Posts Tagged With: Shenzhen

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.

 

Update:

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.

Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It never rains, but it pours

The thing about Shenzhen that I find the hardest to get used to is the weather. When I first arrived I found the heat unbearable. For most of the year the temperature is in the 30s. It is not just hot, but humid too, which makes people sweat more. Just walking five or ten minutes to my new school is enough to have me dripping in sweat.

The winter was surprisingly cold this year and in the south of China people are not prepared for the cold. Most homes and schools have no heating at all.

After the winter there is a period of about two weeks of intense humidity. Condensation appears on everything, papers and books turn soggy on the shelves, within day there is mold and mildew on every wall and on all the furniture. It is a horrible few weeks. But soon it is gone and the heat returns.

Yet it is the rain that gets me most. When it is so hot, I don’t normally anticipate the need for an umbrella, but I have learnt that you always need one in Shenzhen. When it rains, the rain comes suddenly and it comes down hard.

When Crystal and I had just moved into our new flat, we met outside her school and went to get lunch. On my way there it was bright and sunny, but as she emerged from the school it started to rain. By the time we had walked the hundred yards to the end of the street it was torrential and water was flowing down the streets in rivers. We went to grab a bite in one of the nearest cafes. When we came out we saw that water was flowing through some of the shops, because the street behind is at a higher level.

Most people in this part of China wear flip flops, crocs and other sort of plastic sandals, because wellington boots are too hot, but normal shoes will get drenched when the rains come. They would rather have footwear that looks ugly, but will dry out quickly.

Usually the rains don’t last too long, but one of the disadvantages of living out at Bao’yi’wai was that the area is prone to flooding. It is in a valley, surrounded by hills, with very poor drainage. When the rains come the road outside becomes a brown, muddy river and the river remains for several hours after the rains have stopped.

Here, in Futian the rains may be as sudden and the rivers of water nearly as deep, but at least the waters clear away nearly as quickly as they appear.

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China’s impossible employment laws

This year the Chinese government decided to tighten up the laws on foreigners working in China. This is mainly because of how many companies will employ any white face as an English teacher, claiming that they are a native speaker (Jenny, who I worked part time for, told parents that the French, Russian and Albanian teachers were all Canadian), giving fake degree certificates to potential teachers (I have heard that a few of the teachers hired by cita had been supplied with fake certificates) and lying about the work experience of foreign teachers. The last one is one of the most common. Two of the teachers I work with had fake work experience and reference letters added to their documents without telling them. My friend Leah, after working for 4 years in China, has only just discovered that such fake documents were used for her too. She was only told, so that she can continue telling the same lie.

Under the new legislation only native speakers (or those with degrees from English speaking countries) are allowed to teach English in China (that seems fair). They are also required to have a minimum of two years teaching experience after graduation (which is very unlikely as most of the people who come here to teach are fresh from university). This means that many of the people who were teaching English in China in 2015 are no longer able to stay. The government is also taking steps to ensure that these requirements are actually met.

One annoying consequence of this is that there is more paperwork and in some places it is necessary for foreign teachers to get their degree validated and this will soon be necessary in most major cities. Making sure that the degree is real might seem like a sensible enough piece of legislation, however as China doesn’t accept any foreign government agency’s word, the process is very convoluted and expensive. First you need to get your degree notarised by a lawyer in your country, or your consul in China. They also require a notarised Chinese translation. You need it legalised by your country’s foreign office. You then need to send it to the Chinese embassy in your own country, in order for them to verify the whole process.Clearly, for someone who is already in China, this whole procedure is slow, expensive and inconvenient.

http://www.chinese-embassy.org.uk/eng/lsfw/legalization/t1021900.htm

Last year, because I had left my original degree certificates in the UK, I had gone home and gone through the whole process of applying for a work visa all over again. This was expensive, took over a month and included the absurd stage of needing me to get a police check to show that I did not have any new UK criminal convictions from the two years I had spent living in China.

This year, as I am not changing city, I decided to try to get everything sorted out here in China.

