Experience of living and working in China

This is Rob and Eileen in Yudu. After one week staying in Yangshuo with the other teachers and 13 hours trip by train, we were collected from the Ganzhou airport by the Head English teacher and one of the many vice principals. They had been waiting for us for several hours, they were rather excited, so they were very hungry and took us to lunch. On the way to the school they spend a lot of time on their mobiles, probably organizing the reception for us. When we arrived there was a crowd of about 100 students and teachers for an official welcome. The principal gave a speech, which was then translated for us, then each of us had to reply (untranslated). Two children presented us each with a big bouquet of flowers, and our photographs and videos were taken. We were standing under a banner welcoming the foreign experts to the schools.

After this we were taken to the Building for Foreign Experts (big gold letters) which is our apartment. We have a strange assortment of rooms: kitchen; laundry; large living room (with two desks, ornate wooden sofas, coffee table, several fans, a glassware cabinet and a water machine); two bedrooms (each equipped with double beds, TV, aircon, another desk, and a bookcase as a wardrobe); a room with just a fridge and a crockery sterilizing cabinet; another odd shaped room (with broken windows now repaired) in which we put our washing; and an entry room with a dining table and chairs in it.

We had a short rest before being taken out to dinner, which was attended by the Principal, the party representative, and about ten of the 40 English teachers. There were ten different dishes plus two different soups including turtle and rice and steamed buns - I wonder who got all the leftovers!!!

We were told to rest on Monday, and several of the items required were repaired (things were installed but had never been tested, , so some power points didn't work, the cooker didn't have its battery, the hot water cylinder had never been filled, and all instruction booklets had been taken away, but have now been returned - in Chinese, of course!). We are the first western teachers teaching in this school.

We were shown around the school on Tuesday, so we knew where our classes would be, and attended some classes conducted by local English teachers. Rob is teaching 19 identical periods of Senior 1, while Eileen is teaching Rob's four left-overs, plus Junior 1, 2 and Senior 1 at the Experimental school (18 classes in all). The experimental school is a companion private school, with only 500 students: the two campuses are adjacent. School runs from 7.30 to 9.30 on Sunday night, 8 am - 9.30 pm Monday to Friday, and 8-12 noon on Saturday. Admittedly there is a 2.5 hour lunch break. We teach Monday to Friday.

We were disturbed to find that we are expected to teach from a new American series of textbooks, designed for Puerto Rican and Mexican immigrants to the US - it contains material far beyond the knowledge and experience of the Chinese students - and us as well as we don't watch a lot of American TV!!

Our first classes seemed to go well. We got through half of our initial lesson plan for the seniors as the textbook needs so much explanation of words and concepts. We would much rather do our own thing, but the students have been given their books... The junior lesson 1 in the book consisted in part of an introduction to the alphabet. The local teachers assured me that the students had already been taught that, and therefore knew it, so there was no need for me to touch on it at all. But I did an alphabet activity anyway. The kids really loved it, and were straining to be asked to be next to have a turn. However, it showed they didn't know the alphabet, so I (Eileen) then taught them the ABC song.

Now we are quite settled in our teaching we know our students love us very much. The little ones' eyes light up with delight when Eileen enters the room, and Rob's students are very happy to see him. Many of the older ones are showing more interest in English than when we first arrived.
It was very hot and sticky here in summer. We are from Tasmania and we are much more comfortable here now it is autumn.

Our apartment is fairly noisy - no roosters, but the school bell goes off loudly from 6 am until 10 pm. The nearby school kitchen starts work at 5 am. Eileen often manages to sleep through the lot! There was a very noisy water pump outside our kitchen window, but it has now been fixed. We sleep further away from the noise but have got used to it.

Food is very good quality and very cheap. I have found cooking to be fairly easy as I have cooked Asian-style for many years, once I got used to the gas cooker. However there are not the usual western ingredients, such as ham, cheese, tomato paste, vanilla essence, unsweetened milk, basil, oregano, curry powder, and most other spices. It took a long time to discover where to buy beef, so we lived on rice, vegetables, chicken, duck, pork and fish for some time - certainly no hardship. We often have 5-10 shop assistants helping us in the supermarket, and people stare at us, call out Hello, and sometimes run away giggling, etc. Very few foreigners have ever visited Yudu, and probably none have ever stayed here.

One of the big hassles early in our stay here was the lack of access to any foreign exchange. The local banks all told us to go to Ganzhou, an hour away by bus. They wouldn't accept any foreign currency or travellers cheques (we had quite a variety of both) and the ATMs do not support Cirrus/Maestro/VISA here. We now have a local bank account for our pay and our cashcard works well everywhere around China.

There are over 5000 students here and most of them board. We decided to relieve some of their weekend boredom (Saturday night is their only night off) by showing some English DVD's (with Chinese subtitles). This has been very popular with the 200 or so that manage to squeeze into the multi-media room (and the few who watch from outside the windows!)

Except for coffee and electronics, things are cheap here. Women's hair cuts are about 3 Yuan, and hair colour 40 Yuan (less than one twentieth of the Australian price). I have had shoes made very cheaply (my feet are too wide for standard fittings), and have had clothes either made or repaired very cheaply too.

We have had long weekends occasionally, and have been able to travel to other cities then. There are a lot of trains going through Ganzhou, but only one plane a day at the airport.
The staff here have been wonderful, extremely helpful and friendly. They appreciate our teaching, so that we feel that what we are doing is worthwhile and valuable.


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