Thursday, 4 June 2015

So you are ready to teach ESL/TEFL in China? Part 4 The entitled

Part 4 of 4  – The entitled

When the going gets tough (in the classrooms of the West) the entitled comes to China or the meek shall inherit the earth – the other, poorer, teachers come to China.

Who are the entitled? In the little stroll we have taken around the ESL caste system in China we have now reach the apex. Welcome to the one percenters (which is a purely spurious statistic I have just made up on the spot). But in the pyramid selling system, where the snake oil on sale is ones teaching ability, these are the guys with the golden ticket – the PGCE (other postgraduate teaching qualifications are available from other countries) qualification puts them firmly at the top of the golden pyramid of foreign teachers in China.

Having a PGCE (plus your first degree) gives you entrance to the truly International School.  This is the school where the Western kids go.  These are the kids of the engineers and businessmen who work here in the Chinese arms of their home corporations (of which more later) and the children of said teachers. Chinese kids, unless they have a foreign passport, cannot enter the hallowed portals of these types of schools. The Chinese kids have to go to the International and Foreign Language schools staffed by the redundant, the alienated and the dysfunctional ESL teacher with their measly CELTA qualification.  If the Chinese kid is really unlucky (basically because his parents are poor) he might well find himself stuck in a classroom with a gap year graduate who doesn’t really care that Hitler (the ‘English’ name chosen by the kid himself – its true I had a ‘Hitler’ in my class, I know Lucifer too and Evil serves me ice-cream at my local Dairy Queen.  Evil is a woman BTW – but we know that from the ELO song don’t we?) doesn’t want to learn English and is more fascinated by his/her mobile phone than trying to learn what a gerund might be – not that the gap year graduate knows what a gerund is anyway.

The International school is where you will probably be teaching your home subject, the subject of your PGCE.  The wages and conditions are usually good as the schools are relatively new.  You will earn a Western salary in a country where the gap year graduate on just 6000rmb a month still has fun and can travel.  So on average the PGCE qualified teacher, in one of these schools, can earn around 300,000rmb per annum in Nanjing about 250K in Shanghai. That’s around 25,000rmb (£2,500 approx) a month.  Plus the teachers get an allowance of 7000rmb  (£700 approx) a month for an apartment the prices of which start at around 2000rmb and rise depending on what and where you want to live. If the teacher has children their schooling is free which is worth 180,000rmb right off the bat (this is at my local International school other schools might charge other fees). And of course there are the other benefits, health care, airplane tickets and so on.

For that money most of these teachers will be doing about 25 lessons a week, plus their office hours. They are expected to do their marking at weekends and to be fully involved in the life of the schools so that means after school clubs and all that entails.  What it doesn’t seem to entail is hanging out in the same bars as the GYG (gap year graduate) or the RADicles (the redundant, the alienated and the dysfunctional) teachers.  If they do – just for the western style food of course, they tend to keep themselves to themselves and not socialize with the sorts of riff raff we seem to represent in their eyes.

For example a friend of mine was in a bar sitting with five or six other teachers and this guy, one of the entitled, asked what he did. When my friend told him where he worked – not what he did mind you, the response was ‘Oh you’re an ESL teacher are you’, like it was on a par with shovelling shite.  Which to be fair is well within the remit of a GYG ‘teacher’ but less so for the dedicated RADicl teacher.

So professional snobbery is probably one of the many factors that enter into the shaky relationship between the one percenters and the rest of the teaching crew here.  They don’t help themselves of course because they tend to use the schools cars and drivers to get themselves around the place whilst the rest of us jump the bus, use the metro or get ourselves electric or moto scooters (you can buy a brand new electric or moto scooter for around 4000rmb (£400 approx)) to get around on.  Many of our crowd have the scars to attest how useful they actually are - I had mild concussion after getting knocked off mine thanks very much and the cops stole my bike.

 My new electro bike

So this is what the entitled are entitled to and it gives them the notion that they might just be a little better than most of us. In fact many of us who have worked here regularly and in fact work less hours  - but for pretty much the same money pro rata, plus the usual benefits, are better than them in terms of qualifications and teaching experience. For instance I have a PhD and have taught for 20 years other ESL teachers I know have MA’s or are well on their way to an MA.