It seemed easy to renew a contract and get an extension on my residence permit during my first years in China, when I was working for the same university. The university handled whatever paperwork. I had one trip to the entry-exit bureau and that was it. However, when changing jobs it seems to be quite literally impossible to legally stay in the country. Thousands of people do it every year. Changing jobs and moving to new schools should be pretty routine, but the process is absurd.

In order to be a teacher you need to have a foreign expert certificate. Every year the employer needs to apply for a new foreign expert certificate for you. This certificate only allows you to work for the named company. If you do any other part time work or tutoring (which most teachers do) you are breaking the law. You can only ever have one foreign expert certificate at a time and in order to start work at a new company you must first cancel the old certificate in order for your new company to apply for a new one.

That seems simple enough, but your residence permit cannot be extended beyond the date of your contract. In order to extend your residence permit when you are already in China it is legally required that the new contract must begin before the old contract ends, so that there is no time when you are not employed. Yet it is illegal to work for anyone other than the person on your foreign expert certificate, so this is always illegal.

To further complicate things, you are not able to cancel your foreign expert certificate until you have completed your contract, but you must leave the country when the contract expires and you need the new foreign expert certificate in order to apply for an extension of your residence.

How is it done?

One month or less before the end of your contract (and your residence permit) the Chinese government allows you to sign a new contract with your old employer, claiming that your contract ends at that date. (They are not allowed to lie about this prior to that date) This allows them to start the 5 day process of getting an official cancellation certificate stamped by the government. This can be taken to your new employer, who will have you sign two contracts. One which starts prior to the month before the end of your old contract and one for whenever you are actually starting work. They can then apply for a new foreign expert certificate, taking at least a week, and apply for an appointment for you to visit the entry-exit bureau and apply to have a new residence permit, that follows on from your existing permit.

This invariably means a lot of rushing between employers and crowded government offices, as every school and university in the country will be processing their paperwork withing a window of just a few weeks. It also means that for your last month your employers have a contract saying that you have finished working there as well as a contract requiring you to work. This puts them in an ideal situation to screw you over, should they so choose.

It also means that absolutely anyone who changes employer without leaving China has technically broken their law, but in a way that is not only allowed, but required by the Chinese government. It is absolutely absurd!

Being cynical, I assume that this is done so that the Chinese government will always have an excuse for kicking you out of the country, should you be considered a nuisance.

The changes in the Chinese legislation for foreign teachers are intended to make sure that Chinese students are getting a proper education from qualified teachers. The Chinese want their education system to be taken seriously. The days when anyone with a white face could live in China as a teacher are ending. However, the convoluted system of administration used by the Chinese government means that no matter how qualified, how experienced and hard you try to jump through all their hoops and follow their laws it is impossible to follow all the laws.

But, try not to worry too much. The Chinese need qualified teachers more than ever before and fewer people are applying. The legislation is just there to create jobs, doing meaningless work. The Chinese government may want to be taken seriously, but until they can clean up their Catch 22 legislative system that’s impossible to obey, the Chinese legislation and their government will continue to be a joke.

 

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Welcome to the mistress village

Next year Crystal and I are both working at Yunding school in the Futian district of Shenzhen, near the Fumin metro stop. It is a private school with an international department and the English ability level of the students seems very high. The first grade English book that they are using is almost as advanced as the books my senior school students use and includes words that some university level English graduates don’t know, like splinter and scampering.

Crystal started work there this term, but as she needs to start work at 7.30 a her old place was nearly an hour away by public transport from her old apartment, it was quite difficult for her. The first train came at 6.41, and if she took it and hurried out of Fumin startion, she could just about reach the school by about 7.32 or 33. We therefore wanted to find a new place to live, closer to the school, as soon as possible.

The local area seemed very nice (at least, by Chinese standards). There was a convenient supermarket, there were a lot of places for food, several KTV bars and a few cheap dvd shops. The first few places we looked at seemed too expensive, especially the furnished places, which seemed to be about 2000 rmb a month more than the unfurnished ones, but after a while we managed to find a decent sized, unfurnished apartment.

