Teaching in China

Hong Bao party

It is sometimes hard to tell if the Chinese are generous or very selfish. On the one hand, they are obsessed with making money, by any means. Sales people are often pushy, dishonest and even aggressive; Taxi drivers will refuse to accept you, if you only want a short ride and landlords will lie shamelessly to get out of returning your deposit. On the other hand they are very generous hosts and will fight fiercely to be the one who pays for a meal. What I realise now is that it is all about the perception and face. They want to be seen as generous, but the generosity can be quite superficial. At our end of term office party I was reminded of medieval nobles throwing coins into the street and watching as the peasants scrambled for a share of the money.

The winter holiday in China in centered on the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. In China this is a time when everyone is expected to return home, to visit their parents and grandparents. It is one of the longest school holidays, typically between 4-5 weeks long, depending on whether it is a primary or secondary school. If the foreign teachers are not setting or marking exams, then it can be a few weeks longer still for us. For most people working in China, the holiday is only about a week long. It is not a peak holiday season and most of the holiday is a good tile to travel, except for that one week, when China experiences the planets largest mass human migration, when airports and train stations can each have tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people fighting over tickets. If there are delays from smog or ice, like last year in Guangzhou,then even the thousands of extra soldiers and riot police drafted in for crowd control can be insufficient for the task of keeping order.

My last few jobs were at state run institutions. A public school and a university. At the end of the term we would have a couple of thousand as a bonus before the holiday and we might have a meal. At Bao’yi wai the Chinese English teachers and the foreign English teachers went out for a meal, paid for by the school. The head of the English department would attend, but no other school officials. It was just a time to chat, relax and have fun. At Ludong University nothing was provided, but the foreign teachers organised their own dinner. Here I am in the private sector and things were very different.

The first obvious difference was entertainment. Every group of teachers was expected to put on a performance of some sort. My girlfriend, with the grade 2 teachers, was doing a dance routine. The teachers of other grades were singing songs or performing comedy routines. We were lucky that one of our teachers, Andrew, is a semi-professional singer. He often has paid gigs at the weekends at bars around Shenzhen. We had just planned to let him sing for us. Then two of the American teachers also decided that they would also sing. The organizers were clearly taking the entertainment seriously, as the music teacher was trying to get the music that they would use two weeks before the event. Andrew, however, was unwilling to commit and insisted that he needed to get a feel for the crowd and would decide on the night, which, no doubt, made her extremely frustrated.

The dinner venue was a local seafood restaurant, with the typical revolving tables. We did not have a private room, as our group was too big, but we were not enough to occupy the whole restaurant. the teachers took up a little under half the room, with regular customers all around us. The foreign teachers were meant to be spread between two tables, along with the Chinese English teachers, but instead they just took over one table for themselves. As we had not had any real work to do that day, most of them had been at the pub most of the afternoon and were already a bit drunk. Pretty soon they had drunk everything on the table and were three sheets to the wind.

The entertainment was quite amusing. Crystal, Purdy, Mathilda and some other grade 2 teachers started off with a funny dance routine, that went quite well. Andrew has a powerful voice and sang well, despite how much he had drunk. Richard sand a rap song of his own composition and Angela sang along to Valerie. Then there was a “comedy routine” which I couldn’t understand but which reminded me of old stage acts, like Abbot and Costello etc. Then a few Chinese teachers sang very badly.

A major New Year tradition in China is Hong Bao. This translates as red bag, but in this case refers to red envelopes. At New Year relatives give children red envelopes of “lucky money”. In some places employers also give Hong Bao to their employees. For my last two jobs I was not in the private sector. At the end of the year I got a bonus in my paycheck. There was no ceremony. This was different.

Before the party we had been made to attend a very dull meeting, all in Chinese, with no translation. For an hour the principled droned on at us, before giving award to the top performing Chinese teachers in the school. We were then called up one at a time to be given 500 rmb in cash. This was the first part of the Hong Bao. The rest was via Wechat.

We chat, or Weixin, is a very popular social networking app from AliBaba. As well as being used for messaging people, micro-blogging and sharing articles, it is also commonly used for shopping. Many businesses in China offer discounts if you pay online, with Weixin or Alipay etc. It is fast, convenient and not really all that secure. It also has a Hong Bao function.

You can send a Hong Bao on wechat, to transfer money to one person. You can also use it to transfer money to a group of people. You set how much money you will give, how many people can receive cash and whether the amount will be equal or random.  The Chinese prefer to give random amounts and usually set the number of recipients to less than the number in the group. Anyone in the group will get a notification that they have HongBao. When they click the envelope, they get a share of the money (If any is left).

This is what was used at our party. When we arrived, everyone scanned a code to join the party wechat group. During the party the head principle got on stage and announced that he was sending us all 8000 rmb of HongBao. People got poised by their phones, ready to click the envelope for their random share of the cash.


At intervals throughout the rest of the party, other principles and school patrons got up on stage. After being introduced the announced how much money they would be giving away and everyone got poised on their phones. Later on a few teachers send small amounts of money to only about the first 10 people in a group of 150 or so. The teachers would be clicking away, only to get a message saying “better luck next time”. In the scramble for the loose change that had been thrown down virtually, they had been too late.

It was these small packets of Hong Bao, where not everyone would bet anything, which made me think that it was like the gentry casting down a few coins for the beggars to fight over, or Jack Nicholson as the Joker. In total I got nearly 1000 rmb from the whole evening, which was a nice added bonus, but even with the 500 in cash it was less than the bonus that I had been given without any ceremony at my previous jobs.

The principles and patrons of our school were no more generous than my previous employers, but they wanted to make very big deal of showing off their generosity and letting everyone know exactly how much money they were giving away. As Thomas Fuller said “Lavishness is not generosity.”


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This is Halloween in China

Last week we were celebrating Halloween at Yunding school. International schools and language training centers in China tend to put a lot of effort into staging events for western holidays. It is a way of showing that they are giving the students a chance to experience western culture, although they tend to do it in ways that are not at all western.

A week before Halloween they decorated the classrooms. More effort was put into doing this for the primary children, with parents contributing time and money, coming in at the weekend to help decorate. This also meant that Chinese teachers were coming in at the weekend, unpaid, to decorate the classrooms.


