Weekend trip to Chongwu-with a slightly unpleasant ending

I don’t really believe in premonitions.However this weekend was certainly a weird one.It seemed to get off on the wrong foot smehow and things didn’t really work out so brillliantly.This is what happened.

This weekend was an extended one as the Qing Ming Tomb Sweeping ) Festival meant that we didn’t have to work on Monday. So we decided to go with our friends Hamburger and Sue to Quanzhou, a city about one hour’s bus ride away from Xiamen.We had visited there last year but there were a couple of places I still wanted to see there.Hamby’s grandmother lives in Quanzhou.She raised him in his teens and he went to High school there.He had not been back for a couple of years so decided to go too. Sue lives in another city about 2 hours’ drive from Quanzhou but said she could come over to meet us on the Sunday and the four  of us would travel together to Chongwu,a fishing village about an hour away from Quanzhou.

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D and Fisherwomen

So on Saturday,we took a bus from Xiamen to Quanzhou with Hamburger,and checked into a hotel just across the street from Hamburger’s grandma’s place.We then went by bus together to visit Qinguan Mountain , a famous site in Quanzhou topped by a huge statue of Lao Zi. The weather was pleasant, we had a nice stroll up the top of the mountain and saw lots of other tourists taking pictures and were only disturbed by a woman wailing at one point.Then some man came up and told her to be quiet,and that it was not suitable to wail in a public tourist site.On QIng Ming people are supposed to go and sweep the tombs of deceased family members and decorate them with fresh flowers.Hamburger said that sometimes people bury their relatives in the park, even though it isn’t strictly allowed,but that maybe they were very rich and had somehow managed to do that!.

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Statue of Lao Zi

He went to have dinner at his grandma’s house and we went out to my favourite Japanese noodle restaurant chain,Ajisen..We had intended to meet up later to go out for a drink but he later said that his grandma was kind of upset so he wanted to spend some time with her.

Next morning we met up at the bus station to travel to Chongwu.I had wanted to visit this place as I had heard it had an ancient fortress and fishing village and I wanted to see a bit of “real China”. I think in retrospect I regret that! The journey there was easy enough but on arrival we found a one-horse sort of town,a bit dilapidated looking and rough around the edges.It was EXTREMELY windy and not really that pleasant to walk around.It looked sort of like the “end of the line” or the last frontier.We had tickets back to Xiamen only at 8pm and I already felt somehow apprehensive.What the hell would we do in this place until 8pm? Anyway we set off to see the old fortress.First we sampled the local delicacy – fish rolls.You can have it fried or microwaved.The fried one looked like chips and the other one looked like Chinese gefilte fish.It was NOT a very memorable experience.

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Fish Rolls

Next we walked through some rather pretty gardens with many statues depicting characters from Chinese literature,and with a view out over the sea,which was quite grey and stormy.We then walked down to the beach and up to the old wall.Most of the wall,which purported to be 14th Century looked to be completely reconstructed, and in fact there was not a whole lot to see there.But walking along the beach and clowning around a bit with Sue and Hamby was quite fun.

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Hamburger and friend

After we had eaten our lunch at a local place Sue had to get her bus back to Quanzhou and then we asked Hamburger if we couldh’t change our bus tickets to go first to Quanzhou too and then back to Xiamen,instead of waiting until 8pm to return.He said we should try.So that was when things got really bad. We exchanged our tickets and went to get the Quanzhou bus.There was no real bus station,just a huge crowd of people standing on the road waiting for the bus which nearly crushed people as it came in.The mob of people then rushed to board the bus (there were no assigned seats ) and pushed and jostled their way on,squashing people in the process. We couldn’t get on the first bus,and another one drove in after about 10 minutes.But as we waited Danny discovered that his wallet had been stolen from his back pocket (yes ,yes we know you aren’t supposed to put ith there!).We got onto the next bus but the whole experience was really not that pleasant.The trip had been ok but certainly not one of the most amazing places we had been in China and we could have done without that experience.
WE got back home to Jimei at around 9.30pm exhausted and a bit peeved.It was,of course,drizzling.We then had to call the bank in Israel to cancel our visa card and the bank in China to cancel our withdrawal card here.We now have various other bureaucratic things that need fixing as a result of the theft,but after all, it could have ended worse,right?

