Teaching In China: What to Bring

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Depending on the city you’ll be in some things will be easier to get than others. First tier cities such as Shanghai and Beijing have virtually anything you could want; cheese, tampons, deodorant. All those things that you don’t normally think of as being luxuries suddenly become a treat when you’re living in a second or third tier city.

So here are my recommendations on what to bring when you move to the Middle Kingdom (please keep in mind that these are mostly for those of you who will be based in second and third tier cities):

1. Deodorant. People in China don’t tend to wear it and it’s very difficult to find here, especially men’s deodorant.

2. Tampons. Pads a plenty but tampons are not easy to find unless you don’t mind the OB ones that have no applicator.

3. Gifts for your new coworkers. If you bring something for your coworkers I recommend either edible goods (cookies, coffee, etc) or things that say ‘Made in the USA’.

4. Shoes and clothes that fit. Ladies, if you wear over a US size 7.5 for shoes you’re going to have difficulty finding shoes that fit. Gents, over a size US 8.5 and you’re not going to find shoes that work for you. Clothing sizes also vary greatly, in the US I am a women’s size S in China I’m an XXL. Bring clothes with you. This may not be as much of a problem in the northern regions of China as the people tend to be taller and bigger than those in the south.

5. If you plan on doing the do over here in China I recommend you bring condoms. Size and durability are apparently some common issues with Chinese condoms.

6. Birth control pills. You can get birth control pills here over the counter at any pharmacy from a company named Schering Plough called Marvelon. They range in price from 10rmb a box to 20rmb depending on the pharmacy. Check with your obgyn that these are suitable for you, and if they’re not, bring with you ones that are.

7. A proxy. You may or may not have heard of the Great Firewall of China in your research about China. Websites like youtube, facebook, wordpress, and a few news sites are blocked (inaccessible) from China. I use Securitales and they have been fantastic for getting around the GFC but there are a number of proxies available for you to choose from.

8. Medicine. You can get Tylenol Cold and Sinus in the pharmacy but you have to hunt for it as the Chinese label is usually the one displayed. I recommend bringing Imodium, Ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, any prescription drugs you may need, Nightquil and Dayquil, and Neosporin. Getting sick in China can be miserable, but nothing is more miserable than being prescribed Chinese medicine which is usually herbal and takes a loooooooong time to make you feel better or being told you should take a drip with antibiotics in it because you have a cold. Seriously.

9. An extra pair of glasses and contacts. The optometrists here are often not well trained and every pair of glasses I’ve bought here have been a disaster. Bring a back up pair and when you visit home stock up on contacts and visit the optometrist.

10. Skype. If you want to talk to your family and friends Skype is excellent. Download it in the states before you leave or be forced to use the Chinese version which the Chinese government has admitted to watching and regulating. 你好, 大哥!

11. Books. Even better would be a kindle or some kind of e-reader with a lot of books on it. Cities like Shanghai have a ready supply of English language books but the smaller cities tend to only stock things like classics and textbooks for their English language learners.

12. Sunscreen. Sunscreen costs about the same here in China as it does in the states, but comes in much smaller bottles. It’s widely used, so you can find it, but you may not be familiar with the brands available. If you use it, bring it.

 

Things you don’t need to bring:

1. Contact solution. You can purchase both Renu and Alcon at any optometrist shop, it costs about the same as it does in the states.

2. Electronics other than your laptop and camera. Mobile phones are reasonably priced here and most electronics will not work in China unless you have a converter. You can buy hairdryers and hair straighteners here for cheap.

3. Dvds, don’t worry about missing your favorite shows or movies you can stream them all online or easily buy cheap dvds on the street. I’ve caught up on a lot of shows via dvd marathon rather than try to watch a new episode each week.

 

Now you may wonder why I seem to be so obsessed with cheese. If you had to live without it for as long as I did (two years) you would be a little obsessed with it too. To keep you from going through what I did let me fill you in on where to go to get cheese in a second tier city (sorry third tiers, you’re probably SOL, but McDonalds might sell you some). In many cities there is a restaurant supply store that is akin to Sam’s Club (sorta, kinda, in a Chinese-y way) called Metro (the Chinese name is Mai de long (pronounced ‘my duh long’), this is the holy mecca of cheese in a smaller city but be prepared to pay out the wazoo for it.

If you have any questions or recommendations about what to bring or not to bring leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Teaching in China: What to Expect and What’s Expected of You

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First up, let’s talk about what you should expect when you walk into a classroom in China.

 

Public Schools

 

Students do not tend to be divided up by level so when you walk into a classroom you should expect that you will have some students who can’t even say their name when asked whereas others can quote you famous speeches and even answer some of your more difficult questions. Class sizes vary depending on the school but you should expect an average of 30-40 students per class. Doesn’t having so many students of such varying levels make teaching incredibly difficult?, you may ask. Yes, yes it does. You get used to it. If you are teaching university level you can expect your class size to dwindle after the first few lessons.

