We went back to the office where Baruch gave me my teaching books. As he handed them over he told me although these were the books I could teach what ever I wanted. I was a bit confused at, and a little alarm bell rang in my head.
. All my students, across the three classes, were in their final year, so there was little motivation to turn up, even though they were required to ‘by law,’ and will fail their course if they were away for more than one third of the classes. Despite this they were not turning up. I was told these students were the ‘worst English students’ of their year.
When Richard turned up, he looked surprised to see me. ‘What are you doing here?‘ he asked. ‘Arthur told me to come,’ I said. ‘Arthur told me that you had told him what time I was to be here.’ I wasn’t expected to be there until Sunday apparently, things get lost in translation, or just not mentioned at all.
We were given a quick tour around the college, it was MASSIVE, from the front gate to my classroom block was a fifteen-minute walk.
Arthur is a LOUD exhibitionist that camouflages deep insecurities – he will say this himself, so I’m not doing him a disservice in describing him like that.
Tim and Suzy (notice teacher in bed behind Tim)
I had met Tim and Suzy, an American couple, in the grounds of my apartment, as I was coming or going one day. They were new like me, and fortunately were going to be working at the same college as I was. They were a bit younger than me; Tim had been a successful builder in Florida until the great American crash had wiped him, and his business out.
Buy the book on Amazon
“Nanjing is a very pleasant city, despite being known as one of the three huolu, or furnaces, of central China, on account of its hundred-degree summers. Located mostly on the south bank of the Yangtze River, it has a population of more than 6 million people.” China Road: One Man’s Journey into the Heart of Modern China by Rob Gifford
“The name Nanjing (formerly spelt Nanking) means nothing fancier than ‘Southern Capital’. (Beijing means ‘Northern Capital. Tokyo is called Dongjing, which means ‘Eastern Capital’. There is no Western Capital). The city rests on layer upon layer of Chinese history.” 1421: The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies.
And also available worldwide where Amazon KINDLE is available
The Adventures of Doctor X gets a five start review on Amazon so to celebrate the ebook is free this weekend.
Go to the Amazon store here. (If the book is 99p wait until it’s Saturday it will be free)
You are reading the blog, now you can read the book, It is available for pre-order on Kindle.
The is the link – click here – thank you
Soon I am going to China
An adventure in my later years
Escaping the tedium of the office, and salary and the nine to five slog
I have had Darling Daughter stay with me every other weekend practically since she was born. Like most dad’s I really wanted to be a twenty-four – seven, three hundred and sixty five days a year dad, but that wasn’t to be. I have tried to be the best dad I could be. I love my Darling Daughter, but I too have a life.
The goodbyes were swift and painful, tears were spilt, but it was best they got in their car and just went – I had a plane to catch.
Hints and tips by Doctor X
Kindle: If you like to read then you need to bring a kindle or other reading device. Purchases from the kindle store download quickly and have been no problem in the five years I have been in China. I now use the kindle app on my smartphone. Bookstores in China barely carry English language books. If they do they are mainly those classics that are out of copyright, Dickens, Austen, some of the American authors, Verne and so on. In Nanjing I have only found one bar that has a book exchange – Blue Sky – The Aussie Bar on Shanghai Lu.
Other Electronic Devices
If you are going to buy electronic devices buy them before you come to China. Computers, Tablets, Kindle, Smartphone’s are all of a similar price here to those back home. Also if you do wait to buy in China the operating system is in, wait for it, Chinese. Some may have an option to change the language but do you want to take that chance? You might get a good deal in Hong Kong if you have a stop over there.
Personally I dumped my iPhone 5 and purchased a Huawei Rio. Huawei is the major competitor to Apple in China. It was fine until I broke it. I upgraded to a Huawei P9 which is great BUT it is so smart that it does block some of the apps we like to use. Twitter is blocked for instance – although I can still use Facebook. Google maps do not work.
Peripheries such as USB sticks, External Hard drives, Headphones, Cables and so on are cheaper here so there is no problem there – just watch out for fakes.
I also purchased a printer/scanner, a Canon (around 400RMB or £40 approx) simply because at my school (and at the other college and training school I have worked at) there is not a communal printer networked to your computer like you might have been used to at home. At my school there is a print room. You take your stick to the print room, use their computer (all in Chinese) to print one copy of what you need, then you give the women the instructions for how many copies you need. You have to do this in good time, like the day before you need them, because they are printing for the whole school. Or you print a copy off using the one printer in the teacher’s office that is attached to another teachers machine. So if he/she is not at their desk and their computer is locked then you are stuffed till they come back.
