Learning Chinese in Beijing? – Top tips on renting a flat (Part 1 of 3)

Mid August onwards is the time when many international students start to arrive in Beijing to begin a semester or two of Chinese studies. If your language school or university doesn’t provide accommodation (or if what is on offer there is not what you are looking for), how do you go about renting a flat i.e finding somewhere decent, at a price that suits you and with a landlord that is helpful? What are some of the key things that you need to know to make sure you are all above board, fulfilling all the regulations? What can help you have a smooth transition into actually living in your own place, and what do you need to know at the start that will make it easier when you leave?

Part one in this mini series will look at some of the key things to think about when first looking for, and negotiating a place to rent. Part two will consider things to think about after you have moved in. Part three will help you think about what you are going need to be ready for when you eventually move out.

Firstly, we’d like to point you to a great article that was posted towards the end of July 2013, which gives a really good overview of most of the things you should be aware of when trying to find a place to rent in Beijing/China. http://www.saporedicina.com/english/rent-in-beijing/

One important point to note: it is good to be aware that things here in China have a tendency to change FAST! So advice given this week may not be fully accurate in six months or a years’ time. However, at the time of writing this post we still feel most of the advice in the Sapore di Cina article is up to date, and some of it is pretty timeless.

A couple of things that the article does not mention, or only mentions briefly, are also important to consider.

renting a flat in wudaokou

The modern Huaqingjiayuan housing complex is right next door to our language school 1on1Mandarin

Registration

It is mandatory for all foreigners to register at their local police office within 24 hours of arriving in the country. If you stay in university accommodation or a hotel, this will be done for you. However, if you are renting a place, you will need to personally make sure you register. There is a fine of up to 500RMB for not registering. Previously there was often a degree of leniency in the time, however, over the summer of 2012 there was a significant crackdown on foreigners living in Beijing, and since then the rules are being enforced much more stringently. (Having said that, different local police offices do still have different practices!)

The Practicalities

In order to register you will first need to go to the correct local police office. In theory your landlord should accompany you the first time you go, and if this is the case, then registration should go smoothly. However, if your landlord is not willing to come with you, then you need to make sure that you at least know where to go! Once you get there, you will need to provide a number of documents. (This may vary slightly depending on which office you go to – again, different offices have different practices!) The minimum you will need is:

  1. Your passport, with valid Chinese visa, and date of entry stamp
  2. Your contract

Recently I have heard that you will also need to provide some sort of proof that your landlord has paid his rental tax (*more info regarding the rental tax below). This may be in the form of an official receipt, or it may be a ‘letter of invitation’ (essentially something only provided if your landlord has paid their tax). The easiest way to deal with this the first time is to insist that your landlord goes with you, and that they then provide you a copy of this document for you to use yourself on subsequent occasions.

The post below gives more detailed info as to what is required. (It doesn’t mention anything about proof of tax payment, but the article is about a year old, and this has been much more rigorously enforced recently.) http://www.themiddlekingdom.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-residence-registration/

Rental Tax Landlords are required to pay a yearly tax of 5% of rental income. If a landlord has Chinese tenants, they will often manage to avoid paying this. However, if a landlord has ‘foreign’ tenants, then as they are required to register with the police, this makes it very difficult for the landlord to avoid paying the tax. There are numerous examples of people trying to register and being told that the 派出所 (local police office) will not register them as the landlord has not paid their tax. (We have personally experienced this twice so far.)

This blog post from last year (2012) is a good summary of this tax, and some of the pitfalls to be aware of (with some info on registration for good measure).  The key sticking point is, that although it is supposed to be the landlord who pays the tax, they often don’t want to, so will essentially ask you to pay it. If it is an apartment you like you will need to come up with some compromise for this or there is a good chance they will just rent it out to someone else. However, you do need to make sure that it is very clear in the contract that you have paid the tax, and you need to make sure that you get the appropriate receipt. Insisting that the landlord comes with you when you first register should take care of this, however, you still need to get a copy of the tax receipt as each time you leave and re-enter (or get a new visa) you may need to take it back to the police office when you register again!

Renting a flat in wudakou - cheaper option

Housing in Wudaokou – old style

Housing agents

If you are renting through an agency, which will be the case for the majority of people, it will not be uncommon to find that the owner of the property does not live in Beijing, or even if they do, they are ‘not available’. In these cases ensuring that you have an agent who can provide you with all the documentation you need is very important. Should you choose to come and study with us at 1on1 Mandarin, we have a good relationship with various housing agents that we trust, so we will be able to give you an introduction, as well as being able to help you out with some of the language difficulties you may face. Just let us know when you sign up that you would like us to help you with this.

Welcome to China! We wish you all the best in your new adventure.

Watch out for our second post on renting a flat in the next day or two, which will include advice on sorting out your utilities and how to put credit on your gas & electricity cards.

Easiest way to learn Chinese? ShaoLan shows us one way

The idea of learning Chinese would strike fear into many people. It is commonly seen as a super hard language, especially for western learners, and only suitable for the brightest of the bright.

