Apartment Hunting in Beijing

Bring More Money

I moved to Beijing to teach English since Jan, 2017 and one of the most challenging parts of moving to a new country is finding a place to live, especially if you don’t speak the language. Beyond that, some cities and countries have different customs when it comes to paying rent than what is common in the USA. In the United States, it is customary to pay a deposit equal to one month’s rent as well as the first month’s rent. Often, you will be expected to pay last month’s rent as well, so the equivalent of about 3 months up front.

Paying Rent in China

In Beijing, China (and I imagine it’s similar for the rest of the country) it is customary to pay three month’s rent at a time, which means that when you rent an apartment, you are expected to pay a deposit, and three month’s rent at once. If you go through an agency, you will have to pay an agency fee as well which is usually equal to one month’s rent, so that’s up to five month’s rent up front when you first move.

My ApartmentOf course, I wasn’t aware of that when I first moved which caused a lot of anxiety when I first got to China.  I wasn’t sure I had enough money since it would be a little over a month before I received my first pay check. As it turned out, there are landlords that are willing to be flexible, but you have to hunt for them.

Agents can be helpful with that if you are willing to pay the agency fee, which my new roommate and I opted to do as we found more agents able to speak some English than landlords. We got very lucky that some agents were willing to postpone payment for the agency fee and found us landlords who were willing to be paid on a monthly basis. This may have been because it was close to Chinese New Year, and agents were desperate to get their commissions before rental prices rose again, but either way, it was helpful to us.

Helpful Agents Are a Blessing

The agents that we ended up getting a lease with were wonderful. They found us a few places within our price range and spent the day taking us around the neighborhood to see them. This was made a lot more exciting by the fact that they took us around the city on their motorbikes, which allowed us a chance to see the neighborhoods in a way we wouldn’t have just riding the subway. I wish I had had a Go-Pro camera to record the motorbike trip as it was the highlight of apartment hunting, but I do have some good pictures of the neighborhood we settled in.

Finding Our Place

Living roomThey showed us two apartments and one traditional style Chinese hutong, all within the same price range. We ended up deciding on the hutong as it was the best commuting distance to both of our centers (about an hour each with public transportation, which in Beijing is about as good as you can expect), and the landlord dropped the price from 8,000 RMB a month to 7,500 RMB. It’s a cute and comfortable little place that we’re happy with, even with the lack of a proper couch. The previous tenant also left behind several useful things, like our shoe rack, food shelves, cubbies, and a full set of Harry Potter books for our enjoyment!

It took a few days to get completely settled in, and after a few months I can say I probably won’t want to live in this apartment forever, but it will be comfortable enough for one year. If I decide to stay in China longer, I now know I will have to save up enough money to pay up to five month’s rent in advance, and then I will have more options open to me. However, I do really like the area that I live in, as there are lots of places to eat and there are not as many skyscrapers so it does not feel so metropolitan all the time. As much as I enjoy big city living, I like that my apartment and neighborhood allows me to feel like I am actually living abroad, rather than in just any other large city.

Teaching Children in Beijing

It’s no secret to those who know me that I have limited experience with children, and I have to admit that I was a bit nervous that my first TEFL job would involve teaching them. My teaching experience had previously been with university students or older adults. After a few months, I have to say I have acclimated to teaching young learners easier than I thought I would. Teaching children is quite fun once you get into it and get to know the students.

Into The Fire

I ended up being thrown into teaching rather quickly. On my first day working at my school in Beijing, after about ten minutes of being there, I was asked by one of the Head Foreign Teachers to cover a class of pre-school age children because their regular teacher was running very late.  I didn’t even have a uniform yet but I wanted to make a good impression and be helpful so I agreed.

He could tell I was worried as I had no preparation, and told me if I got stuck the Chinese Teacher would help me, and that when it comes to that age group, you can always just put on songs and sing with them in a pinch.

Teaching Children in BeijingWhile that was far from the best class I have ever taught, it was good for me to get thrown in so quickly. I covered a few classes my first week, and then I was given my own classes to teach, of all different age groups. With the help of my Chinese teaching assistants I got to know the children in classes quickly and found that I was good at adjusting my lesson plans to suit their needs during class.

One of my classes had a “Parent’s Day” about a month after I started teaching them. This is when the school invites the parents to watch about thirty minutes of a class so they can see how the teacher interacts with their children. I was pleased that the majority of the parents gave me very high scores and no one gave me a low score.

Language Barriers

The most common question I get from friends back home is “how do you deal with the language barrier?” This is most challenging with the youngest children, of which I only have one class.  It involves a lot of TPR (Total Physical Response), repetition, and sometimes the Chinese teacher has to translate for them. Many of the children at that level have also never been to school before, so they aren’t used to following a teacher’s instructions, so you have to teach them that. This is when the Chinese teacher was very helpful, because even if we try to avoid resorting to translation, they can model following the directions so the children can copy their example.

Teaching Children in BeijingIn my classes of even slightly older children, their English level is high enough for them to understand basic instructions. My Kindergarten and First Grade level students can carry on a basic conversation, and they understand classroom instructions. The Chinese teacher is available to help them if they are trying to make a sentence and they don’t know one of the English words they want to say.  For instance, my Kindergartners were practicing asking “Do you like…?” and they understood what the sentence meant, but sometimes they would want to ask the question about a word they didn’t know, so the Chinese teacher could help them with that.

