Posts Tagged With: teaching

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: 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, 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.

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

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.

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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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.


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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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.

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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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Dancing in the dark

One thing about the Chinese which impresses me is their ability to overcome adversity and just get on with things.  To adapt and overcome, as old soldiers might put it.

Last week I was judging an English contest.  Actually I judged two contests that week, but it was the second one that I wanted to discuss.  It had been organised by the “Awesome English” club and was intended to help them to choose a host, to host future English language events.  As well as delivering a speech in English several of the contestants were showing off talents, singing or dancing.

The contest started at 6.30, or at least that was the plan.  However, around 5.45 we suffered a power cut.  This was not the first power cut which the university had experienced since my arrival.  It was the second time that the whole university had been plunged into darkness.  The first time we lost power it had been around 4.00 pm.  We had been promised that the power would be back in an hour, but it was after 10.00 before the power was restored.  This time we were promised that the power would be back by 7.00.  I was quite certain when I expressed my view to the students.  “It’s not going to happen.”

I messaged the host of the contest to confirm that it was being called off, but was asked to come over, just in case they got power back.  The other judges and I had been told that we can go if there is no power by 6.30.  Calling up to inquire about the power they were promised that the power would be back by 7.00.  I was quite certain when I expressed my view to the students.  “It’s not going to happen.” Despite this we were asked to wait around or gather back here at 7.00.  Whilst we waited the students discussed what to do.   Since the exam season was close it would not be possible to reschedule the contest and get use of the hall before the exams started.

By the time the other foreign judge returned they had decided what to do.  They were going to hold the contest by the light of their mobile phones.  Chris thought they were joking, but they were serious.  They had a few battery powered desk lamps and a few torches.  By torchlight they set to work preparing the stage and by 7.30, with student volunteers lining the sides of the stage with torches and phones to provide light, they were ready to start.

The contest began with a dance performance, followed by the first nervous speaker.  The other contestants followed and several were excellent.  They spoke well, they performed songs, they danced by torchlight and they kept the crowd entertained.  A few students pulled out, because they needed to use powerpoint for their prepared speeches, but one girl got her friend to take a laptop onto the stage, to get people to look at it.  It didn’t work well, but it showed great determination to carry on regardless.

As a judge I was unable to get any photos until the end, when I posed with the co-host of the event.  I quite like to dress up for contests and this time I had decided to wear a traditional Chinese jacket.


The whole experience reflects the Chinese character in two ways.  Firstly in their determination.  They are unwilling to let a little bit of adversity, such as a power cut, get in the way of their plans.  The second is in their way of asking people to do things.  They usually tell you very little and make small requests, which build on top of each other, until they have got you doing something you would have probably refused to do.  “Come along, just until 6.30, to see if the power comes on.” “Come back at 7.00, as they should have the power back by then.” “Come in and have a seat.  We just need to get things ready whilst we wait for the power.” “Take your seats, we are doing this without power.”

This is similar to a visit one of the other teachers made to an orphanage.  He didn’t really want to go at all, but had been asked to come along and speak to the children for a bit.  He was then asked to teach a lesson.  On the day of the visit he was told there will be a few cameras there from the local paper and on the way over was told that the paper wanted to interview him.   Had he been told this in advance, he told me that he would definitely have refused to attend.  This seems to be the standard practice.  Provide minimal information and make a series of small requests which build on each other.

The power cut ended just 5 minutes after we left the contest.

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Getting it done yesterday

One thing I dislike about the Chinese is that they give you very little advanced notice.  It is pretty routine to get called up by some of the staff here who expect you to be able to do something the following day.  Usually it is something that takes very little preparation, but it is still frustrating.  The day before an English speech contest I was called up and asked to be one of the question masters, asking questions to each contestant about their speeches.  I was only told the subject of the speeches when I arrived at the contest.  One of the other foreign teachers was asked to be a judge and when we turned up at the contest he was also asked to give a talk, providing feedback to the contestants whilst the scores were being counted.  The picture below is with one of the hosts of the contest.