The entitled seem to want to live a sheltered lifestyle, not hang out in the bars with the rest of us and seem to resent us even being in the bars when they deign to come in. I can remember one night, I don’t think it was particularly raucous; we were actually sat inside, at a table, grumbling into our 10rmb (£1) pints of Carlsberg about the gap year graduates when one of the entitled leant over and asked us to stop swearing because there were children present.  Well blow me down with a tsunami we all thought and proceeded to tell him that actually this was a bar, and if we wanted to flipping swear then we flipping well would and that a flipping bar, even in flipping China, especially in flipping China, is no flipping place for a child.  We are English teachers and of course we know how to use our beautiful and expressive language to full effect. He shut the flip up for the rest of the night.

Of course we are also a ruff, tuff and at times, a loud bunch but we also have our pride in what we do.  I have already written that we welcome people in with open arms because we know how hard it can be being on ones own being a stranger in a strange land.  But the flip (not a swear) side of that is that you do need to also make an effort to join in. We will be your only friends (unless you bog off and make friends from another group of teachers, you splitter you) and we will be the people that you depend on.  You might get sick, you might have an accident, something, at sometime, will go tits up believe me. You need us.

This was highlighted by an event I was personally involved in.  Hold on to your hats because this is where I am going to be polite and less cynical about the teachers in the International School and indeed other ex-pats that I never knew even existed.  In my last incarnation as an ESL teacher I was teaching at one of those colleges I have poured scorn on elsewhere. Earning the regulation 6000rmb a month, ostensibly teaching students who were being groomed on a Canadian programme which would get them entrance into a Canadian university. I’ve written about this before, scroll down the blog a couple of years.  Like most of us a got myself a moto scooter to zoom around on and it was most enjoyable and handy until that fateful evening (Halloween doncha know it) when a Chinese driver sideswiped me going across a junction. I barely saw him coming, then the next thing I knew I was waking up lying in a cold puddle.  My pillion, lets call him Jack, to protect his identity and anyway Bill don’t read these things so Steve it is, had his leg broken.  The first people on the scene were teachers from the International School I believe. They looked after us and basically, as the police turned up, told me to flip off, as I might have had one beer too many, your honour.

So Alvin’s in hospital, leg in traction (you can read about this below if you must) but he had a constant stream of visitors all bearing gifts, not gold, myrrh and frankincense like the magi but sweets, chocolate and McDonalds – Chinese hospital food is shite – his words. That the majority of these visitors were from the International School and unknown to us was eye-opening and humbling.  In an earlier blog, I mentioned that when you join a school you are not a member of a team, you are an individual and you have to be self-reliant and self-confidant. You cannot depend upon your colleagues to support you when they themselves are fighting tooth and nail to maintain their position.  However, like it or not, you are a member of a community – a diverse and disparate community, I admit, but nevertheless you belong to it, by default - you do not have to buy a ticket to join.

So when the shit really hits the fan, your home from home family are the ex-pats that live in the same city, district or come to that the same country as you. You might not even know them yet, but if you have a problem you will find someone who can provide you with a solution, all you have to do is ask.  You will find most of these expats, down the pub, at any of the various clubs and associations you can join, and online, via QQ, WeChat, Facebook and so on someone somewhere will have had the same experience as you or know of a solution.

However, on a day-to-day level as far as the International School teacher is concerned you might find it difficult to break into their dungeons and dragons circle – unless you are one, of course – by that I mean a geek. Poker and ‘Come dine with me’ type evenings seem to be popular too where they can all sit around a bitch about the hosts chantilly mushrooms and forget that they might actually be in China.  I have met a number of these teachers at a few events and I have to say that whilst they are friendly they are not going to be my best buddies. There is no indication that they are ‘interested’ in me enough to want to have a beer and find out about each other. 

