FINDING MY WAY AROUND SHENZHEN - PART TWO        Close your eyes, close your eyes and get a surprise       






     This fun children’s chant could not be more apt in describing my experience in Shenzhen. With every day that comes by, and the shut-eyes in between, I find myself learning more about the environment that lays around me.  Despite the temperamental drenching rain, and the (at times) stifling heat that so threatens to envelop you, the Shenzhen air is clear and the sky is bright.  For those of you who are considering joining the au pair  programme , don’t forget your sun cream – you’re certainly going to need it once you’re here!  One of the most important things to do whilst you are out here, asides from maintaining your work and class duties, is to find and build a support system. I know personally that my experience would not have been the same had it not been for my fellow au pairs.  Wechat  is such a nifty tool to communicate with others, and it is something that I have definitely taken advantage of whilst I have been here.    Moments  for  wechat  users is what   stories are like for fans of Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram. Something you can use to show off your lesson plans, and travels. It’s a great way of keeping track of those around you, and of highlighting some of your favourite moments in China. It is these personal touches, aided by digital bytes, that are ubiquitous here. Certainly what surprised me when I arrived, was the seamless integration of technology that exist in everyday life here. For example, people can pay for meals or simple trinkets using  wechat  pay. You could come across, even the most remote shop in the city, and they would accept payment by mobile. Just scan the QR code, and you’re a-go.  It is with this in mind, that I am left wondering why Chinese stereotypes are not extended to technology. A city full of digital minds and hearts, Shenzhen certainly has a reputation for being the pinnacle of technological innovation (having been dubbed China’s answer to  Silicon Valley ), however the same could not be said of reputations elsewhere. China is opening its mind (and wallet) to the possibilities of open networks and constant trade of information and goods, and the rest of the world should take note. With one of the biggest e-commerce markets in the world, China is making a stand for modernity and connection.  It would, however, be a digression to delve further into the inner mechanisms of Chinese society. Certainly that can be left to the sociologists, anthropologists and economists of the world.  What are worth noting instead are the smaller connections that are forged within this community. Recently, I attended a KTV session (essentially a karaoke booth) with some other au pairs. From this, I had hoped for two things: to gain a finer appreciation for Chinese culture, and to stretch out my vocal chords. As I expected, I was able to achieve both objectives. There is something special about sharing a song with others. Amidst all your struggles and worries, you can left everything go in the middle of a Beyoncé or ABBA song. It was something I needed, and something I really enjoyed. Despite the lack of up-to-date English songs (unfortunately  Despacito  doesn’t count, however memorable and fun it may be), the booth was packed with throwbacks. Picture Jamilla and Natasha Beddingfield: absolute classics in their time, and you can begin to have some idea as to what the atmosphere was like that night.    It is from this high that I hope to embark on new adventures in my journey here in China. Warm air and picturesque surroundings – what more can you ask for?

Follow Ayah-Sofia's journey in Shenzhen as she experiences traditional Chinese activities and their equivelant to social media and all things technological... 

      Best  free  travel apps  FOR visiting CHINA     






     Preparing for your trip can be an exciting and overwhelming time, so in the run up to your adventure here are some app's that will help your travels from learning the language to finding the best restaurants around.     Wechat    This is an obvious one for China as it's one of the biggest platforms being used - a reported 768 million users are active on Wechat every day! It combines features from Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp so you can add photos, live streams, text and call people on it. Making friends and contacts in China couldn't be easier for communication! You can even download Wechat onto your laptop or Ipad, so you're never without it.      



              Photo by  



      Learning the Language     Pleco   Combing the Chinese dictionary and the Oxford English dictionary it's not surprising that Pleco is one of the best translation apps for learning Mandarin! Even the basic free version of Pleco can help you translate and learn how to draw characters whilst aiding your handwriting in Mandarin too. It also includes flashcards to speed up your learning and contains audio, so you can hear from native Mandarin speakers how to accurately pronounce sentences and words.    Google Translate        













     A great way to learn the language and help yourself out of tricky situations is the trusted Google Translate. It's easy to use through typing in the words you want to say in English to be translated, or you can even take photographs of words and signs you don't understand and voila! It's translated. The translations might not always be identical, but it'll definitely help if you're out shopping or want to choose some food from a menu. You can also download Mandarin onto your phone so you don't need to be on the internet to use it all the time, saving yourself some data.       ChineseSkills - Learn Mandarin Chinese       













     Learning a language doesn't have to just be classes and lessons. Being immersed into the Chinese lifestyle is a huge step into learning Mandarin, and ChineseSkills can help you learn in a fun, engaging way. Games and courses fill the free app, helping your pronunciation of characters and long term memory whilst tracking your progress. From greetings to dating and dining to tenses, it'll make your day-to-day life in China a lot easier and way more fun.       Getting Around     CityMaps2Go       













