I can’t believe how quickly two years have passed.
15.08.2011 - 10.08.2013 30 °C
So here’s a summary (kind of) of the last two years of living in China...
Moving to China was one of the (if not the) best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve met so many amazing and interesting people, a lot of whom have become good friends, I’ve travelled a great deal as well as experiencing life in another country and culture. Of course, there are pros and cons – missing my family and friends being the biggest con – but the pros definitely come out on top. In the last two years I’ve travelled to Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, (England twice), California and Hawaii, as well as various trips to parts of China – Beijing, Xi’An, Shanghai, Kunming, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou. I’ve ridden an elephant and stroked tigers in Thailand; a baby whale shark swam up to my boat in the Philippines and I stroked it’s nose; I held a 10 month old panda in Chengdu; I climbed the Great Wall, walked through the Forbidden City and saw the Terracotta Warriors; I’ve been 4650 metres up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and seen the glacier there; I’ve seen an active volcano, watched sunset from the summit of the tallest mountain in the world and sunrise from above the clouds in Hawaii; I’ve had cocktails on the 70th floor overlooking Singapore all lit up at night; I’ve been snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and walked through a small part of the Australian rainforest; I’ve seen numerous waterfalls, beaches, mountains and lakes, all of which are stunning; I’ve stayed on tiny islands and in huge cities, in twenty-bed dorms and four-star hotels, as well as everything in between. And of course none of those trips would have been as good without the people that either came with me or I met on my travels.
I could never have done even a fraction of this if I had stayed teaching in England.
In addition to all the travelling, it’s also been quite an experience living, working and teaching in another country. Yes, we use the British National Curriculum for most subjects, but at times it is a very different world. Resources, or the lack of, can often be a problem. It is frequently difficult to get books written in English sent to China because they are often stopped at customs and sometimes never make it to the school, or arrive months later. This makes it difficult to get one class set of books, let alone enough for the entire school. One way around this problem is that people will buy one copy of a book, either in Hong Kong, when they go home or ask friends and relatives to bring things with them when visiting, and this book will then be cloned at the local printers and as many copies produced as are needed.
Then of course, there is the problem of politics – as is the case in any workplace. However, here we have the added element of being in China! We’re not allowed to teach anything about religion or sex education, which I have found difficult on occasion when a child asks a specific question on one of those topics. We also have to be careful about teaching History, as us foreigners often have quite a different view of events to that of the Chinese government. Then there is working with Chinese staff. Don’t get me wrong, most of the Chinese staff that I work with are lovely, but those that are teachers have been trained in a very different way, which can sometimes conflict with either the way we (foreigners) teach or how we deal with certain children (i.e. those with behaviour problems, special educational needs or different ability levels). And of course, you never know who is a full member of the Communist party, which means you sometimes have to be careful either about what you say or who you say it to.
There are so many things that make China a fascinating country. It is so diverse; an amazing mix of huge cities full of skyscrapers and untouched countryside. The people are usually very friendly, especially if you can speak a bit of Chinese (which is essential to get around, especially in rural areas), and will often go out of their way to help a foreigner. One example, which has happened to me a few times, is that if no one in a shop you go into can speak English, one of the staff will run out to find their friend’s neighbour’s uncle (or someone!) who can speak a little English and bring them back to the shop to translate for you.
Of course, there are some customs/habits in China that most visitors are unprepared for and are not particularly pleasant. Toilets probably being the main one! Public toilets in China are usually squat toilets, they rarely have toilet paper or soap and in more rural areas they may just be a trough in the floor with low partitions to divide it into ‘stalls’ and no doors. Most hotels and larger restaurants often have Western toilets, complete with toilet paper and soap, so if you come to China look out for those ones. I would also advise that you always carry tissue with you, and hand sanitizer if possible. The two other unsavoury (for foreigners) things you will probably come across are people hawking up and spitting in the street (never a pleasant sound or sight, particularly first thing in the morning or when done by the taxi driver when you’re in the back of the cab), and small children peeing pretty much anywhere they want to (in the street is most common, but I’ve also seen it on buses – they have a ‘pee bucket’ – and in shops). I saw a mum holding her small child over a rubbish bin to pee in Ikea once.
Although those things aren’t particularly pleasant, I think they are a small price to pay for living in a country where the cost of living is so much cheaper than the UK or America, you can buy almost anything at almost any time of day or night (although there are some Western things that are difficult or expensive to get), public transport is really cheap and efficient, people are friendly and helpful, the climate is sub-tropical, Hong Kong is less than an hour away (depending on the queue at the border), the rest of South-East Asia is a short flight away, the food is delicious and cheap (if you eat locally) and there is so much to see and do. Plus I get paid about the same as I did in England but I work less hours and actually have most evenings and weekends free!
In short, living in China is definitely worth it, and to anyone who is thinking about living abroad I would say, ‘Do it!’.