 

If you happen to find yourself teaching in Southern China, south of the Yangtze River, you may find (most likely, actually) that the classrooms are devoid of heaters and air conditioners. This is not to say that it doesn’t get blazingly hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, so dress accordingly. Fingerless gloves are fantastic for when you need to write on the chalkboard. And speaking of chalkboards, that’s all that most classrooms have. If you were hoping to get lucky with presenting some Power Point Presentations (called ppt here) think again and be prepared to teach using few supplies.

 

It has been my experience working in both public and private schools that there is no curriculum. That’s your job, friend. If you’re lucky you’ll be provided with a textbook, though some teachers find it a hindrance, especially if it’s full of typos and blaring grammar mistakes. Students really like singing songs and playing games so I highly recommend figuring out one or two to play or have as back up once you’ve finished the lesson of the day. And they love candy.

 

Private Schools

 

Private schools tend to have better facilities than public schools. You may even get media capabilities which are a treat if you’re used to teaching with only a blackboard everyday. They too fall under the no provided curriculum depending on the school. More established schools like Web International and Wall Street English are more likely to have a curriculum which they provide. These schools will also expect you to do demo classes which they use to attract new customers/students. Demo classes are a pain the butt but you often get paid a bonus to do these classes.

 

What’s expected of you…

 

If you talk to a foreigner in China, or listen to the recent podcast on This American Life about Americans in China, you will often hear the phrase “dancing monkey”. It’s true, in China we foreigners sometimes feel like dancing monkeys. We’re expected to entertain, be humorous, and somehow keep it all together. We have to be careful not to step on toes, cause anyone to lose face, all the while not being surprised if some random person asks us to sing for them. Living in China can be wonderful and frustrating. In the classroom you need to keep your students engaged while trying to relate the same material to students of multiple levels, it’s a challenge but can be a fun one if you approach it correctly. Most of all, realize that sometimes you’ll be frustrated, tired, and feel beaten down and then some student will surprise you by getting it and you’ll realize it was all worth it in the end.

 

Coming next… What to bring and what not to bring with you to China

 

Teaching In China: Contracts

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Once you’ve made contact with a school you’re interested in and they are duly interested in you a contract will be sent your way. These are the important things to note about the contract which will be sent in Chinese and English:

 

  1. Make sure you agree on a salary and that it’s printed in the contract (People with masters degrees or above should make a higher salary than those with only a bachelors degree)
  2. Check the dates on the contract. One friend thought he had signed a contract for one year when in fact the school had slyly made him sign a two year contract in a bid to get him to either stay longer or have to pay them a fine.
  3. There should be information about the school provided apartment and what is included with the apartment. Just a heads up: there are very rarely laundry dryers or dishwashers in Chinese apartments so don’t expect these to be included in the apartment. If you’re not living on the campus or the school isn’t providing and apartment but instead a housing allowance, make sure the information about how much money they are giving you is included.
  4. Information about who is paying for the visa/residence permit should be included. You will have to pay for the Z visa (which you get in your home country and we will talk more about later), the school will almost always, and should, pay for the residence permit which you will get when you arrive.
  5. Schools are required to provide accident insurance to their employees. Information about this should be included in the contract.

 

It is important to make sure that the Chinese and English contracts match since the government will defer to the Chinese contract if there is an issue. Mostly you just need to check the money and dates are the same.

 

If you agree to the contract you will need to print it out, sign it, scan it, and e-mail it back to the school. You will sign a more official copy once you’ve arrived in China. Be sure to print a copy of the contract for yourself to keep as a record.

 

If you don’t agree to the contract then you need to let the school know. You may be able to negotiate some changes but if you can’t come to an agreement then you need to look for a different school. Most contracts are very similar though.

 

 

Here is an example of your typical contract:

 

 

CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Printed by

State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, P.R. China

(Photocopy not Accepted)

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT

 

Employer (Party A)

Name of the Employer:

Legal Representative:

Agent ad litem:

Address:

Tel:

Fax:

 

Employed Foreign Experts or Professionals (Party B)

Name:

Sex:

Date of Birth:

Nationality:

ID Number:

Overseas Address:

Tel:

Fax:

I. Both parties, in line with the principles of legality, fairness, equality, mutual agreement, honesty, and trustworthiness, on a voluntary basis, and in a spirit of friendly cooperation, agree to sign this contract and pledge to fulfill all the obligations stipulated hereinafter.

II. The term of this contract shall be from  1st day of September,2011 to  30th day of June,2012 , with the first month set as probation period.

III. Tasks assigned to Party B (see the appendix).

IV. Party B’s monthly salary shall be RMB    8000   (before tax), of which  0  % can be converted into foreign currency on a monthly basis. Please see the appendix for terms and conditions on other remunerations and benefits concerned.

