More Trouble: Challenges of Teaching English in China

Met today with someone who had come to China with a major program to teach English. Heard some pretty troubling stories. Heard that administrators of the program have not been to the majority of the schools where they place teachers, so they don’t really know if the housing is adequate, if the conditions are safe, if there is any heating, or if the food provided is edible. Teachers can be subject to grueling conditions in remote and difficult places, much longer teaching hours than promised, with random changes in schedules that wipe out personal plans.

If your program won’t tell you where you will be placed until you are here and can’t provide you references from people who have been to same place, be very worried. The numerous problems that young people face when they come to teach English in China are quite discouraging. Don’t come here without knowing what it will be like. Don’t go with a program that will put you in a remote situation without support, help, and structure.

By |October 8th, 2014|Categories: Education, Travel tips|Tags: |0 Comments

Coming to China to Teach English? Do You Know What You’re Facing?

While there is high demand for English teachers in China and great pay for teachers with teaching credentials, the situation is quite different for those without teaching credentials (e.g., a teaching certificate and a degree). Young teachers, typically college students, are recruited to come to China for a few months in what amounts to an unusually difficult study-abroad experience programs from institutions like China Horizons or ILP (International Language Program). The recruits generally pay their own travel to come here and get almost nothing as pay (if anything at all), though room and board is provided. What the enthusiastic teachers often don’t know before coming here is that the room and board can be unspeakably unpleasant in many cases: no heating or air conditioning, no flush toilets, bad food, poor sanitation, and a location in a remote town far from the conveniences of places like Shanghai or Beijing.

Students coming here to teach often think they will be able to learn Chinese and see China while here. But no instruction in Chinese will be provided and free time to see China will be much less than they imagine. They may be told that weekends will be free, but the schools frequently have weekend programs and tell the teachers they are required to be there. Sometimes they learn of this at the last minute (like on Friday), after having already bought train tickets to go somewhere for the weekend. Many are told that they only have to work a small number of hours or teach a few classes, and then find that their work load is much higher once they get here. They can really be at the mercy of the local school. Many of these teachers I know seem to be little more than servants exploited to make a poor school seem more credible and increase revenues from parents anxious to have their kids learn English.

Many of the students coming here are religious (e.g., LDS/Mormon) and hope to attend church on Sundays, but find out that the town where they are assigned is 3 hours away from the nearest congregation, and that the transportation to go to church will eat up much of their cash. Some make the sacrifice and go as often as they can. But that takes real commitment.

Some know all this and come with a desire to serve, teach, and experience the wonder of China. Others are surprised but boldly conquer their challenges and move forward. Some feel greatly disappointed, but often fear to let others know (especially their parents), not wanting to make people worry or think that they were duped or something. I think there needs to be more awareness of just how challenging China can be for a Westerner. It’s easy in Shanghai, though plenty challenging, but in a small town without all the graces and support systems of Shanghai, it can be quite an ordeal. Some know this and bravely conquer, but others wish they had known first.

Do a little more homework before you come to China to teach English. Make sure you know where you are going and what the conditions are. And recognize that whatever you are told, even in complete good faith, that things change quickly here. Be ready for what you may experience. It is rarely easy. Sadly, for some, it wasn’t worth it. For others, it was terrific.

By |July 15th, 2014|Categories: Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , |Comments Off

Zhangjiajie, China’s Beautiful Mountain Treasure Overlooked by Most Foreigners

One of China’s most beautiful locations is Zhangjiajie, arguably one of earth’s most beautiful locations. But Zhangjiajie is sadly overlooked by most foreigners travelers here. They go to Xian or other popular spots that pale in comparison. Zhangjiajie’s scenery was actually used in the filming of Avatar. The tall mountains with trees on the top don’t float they way they do in the movie, but when the clouds are at the right level, it sort of looks that way.

Zhangjiajie is about a two-hour flight from Shanghai. You can stay in the city of Zhangjiajie or take a 40-minute taxi up into the town at the entrance to the major national park, where rates are not bad at all. It can be busy on holidays, but still entirely doable and affordable. Way too much fun to overlook. Plan on spending at least two full days there. Three days are about right.