Have you ever been pickpocketed abroad? I am sure you have,, please feel free to comment.(but not to tell us we are idiots,we already know that)

 

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Fishing Boat, Chongwu

 

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Sea at Chongwu

 

Wrapping it up

It is about 8 weeks until the end of the semester… which means the end of China! Is it possible? Have we really been here for almost three years? It’s inconceivable.After all we came here for one year, right? This thought is causing me to weigh up and mull over (and various other verbs) all that has happened over this time and try to make some kind of sense of it all.I don’t really fancy my chances so I decided to just consider it this way- Things I will miss and things I won’t about China.I apologize right up front if this post is going to be a bit rambly but you have probably gathered that it’s an emotional time.We don’t really know where we are even going in June and we don’t know how we will feel about being back home either.

SO here goes: Things I definitely will miss about China.

1.Being able to go down and get really tasty cheap and varied foods at any hour of the day or night for practically free.We also have a small grocery store guy under our building.The store is manned by a grocery man (whom we have nicknamed Coconut Head), his wife two daughters and occasionally his father-in-law.( or maybe his father I am not sure).They are lovely and always welcome us.We sometimes just walk through the store to get home and say hi. Will try to photograph them before we leave.

2.People smiling and saying hello on the street as if we are royalty (I know some laowei don’t like this but I kinda do)

3.Chinese babies.-Don’t know why they are just amazing

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Awesome baby

4.Feeling free- we have few responsibilities here.Nobody cares what we do, where we go, or how we dress.We feel liberated because of being outsiders.I know it’s different when you are home.You have to worry about bills, the news, what’s going on with family, and you are constantly bombarded with the current affairs, politics etc.Here we don’t understand the news, we don’t read the papers or watch TV.I know it’s a bit escapist but it’s very liberating and I would like to be able to do it at home but I know it’s not feasible.

5.Hooking up with all kinds of people- here just by virtue of the fact that you are an outsider,it is really easy to become friends with all kinds of people,both Chinese and foreigners.You just say hello and then you find yourself going for dinner,hanging out with them or even going away for the weekend with them.Nobody cares where you are from or how old you are.Last weekend we had a couchsurfer lady from Boston staying with us for a week.WE went to dinner at a Vegetarian restaurant with her and there were 25 other couchsurfers there,some from here but some from France,Brazil,Malaysia,Singapore and elsewhere.IT’s fun- you just eat,chat say good bye and move on.

6.Our job- I use this word loosely.The job is completely undemanding and relaxing.I have already mentioned how lovely the students are.They send us messages saying how great we are all the time.They are polite and charming.Yesterday at our Public Speaking Class a couple of kids came up at the end to tell us how much they enjoy the class.It’s just so great.And the campus was looking splendid today as I walked to work.Working 8-10 hours a week in that situation is hardly taxing.There is no driving as we go by school bus.We don’t have to sweat about finding a parking space.We don’t have a lot of paperwork to do.We don’t have staff meetings- we just teach,chat to the students and go.There is little preparation for Oral English class.SO all in all, that’s a big draw to this place.

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Campus was looking gorgeous this morning

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Tiny Love Restaurant on Campus

Now for things I definitely will NOT miss about being here:

1The spitting thing- I have mentioned it before and there is no getting round it.They do it , we don’t.End of story

2.The pavements (sidewalks for my US buddies)- I don’t think I mentioned this but I fell down a couple of weeks ago and sprained my ankle.Now I know this is something that can happen anywhere.But the likelihood of it happening in China is pretty high.THe pavements are woeful and they seem to get broken,cracked ,etc very fast.Even a short while after you see a pavement has been laid it gets all messed up.They are continually digging everything up and building everywhere and walking down the street can be hazardous.

Likewise there are often strange things (hooks,bits of metal etc) protruding here and there.They are digging up our neighbourhood for some reason and it never finishes.China is just one huge building site.It also means the street is dusty and gravelly most of the time.

3.Fireworks- I never was a big fan of these not Guy Fawkes Night ,not Independence Day ,not any time.But I particularly don’t appreciate Chinese fireworks at all hours of the day and night, come rain come shine.And especially not 5am on a Sunday morning.