During the week we were asked to have Halloween themed lessons. Teaching about Halloween, singing Halloween songs, doing Halloween crosswords and word searches and watching Halloween movies (but nothing too scary. In my case, I showed them the original Ghostbusters, which was very popular)

The school had planned a Halloween party for Friday 28th, because they thought it would be better at the end of the week, rather than the start. Each class was asked to prepare some activities which the kids could try. Surprisingly nobody did bobbing for apples, as they thought it might not be hygienic.

On Wednesday one of the school principles decided that the party would be organised like a Chinese school sports day, with the classes parading past a stage in costume and performing a small dance routine in front of the school directors.

The teachers were all required to be in costume too (except for one NewZealender who told them to f*** off and refused). Some of us took a minimalist approach, while others bought cool costumes. The best was Ed, who decided that Halloween should be properly scary and made himself zombie make-up from latex, fake nails, flour and face paint.


The classes paraded in age order, followed by parents and then teachers. Each class was expected do do some sort of dance routine together, but the teachers were only told that this was compulsary on Wednesday evening. This gave them just over a day to prepare. Unsurprisingly most of the routines were lame. The music was often completely inapropriate for Halloween. The best performance involved the grade 11 teacher gunning down his undead students. The students then had to line up in their classes and stand to attention for what followed.

A couple of teachers were asked to speak about the meaning of Halloween (some of the foreign teachers went in school uniform, as their costume). This was followed by a “costume contest”. Primary students, middle school students and foreign teachers went onto the stage in pairs, to show off their costumes. However there was no actual judging, no scores, no winners and no prizes.

The rest of the afternoon the kids were free to play games. The best was the inflatable maze, which Ed hid in and scared some of the young children.




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The CITA fiasco

Last year I arranged for work in Shenzhen through an agency. Obviously teachers can get better deals if they approach schools directly, but being a thousand miles to the north it was very hard for me to interview if schools in Shenzhen and a lot of the public schools are required to hire their staff through agencies.

I would like to make it clear that I myself had no major problems with CITA. My contract was handled properly and I was able to work legally. I was paid what I had been promised and more-or less on time. The only gripe I had was that the school accommodation was nothing like we had been promised. More details on that are here: https://smokeytower.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/truth-is-relative-or-that-is-their-excuse/ However, for others the way in which CITA handled their employment was both farcical and criminal.

During that year CITA found itself at the center of a legal controversy which cost the agency a lot of money, cost many people their jobs and destroyed the reputation of the company. The consequences of that fiasco are still continuing, with many people coming back to China, due to start teaching this week and still having no idea of whether or not they will have a job or anywhere to live.

As I mentioned before, https://smokeytower.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/the-illegal-practices-of-teaching-agencies-in-china/ many people who were working through CITA were not working legally. Having grown steadily over the previous years, CITA was cutting corners to get as many people into jobs as possible. They entered on business or tourist visas, the lacked any experience and had false reference letters for non-existent jobs provided for them. Some even had falsified degree certificates arranged, as they lacked any qualifications. Most people didn’t mind this, as it gave teachers to the schools, jobs to the people who wanted them and money to the agency, but eventually their house of cards started to crumble.

There are still conflicting stories about what happened and who is to blame. At first a few disgruntled teachers were said to have reported the agency but the “official” story from a CITA spokesperson was that one of the schools decided to use their foreign teachers in material to promote the school, even though no invitation letters had formally been filed by the school to get Z visas to legally hire the teachers. This led to visits by the police, who wanted to see if there were foreign teachers staying there. The result was that two illegal teachers were deported from China, had their accounts frozen and lost all their pay, but that was just the beginning.

In the winter the Chinese government decided to crack down on the illegal hiring of foreign teachers in Bao’an. Schools were banned from accepting teachers who did not have the correct paperwork, nationality and qualifications. English teachers now needed to be native speakers. Some schools found ways around this, hiring teachers to be German or French teachers etc and still having them also teach English, but many people, especially Eastern-Europeans found themselves out of a job. A few American or English university graduates still found themselves out of work because they refused to lie about their lack of teaching experience.

By the end of the year CITA had lost quite a few teachers, but the ones who remained were mostly properly qualified and competent teachers. The schools were generally happy with them and wanted them to stay on. CITA offered them a retention bonus, to stay on for another year. However, it was not clear whether the Board of Education would give CITA the contract to supply teachers to Bao’an again.

There is a lot of money to be made from supplying teachers and it was clear that CITA had some ruthless competition. In the winter most of the CITA teachers received letters, allegedly from CITA saying that we had been defrauded by CITA and should respond to them in order to get compensation from their legal department. As the letters were sent to people who had initially been assigned to the schools, before changes in the first weeks, it was clear that they had got their information from CITA very early on, probably from a disgruntled former employee. Someone was clearly working hard to get more material to use in further destroying CITA’s reputation.

The contracts with teachers staying on included the promise of 20,000 rmb if at the start of term CITA could not offer them a teaching job.

Over the summer it became clear that the teaching bid had gone against CITA, but their teachers were told to sit tight, as they were trying to get the decision reversed. As time passed it became clear that they had failed, but there were still some possibilities.

  1. CITA merges with a company that got the contract.
  2. CITA sells the teachers to another company, for a finders fee.
  3. CITA somehow arranges teaching jobs at other schools, possibly not in Bao’an.
  4. The teacher could leave CITA, try to find other work and forfeit the penalty fee.
  5. CITA fails to do anything and people try to get their compensation.

It is now two days before the start of term and the teachers are still waiting. CITA seem to have failed to get the decision reversed and people are left feeling very insecure.  Some of my friends are still living at school accommodation and are being told that they will need to move out soon. However, because CITA are still fighting for a favorable resolution, the board of education have not yet issued a final decision.

As far as I have heard, no organisation can supply teachers to public schools in Bao’an until a final decision has been reached. Some schools are being advised to suspend  teaching for the first week due to legal technicalities, which is extremely frustrating for schools, teachers and parents, although I assume that some of the students are happy to get a bit of time off.

I honestly have nothing against the people who work for CITA. They have tried their best to give people jobs and keep them in jobs. They are no more dodgy in their practices than most of the employers I have had any dealings with in China, either directly or indirectly. However the situation is definitely a complete fiasco for the 50+ teachers still waiting to see whether they will have a job or not this year.



On September 1st the CITA teachers who had signed on for another year had to move out of their school accommodation and move into a hotel together. However, CITA are covering the cost of the hotel. It is hoped that they will have some sort of answer within the week. Despite messing things up CITA do seem to be trying to do right by their teachers, which is good.