At a guess, and this is a wild guess and speculative to the extreme, I think that the entitled teacher likes to make friends and hang out with the parents of their students. These people - the engineers, technicians and managers for Western owned companies in China. These people, if the International School teachers are the entitled, are the crowned princes of the expat community. They are on their big Western salaries plus all the expenses and benefits their companies provide them. They live in gated communities, have company cars with their own personal drivers. As we have seen the company pays the school fees for their kids and make sure life is generally sweet for these people.  They are fly by nights, here today gone tomorrow, two years in country at the most. (I might be making this up).

You see them as they glide past the bar to the German baker and delicatessen a few doors down in their German car with their Chinese driver at the helm.  He sits and waits as they perhaps have a coffee and a pastry before being chauffeured back to the safety of their gated community.  I speculate that many of these people barely know China and Chinese culture.  They hang out with their contemporaries (as we all do) but for them their life is lived in this bubble of entitlement. They probably go to the good western restaurants you can find in this city. I would hazard a guess that none of them have sampled the delights of Chow Mien or Chow Fan (fried rice) from a roadside stall (5rmb – £0.50 approx) together with a bottle of beer (3rmb - £0.30 approx) – if they haven’t then more fool them because its usually great.

Saying that a few years ago a couple of engineers used to come to the bar and hang out with us and they were really great guys who we were sorry to see go when they finally left to go home.  Sadly their home was in Europe, they were Germans or maybe Polish, or Czechs, Im not sure. Nevertheless, I have yet to meet one English/British engineer who wanted to hang with us and be friends. I have met some American Engineers, guys working for Ford, but this was only at a Charity event at a posh hotel downtown and I’ve met a couple at art gallery openings.  They were friendly and seemed like good guys and gals, but we were ships in the night. This is their life.  My life in China is different and possibly your life in China will be different too.

Charity Las Vegas night

Engineers and various others 

Hints and Tips


I have mentioned in all of the blogs that most of the contracts in China come with Health Insurance.  Obviously most, if not all of the part time, illegal, cash in hand work do not come with health insurance. 

I guess, like me, most of you will probably Google looking for ex-pat health insurance policies of your own. If you have already done that you know that it’s prohibitively expensive, especially if you are coming to China on a 6000rmb per month contract.  A quick look on a comparison site for a male aged 40 provides quotes starting as low as 303rmb ($49) per month for a basic service to 6165rmb ($997) per month for an all singing and dancing service.

I have heard that some people have come to China with ‘Backpacker’ health insurance.  Another quick search on Google based on a 40 yr old male and you will find backpacking insurance policies ranging from around  £250 to £701 for a years cover.

Personally I am more than happy with the insurance policy provided by my employer and in general this is there to provide me with emergency care should I need it.  For the run of the mill day to day health issues the local hospital is good enough and cheap enough.

If you are ill, ill enough to want to see a doctor, you need to ask your school to have someone take you.  You will be taken to the local hospital, for that is where, surprise surprise, the doctors are. Once there the process is simple.  You see a receptionist, tell them what your problem is, they direct you to the room with the type of doctor you need – you do not see a generalist GP.  For example, I came down with a urinary infection.  I was taken to the hospital and once there I saw a doctor who ‘specialised’ in urinary problems.  I was sent to give blood and urine samples, the results were ready in less than 20 minutes, I saw the Doctor again.  He prescribed antibiotics and a complementary Chinese herbal medicine.  It cost me about £12 (120rmb) I think, if I remember correctly.

After my crash I had a CAT scan, no waiting, it cost £6 (60rmb) I think, I was concussed at that time.  Of course my friend was also in hospital with a broken leg. The actual conditions might not have been wonderful but the treatment was good.  His NHS doctor, when he went back to the UK to recover, was complementary about the work.

Of course many of the gap year graduates and others have sampled the Chinese health system after falling off bikes, getting sports injuries and so on and I have never heard any complaints. I have faith in the Chinese system and do not have any insurance other than that which is linked to my contract.