4.No bread- much as I love Chinese food there are some things I miss from home.Good whole meal bread for one.Good fresh milk is another.WE buy German longlife kind of milk and I really dislike it.There are other Western foods we have found at the store downtown but sometimes you just want a nice fresh salad with some massive chunks of Feta cheese and black olives on it,right?

I know I will miss jiaozi,baozi, gong bao ji ding and so on once I get home,but that’s life I suppose.

5,Being illiterate- now I know I said that I enjoy not reading the newspapers but that doesn’t mean I want to feel like an idiot.And naturally living here and NOT being part of everything means that I do feel like a total idiot much of the time.The upside is as I said,no meetings,no news,no involvement.But this is exactly the problem.We do have a limited amount of Chinese,so conversations can only go so far.WE have really given up trying to get any further.So this means we have no clue what is going on sometimes,and of course we can’t read the notices posted in the lobby of our apartment block.So we are illiterates.

Sorry that the last two posts are a bit philosophical.Hopefully when we travel to Laos and/or Thailand and Yunnan it will get back to its usual travel-blogginess.Comments welcome.

I could go on but I think I need to muse it all over a bit more.

So that will do for today.

 

The Transience of Expat Life- A Musing

When you live abroad (wherever that is) you find that things are constantly shifting.People are constantly coming and going.Many people come here for a short while and they move on.We came to China 3 years ago and we have moved to another city,leaving behind people we met,had a great time with and then said goodbye to.In Lin’an we made some great friends,but at the end of the year we had to say goodbye to them as we moved on to Xiamen, not knowing if we would see them again.Some we have managed to stay in contact with,some we have seen – one colleague came to live here, our “Chinese daughter” Ting and her boyfriend Computer Boy came down here last year in May for the holiday , and we chat a lot on Skype,but staying in contact is hard, and it’s certainly not the same as when she dropped by our apartment for supper most days.

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Ting and Computer Boy on their visit to Xiamen University

When we arrived in Xiamen we made a wonderful friend called Ivy who helped us out many times reading stuff in Chinese and showing us around town.But she got another job up in Tianjin and went there.I can chat to her on WeChat but it’s not the same as hanging out together in a new coffee bar in Xiamen or going together to a party…I can’t blame her.She got a great job and she said that “Northern boys are better than the ones here”.. so bye bye Ivy.

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Lovely Ivy at one of our favourite Xiamen Coffee bars.

So all the time we meet people,have a great time with them and then say goodbye.Many expats actually prefer this lifestyle.They want the casualness of life here,the lack of obligation,the “no strings attached” side to it.And it does have its appeal.WE always know that new people will be coming.There is a 5 year rule in China that after 5 years you are supposed to move to a new school.It is sometimes enforced and sometimes not.In some areas you cannot teach after 60 or 65 (retirement age for Chinese is 50 for women and 55 for men) so every year we are wondering who will not be invited back.Of course there are always people looking to move to a new area or to return home too.Last year we said goodbye to Renee and Barry our dear friends from Hawaii.James and his wife Wenxia went back to Canada,Karen and Lazar and their daughters back to Australia,Jonathan and Allie and their daughters to El Paso, and so it goes on.You meet people you have fun you move on.WE even have people who “do a runner” and disappear into the night for various reasons.No goodbyes there!

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Friends from Lin’an Diana,Barry,Renee and Patrick

At this time of year the situation is pretty complicated.The universities are looking to renew contracts with some teachers and fire others.Many teachers have not given the school a reply whether they intend to stay or not.Some are undecided whether to move schools.Others are going home.They school may wish to fire some teachers but don’t know yet how many they will need as other teachers have not replied about renewing the contract.So of course we know we are going to be saying goodbye again this summer to many people,and that is all part of the nomadic life we have been leading.It’s great to meet lots of new people but sometimes it’s hard knowing that our paths may not cross again.But then, we kind of like the dynamic aspect of it too.It’s all par for the course when you move around a lot.What do you think? Would that kind of lifestyle flummox you? Or are you up for meeting people,getting friendly and then letting go?Feel free to comment!