Update 2:

two weeks after the start of term CITA was trying to place teachers in private schools. As was obvious, they did not get a contract to supply any state schools. CITA teachers were informed by the staff that had abandoned CITA to work for their competition about which companies had been given contracts. Because CITA had been offering people some sort of jobs, they felt that they did not need to pay the promised compensation, and that people needed to sign a release to forfeit the promised 20,000 rmb if they wanted to work elsewhere or stay at their old school by going through another agency. All in all, it was indeed a thorough fiasco.

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School memories

Yesterday was my first day at my new school and was a complete waste of time. The students are not here and the classes don’t start until September 1st, but we were told that we had to be here on the 15th for “training”. The first day of so called training was a meeting with the Chinese staff in which the Chinese principle spoke at us in Chinese and the new Chinese staff introduced themselves. It seemed to me that the only reason the foreign teachers were asked to be there was because someone was photographing the meeting and we were there as window dressing. After an hour we were free to go home, but were told that we needed to be back for another meeting at 3.00. We had hoped that this was something useful for us, as foreign teachers, such as perhaps being told what classes we would teach etc. However, once again this was with the Chinese teachers. The owner of the school was due to turn up, but was running late. We waited around for an hour and a half for him. When he finally turned up he made a 5 minute speech, the photographer was back to document it, and that was it. Another complete waste of time.

It says something about the Chinese style of leadership. The subordinates wait around, just for the boss to appear. Last year our first experience of the school was when we had to wait two hours for the director to turn up for a welcome dinner. The people in charge often have no skills or abilities and they certainly have no respect for their subordinates. All they have is guanxi, the political connections.

Afterwards I was talking with Crystal about her school experiences. Shandong has a very good reputation for good academic grades, but not for producing well rounded students. Students there generally do very well in exams, but learn very little else. She went to the Lichung number 2 middle-school, but even before she started there she had heard it referred to as Lichung number 2 prison. It reinforced a lot of things that I had noticed during my time in China, but at her school it was even more extreme.

In China the students are not allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends, but Crystal’s school took this further than most. Students were not allowed to spend any time together with students of the opposite sex. Students were not allowed to sit next to students of the opposite sex. They were not allowed to touch, hold hands or even walk side by side. They were not allowed to talk to each other. The dining room even had separate floors for boys and girls.

The students were not allowed to have mobile phones, in order to prevent them from talking to each other or having any other distractions. They were also not allowed to leave the school campus, except to go home at the weekends. Students could only go home every two weeks and the teachers would even be watching to make sure that they did not try to get taxis together and were not sitting together on the bus.

Crystal had a boyfriend when she was at school, although the innocent relationship was probably good practice for a career in covert operations. They were in separate classes but arranged to pass each other on their way out of classes during the break, so that they could slip notes to each other as they passed. On other occasions she would get girls in her dorm building from his class to slip him notes.

They both needed to take two buses in order to get home, so they would get a little bit of time to see each other on the second bus and waiting for that bus, but this was only once a fortnight. Therefore they got good at finding ways to see each at school. Since the school did not allow them to have mobile phones (which they did secretly have, but had to keep hidden in their rooms to avoid confiscation) the students needed access to payphones. At the front of the school were a couple of phone boxes, so they would slip notes to each other, for a time to meet at the phone box. Whoever was there first would pretend to make a phone call and the other one would pretend to wait to use the phone. In this way they could talk, while pretending not to be talking to each other.

Another school restriction was to try to prevent vanity. It was felt that girls who paid attention to their appearance would not be paying attention to their studies. Make-up was prohibited and all girls were required to have the same basin hair cut. Hair was not allowed to be long enough to cover even the tops of their ears. If their hair grew too long a hairdresser was called into the school, in order to cut their hair in front of the class. This was intended as a punishment, to embarrass the child.

Life in such a school must have been quite unbearable for the children, so I was not surprised to hear that during her three years at the school there were a couple of children who killed themselves.

At every school I have taught, at least one student has compared it to a prison. I found myself immediately thinking of prisons when I first passed the international school behind Baoyiwai. With the ugly accommodation blocks, sometimes with bars on the windows, barbed wire fences, prison trays in canteens, crowded dorm rooms and lights out at fixed times Chinese schools can easily be compared to prisons, but until speaking to Crystal I had not realised quite how far the analogy goes.1095

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The illegal practices of teaching agencies in China.

There are a lot of people coming from around the world, to China to teach English. The Chinese have realised that a good grasp of English is important for international business and to open up better opportunities around the world. For the last few decades things have been pretty easy for anyone wanting to come here to teach English.

In the 80s and 90s anyone with white skin could land themselves a job as an English teacher, with almost no questions asked. This led to some pretty shoddy teaching in some areas, but as the Chinese move towards trying to become a superpower, they have started to demand better standards, at least officially.

In order to work in China as an English teacher, you need to have a university degree from an English speaking country, or a degree in English or Education, a TEFL or TOEFL qualification and two years of experience, or a masters degree. You need to have an invitation letter from your employer, to get a Z visa and then get a foreign expert certificate, to show that you are qualified to teach here. In reality, most English teachers in China don’t have these.

What is more important is that you look right and your employer has Guanxi (connections etc.). I have known several people who were denied jobs because of skin colour. The Chinese, in general, are racist. They admire America and Europe, and so look well on white people, but distrust blacks, Indians and middle eastern people. If your skin is dark, they usually don’t want you to be teaching their children.  School recruiters will often be quite open about this, telling people that the parents will object or withdraw their children if the teachers are black (or openly gay etc, but that is a different matter). Similarly, if you look Chinese, it doesn’t matter whether you are British or not, you don’t look special or exotic enough to be worth the extra pay, compared to Chinese teachers.

If you have the right skin colour then there are plenty of people willing to bend or break the rules to get you jobs. There are quite a lot of people from eastern Europe that I have met in China, coming over to study Chinese, but working part time as English teachers. In one of my previous jobs my employer always claimed that they were Canadian, in order to pass them off as native speakers.

The process of applying for the official invitation letter, in order to then apply for the z visa is slow. You should expect it to take at least two months. It also requires lots of original documents and health checks etc. A much quicker way to get into the country is on a 3 month tourist visa or a 3 month business visa. Some of my current colleagues entered the country this way, being reassured that everything was ok, even though it was pretty blatantly obvious that this was all illegal. Once in the country the recruiter would then try to process the z visa and foreign expert certificate.

