Monday, December 26, 2005

The International Snow and Ice Festival
Teaching English in Harbin lets one see some very unusual "attractions". I had seen ice sculptures before, usually at a reception of some sort. They were beautiful but could not compare with the magnitude of these creations. The building you see here is two or three stories tall. The types of ice you will see are, buildings, pavilions, people, animals, heroic depictions, all lit up from inside the ice. It is quite beautiful. Where ever you decide to teach in China, you will find some local festival or attraction that will be worth investigating. One thing that you should ask yourself is what kind of an experience am I looking for? You can teach in the cities, they have most everything you could find in most other large cities. It will certainly be uniquely Chinese. You could teach in the barest of facilities in some regions. You may want to pick an area by climate or natural surroundings. Or perhaps you have an area of interest and want to be near that. For instance, you like archeology so you want to teach in Xian and regularly visit the terra cotta warriors, all 3000 of them.

Consider carefully what level and age of student you would like to teach. You can choose from kindergarten through university age and above. You may not realize how much you like teaching younger students or vice versa. I find that the best rewards usually have come from the students in private language schools. Most are willing and even eager students. Working in public schools was much more difficult in some ways. You may have a class of 60 or more students so that in itself is a huge challenge. Chinese students are ranked and recorded throughout their academic life. Scores from testing determines which students will be sent to the higher ranked schools. The best of the best end up at Beida, Peking University, or Qingwa in Beijing. Most political types would probably choose the later as 7 of 9 of the top government postdating attended Qingwa. So naturally some schools are populated with students who achieve or test higher. Here is another twist. In the West private schools are often thought to have better educational systems. In China, many of these schools are populated with students who could not test high enough to get into a school that was highly rated. They may belong to families that can afford it so they go to a private school. The teachers may be perceived as better or the class size may be smaller. You still may end up with largely disinterested students.

Private language schools can be a great choice or the worst choice. You will have a heavy weekend schedule and days off during the week. The pay will be better than most public schools which usually is 3-5 thousand rmb. The average teacher with a BA should be able to get 5000 rmb per month in most schools. MA's maybe 6000 rmb. There are plenty of message boards to find out about shady operations. One can also find jobs that pay much closer to western wages. If you are good enough and have the experience you could make 2000 dollars per month. These type of positions always require advanced degrees, certificates and usually experience in China. They are usually joint ventures between foreign universities and Chinese universities and may offer diplomas from the foreign university. The other way to make the higher salaries is to be the director of one of the larger schools, like a kindergarten.

University teaching is another choice you have. You will need at least a BA. Teaching hours range from 14-20 per week. This may be based on a 50 minute teaching period. Always check the details. You will have less classroom hours and more working hours away from the class for prep, and marking. Some schools have tons of off hour activities too, so you should like that age group if your going to teach at a university. You may also find a large degree of lethargy in some schools which may not feed your need as a teacher. Challenges at every corner.

The Chinese classroom have some characteristics that are key to understanding. The one child rules put lots of pressure on these kids. Their system is demanding but seems to be wear these kids down a bit. They school during vacations on the weekend, all day with more subjects than in the west. But there is little focus on varied ways of teaching so the teacher may be teaching what they know will be tested rather than building learning structures that can be used in many learning situations. Couple this with no work experience until after college and you have many who finish school without any real skills. Many will tell you that high school is the time when students really study and once they get to college it's much easier, or perhaps they mean they take it easy. Of course high achievers are rare anywhere. Till next post

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Teaching English in China is often challenging. The students can be great or some disinterested, depending on where you are teaching. The day to day chores that you now take for granted, assuming you are in the West, take forever and a day. Some banks don't have anyone that can speak any English so you must have a friend or someone from your job give you a hand with basic tasks. You will pick up some Chinese as you teach but mostly the familiar questions like where are you from. For sending packages, telephones, paying utilities and the like, you probably will need some help. Many people choose to live in apartments at the schools they teach at. This can simplify things if you don't mind living near your workspace. For instance if you are working at a university, you will usually receive the same apartments that the Chinese instructors do. I choose to live in my own place as I want to live like everyone else does. Just remember even the shopping and many other tasks will be complicated with the language problem. Many choose to just eat out, or at the dining halls that all schools have.

Harbin is in the northeast of China. If you look at a map of China, Harbin is the eye of the Chicken. It seems to be known for several things. This area was the homeland of the last Emperor. It was also where the Japanese experimented with chemical warfare. It was the end of the Trans-Siberian railroad. It is quite unique as it has lots of Russian architecture. The cobblestones were set by the Japanese on the popular Center Street. However, the International Snow and Ice festival is probably the biggest draw in Harbin. It is also known as Icelights. The town has many such areas that have ice scuptures and roadside columns glowing with colored lights. The main festival is near the river. It is quite spectacular in that some of the displays are huge, two or three stories high. I had to move a long way back to get most of this dragon in the shot. Look for more photos from Icelights.

