Tips to survive Winter

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China is a huge, diverse country with a suitably wide range of climates to match.

Whilst some Southern cities may have the pleasure of being warm and temperate all year round, many of the cities further north can be less forgiving. Long, hot Summers and equally long cold and dry Winters are bookended by just a few a few weeks of perfect weather in Spring and Autumn.

In this helpful guide, we will focus on how to stay healthy in the Winter months.

Layers

Winter need not be a time to hide away indoors, if you layer up properly. As you go about your daily routine you will experience many different temperatures as shops and other public spaces normally crank up their air conditioning to furnace-like temperatures.

We suggest getting some good base thermals from Uniqlo or Decathlon. Then make sure you have lots of wool jumpers, fleeces, and feather down jackets to add on top, but which can be easily peeled off when you step inside.

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Invest in a good jacket and shoes

Thick jackets and sturdy boots take up a lot of valuable space in your case, (that would be better taken up by your favourite snacks) so you could be forgiven for having left them at home.

Don’t worry though, as it is pretty to get your freezing cold mitts on a warm coat here in China. There are many western shops, markets and even Taobao (China’s answer to Amazon) to choose from. There are few things worse than cold feet, and if you think you’ll get away wearing converse all winter then think again, invest in a good pair of boots to keep your feet nice and warm.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables

We’re not your mom, but a good diet is one of the best ways to ensure you stay healthy and survive the Winter.

If it is cold outside then there is nothing better than tucking into some comfort food such as a nice hot cheesy pizza, but don’t forget to put away some fruit and vegetables to get your vitamins. The best way to fight a cold is to eat and drink your way through it.

*Side note: The Chinese like to put fruit on their pizza, so if you can stomach that, then you are in luck!

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“Anti-bac” the s**t out of everything

We can’t stress this enough – germs get everywhere and we know that many of you are here to work with children, who are little germ machines (bless ‘em). Carry a bottle of antibacterial dry handwash in your pocket at all times, and when you hear that sneeze, anti-bac!

Wear a mask

Stop those germs getting in (or out) by wearing a mask. If you are sick, you will be doing everyone else a favour and if you’re not, it will help prevent you from getting ill. Also, it’s great for those polluted days which roll around once in a while.

Don’t scrimp on heating

You are here to work and you are not a student anymore, so put that heating on! Why freeze your ass off in a cold apartment when you could be nice and toasty with the heating on. Besides, energy bills are much lower than in Western countries.

Moisturise

The Winters can be super dry – especially in places such as Beijing which is right beside the desert – so make sure you stock up on plenty of moisturisers and lip balm. As you may be aware, the Spring Festival holiday is in February and, if you stay moisturized, you won’t be all flaky when you are lying on that beach in Thailand.

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Drink hot water

This is the Chinese answer to everything and despite our initial scepticism, we are now firm believers in this as well. The best way to get through winter is to drink plenty of hot water 24/7, seriously!

We hope you found our tips helpful and if you are already a seasoned China expert, then leave a comment below with your own advice on how to stay healthy in Winter!

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8 Apps for Living Like a Local

Learning to use these 8 apps in China will improve your quality of life! Having spent the better part of a decade living and working in China, I decided to have a look through my phone and find the apps that have been the most important to me over the course of the years. While the apps we use can vary greatly from person to person, here are the apps that have made my life more convenient in the past 8 years.

1. WeChat

China’s number one social media platform, WeChat is everything I like about Facebook but without all the cluttered advertisements and news stories. WeChat allows you to chat with your contacts, create groups, video chat and share your daily life through “moments”. Being social is the most important function of WeChat, but over time the platform has evolved and now you can use WeChat to pay for goods and services, get a taxi, buy tickets for movies or tourist attractions and much more. WeChat is not exclusive to China as it is getting more and more popular overseas. Because of the Great Firewall, I have my parents and closest friends back home on WeChat too to stay in touch with them easily when Facebook is out of reach. (I have previously written about WeChat, find that article here)

2. Alipay

Alipay is the Chinese equivalent of Paypal and is an app designed to be your virtual wallet. While other apps such as WeChat or Apple Pay or Samsung Pay also allows for phone payments, Alipay is still, I think, the biggest payment app in China. I have all my cards connected to Alipay and use it for payments, for moving money between accounts, investments and even sending money back home. You can also pay for utility bills such as Electricity, water, gas, building management fees and internet access all through Alipay. I previously wrote about Alipay, you can find that article here.