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Wonderful colleagues from Lin’an-Ted,Ding,Teresa and “Chinese Mark”

Obamas and Fake Monets

We returned to Xiamen by way of Amsterdam (only a 5 hours layover this time), Hong Kong and Shenzhen.We took a ferry boat directly from Hong Kong International Airport to Shenzhen Shekou Port thereby bypassing passport control and customs just as we had done on the way to Macau last year.This is a highly recommended route,especially if you have a ton of suitcases,since the port workers take your luggage out of the airplane in HK and load it directly onto the ferry boat,so you don’t need to worry about carrying it until you exit the port in Shenzhen. This is great and extremely convenient. I think it may even be quicker than taking the subway downtown to Shenzhen (depending of course on which part of the city you want to end up in).

We had visited Shenzhen before and had enjoyed it a lot.I don’t know why everyone seems to think that Hong Kong is so cool.I mean,I know it has glitzy shopping malls and restaurants,but it is so damned expensive and you have to pay over $100 for a decent room there which is usually a tiny box whereas for only 300 RMB you can get a fabulous large suite and there is plenty of great shopping and restaurants to be had on the Chinese side of the border.Maybe we have been unlucky with the weather every time we have been in HK but in short,it doesn’t grab me.I am not a shopping person, anyway.

Shenzhen,the Chinese city over the border from Hong Kong,is connected by subway to the Hong Kong subway.If you arrive by land you go through passport control and customs and just follow the signs to reach China (assuming you have a Chinese visa of course).Shenzhen is a massive city populated by mostly migrants from other parts of China.Today it is pretty well-to-do with huge theme parks, shopping malls,green parks and a fantastic cheap subway which is squeaky clean and all conveniently labelled in English.All announcements are made in Chinese,Cantonese and English too. Last time we visited Splendid China,a sort of theme park encapsulating all the major sites of China.It is next to Window of the World,which is the same for many major world sites.So this time we forgo a visit to Minsk World or OCT East resort, all of which are massive theme parks, and headed for Dafen Artists Village.

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Dafen Artists’ village

This is an area which has a large quantity of art galleries selling any kind of artwork from copies of Van Goghs to traditional Chinese artworks.You can take along a picture and have it copied,or you can get stuff you already bought framed fairly cheaply.It was a bit more subdued and quiet than I was expecting maybe because people were still away for their annual Spring Festival Holiday,but there was the Shenzhen art Gallery in the middle and that had a free exhibition which was very enjoyable.

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Art Gallery,Shenzhen

In the evening we went to Sea World Plaza,a big square which houses many restaurants both Chinese and International, a large ship that has been made into a floating restaurant The whole area was illuminated for  Valentines’ Day complete with kitschy musical fountains and laser show.

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The floating restaurant,Sea World

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From the art exhibition,Shenzhen Gallery

The next day we visited another part of the city known as the OCT which stands for “Overseas Chinese Town”.Basically this is a part of the town where wealthy Chinese who have made their fortune overseas in various businesses,return to live and/or invest money.WE had come across this term in Xiamen as the part of the city where all the universities are located is also based on income from “Overseas Chinese” It is a way of putting back into the community.In Shenzhen there is a very trendy area called OCT Loft which houses sort of avant garde yuppy galleries and eateries and also has a space for live music performances.Unfortunately we didn’t manage to go to any performances but we did see some amazing art exhibitions,and strolled around the area a bit before making our way to the train station to catch the high-speed train back to Xiamen.The high speed train on this route only began running in December but it is definitely going to be useful as it cuts the train journey down from 9 or so hours to less than 4. I also find it preferable to going by plane,not just because of the price but also because it is more comfortable and saves doing all the airline check -in and security stuff.

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Noodles guy in yuppy OCT restaurant

So now we are back in Xiamen at the start of a new semester.We have some new students and some from last semester,and life is good.It was really cold when we arrived here but now the sun is shining and the sky is blue,and we are planning where to go for our May 1 holiday and what we will do at the end of this semester.Who knows? I certainly don’t!

Teaching in China -the essential lowdown

Due to popular request- the post that I wrote for Tefljobsworld.com for your enjoyment…

Sitting on a plane headed for Shanghai in September 2011 the same thought ran through my head over and over… “Am I totally insane?”. This was quickly followed by another thought “Well if I don’t like it I will just turn around and come back.” Fortunately for me and my husband we DID like it,something that is proved by the fact that nearly 3 years later we are still there,teaching EFL at a University in China.