Moving house was pretty exhausting, because neither the old apartment building, nor the new one, had an elevator. Crystal and her flatmate were both amazed by how much stuff they had. I am sure anyone who has moved house recently will know what that is like. The Chinese removal people amazed us with their ability to carry loads of luggage at a time both up and down the stairs (5 and 7 flights respectively).

If you ever find yourself searching for an apartment, you should be aware that in China and unfurnished apartment will often come with absolutely nothing. No furniture, no curtains, no water heater, no air conditioning, no oven, no hob, no shower, no washing machine, no fridge. Nothing! You will be lucky to even get a toilet. Trying to furnish the place was therefore a far bigger task than we anticipated. Especially when the air conditioning installers refused to deliver up more than three flights of stairs, requiring us to try lugging the huge air conditioning unit up the stairs. (when the delivery guys realised that we would not pay them extra to carry the units upstairs, they carried most of them up)

The area we are in is between Shuiwei cultural square and Huanggang village. When we were looking for apartments we heard from another foreign teacher that the local area had a reputation about 10-15 years ago as a place for Hong Kong people to go to find prostitutes. It has since been gentrified and has instead become a place for wealthy Hong Kong people to keep their mistresses.

Shenzhen is known as China’s mistress village. Keeping a mainland mistress seems to be pretty common for people from Hong Kong.  The average income in Hong Kong is much higher than the mainland, but so too is the cost of living. Poorer people may choose to live in Shenzhen and work in Hong Kong, in order for their money to go further. Similarly the middle class of Hong Kong seem to be quite rich when the come to Shenzhen. This makes it easier to turn the heads of the mainland girls.

When I was reading the story about the Hong Kong bookseller abducted by mainland Chinese police for selling banned books I noticed that he was reported to have crossed over to Shenzhen to visit his girlfriend, but was reported missing by his wife when he didn’t return. Similarly, the British university professor who worked in Hong Kong and vanished a few months ago was believed to have been murdered by one of his several long term girlfriends in order to get the money from his recently sold apartment.

It is not just Hong Kong businessmen who keep mistresses. It is also very common among Chinese officials. Investigations into Chinese officials reveal that 95% of officials who had been charged with corruption kept mistresses. In one case, more than 140 mistresses were kept by a single official. Several people that I know have admitted that their fathers keep mistresses, but that their mothers endure it, mainly due to the fear of being rejected and alone in a society that stigmatizes mature single women as “forgotten women”.

The area we are in is just 1 metro stop from the Futian checkpoint, which makes it an ideal location for keeping your mistress in. I heard that our district is the number 2 place in Shenzhen for keeping a mistress in (The number 1 place is over near the Luohu checkpoint). The local area includes several massage parlors, including a huge place that I thought was a hotel. there are also a lot of beauty parlors, to help the mistresses to keep looking good. From the first day we started looking around the area I was struck by the number of good looking women we would see passing by on the streets.

A few people have commented on the way that men from Hong Kong regard Shenzhen as being the place to go to find cheap women for sex. A couple of doctors told my friend Alex (within hours of meeting him) that you can approach any woman and offer them money for sex. Ever if some of them refuse, it will not take you long to find one who will agree. This seemed to me to be a quite worrying attitude to take and it probably explains why Crystal has repeatedly been approached by strange men asking for her phone number or wechat details.

https://thenanfang.com/proliferation-mistresses-china-leads-innovative-new-business-mistress-breaker/

http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20070115_1.htm

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/asia-pacific/mistresses-a-must-have-for-chinas-elite

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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.

 

Categories: Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The world’s most useless police

The Chinese seem to have decided that the best way to keep their crime figures down is to ignore crime.

In Shenzhen e-bikes, the electric mopeds, are illegal. They are not built to a road worthy standard, the drivers have no licenses and they are extremely dangerous. In the outlying regions, like Bao’an, they are also the most common form of transport. Rows of bikes will wait near the metro stations to act as a cheap taxi service, to take people into the regions where the metro does not yet reach.

