So how do I get WeChat?

Well, I am glad you asked!

WeChat can be found in most APP stores today, either as WeChat or 微信 (weixin) it’s Chinese name. Don’t worry, if you download the Chinese version of the app, you can change the language to English later. Open the app on your phone, and you can change the language on the front screen at the top right corner, log in at the bottom left, and sign up for your account at the bottom right.

On the following screen, you should enter your name, select the region of your phone number (in my case, I am already in China), enter your phone number and select a password. The password should be between 8-16 characters long and contain a symbol as well as a number. For example WeChat?0005

Click the green Sign Up button, and you’ll be taken through a little security check where you have to drag the missing piece of the picture onto the correct spot.

Next you’ll have to agree to the Privacy Policy guidelines, and finally, you will be asked to do an SMS verification. Using your phone number, send the shown text message to their number (you can click the “Send SMS” button, and it will do it for you). Once you’ve sent the message, return to the WeChat app and click the SMS Sent. Go to Next Step button, and after a short verification, your WeChat account will be open and ready for use!

WeiQi – One of the Oldest Board-games in the World

It is possible that you’ve never heard of it, despite it being possibly the oldest known board-game in the word, still in existence, even played in its original form. You may have learned of the game and thought it came from somewhere else. Weiqi, an ancient board-game of strategy, is surprisingly simple, yet incredibly challenging to master. It is one of my new hobbies for the year 2018, and I thought I would share this cultural interest with you all today!

The first time I was introduced to WeiQi, was around 17 years ago, at a youth club organized by my primary school back in Denmark. I would have been in grade 7 or 8 at this time, around 14 or 15 years old. One of the organizers, Peter, told me about the game and taught me to play it, only then, we knew the game by its other name, Go. I played with Peter and few other classmates for a few months, and then someone stopped playing. It wasn’t until February 2017, when I bought a beautiful WeiQi set for my friend, Paul, that I got back into playing. When Paul moved back to the states last December, he asked me to hold the board for him, for when he comes back so we could play together. And I decided to make use of this beautiful board and to learn more of the history behind this fascinating game.

In ancient China, Weiqi was viewed as one of four essential Arts of the cultural elite; Qin (a classical musical instrument), Calligraphy (the writing of Chinese Characters), Painting and Weiqi. The origin of the game is unknown. However several stories have survived through the ages. One such story is about an ancient Chinese emperor, around 2357-2255 B.C. who wanted to prepare his son for taking the throne, used the game to teach warfare and balance.

One of the earliest written records of the game comes from an old text published around 559 B.C., where the phrase “Ju Qi Bu Ding” appears. The phrase is still popular in China today and translates roughly into “A person who picked up a stone and can’t decide where to make his move.” Stones are the pieces used to play WeiQi; white and black. The game was hugely popular in the Han Dynasty and was even criticised for being addictive. WeiQi eventually shed this lousy image and rose to even higher fame as a game of military strategy. Where the board was the battlefield and the stones the soldiers of the two armies fighting over control.

Chess is widely considered to be one of the more significant strategy games in the Western world. Chess is a lot like a single battle. You have your troops and units in different classes in front of you. The board is smaller than the WeiQi board, and because you can always see all of the pieces, you’re able to calculate your risks continually. Your chess pieces may move around on the board to capture other pieces, and chess is very confrontational. You’re going against the guys in front of you.

In WeiQi, you place your stones on the board, one piece at a time, meaning that with every stone set on the board, there is a shift in balance. In Chess, you take an opponents’ piece by eliminating them and taking their space, in WeiQi, you capture a stone by surrounding it on all four sides. In Weiqi, you can even capture an entire group by surrounding them. In Chess, you try to take the opponents’ King, but in Weiqi, you have to try and control the entire board, by capturing more territory than your opponent.

The Weiqi board size is traditionally 19×19 squares. Stones are placed on the intersections, and you gain points by controlling as many intersections as possible. In more recent times, newer players tend to start on 9×9 boards, still a little larger than Chess’ 8×8. With the grid size being 19×19, the board has a total of 361 intersections, at all of which, a stone can be placed or captured, but never taken away. Throughout the whole game, which usually lasts 20 minutes to 1 hour or more, you have to continually be aware of what is going on, on the entire board and how each stone changes the balance of power.

The rules of WeiQi are immensely simple. You can place one stone on the board anywhere you want, but if a stone or a group of stones are surrounded, they are captured. Your opponent may try to circle around you, to capture your precious stones, but in doing so, he might leave himself open for you to circle around him as well. So keep your eyes peeled, place your stones carefully and watch the game change with every turn.

If you’d like to know more about WeiQi, I will be writing more the game and my own experiences playing in the following weeks and months.

6 of my favorite go-to activities to do on the fly


As a teacher, sometimes you need a backup plan, something you can fall back on in case you have an extra 10 minutes of class, or you just need to rouse sone energy in your students. Lessons do not always work out he way you want them to, and for a variety of reasons, sometimes you have to think on your feet.