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Where do you want to work?

 

For anyone considering this move there are a number of things to be considered carefully.I will try to outline some of the things you might want to weigh up before you embark on an Asian adventure.

Firstly be aware that China is big,very very big.I know we all know this but getting a grasp of the vastness is really hard even when you live there,and it is almost impossible to understand this before you arrive.Therefore, it is advisable to get acquainted with the map and the location at least of the main big cities when looking for a job.

There are of course many different options available, depending on where you fancy living and what kind of school you want to pick, and honestly once you start looking at job advertisements you will be running to Google maps to find where the places are.But more importantly,ask yourself if you want to live in a rural place (ie few foreigners,more isolated,few “Western comforts” and more “authentic Chinese experience” ) or whether you prefer to be in a big city where you can get Pizza Hut and Haagen Dasz ice cream. Another important factor which cannot be over stressed is the climate.There were many locations I immediately discounted simply because I hate the cold. Be advised that there are cities which are considered to be in the South of China,and where public buildings will not be heated in winter, but which have below zero temperatures and get snow. This is because the Chinese define “south” as “south of the Yangtze river” and this is something you should take into account.

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Our first University campus ZAFU in Zhejiang Province

Another thing you need to think about is what kind of place you prefer to teach in, for example, there are countless jobs avaible, ranging from kindergarten up to University. You may want to teach more hours per week, (a typical training school job would be 25 plus teaching hours, and maybe some office hours too),whereas a Public University would be considerably less hours of work ,more likely in the region of 14 and very few if any prep or meeting hours, but of course the salary would be less.Most schools and universities provide free furnished accomodation, and help you to get settled in.However, some private training schools only offer a stipend and help you find your own rented place.

A further point is that if you teach in an isolated town or rural area, you may not find many other expats to hang out with.Some people get on with this just fine,whereas others may find themselves going stir crazy after a few weeks or months. Many expats choose to head for the big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou so that there will be after work entertainment, bars, clubs and places where they can be with other foreigners. If you choose a more isolated,rural environment you are going to have to work on your language skills pretty hard,because most locals will know little if any English at all.

 

Which brings me to a very important point – learning Chinese. It is essential to realize that if you do take the plunge and head off for a Middle Kingdom adventure it is wise to do a bit of homework beforehand.Chinese language and culture is very very different. People behave differently,they dress differently and they of course talk Chinese.They even speak different varieties of Chinese in different regions, which can be exciting, fascinating but also a bit daunting. Even the finest of linguists who has already mastered French, German or Spanish can come up against a brick wall when trying to make progress in Chinese. Even though schools advertise “free Chinese lessons” you may find that this is rather exaggerated,and even if you are studying full time it is hard to get past beginner stage.If you are working you will not be able to learn full time,and even after a couple of years you will still be talking like a toddler.So if this doesn’t faze you and you are up for the challenge of being basically illiterate and dependent on Chinese friends to go to the hair salon and the bank then go ahead! t is of course easy to find Chinese friends who will help you with everything you need in everyday life- I found that in a short time I had a huge “fan club” of students and fellow teachers who were happy to accompany to the store,the bank, the post office etc and assist me with anything I needed.

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Lijiang,my favourite place in China Yunnan Province

How NOT to find a job

 