Every so often the Chinese government will decide that one form of crime needs their attention and so they will have a crack down on it, but in all but the most developed cities minor crimes are generally ignored. This was the case with prostitution last year, when over 60,000 vice dens were raided in just one city, that was famed as China’s prostitution capital. Last year it was smoking, when Beijing introduced a new, stricter no smoking policy and had to issue warnings to the vast majority of businesses, as most people had taken no notice of it.

In Shenzhen there is a big difference between the central districts and the outlying regions.  In the center there are few e-bikes and the ban is enforced. Riders will have their bikes taken and may face jail time. In Bao’an the police ignore the bikes. The signs saying that bikes are illegal mark the spots were the bikes can be found, but I have even seen uniformed policemen getting rides from the illegal e-bike taxis.

Turning a blind eye to victimless crimes may seem fine, but the bike riders have no licences and take no tests. They are frequently very dangerous. They ride on the road, the pavements, over pedestrian bridges and into shopping malls.  They frequently drive the wrong way along motorways and habitually drive with no lights at night, in order to extend their battery life.

The police in Shenzhen seem to be very selective about which laws they will bother enforcing.  The city has begun a strict policy against jay walking.  Anyone caught repeatedly faces community service. In the busy shopping districts uniformed police are set to watch pedestrian crossings, to ensure that the pedestrians are following the traffic lights.  However, they seem to only care about the pedestrians.

On my latest shopping outing I was in a bust shopping district near the center of Shenzhen, at a crossing with just such a policeman on duty. As the large crowd of pedestrians were crossing, a trike approached with no lights on, sounding his horn and determined not to stop at the red light. I looked to where the policeman was standing and saw him turn his head to gaze up into the air, as if to say “I see nothing.” With the trike driver sounding his horn and people shouting, it would have been almost impossible not to notice it, even if his whole job wasn’t to watch that one crossing. The pedestrians had to dodge out of the way as the trike forced his way through the crowd. Someone could have easily been killed, but the policeman seemed to think he was only there to catch pedestrians, not to protect the public or to enforce the law.

I have often found Shenzhen to be a lot more civilized that other parts of China, but then incidents like this remind me that; This is China.

 

 

Categories: Living 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

Splendid China

Having just returned from a long trip around China, I thought that it would be best to write up a review of some of the places that I visited.

The first of these is the Splendid China theme park in Shenzhen.

Shenzhen isn’t really a tourist destination.  It is a city with very little history, created to be a business centre, just across from Hong Kong.  It is perhaps unsurprising that the two main theme parks in Shenzhen are all about other places where people might want to go on vacation.  One of these is the Eye on the world, featuring miniatures of world famous places across the globe. The other is Splendid China, which does much the same thing for China.

For anyone visiting Shenzhen, I can definitely recommend looking at the WikiShenzhen website for more details, as well as for ideas about other places to go.  I found it very useful.  http://www.wikishenzhen.com/

Splendid China is essentially two theme parks rolled into one.  On one half is Splendid China, a collection of 1/15th scale miniatures of famous landmarks across every province in China.  On the other side is the Folk Culture Village, which showcases the buildings, costumes and culture of many of China’s ethnic minority groups.

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Like many places in the south of China, they do cater for international visitors and have a map and guide available in English which includes information on the times for the various performances around the park.

Opening Time: 9.00 am to 9.00 pm
Last Entry: 6.00 pm

Ticket Price: RMB 150
Child Ticket: RMB 75 (height 1.2 m to 1.5m)
Small kids; free (smaller than 1.2m height)

The Splendid China part of the theme park contains 82 miniatures of famous sites around China, mostly 1:15 scale.  There are miniatures of the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven and Potala Palace, along with many other less well known sites.  As well as famous buildings there are also famous natural landmarks, such as Mount Tai.

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The site is quite large and spacious, taking about 2 hours to wander around.  As a visitor I found it to be a quite interesting insight into the other places in China that might be worth visiting.  In addition to the other places that can be visited in China it includes a reconstruction of the old Summer Palace, which had been destroyed by the French and English back in 1860.