3. Taobao

Akin to eBay, Taobao is a collection of private and official sellers of a large variety of merchandise, clothes, gadgets and even food. You can find just about anything on Taobao and usually for a better price than you can online. You’ll need to learn a bit of Chinese to use the app to its full potential, but once you have your details added in, your address typed and such, all you really have to do is browse, find what you need, buy it and wait for it to be delivered. A simple translation app can help you find the Chinese word for what you’re looking for and you’re off to the races. If you prefer buying from a larger company rather than private sellers you can use JinDong.

4. Eleme

Eleme (Chinese for “Hungry?” is my favorite food delivery app. Some of my friends prefer to use Dianping (see below) but I’ve always used Eleme. Again, you will need to learn a bit of Chinese but once you get a handle on the app, you’ll be able to order food directly to your home, or your workplace. You can also find local convenience stores that will deliver anything from bread, milk, water, pretty much anything they sell. Some of the larger supermarkets in some cities will let you order anything they sell, and deliver it to you.

5. Dianping

Aside from also having food delivery, dianping is the go-to app for coupons. If you want to see a movie, go to a spa, hot springs or visit a tourist attraction, chances are you can find it a little cheaper on Dianping. I use it mainly to buy movie tickets, but you can also find tons of activities in your area and get tickets directly from your phone. Many restaurants also offer discounts available through dianping where you can order a set meal or buy an 80-yuan ticket that is of 100 yuan value saving you 20 yuan off your payment.

6. DiDi Chuxing

DiDi is the Chinese version of Uber and is the main app used for getting either a taxi or a rented car to go, just about anywhere. Waving in a taxi from the road-side can sometimes be a hassle, competing with everyone else on the road but ordering it through the app, you know you’ll be picked up soon. You can even set your pickup-location, pickup-time, and destination right from the appl saving you the trouble of having to tell the driver where you need to go. Getting a taxi costs the same as hailing one on the street, higher quality cars with certified drivers are a bit more expensive but also offers a very smooth ride in, often, a very nice car. Excellent if you want to go to the airport or just want the comfort of leaning back and not worry about getting off at the wrong stop. The DiDi app even comes in English! (I have mentioned DiDi before, take a look at this article)

7. Anjuke and Hulala

Having lived in a handful of cities in China, and changing apartments every now and then, there are two apps that have been very useful to me. Anjuke lets you look at house listings from some of the major real estate agents such as Daojiale and Lianjia as well as private listings and will often have detailed photos of houses and apartments as well as detailed information about the location and the communities. Hulala is a moving service where you can order a moving van of different sizes according to your needs and they can move your things into the van, drive it your new location and help put everything in your new home. (I have previously mentioned Anjuke and other real estate apps, see that article here)

8. Trip (formerly cTrip)

Trip.com, previously known as cTrip is one of the most widely used travel agents in China. This app also comes in English and lets you book flights, travel packages, hotels and even train tickets online from your phone. They have English speaking customer service, and everything just works. You can use WeChat or Alipay to pay for your bookings and track your flights through the app. You might be able to find travel deals and such, cheaper somewhere else, but Trip is very convenient. Alternatives to Ctrip is another popular travel site called qunar.com.

What about you? Are there any apps that you cannot live without in China? Are there some apps I have missed that are worth knowing about? Send a comment and let me know!

Teaching in Public Schools – What You Need to Know

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I know it sounds cliché, but travelling halfway across the world to teach English in China was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Sometimes it was challenging, other times rewarding, but above all, it was an experience that created memories that will last a lifetime.

If you come to China to teach English through a recruiting company, chances are high that you will be placed in a public school. This is good news, as teaching in a public school compared to other learning institutions has far more perks than drawbacks, and I’m here today to explain what you need to know before you embark on your public school teaching adventure. Let’s get started!

Big class sizes

I know this sounds frightening, but trust me, it’s easy to get used to and might actually be easier to teach than small classes! Public school classes in China are big: they average around 45-60 students per class. Don’t let this intimidate you however, as bigger class sizes have their perks. If you’re not a morning person (like me) and you need a jolt of energy to really get you going, a big, energetic class will help you do that. It is much easier to be an active teacher when you can feed off the energy of grade school students hungry for knowledge.