Recently my absolute favorite toy is a sticky-ball i bought for 1 yuan on the Chinese website Taobao. This ball, when thrown, will stick to just about any surface, either glass, a whiteboard or even a TV. By drawing a grid on the board with vocabulary words, a grammar structure or a picture studebns can throw the ball to choose a topic or a word to use. With two balls, you can make two grids, for example one with animals and one with adjectives, and students have to mske a sentence using the two words they hit.

For vocabulary and spelling practice, i tend to use a soft dice. I write the vocabulary words on tje board and number them 1-6. The students then roll a number and get 5 seconds to look at the board before they have to turn around and spell out the word. Each time i erase a letter from the word that was just used.

Another spelling practice i do has all thr studbets standing in a circle around me. I point to a student who says the first letter of a word and then i randomly selec another student to continue. This means that all the students have to pay attention. Students to say the wrong letter or are too slow are out of the game and i keep going until only one student remains.

With younger kindergarten students, recently i have had great success with making our own memory games. With a piece of paper divided into 4 or 6 squares i have the students draw pairs of vocabulary words. Two shoes, two dogs etc. Then I rip up the paper and put them face down on the table. The students then take turns turning over two cards to see if they match. If they do, they can keep them, if not they’re turned back around and the next student has a go.

With slightly older students and with two whiteboards, I have played a game of, let’s call it Vocabulary Battleships. On the main whiteboards I draw the two game squares, either 4×4 or 5×5, I divide the students into two groups with one smaller whiteboard each and ask them to draw the same. Then, they choose a vocabulary word and randomly write the letters inside their squares in whichever way they please. The students then take turns guessing at the other teams squares and I keep track of the movements on the master board. So when group A asks for “E5”, I check with Group B and make sure if there is a letter or not. The game then continues with each team taking turns until one team guesses the other’s word.

Over the course of this summer, I created a lesson plan based on weather and giving an actual weather forecast. I designed a PowerPoint presentation that the students could easily edit while in class and then present their 2, 3, or 5-day forecast to the class. Start by reviewing weather types and done of the more common phrases heard during a forecast and then let the students have a shot at it.

How to Turn ESL Teaching into a Career

Teaching English as an ESL teacher can be a rewarding experience in many ways. For some teachers, it is all about being able to travel and see the world. For some, it is about getting some valuable experience in their field before searching for a job at home. Others still, find it rewarding just to be in a classroom full of eager students looking to learn, whether they be kindergarteners, primary school- or high school students, or even college students. There are countless ways of feeling the rewards of teaching English to speakers of other languages, and I don’t presume to know them all, only my own personal reason.

Many of my current colleagues would never believe me if I told them, that I’d never thought I would be teaching in China, let alone for almost 8 years now. Even 10 years ago, if you had told me that I would be teaching and living in China, I would likely have looked at you with wonder, and thought to myself, how you’d have that idea? But here I am, 8 years in and I am probably staying for at least a few more years. Many might not know this, but there is definitely a career to be made in ESL teaching, not just in China but in several places and your career can be built in many different ways.

When I started teaching in China, a career in ESL wasn’t my long-term goal. I initially saw ESL teaching as a stepping stone to getting into China and try to either find a job in marketing, study for a Master’s Degree or become some kind of consultant. I didn’t really have it all mapped out, but when I finally did arrive in China and started teaching, I realized that I liked it. It was hard at first, and for a few months, I felt uncomfortable in the classroom. However, as time went by and I started to understand how to put together a lesson, make the students laugh and actually teach them something, I began to feel a great sense of achievement, much more so than anything I had ever felt before. And I decided that a career in Education was going to be my choice!

Through the years, I have found that there are several ways turn your ESL teaching job into a long-lasting career. Either by staying with your school or by transitioning to other schools or other cities.

If you value your free time, and you prefer traveling and seeing new places, it might make sense for you to work for one or two years in a school in one city. You can gain valuable experience and references, and when you want to explore a new place, you can apply for jobs in a different town or country. This is ideal if you re desire traveling and seeing the world while doing something familiar. While locations vary and procedures change from school to school, what you are doing in the classroom is mostly the same.

If you are looking for career progression, it may we smart to stay with a single school for a longer time and work toward one of the higher-level positions they may have. Some schools may have a position as a foreign teacher supervisor or Director of Studies, other schools may have positions along of academic trainer, marketing or even course curriculum development or teaching research.

I find that not every school advertises positions like these but if you ask, most, if not all schools, would be interested in having their foreign teachers assume a greater responsibility at their school, working to improve their overall quality. Over my time working in China, I started as a Foreign Teacher myself, I have since then been involved in arranging marketing activities and events. I do language and pronunciation training with the Chinese teachers, I plan activities and events for our current students, I train and oversee the foreign teachers in my department. Also, my school is using my voice for some of our in-house teaching materials.

Academic Training, Marketing, Recruitment, Management, Content Creation, Curriculum Development or Teaching Research, the options are endless if you want to advance your career. And many times, all you have to do, is show your supervisors what you can do for them. I never saw ESL teaching as just a “teaching job that I got because I couldn’t get anything else.” For me, it became a calling, a passion and the chance to give something to others. But I have also been able to advance myself, advance my career and find ways to make my school better for myself, the students, my colleagues foreign and Chinese. The possibilities are endless, you just have to go for it!