V. Party A’s Obligations:

  1. Party A shall inform Party B of relevant laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China as well as any institutions and administrative stipulations concerned with Party B’s employment as herein provided.
  2. Party A shall conduct regular supervision, inspection and review of Party B’s working performance.
  3. Party A shall provide Party B with necessary working and living conditions.
  4. Party A shall deploy fellow staff for Party B for coordination affairs.
  5. Party A shall pay Party B’s salary as scheduled.

VI. Party B’s Obligations:

  1. Party B shall observe relevant laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China and shall not interfere in China’s internal affairs.
  2. Party B shall observe any institutions and administrative stipulations concerned with its employment, and shall be subject to Party A’s arrangements, supervision, inspection and review of his/her working performance. Without Party A’s consent, Party B shall not conduct any part-time job assigned by any other party.
  3. Party B shall fulfill the tasks assigned to him/her with high standards within the prescribed timeframe.
  4. Party B shall respect China’s religious policies, and shall not conduct any religious activities incompatible with his/her status as a foreign expert.
  5. Party B shall respect Chinese people’s ethics and customs.

VII. Revision, Cancellation and Termination of the Contract:

Both parties shall abide by the contract and shall refrain from revising, canceling, or terminating the contract without mutual consent.

  1. Revision of the contract. This contract can be revised with mutual consent. Before both parties have reached an agreement, the contract shall be strictly observed.
  2. Cancellation of the contract. This contract can be canceled with mutual consent. Before both parties have reached an agreement, the contact shall be strictly observed.

(1)    Under the following conditions, Party A shall have the right to inform Party B in writing of the cancellation of this contract:

  1. Party B fails to fulfill this contract or the obligations and agreed conditions as herein stipulated, and fails to amend his/her actions after Party A has pointed it out;
  2. On the basis of the physician’s diagnosis, Party B fails to resume normal work after a sick leave for a period of successive 30 days.

(2)    Party B has the right to inform Party A in writing of the cancellation of this contract under the following conditions:

  1. Party A fails to provide Party B with necessary working and living conditions as stipulated in this contract:
  2. Party A fails to pay Party B as scheduled.

(3)    In case either party asks to terminate this contract, it shall give a 30 day notice to the other party in writing, and the contract shall only be terminated after 30 days.

(4)    This contract can be terminated upon mutual agreement by both parties.

  1. Termination of the contract.

(1)   This contract shall be terminated once it expires.

(2)   This contract may be terminated with the mutual consent of both parties, and it shall be strictly observed until both parties reach an agreement otherwise.

VIII. Breach Penalty

When either party fails to fulfill any part or all of the obligations as stipulated in this contract, that is, in the event of breach of the contract, the said party shall pay a breach penalty of US$ 800 to 3000 or equivalent to 3 to 10 times Party B’s monthly salary in RMB. If both parties consider it necessary to determine an exact sum of the breach penalty, or to determine a breach penalty higher or lower than the above-mentioned amount, it shall be explicated in the appendix of this contract.

When Party B claims to cancel this contract due to force majeure, it shall produce certifying documents issued by competent authorities; after the contract is cancelled with Party A’s consent, Party B shall bear the traveling expenses thus incurred; and when Party B fails to provide any valid reason to cancel this contract, it shall bear the traveling expenses thus incurred and pay the breach penalty to Party A as stipulated in this contract.

When Party A claims to cancel this contract due to force majeure, and the contract is thus cancelled with Party B consent, it shall bear Party B’s traveling expenses thus incurred; and when Party A fails to provide any valid reason to cancel this contract, it shall bear the traveling expenses thus incurred to Party B and pay the breach penalty to Party B as stipulated in this contract.

IX. The appendix of this contract forms an indispensable part of this contract and shall have the same legal effect with the text of this contract.

X. This contract shall take effect upon being signed by both parties and shall be automatically terminated upon expiration. When either party requires signing a renewed contract, it shall forward its request to the other party 30 days prior to the expiration of this contract, and both parties shall sign the new contract through consultations and mutual consent.

Upon the expiration of this contract, Party B shall bear all the expenses incurred during his own stay in China.

XI. Settlement to Dispute

Any dispute in connection with this contract shall be first of all settled between both parties concerned through friendly consultation. In case no settlement can be reached through consultations or intermediation, both parties shall submit the said dispute for arbitration with local personnel authorities or the local labor arbitration system. In case either party refuses to accept the arbitration award, it may bring an action before the people’s court.

This contract is signed by both parties at  School   on                . This contract is in duplicate, each in both Chinese and English versions, and both shall take effect upon being signed at the same time.

 

Party A:                           Party B:

(Signature)                         (Signature)

 

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX

This appendix is an inseparable part of the contract, the provisions stipulated in the appendix have the equal effect as those stipulated in the contract, therefore, both parties must strictly abide and fulfill them.