It was easier to purchase my own printer, so I can do the single sheet printing (I still use the print room for bulk) at my leisure and the scanning of any teaching material I might want to use.
English Grammar for Dummies. 2nd Ed. You will find a free downloadable pdf of the book here.
Part 3 of 4 – The untouchables
As we move up through the rarefied caste system of ESL teachers in China we must consider the ‘untouchables’. These are the ESL teachers that have a CELTA qualification and may or may not have a PGCE; nevertheless they are a step up from the RADicles (of course each group is not mutually exclusive and a teacher may belong to one or all of these groups).
This step up is in terms of the types of schools can they teach at and the salary they get paid. In the main this type of teacher might be working for what in China are generally called ‘International Schools or Foreign Language Schools’. Most, if not all of the untouchables that I know (apart from any newbie’s), have been in China for a while and many have Chinese or Asian/Filipino wives and children. To be in this type of a school is very beneficial because the children of said teacher can attend the school at very competitive and discounted rates plus wages are significantly higher than those of the gap year graduate or the RADicle.
As mentioned in Part 1 once you have achieved a CELTA qualification more options for better quality work opens up for you at these better quality schools. At these schools you might be teaching CIE courses aiming towards iGCSE’s or AS/A levels if they follow the English curriculum or you might be teaching the IB or the American ACT or SAT exams.
The most likely place to find an untouchable is in a Chinese High School where the students are being groomed for foreign universities such as in the International and Foreign language schools. This is where having a specialist degree like Math’s or the Sciences comes to the fore as not only can you teach ESL English you can also teach a specialist subject. Similarly at some of the better Universities teaching English and/or teaching a specialist subject is also a possibility.
The thing about a lot of the untouchables I know is that they really think that they are untouchable in the sense that they believe that the terms of their contract do not actually apply to them. Some of these good schools pay excellent wages, if you have a CELTA you can expect to start on around 10,000RMB (approx £1000) a month as a new, barely experienced, teacher rising, with experience and length of service in the school to 20 – 25,000 RMB per month.
Most of these schools have a dress code for the teachers – shirt, trousers, and good shoes. Some might even stipulate white shirt, black trousers – a uniform if you will. Yet some of these untouchables are so conceited that they still want to act like a gap year graduate and turn up in jeans, tee shirts, or shorts in the summer and then they complain when the school fines them as much as 500rmb (£50 approx) for breaking the dress code as per stipulated in the contract.
Yes, these highfliers are so self assured (read arrogant or stupid) that they sign a contract without reading it or at the least without having any cognitive understanding of what the contact they are signing insists over and above the salary and conditions such as the free apartment and health care.
‘But in my last school’ is a popular whine of the untouchable. ‘Im my last school I didn’t have to……………………..’ Please complete the gap fill:
- Wear a white shirt
- Not wear jeans and tee shirt to lessons
- Come to staff meetings
- Pay attention in staff meetings
- Provide complete lesson plans before the lessons
- Be on time
- Do extra curricular activities with the students
- Sit at my desk and do my office hours
- Not leave before 5PM
- Fulfil the terms of my contract, which I signed of my own free will, to the satisfaction of my managers
You will notice that generally, in the better schools, the ones paying the higher wages, the teachers are expected to put in a full day. That often means being at ones desk at 8am or earlier and leaving at 5pm. That you might only have two or three 45/60-minute lessons during that day is irrelevant, as you will be expected to stay at your desk, despite being ‘finished’. That’s why you get the big bucks.
What you do at your desk in China stays at your desk. So after you have done your usual school admin, marking, writing your lesson plans, then basically you can do what you want. If you are with Chinese teachers you will notice that they do not need a prompt to get their head down for a nap or two at their desk whatever time of day. Of course the two-hour lunch break is also naptime. In the offices I have worked in the camp beds are stacked up against the wall and come lunchtime they are put to good use by the snoozing teachers. The lunchtime nap is a cultural norm in China and a jolly good idea it is too.
Camp bed in the office
The rest of the time at your desk is yours. You can surf the Internet, watch movies, shop on Taobao, and write that block-busting novel you have wanted to get down on paper/on to your hard drive for years. I am currently writing this blog during my own two-hour office session as per my contract. I have also used this time to write the book I mentioned in Part 1. To write newspaper articles for the Shanghai Students Post, to do the proofreading for a local university, so technically I’m being paid twice for the same time – kerching!