If you are working at an English teacher in China you need to be expected to speak on just about any subject at the spur of the moment.  The students here have an English Salon, run by a student society, to help them practice their English.  Myself and the other teacher in the Public English department  are expected to attend, joining in whatever activities are planned and speaking on the topic of the chosen subject in our country.  This is usually something which needs little specialist knowledge, such as junk food or Halloween, but it does require us to speak off the cuff on a topic that we have had no preparation in.

Apparently this is pretty routine in China, and is not just something that we need to deal with.  People in China seem to have an aversion to allowing people time to prepare.  It may be a power think, or a desire to be in control.  It might also be to do with trust.  Before arriving I was given very few details about what my job entailed.  I remember meeting an American teacher on the day I arrived.  He said to me “You must be the new teacher for Public English.” That alone was more information than I knew about my job.

There is also a fear bout allowing people to know too much.  It seems that identity theft is a major issue here.  Hardly any of the students use their real name on QQ and is extremely unusual for them to use pictures of themselves.  I asked one student why her profile claimed that she was an Australian living in Canada and she said that she was frightened of people pretending to be her trying to trick relatives out of money.  It made me wonder whether this fear of revealing too much might be connected to the Chinese desire to keep all knowledge close to their chests.

On top of that, China is very competitive.  The students need to be the top few in their classes to do well and so they very rarely help each other.  There is too much competition.  I have heard that they often try to make sure that they know more than their classmates and keep that extra knowledge as a close secret.

The upshot of it is that the Chinese need to be able to do things quickly and unexpectedly.  Yet this is something which they excel at doing.  If you need something done right away, they are able to do it right away.  You need to know how to get yourself prioritized, but when they put their minds to something, it gets done.

Last month there was an accident outside our building .  Two cars collided at a crossroads on the campus.  Given how many people I’ve seen driving too quickly around here, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.  Although neither car was badly damaged one of them lost control and collided with three pedestrians.  Two of the girls were knocked off the road, down a 10′ drop to a narrow alley below and were badly injured.  Fortunately nobody died.  within a week people began constructing some traffic calming measures, a bit like sleeping policemen, all over the campus.  They had already nearly finished by the weekend.  Outside the east gate there was an area where traffic could turn and pedestrians could cross (as well as an overpass).  It was there on Thursday afternoon when I returned from the East campus, but by Friday evening it was gone.  There is now a concrete barrier in the middle of the road and the overpass is the only way to cross.  A few days later speed limit signs and new zebra crossings had also been put up around the campus.
when something happens which prompts people to take action, the Chinese seem to act very quickly, both in deciding what action to take and in implementing their plans.  If this was Britain it would take months of planning and public debate, followed by a series of contract bids, fact finding missions, planning permission applications and all local residents would be notified.  Here in China you just wake up one morning to find that things have changed.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the changes are for the better.  The sleeping policemen are definitely a great addition, but the changes outside the East gate will mean a lot of long detours and inconvenience for anyone driving to or from the university.   the two mile trip from the North campus to the East campus will now require an extra two mile detour. I imagine a lot of people will be upset by it.  As the saying goes: Act in haste, repent at leisure.
Of course, doing things quickly is not the same as doing things well.  This is pretty obvious from the modern buildings.

The Chinese way of building these days is a bit slipshod.  Things are thrown together with no concern for quality.  They are poured in concrete and then have rough holes hacked into the walls to allow wires and pipes to be fitted.  Buildings here do not last.  When the American teachers complained about a few problems with their apartment they were told; “Well, the building is very old.  It is nearly twelve years old.”  My friend Jane is about to move into a new tower block, because her building is twenty years old and is due to be pulled down fairly soon.  Things are thrown together, but they are thrown together very quickly.
Last month a few of us went to an “International Chinese cuisine festival” in another part of Yantai.  We (along with a French interpreter) were the token foreigners who allowed them to justify using the word International in the title.  As is typical, we had not been told where it was, how long we would be there, when we would return, what we were expected to do or how formal it was.  We were only told to be ready by 7 am.  The whole district playing host to the festival had been recently built in a style that looked a bit like classical Chinese architecture.  It was a very pretty housing district, but it had all been build in that style specifically for the food festival.  Think back to how long it took to build the Bridle Way estate when we lived there, or the Olympic village.  In much less than a year, after the Fushan district was awarded the honor of hosting the festival, they had planned, designed and built a whole district, to play host to the event.


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