After studying Mandarin at SOAS University in London(a hilarious but unfortunate name as SOAS means STD in Dutch..) I decided to further develop my language skills in Beijing and my choice of institute was The Hutong School.
The Hutong School not only offer language classes (from beginner to advanced) but also help with accommodation, visa (which is a little more complicated when not visiting for tourism), finding cheap tickets and anything you could possibly need help with. They also organise social events, which is nice when living somewhere you don't actually know anyone.
After a 10+ hour flight with a short stopover in Helsinki I arrived early in the morning. I picked up my suitcase, made my way to the exit and looked for the Hutong School representative.
The representative in question was no less than Bruce Lee himself. No, I'm serious, 1.71m, black hair, died 41 years ago.. Well, I guess the name was just a mere coincidence. Anyways, Bruce Lee was just lovely and I would meet him quite a few times during my stay in Beijing.
He took me to my apartment and on top of being picked up by China's most famous actor,Bruce informed me that my neighbour was none other that Jackie Chan himself! I staked out but never caught a glimpse..
My apartment was located in Dongzhimen, a really nice and central location only 4 bus stops from the school, 2 stops to Tiananmen Sq. and 2 tube stops from Dongsi and Dengshikou where I usually stay when in Beijing.
The apartment was, as I guess could have been expected, not quite as "nice" as presented on the website. There were cockroaches, it was dirty and located in a building that was generally pretty run down. However, this too had it's charm and as the location was great and a proper clean improved it a lot, I called it home.
I had 4 roommates; a Dutch guy who arrived the same day I did and would be there for 4 months doing an internship at the Dutch embassy whist learning Chinese, two Columbian brothers who had been in Beijing for 7 months, an American guy who had lived in China for 2 years already and worked for The Hutong School at the time.
After settling in, Bruce took me to register with the local police, as a "resident" you need to register and always carry this form with you. He quickly showed me where the supermarket was and took me to The Hutong School to get a level assessment, arrange my schedule and to meet my teachers.
The school is, well, on the contrary of what one would expect and is implied by the name, not actually located in the Hutongs (traditional Chinese style courtyards & houses), but located on Sanlitun bar street - probably the most popular tourist street in Beijing - think Kao San Rd in Bangkok. Not to mention the school, quite opposite of a house in the Hutongs, is a massive skyscraper with The Hutong School located on the 15th floor. Obviously less charming but it did make for great views.
I had a 2 hour private class every day and my teachers were just lovely (as were the rest of The Hutong School staff my I add).Being in China and constantly being immersed in Chinese improved my Mandarin so much.