Archive for January, 2012

Gong xi fa cai!

January 24, 2012
Happy Chinese New Year to all you Chinese out there…and to those like myself who always wish they could be just a little more culturally attached to it, as opposed to just simply interested. It’s a re-occurring theme for me, these different Chinese festivals and always feeling somewhat culturally envious about the tradition and thought behind everything celebrated. It is so much more than a bunch of people getting tanked then watching fireworks.

I was in Box Hill on Saturday afternoon, helping out my work who had a tent in the middle of all the goings on. It was quiet, with not many Chinese approaching the mostly whitey staff – and i got the feeling that when you’re definitively in the minority, the mostly Chinese crowd  just plain and simple cant be bothered speaking English. I was there for two hours and it passed by quickly, though it was disgustingly hot and humid, leaving me dripping with sweat.

In between speaking to several people, I simply stood there as an observer, people watching. That in itself was fun. You had everything from the Chinese families with their super cute face painted children, to the old pasty white men with their super young Chinese wives ($$..ick).

The festival always cracks me up – the tents on display are just not ‘festival’ – it’s more like a local trade show. Maybe you need to be Asian to appreciate it, but you have tents promoting everything from the post office, to pillows, to bank accounts. Of course there’s always the eye-test tests, and dvd stands and nowadays a plethora of Angry Bird plushie stands.

The definite highlight for me is the food, the lamb skewers in particular. And this year – even they were disappointing! I bought four (for a whopping ten bucks) and both were brimming with fat and only barely cooked – it’s as if they’re cranking out as many as humanly possible to make as much money as humanly possible. Of course as we got close in the queue, a Chinese guy pushed in front of me to order some for himself showing that yes, they’re not only rude bastards on the Mainland!

We didn’t really spend too much time walking around, it just wasn’t worth it. The festival attracts upwards of 80,000 people every year, and the narrow walkways through the tents are absolutely packed with people. Worse is the food street where you have even more people; all with eyes on the food stands and not where they’re walking! I tried a korean potato twist which was delicious – though a bit of a rip-off at five bucks, then a strawberry skewer covered in toffee…another five bucks..then a mango and coconut sago drink which was again, five bucks. So with a full belly and empty pockets, we headed home to wash our faces, as nothing quite makes you feel as disgusting as bloody humidity!

May your 2012 be prosperous!

Yeah baby!

And the highlight of the day....these awesome Chinese lion hand puppets!

Before you teach in China, research!

January 20, 2012

Before you start looking for a teaching job in China, it’s important to be aware of the different types of employment available to you. Where you teach, and the style of place you’re working for can have a very big impact on your overall experience. While there are many people who head to China looking for a career style teaching position (ie: armed with a proper teaching qualification – looking for a proper income earning job), most English teachers will be going more for the chance to live in another country and experience a different culture – kind of like a working holiday. The below information is geared towards these types of people.

First and foremost, you need to determine where you wish to teach. While I will write about this separately in another post (as there’s simply too many factors to consider), it is important to decide whether you wish to work in a city style environment, or something smaller, possibly even rural.

You then need to consider what kind of teaching style or environment you would feel most comfortable in.

  1. Private language schools: You will find these absolutely everywhere, offering students anything from small classes to one on one tutoring. You’ll likely be working with a number of other foreign teachers (which can be a huge benefit in China) and the small class sizes will also be appealing. Many of these are in great locations so might suit someone looking for a job in one of the big cities. It is important to remember that these places are in fact businesses, and some schools unfortunately are more interested in making money than providing quality education. There have been numerous complaints from teachers who have had issues with being paid on time, or employers not sticking to pre-agreed contracts arrangements. Of course on the flip side, there are many people who have nothing but good things to say about these places. The key thing is, if you’re going for a private language school, research it in advance.
  2. Kindergartens: These are another large employer of foreign teachers. The Chinese like to have their children studying English from as early an age as possible to give them an advantage later in life, and the kindergartens/pre-schools are the best place for this to start. You will be dealing with young children (obviously), and possibly large class sizes. This is more suited to someone who enjoys working with children, but can be an incredibly rewarding experience, as Chinese kiddies are crazy cute!
  3. Middle Schools:  The Chinese equivalent of a western high school and where I spent my year. The biggest benefit is that you will be working for a government run, legitimate education provider. Classes can be anything up to 55 students in size, teaching anything from 11 to 18 year olds. While the class sizes might scare some people off, you have to remember that in China, teachers are treated with absolute respect, which can lead to an incredibly rewarding experience. I still enjoy corresponding with my students, some two years later. The downside is you’ll likely live on campus, which can mean impromptu requests from the school (hello English Corner on a Saturday evening!)

Regardless of where you end up, it is important that you research it as much as possible in advance. The absolute best way to do this other than trawling through forums such as at Dave’s ESL café, is actually asking the place for the contact information of a former or current foreign teacher.