Plus as I’m not physically at another place of work as I would be if I were teaching I can kid myself that I’m not working illegally and in breach of my contact and my Z visa conditions. (Of course the school does know about my book and my writing for the student newspaper it would be difficult to hide them as they are in the public domain but they seem pleased as it adds to my reputation.)
So the school pays the untouchables big bucks and also expects the teachers to work for it, no surprise there you might say. This often includes extracurricular stuff such as going on school trips, meeting parents, being wheeled out to a dinner as the ‘performing white face tame monkey’ on the staff and a myriad of other tasks that often get foisted on you at very short notice.
If there is one thing about working in the Chinese education system that riles us Westerners the most it is the lastminuteism that infects the system from top to bottom. So one might be in the apartment having done with teaching and office hours for the day, feet up, watching Game of Thrones with a beer, when the phone will ring.
‘Rob, where are you?’
‘Here in my apartment, why?’
‘You have a class!’
‘What?’ Frantically checks the diary on my iPhone. ‘ No I don’t’
‘Yes you do. 4th lesson in the afternoon. Didn’t anyone tell you?’
‘No. Nobody told me. What lesson?’
‘Senior B, we have changed the time table, come now they are waiting’
‘Oh Ok’. Frantically pulls on trousers and shirt and leaves to give a class on the fly.
This type of thing happens with a depressing regularity.
Or its Thursday evening, you have made big plans for the weekend, starting with a big Friday night at the bar grumping over a 10rmb Carlsberg or three with all the other RADicles then Saturday downtown, more 10 kuai beer, maybe a curry and more bar stories that you’ve heard a hundred times or more, but are too polite to mention as you try to get your own favourite story listened to again – your phone beeps.
The Spring trip is a regular event in the school calendar – this year was to proto-military place run by ex soldiers!
Chinese teachers enjoying the break
It’s a message on QQ, from the school administrator, ‘On Saturday afternoon the school is having a parents/sports/open day or something ‘ and they want you to be there/give a speech/talk to parents (despite in the two years I’ve been here there has only been one parent with English good enough to hold a conversation with me and she is an academic at a local university) /just be a white face smiling inanely as disinterested parents waltz past to talk to the Chinese staff.
Parents queuing to register their kids for next year
Bang goes the big Friday night as you don’t want to get so pissed that you have a hangover and stink of booze when you are in front of the parents. Plus you now have a PPT to create from scratch or a speech to write that not only will inspire the parents to keep forking out around the 80,000rmb (£8000 approx) per year, (for my school anyway) in fees plus extras for boarding, books, uniforms, trips and so on but also enables you to promote yourself as the BEST teacher they have ever had there in the history of ESL teachers in China. But bang there goes most of your Saturday, although you hope you can leave sharpishly once you have shown your face and given your speech/presentation and best smile and get downtown to meet up with your best buddies for that well needed pint.
Parents event where I am joined by my co -teachers
Personally, I think it is important, despite the late notice and the fact that they are messing up your weekend, to be there. It shows commitment to the school and I think it shows respect to the Chinese members of staff who work a darn sight harder than the ESL teachers. In most schools the Chinese staff have to be there at around 7:00 am and most if not all do not leave until after 9pm at night, others work later because as my school is a boarding school staff are allocated roles to make sure kids are in bed and nicely tucked up before lights out – these staff tend to stay the night in the dormitories despite having families and young children of their own to go home to.
At my school, which has over 3000 pupils, school starts at around 7:10 when the students file in from breakfast for self-study they have a full day of lessons until 21:00 although formal lessons finish at 17:00. The evening lessons are more about self-study, clubs and hobbies.
My schools winter timetable – the summer timetable advances 15 minutes but still finished at 21:00
On top of being here for so long everyday, the Chinese staff are not allowed off campus without a pass out signed by one of the bosses. For this full week the Chinese members of staff get paid significantly less than the Western Teachers –approximately 6-7000RMB per month, they also have significantly shorter holidays during the summer when they have to work.
As you would expect the untouchable ESL teacher would think that getting involved in this sort of extra curricular activity, especially at short notice, is beneath them. The exhibit a sort of colonial arrogance which exhibits itself as lazy racism whereby they think that they are better than the Chinese who can’t seem to be able to organize things in a logical and timely fashion. They expect things to be done in the way they expect them to be done in the west before they even considering doing something. They want the Chinese to respect their situation and defer to their bewilderment and hurt feelings when they are asked to do something, at the last minute, that is out of their comfort zone. You can hear it in their raised voices as they squeal out their outrage that their bosses actually had the discourtesy to ask them to do something that they feel is beneath their elevated status.