Party A’s Obligations:

  1. Party A should pay Party B in cash the salary (after tax) of last working month within the first 10 days of next month. Without teaching task, the salary for the winter holiday is half paid.
  2. Party A should pay Party B living allowance in bills(¥500) for water, electricity ,gas , each working month, the total sum will be no more than ¥500, otherwise, Party B should pay extra fees.
  3. Party A provides Party B a furnished apartment containing one bedroom, one sitting room ,one bathroom with shower ,one kitchen, utensils and necessary electrical appliances with the payment of rent by Party A. If Party B rents an apartment by himself, Party A shall offer the house rent (not over RMB3500 per mouth), which will be paid to Party A with normal invoice attached. But Party B will be responsible for his own safety.
  4. Party A should buy Party B commercial medical insurance within the contract period.
  5. Party A should be responsible for application of the required work permit to teach in China for Party B.
  6. Party A should pay Party B for single way air tickets based on one-year contract. The flight should be the most economical between Shanghai and his home destination.
  7. Party A should provide Party B a laptop for teaching use and necessary teaching facility and materials. When the contract is canceled or terminated, Party B must return the laptop and other teaching materials provided by Party A.

 

Party B’s Obligations:

  1. Party B should observe Party A’s work system and regulations concerning administration of foreign experts and shall accept Party A’s arrangement, direction, supervision and evaluation regarding his/her work.
  2. Party B must teach classes according to the schedules, plans, and other teaching requirements of Party A.
  3. Party B should deliver 24 teaching periods per week on weekdays otherwise indicated by the government for adjusting holidays, each period takes 40 minutes and the total is up to 16 hours. No office hours are needed if there are no classes, questions asked by students, or meetings scheduled.
  4. Party B must follow the class schedule assigned by Party A. If Party B is to miss a scheduled class for any reason, Party B should inform Party A at least 24 hours in advance and get permission of Party A. Party A will arrange time for Party B to make up the missing classes and the number of the make-up periods is no more than 4 within each month, otherwise, half payment of the extra make-up periods is to be deducted from the monthly salary. If the make-up time is not available, the salary is to be deducted based on the missing classes.
  5. Party B must properly maintain and use furniture, utensils ,electric appliances provided by Party A for Party B’s living and the laptop provided by Party A for Party B’s teaching , once damage or loss occur to them, Party B must compensate for the damage or loss.

 

Breach Penalty:

When either party fails to fulfill any part or all of the obligations as stipulated in this contract, that is, in the event of breach of the contract, the said party shall pay a breach penalty of US$800 TO 3000.

 

 

A lot of technical mumbo jumbo but it’s important to thoroughly read contracts and make sure you can not only understand them but are able to fulfill them too.

 

 

Next time… Visas

Teaching in China – Recruiters

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After you’ve decided you want to teach in China and put your resume our there/applied for a few positions usually the first people you’ll be contacted by are recruiters. Recruiters are hired by schools to post advertisements, look over resumes, and basically be the middle man to ensure you meet the schools requirements before you’re hired. Some recruiters are legit and some are not, there are pages upon pages of threads dedicated to those non-legit recruiters over on Dave’s ESL Cafe.

Here is the number one thing to remember with recruiters: They should never, ever ask you for money and you should never, ever give it to them if they ask.

Recruiters are paid by the school. End of story.

Usually recruiters will ask you for a number of documents:

  1. Passport; they will want to see the first page of your passport with your picture, full name, etc.
  2. A copy of your university diploma.
  3. Recommendation letters from former employers or teachers.
  4. A recent picture
  5. A TEFL or TOEFL certificate if you have one
  6. Your resume/CV

Depending on the recruiter they may send you a number of positions which are open at a variety of schools in various cities. You choose the positions you are interested in and they will send on your documents to the school to see if they in turn are interested in you. Things in China happen fairly quickly and you should here back in a short amount of time from the schools that want you.

If none of the schools you applied at reply try a different recruiter, there are thousands to choose from.

Occasionally you’ll run into some extremely unprofessional recruiters. A friend of mine recently had an unpleasant experience dealing with a recruiter named Long Long at AiQinghai; “After not contacting a recruiter fast enough in China, this is the response that I received: “But I am sure that you are really a not professional teacher even a professional woman. You are quite unpolite a black african American woman. Go to fuck your father, and Please don’t contact me any more.”” (Just a heads up, don’t use this person for your recruitment).

I also recently dealt with a recruiter who told me I had a job then didn’t contact me for a week then replied via e-mail that the school had decided to go with someone else. Not even a phone call and that was the end of our contact.

