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  • Koreen Liew-Young

The beginner's guide to Beijing

So many people told us to be careful in China, and that we should be very wary of everyone.  We were even told because we look Chinese but don’t speak mandarin, people will look down on us.  However, Julian and I have found this is not the case and are actually keen to share our experience of China which may change your current perceptions.

Our first meal in China
First meal in China


If a guide is picking you up to take you to your connecting flight, and is walking really fast – there’s a reason.  Seriously, this girl was around half my height but was faster than The Flash.  In the end we just made our transfer on the final call, and we were appreciative of her speed once we understood how close we were to missing our flight.

The team have made our whole experience so much easier and sort everything out for you.  Julianne from CSA picked us up from the airport and gave us welcome packs, including maps, cellphones and a list of handy apps to download.  Without CSA, I think I could've gone into a mini meltdown.


Yes it’s chaotic, kind of like a James Bond car chase, but without the car chasing you.  The rule in China is that there are no rules, but somehow it works.  We actually feel safer on Chinese roads than New Zealand roads because all traffic is travelling at a more consistent rate and slower, so you have more time to stop.


This is a really common way of commuting. People don’t wear helmets over here, but you don’t need to.  Julian and I are keen to purchase our own bikes. We have already investigated prices and they are around NZ$40!


On a bad day, the smog can be quite difficult for asthma sufferers, so come equipped with asthma inhalers.  When it rains, it’s a Godsend, the blue skies clear up and it’s literally like New Zealand!  Face masks are overrated, we are not bothering with those and frankly, you’re just being really paranoid.


It’s food heaven over here with a range of dumplings, small buns, and skewers for really cheap price!!  We keep going back to our local where we can get a meal for the two of us for around 50 Yuan (NZ$10).  Of course there are your usual western restaurants like McDonalds or KFC if you are feeling homesick, but we’ve come to China to eat Chinese food so we are going to make the most of it!  For those who don’t speak the language, (like myself) ordering can be daunting but there are plenty of restaurants have pictures to help when you order.


Your first experience might involve a lot of elbows and not much personal space.  However, it’s not being rude, it’s just normal over here, so don’t take it personally. Be advised to hold on tight with your bags in front of you – thieves do operate on the subway, but I mean, I do feel pretty safe otherwise. Julian and I were having a conversation on the subway, and a family we really confused by us, because we look Chinese but spoke some other foreign language. They stared at us with interest.  We smiled and they smiled back, offering their seat when they were due to exit.

Real Estate Agents:

These guys are generally all really nice people.  Yes they are there to do a job, but we generally feel that all the agents wanted to find us a place to live to suit what our budget was.  They were literally ready to show us around in five minutes of calling them up.  One offered us water bottles because we were clearly dehydrated, another who were interested to hear about work/life balance in New Zealand in comparison to China, another who did real estate part time while studying and another used handy smartphone apps to translate from Chinese to English.  It’s funny, when Julian was asking them to speak slower, they would speak louder.  Kind of what we do with people who come to New Zealand from other countries I guess.

Living arrangements:

Great news! We have found an apartment through one of the agents we saw.  It is 15 Yuan (NZ$3) or 5 minute taxi ride from where we will be studying!  We move in this evening and have been staying with our landlord till our apartment frees up.  Our landlord is very lovely and each morning she insists on taking us to get breakfast, show us around the area and where to catch the bus to school. She is really chatty and wants to talk to us every minute of the day, offering us advice and teaching us about the Chinese language.  It’s so full on trying to have a conversation but she is genuinely trying to help us, which is awesome- it’s almost like she’s adopted us as her own kids.

So we are thoroughly enjoying our trip so far, we can’t believe we have been here for a week already.  We have tuition for three hours at a time at the local café with our teachers. I'm glad I have a very patient teacher but I’m a bit nervous about starting at Beijing Mandarin Academy will start next week.

I have already seen my mandarin improve but most times I have to repeat words a few times to get the tone or word right.  I have already confused many shop keepers already, for example, asking to buy some huang zhi (yellow juice) instead of cheng zhi (orange juice), but people just laugh it off.  I have also started to learn Han Zi (Chinese characters) and playing Mahjong on the computer has proven to be worthwhile as I already know my numbers pretty well.  But I still have SO MUCH to learn!

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