     This app is great for wherever you are in the world, and basically like a mini TripAdvisor, maps and personal guide in your pocket. The GPS on your phone accesses your location, and from there you can choose what you'd like to do and where to go. Whether you're searching for restaurants, parks, museums or nightlife, CityMaps gives you inspiration for each of your interests. It regularly shows inspiration for places you might like based on what you've already searched with articles and reviews from like minded travellers too. Like Google Translate, you can download the map of your destination before you travel, so as soon as you get there even if you don't have data you can be searching for adventure.        Around Me       













     Super quick and speedy, Around Me is great for efficiency in finding whatever you need from close by. Simply choose from the menu what you'd like to find i.e. banks, pubs, pharmacies and the app will locate all those by you and how to get to them. It'll show you restaurant menus and let you make reservations, or taxi details for your ride to classes and meeting up with your new friends.        Explore Metro     Cities in China are big. Not just big actually, huge. Thankfully, cities have very structured metro systems to get around efficiently, and even more thankfully, Explore Metro can help you navigate round the metros to navigate round the cities! Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and even Hong Kong are featured maps and you can download them directly onto your phone to use without data. The maps are easy to use, even telling you travel times so you know how long it'll take you to change lines or get to your destination. Handy, huh?   Useful Extras    Vegetarious       













     Vegetarian or vegan? It can be confusing in a foreign country to try and explain that you don't eat meat, or consume any animal product at all. Vegetarious is a great little app that can tell you all the vegan, vegetarian, veg-friendly restaurants around you and you can follow people nearby that have reviewed vegetarian restaurants close by for more trusted reviews.   Mentions:   These ones aren't free, but we want to mention it for any Vegan's out there.   Happy Cow   You can use it online for free, but it costs to download. Happy Cow is great for locating vegan or veg-friendly restaurants anywhere in the world, and even shows stores to buy products at it so you can purchase your home comforts in your new place.    Veganagogo   This super handy app can help translate phrases you may want to ask about what's really in your meal. So that's no more charades in public, just find what you want to ask and show! Hurray!     













      Air Quality China    It's no secret that parts of China have air pollution. Major cities can be the worst culprits and it's helpful to be able to track what's happening around you. Keeping healthy is a really important factor when abroad, so you can see the pollution levels easily when you put in your location into the app. For most people it's just another part of life in China to get used to, and as long as you're sensible about your health, when you're outside and where then it's not a problem.            













      Xe Currency   Helpful everywhere in the world, this app can convert your RMB into GBP or vice versa to see how much you're spending and what the rates are. Great for pricing up items you're considering taking home with you too!    TripIt     Holidays can be crazy confusing. What times your flight? Where do you go from there? Do you have your boarding pass? WELL, that's where TripIt comes in and flies your troubles away. Sync it with your calendar and input your travel profile to keep important information and details all in once place! You can share your itinerary and plans with your fellow travellers to keep each other up to date and there'll be no more searching for your sheets in the bottom of your bag.     Baidu     Not technically an app, but Baidu is China's answer to Google. You can find everything China related there as it's basically a mega search engine where you can find movies and tv, social networking, a dictionary and translation, maps, queries and answers and more!    VPNs   Facebook, Twitter and Google are banned in China so if you want access to your social media accounts from home to keep people posted on your adventures you'll need to download a VPN before you go. VPNs (virtual private network) create the illusion that you're surfing the web in another country and although you can get some free ones, the most reliable one (from our own staff member Jessica who lived in China for a year) is ExpressVPN. 

Get prepared for your move to China with our own run down of the top free apps you can download now! 

      端午节 ( Duānwǔjié) ' Dragon Boat Festival'     



              Crossing the finish line in Heiwai, Ronggui. (Photo: Caiguanaho)  