I would love to say that this type of person is few and far between when looking for a job in the Middle Kingdom but unfortunately they seem to pop up fairly often, especially if you are a first timer in China. Have patience and try going through services such as Teaching Nomad, Angelina’s ESL Cafe, or take your chances on some job boards like EChinacities.

 

Next time… Contracts.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching in China: How to Decide

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So you’re on the fence about teaching in China, here are a few things you should know.

 

There are a few different options open to you when it comes to teaching, let’s break it down.

 

Public vs. Private

 

  1. Public schools are government run schools. Usually at these schools you will only work an average of 20 hours per week but you won’t be paid as much. Public schools observe all the national holidays and usually give you 1-2 days off for Christmas. You will have long summer and winter holiday breaks (although you won’t be paid for summer and may only get half salary for winter). In cities like Shanghai and Beijing these jobs are difficult to get unless you have previous teaching experience. Universities, vocational schools, middle schools, high schools, and primary schools all fall into this category. These schools will usually provide you with housing or a housing allowance.

 

  1. Private schools are privately owned and operated schools. These are the schools that you often need to look out for in terms of legitimacy as quite a few people have had issues with pay, visas, etc at schools like this. You can make sure the school is legitimate by running a Google search on the name and location of the school and words like “review” or “teacher” to see what pops up about it. If someone has had a bad experience at one of these schools they’ll usually let the internet know about it. Another good place to find out information is Dave’s ESL Café.  At private schools you tend to work 40+ hours per week, some of these are teaching hours and some are office hours. Training schools and kindergartens are part of this category. These schools will often not provide housing but may offer a small housing stipend, this varies from school to school.

 

 

Choose an age group you’re interested in working with. I find that children are not my cup of tea so I’ve avoided taking jobs with kindergartens and primary schools. Jobs working with small children tend to pay the best though.

 

Next, realize that you’re probably not going to be making as much money as you would in your native country. However, depending on the city you’re living in, everyday life is pretty cheap and you can survive on spending just a few RMB a day. It’s even possible to save money (gasp!). The average salary for a public school job for a first year teacher is 5,000rmb (785.67usd) per month. Please keep in mind that you won’t have to pay rent, that mobile phone bills are very cheap (100rmb can usually last a few weeks on a pay as you go phone), and that a meal in a second tier city costs anywhere from 5rmb to 50rmb depending on the restaurant. Every year that you’re at the school you can negotiate a raise into your next years contract.

Private schools salary ranges from 9,000rmb to 15,000rmb depending on the city and hours worked. If you have a private job you probably will have to pay rent, in a second tier city that’s about 1500-3000rmb per month and in a first tier city can be between 2000-5000rmb per month.

 

You may be wondering what I mean by “tiers” when I talk about the cities. Chinese cities are ranked based on their facilities, GDP, size, and various other factors as to what tier they are. Cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou are considered first tier cities. These cities have the most western conveniences, are bigger, and more expensive than second and third tier cities. If you think that you just can’t live without access to cheese (yes, really) and a variety of western food (other than McDonalds and KFC which are EVERYWHERE) then you need to stay in a second tier city or (preferably) above. If you can “rough it” i.e. live without western conveniences for awhile then you could probably be fine in a third tier city. Don’t go to a village. Seriously. It’s even too rough for Chinese teachers in villages and they’ve taken to recruiting Chinese college students to work at the schools there because no one else wants to go.

 *Unless you have at least two years teaching experience it is extremely difficult to get a public school teaching position in a first tier city. Plenty of private school teaching positions available though.

 

I worked in a third tier city in Jiangxi Province for two years. There were two McDonalds and one Walmart which is nothing like Walmart in America. An average of 20 foreigners lived in the entire city. No cheese.

After that I moved on to a second tier city where there were two stores that sold cheese (neither being Walmart), three western foreign food restaurants, and a plethora of foreigners. Needless to say, my living quality and social life improved quite a lot.

 

Whatever city you decide to go to, do your research! Learn about the city, see what there is to do there, read blogs about the place. Know what you’re getting into and be prepared! This past year we had a foreign teacher who just couldn’t hack it. He complained constantly about the food, locals, transportation, dirt… His inability to adjust was a drain on those around him and we were all relieved when he packed up, broke his contract, and fled back to America.

Culture shock is normal, but if you find it difficult to adjust to new situations then China is not somewhere you should move to. Adaptability is a necessity in China.

 

 

In order to work in China there are a few requirements:

  1. You must have a four year university degree
  2. You must have a resume, it doesn’t have to have a lot on it, but you should have some work experience
  3. It is a very, very good idea to get TEFL or TOEFL certification. There are online programs to do this, most schools prefer a 120 hour program.
  4. You need a passport
  5. Recommendation letters from previous teachers or employers

 

Once you’ve decided that you would like to work in China as a teacher you can post your resume online at websites like learn4good.com or browse and apply for jobs at sites like Angelina’s ESL Café, EChinacities, Teaching Nomad, and so on.