Other things to consider:

  • Salary – For around 15-17 hours teaching per week I was making 5000rmb. In Australian dollars, this only equated to a very poor monthly wage (around $850ish), though considering everything in China is very cheap, it was enough to comfortably get by. The more the merrier of course, but you have to have realistic expectations. Your employer will potentially provide you with fully furnished, rent-free accommodation too, so your salary is largely food and play money.
  • Teaching hours – Very important! Clarify exactly how many hours you will be teaching, and whether there are any non-contact hours. They may want you to teach for 15 hours per week, but also want you in the teaching office for a further 20 hours – you do NOT want this if possible. We were contracted to teach for approximately 17 hours (in reality it was around 15), and we were free to leave the school grounds when not teaching. Chinese teachers will often start around 7am, and stay in the office until 9pm. While much of their day involves simply browsing the internet and chatting on QQ, you do NOT want to be bound to something like this. Clarify!
  • Class sizes – Exactly how many different classes will you be teaching and how many students per class? What age group? Male and female or is it a single sex school? Find all of this out as it can help you plan classes in advance.
  • Class materials – Are they provided? Will you be working from a book or are you to come up with your own classes? What exactly will you be teaching? Find out if its just English conversation or whether you’ll be teaching reading/writing too. Will you be required to conduct exams? Regardless of what you are told, take some of your own materials – such as a book containing lesson plans, and things like photographs/magazines/newspapers from home – they can be invaluable if you’re pressed for ideas. Can also be a great idea to take some small gifts, like little teddy kangaroo’s or something reflecting your home country – the students will LOVE this, and it can be an awesome incentive to get them to work!
  • Accommodation – Is it provided? Rent free? Does it include free internet access? Will you be required to pay any money towards utilities such as power/water etc. Do you have your own apartment, own bathroom etc? Ensure it has proper heating/cooling installed as depending on where you live in the country, you’ll likely need both in a big way. We had to pay several hundred yuan per month for utilities, with the School agreeing to pay half.
  • Perks – What else do you get as part of this whole arrangement? Will they be reimbursing your airfares at the completion of the contract? If so ensure you find out exactly how much as it will likely be a set dollar amount and not actually what you paid. Do you get any free meals such as lunches? Does your accommodation come with free internet access? Will they provide free Chinese lessons? There are many things that will come as part of the deal, make sure you check out everything and get it in writing in case they decide you don’t actually get them once you arrive!

While the above all sounds complicated, in reality, it’s not that bad. The key thing to take away from  reading this is before you head to China, research!  If you have any specific questions or wish to add to the above, feel welcome to leave a comment.

Tian Yi Middle School, Wuxi

Dui Bu Qi 對不起我的中文不好

January 16, 2012

A friend linked this video a few months ago and I immediately really liked it. Firstly, the tune is catchy as hell – if you know a few words of Chinese, you’ll be singing it for at least the next week straight. And secondly, I know most of the Chinese words they are singing. While my Chinese is of course still very poor, it’s always a buzz to actually recognize those words you do know. I enjoy listening to foreigners speak Chinese as I can actually understand what they’re saying. There’s a world of difference between a heavily accented Chinese speaker and a foreigner when speaking Mandarin. Of course, the foreigner is likely speaking it very poorly, but at least I can understand it!

This is also something you can totally get away with in China. Got a hint of musical talent? Go to China, cruise around like a rock star. You may get the occasional anal probe at the airport (if expat stories are true!) but in China, you can seriously reinvent yourself any way you wish 🙂


It’s that Chinese New Year time of the year again

January 11, 2012

So it’s that time of the year again; when Box Hill sparkles with the glittering gold of polished plastic bullions, majestic sailing ships and…pineapples. Joining these items are several large coloured fake jade trout and piles upon piles of gift boxes containing chocolate wafers and cookies. This of course must mean that it’s almost Chinese New Year again.

I’d love to buy some of these items as a gaudy joke for several friends, but they’re expensive as hell! Gift boxes of cookies can go up to the $50-$80.00 marks, whilst god only knows how much the ships and fish sell for. When it comes to giving face gaining presents during the most important part of the Chinese year, the Chinese are not afraid to splash out.

I always like these festivals. My company will  have a tent at this year’s Box Hill festival, promoting our adult learning centre.  I’ve volunteered to be in the tent for an hour or two which should be a hoot, as some eighty thousand Chinese descend upon the town. We forgot about it last year, only hearing about it the weekend after, but this year it’s being held on the 21st of January and I expect to be well fed on cumin and chilli covered lamb skewers!

We went in 2010 and it was not bad. Despite the delicious array of stalls selling meat skewers and toffee covered fruit sticks, there was also an eclectic mix of vendors selling anything from pillows to bank accounts or promoting christianity. Around this, rival DVD stands attempted to blast each other away with thumping speakers cranked just beyond the distortion level – a level which most Chinese are seemingly immune to, as it’s something we on the Chinese almost daily.

There’s always a certain energy, colour and vibrancy to Chinese festivals, with the new year being the highlight of the year. If anything, it’s a chance to wander around and observe the Chinese doing what they do best..being Chinese, whilst stuffing my face with happiness.

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