Thursday, January 12, 2006

Teaching in developing countries is a great way to see the world. I mean that in many different ways. You gain perspective about so many different things. I have to say that, the type of person who is attracted to this lifestyle is usually quite likeable, independent, adventuresome, and looking for more in life than the more "normal" folks. For the most part a very likeable group. It's kinda like being at a party, and there's one person that is just interesting because of the path they took in life. With a group of expats teaching in a developing country you may have a whole room full of them. Now I know most of the world thinks of China as a developing country but I sometimes have difficulty with that idea. Yes, they are developing, at a tremendous rate. My point is that it is developed to the point that soon we won't call China a developing country as it may shoot past many other countries.

If your focus is to see a lot of China while you are teaching the best way to do that is to get a job at a university. For example the fall semester is ending right now, second week of January. The spring festival is coming and my classes will start up again the first week of March. You could have six to seven weeks off. You may want to choose a school in an area close to what you want to see. The travel allowance which most universities offer will cover the cost of any trains and in most cases hotels too. Two thousand Yuan is pretty average for a university travel allowance. It won't cover the cost of a 4 star hotel for very long though. If you have a travel partner you can save quite a lot on hotels. Be sure to find out if you are paying for a room or per person. Some hotels have different prices for more than one person.

Chinese people often travel to parents or grandparents homes during this time and stay with them for up to a month. There are several week long vacation periods in China so short trips are possible throughout the year. Usually you can get a ticket about 4 days before your travel. Long term reservations on the trains don't seem to be possible. The planes are pretty much like you would see in the west, except most are sold out most every flight. If you absolutely are stuck and have to get a ticket, there will probably be "scalpers" if you are traveling during a peak time. They tend to hang out around the station, of course, you will pay a premium price for the ticket and may risk buying a "knock off". You might want the help of a Chinese friend for this part. Foreigners can be taken advantage of if they don't have sharp bargaining skills.

Let's talk a bit about that. Haggling is expected here. Most of us are just no good at it as we don't do it much, save a garage sales or when we buy a home or car. There are certain times when you may be quoted a price that is 3,4, or 5 times more than what they are willing to sell for. It's quite interesting and I feel I have attained a certain level of skill in these type of bargaining sessions. If you keep you eyes and ears open you can and learn a few phrases, you will even draw a crowd when you are bargaining. I have a whole routine, complete with faces and squealing sounds to indicate I think their price is way too high. Okay, here's a short Chinese lesson, raise your eyebrows, bug your eyes, and say gweeela, and then step back a bit and frown at them. This will undoubtedly illicit at laugh from anyone looking on. Believe me, they all want to know what you are buying, that goes for vegetables to electronics. If you have the time, check the other vendors for the same of similar items and come back if you have to. You will instantly gain more respect from the seller with just a few words of Chinese. The small businesses will almost always bargain.

In summary, if travel is what you are looking for, find a university job. You will get a free apartment, with TV, furnishings, bottled water, cooking utensils pretty much most everything you will need. And your salary, be it small by western standards, will allow you to eat out as often as you like and get there by taxi. You will be firmly in the middle to upper class when it comes to spending power. Or just sock it away for a nice long vacation at some nice beach.
Happy Trails


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