I recommend staying in the mountain village of Wulingyuan, where you are just a short walk or cab ride to the main entrance of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, one of several attractions in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The park has stunning karst pillars of sandstone. There are often clouds and fog, which can enhance the photography if you are lucky, but might just block your view at times.

Wulingyuan Scenic Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss it!

We reached Wulingyuan by flying to Zhangjiajie city, which has a small airport and a lot of crooked cabbies. They will quote you a price of 300 RMB to get to Wulingyuan. It should be about 100 RMB if they use a meter, which naturally they don’t want to. Insist on the meter or walk away. It’s only when you walk away that they will take you seriously. Tell them you can take a bus or something instead and walk, or go to a different cabbie, but don’t pay 300 RMB.

Also be sure to get a tour guide. We can recommend an excellent one that charges 100 RMB for half a day and 200 RMB for a full day. She was outstanding. Chinese language only, but it was good Chinese – sort of like having a day-long lesson for the price of one or two hours of regular lessons. Yes, we tipped her, and would be happy to recommend her to you as well. Email me (jeff at jeff lindsay d0t com) your contact info and I’ll get you in touch with her.

Here are a few photos of this scenic area in western Hunan province, near the center of China.

 

By |June 8th, 2014|Categories: China, Photography, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |Comments Off

Travel to Hong Kong from China

hong-kong-street-12-01-02_51425 hong-kong-evening_51443 hong-kong_48167Foreigners living in China often may wish to visit Hong Kong also. Typically they will fly into the Hong Kong airport from China. However, you can save money by flying to Shenzhen and then crossing the border and taking a train into China. Flights to Shenzhen avoid international taxes and can sometimes be 30% or more less expensive. Staying in a hotel near the border in Shenzhen can also be much less expensive than Hong Kong. We’ve often stayed at the Shenzhen Best Western Felicity Hotel, which is just across the street from the Lu Huo border crossing, said to be the world’s busiest on-land border crossing. They open at 6:30 AM and continue until midnight, I think (check first if it matters!), and sometimes the lines can be huge. During holidays, weekends, and rush hour, be prepared to take an hour or more to cross the border, though right at 6:30 AM isn’t bad usually. Once across, you can buy an Octopus card (good for trains, subways, taxis, and convenience stores) and then take the train into Hong Kong.

If you fly directly to Hong Kong, there is a chance that you will be asked to prove that you have sufficient funds for the trip. Once, for example, a friend of ours from Mongolia went to the airport to fly to Hong Kong, and was told by the airline (Spring Air) that she needed to show them 5,000 RMB cash before they could give her the ticket she had already paid for. Apparently this was a requirement of the Hong Kong immigration authorities. I haven’t heard of this before and haven’t been asked to show my cash when I’ve gone, but be aware that this could happen. I think having a credit card ought to do the trick. It may be an issue for Mongolian citizens in particular or for other developing nations, where perhaps Hong Kong is worried that people from poorer nations might get into financial trouble once inside their border. Might be good to have proof of a return ticket also and evidence of a hotel that has been booked or prepaid.

Naturally, make sure your visa permits you to enter Hong Kong and come back safely to China. Some people plan on going there without realizing that the China visa they have is for one entry only, and once they go out, they can’t get back in right away. Your visa should be good for one month beyond your stay–don’t take risks as your visa is about to expire. Some details are given here. That page may not be official, though.

Also be aware that Hong Kong has a completely different electrical outlet (a three-pronged UK-style outlet) than China or the U.S., so you’ll need an adapter. Also, be aware that they drive on the left side of the road in Hong Kong, unlike they do in China, so be very careful in crossing the street or driving.

Hong Kong is a clean, safe, and beautiful place with many great places to visit. We especially enjoy the Tai-O Fishing Village and the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha) on the mountain and the cable car ride. It’s more expensive than China, so be prepared, but enjoy!

By |May 21st, 2014|Categories: China, Travel tips|Tags: |Comments Off

Qingdao, China: Clean, Beautiful City with a Great Beach and Nearby Mountains

For a recent 3-day holiday, my wife and I went to Qingdao, China, in Shandong Province. We stayed on the beach the Haiyu Hotel. The hotel was reasonably good and quite inexpensive, less than 500 RMB a night with an ocean view and a great beachfront to explore. Qingdao has wonderful seafood, and if you like clams and basic fish, you can get it very inexpensively. The air was fresh, the sky was blue, and the ocean front was relatively clean and attractive, unlike the mud the occupies the region around Shanghai.

