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!).

the forbidden city

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!

Beijing (2).jpg

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

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!

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!

Living Like a Local: How Do I Get an Alipay Account?

Alipay or 支付宝 (ZhiFuBao) is an excellent example of one of those apps in China that just make life so much more convenient. I am from Denmark, and we consider ourselves pretty tech savvy, but China really has it nailed when it comes to convenience and going cashless. I rarely have to pay cash anymore, as I can pay anything from utilities to groceries a flight, or train tickets directly using my phone. On top of this, Alipay is safe, and transactions are insured against fraud! Also, the app is in English! Bonus!

Once you have an Alipay account and you have it setup on your phone, you can use Alipay to:

  • Pay utilities for your apartment, such as Water, Gas, Electricity, and Internet Services.
  • Charge your phone bill.
  • Order a Taxi or a Didi (car service)
  • Transfer and Receive money
  • Shop on almost all Chinese websites like TaoBao and JingDong.
  • Pay in stores, bars, and restaurants, even most street vendors.

To set up an Alipay account, you will need to have your passport handy, along with your Chinese Phone number and your Chinese Bank Card.

I will go through the process of setting up an Alipay account on my Android phone, but the process is the same on an iPhone with iOS.

Step One: Downloading the App

The first thing you need is to downloads the app on your phone. You can download the app from the Google Play Store (using a VPN) or any other App Store you have access to. I will be looking through the App Store on my phone.

Finding and Downloading the Alipay app

Step Two: Setting Up Your Account

When you open Alipay for the first time, you’ll be asked to log in or Sign up. Select Sign up and use your Chinese mobile phone number to create your account. Alipay will verify your phone number and send you a 4-digit confirmation code that you need to enter. You will also be asked to choose a login password for Alipay. In the future, you can login using your phone number and this password.

Signing up for a new account using your phone number

Step Three: Adding your Chinese Bank Card

While adding your bank card isn’t strictly necessary to use Alipay, it is definitely the best way to go. You could ask a friend to transfer money into our Alipay account, but linking your bank card means you can top up your balance by yourself or pay with your card directly. When you open up Alipay you will be taken to the front page where you can see some of the most used mini apps.

Alipay Homepage and Account Details
  • Transfer – Send and receive money
  • Card Repay – If you have a credit card, you can pay it off here
  • Top Up – For charging your phone account
  • Yu’E Bao – Chinese Investment Opportunities
  • Movies – Ordering movie tickets
  • Didi Taxi – Order a taxi or a private car (Think Uber)
  • Utilities – Here you can pay utilities for your apartment
  • Zhima Credit – Points used to exchange for gifts
  • Air & Rail – For buying Flight and Train Tickets
  • Activity – Shows your recent transaction activities
  • ShareBike – Some cities offer bike sharing
  • More – There are many more uses for Alipay.

You can also see a snippet that says I spent ¥136.00 so I can easily keep track of the money I spent through Alipay.

After clicking the Me button in the lower-right corner you will be taken to the account management screen. Here you can check your balance, fill out your information and more importantly add your bank cards.

Step Four: Adding Your Bank Card

Note: Due to the standard naming convention used in China, I highly recommend that when you have your bank card opened, that you enter your name in ALL CAPS and in the order “LAST NAME” “FIRST NAME” “MIDDLE NAME”. For example, my name is Mikkel Stig Larsen, but my bank card will say LARSEN MIKKEL STIG.  This is how they will enter your name off of your passport, so if your name in your bank account has a different order, you might not be able to link your card!

Here I have clicked the “Bank Cards” option and clicked the plus icon in the top corner to come to the first screen below. Start by entering your bank card number (the one printed on the card). Alipay will already know which bank you are using.

(Alipay might ask you to create a 6-digit payment password before you can add a bank card. It may also ask you to create this password later, after adding the card).

Depending on the kind of card you are adding, Credit card or Debit Card, it may ask for different information but you will always need to confirm your name, ID Type (usually passport) and your passport number as well as the Chinese phone number you used to open your bank card with.

Note: In order to use your bank card through a phone app like Alipay you have to request the feature when you open the card or you can go to the bank and request it be opened.

Adding a Bank Card

You will receive another verification SMS message on your phone for linking your bank card to Alipay, once you have entered the text, you should be good to go.

If you are unable to link your bank card, it could be because of how your name is written on your Bank Card. When I first opened my bank card, they wrote my name as MIKKEL STIG LARSEN which is correct, but it doesn’t work when linking the bank card.

Step Five: Paying with Alipay

Now that you have your Alipay account set up and you have your bank card linked, you can start topping up your account, shopping on Chinese websites or paying at restaurants and shops.

On the main screen, you’ll see 4 big icons on a blue background.

Alipay Top Bar

Scan – lets you scan a shop or a person’s QR code and transfer an amount to them. Street vendors, Taxi drivers, and some stores prefer this method. You will see a QR code with an Alipay logo on it, just scan it and transfer the amount you have to pay.