When doing class activities in a big class, you can extend the duration of some activities to make sure most students in your class get a try. An activity that would maybe take less than 5 minutes in a class of 20 can likely go up to 10 minutes in a class of 50! In addition, a big class will likely contain a few students who speak English at a decent level, so when you throw out a question and are met with blank stares from 98% of your students, you can always count on those few whiz kids to help you keep things moving.

Short class times

You’ll be happy to know that an average public school lesson only lasts about 40-45 minutes. This is much, much shorter than my average high school lessons, which went up to 75 minutes! The great thing about having 40-minute lessons is that you can keep your lessons tight, focused, punchy, and energetic, while still giving everyone in class a fair shot at participating. With shorter lessons, you won’t need to do too much prep work as all you will need are four to five well-thought out activities that will keep your students active. And if a lesson isn’t going as well as you hoped it would… relax! You’ll be out of there in less than 40 minutes so you can go work out the kinks!

A (relatively) easy schedule

Compared to some training centres and private schools, public schools won’t require you to spend too much time teaching classes every week. Though it varies from school to school, you can expect to teach up to 17 classes per week, for a grand total (17 x 40 minutes) of just over 11 hours per week in the classroom. Often, this total is less, and you can usually expect to teach around 12 to 15 classes per week.

In addition, some schools won’t require you to stay in the office when you don’t have class, so you can head home and run errands after you finish your last class for the day. However, I do suggest spending time in the office to get to know your fellow teachers. After all, you will be working with them for the whole year and they can be great sources of teaching and discipline advice. And if your relationship with them is great, they may even do you a favour sometime (class swap, anyone?)

Freedom!

If you don’t like following a strict curriculum where you teach lots of grammar points you aren’t comfortable with, you will be well-suited to teach in public schools. Though some schools do require you to teach certain grammar points from their textbook, many of them give you free reign to teach whatever you like! This might be a disadvantage for those of us who would like some order or some idea on which to base our lessons. But for those of us who don’t like being bound by rigid rules, we can design our lessons however we like! The method I recommend is just to pick a topic your classes might find interesting and base your lesson off that. Then, you could throw in a grammar point, speaking practice, funny video, game… the possibilities are virtually endless!

You don’t need to speak Chinese at all… but it helps

Every public school will assign you a “contact teacher”, who will likely be a local English teacher at your school. He or she will be your translator/messenger for the whole year and will be responsible for letting you know about everything that may involve you, such as school events, holidays, or schedule changes.

Having a contact teacher around essentially means you don’t have to learn a word of Chinese to get by at your school. However, your contact teacher may not be the best communicator. You know that afternoon you thought you had free? Well your schedule changed and now you have a class at 3pm that your contact teacher told you about at 2:45pm. Also, your contact teacher won’t always be around to help you tell the printing lady you want 200 crosswords printed out ASAP. A good thing to do is to start learning Chinese and practice by talking to your colleagues. Bit by bit, you’ll be able to do things independently and you’ll have a much smoother teaching experience.

You’ll have to become a “Yes” man/woman

Likely the best piece of advice I can give you to make the most out of your public school teaching experience is: be involved! Yes, I know I said that some schools technically don’t require you to be there don’t have any classes to teach, but you should make an effort to get involved in the goings-on of your school.

Here’s the best way to do that: your school, like any other school, will have a bunch of events scattered throughout the year that you will be asked to participate in. That may be a sports day, a Christmas show, judging a language competition, or playing on the staff basketball team, to name a few. The best thing you can do is ask your contact teacher or your coworkers about upcoming events, and if they invite you to participate, enthusiastically say yes! Unless you have made other plans without any knowledge of said event, you really have no excuse not to join. Now, if you’re feeling event-fatigue and just really don’t want to do them all, just go to the most important ones (Sports Day, Christmas, and English competitions). I’m pretty sure your school will still like you if you’re “sick” on the day of the singing competition.

For prospective public school teachers, I hope you will have as good of a time as I did. What’s the point of coming to China if not to create lasting memories and an experience you will never forget? Remember to check out my blog, Country and a Half , for China advice and more. Happy teaching!