Any change is also seen as a threat. As noted above a common refrain from this type of teacher is ‘Well in my last school, we never….’. Shake their comfort zone and vindictive, insolent, backstabbing bullies drop out of the tree. It is as if they have found their niche, their comfort zone and its just too much hassle to think about doing anything new, or challenging, or even things that might benefit the students and enhance the reputation of the school. Indeed, so self destructive and arrogant are these teachers that just this last week at another school I know an ESL teacher was challenged by both the Chinese boss and the English ‘manager’ about his standard of dress. As I have already outlined many schools, and this is one of them, have a dress code. It’s outlined in the contract that he signed but this teacher constantly turned up dressed in shorts, polo shirt and trainers. His argument, when challenged, was that his dress had no bearing on his teaching ability so it didn’t matter.
His arrogance was such that he had no conception that first and foremost he is a role model for his students, secondly the school wanted to protect its reputation as a good school with parents and visitors who might come across him, and thirdly the school expected certain standards of professional behaviour from someone who was professing to be a professional. As he didn’t get his way in the meeting he had a hissy fit and left his job. This man has a Chinese wife and a child and because he could not put on a shirt in the morning he gave up a very well paid job. No doubt he could get another position relatively easily due to the very buoyant job market in Nanjing but it does tell you something of the mentality of this group. This guy is not an isolated case, believe me.
Just this week I hear more stories about untouchable teachers. First, one who was requested to meet his Chinese boss at, say 2pm. The teacher waltzes into the Chinese bosses office at 2:15, fifteen minutes late. The boss says, ‘You’re late, the meeting was at 2pm’. Teacher shrugs and says ‘What’s the problem? You were sat in your office doing nothing anyway!’ Here’s a thought – Try doing that at home with your boss – see what happens!’ Second the teacher was at a good school, earning good money, 20K plus, his Chinese girlfriend is just pregnant so he has to get married, he was teaching his students English four letter (swear) words. He got sacked (told his contract would not be renewed) although he has to work out his contract – four more weeks. He found a new job the same day, via contacts, but on the other side of the country from where his girlfriend lives and from where his future in-laws/grandparents live. Grandparents, in China play a very large role in the upbringing of their grandchildren. But he responds to this with a shrug of the shoulders, ‘it’s a fair cop’ he says and moves on to the next school.
I have never had the opportunity to ask one of these untouchable teachers, especially the ones with a PGCE just why is it they are in China and why are they so resistant to change in their schools. I have an inkling that these types of teacher would find teaching in schools back home too much like hard work. What with having to come up with lesson plans and doing the admin and filling out forms – “Well I never! Is that what its come too! What? Stay after 15:15 to do a club? In my last school in China….”
If you thing that I am being a bit harsh on these ‘untouchables’ what you have to realize, especially if you do come to China to work, is that here it is every man and woman for themselves. When you join a school, which may have other foreign teachers working there, do not think, for one moment, that you are joining a team. At best, what you will be joining is a loose alliance of individuals who happen to have similar qualifications as you and a range of different experiences either here or in other countries. Some of them will know all the tricks of the trade, they will know everything they can and cannot get away with and push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to the limit in order to make their life easier and to increase both their guanxi and their salary.
Wikipedia tells us that guanxi describes the basic dynamic in personalized networks of influence, and is a central idea in Chinese society. In Western media, the pinyin romanisation of this Chinese word is becoming more widely used instead of the two common translations—”connections” and “relationships”—as neither of those terms sufficiently reflects the wide cultural implications that guanxi describes. So the jockeying for position and the backstabbing and intrigue that’s more subtle than at the court of Elizabeth 1st is normalized amongst Western teachers in these well-paid jobs. They are just looking out for themselves. Trying to build relationships and connections with their Chinese managers and bosses, just building guanxi so that when the shit does hit the fan they will be well placed to ride out the storm – they hope. We all have to do it. You will have to play the game too, get used to it and learn it quickly.
Of course this all is borne out of an immense sense of insecurity concerning our jobs and our place in China. A lot of these teachers have invested time and money into staying and living in China with wives and children but that could all finish in the blink of an eye should the Chinese bosses decide that you haven’t been pulling your weight or you’re simply not the dish of the day anymore or you are just too expensive so you will be replaced by a cheaper bilingual Chinese teacher as is happening at a large school not a million miles from where I am now. One teacher, I know, was told that he was under threat because he was constantly late for his class. He knew, for a fact, that he had only been late, due to unforeseen circumstances, for one class during the whole semester and this is despite providing a lot of help and advice to the school gratis as it was setting up and opening.
