Finding your feet in this huge, diverse, ultra traditional yet ultra modern country!
The People's Republic of China, with a population of over a billion people and almost 10 million square kilometers is huge, diverse and unique. It's impossible to see all of it. Each area differs enormously from another, as does the language and food. One person's experience of China may differ entirely from someone who lives even in the same province. The only unifying factor appears to be the seriously complex orthographic system.
Life in China is exactly what you make of it and it is best to approach China with an open mind and a sense of cultural adventure. Being shy and reticent will land up working against your China experience, as the more you become involved in activities which draws from all aspects of life in China, the more complete and enjoyable your experience will be.
For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. But in the 19th and early 20th centuries, China was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation. After World War II, the Communists under Mao Zedong established a dictatorship that, while ensuring China's sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life. After 1978, his successor Deng Xiaoping gradually introduced market-oriented reforms and decentralized economic decision making. Output quadrupled by 2000.
Modern China has a real need for teachers of English. Over the past few years, there has been a remarkable explosion in the number of private language institutes and companies. The rising emphasis on education at all levels also means that teaching positions at all levels are becoming available.
- Population: 1.28 billion
- Capital City: Beijing (pop 12.6 million)
- People: Han Chinese (93%), plus 55 ethnic minorities
- Language: Cantonese, Mandarin (among others)
- Religion: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism; Muslim, Christian
- Major Industries: Iron, steel, coal, machinery, automobiles, petrolium, chemicals, telecommunications, textiles
Visas are required by most foreigners entering mainland China although, at this stage, visas are not required by Western nationals visiting Hong Kong and Macau. Travelers in transit can stay in China visa-free for up to 24 hours as long as they have an onward air ticket for a flight from China to another destination departing within that time period. Visas are available from Chinese embassies and consulates in most countries.
Tourist visas cost around US$50 (or more) for a five day processing delay and about US$70 (or more) for a 24 hour emergency visa.
To work in China you must have a Z visa. Single entry Z visas are available relatively easily if you have proof of an offer of employment, but multiple entry visas are much more expensive and difficult to get. A Z visa costs around US$30 (or more depending on where you get it) if you are willing to wait a week or US$60 (or more) if you need it in a day.
- Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8 ( Beijing Time.)
- Dialling Code: 86
- Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
- Weights & measures: Metric
The currency of China is the Yuan (Currency code: CNY) but also referred to as the Renminbi - 'People's Money' (RMB).
10 Fen equals1 Jiao and 10 Jiao equals 1 Yuan. There are parts of China where the Yuan is also known as Kuai and Jiao is known as Mao.
Chinese currency is issued in the following denominations:
- 1, 2 and 5 Fen (only coins)
- 1, 2 and 5 Jiao (available in notes and coins)
- 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Yuan (all available in notes, the 1 Yuan is also a coin)
- Budget: US$1-2
- Mid-range: US$3-10
- High: US$10-25
- Deluxe: US$25+
These prices depend largely on where you are. Shanghai and Beijing are substantially more expensive than, for example, Kunming or Urumqi. Detailed searches of specific cities you are traveling to will help find accommodation most suitable to your budget.
- Budget: Anything up from Y25
- Mid-range: US$35-60
- High: US$60-150
- Deluxe: US$150+
The demand for teachers is high throughout China but especially so in Shanghai and Beijing.
The main types of teaching are:
- State university training & language faculties (General English, Business English)
- Private university training & language faculties (General English, Business English)
- State primary and secondary Schools (Conversation English, English for Young Learners)
- In-company : General English, Business English
- International Schools: General English
- Private Language Institutes: General English, Business English
The busiest period is September to July. Salaries vary greatly. RMB4,500 is considered average, with higher salaries for teachers with TEFL qualifications and/or experience.
Contracts are generally 1 year (renewable). There is no tax.
Work visas are arranged prior to arrival with the help of employer. Tourist visas can be changed to work visas in country.
Requirements for teaching posts in China are not always stringent: a university degree is often sufficient and teaching experience counts for more than formal training. So being a native English speaker and university degree holder goes a long way to getting you in.
In many cases teachers receive free airfare, a local salary, and perks. Wages are best in the big cities ( Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai) where there are scores of English schools. But many teachers feel that the drawbacks of Chinese city life are so great that they prefer to work in the provinces for less money. The western provinces like Yunnan are more pleasant and less money-mad than the east coast cities.
Once you get a job make sure the school sorts out the various permits for which you are eligible, particularly a teacher’s card that permits half-price rail travel. Ask for help in obtaining a temporary residence so you can avoid the tedious and expensive necessity of renewing your visa.
Things to do and see
Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) starts on the first day of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in February. Although it officially lasts only three days, many people take a week off. Ear plugs are handy at this time to dull the firecracker assaults, and prices of hotel rooms tend to go through the roof.
The Lantern Festival isn't a public holiday, but it's big and it's colourful. It falls on the 15th day of the 1st moon (around mid-Feb to mid-March) and marks the end of the New Year celebrations. The famous lion dances occur throughout this period.