Guest post by Ivan Berezowski

Ivan is a writer/translator who spent three years teaching English in the bustling metropolis of Shenzhen, China. When he isn’t writing blog posts to help newcomers in China, he can be found behind a plate of exotic cuisine or hard at work saving money for his next holiday. Check out his blog Country and a Half (www.countryandahalf.com), or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for more exciting information out of China.

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6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing

Beijing, the capital of China, is an essential stop for most visitors to China – it’s likely if you’re coming to China that you’ll fly into this mega city, or at the very least pass through it. There’s so much to see and do there, it can be over-whelming trying to decide how to spend your days. Should you stick to the ‘big ticket’ items, or try to find those more unique, ‘out of the way’ sights? Personally, I think a bit of both will serve you well, so here’s my list of 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is smack bang in the middle of Beijing, and an amazing part of Chinese history. Whilst some of it is still off-limits to the public, there is some spectacularly quintessential Chinese architecture and artifacts to see in this grandiose palace grounds. Some 24 emperors called this place home over the Ming and Qing Dynasties (mid 1300s – early 1900s), and it feels really special to wander around these once exclusive grounds. My personal favorite is the garden; after a few hours walking around this massive space, it’s lovely to relax in this green area. I can only imagine what it would have been like to sit here in the dynasty days.

My tip: try to find a quiet pocket of the garden to sit down and rest for a bit (and people watch!).

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Tiananmen Square

This is the largest public square in China, and apparently one of the largest in the world. The gate to the Forbidden City (the Tiananmen Gate, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace) lies to the north of the square and is where the square gets its name from. Here you can watch the flag raising ceremony at sunrise or sunset, walk through Mao’s Mausoleum (where the real Mao lies embalmed!), or visit the National Museum.

My tip: include Tiananmen Square in your Forbidden City outing; it’s easy to fit them both in one day.

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven, so it’s a very holy place for many Chinese people.This temple features some of the most stunning and unique Chinese architecture in the city. It takes several hours to walk the beautifully landscaped grounds, and every section is quite different from the last.

My tip: look out for the elderly locals playing cards, mahjong, or dancing near the main gate; it’s a feast for the eyes and ears!

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The Summer Palace

Whilst it’s a little bit out of the way, the Summer Palace is an easy subway ride from the city centre, and is definitely worth your trip. It’s the largest royal park in China and is UNESCO World Heritage listed. The grounds have a delightfully serene feel to them, with loads of gorgeous trees, a river that feeds into a massive lake, and of course beautiful architecture to marvel at, including temples, pagodas, and halls. It’s quite hilly and there are some steep stairs to climb and weave through, but the views from the top of this palace are simply breath-taking.

My tip: wear sturdy, comfortable shoes as some of the paths are uneven and can be challenging to navigate.

The Confucius Temple

This is the second largest Confucius temple in China. Many people whole-heartedly recommend the nearby Llama Temple, and whilst lovely, my pick in this area is most definitely the Confucius Temple. The Confucius Temple is not nearly as popular (so there are generally far less people there), and it has a much more tranquil feel to it. Here you can slowly weave around the grounds exploring courtyards, the beautiful stone and painted artworks, and admire the truly beautiful ancient trees.

My tip: this is a fairly small temple, so relax and take your time to really appreciate and absorb the vibe here; it’s a lovely little oasis from the hustle and bustle.

The Great Wall of China

You can’t come to China and not see the Great Wall! Set aside a full day for this to allow for transport to and from the wall, walking up and back from your transport, and of course photos, a lunch/snack break, and exploring. There’s a part of the wall to suit almost everyone’s fitness level and taste: some parts of the wall have been restored, some are super touristy, other parts are quite ‘rugged’, and are paths less travelled. You can choose to either walk all your way around, or grab a cable car up and back, and walk a little less.

My tip: for something a little different, try tobogganing down the hill from the wall at the end of your day.

Great Wall of China

One last tip for traveling in Beijing: of course, it pays to check the weather and smog levels before heading out for the day, but sometimes you don’t’ have the luxury of time. If that’s the case, I recommend investing in a good quality face mask to filter the air for you.

So there you have it, my 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing. Of course, with a city as massive, and historically and culturally rich as Beijing, there are so many more things to do there, you could easily fill several weeks with amazing activities! Hopefully this list gives you some good ideas, and at the very least, a good starting point for you trip to Beijing! Enjoy!

What are your favorite attractions in Beijing? Let us know below.

Written by the Travelling Penster

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.