I must say I miss working in the smaller towns around China; magical amazing days of initiation into TEFL that will forever stay close to me. The attitude and way of life is completely the opposite to that of say Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu or Shenzhen and yes, it is completely stunning!
Things are always done in a more relaxed and less formal manner and it’s easy to get work, especially if there is a big tourist influx. Take Yangshuo (Yangers to the local expats) near Guilin for example. There are schools all over the place just ready to take on any foreigner for any length of time. People stay for a weekend, a week or a month. Even those who consider themselves regular teachers really only ever stay for around a year. Take your pick! (tx Wikipedia)
Excerpt from Just Turn Left at the Mountain Chapter 9 by Andy Smart
2006: Teaching the students is both a unique experience and a real laugh. Its great putting absolutely every bit of energy back into classes again. The students keep coming up with all kinds of eccentricities. I set some homework where they had to write about their ideal romantic candle lit dinner for two with their partner. Xiao Yan’s was a large fish head in a white soup while Jessie Li’s main ingredient was monosodium glutamate.
Still on the subject of food, one of the students reckons that her favourite is harvest mouse and also the moth pupa which are apparently very tasty. Indeed if you’re doing a topic based on food, asking anyone to list ten types of meat is always an experience and a half; “beef, pork, goat, chicken, duck, pigeon, fish, donkey, snake and dog” is normally how it goes.
After a while you realise that even the most straight forward questions or activities don’t go how you envisage them. We were doing a lesson on cooking when I asked for some similar verbs to the word ‘cut’ expecting to hear ‘chop, slice and dice’. The problem is, Chinese students love to have their heads buried in their electronic dictionaries which, although can be quite handy, often bear no thread on the language we use in daily life. Instead of the predicted answer, one of the students comes out with the word ‘slash’. So there I am trying to explain why we wouldn’t use the word slash in this instance and when we normally use it, showing them the difference between cutting and slashing using my board marker instead of a knife. Of course they delighted in this new word and it was in use for days after.
Nearing the end of class it was time to put all the new vocab into practice and they were given five minutes to work out the recipe for making a chicken and salad sandwich in English.
“Easy” I thought!
“First you need to buy a chicken” explained the first student. “Take it home and slash it with a knife in your kitchen until its dead. Put your hand inside and pull out its stomach…”
At that point I quickly stopped them, guiding them onto the ‘putting everything between the bread’ stage before it got even grizzlier.
We were discussing various jobs today. One that came up was that of a life guard. I asked what they thought it meant. One student guessed that as you move through life it was someone sent to protect you against danger. While doing a class on various warning signs from the text book, we discussed the one with a picture of a hard hat. One of them put his hand up and said that you would normally find it when ‘destroying caves.’ He explained that it is normal in China to rip the guts out of any cave and sell all the stalagmites and stalactites.
During a talk on the most important inventions in history the compass and paper were of course the first to get a mention. After all China was the first place to start using both way back near the beginning of its five thousand year old history. One guy however put his hand up with an excited look on his face; “guns” he said.
“Why are guns the greatest invention?” I asked. “Surely they are the worst.”
“Yes but they are more convenient” he explained.
I must admit, I was reluctant to start teaching to say the least. I guess it was a mixture of extreme laziness and “Hey, I’m on holiday, why the hell do I need to get a job?” Actually, the trick is not to see TEFL as a job and that’s all there is to it.
There are in fact a number of very sound reasons for choosing to teach when you’re travelling in China:
- Being able to stay on the road. The small towns may not pay that much but if you have dwindling resources then you can earn as much as you need and then move on.
- Being able to stay in the same place and really get a feel of it. When I was in Yangshuo I was able to get a brilliant flat near the river for next to nothing.
- Experiencing Chinese festivals and celebrations.
- Learning Chinese. People on the road rarely start to get past the beginners barrier. If you stay put for a while your know-how will definitely start to grow.
- Joining the school’s day trips to fantastic places at the weekend.
- Hanging out with your students if you are teaching adults. They will no doubt invite you to all sorts of places you never expected to go to.
- Gaining a deeper experience of what China is about, something that doesn’t really happen if you are moving quickly from town to town.
- Getting treated like a superstar by your students and royalty by the management.
If you’re thinking of hitting the road across China and would like more info drop by anytime and I’ll get back to you.