 

 

Next time… Recruiters.

Teaching the Teachers

This evening I had the pleasure of conducting my first of ten classes with some of the teachers at the university I work with. These guys are pretty legit, doctorates and masters professionals, that the school has decided to send to Australia for a couple of months in order to improve their English! Boy was I nervous!

The school requested that we teach the IELTS examination, which I can see is important, as that’s what they’re going to study, but I also think that practical English is important too. Since they’re going to be doing an IELTS workshop in Ozzie Land, I decided that at least for this class we were going to work on things that would be useful for them once they get there. I think this will be a continuing theme throughout the next ten weeks. We first worked on formal and informal greetings and I filled them in on a bit of western-style classroom etiquette. Explaining that ringing cell phones were a big no-no in a western classroom led to a slew of not-so-subtle pulling out of the ol’ phone and putting it on silent as they giggled nervously. I tried to include any other cultural differences I could remember when it came to class time.

The real fun began when we started talking about food and restaurants. First I introduced some Australian slang for food such as tucker (food), grog (alcohol), and sanga (sandwich). Then we moved on to discussing ordering food in restaurants. Ordering food in a Chinese restaurant in China is quite different from any ordering experience in the west. First of all, they don’t really have starters/appetizers. You order all your food at once including your beverages and any sweet food you may be wanting. In China they don’t really differentiate dessert from the main meal. In class we went through these differences, how to order, and so on. As the school wants us to mostly focus on IELTS I then introduced some basic IELTS questions about food. I was pretty impressed by their answers and the detail they were able to give. After we had taken a break and finished the basic IELTS questions I went into the long answer questions. Wanting to give them some choice I posted two long answer questions related to food and asked them to choose one. Then their eyes got wide, they started to stare off into space with nervous looks on their faces, and I knew that disaster had struck and we had some things to review. Turns out that when you don’t use English for a long time you start to forget it, and these poor folks hadn’t used their vegetable, fruit, and meat vocabulary in some years. To resolve this issue we made lists of vegetables and fruit on the board. I would say the Chinese and they would tell me the English if they knew it, and let me know any additional words that maybe I didn’t know the Chinese for (still don’t know how to say broccoli, but can finally remember tomato!). We also talked about flavors: sweet, salty, spicy, etc. After this they looked far more relieved and I gave them some time to work on the questions before coming around the classroom to stand next to them and ask them for their answer. They thought this was hilarious (why? I don’t know) but I think it relieved them that I didn’t make them stand up in the middle of class and answer in front of all their peers.

My main goal for this first class was to establish a laid-back and comfortable feeling in class and I believe that we achieved that this evening. I’m looking forward to more classes in the future with this group.

病人 – Sick People

Today was a typical day in Nanchang, especially weather-wise. It started off warm, sunny, a generally pleasant spring day, in fact the first one we’ve really had so far this year. By 2pm a wind had kicked up, the gray clouds had swept in, and we all knew we were in for more of the same; cold, wind, and rain.

Despite this treacherous weather most people ended up making it to my 2pm class. However, by the 4pm class a large number of students had decided that learning English just wasn’t worth braving the weather and instead wrote themselves sick notes. Here they are, in all their glory, straight from their notebook paper:

 

Dear Teacher,

Really bad because the weather is changeable. Immodesty is sick and can’t go to class. So please a holiday. Your student, B

Dear Teacher,

It will be cold and my body is out of shape. So I was sick. I had to leave you. Please your permission. Thank you! – A

Dear teacher,

This day the weather has more change, I can’t adopt it. Yesterday I feel swirl, and today I have headache. I just write a leave little, I want teacher could allowed me. Please. – J

 

I really couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

 

It’s the End of the World As We Know It…

The Rapture is slated to arrive today, so says Harold Camping, who also predicted the world would cease to exist in 1994.

As the end of the world must be imminent, or at the very least, the end of society as we know it, we here at TIC have put together a “surviving China after doomsday” guide. The guide consists of 10 easy steps to follow in order to ensure your survival should chaos, beyond that of the usual in China, occur.

1. Find yourself an old person, the older the better. Old Chinese people are hardy, they survived the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, and the modernization of China. They’ve got survival skills so ingrained in their being they can make vegetables grow out of even the most polluted soil. Hope you’ve brushed up on your Chinese because most old people here don’t speak a lick of English.

2. Don’t rely on the government. Those bad boys will be too busy taking care of themselves to worry about you and your safety.

3. Stock up on food. All those nasty looking dried ducks, dogs,  pig legs, and fish you’ve seen hanging on various porches are suddenly not going to be looking so bad. This is where your old person comes in handy, they know exactly how to make that suddenly delicious looking dried meat. Canned food is not too common here in China, so keep an eye out for jarred goods instead. Nothing like some pickled lotus when you’re slowly starving to death.