When I was taken to process my residence permit, having arrived legally, I was with two other teachers, one of whom was on a business visa. The girls from our agency were trying to coach him in what lies to tell and what not to say. Since they were translating for two of us who had come as teachers to teach English, as well as the third foreigner who had “come to develop his online shopping business” it must have been obvious that they were lying, but they got away with it. I know at least 6 people living in schools who came on business or tourist visas. How can they register the school as their address and not have officials know that they are teachers?

The simple fact is that in many parts of China there is still a big enough demand for native teachers that the Chinese are willing to turn a blind eye to the rule breaking, as long as the people breaking the rules have the right Guangxi. It is only in a few places, like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen that the rules are more regularly enforced and even when they are enforced, it is not done strictly.

In Shenhen it is necessary to have two years of teaching experience after graduation. When I first came to China, hardly anyone I came with had any experience. They were all straight out of college. But the agency knew enough places that didn’t care about experience and just wanted to get more foreigners. In Shenzhen the experience rule is followed, but teaching agencies will break the rules, in order to get more people on their books.

A common practice is to encourage you to lie about your experience and to create fake reference letters from past employers to support your claims. In some cases they have changed the CV of the teachers and sent the fake CV, along with fake reference letters, to the school, without bothering to tell the teacher. I know one person very surprised to find that his school believed he had taught in Japan for two years.

Agencies will want to recruit as many teachers for schools as they can and will lie about your abilities to get you a job. One friend, Justy, came from Spain to teach Spanish, only to find that the School did not want a Spanish teacher and expected her to teach English. Her English ability was pretty poor, even compared to the students. She was therefore rejected by the school on her first day. She had entered properly, with a z visa and invitation letter, but it could not be transferred to another school.

In a city near the border teachers might be encouraged to leave the country and enter again every few months on a tourist visa, in order to teach. Justy was told to go to Hong Kong, to get a tourist visa, in order to be able to return and get work at a primary school, where her limited English was less of a concern.

It is not legally possible to apply for a visa in Hong Kong unless you are a Hong Kong resident, but CITA have contacts in Hong Kong who sell them fake residence documents for 5000 rmb a time. I only learnt the price because when they messed up with another teacher and applied for her papers they used the passport number of her passport which had been stolen months earlier, rather than for her replacement passport. They therefore needed to apply again and asked that teacher to cover the cost of the replacement forgeries.

Getting accepted for a residence permit or foreign expert certificate in Shenzhen is much harder than many other cities. They insist on native speakers with teaching experience. To get around this, many of the eastern European and Russian teachers had their documents processed to teach and live in a different city in China. They then continued to live and work in Shenzhen illegally, under the pretense of being in a different province.

If you are thinking of coming to teach English in China you can be sure that any agencies will try to convince you that the rules don’t really matter and that what they are doing is ok, but it is not true. The school you are working at may have been led to believe the lies about your experience and if they find out that they were lied to, you can very quickly find yourself out of a job. I heard of 4 people hired through CITA who were dismissed out of hand when either the schools realised they did not have the ability that the recruitment agency had claimed or the police happened to check their registration documents. They were released without pay and without having their flights refunded.

Agencies breaking the rules face fines when it is discovered that they have been illegally employing people. However, the schools usually turn a blind eye, as long as the employee seems competent and the agency fee is enough to make it worth the risks. Fines for companies with the right connections tend to be relatively low.

Just this month there was a big crack down on illegally employed teachers in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen, along with the rest of the city. CITA has a lot of local government connections, so they were given warnings to get things in order by the end of the month. Many inexperienced teachers, non-native English teachers and other illegally employed teachers are suddenly being dismissed from their jobs without compensation. If you are not legally allowed to teach then your teaching contract offers no protection and the government can also seize all funds from your illegal employment, freezing your accounts and leaving you with nothing.

I have seen it happen to a lot of very nice people. Don’t let it happen to you.


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The march of the matadors

It seems that the school directors were very pleased by my little dance with Rainbow and this had given them some ideas about how else they could get more benefit from their foreign teachers.

In November there was a Bao’an district sports competition for the schools in the Bao’an district. Our school wanted to get all the foreign teachers to take part in the opening ceremony. This time they wanted us all to dance.

We were told to go to the dance studio on the top floor after our classes. I had never been there before. A pretty dance teacher and a bunch of female students were waiting for us.  The teacher spoke very little English, but she was to try to teach us all a dance routine. One of the teachers managed to get out of doing it, because he has had a serious leg injury and is a bit disabled. He didn’t want to look stupid trying to limp along with us. The rest of us had to take part.

Despite initial doubts most of the teachers enjoyed learning the dance. Some of the students were good at English and were able to help show what to do and I was also able to help the others, as it was a Latin dance and I was the only one with any experience.

The routine we were to learn was a paso-doble, with a lot of cape twirling. In many ways this is the hardest dance for men to do, so it was not going to be easy and some of the others showed no aptitude. We had too meet three evenings a week to learn the dance and most of the teachers put in extra practice to learn the steps.

I say most, but one did not. Bryan was the least enthusiastic and least talented. He is also someone who expects everyone else to do things his way. He would repeatedly insist on going over the most basic things, questioning every decision, trying to suggest that the teacher should change things and generally being a source of frustration.  In the third lesson, when the teacher wanted to show us a step that I could tell people would have trouble with, Bryan insisted that there was no point in leaning any new steps until everyone (i.e. him) had mastered all the starting steps perfectly. We had only learnt 2 bars of the dance.

Then Bryan went away for 4 days to sort out his visa, during which time the rest of us learnt the whole dance. We were then told that the organizers of the sports day wanted everyone to keep marching forward without stopping. Out dance was to be changed to a few very basic moves that we would do while moving forward. We were very disappointed.

We all had to be measured for costumes, but I was the first person to see the finished article. Unsurprisingly, they wanted us to dress as matadors, or toreadors. The costumes were very good and we were sad that they were only being rented, not purchased.


By the time Bryan returned, we were practicing the steps on the sports track with the girls and a bunch of boy students. We were to dance in the middle and the boys would march alongside us, shouting out a Chinese chart to announce the name of the school.


Our dress rehearsals came to a complete standstill as we waited for Bryan to learn the steps. His partner deserved an award for her patience.


When we were able to rehearse as a group we were lined up by height and so Devon and I were behind Bryan, watching him go wrong time and again. He would then try to demand changes, in order to make it easier for him and then proceed to mess thing up even worse. It was a very painfully slow process to get him to occasionally get it right, despite how much the dance had been simplified.


