I am back home from my trip to Dubai and Beijing. Yes, I had been to Dubai three times and to Beijing twice before, but this time the circumstances of my stay in Beijing have been totally different than they were during my previous two visits. This time I wasn’t a traveler, just spending a few days in China’s capital before moving on to other places in the Middle Kingdom. This time I flew to Beijing for three main reasons: to check out job opportunities, to meet friends who I have made during my previous three trips across China and Tibet, and because I love Beijing so much.
Apart from a hiking trip with my friend Mill who works as a guide for a hiking company in Beijing along the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall, I had no idea what would expect me. Therefore it was really a trip into the Unknown for me and that made me doubtful and anxious. Fortunately, these feelings and insecurities didn’t really come up before I booked my international flight. Otherwise, I might have hesitated and stayed at home.
WHAT SHOULD I SAY?
Things were different this time than they were on my previous two visits and also different than I thought they would be, but I am so glad that I have done this trip, it has definitely been the right decision. I should have flown to Beijing already five or six months ago.
Checking out job opportunities in Beijing
As some of you might know I am considering teaching English in China for quite a while already. The idea came up after my second trip across the Middle Kingdom in April and May 2013 and was intensified by my third China trip in October and November 2013. Then I stumbled upon other Travel Blogs of people who were teaching English in China and I got in touch with a few of them. I also did more detailed research myself as well.
After having visited several places and provinces in the Middle Kingdom I soon knew that if I decide to teach English in China, I would love to do so in Beijing.
As I am a huge fan of checking out things locally instead of only applying online and waiting for a response, I decided to do so in Beijing as well and book a flight there. This is how I got a much sought-after internship at a german-Chilean newspaper in Santiago de Chile during my studies at university a few years ago, and I have also often made good experiences doing so when applying for jobs in Germany.
I checked out the websites of New Life ESL, English First, and Aston Recruiting before flying to China and was told about Expertise Education and Best Learning by other English teachers who I met while I was in Beijing. I had a Skype interview with one of the named agencies and visited the office of another one while I was in Beijing. There I was asked if I could sign a one-year contract and start within seven days. I had planned to either start in early November this year or in early 2015.
The same goes for the company I had the Skype interview with. Because November or even early 2015 is still too long away for them so I agreed with both agencies that I will contact them about one and a half months before I would like to start working.
I didn’t talk further with the other three companies so far, because one of them doesn’t offer jobs in Beijing, the second only employs English native speakers and the third one even only hires English teachers from the US and from Canada.
But I didn’t only fly to Beijing to check out job opportunities and to meet friends, I also wanted to find out if I can imagine spending more than only a few days in Beijing as a tourist, but living there for a few months. Guess what?
YES, I CAN!
My trip reassured me that I would love to live and teach English in Beijing. The disadvantage is just that contracts for English teachers in China are usually one year-contracts due to visa regulations and requirements of the schools. However, I would prefer to sign a six months-contract or a one-year contract that does not force me to pay a penalty in case I decide to leave after six (seven or eight) months. Both companies I got in touch with told me that they would try to make a six months-contract possible for me, but that they can’t promise anything.
I was extremely lucky to meet the two friends I have in Beijing and I can’t thank them enough for everything that they have done for me. Both were my Tour Leaders on my previous three China trips but have become friends over the years.
Mill and I went for dinner one night at a local restaurant and she insisted to pay the bill just because I brought her a gift last time and this time we met while I was in Beijing. A week later we did a hike along the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall together which has been great fun. She made sure that I had an amazing time.
Leon invited me and a few of his friends for dinner at an excellent, fancy, and expensive restaurant in Sanlitun village where we had a private room just for the five of us and he has ordered so much food that it could have easily fed 15 people. The atmosphere and the food were amazing. I was so overwhelmed and deeply impressed by his hospitality and the warmth of his friends that I totally forgot to take photos until we had finished dinner.
A few days later the two of us met for another dinner at a local restaurant. Leon also took me to the wedding of one of his friends where he was the groomsman of the bridegroom, so I got the chance to attend a Chinese wedding. That has been such an amazing, unique, and special experience and I am so overly happy and grateful that I got the chance to be involved.
After the wedding Leon, his friends and I did KTV (Chinese Karaoke) which was hilarious and great fun.
Thanks a million, Mill and Leon for an amazing time and for everything that you have done for me. Please come and visit me in Cologne (Köln) and let me be your host and guide in Germany!
My stopover in Dubai
On my way to Beijing, I made a stopover in Dubai where I stayed for 31 hours. To get an insight into the culture of the United Arab Emirates I joined a guided tour through the Jumeirah Mosque which was led by an admirable and tough American lady who works in Dubai as a computer scientist and commits herself as a volunteer for the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding in her free time. Later that day I had dinner in a restaurant at the Dubai Mall with a view of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain, the new and hypermodern part of the city.