4. Hoard water. Northern China is currently experiencing a water shortage and has been for quite a few years, if you’re up there I recommend moving south. If you’re in the south you’re in luck! However, any water collected from rivers and lakes is sure to be extremely polluted as most of the factories in China are located in the southern provinces. Figuring out some kind of filtration device is your best bet. Hope you went to school for engineering!

5. Learn self defense. There are no privately owned guns in China, other than the ones used by the Chinese mafia, so you’re pretty much screwed if you were planning on relying on one of those.  Also, every Chinese person knows kung fu. Seriously, haven’t you seen Big Trouble in Little China? Those guys aren’t even in China and they’re having serious kung fu battles, can you even imagine what it’s like here? Your old person should be able to teach you a bit of kung fu (or gongfu as it’s known here) or at the very least some tai chi. If you’re still not feeling confident about your self defense skills you may want to try to find a sword or fashion your own weapon.

6. Buy cooking oil in bulk. That golden yellow liquid is just like, well, gold, in China. Forays to a supermarket with oil on sale will reveal hundreds of Chinese stocking up on bottles of one of the most essential components of Chinese cooking. This stuff will most likely become the currency of choice during an apocalyptic event so make sure to pick up some today!

7. Raid a pharmacy. As most cities in China sell medicines as powerful as antibiotics and viagra over the counter, taking some time out of your day to pick those up may be beneficial. If you’ve been in China for awhile you may well already have these in supply since the idea of braving a Chinese hospital is almost as bad as the apocalypse itself.

8. Get yourself some baijiu. You can buy it for as little as 3rmb a bottle and it even comes in a squirt bottle if you so choose. The liquor of choice for many Chinese, this stuff multi-tasks  as currency,  lighter-fluid, and a way to knock yourself into a stupor every night. Because let’s face it, no one really wants to be sober for the apocalypse.

9. Purchase a bicycle, this pretty much speaks for itself. There won’t be gas available so your best bet for transportation is a bike. Trick that bad boy out with some protective type gear like spikes and you’ll be straight rollin’ in style and safety.

10. Come up with an exit plan.  As we’ve stated previously, this country has more than a billion people, that’s more than 1,330,044,605 seeking out the same basic resources as you. Getting out to a less populated country increases your chance of survival quite a bit. China is surrounded by a plethora to choose from North Korea, Mongolia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar… Figure out your escape plan and execute it, ASAP.

We’ll see ya’ll in Thailand!

 

Cultural Differences

In China we often come across cultural differences that we are unsure of how to approach. During this time we usually look to the locals to see what they’re doing and how they are reacting and try to adjust our ways of thinking to match theirs. Occasionally this doesn’t work as our own culture is so engrained in us that going against it seems wrong, usually morally.

*

The other day a foreign teacher at our school was riding down the street on his motorcycle when saw a large young man push a small college aged girl into the street. The girl began to run away and the man picked up a large bamboo stick and threw it at the girl, hitting her in the back. The girl immediately fell and began screaming and crying while the man approached her. The locals came out of their businesses and began to watch the scene but did not interfere. At this point the teacher decided to intervene. He pulled his motorcycle over and told the man not to hit the girl anymore. The man responded with, “This is China.” To which the teacher said, “Oh so China is a big guy hitting a little girl?” In an attempt to shame the man and cause him to lose face. (Let me interject for a moment to explain the concept of face: Face is important in Chinese culture. Essentially it is your reputation or how you look to people. Losing face is a great embarrassment to people and something no one wishes to experience. Many will go to great lengths in order to not lose face, even if they are clearly in the wrong.) At this point the young man’s sister and boyfriend decided to get involved in the situation. The sister began screaming at the foreign teacher telling him to mind his own business and stay out of their family affairs. Then she proceeded to pick up the bamboo stick that had been thrown at the girl and began to hit the foreign teacher with it. He pulled it out of her hands and threw it to the ground and began screaming back at her calling her a “Bitch” (which she was). The sister’s boyfriend then told the foreign teacher, “How can you call her a bitch? She is a girl!” Wha…? You can’t call her a bitch because she’s a girl but it’s okay to hit one? The foreign teacher decided it was time to get the police involved and gave them a phone call. At this point he wasn’t the only one, the business owners also began calling the police. At this point the sister, her boyfriend, the young man, and the beaten girl hopped on their scooters and hightailed it out of there. The police showed up about one minute later, took a report, and that was the end of it. No arrests, no action, and no attempt to find the abuser.

*

Now the foreign teacher and the rest of us foreigners are left to wonder, why didn’t anyone else try to stop the young man? This is perhaps the biggest cultural difference we find ourselves dealing with here, the inaction and stubborn refusal to step in, even when it means righting a wrong.