The main qualities that one needs to teach and work in China are flexibility, be adaptive, patient, and positive and everything will work out fine. There are tons of resources online to supply you with all kinds of ideas and techniques. You may as well start with the best:
You can get most any information there that pertains to teaching English. I'm going to give you more personal information that might help you ascertain if this is something that you want to do. If you're dreading your work and want a change and can actually put a plan into action you can spend a year teaching English in China. In many ways the foreign teachers are like the hit of the parade. If you don't like being looked at perhaps this is not for you. In many places in China you will think that you must have two heads because of the way people are staring at you. In those places, I would just shoot back a little stare with a big smile and that should snap them out of their amazement. Many Chinese people are curious about you and why you are in China. Most will be right if they guess you are a teacher. Be patient and gracious with the attention and you will find many new friends. I have found the Chinese people to be quite friendly, warm, and quite generous, irregardless of social or economic status.

Okay, I thought I would start giving you some examples of cost of living at the end of some of theses posts. Dinner for five or six with beer and juice less than 100 yuan = $12, one beer 2.5 yuan=less than $.30, rent 4 rooms 40 square meters, 600 yuan=$72.00, nice bike like a Giant, 100 to 200 dollars, a regular bike 30 dollars or less. Of course you can always pay premium prices by going to the department stores and buy name brand western goods. All the top brands for the women in makeup and accessories, like jewelry. You can also get any world branded products such as Nike or anything else. This applies to the cities. Sometimes with all the chaos and the crazy driving its hard to believe it all gets done. Believe me the goods are moving and the Chinese are shopping. You see plenty of Audi, Lexus, Bmw, and other fine cars. You know trade and commerce have a long tradition in China and it's always been there. The consumers of China are very active. Worldtour

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International commerce isn't it great! Please check out one of my online ventures and earn a rebate on all your online shopping.

Traveling in China is one of the great things about working in China. Yes, you can ski in China. It draws good crowds even with the small hills. You can see from this picture a rope tow (cable), and the hill is only steep and challenging on the top. I think on that day I was one of three skiers that ventured up to the top. Here I was trying to spray the camera. This was at the end of my contract at the private language school. Schools frequently arrange outings for the teachers and staff. About an hour or two of travel usually in a shuttle style bus. Lots of fun. If you make a good choice about what school you teach in then you will probably enjoy a nice banquet with your peers. Christmas is a emerging holiday. Of course there are Christians in China as well as other religions, Buddism, Daoism, and many Muslims. I hope you all have a wonderful season and please remember the reason for the season. "He that has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree"...


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Happy Holidays from Harbin. One of the nice things about living in China is the great food. And it is very affordable! You can even act like a bigshot. Of course Christmas is always better when you can be with your loved ones. You may not find your traditional turkey though unless you go to one of the chain hotels, such as Holiday Inn, or The Shangrila Hotels. This Christmas eve, we had pigs feet, cabbage and pork, the best salad I have had in three years, and ofcourse Harbin Beer, China's oldest brew. It's the best, lets hope Budweiser doesn't wreck it. Oh, I can here it now, pigs feet? "Well it's good for the skin you know". This is a typical retort to doubts about the ediblity of certain strange foods, such as ducks blood, chicken heads and tendons, mmm, chewy! Hey you only go around once, and I have to admit my father used to like to bring home a bottle of pickled pigs feet back in the day.

It managed to snow just in time for Christmas so it really feels like the season. I am also looking forward to the famous International Snow and Ice Festival. I will post more on that soon. Well Merry Christmas to all from Ice city. Worldtour

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

One of the great things about teaching in China is the chance to work and travel. There are many holidays in China. The school system is set up to have summer and winter holidays. Winter holidays are in late January or early Febuary. The traditional Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar so it varies year to year, much like Easter does in the West. Chinese New Year and Spring festival are all rolled up into a week long holiday. So this is a good opportunity to travel to other cities or enjoy some of the great natural sights. The picture on this page is the Chang Jiang river. What we call the Yangze in the West. A mighty river and certainly the life blood of historical China. This shot is just upriver from I Chang which is often called "the throat of Sichuan". It is near the Three Gorges dams. Yi Chang is where the upper and lower Yangze converge. It is also the location of the first large scale hydro-electric system in China, with 12 generators within the dam. The Three Gorges project is the largest hydro-electric project in the world and is further upriver from this shot.