At last the day of the opening ceremony was upon us. We got into a bus and headed out to a beautiful private school that was even more remote than ours. There were a lot of schools attending and there were a lot of amazing costumes.

We were the only foreigners taking part, so there were a lot of people who wanted to pose for photos with us.


Our performance went off pretty well and we were then able to watch the rest of the show. The students had to line up with all the other schools until the ceremony was over.


Since we had a better idea of what to expect, this was a much better day than our own sports day, but it lasted the whole afternoon. The actual sports were to start the next day, but I heard from the students that our school was not actually competing. The school directors had just wanted a chance to show off all their foreign teachers.

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Disney comes to Bao’an

Sports days in China are very different from in Britain. The Chinese are very big on parades and spectacle, even when it is only for the benefit of the school chairman and a small number of minor local dignitaries. More effort goes into planning the opening ceremony of the sports day, than goes into preparing for the actual competition. From the perspective of the school directors, it makes no difference who wins or loses, but it does matter that the opening should make a good impression.

As well as the classes parading in costume, the teachers and local community groups were also involved.  The teachers for each year group were told that the theme for this year was countries.  Year 1 teachers would represent Honk Kong, year two was Macau and year 3 was Malaysia.  I had no idea what the students were meant to be doing. Nobody told me, although I did meet some who were meant to represent Britain.

We were initially told that the foreign teachers should dress in costume up as Hong Kong celebrities, but none of us look anything like any Hong Kong celebrities and the only person we could think of with a unique and recognizable costume was Bruce Lee. After some discussion we decided to go for Disney character.

Decisions in China are often rushed and advanced notice is a luxury that we are usually denied. While we were in class, a message was sent to us asking us to choose a character before the end of the last class. They also specified that we shouldn’t wear masks, so that we could be recognized as foreigners.  I immediately picked Prince Charming, thinking that it would be a better option than most. Most other teachers had no idea what to go for.

There were a lot of things we could have bought on TaoBao (China’s answer to e-bay) but the school wanted to save money.  The bought most of the teachers Disney character onesies, but wanted to rent costumes for those of us playing human characters. A rental shop said they had the costumes we wanted, but it was a lie. They had Chinese costumes and dance costumes, mostly for children, but nothing for us. In another shop we found something that looked ok for Prince Charming, and was only a little too small. Matt wanted to go in drag and we found a Snow White costume, but the only person it would fit was Rainbow, our translator and school liaison.


Matt and Alex were unable to find anything even remotely Disney related in their size. They had no time to order anything online and no time before the end of the week to go to the far side of Shenzhen, to find a decent costume shop. Instead they were to try to put together generic pirate and cowboy costumes.

Then somebody decided that if Rainbow and I were to be Snow White and Sleeping beauty, then instead of just walking in the parade, we should dance together. They would also get small Snow White and prince costumes for the young children of some of the teachers, so that they could join us. We were told this two days before the opening ceremony.

The following day I tried to teach Rainbow to dance. She had never danced with a partner before and had no idea what to do. Since they wanted the other characters to circle us, I decided we should do a simple Cha-cha. We had one evening to plan the whole routine on the sports ground and then it was the day of the show.


It was a very hot day, around 30 degrees, so all the costumes felt very hot. The costumes were mostly a bit lame, but I was happy. Our students found it all very amusing.


Each group had its own dance performance and costumes. Some of the children were too young and too frightened of the big foreigners to join the parade, but we walked forward with the other foreign teachers holding a Hong Kong flag. The heads of year were dressed as Mickey and Minnie, with proper costumes.

We stopped in front of the bandstand and I danced with Rainbow, while the other teachers and children circled us. They then raised a sign and we were finished.

I was then able to watch the rest of the parade, most of which was over, as the teachers came on last. Nearly all the people with amazing costumes that I had seen going past while we waited to perform had already left to get changed. I had quite a few requests for photos and then went to change, so that my rental costume could be returned.

The actual sports day lasted that afternoon and the following morning and one of my classes dominated nearly everything, winning over half of the contests.

It was a nice experience, but decidedly strange.

Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Truth is relative (or that is their excuse)

I have recently move to a new city in China, Shenzhen, and begun working for a new school, the Bao’an no.1 foreign language school.
The school is spread over two campuses and looks new, clean and quite attractive. I have heard that it is one of the best schools in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen and the best for foreign language study, so before arriving here I had high hopes.

I was a bit concerned when I was told that the teachers’ accommodation was in the high school campus, but that I would be teaching in the middle school, as the two campuses are about half an hour apart by car and an hour apart by public transport. There would be a bus to shuttle the teachers to the school in the morning and another to shuttle us back at the end of the day, with no real opportunity to come home and rest in between. The Chinese have a 2.5 hour lunch break, so that they can sleep at lunch time for a few hours, but without a shuttle bus at lunch time, there would barely be time to get to my apartment before I would need to return, so I would either be sleeping in the school office, or having a very long lunch break to wander around near the school.

The situation did not sound very appealing, but I was shown photos of the foreign teachers’ apartments and they seemed very nice (by Chinese standards) so I decided to accept the job offer.

A few months later I arrived in Shenzhen. After completing the training week with CITA, the agency I had got the job through, I and another seven teachers were introduced to some teachers from our new school and taken out to dinner with the school principle. After arriving at the restaurant we were kept waiting for over an hour for the principle to arrive. This should probably have been a good warning about how little they really care about us, but we were prepared to make allowances.

One of the teachers, a Spanish woman named Justy, had arranged to meet her brother later that evening. He was coming into Shenzhen from Hong Kong. He didn’t have a phone that he could use in the country and he had never been to China before. He was coming to Shenzhen to study Chinese. She had arranged to meet him at the Shenzhen Bay customs checkpoint at 7.30. We were initially meant to have met the representatives of the schools in the morning, but then it had been put back four hours, to the afternoon. This had messed up Justy’s plans. Since it was already after 6.00, we were an hour from the checkpoint and we were still waiting for the principle, Justy asked if she could go to meet her brother. She was told no. She was told that she had to stay. she was even told that she should go and meet her brother the next day instead! They expected her to leave her brother alone at the customs checkpoint with no phone, waiting a whole night for someone who would not turn up, just so that the principle could meet her. These people really did not care about us at all.
Fortunately Justy’s brother was able to get a wifi connection at the airport and was given the address of the school, so that he could try to get a taxi there, which was quite expensive, as it was at least an hour’s drive.