We began with a trip to Lao Shan Mountain, which features some good hiking and also beautiful fishing boats in the coastal city of Lao Shan. Then we visited a few parts of Qingdao such as Ba De Guan with lots of European architecture and the beautiful Zhongshan Park.

Travel tip: taxis can be hard to hail in Qingdao. During a time with lots of visitors, you would be wise to arrange a driver ahead of time. Might cost 400-500 per day. If you hire a taxi for a day, it might be more like 800 or higher. A subway system is under construction and should be up starting in 2015.

Here are some photos of our adventure.

By |April 13th, 2014|Categories: China, Photography, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off

If You Ride the Maglev from the Pudong Airport, Beware the Cabbies at Longyang Station

Many foreigners visiting of living in Shanghai have learned about the Maglev, the rapid train that connects the PuDong International Airport with a location closer to the center of Pudong. The 50-RBM ride (40 RMB if you use a metro card) from the airport to the Maglev’s other end at Longyang Station takes only about 8 minutes reaching a brisk speed of 300 km/hr, whereas it would take about 40 or so minutes on the metro (Line 2) and would take over 30 minutes by taxi, depending on traffic, and would cost over 100 RMB. So a great way to get to downtown Shanghai is to take the Maglev to Longyang Station, and then take line 2 or line 7 from Longyang to get to other parts of Shanghai. If you are brave and perhaps foolhardy, you can take a cab from Longyang. In my experience, it’s the worse place in town to take a cab.

The problem is not that cabs are hard to get–there are a lot of them anxiously waiting for foreigners. The problem is that it’s hard to find honest cabs, the ones that use the meter and charge you fairly. Cabs almost everywhere else in town can be expected to use the meter and comply with the law, but not at Longyang. You tell them where you want to go and then they act like illegal black cabs, telling you the price they will charge without using a meter. A ride that normally would be 35 RMB, for example, will be quoted at 100 RMB, and almost always at least twice what the real rate ought to be. And you probably won’t get a receipt for the ride, either. The taxi is a “black cab” for that ride. It’s illegal, but they do it at Longyang as their standard operating procedure, mainly to prey upon gullible tourists getting off the Maglev.

Do not get into a cab that isn’t going to use the meter. If you can’t speak Chinese, say “meter” and point to it and make sure they will use it. If it’s not on when you get in, stop and get out. I think “dabiao” is the Chinese way to indicate the ride will use the meter.

You can find cabs willing to use the meter there, though you may have to walk past the line of snakes waiting to prey upon you and go beyond the taxi stand area out toward the main street and wave one down there.

Don’t encourage the snakes to keep preying on foreigners by giving in and paying double to triple fare to a cabbie in a normal cab illegally acting as a black cab. Better to take an unmarked black cab than a marked cab where the cabbie has dishonestly turned off the meter. When you let a dishonest person take you for a ride, it can turn out poorly in several ways. The excessive 100 RMB fare he quoted you might become 100 RMB per person. You might get taken to the wrong place. Why take further risk?

Don’t be in a rush. Plan on taking at least 10 extra minutes to find an honest cab, or take the subway instead of the Maglev, if only to get to a new location where the cabbies are more honest.

By |April 9th, 2014|Categories: China, Shanghai, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off

Scams in China (and Beyond): Some Tips

There are many scams that newcomers here must learn to avoid. The classic scam involves English speakers inviting Westerners to come to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. After a cup or two, there’s a bill for a huge amount, with some hefty bouncers there to enforce payment. Ouch.

Online shopping in China or with Chinese companies can be a big risk. Here is a list of Chinese retail websites that are reported to be fraudulent. One friend of mine bought a computer on one of these sites and lost his money. One of the warning signs that he should have known about: they told him they don’t accept credit cards but needed the money sent via Western Union. That’s the same as handing someone cash. No recourse. No protection. Don’t ever buy anything via Western Union payments! Ever.