Tomb Sweeping Day is in April, and sees Chinese families spend the day tending the graves of departed loved ones.
Public Holidays 2005
1 Jan - New Year's Day
9 – 11 February – Chinese Lunar new Year
8 March - International Women's Day
1 May - International Labour Day (3 days holiday, including Youth day)
22 June – Tueng Ng (Dragon Boat) Festival
1 August - Anniversary of the founding of the PLA
1 Jun - International Children's Day
1 Jul - Birthday of the Chinese Communist Party
9 September – Mid Autumn Festival
In terms of things to do and see both for a tourist and for an expat, China seems to have it all. Beautiful sites, ancient history, plenty of activities from acrobatic arts to scuba diving. One thing you are unlikely to be in China is bored! Providing an in-depth description of the many attractions is a serious task, but here is a smattering of the best:
China's capital is famous for The Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square, the Summer Palace the Temple of Heaven, tricycles and roast duck. Numerous parks provide respite from the crowds and museums are plentiful; a real gem is the Old Observatory built by Kublai Khan. Beijing's lanes and courtyards, the hutong and siheyuan provide an insight into the ordinary lives of people in the city.
The Badaling section of the Great Wall, 47 miles northwest of Beijing is one of the easiest bits of this 3375 mile structure to visit. This section has guard rails and a cable car. Visit nearby Chengde, where the emperors went to escape the summer heat, a lovely mountain retreat with temples and parks.
Once the largest city in the world due to its position at the end of the ancient Silk Road, Xi'an is now famous for its 6,000 life-sized terracotta soldiers warriors and horses. Other sights worth seeing are the Big and Little Wild Goose Pagodas, the City Wall and the Great Mosque.
This vibrant city with 13 million inhabitants is a mixture of old and new, rich and poor. Its many attractions include the Bund, the Jade Buddha Temple, Yuyuan Garden, the Children's Palace, Shanghai Museum, the Jade Factory, and Xiaotaoyuan Mosque.
Described as 'Paradise on Earth', Hangzhou, 120 miles south of Shanghai, is a busy tourist attraction. The prettiest area is West Lake with its weeping willows, peach trees, stone bridges and painted pavilions.
Encircled by Yangtse River, Wuxi is famous for the Huangshan Mountain, a stunning array of rocky precipices springs and lakes. There's a cable car to the top. Boat trips in the area are also a popular attraction.
This is the capital of Inner Mongolia and the place to go for something completely different. The steppe outside Hohhot is a place of vast grasslands where visitors can stay in traditional yurts and experience traditional culture, including horse riding, archery and wrestling.
On the banks of the Min River in Fujian Province this is a place of parks, temples and hot springs. It also has a famous lacquer-ware factory. Nearby Drum Mountain has 2,500 steps to the summit as well as excellent caves, forested walking trails and the ancient Buddhist Yongquan Temple.
This is one of China's oldest cities, with riverside streets and famous water gardens. The city has over 400 historical sites including the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Linger-Here Garden. There are lots of silk mills and the local embroidery is exquisite.
On the border with Hong Kong, the town is famous for having China's first McDonald's. The World of Splendid China, a theme park with the best bits of the entire country in miniature, including replicas of traditional buildings, authentic food and folk dancing.
Known as the 'City of Eternal Spring' it's home to Xi Shan, the holy mountain, and the petrified limestone forest of Shilin. Lijiang, 75 miles away is famous for the wooden houses of the Naxi, whose traditional religion includes witchcraft.
This region has only been open to tourists since 1980. Individual visitors still need permits, so it can be easier to go as part of a tour group. 'The Roof of the World,' has spectacular scenery and a unique culture. Lhasa is at 12,000 feet, an altitude which can makes some visitors feel ill. Big attractions are the Potala Palace, Drepung Monastery and Jokhang Temple.
Many sections of the Great Wall provide good walking. Shandong Province's Mount Tai Shan has the Ladder to Heaven as the 6,660 steps to the top are known, which have been climbed by Confucius, Mao and millions of others. It's said that you'll live to a hundred if you make it to the top. For serious, experienced climbers, an eight-day trek from Dingri on the Tibet-Nepal Friendship Highway leads to the Mt. Everest base camp at the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier.
The Wolong Nature Reserve in northern Sichuan Province is the last place where giant pandas roam freely among rhododendrons, birch, maple and of course, bamboo.
Zhijin, China's largest cave is a four-hour drive northwest of Guiyang. There are six miles of stalagmites and stalactites, with chambers over 500 feet high.
Popular guided treks are available in Songpan in Sichuan and Hailuo Gou glacier park. Horses can be hired in many places.
Bikes are everywhere in China and generally easy to hire. If you're planning to travel long distances between towns, you need to check the position on going through areas closed to tourists. Many travel companies arrange organized bike tours.
Anyone can join in the early morning t'ai chi sessions that take place in most town parks.
And that isn’t even half the story. There is still kayaking, white-river rafting, skiing, scuba diving, and all those fabulous cultural activities, like acupuncture, herbal medicine studies and calligraphy. What a place!