After the meal we were taken to the school campus and given our biggest disappointment yet. The campus was out in the middle of nowhere, on a street with no shops, houses or amenities of any kind. The accommodation block looked pretty new and nice from the outside, but the apartments were nothing like we had been shown. They were single rooms with hardly any furniture. There is a contractual obligation for them to provide a furnished apartment, with specific listed furnishings, most of which we did not have. My room had a new bed, but almost nothing else. A broken wardrobe with no rail for hanging clothes, no desk, no chair, no sofa, no drawers, no cupboards, no phone, no tv, no wifi, no internet.
The contract required a kitchen area with fridge, microwave, water cooler, gas stove, cooking utensils, cutlery, crockery etc. We have some of these: a fridge, a water fountain, a microwave, a single electric hot plate and one cooking pan. That is not a kitchen! The only sink, for both washing myself and for cooking, is out on the balcony. The tiny toilet is only accessible via the balcony. It has a shower hose above the toilet, but no space to hang a towel. To dry yourself, you need to come out onto the balcony, exposed to the road below, right above the turning area used for picking up and dropping off students. Given all the laws against public nudity in this country, I am pretty sure that it would be illegal for us to be seen naked on the balcony, but the school really has presented us with no alternative.
From the outset, I had told the school that my girlfriend would be living with me. They had provided a double bed, but only one pillow.
Unsurprisingly, nearly all the foreign teachers were livid. We had been lied to and tricked and where now getting completely shafted.
It is not that the rooms are so terrible. I have heard mixed reports from other CITA teachers. Some got lovely apartments, whilst others got tiny, dirty rooms with bed bugs and broken pipes. The rooms we were given are bigger than the student accommodation I had at university, but at university there were proper shared kitchens and dining rooms. We have nothing like that. The cooking facilities are completely useless and if we tried to build up a usable kitchen, it would take up much of the room and leave the bed and clothes stinking of anything that we cooked.
It is not just that the location is so remote that we need to walk half an hour to the nearest supermarket and have to wait an average of half an hour to get a bus for fifteen minutes, just to get to the nearest metro station, to allow us to have a one hour journey into the centre of town. The younger teachers are very upset about this. Two of the teachers like to go to the gym every day and asked if there is a gym nearby. They were told, yes. There is a gym nearby, at Bao’an stadium. By public transpoty it takes an hour to get to Bao’an stadium. The remote location is very frustrating, but at least the air is clear and the view is pretty.
What is most frustrating and annoying to me were the blatant lies used to get us here and the inability of the school to even prepare for our arrival. Last year the school had rented apartments off campus for the teachers. These were the apartments that we were shown. It was after saying that we would live on campus that we were shown the photos of the off campus apartments that we would definitely not be getting. The staff claim that they had told us the truth and that the pictures did show the foreign teachers’ apartments, but as they definitely knew we would not be living there, it is a feeble lie.
Then there is the fact that we were so unimportant to them that they couldn’t even bother furnishing the apartments (or prison cells) that they were giving us.
The school is government funded and all spending must be authorised by the local education ministry. We were told that the school had authorised funds for the rest of our furnishings, but that they are waiting on the government to authorise the spending, before they can buy anything.
I applied for the teaching job in February. In April I was interviewed by the director of this school and offered a place here. The other teachers were all being interviewed online during that same week. They had from April until September to get the funds authorised, but claim not to have had time. That is a lame excuse. They have just put it off, not considering us to be a priority worth thinking about until we were already here.
Our first night in our new homes, we felt like we were in a prison. We were left in our empty prison cells, in a locked, gated campus, with security guards sitting outside, watching our building, miles from anywhere. We would be shuttled from the prison cells to the work camp and then back again to our cells in the evening. The prospect of any sort of social life seemed extremely remote.

The only glimmer of light is that the CITA agency seem to be trying to help. The very next day they were at the school, trying to resolve our problems and seeing if they could arrange for better living conditions, or a more reasonable working arrangement. They have at least managed to save us the daily commute, by arranging for the native English speakers to teach at the high school and for the other teachers to live at the middle school. The middle school is a better location, with nearby shops, within walking distance of the metro, but the apartments are even smaller.

Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Paperwork problems and jumping through hoops.

Last year my girlfriend was studying in Hong Kong, while I was teaching, nearly a thousand miles away, in Yantai. As she liked Hong Kong so much, I started looking for teaching jobs around there, or in nearby Shenzhen. I found something in Shenzhen, teaching at a middle school that offered twice the pay I was getting in Yantai and it seemed like a good opportunity. All I needed to do was transfer my residence permit to Shenzhen. Easy? You must be kidding!

When I first came over to Yantai I was able to get a one year Residence permit, but the permit expired at the end of my contract, in July. I renewed my contract for a second year, but also needed to extend my residence permit for another year before the end of term, so that it would be valid on my return to China after the summer. This was done in early June, and therefore ended at the start of June 2015.

My residence permit therefore would run out before the end of my teaching in Yantai, so I would need to get an extension before the end of term. I was told that the standard extension would be three months. This would work out nicely, as it would allow me to extend my permit until late August/ early September. I was due to start in Shenzhen in late August and once I was there, I could extend my residence permit again, or so I thought. Since there was no way the people in Shenzhen could do anything until the permit was extended, I didn’t worry too much about it, having being repeated reassured that I could get a three month extension.

However, when I got my passport back in late June, I was told that it had only been possible to extend my residence permit until the end of July, when my contract expired. Naturally, there was at this time a great deal of swearing, as I now only had a month in which to try to get all the paperwork processed in Shenzhen. I desperately contacted the agency I was hired through, to try to get the papers processed.

changing jobs, when you are a foreigner in China is not as straightforward as you might think. The first thing they need to do is to get papers from your last employer to show that you have completed your contract. They need your former ‘foreign expert card’ etc, in order to apply for a new foreign expert card for you. Naturally, they are unlikely to send these things to your new employer until you have actually finished your contract, at which point you don’t have long left in the country. They also need to apply for a new work permit for you. To get the work permit you need to go through a full medical check, just like when you first come to enter the country.

i was actually sick during my last week of teaching, when I was trying to find time between classes to go to get my medical tests done. My classes are nearly all in the morning, but when doing blood/urine tests, you are not meant to eat or drink anything for about 12 hours before the tests. I was having to skip breakfast and then teach for the morning without having anything to drink, before going with a student to get the tests done. I don’t think the Chinese really take these tests that seriously, either that or they only care about certain things. Despite me suffering from an unpleasant urethra infection, with (I found a few days later) a white blood cell count in my pee about 1000 times the normal level, my results came back as healthy. There were a bunch of tests that they did not do, such as hearing. On the form they were marked with “no anomaly detected”. This was quite true, they had found nothing wrong, because they had not bothered to look.