Don’t Be Afraid to Jump in!

My advice to any other new teachers who have limited experience with kids would be to just jump in. You will learn best by doing it. While my training with my school was informative, it only prepared me so much for what teaching children would be like.  By jumping in and just starting to work with the children, as well as observing classes and talking to other teachers, you will adjust to the new environment quickly and have a great teaching experience!

Hear from Our Teacher in Hong Kong – Nikki

Before Coming to Hong Kong

Why did you want to teach in Hong Kong?
I knew I wanted to teach in Asia but I wasn’t sure which country. I applied for about 40 jobs across Thailand, Bali, Malaysia, China and Vietnam. I had visited Hong Kong in the past and loved the city. I choose Hong Kong finally because the salary is so high.

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education Consulting?
On the Mark were fantastic throughout the whole process. The were in touch during the interview stage, contacted me on arrival to make sure I had arrived safely and was satisfied with the arrangements, and even contacted me a few months later to see if the initial problems had been rectified. They have been great!

How long did it take to get your visa? How was the communication with the school during the visa process?
It took approximately 1 month for my visa to come through. My school were in touch the entire time, and I had to send documents via FedEx to Hong Kong which arrived late on December 24th. They were emailing right up until close of business and the HR officer was in touch on Facebook even over the Christmas break.

What website did you use to book your ticket to Hong Kong?
I booked on Skyscanner.  Here is another site where you can find cheap flights too.

Staff in Hong Kong

Teaching Life in Hong Kong

What was your first impression of Hong Kong upon arrival?
Busy busy busy! I was collected from the airport in a futuristic Tesla and driven through the busy streets of Mong Kok. The taxi driver dropped me and all of my cases at the top of the Ladies Market and pointed vaguely in the direction of my apartment. I walked through the market in awe, there were so many people everywhere, on so many levels. The buildings were huge. Birds hanging from apartment windows. Old men cutting their toenails on the side of the road. Chefs chopping up vegetables and meat in the back alley. It was a total shock!

Mong Kok Street

What was the biggest culture shock about Hong Kong?
I found the language very difficult. Most signs on the MTR and in shopping centres are in English but when you really start living like a local and shopping locally, using the local leisure centre etc. language becomes a real problem.  More than once I’ve walked into a restaurant and just pointed at the person in front and mimed 1 – hoping that I’ll like whatever they’ve ordered! The language is so different English that it feels impossible to understand, even a tiny bit. The 9 intonations of every letter is so foreign to the English alphabet that I wouldn’t even know where to start.

What’s your favorite memory to date of life in Hong Kong?

February was my flatmate’s birthday (she is my colleague). We booked a junk boat (essentially a boat with bar, and a rooftop) to take us around Victoria Harbour for the evening of her Birthday. We had been in the country less than a month but gathered up all of our friends and 40 of us booked this private boat. It was 8pm as the light show started, and we were sitting on the roof of the boat drinking tequila shots and watching the views. As the night went on Dragonland festival was playing close to us on the harbour front, and we listened until it was time for us to stumble home. A fantastic memory from Hong Kong!
TEFL Jobs in Hong Kong
What do you like most about teaching at your school?
At my school, the lesson plans are given to us, so you really do come in, work, and go home. You can get creative and much or as little as you want. It’s a great platform for new teachers who are still finding their feet. All of the materials are prepared – it’s our job to deliver. This is very different to teaching jobs I’ve had in the past where I was expected to prepare everything from scratch.

What do you do when you have days off in Hong Kong?
There is so much to do in Hong Kong we are never bored! The teachers have a close group who spend a lot of time together when we’re not working. Normally on my days off I will take a ferry to a local island, hire a bike and go exploring. There is so much to do – lots of hiking options in Hong Kong, Disneyland, theme parks.  You can take day trips to mainland China, surfing, beaches, shopping, spas, art exhibitions, cooking lessons, browsing the markets, or even just eating!

What three things do you wish you would have known or brought with you before you arrived?
1. Shoes! Hong Kong people have such tiny feet – my Mum had to send me a parcel of shoes from back home!
2. Summer is hot. The humidity kills you! I definitely should have brought more loose, cotton clothes.
3. Supermarkets here sell a lot of English big street brands – such as Waitrose, Tesco, Superdrug. It still feels strange going into my local supermarket and buying Waitress tea bags!

Do you have the opportunity to save some money? What percent of your salary were you able to save each month?
The salary here is very high, so you can comfortably save around £700 to £800 per month, and still live well.

Hear from Our Teacher in Beijing – Shannon

Before Coming to China

Why did you want to teach in China?

I had recently received my TEFL Certificate, and was eager to begin my journey teaching abroad. I was open to going almost anywhere, and the programs in China looked promising as they hire year-round, as opposed to Europe and Latin America where hiring happens during certain times of the year.
I had friends who were teaching in China or had in the past who said they had a great experience so I thought, well, why not give it a try?