After asking yourself where you want to work and in what kind of school, it is tempting to reply to the many postings made by the myriad recruiters who pop up as soon as you google “EFL and China”.However this can be a very risky business.I am not saying that all recruiters are untrustworthy but given the many jobs out there,it is not necessary or advisable to go through one.You can simply mail schools directly. There are lots of stories on the Internet of people trusting disreputable companies and ending up in schools they didn’t want to be at,unable to leave.I would recommend thoroughly checking out any school or agent before signing anything.For most schools in China you just need to be a Native English speaker and to have a BA.Some schools demand teaching experience,especially in the more popular locations,but many do not.If you are energetic,open and enthusiastic you will find a job quite easily. Some websites that I have found useful are Dave’s ESL cafe (http://www.eslcafe.com/), and http://www.eslteachersboard.com/ where you can post questions on the forum, and the wonderful www.raoulschinasaloon.com where you will also find support and you can even post a contract and get feedback. On www.echinacities.com you can find lots of information about the different regions of the country and most big cities have an expat forum,for example Shanghai has http://shanghaiist.com/ , Beijing has http://www.thebeijinger.com/ and Kunming has www.gokunming.com. Find the forum for your prospective city and get signed up there,and then you can ask people what it’s like to live there before you go. Another really important thing to do is to ask your prospective school to give you names and emails of past teachers so that you can ask them all your concerns and get reliable answers.If a school doesn’t provide this information that would be a red flag.You can even chat to people at your school online and get a good idea about what to expect. If you still decide to go with an agent,be very wary and make sure they give you ALL the information about your prospective school,including contact information up front.If they refuse, you should question this.You are making a contract with the school so you should be able to contact them directly and ask any question you want,concerning the exact terms of your contract,how many hours TOTAL you will be working,what exactly is included in your apartment,where it is located in relation to the school and the city,how to get around etc.Don’t leave any stone unturned. You should find out if your apartment has heating/ac, what is included in it,who pays the utility bills and who takes care of maintenance.Many apartments belonging to public Universities for example come complete with microwave,washing machine,TV,fridge and bed linen. The good schools will take good care of you,give you assistance in your daily life and all the things you will need help with for your smooth transition to life in China.Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Again, the expat forums are a great source of information about what to bring and what is best purchased after arrival.No sense in bringing too many things with you. Also ask the school about classroom conditions – is there a computer? How many students are in a class? How much paperwork is required of you? Some of the more useful sites to find jobs are http://seriousteachers.com/ , http://www.tefl.com/jobs/ , http://www.horizoneslchina.com/ and http://www.anesl.com. All of these will give you information about different areas of the country.

 

 

Food is a game changer in China

Food is a game changer in China

 

 

How do I teach in China?

 

Of course this will depend a lot on the type of school you have chosen.But mostly all the schools want is for someone to help students to speak and to give them a chance to hear an authentic Native Speaker which in many cases they have never had before.Usually they have another Chinese English teacher to do grammar,reading etc and your job is just to get them talking.You can use songs,games,discussions,anything you like and they will love you just because you are a foreigner.Most classrooms will have computers and overhead projectors so you can show short video clips and Powepoints to get them talking.Often you find you are also a source of information about your culture,festivals,TV and sports stars and students will be delighted to spend time with you outside of class too. In fact students will be happy to help you out with anything in your daily life that is hard because you don’t know Chinese,will want to invite you home to their family and even invite you out to restaurants and parties.They are usually very welcoming towards foreigners and you may find yourself to be something of a celebrity particularly if you live in a smaller town.

 

How do I get a VISA?

 

Any reputable school which is licensed to hire foreign teachers should process all the paperwork to get a work visa as soon as you have signed a contract and sent in all your copies of your documents (CV,Diploma) . It may take them some time but if they say they can’t do it then maybe they are not supposed to employ you and you should steer clear. Once that has happened,they will send you a “Letter of Invitation” by registered mail and with that you will go to your local Chinese Embassy and get a visa allowing you to enter China. Two weeks after arrival you will have a health check and exchange the entry visa for a Z work visa and you are good to go. Don’t on any account go to a company or school that assures you that they will convert your TOURIST visa to a work visa because that is illegal.Believe me you do NOT want to be working in China illegally. Just look for another school – there are plenty of legit ones out there.

 

On arrival in China most schools will send someone from their “International Office” to collect you from the airport,introduce you to the school and show you around. From then on you are pretty much on your own.It may seem a bit intimidating but with a bit of luck there will be other newbies at the school or other experienced teachers who will show you the ropes.Pretty soon you will be hanging out with multicultural groups of teachers, students and having a great time.And don’t forget,China is REALLY big so you will have lots of exciting places to explore.SO if you are in any way an adventurous soul who is not looking forward to a 9-5 job in a cubicle,this may be the job for you.

 

I’m back….time to go again!

I left China in a whirl two weeks before planned as my Dad was hospitalized back here in Israel.So the usual “return from China to civilization” feeling was more heightened.I didn’t expect to miss China so much.I thought I would be thrilled to be back with my family especially when Dad needed me.But after the initial whirlwind of getting Dad’s health situation stable and getting him a live-in caregiver,I feel in need of a dose of China again.I miss the food.I miss my friends.I miss the “alienness” of it.Here when I order something in a restaurant I know exactly what I will get.I am not mystified and bewildered.In short, Asia beckons.So all being well we will be off again back to China in February. I am happily following the Xiamen weather forecast.I am checking my departure time.I am organizing my documents.I must be a true travel addict,right?