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The other half of the park contains the folk culture village and could quite easily take up a whole day.  It contains 24 tribal villages with reconstructions of traditional villages belonging to many of China’s ethnic minorities.  There are reconstructions of houses belonging to the Dai, Dong, Jingpo, Bai and many more.   Sometimes the imagery looks like something that you wouldn’t expect in China.

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Among the larger exhibits are the Dong drum tower and the wind and rain bridge.

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There are a number of small free shows throughout the day.  They exhibit traditional tribal costumes, songs, dance and customs.  There is a large fountain area with a water display, as a tribute towards the Dai water splashing festival.  There is a theatre where a short performance of traditional Beijing opera is performed.  There were Tibetan dances as well as Wei, Li. Miao, Va, Yi, Dai and Mosuo.

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The whole area also has a large number of little gift shops, snack vendors and restaurants.  There is plenty to buy, although they are a little overpriced.  The different restaurants sell a range of different foods, from different ethnic groups in China.

As well as the free shows there are some other larger shows throughout the day, for which there are extra charges.  The first of these is the Golden Empire horse battle.  In a large arena a mock mounted battle is held in front of a mock up of the Great Wall.

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The “Large horse war show” is held at: 11:30, 14:00, 16:10. It costs 10 RMB/person.  The arena is open the whole day.  When there I was waiting quite early at the arena and at the time there was nobody charging entry money.  they only manned the door a short while before the show.  The costumes for the show were unconvincing, the saddles and tack were obviously modern and the horses were not Mongolian.  The battle was more a display of set piece trick riding stunts followed by a few people riding around “fighting” on horseback.  There were people jumping on and off either side their horse whilst riding and standing up on the saddle.  It was not much of a battle, but was still good fun to watch.  Afterwards, for a cost of 30 RMB children could ride around the arena with one of the riders and get their photo taken.

At 5.00 there was an “Oriental costume show”. The cost was 30 RMB for normal seats (good enough) or 80 RMB for VIP seats.  It included a number of musical performances with a wide range of beautiful costumes.  It is well worth watching and was a very impressive show.  Photography during the show is not allowed, although a DVD of the show is available for 30 RMB.

In the evening, at 7.30 is the “Dragon and Phoenix show”. It costs 20 RMB/person, 50 RMB/person for VIP seat.  It takes place inside the large stadium between Splendid China and Folk Culture Village.  I did not stick around long enough to take in this show.  The show apparently includes lots of people on the stage with fire, explosions, live animals etc.

As a whole, the Splendid China theme park gives a wonderful cultural experience, allowing visitors a great insight into the different places and cultures of China.  For visitors to China it is a place that I think is great to visit early in your time in the country.  For people who have already traveled widely in China the exhibits and performances here are unlikely to be able to compare to the real think, but it allows an insight into far more parts of China than any visitor is ever likely to visit.

Another review of Splendid China can be seen here.  http://www.startinchina.com/shenzhen/tourism/splendid_china_folk_culture_village.html

I learnt recently that Splendid China in Shenzhen had a sister park in Florida, which was open between 1993-2003 but closed because people objected to it being owned by Chinese government and also kicked up a stink about it including exhibits from Tibet and, East Turkistan and Mongolia, which predated the Chinese conquest of those regions.  The exhibits were probably only an excuse as the protests almost immediately began when the Chinese Government bought out the American backers of the park.   Locals staged regular protests against the “Communist propaganda” of including Tibet’s Potala Palace in the exhibits and quite quickly the Florida school board voted to ban any schools from taking school trips to Splendid China.  Disney can open up a Disney Land in Hong Kong without any objections, but a Chinese theme park in America is seen as a Communist invasion.  It is like the evil terrorists at Coca Cola who had the audacity to show an advert during the Superbowl which included people singing America the Beautiful in foreign languages.  I kid you not, there were people accusing Coca Cola of being terrorists because of it.  All this is a little bit off topic, but it shows that how a cultural experience is viewed often depends on where that experience is viewed.

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

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