As it turned out, an old high school friend was already working at this school, so when I got the offer it seemed almost perfect!

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education?

On the Mark made finding a job very easy! I had applied to quite a few programs with little to no response while looking, and On the Mark communicated with me promptly and walked me through everything, going as far to set up interviews with companies for me. I found a job to teach English in Beijing within a week of working with On the Mark, and they stayed in touch with me after as well!

ESL Jobs in Beijing

How long did your visa process take? How was the communication with the school during the visa process?

Getting a visa turned out to be a bit of work, but my school worked with me throughout the process, making sure I was able to get anything I needed. I ended up going over on a tourist visa due to my documents not being available in time to get the visa before my start, but thanks to the Chinese government changing the visa policy, it will be possible for me to transfer to a work visa. I had to go to Washington DC to apply for it, but it gave me an opportunity to visit a good friend who lives there as well as my sister. You can apply at any Chinese Embassy or Consulate throughout the USA. Allow at least three days for them to process it.

What website did you use to book your ticket to China

I did a Google search first, as I find Google Flights helps me find which airlines give the cheapest deals, and who may offer direct flights or reasonable layovers. I found out through the search that Hainan Airlines does a direct flight from Boston to Beijing, and that during the week the price was actually less than some of the airlines that you’d have to have a layover. Then I booked directly through the Hainan Airlines website.

Teaching Life in China

ESL Jobs in BeijingWhat was your first impression of China when you arrived?
My first weekend I noticed that although Beijing is a very large and widespread city.  It is actually quite easy to navigate once you figure out the subway. I was struck by how ordinary of a city it seemed to be, which made me feel a lot less nervous as I went out exploring. It was no worse than trying to figure out New York City for the first time (easier, I felt), because many signs used English as well as Chinese. I was also struck by how friendly most of the people I encountered were at the different shops and places I stopped in. I was also struck by how cold it was, but that was only a shock because I do come from a cold climate and didn’t realize that cold in Beijing didn’t feel the same as cold in Boston. 
What has been the biggest culture shock about China or your current city?
When I first started teaching pre-school age children, I was told by the Chinese teacher I worked with that she thought the parents would like me more if I was more physical with the children. I wasn’t sure what she meant at first partly because of the language barrier, but it turned out that in China it’s perfectly acceptable for teachers to be very physically affectionate with the younger students.  
I have never taught pre-school in the US so it may not actually be frowned upon at home or anything, but it wasn’t what I was expecting to be told. I have no problem hugging children so I quickly embraced the idea but that was the biggest surprise I’ve found so far. 
What’s your favorite memory to date of life in China?
Oddly enough, finding an apartment has been my favorite memory because of the leasing agents my now roommate and I found through a search on The Beijinger (great website to find lots of different stuff in the city). They took us around some neighborhoods on their motorbikes to look at the different apartments they wanted to show us, and it was so much fun seeing parts of the city that way! We did find a place we like, and thankfully those agents were willing to work with us on a rent schedule.
What do you like most about working for your school in Beijing?
I like the cooperation between the foreign and Chinese teachers in the classroom, because I find it helpful with young learners particularly. It also gives me a chance to try out new teaching styles as I am still new to teaching, particularly children. I also really like how the hours are set up so I actually still have a lot of time to enjoy exploring a new city and culture while having a full time job.
What three things would you want to have known before you arrived?
1. China than in the US. In the US, you pay rent month to month, and give a month’s deposit in addition to first month’s rent. In China, it’s often expected that you will pay rent three months at a time, and when you first rent you will also owe and additional month’s rent as a deposit. If you go through an agency (which is recommended for foreigners as many landlords don’t speak English), they charge a fee that is usually equal to one month’s rent. If I had realized that, I would have brought more money with me to start so I wouldn’t have had to use my US debit card.
2. I wish I had known just how cheap things like toiletries and basic necessities were, because I would not have spent so much money at Target and Walmart beforehand. I would have saved a lot of money by waiting to buy them in China (although if you prefer particular brands, then this advice will not apply to you, as you may not find them here).  Not to mention, I could have brought some other things with me, like my favorite tall boots that I had to leave behind, and nice shoes cost a lot more here than some shampoo and soap. However, there is one exception to this rule for women: I recommend bringing as many feminine hygiene products as you can, as the ones here are not as good as the ones in the US. I use reusable, so I don’t have that issue, but if you use disposable, bring a lot with you.
3. I wish I had realized that being able to expect a taxi driver to know where they are going, or at least be able to figure out how to get there, was something I had always taken for granted in the US and times when I had taken taxis in Europe.  
I have never experienced a taxi driver trying to ask me how to get to the place where I wanted to go, and that was because I had a Chinese speaking friend in the cab with me. Often times taxi drivers in Beijing will not pick up foreigners because they assume (often rightfully) that we won’t be able to tell them how to get where we want to go.
I have been kicked out of cabs for not being able to tell them properly. Since my Chinese is still pretty weak, I am relying on the subway for the time being (which is very convenient and easy to navigate, the only drawback is that it doesn’t run very late).
As my Chinese improves, I believe I will have better luck with taxis, but that is definitely something I wish I had been aware of before coming.