having completed these tests, the school in Shenzhen needed to have my test results, documents from my past employer, original degree certificates and passport sent to Shenzhen, so that they could apply for my work permit and foreign expert card. They also needed a hand written declaration from me, that I had not broken any laws in China and had no criminal record anywhere else. I would then need to go in person to give my passport to the police in Shenzhen a week later, for about two weeks, while the residence permit was processed.

i had nearly finished teaching, but was nearly 1000 miles from Shenzhen. I could either buy a return flight to Shenzhen to go in person, or post my documents to people that I had never actually met in person. I decided instead to send the papers to a friend in Shenzhen and ask her to go in person to drop off and pick up my passport.

In China it is necessary to have a citizen ID card or a passport in order to use a hotel, a train or a plane. I was therefore worrying about what I would do, a week or so later, when I came down to Shenzhen in person to process the Residence permit. I had no way to leave Shenzhen. I had a residence in Yantai and my girlfriend lived in Hong Kong, but without my passport it would be very hard to return to Yantai (where I would have finished my work and have nothing to do) and impossible to get to Hong Kong (having to cross the border). I would have to spend two weeks in a hotel in Shenzhen,which was likely to be an expensive an frustrating waste of money.

as it happens, none of those worries would come to anything, as I had a far bigger problem. I did not have my original degree certificates.! I don’t remember or know why, but instead of my degree certificates, all I had in China were color photocopies. It was over two years since I had last seen my degree certificates. I had assumed that the ones in my folder were the originals, but they were not. The school were able to contact my university, to confirm that I did indeed have those qualifications, but without the degree certificates, they could not process the paperwork.

I tried to get my parents to check at home, but they had been making preparations the year before for moving house, and everything of mine had been boxed up, but was no longer where it had once been. There wears no sign of the certificates. Had I lost them in the UK or had they been substituted for fakes in China? I really don’t know. I wish I could remember where I saw them last.

There was not enough time in which to get replacement certificates issued and sent to China and then process the necessary paperwork before I had to leave the country. As my brother was getting married in August, I really did need to get back to the UK and could not just try to sort things out from Hong Kong. I therefore returned to the UK, to started the longer process of applying to come to China to work from there.

I got back to Britain and searched for my certificates, but after a day of fruitless searching I resigned myself to getting replacement certificates. When these had arrived I was told to scan them and send the scans to China. Apparently when I apply this way, I don’t need the original certificates until I return to China and didn’t have to post them. I don’t understand why.

Having sent the scans of the certificates off, nearly a week after getting back here, I was told that unfortunately the declaration I had written was not enough, and that as I am applying from the UK, I need a letter from the police to show that I do not have a criminal record in the UK. This was absurd! I was living in China for the last two years, but now I needed to fork out more money and wait another two weeks to get a form that said that, while I was not in the Britain, I had (surprise surprise) not been breaking the law in the UK. It was a stupid hoop jumping exercise. Expensive, time consuming and utterly pointless. Why had they not told me sooner?

I was told that once they had the letter from the police, they would be able to send my invitation letter. What they did not say was, once they got the letter from the police, they could start the 2-3 week process of applying for the work permit/ invitation letter.  By the end of July I had sent off for the police check and had been waiting a week for the result, when I got a message saying that it was already too late to process the paperwork in time for me to return for the training week from August 20th, but they needed the certificate by Tuesday, in order to process the other paperwork in time for me return to China before starting at the school on August 29th. They had not said the paperwork in China would take so long. This was on a Thursday.

I contacted the ACRO service and payed more money to get a rushed service, to ensure getting the certificate before Tuesday. Had I known I needed to rush, I could have done this at the start and had the form a week earlier. This sort of thing seems to be typical of the Chinese lack of communication. They give you a bare minimum of information. Just enough to follow their instructions, but not enough to plan out your time properly. I was now extremely worried that I would not be able to get back to China, to take up my new job, or to be with my girlfriend again.

The following week I went to Cornwall for my Dad’s birthday and my brother’s wedding. I was told that the Invitation letter and work permit should be with them by the 18th and would them be sent by EMS to me. They were cutting it close.

on August 11th, the day before my brother’s wedding, I had good news. The documents had been sent and should arrive by the 13th. I was not going to be home until the afternoon of the 14th, so I needed to arrange for an alternate pick up, but things were looking up.

all I needed to to now was to return home, collect the invitation letter and work permit, get a passport photo taken and take all those, along with my passport to the visa processing centre in London, Manchester or Edinburgh and wait three or four days. Things were looking up. The first thing I needed to do was book an appointment to go to the visa centre in London, preferably before 12.00, so that I could pay for the express service. I looked online and discovered that all appointments at the visa centre were booked up until the 28th! I cried…

If you go in person, it takes 4 days to process a visa, but by post it takes two weeks. I have no idea how they can justify the difference, but the postal visa service would take a week too long. I then looked at Manchester. There were plenty of appointments available in Manchester, but I would need to spend £50 for a 10 hour bus ride from Dorset or hundreds to get there and back by train. Add in hotel costs and this was looking possible, but expensive and very frustrating.

fortunately there was still the option of the China visa bureau. Based in Manchester’s Chinatown, they will, for a fee, take your visa to the service centre to get them processed for you. Thanking God for allowing me this option, and hoping that the service would be reliable, I filled in my forms, check online for clarification, called the CVB to check the bits I was uncertain about, double checked them, triple checked them, added all the documents I needed, added a few more scans, just in case they were needed, checked again and then sent off my passport with the documents to Manchester.

now, I sit, anxiously hoping that I can get my visa without difficulty, so that I can start booking my flight to China. Fingers crossed…

My girlfriend had a job interview two weeks ago, within a week she had moved city, found a new flat and started her new job. Things are so much harder for foreigners in China. If you are planning to change job and move city in China, make sure not to get caught out by all the stupid paperwork.