When being abroad I love to try all different types of food and cuisines and I love to do cooking classes to learn how to prepare all these sorts of food myself. Prior to this trip, I had done one cooking class in Costa Rica, three in Thailand, and two in China. When I heard about “The Hutong”, a cultural exchange center which is located in one of the Hutongs in Beijing that offers cooking classes, I knew that I would like to attend. I did two cooking classes; one where I learned how to prepare Handpulled Noodles, a specialty of Xinjiang Province in Northwest China, and a Yunnan Cooking class.
Apart from hiking the Great Wall at Gubeikou, I explored a few Beijing sites I didn’t know yet like the Liulichang street in downtown Beijing, the Beijing Dongyue Temple, the 798 Art Zone, the Ghost Street plus the National stadium aka Bird’s nest and the Beijing National Aquatics Center aka Water Cube Park.
I also revisited the Lama temple which has become my favorite temple in Beijing and the Summer Palace where I took a two to three hours walk around Kunming Lake. On my last full evening in Beijing, I watched the sunset on the North Side of the Forbidden City and ascended “Prospect Hill” in Jingshan Park once more.
The language barrier – an experience
As I have mentioned numerous times before, apart from eight words I don’t speak mandarin yet. As much as this scared me before coming to Beijing for the first time, when I only knew “Ni hao” in Chinese, the more I feel at ease despite the language barrier. I try to learn as many new words in mandarin as I can, but I have also learned how to communicate without Chinese language skills, using gestures and signs. This has put me in many hilarious and entertaining situations and put me in touch with the locals.
People often thought that I am an expatriate living in China because I apparently behaved very self-assured as if I were living in Beijing for quite some time. I was often addressed in mandarin and the people were totally surprised when they heard that I was only in Beijing for two and a half weeks and that I don’t speak Chinese.
I hope to become an expatriate living in Beijing at the beginning of 2015 and of course, I would love to learn mandarin then. I have already done some research and talked to other foreigners living in the city about the best Chinese classes. Hopefully, I will soon be able to communicate with the locals at least a bit in their native language.
What I miss (since I am back home)
- The vibrancy and the hectic, the hustle and bustle of China’s capital.
- The friendliness and curiosity of the locals plus the diversity of the people. A female from of one my cooking classes who works as an English Teacher told me that there is no other place in China where you can meet Chinese locals from all parts of the country.
- The many cultural sights – Beijing is a real mecca for culture enthusiasts like me.
- The Hutongs: I absolutely love these old districts with the courtyards and the narrow alleys where life still appears to be like it has been decades ago.
- The Beijing Metro. It is clean, it is fast, it is efficient and it is cheap. A ticket only costs two Yuan, no matter if you only travel for one-stop or through the whole city.
- The food. I am a huge fan of all different types of Chinese food and you can get a great variety in Beijing without paying much.
- My Wonton soup and fruits for breakfast. I love Asian food and a good soup is a great start to the day for me. At the place where I stayed the Wontons were handmade and freshly prepared.
What I don’t miss
- The Traffic. The traffic in Beijing drove me crazy. There seems to be traffic jam day and night everywhere in the city. I didn’t drive myself in Beijing, but I got stuck in traffic numerous times when taking a taxi from A to B, even on a Sunday morning before 10 AM on my way to the Chinese wedding of Leon’s friend.
Lessons I have learned from this trip
- ALWAYS, take your first chance, ALWAYS. You never know if you’ll get a second one. This is something I already had to learn on my previous travels, but which I had to realize on this trip once again.
- If an idea for something comes up, no matter if it is a trip or anything else: go for it right away, at least when it comes up for the second time. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate – just do it!
- Be as spontaneous as one can be, no matter how crazy it seems to be! I am normally a very spontaneous person, but nevertheless, I wasn’t always spontaneous enough on this trip or on my previous travels. So I have missed quite a few chances for more great experiences.
- Never stop fighting for what is important to you. This is not a lesson I learned specifically on this trip, but for me, this is something that is always true.
- Last but not least I had to learn on this trip that I am a horrendous KTV singer, my performance is just terrible. But however, it has been great fun and as long as people don’t keep me off, I would do it again when I am with the right people.
This post should normally contain a lot more photos, but I am currently facing a massive problem with the Media Library. Since I will be abroad from tomorrow on, I won’t be able to solve the problem till I am back home in a month. Afterward, I will of course upload more photos and update the post. I apologize for the inconvenience.
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