Pay – opens up a QR code that a seller will scan on your phone. Typically bigger stores and supermarkets use this. When they scan your QR code they automatically withdraw money from your account.

Collect – lets you receive money from others.

Offers – will have offers like discounts and coupons for you to use.

Note: When you are paying shops and sellers, make sure to choose which “wallet” you are using to pay with. Using your “balance” means paying with the money that is in your Alipay wallet. Paying with one of your linked cards is the same as physically taking out your bank card and paying with it. Regardless of the method you use, you will have to enter the 6-digit payment password you created when you added your card!

Congratulations, you are well on your way to Living like a Local in China!

The Nasty Truth About Teaching ESL in China

Anyone who spends ten minutes reading online reviews of schools in China knows this: teaching English in China is a horrible, miserable experience you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

But why is it when people come here and actually speak to expats who have been teaching for a while, they hear a different story? Their friends say: it’s fun, they love their school, and they plan on staying two or three more years.

The reason is simple: selection bias. Wikipedia says selection bias occurs when, “…groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed.”

So what is it about the people who write these horrid reviews of ESL schools that skews the sample? Generally speaking, those who gather on ESL threads to bash their school are negative people who’ve developed a herd mentality. They say “misery loves company,” and what better way to increase your feeling of self-worth than to join into a frenzied mob of disgruntled teachers with an ax to grind?

Their posts often start like this: “I worked at Blah Blah Blah English School for three years and boy they were a bunch of….”.

Riiiiight. So, this place was so incredibly terrible you stayed for how many years?

Many people forget an important fact: You’ll have problems at your job in China….just like you did at your job at home! There’s no such thing as a “perfect job,” and being able to cope with difficulties in your workplace is a part of life. Learning how to deal with these problems means you’re not lying when you write, “Works effectively in cross-cultural settings.” on your CV.

There’s also a subset of people in China who “can’t hack it” in their home country, and are forced to stay in a foreign country for much longer than they’d like. They’ll tell you how much they hate the food, the people, their school, etc. If you talk to this person long enough, you’ll probably also discover they think their home country is rubbish, too. These people have no business teaching, especially teaching children!

 
Okay, okay – I’ll get off my soapbox now! Do you want to know the truth about teaching ESL in China?

  1. You’ll be surrounded by the laughter of happy children every day
  2. You’ll work with a diverse group of really interesting people
  3. You’re doing something bold and growing as a person
  4. You’ll see sights, eat foods, hear sounds, and smell smells you never imagined
  5. You’ll earn good money while doing work that’s challenging and rewarding

I know it can be pretty shocking to hear, but that’s the nasty truth! The people who teach overseas (and stay because they love it) generally don’t spend their hours trolling ESL message boards. Ya’ know, because they’re outside…enjoying their life. Maybe eating dumplings, or climbing a mountain, or writing in their journal.

 

Have you spent a year or more teaching overseas? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories! If you have incredible travel photos, please send them our way!

Also, if you’d like to learn more about how to become a guest blogger, write us at info@eslsuite.com with the phrase “Guest Blogger” in the SUBJECT LINE.

Written by Christopher Ribeiro | Managing Director at ESL Suite

roundedChristopher came to Tianjin via Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles. He’s lived in China since 2009, and has traveled to over 20 countries on six continents. Christopher has been in teaching and recruiting for over five years – he’s the co-founder of ESL Suite, a husband, and father to two strapping little boys. If he’s not at work, you’ll find him in the gym, or narrowly dodging oncoming traffic on his fixed-gear bicycle.

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Six Schools Hiring Like Crazy This Year

Okay, I admit it…..I’ve been a very bad blogger.

But I have a good excuse: we’re BURIED in applications and recruiting our faces off this year!

Summer is here, and teacher recruitment is really heating up. Schools across China are searching for top teaching talent – hopefully that means YOU!

Here are SIX schools you’ll want to know about for the upcoming school term:

If you’re interested, you can apply directly through the links above. OR you can shoot me an email at christopher@eslsuite.com. Write “BLOG POST” and the title of the job you’re applying for in the SUBJECT LINE of the email.

Not sure if you’re qualified? Or, maybe these six jobs aren’t what you’re looking for. Nothing to worry about!

Simply fill out a general application form to connect with a recruitment specialist and find out what kind of teaching jobs in China might suit you.

We want to hear from YOU – apply today!

Written by Christopher Ribeiro | Managing Director at ESL Suite

roundedChristopher came to Tianjin via Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles. He’s lived in China since 2009, and has traveled to over 20 countries on six continents. Christopher has been in teaching and recruiting for over five years – he’s the co-founder of ESL Suite, a husband, and father to two strapping little boys. If he’s not at work, you’ll find him in the gym, or narrowly dodging oncoming traffic on his fixed-gear bicycle.

Home | TESOL | Teach English | Testimonials