Journalism Intern: Beijing And Its Hidden Surprises!| 6 min read

After studying International Development for 3 years, and specialising in China, I felt it was time to experience it first-hand for myself. I applied for the King’s College Global Internship Programme in 2016 but unfortunately I didn’t get a place. In 2017 I was successful and landed an internship for a magazine in Beijing.

I have written on some great topics and I feel lucky to have been given the freedom to pitch my own ideas. Every Monday we have a website meeting where we each pitch our story ideas for the week. We then discuss, refine them, and set a deadline for publication.

I sit next to the other intern so we often bounce ideas off each other and work on stories together—one we headed to the National Museum of China to cover the new permanent exhibition of state gifts given to China from countries across the world. I also covered World Refugee Day, looking at how China is involved in the current refugee crisis.

I worked on a story about a school in China that was created especially for HIV-positive children—the Linfen Red Ribbon School in North China.  This week I am writing about the stigma against autistic children in China and the schools opening their arms to these children. You can see a pattern forming here… I like to write about human rights.

China is an extraordinary place. But it doesn’t come without its cultural differences—and they can be a bit difficult to adjust to. Working as a writer in China, and one who is passionate about human rights, has been challenging; sometimes I get frustrated about what I can and can’t write.

It’s been an eye-opening experience at the World of Chinese navigating the world of journalism in this country, and one that I would highly recommend. Whatever you choose to do in life, don’t stay in the bubble of the West! 

Outside of working hours, we have been exploring as much of Beijing as we can. Here are a few of my observations and tips from along the way: 

1) When we arrived at our accommodation, I can speak on behalf of most of us when I say we were a little concerned by the appearance of the area. But as the weeks have gone by, we’ve discovered it is a really cool place to be—and you have everything you need on your doorstep.

Bars, supermarkets, pharmacies, massage parlours, and even a Carrefour. We like to think of it as “downtown” Beijing. So, moral of the story, don’t judge a book by its cover and always give it a chance. The best places I have discovered in Beijing are those I have stumbled upon by accident.

We went for an incredible hotpot (we got aprons, hairbands, a man juggling noodles – the whole thing) and it was inside the most unexpected building that almost looked like a run-down hospital. Embrace the unexpected! 

2) Be prepared for mayhem at rush hour. If you think London rush hour is bad, it gets a whole lot cosier on the metro in Beijing. On an average morning I wait for four trains to pass before I’m pushed on in a crowd of commuters and squeezed up against someone for three stops. 

3) Now for the roads. I was given some great advice which I remind myself of every time I cross a road; do not run. If you run, you confuse the vehicles trying to dodge you. If you walk calmly, you are less likely to be hit. It also helps to cross in groups or with a group of cyclists surrounding you. Even now, I usually wait for a group of people to collect at the road side before attempting to cross. Safety in numbers!

4) After a month of living in China, I still haven’t got used to the staring. A white person is fascinating to many of the Chinese and it has become second nature to stand and smile for pictures, especially at tourist destinations.

If they don’t ask for a picture, they just stare. But I often smile in response and I do get a great big smile back. Although it can be incredibly frustrating when you’re tired (or hungover), remind yourself that it is a compliment.  

5) Going out in Beijing is a lot of fun. The Chinese youth love to party and they are always so friendly towards us – that could be the alcohol though. It is a sign of wealth if you have lots of empty beer bottles at your table. More often than not, you will be invited to join a table of Chinese drinkers and it’s polite to say yes. It can turn into an eventful evening!

And, back to the unexpected, the coolest bar we went to was hidden away behind a restaurant in a hutong. We walked through and suddenly entered this amazing mezzanine overlooking a live band – one of the best evenings in Beijing. 

Beijing is an exciting place to be. If you want a comfortable cosmopolitan city, head to Shanghai. If you fancy more of an authentic experience of China with a touch of hustle and bustle, head to Beijing.  Beijing is full of hidden surprises and there is always something to do – it reminds me of London in that way. 

Imogen Braddick, an editorial intern from Corporate Internship Programme – King’s College London Global Internship Programme, was placed in Beijing for 7 weeks, from King’s College London, United Kingdom.

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Rachel Yoon

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