The Love of Reading

Matt | China Books | Saturday, June 21st, 2008

I’ve been a little lax these days in writing posts, updating this blog and writing book reviews and one of my biggest self-criticisms for my site is that I haven’t written enough book reviews. Reason being is that I’ve read  a lot since becoming an English teacher and I originally set an ambitious goal of giving a review every other week.  But, I’ve fallen down on this goal and the bigger hurt for me is that I truly love reading and learning.

I love reading and since becoming an English teacher in China, I’ve been able to read a heck of a lot more than I did back in Canada. I can say that I honestly love reading. It’s a passion that I’ve discovered late in life. It was when I was knee-deep in university textbooks that I could hardly digest, the content and the flavor, without wanting to be sick. For whatever reason at that time I decided to pick up a novel to read simply for the pleasure of it. Since then I fell in love with reading.

During this period I’ve set goals to read at least one book a month and I’ve done this for the past 5 years. Lately, I’ve bumped my goal up to two a month. This is one addiction that I think is relatively healthy, at least at the levels that I’m consuming books at.

I’ve also exhausted my favourite authors: from Hemingway and Murakami, to Rand and Hessler; continually begging my friends to give me more book recommendations so I can feed this reading addiction.

During this educational awakening I’ve realized that you don’t find books, but books find you. That at certain times in your life a book will appear almost like magic; at that immediate time you needed or wanted it; like when a friend recommended Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead when I was looking for my moral code, or when I was looking for some guidance before coming to teach English in China and I found a site that demanded I read two books before making my decision on China, Mark Salzman’s Iron and Silk and Peter Hessler’s River Town. Even though they are dated I still highly recommend those two.

Fairly recently, I felt quite lost and I found a funny titled book on my friend’s bookshelf titled The Importance of Living, by Lin Yu Tang. I had never heard of this author at the time, but only later discovered he was a brilliant Chinese writer, philosopher and inventor. From his book in the section The Art of Reading he stated:

“Ín reading as in eating what is one man’s meat may be another’s poison. A teacher cannot expect his children to have the same tastes as himself. And if the reader has no taste for what he reads, all the time is wasted. As Yuan Chunlang says, ‘You can leave the books that you don’t like alone, and let other people read them.’

I quite enjoy this quote and truly believe it. Read the books you like. Also learn the things you are passionate about. Leave the rest to other people.

Alas, since starting this site I planned on reviewing one China book, teaching book or learning book each week, but this has turned into one every 3 months! So, now I’ll readjust my goal to something that should be easily achievable (set simple goals and enjoy the pleasure of exploding past them) and I now plan on reviewing one book per month.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of the great books that have found their way to me and hopefully you’ll find they have a good flavor for you to digest.

First teaching job. Start at school.

Matt | China Books,Teach English in China | Sunday, May 4th, 2008

I recommend for your first teaching job in China to start at a university. While the pay may not be stellar, remember you are living in China, and I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. I’m an accountant in my previous life so I’ll lay out the pros and cons as I see them about working at a university as your first teaching job. Always start with bad news first right? This biggest negative is…


Salary is low. This is the only disadvantage as I can see if for working at a university. Usually the standard package is about 5,000 RMB per month. This seems crazy low especially if you convert it to Canadian dollars (800CAD per month), but remember you are in China. The average university graduate earns only 1-2000 RMB per month. A Chinese university professor will probably only earn about 3-4000 RMB per month. And if you eat and live moderately (aka don’t go out drinking at bars every night) you can live on that money. Really.

On the other hand there are many good things about teaching at a university.


Teaching hours are light. Likely you’ll only teach 15-20 hours per week. Again you need to know this going in and ask the school director direct questions before you arrive. But most places I’ve been to is the same 15-20 hours per week all included.

This also means that you have time to travel, to learn Chinese, to do the things you really want to do that brought you to China in the first place.

Have an apartment. This is a big benefit as it isn’t so easy to find a place here in China on your own especially if you can’t speak the language and aren’t adjusted to the negotiation culture that is China. Agents can be bloodsuckers when they see your fresh meat strolling by. If you factor in this value (approx 2000 per month then your salary goes up to about 7000).

University holidays. This is a big bonus. Chinese university students get great holidays. During Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) they get 1-2 months off and so would you, paid! That’s great. Also you get all the other national holidays, plus the summer off if you sign on for a 2 year contract. (I recommend signing on for one year as the demand is so high you could always resign on if you like the place and want to stay another year).

Annual flight bonus. They will give you a return flight anywhere if you stay the year. Nice. Worth about 10,000 RMB for me to go back to Canada.

Work visa. Being a legitimate and legal learning institution they can get you a Z visa before you arrive. This is a must in my mind before coming to teach in China. So having this in your first year is a great perk.

In my mind I think it’s an easy choice to go the university route to start your teaching career if you plan on teaching in China for a few years.

Then your next question will be where should I teach? Here are a few schools that I’ve been to that are reputable. Again, YOU need to do your homework before you come and ASK LOTS of QUESTIONS. One other question you may want to ask about universities is where are they located. In Beijing the universities are usually a bit out of the main downtown core and this is something you should know as well as how accessible is it to public transportation?

Here are schools I’ve been to, worked at or seen that might be of interest for you to look into.

Now there are many other universities in Beijing, but these are some good ones. Again they are always looking for qualified English teachers. What do you need to be a qualified teacher? 1) A university degree in subject; 2) a teaching certificate like CELTA/TESOL/TEFL; 3) a native English speaker. With these qualifications you’ll be able to teach anywhere in China.

Good luck.

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