     In honour of the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (May 30th 2017), here is a short excerpt from one of Qu Yuan’s most famous poems, translated by  Hugh Grigg .  離騷 ( Lí Sāo ) 'The Sorrow of Parting'  朝      發  軔   於  蒼    梧  兮,                                                                     Zhāo fā rèn yú cāngwú xī,                                                                    Taking off the brake, departing from Cangwu at dawn,   夕 餘  至  乎    縣    圃;                                                                               xī yú zhì hū xuán pǔ;                                                                                and before night falls, arriving at the Hanging Gardens;   欲   少    留  此 靈    瑣  兮,                                                                         yù shǎo liú cǐ líng sǒu xī,                                                                              I wish to stay at this gathering place of the spirits,    日 忽 忽  其 將     暮;                                                                                   rì hūhū qí jiāng mù;                                                                                    yet the sun is about to set;   吾   令    羲 和 弭  節 兮,                                                                             wú lìng Xīhé mǐ jié xī,                                                                                  I   order Xihe to slow to a trot;   望       崦   嵫 而  匆    迫;                                                                           wàng yān zī ér cōng pò;                                                                        gazing at Mt Yan and Mt Zi, yet not anxious to approach them;   路  漫   漫     其 脩   遠    兮,                                                                       lù mànmàn qí xiū yuǎn xī,                                                                          the road is boundless - cultivation so distant;   吾    將      上     下   而  求 索。                                                                   wú jiāng shàngxià ér qiúsuǒ.                                                                      I shall explore it from beginning to end.      What has Dragon Boat racing got to do with Qu Yuan?  Well, the story goes that Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC), poet and political advisor to King Huai of Chu, recommended that Chu ally itself with the enemy state Qi to defeat the mutual enemy state of Qin. However, in exile from Chu for allegations brought against him by corrupted ministers influencing the King, Qu Yuan hears that his beloved homeland has been defeated by Qin after King Huai did not take his advice. Upon hearing this news, he drowned himself in the Miluo river in an act of political martyrdom and in protest against political corruption.   After his drowning the locals are said to have rushed into the water in long boats, beating drums to scare evil spirits away and throwing rice wrapped in leaves into the water to prevent the fish from eating him. Another version is that they threw rice to feed Qu Yuan's spirit but it kept getting intercepted by catfish the size of dragons. So, a few years after his death, Qu Yuan appeared and told them to wrap the rice in leaves. Either way, at the Dragon Boat Festival people race long boats, eat 糭子  zòngzi  (rice dumplings wrapped in leaves), and remember Qu Yuan for his poetry and patriotism.   In recent years people have begun to suggest another reason for his committing suicide based on alternative readings of his poetry.  Usually, his prose is understood as patriotic, but some scholars suggest that it can also be understood as an expression of his love for King Huai, who exiled him before ignoring his advice. This has led to some of the Chinese LGBTQ+ community, as well as a number of scholars, interpreting Qu Yuan’s suicide as that of a jilted lover, rather than an exasperated patriot.  Regardless of the reason for which he committed suicide, he was a much-loved figure and this yearly celebration of his life, death, and poetry has left a great legacy in sport and cuisine. Over the last 30 years or so, the sport of Dragon Boat Racing has become popular around the world and the International Dragon Boat Federation support competitions and leagues everywhere. The  zòngzi  have also gained popularity as a regular snack food, sometimes plain, sometimes stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings.  Sources:

In honour of the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (May 30th 2017) here's the tradition and story behind the yearly celebrations.

      Chinese Language Indie-Pop and Alt-Rock     






     ‘How can I find out more about Chinese indie-pop and alt-rock?’  It's a question I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves at some point. Well, the answer is ‘Watercress FM’; a Chinese mash-up of LastFM, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Goodreads, IMDb.... Basically it is a site for finding new music, books and films. It contains content from all over the world but also, and crucial for those in search of China’s indie music scene, lots of Chinese content.     






   Anyway, this blog post is not just to alert you to the delights of the Chinese hipster scene (yes! China has hispters too! They are called the w ényì qīngnián  or 'cultured youth') but also to highlight the usefulness of music for learning Chinese, or any other language.  The sounds of Chinese are so different from those of English that it can take a while for our ears to adjust to the new sounds. As such, it is important to 'open our ears' to these new sounds from the very beginning. This is usually done in class through 'listen and repeat' exercises - how many times have you repeated 'ni hao' just trying to get the tones right?  Music provides us with a much more interesting way of doing 'listen and repeat' exercises because we tend to listen to our favourite songs on repeat anyway. The trick is finding some music in Chinese that we like, so that we find ourselves  wanting  to listen and repeat. This is where Dòubàn comes in handy!  Simply make an account and listen to some songs under the 'Chinese music' heading. When you find one you like, click the heart icon and the site's algorithms will bring you into contact with other songs you might like. You can even search for your favourite music in English (or other languages) so that every now and again a Chinese song will just pop up in amongst your regular playlist!  Here are a few of our favourites to get you started (they open in new windows - click on the green 'button' if it plays the previous song again).  1.   Carsick Cars: 中南海/Zhōngnánhǎi    2.   Queen Sea Big Shark (后海大鲨鱼/Hòuhǎi dà shāyú): 'Bling bling bling bling'    3.   Hedgehog (刺猬 Cìwei): 'Asphalt Road' (柏油公路 Bóyóu gōnglù)     If the thought of learning Mandarin makes you nervous, don't worry! Our pre-departure packages include a short introduction to learning Mandarin, plus lots of pointers on independent language learning.       






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If you're learning Chinese, listening to music is a great way to improve your listening and spoken skills. But how do you find songs you like? This blog post tells you how...

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