I have no problems with Chinese dentists either.  We, most of the RADicles I know use a Chinese dentist called Lillian.  The manager of the bar we used recommended us to her, Lillian was her cousin.  When ‘Andy’ came off the back of my bike he landed on his teeth. So his front upper teeth were smashed – as well as breaking his leg. Lillian fixed his front teeth and put temporary caps on them. I believe it cost about 600rmb (£60 approx) they lasted 3 years before they fell out and needed a more permanent fix. 

I have had work done by Lillian with no pain to both my jaw and my wallet – unlike in the UK.  Lillian also saved a tooth that dentists in the UK wanted to take out. She put a porcelain crown on it. This cost me 800rmb (£80 approx). She also tells me if it comes off and I lose it she will replace it for half price. I recently saw her because of toothache. It seems my ‘baby teeth’ (we call them wisdom teeth) are on the move.  She took an x-ray and prescribed some antibiotics and it cost me a couple of quid.

So how to find a good dentist or a good hospital? Ask your colleagues for recommendations. Don’t do what a lot of the entitled do, which is, use the local international hospital or the international clinics, which abound, because if you do you will also be paying international prices.  The point was made when a doctor from the international hospital in Nanjing who generously looked after ‘Mike’ (re my bike crash – keep up) told him that even the International Hospital used the orthopaedic surgeons in the Chinese hospital he was in because they were the best.


My advice is to bring your favourite over the counter drugs with you in particular bring those which you might use at home to ease a cold or the flu.  Remember you will be working in a school – the place will be full of bugs and viruses, especially in the winter. I bring Lemsips  - the powders and the day care capsules - these are like gold dust in China, especially if people know you have them and they have the sniffles. I am partial to bringing Anadin Extra for when I have a headache, as these seem to work for me. I bring Ibuprofen, but you can buy this in China. I also bring a codeine based cough medicine – pholcodeine linctus - for when I have a cold/cough that drops onto my chest.  I have looked and I can’t find anything similar here, and I know this works for me. Also useful is Olbas Oil for steaming that jammed up head and blocked sinuses  - I’ve not seen this in China either.

If you are older I recommend that you have the flu jab here in China. Like the UK you cannot get the jab until late September/October. This is something to do with them having to decide which strain of the flu will be dominant this year I think.  It costs 100rmb. When you get here, at first, you will be taken for another medical so your employer can apply for your resident’s visa.  This should be the place where you will get the flu jab. Check it out whilst you are there.

If you take regular medication ask your doctor for a big prescription. My doctor told me the biggest he could give me was three months supply.  Fortunately the Omeprazole the doctor prescribed for reflux is available over the counter here.  Plus after leaving my job in the UK I no longer get stress-induced heartburn – a little bit of beer induced reflux – occasionally.

There is a whole raft of drugs available over the counter here that is only available on prescription in the UK, everything from antibiotics to Viagra if you need it. If you know what drugs your doctor prescribes for you, then the likelihood is that you can get them here. Although I cannot get the migraine medication (Maxalt Melt 10mg oral lyophilisates) the doctor prescribes and the ones I use now are out of date since January 2014 – they still work though and like my reflux, since I left work I hardly have a migraine now. But this summer I will get another 3 months supply.  I also buy Prednisolone, which is the steroid the doctor prescribes for me when I have an infected chest after a cold or flu.  So I can get the same antibiotics and the same steroid that my doctor prescribes in the UK over the counter for pennies to be honest and they work.  Use the pharmacies on the main streets you will see some of them are chain stores. If you stick to these big stores you will not get fakes.

Interestingly if you go to buy Tylenol– the US flu remedy in China you need to show your passport – something to do with the methamphetamine you can produce from it. Blooming good stuff though if you need to teach through a cold or flu.

Re illegal drugs – they are available, but do you really want to spend time in a Chinese prison?  Just say no.  Take note: In China, sentencing for drug trafficking could include capital punishment. For example, the seizure of 50 grams or more of heroin or crystal methamphetamine could result in the use of the death penalty by the Government.

 It's not pretty - be warned. 

 Just as a final note I recently asked my students to write a pros and cons essay about the death penalty - the majority were in favour! 

Should you have missed the earlier blogs. 

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