I, myself, was telephoned by my administrator and told I was late for a class that had been re-arranged and nobody had told me about. Which is the example I gave above to all intents and purposes. I had to remonstrate with the admin, quite loudly and forcefully when I saw her because she had started to get annoyed with me and use an officious tone of voice on the phone. I eventually got an apology and the woman immediately rang the admin assistant who had not passed on the change of class to me and tore her off a strip instead. But it is incidents like these which do raise ones level of insecurity because one really never knows how much the Chinese bosses of the school are reading into your, in their eyes, transgressions.
This is why when I teach I dress the part, I look professional, and I act professionally. If I am asked to fulfil a role, such as meeting parents or giving a presentation, even a last minute request, I do it with a smile on my face, a willing attitude and good grace even if it is screwing up my day or my weekend. I mean this doesn’t happen every day or every week, in the main they are blue moon events. But I want to increase my guanxi with the school. I want to work here next year, so I want my contract and my visa renewed. My point of view is that I work very few hours for a decent salary, I am pretty much left to get on with my teaching without managers or bosses looking over my shoulders. So why rock the boat?
It was made official I was on the scrapheap. My voluntary redundancy from the university was confirmed. I had been getting a bit worried as time was moving on and the agency in China had started to talk about getting visa’s and airplane tickets, and seminars in Beijing.
I couldn’t believe I had been at the Plymouth University for twenty-four years. That’s a long time.
Packing for China – the final 20 kilo
In no particular order and with some explanation… plus an afterthought did I need it or could I have bought it in China?
Black shoes for work
Running shorts – Lycra – can buy in China
Running shirt – long sleeves – can buy in China (unless large size)
Fred Perry Polo Shirt
Waxed type Jacket
Black and White Kefeya Scarf
Casual Rugby style shirts x 2 – 1long sleeve and 1 short sleeve
Track suit bottoms – new and thick and warm x1 – can buy
University of Plymouth Hoodie – parting gift from my job – I asked for it, and they are warm and good quality
Large Bath sheet – smaller ones can be purchased in China but not bath sheets
1 pair black jeans – can buy H&M or Uniqlo
1 pair Khaki Chinos – can buy H&M or Uniqlo
4 cotton shirts – for work etc – can buy H&M or Uniqlo unless large size (can be made)
2 x thermal vests and 2 x thermal long johns – I’m told that there is no heating in Chinese schools
6 pairs underpants (M&S of course) – can buy look out for Mini So stores
10 pairs of socks (1 pair a month huh?) -can buy look out for Mini So stores
1 woolly hat (courtesy of Darling Daughter, she bought it in Marrakesh)
1 woolly bobble hat – can buy
1 pair thick socks – can buy
Running trousers (Lycra) – can buy
That’s it in terms of clothes
Also in the suitcase is:
A bag with 6 underarm deodorants (from the £1 shop) – reduced from 10 – apparently you can’t get deodorant in China! You can buy it’s rare and expensive – Find a Mini So shop
Plus 5 small bottles of shaving oil.
Various prescription medicines, 3 Ventolin and 3 of the steroid puffers. 3 packs of Imodium (just in case!), about 12 of my migraine drugs (but hopefully will not need) cliploc bags x 2 boxes for teacher in china. 2 x large bars of chocolate requested by teacher in china.
Swiss Army penknife.
This is it:
From the bottom up:
Canvas tote bag with a big plastic bag of PG Tips in it! Talk about coals to Newcastle – I’m taking tea to China! – Very important – you cannot get decent tea.
Clean shirt – Ben Sherman
Micro fleece – can buy
Multi coloured fleece – can buy in Uniqlo
Rough Guide to China
Recharging cables for kindle, camera and new mobile phone (you can get the plugs and peripherals everywhere)
In the front pocket:
First aid kit
Shoe polish for the Cherry Reds
Neoprene knee brace
And in the top pocket
Toilet paper (moist) Apparently this is crucial when out and about around the Chinese City (you can buy)
6 migraine medicines
Lemsips x 10 (gold dust take more)
Anadia extra (take more) (Also think about your favourite cold remedy and Olbas oil for steaming your chest)
And in my Laptop bag which is also pushing 5 kilo
Photos (to show students)
Spare glasses x 1
Spare sun glasses x 1
4 x teaching books
2 x 100 index cards – useless
Mac book pro and charger (technology is priced the same as UK in China)
Plymouth photo souvenir book – for students
Ventolin (be prepared – I was a scout after all)
and Brown inhaler
pen pencil etc
So that’s it apart from the clothes I’ll be wearing,