Shanghai Midi Music Festival… Or Not…

This past weekend started with a quest, to see the Midi Music Festival in Century Park, Pudong, Shanghai. Four of us headed out Friday afternoon on the D train from NC; Bakes, myself, Tifa, and Manda. The train ride was uneventful but still exhausting as they tend to be, we arrived in the Bakes family residence around 10pm. After a late night dinner of homemade curry we opted for an early night.

The rest of our gang of eight arrived Saturday morning, bright and early. Bakes chose to get up and greet the guys, B, Jr, Weezy, and Nik. They headed off to breakfast while the ladies and I had a fantastic sleep in and leisurely (but very cold) showers.

When the gents had returned we made up a plan to head to the music festival around 3pm, not too early that we would get burned out on being out in the heat and listening to bands and not too late to miss out on getting our moneys worth. The ladies were hungry so we headed to the Coffee Bean around the corner and filled up on muffins before heading off to find some street vendors. Sunglasses, hats, and books abound, we were in shopping heaven and stocked up on goodies. We decided to continue our spree and headed to Huaihai Lu in order to locate some western sized clothing, highly necessary when you’re not the same size as an average  southern Chinese girl. H&M, C&A, we were in heaven. We shopped ‘til we ran out of time, then headed to Yuyuan to meet the boys and do a bit of pearl shopping. Yuyuan was packed with tourists and locals alike, all eager to get in some bargains and sightseeing. We made our way through the crowds and into the pearl market where we located a stall that I’ve been to a few times before. The girls were really happy about the selection and the opportunity to make necklaces of their choice from the pearls, stones, and beads in stock. We left with a few new purchases and much lighter wallets.

Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai

While we were busy buying jewelry the gents were off doing what boys do, buying heelies and skating around the park. The architecture at Yuyuan is gorgeous so Tifa, Manda, and I wandered around a bit before heading to The Bund to meet the guys. We walked along the river admiring the view and taking pictures, chatting, and trying to figure out what to do about the music festival. The gents had apparently lost interest in going at all. Hohum. We decided to opt out of the festival and split up again, the boys heading off to the Pudong side of Shanghai, and the ladies taking a river cruise along the Huangpu.

Pudong, Shanghai

The cruise was fantastic, very relaxing and full of great views. It was soon beginning to get dark so we headed to the Captain Hostel to take advantage of the amazing rooftop bar view and get some drinks. As darkness fell the Pudong side lit up and we were privy to an beautiful view and some great pictures. A couple drinks later we headed to Nanjing Lu to see the neon signs and people.

Night view of the Pudong skyline

Music, bright lights, and tourists galore are the usual on Nanjing Lu, but it’s definitely a sight to behold. As we were making our way down the street we saw some people dancing and stopped to watch. Soon a lovely old gentleman was beckoning Tifa to come waltz the night away with him, and she shyly obliged, to much applause from the spectators. One song later we were making our way down the road again this time with a mission to catch a cab and meet the guys plus Shanghai based friends La and Jo for dinner.

Nanjing Lu

After an argument with a cabbie:

“Women yao qu changle lu he fumin lu kou.” (We want to go to Changle Street and Fumin Street intersection.”

“Bu keyi.” (Can’t.)

“Weishenme?” (Why?)

“Aiya! Kauidian!” (Geez! Quickly!)

“Yay! Xiexie!” (Yay! Thanks!)

We were on our way to Cantina Agave for a late dinner of Mexican food. We ordered our fill in nachos, burritos, tacos, guacamole, and pitchers of margaritas. It was a feast, but to be honest, definitely not the best Mexican I’ve ever had. Poor service and overpriced bland food left me with a bit of a bad taste, only made up for by having such great company. Time to step up your game Cantina Agave.

After eating our fill we paid and headed to Windows Too, located at Jingan Temple. Cheap drinks and decent music made it a good place to kill a couple hours and let the boys get their creep on. Eventually it began to die out and we decided to move on to another bar;  I ❤ SH, a sleazy bar filled with some rather unsavory characters one of which said, after I had knocked over a chair with my purse, “You’re knocking over things with your BOOBS!”. Mind you, this was a guy in at least his mid-thirties, obese, and drunk beyond reason. I didn’t answer but I think a well placed high heel wouldn’t have been an unreasonable response…

We got out of there pretty quickly and headed to a new place, Shiva. The music was blasting, the atmosphere was only mildly pretentious, and the drinks (mine a Ginger mocktail) were delicious. We stayed for a few hours then headed home after a long day.

On Sunday we took Bakes Mama and Pops to brunch at Dakota. The food was decent and it was nice to commune with the folks. We then headed home to pack and get ready to head out to the train station.

We had some time to kill at the station and a hankering for Subway so we headed to the basement and loaded up on sandwiches galore before rushing back up to catch our train.

Five and a half hours later we arrived back in Nanchang, another weekend over.