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I love Chinese babies

If all is well we will depart for our (possibly final) term in China from February to June. And in answer to all of you what comes next “The plan is we have no plan”.Of course depending on Dad,we may possibly do a final Asian trip in the summer – mooted destinations Laos,Burma,Tibet.Or we may head to Canada,or Australia,two burning destinations on my travel list.

The possibilities are endless,right?

 

The English teacher as Confidante

Today I was testing my students for their final oral examination.I had planned various different ways to do this,but in the end I settled for the tried and true method of a little personal chat.I warned students not to deliver a prepared speech,as I didn’t want to be besieged with the well-worn passages they have learnt by heart in the past,My Hometown,My family and the Food of Fujian Province.In these the students trot out phrases taught to them by their Chinese English teachers which often sound stilted and unnatural-”My mother is very kind,my father is very hard-working and the food in Fujian is very delicious”.I wanted them to just chat naturally to me and so I just asked them simple questions to start them off,such as What is your dream? Funnily enough this method seems to have produced more natural,relaxed dialogue,and gave students a chance to really open up,something they never seem to do in class.

To my surprise they opened up far more than I could ever have expected.One student told me she has had a hard time recently since she broke up with her boyfriend who is in the same class and who started dating another classmate.I tried the platitudes such as “Plenty more fish in the sea: and “Time will heal” etc but she suddenly turned the tables on me and asked if I had ever been in a similar situation and how I had  coped with my own breakups! Kudos to her,right?

Next after I had asked a student about the meaning of her name,a girl told me that she had been adopted as her real parents had abandoned her on the road because she is a girl.She said that her adopted parents are wonderful,and work very hard to send her  to college.She said she worries about her father because he is a farmer and he is now over 75. She said she hopes she can repay them for the way they have brought her up and that she loves them very much.There was a lot of emotion in her voice as she spoke.

Then another girl told me she wanted to confide a secret.She told me that she will be dropping out of college next semester,as she is getting married because she is  pregnant and returning home but she hopes to return to college later on.She said only two of her roommates know this.I was pretty surprised of course,and wished her all the best.I asked if she is happy with this situation and she said not really.I was rather at a loss to comfort her but tried to reassure her.

I had several students who told me they don’t like their majors and that their dream is to study something different,to open a shop,to run a coffee bar and so on.Another girl told me she wanted to draw and had been good at art as a child but her mother didn’t encourage it,as it is not a way to make a good living in China.

Finally I had a boy who had always seemed rather taciturn and sullen in class but who told me his dream was to be a dancer.He is learning how to do Breakdance and he told me that this kind of dance is really limited in China as it is not really approved of.He asked me about Breakdance in my country (I have no clue!) and said he would like to develop it in the future but of course since his Major is International Business it would have to remain a hobby not a career.

I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that many of these kids have no chance to pursue their dream,and most of them seem to be have been pushed into majors they don’t like,by parents who are motivated only by material concerns.I remember doing similar interviews at the end of the school year in Israel,and I always wished I had done it at the beginning of the school year to get to know the students more,but I never felt the same kind of frustration.The kids here really don’t seem to have much say in their lives at all.

On another note,on Saturday we went on a day trip with some friends  to a park just outside Xiamen,and on the way back we visited a new suburb of Xiamen called Haicang.We had hired a minivan and driver to take us to the park and on the way back there was a huge argument (in Chinese) about how much we would pay him to take us to Haicang and then to Xiamen University where we wanted to have dinner at a Korean restaurant.At first he told us he was too hungry to take us there as he had not had lunch,then he said it was too far,then he said it was not enough money.Finally we (actually our friend Jennifer) persuaded him we would give him some more money and also let him go and eat while we were in Haicang before continuing on to Xiamen Uni.The park was not that exciting but Haicang had a very nice promenade along the beach with some modern sculptures and we had a really fun day out.

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Sculpture at Haicang Park

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View from Haicang