Whilst it is true that Chinese is harder for a westerner to learn than most other languages. Getting started isn’t necessarily as hard as people think. Today’s students of Chinese have the benefit of many different resources, technologies and techniques that allow Chinese learning to fun and efficient.

This video from a recent TED presentation is a good illustration of the advantage today’s students have. The video clearly demonstrates learning Chinese that it isn’t too hard, even for those with absolutely no background knowledge or experience.


The speaker ShaoLan makes it seem easy by not only being charismatic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable (key for any teacher) but she is putting together a few basic tools for learning Chinese characters into a visual appealing format. She uses repetition, association, mnemonics, and builds more complex characters using the simpler characters you are already familiar with as building blocks. Many other Chinese teachers and study methods adopt similar approaches (e.g. Heisig, Skritter) but possibly not as visually appealing.

 

Giving people an easy first step into learning Chinese is always going to be a good thing. However, there is a Chinese phrase that is relevant here:  入门容易提高难 (rùmén róngyì tígāo nán) which essentially means that in all things starting is the easy part, improving is hard. It is really important when learning Chinese to be really clear on your goals, and ensuring that your study continues to push you forward towards all your goals.

Of course at our Chinese language school in Beijing then we not only have the enthusiastic and knowledgable teachers who can give you individual attention, but also we are committed to keeping our students up to date with all the best techniques and tools. After all everyone would like learning Chinese to be just that little bit easier.

Top 5 Chinese video websites

Note: There are many changes about Chinese video websites since I wrote last post “Top 3 Chinese video websites” almost two years ago, so I’d like to write some updates on this post and will try to cover all the popular video sites in China. Hope those video sites, not only for fun, but also will be helpful resources for you to learn Chinese and practice your Chinese listening skills.

1. Youku video http://www.youku.com/

I personally like Youku the most because of its video content,  speed, clean design and the least amount of embedded ads, I think it’s one of the best video websites here in China.

2.  http://tv.sohu.com/

It’s owned by Sohu.com, also great video content, high quality movies, TV shows, one of the most popular video sites in China.

3.  http://www.iqiyi.com/

It’s run by Baidu, even though Baidu entered this video market later than others,  iqiyi.com started with only high quality video route, now it’s becoming popular now, again great video content and video quality.

4.  http://v.qq.com/

I think if you know a little bit China, you should at least heard of QQ which is  the No.1 and most popular instant messenger in China and has hundreds of million active users.  With that being said, QQ video sites quickly and easily became the most visited video site because of it’s enormous active users.

5.  http://video.sina.com.cn/

It’s owned by Sina.com.cn, a lot of video content, I often watch sports video on  Sina Video site,  I feel like it has more sports video than other video sites, that is one thing I like it about. And you probably heard of Sina Weibo (Chinese version Twitter), it’s became one of big thing in China now, I may write another post about Weibo later.

These are the top five video sites in China I personally visit most frequently.  You may heard of other video sites from other people or elsewhere, however,  I would not to recommend them at all because of their crappy content or ugly ads.

And above 5 video sites covers latest news videos, movies, TV shows, sports videos, technology,  music and much more,  These websites would not only be helpful for practicing your Chinese listening skills, but also for providing you with another means through which you can better understand China.

So go ahead check out yourself, I hope you find something fun and useful. Let me know in comment if there is a particular video you try to find.

 

Skritter review – a great way of learning how to write Chinese characters

Learning how to write Chinese characters is hard, and we can use all the help we can get. Skritter (http://www.skritter.cn) is a website that uses some clever web coding to create a novel way of helping you learn characters.

The strongest feature of Skritter in my opinion is its tool for Chinese character writing with real time feedback. This is unique as far as I am aware. When you draw a character the strokes you have drawn ‘fall’ into the right place – so every time you make a stroke a little too short, or forget the hook, or make it too straight – it will show you immediately what it should look like, and then let you continue on with writing the other strokes. Similarly, it will let you know if the stroke is in the wrong order, or wrong direction. It will even give you a hint if you are completely stuck as to which stroke comes next. Using Skritter has taught me that I have been writing the liang of piao liang (漂亮 – beautiful) wrong for months. I had been putting 儿 for the last two strokes instead of 几, and skritter would not let me get away with it!

Skritter is full of other useful features that should aid the language learner such as an inbuilt Spaced Repetition System, Audio reinforcement, and character decompositions, and user created mnenomics (see http://www.skritter.cn/pricing for a full list). Alongside which the studying is very customizable, allowing you to focus on exactly what you need whether that is just writing, or if reading and remembering the correct tone are also important to you.

However, to be honest, I am not going to be using it beyond the free trial. Partly that is due to the monthly fee ($10), but also I have already been learning for a while and I have found a set of other resources that provide almost all the features that Skritter provides.

But if you are new to learning to write Chinese characters, then it could be an excellent place for you to start. Skritter is not free, but they do let you have a two week free trial to experiment to see if it works for you. Hope this Skritter review helpful for those who want to give it try.
Learn Chinese Characters