So if you want to get out of your particular city, this is one time that you should be able to do it. If you are teaching at a University then you will have about six weeks off from around Jan. 15 to March 1st. You can arrange to have your pay spread out over the teaching year and most universities will offer you a travel allowance of around 1-2 thousand rmb. Which is about $240.00. Train travel is cheap and there is a wide range of accommodations in many areas. Most contracts also offer a round-trip plane ticket as well, which is given after completion of ones contract. Most will require a one year contract for this, or if you are at a university an academic year. China has many 4 and 5 star hotels and you can find tiny little sleeping rooms, which are little more than a bed with a door, for as little as 5-10 yuan. These cheap places come with your own pets, in the form of that pesky indomitable little cockroach! When I was in Nanning I stayed at a 3 star hotel. It was 150 yuan per night, less than $20.00 and was clean and convenient. It also included breakfast and had a restaurant off the lobby and was able to arrange flights for me and have the a tickets delivered.

There is also a summer break in July and the kids go back to school in September, or some universities have classes starting in October. One difference in Chinese schools at the university level is that different disciplines may have different start dates and therefore different graduation days. If you are working for a private school you should get a week off for Spring Festival (Chinese New Years), a week off during the May day festival, and another week during the first week of October, which is National Day. This is the anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. I will write more later on the specifics of teaching, for now I just want to give an overview of teaching and it's benefits and what you might expect should you decide to explore China as an ESL teacher. There is a huge demand for native English speakers and almost anyone can get hired. Those with a college degree are preferred and ESL certificates are also desirable, such as TEFL certificate. Look for more details in upcoming posts.

Just a note on location so that you understand what I mean when I say the Chang Jiang is a mighty river. Yi Chang is in Hubei province, there are many large ships that come up river. Tourist ships, barges all kinds. It is near the center of the southern half of China. The point being ships can travel inland thousands of kilometers. It was probably the first river to be manipulate. Originally it was diverted to provide easy fast transport for the armies of the ancient warlords but also provided much needed irrigation to the flatlands and made the area of Sichuan the richest most prosperous area of China.

So if you like travel have some English skills and would like to experience something completely different, China might be a good place for you. Let me just make a short comment on what I see as differences in the three main choices for teaching in Asia. Japanese culture will expect you to be at your workplace all day every day, even if you don't have a class for several hours. From my current teaching peers who have taught there you may expect and be expected to conform to the Japanese way. You tend to get your butt worked off there. The wages are much higher, in the area of 20K US per year but living expenses are also high especially in the big cities and the housing may not be what you are used to. Korea also has a similar situation. In China you may make as little as 3000 yuan per month in some areas, although you can earn as much as 15,000 yuan per month in the prime jobs. Which is nearly 2k US per month. But most jobs will pay at least 4, 5 or 6 thousand yuan, and you will be able to live well on that salary. Even save money. If you have a prime job, and have a long term goal you could save enough to buy an apartment in about three years. Of course, most teachers like to move around a bit see the country, so if you would rather be a bit of a gypsy you will be able to do that, easily, and see different parts of the country. Most schools will sign you for a half a year if you desire that.

Well I must be off to compose a test for my students so please come back again as I hope to find the time, in between my university teaching, my own small school and my internet ventures to expand this blog into a resource of sorts for those of you who might want to expand their horizons.

Here's a nice way to stay in touch with your friends from all over the world. Speak to anyone in the world over the net, with video chat or the traditional Instant messenger for free. It is also one way I supplement my income online so I can continue on my worldtour.


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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I want to share some of my experiences living and working in China. If you have an interest in working abroad you may want to get a feel for the culture here. Of course it will be through western eyes. First, I want to say that I love my life in China. So let me apologize in advance for offense that might be taken, from the east or the west. It is always a battle to escape your own cultural biases and perceptions. After three years of living in China, I have come to understand her and myself better and I hope, you too might gain some insight into your culture and world culture.

Worldtour in China, that's the focus here. Worldtour is my "handle" around the internet marketing community. It is one way I supplement my income, as teaching in China will not make you rich, monetarily speaking. So how to live and work abroad will be one thing I will also focus on. I can tell you that teaching in China is a very satisfying and unique lifestyle, suited for adventurers, culture seekers, teachers of course, or any educated person seeking a new gig, who has a grasp of the English language.

China is becoming something else. It's in another revolution, as in changing fast. Most westerners really have no idea about what it is or what it is becoming. In many ways the cities feel like any cities, vibrant, noisy, and problem plagued. In other ways things are uniquely Chinese. I hope I can open a small window into this culture, this lifestyle, both Chinese and expatriate. Till then till then.


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