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Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Beijing

Chinese Flag at Tiananmen Square

I recently travelled to Beijing, China to see the sights, explore its history and learn more about its culture by people-watching and interacting with the locals. It was a great experience that I would not trade for anything else. Here are what I’ve observed:

1. Very few people spoke English
This made any form of communication very challenging for me, as I could not speak any Chinese. It should have been a no-brainer, but I forgot to learn a few key phrases before I travelled to this gorgeous place.

English signs on malls, tourist spots and even museums are almost non-existent. It will be a struggle for any person with little or no knowledge of their written language to fully enjoy the historic sites if they do not rent (expensive) audio guides.

I advise you to take pictures of what you may need (toilets, cutleries, food, your hotel, etc.) beforehand to help you in times of need. Locals will try to help you as much as they can, despite not being able to speak English. Most of them will also try to find someone who can communicate in your language when they become stuck.

2. The Food is Amazing
Chinese food in the West is nothing like the real authentic food that you will find in China. The flavours are exquisite and the ingredients are fresh. Never be afraid to try their delicacies such as Bullfrogs and Pig Intestines!!

Also note that if you ordered rice and would like to have it with your mains, you need to tell your waiter to bring it straight away. I’ve been told by a local that they eat rice at the end of a meal as it is a cheap way to fill you up if your mains did not do the trick. The phrase ‘rice now’ did the trick for me.

3. Be careful of tap water
In all of my travels in Beijing, I have not found any safe drinking water on taps. I may be wrong, but I advise you just to buy bottled water to be sure.

4. Squat toilets
Using squat toilets is challenging, particularly if the muscles in your lower body is weak. I don’t think I need to explain why. You’re lucky if you find the very few ‘Western’-style toilets in Beijing, so try practising your squat!!

If you find it impossible to use these toilets, look for the Disabled ones and use them instead.

5. Locals may not appear friendly, but they really are
I found that the locals’ voice, tone of voice and body language may appear unfriendly if you are used to most Western cultures. They rarely smiled and seemed to be shouting when they were talking. You must remember though, that their culture- especially their language- is different from yours, so try to keep an open mind. They really are friendly.

6. It is difficult to take clear pictures
Smog and air pollution are big problems in this gorgeous country. As a result, amateur photographers find it very difficult to capture a clear photograph during the day. The smog covers most of the sky, making a lovely sunny day look gloomy.

I found that the best time to go sight-seeing and take pictures is the day after it rains. The rain clears up the sky, which allows you to see most of the sights and take clearer pictures.

7. It’s hard to breathe
Again, as a result of the horrible air pollution, i found it difficult to breathe. Wearing masks did not help me, either. The air felt heavy and my lungs weren’t prepared for it.

8. Their notion of ‘personal space’ is VERY, VERY DIFFERENT
Most people will stand about 2 inches away from you when you’re conversing- even if you are the only two people in the room.

9. Queues exist but are not followed
Locals do not seem to respect queues. People will barge in front of you if you are not careful. This happens in shopping malls, subway, ticket booths, security checks and even in public toilets. Shouting won’t help you, but a strong body (to hold and protect your place) will.

10. People spit. EVERYWHERE
This is probably the strangest thing that I have observed. People of all ages and genders seem to exercise their free will through spitting. They clear their throats as loud as they can, then spit wherever they are. Nobody seems to care, either. Again, it could just be one of those unique things that are part of their culture.


Getting off to a good start: Useful advice for teachers meeting students with ASD for the first time

nervous_teacherAutism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects people’s Social and Communication development. In addition people with ASD exhibit Restricted and Repetitive Interests and Behaviours. Since ASD affects 1 in 88 of individuals, there is a big chance that every teacher would have at least one student affected by the condition in his/ her career.

Although people’s awareness of ASD have increased over the years, and teach training nowadays provide an overview of what Autism is, and how it affects individuals, meeting a student with ASD for the first time can be a cause of anxiety to teachers (and the students, of course!).

(See also: Practical Tips To Make Your Classroom Autism-Friendly)

Here are a few strategies that I have learned over the course of my working years with ASD students:

Preparing the student before the first day:

There is a huge chance that you will know in advance that there will be a student (or students) with ASD who will be joining your class. Here’s what you could do:

  • Gather as much background information as possible! Information about students should be available from medical professionals, previous schools and parents. Find out what triggers anxiety and problem behaviours.
  • Questions you should ask: What does he like to talk about? What is he afraid of? Does he respond better to a man or a woman? How is his speech? Is there a colour, sound, smell he does not like?
  • Take pictures of the school, dining hall, your classroom, yourself and if possible, the other students. Give these photos to his parents or his current teachers and ask them to let the child know that this is the environment that they will be in very soon. This helps prepare the child mentally and will reduce, if not eliminate, anxiety.
  • Invite the parents and the child to the school ahead of transfer. If the children are moving up a year/ grade in the same school, invite them to your classroom. Have a one-to-one meeting with the child to allow them to familiarise with you and the classroom.
  • Let the children know EXPLICITLY what is expected of them. Give a paper copy of your classroom rules to the children and display a copy of it on your classroom.
  • If at all possible, provide the parents with the school year’s curriculum plan. This way, the parents would be able to tell their children what topic areas will be discussed at what week/ month.
  • Create a picture schedule/ timetable to help establish a daily routine. Students with ASD prefer a predictable day-to-day routine. A change in any subject or teacher or activity must be relayed to the child.
  • Prepare your classroom. Give the student his own desk and give him the freedom to decorate it to make him feel that he is in control of at least some aspect of his environment.

During the first meeting:

  • Avoid drinking coffee and wearing perfume. It may sound ridiculous to some but there are students with ASD who are extremely sensitive to certain smells. Drinking coffee and wearing perfume are some of the things that you can control which may potentially lessen the child’s anxiety.
  • If the child is capable of talking but is not responding to you initially, try to be in the same physical level. In other words, if he is sitting down, sit on a smaller chair, so that his eyes are parallel to yours. If he is playing on the floor, sit on the floor. Make him feel as comfortable as possible.
  • Let him talk about Spiderman or Star Wars at the beginning, if he wants to. People with ASD who are verbal have the tendency to talk a lot about their interests passionately. You must let them do this, again to make them feel comfortable.
  • 10 Second Rule- some people with ASD need more time to process information, especially during conversations. Wait for at least 10 seconds before repeating an unanswered question.

There you have it! Good luck!

More articles on Autism:


Being Proud of Having Autism

What Would You Do If You Witness An Autistic Person Being Insulted?

Never EVER say these things to people iwth Autism!

He flaps his hands and screams a lot but he doesn’t mean to annoy you

Optimum Outcomes for people with Autism

DSM 5 and its implications to ASD diagnosis

Diagnosing Autism: What you need to know

Vote for Miss Montana 2012, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

DSM-V and Autism

The Autistic Me: BBC Documentary

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Practical tips to make your classroom Autism-Friendly

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

Simon Baron-Cohen on Daniel Tammet

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?