If you are coming here for a job, there a plenty of crooks that will sign up foreigners for jobs here that turn out to be closer to slave labor. They promise to get a visa faster than should be possible, and some smuggle people into the country illegally or bribe an official at a “diplomatic desk” to get the victim into the country. They then keep the person’s passport, making the person completely vulnerable and at risk of imprisonment or deportation if they don’t cooperate, etc. It’s human trafficking. Don’t fall for these scams. They are aimed largely at people from less developed countries.

Remember, there are people looking for ways to exploit you. Be suspicious. Be nervous. Don’t give your passport to people you don’t trust. Don’t pay people in advance with cash. Don’t let a charming smile lure you into an out-of-the-way place where you’ll have to pay a lot for your tee, or pay even more to replace your teeth. China is a great place abounding in kind, honest people, but the few crooks here and everywhere else force us to stay on our guard at all times. Be careful.

By |February 11th, 2014|Categories: China, Scams, Shopping, Travel tips|Tags: , , |Comments Off

Photo Galleries for New Zealand Added

My Collection of Photo Galleries now includes two from New Zealand, a first set heavy on the North Island with emphasis on the Rotorua area, and a second set with emphasis on the South Island, though there is a mix in both. Here are a few samples:

river by Leamington, New Zealand.

A river by Leamington, New Zealand. There is a beautiful walking trail along this river. Thank you, people of Leamington!

New Zealand: near Mount Cook
A mountain valley approaching Mount Cook.

New Zealand: fern trees
Fern trees near the Redwood Forest of Rotorua.

By |March 17th, 2013|Categories: Photography, Travel tips||Comments Off

Travel in New Zealand

Along with thousands of Chinese nationals, I went to New Zealand for the Chinese New Year holiday week. It’s an expensive country and a bit far (11 hour flight from Guangzhou), but so beautiful, clean, and friendly. We toured both the North and South Islands, driving over 2800 km plus hundreds more in a ferry ride between the islands and the Kiwi Rail Tranz Scenic Alpine Railway that crosses the South Island. Everyplace we went to was interesting and worthwhile, with highlights at Rotorua (Thermal Wonderland, Redwood Forest, etc.), the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, the Shotover Jet Boat near Queenstown, and the hike to the Fox Glacier and also the hike to the Hooker Glacier near Mount Cook.

Some travel tips: Be prepared for Internet challenges. Many hotels offer very limited Internet access, such as a maximum of 20 minutes free or, frequently, a limit of 20 Mb or 50 Mb of data. When there is a limit to the amount of data you can access, be sure to turn off automatic updates on your computer because your system can upload many megabytes of system updates in the background and eat up your free or paid account quickly. Also turn off background backups such as Carbonite, Even then, a few unexpected large emails can eat up the bandwidth and leave you without service. A real pain.

The lack of good Internet service at hotels is one of the very few problems we encountered in New Zealand. We love the country and found it very safe and hospitable, with lots of healthy and delicious food as well. Be sure to try to Pavlona dessert, the various honeys (Manuka honey is famous for its healthy properties, but also try the delicious Rata and other types of naturally thick, creamy honeys unique to New Zealand), the delicious seafood, lamb, and beef, and even the pork belly that is popular in Queenstown.

I hope to come back sometime soon!

By |February 18th, 2013|Categories: Travel tips||Comments Off

Lost Bags in Shanghai: Trouble with Delta?

Flights into Shanghai have a pretty high success rate when it comes to baggage arriving safely, from what I see, but when there are problems, they can be severe. International airlines line Delta may not offer reasonable customer service. Once their records show the bags have arrived in Shanghai, they just close out the case and assume it’s settled, whether you ever get your bags or not. Local delivery services are where the gap can be, at least with Delta, who failed to get my bags to me yesterday (Sunday) for my Friday/Saturday flight from the US to Shanghai. The local delivery service says they will get it to me around 2 am Monday.

Of course, never pack valuables in checked luggage and always be prepared to lose your checked bags for two or three days. Wish these airlines had a better way of getting bags to you when the airline routes them incorrectly. Mine apparently went from Detroit to Los Angeles instead of Tokyo and Shanghai.

By |October 7th, 2012|Categories: China, Travel tips||Comments Off