I am glad to say that my visa was processed an returned exactly when I had been hoping. It was sent off in the post on Saturday, received on Monday, processed by Wednesday and back in my hand by late Thursday morning. I can thoroughly recommend the China Visa Bureau. This is the second time I have used them, although last time I was far less rushed, and they have come through with flying colors both times. The processing fee and vat is much less than the cost for me going to Manchester and back twice and little more than the cost to go to London and back twice and saves you from having to go through the hassle of appointment booking. It also saves you the two week plus waiting time if you post directly to the visa centre.

Categories: Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning to say no.

‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, except muggins here, struggling to prepare for a weekend job, despite suffering from gastroenteritis.

I have often been thought of as a nice person. I like being a nice person. I like being able to help people, especially my friends. However, people in China are often pushy and self centered. Sometimes they can be very polite about it, but unless you learn how to say “No!” things can sometimes be very difficult.

This year my teaching schedule was a little lighter than before and as I was reusing much of the teaching material that I had prepared the year before, it left me plenty of spare time. Last year I had an extra job in the afternoons at a Korean school, but this year they had changed the timetable and I was only going to be teaching one afternoon a week. I therefore decided to look for a bit of extra work, to fill some spare time and get me a little extra spending cash.

I happened to hear about a tutoring school that was looking for foreign teachers. Native English tutors can usually get 200 RMB an hour (about £20) for tutoring people at their homes. This job only paid 150 an hour, but they had all the teaching materials and I would not have to move from home to home. It was a half hour bus trip from the university, plus a short walk, and all in all took me about an hour to get to on public transport, or 20 mins by taxi. I figured that it was all in one place, and as I hadn’t done any tutoring last year, I might as well give it a go.

The place was called Cathy’s English School. The American couple who had established the school were returning to America and whilst an American student named Madison had taken over most of their classes, they were pretty eager to get more foreign teachers. The work I was offered was just three hours teaching on Saturday afternoons, although I was told there might be the option of extra classes on Saturday mornings. This gave me something to do at the weekends, but left my Sundays free for myself.
My first week was ok and whilst I wasn’t very good with the really young children, I was starting to get to grips with the courses and the style of teaching. After the second week, I was feeling more confident. Then, on my third weekend I was told that Madison unexpectedly had to go back to America for a few weeks to sort out some visa problems and I was asked if I could cover some of her classes until she came back, or until they could find some other teachers. Fool that I am, I said yes.

This meant that, two weeks later, I found myself teaching six classes on Saturdays and seven classes on Sundays. The timetable on the Sunday was especially crammed. I had two classes in the morning followed by five hours in the afternoon. The afternoon classes were each an hour long, following directly after each other with no breaks in between. I’m just glad that the last one was an oral practice class with a charming young girl, whose English was quite good.
To make matters worse, a few afternoon classes were added to my teaching schedule at Ludong university, so I was now working every day of the week, with an 8.00 start on 4 of those days. The travel time to my weekend job meant that I needed to be up just as early, if not earlier on Saturdays and only an hour later on Sundays.
The individual days weren’t too busy, but I didn’t have a single day to myself. If I wanted to do a big shopping trip to town, there was rarely so much as a free afternoon. I was getting an extra 7000 RMB, cash in hand, each month, but it wasn’t worth it.
As time passes any talk about when Madison might be returning became increasingly vague. All the Brits or Americans I knew already had plenty of work, more conveniently placed and there was little chance of them getting extra teachers. I began to doubt that Madison was ever returning.
It was obvious that Jenny, who ran the school, was not very honest with the parents. Several parents were not happy with all the changes in teachers and some had said they were going to wait until Cathy (the founder) returned, which was never going to happen. Jenny was clearly not making this clear to them.

In late November I realised that the holiday for the school might not be as long as the nice long winter holiday I enjoy at Ludong university. I told Jenny that I was going to Hong Kong for the winter vacation and asked how long the school holiday was. I was told that there would be one week off for the national holiday. Jenny clearly thought that this was enough holiday.
Honestly, if my girlfriend was with me in Yantai, then I might have settled for that. We could travel during the week and earn money at the weekends, but my girlfriend is studying in Hong Kong and they follow the British holidays there. Therefore, whilst she is off, I am working and when I am off, she will be working. The only week she might be free will be the first week of my holiday. After discussing when Christal was going to be free, I insisted that I needed the third weekend in January off.

December was increasingly stressful and I was sick a few times. I think that I was just very work out by the constant work. There was also a lot of preparation for a Christmas party.
The party was very commercial. It was a way to show off the school, showcase the students, show off the foreign teachers and try to attract new students. To try to fit as many children in as possible there were actually two parties, one after the other. During December two other American students had been doing a little teaching, but they had both left China in mid December. The only native English speaker at the school was me. This meant that at least half the activities were centered around me.
During the classes I was helped by a teaching assistant called Lily. She was very well educated but had moved to Yantai from Beijing due to health troubles, which made it hard for her to get a decent job. She had planned most of the activities for the party. The week before Christmas her health had not been good and nor had mine.
The day before the Christmas party I was suffering from some sort of tummy bug. I was suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. I was doubting whether I would be feeling up to doing anything the following day when Jenny called to tell me that Lily was sick and would not be able to attend the party and that I needed to come in an hour early on Saturday to go through all the changes to the party schedule.

Thus, on the Saturday before Christmas, I got a taxi to the school to try to teach my morning classes and run events during the party. During the lunch break the teachers had ordered in some burgers and burritos, so that we could eat there and rehearse the activities. I was still feeling a bit delicate and even when I am healthy I hate spicy food. All the food that Jenny had ordered was spicy. An hour later I was dressed up in a Santa suit, with an itchy beard and was surrounded by screaming kids. After talking about Christmas with the help of a powerpoint and a translator there were talks by parents about how good the school was and performances by students. we then split into groups to get the children to play various Christmas themed games and other activities.
If I had been healthy, it might not have been a bad day. The kids were mostly nice enough, although a few of them were extremely winy brats. We had a few very simple English questions about Christmas, with prizes for those who answered correctly. One of the children was wining so much after the first question because I had not chosen him to answer it. For the second question I picked him and he threw a complete tantrum because he was expected to answer in English: at an English school? we were so unreasonable.
I was then told that the following day there was an extra student an that I was to start at 8am.
I struggled in the following day, feeling even worse. I couldn’t eat anything, my throat was constantly dry and my stomach was in a lot of pain.
As soon as I had recovered, I decided that this extra job was slowly killing me. It was also sucking all the joy out of my time in China. I therefore told Jenny that I was leaving China for the whole winter vacation and would not be back until March.
Sometimes it is necessary to say no. I just wish that I found it easier.

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