Find a Great First Job in China (part 2): Do Your Research

Matt | Preparing to Come,Teach English in China | Friday, February 29th, 2008

Yesterday, I started talking about how to reduce a lot of stress from finding your first job in China by doing your homework. In my last post, I mentioned how it was important to tell your friends and network of your plan. Who knows they might get you your first job. This happened to me. Besides telling your friends about your China plans, you can also

Do your research

During my preparation time, besides talking to your friends about your China plans you can also search the Internet and visit the library/ for more information. By looking at sites like and you can find out the usual package you can expect to get by working in China.

Average Teaching Package (Salary & Benefits) in Beijing

The average salary at a university is about 5000 RMB per month, paid monthly, annual flight bonus (you stay a year they’ll give you return flight home), they take care of all visa documentation (Z visa – so you can work legally), plus holidays.

On top you can find out the requirements, usually it’s a university degree (any discipline), a CELTA,TESOL, or TEFL certificate, and the fact you are a native English speaker.

By doing your research you’ll also come across some great books that can help you understand more of Chinese culture. Before I left I searched the Net about preparing for my China trip and came a across a sight that said I had to read the following two books and I’m glad I did.

Must reads:

  • Mark Salzman’s Iron & Silk -this is an older book (1987), but helps you see how much China has changed in the past 20 years.
  • Peter Hessler’s, River Town is a more recent (1997) account of a foreign teacher’s experience being 1 of 2 foreigners in a town of 300,000. It’s very well written.

Both of these authors were English teachers in China. I think the best part of the books are that they give a glimpse into Chinese culture, norms and thinking, through talking about events they had with their students and from living in China.  China has changed a lot since 1987 and even from 1997, but these books give you a glimpse as to why some strange things are the way they are.

Honourable mentions

  • Rachel DeWoskin’s, Foreign Babes in Beijing (1994), is an interesting read of a girl living and working in Beijing.
  • Peter Hessler’s, Oracle Bones – even more recent (2003ish) – Peter’s follow up book talking about more recent experiences of Beijing as well as some interesting insights into the origin of the Chinese language.
  • Matthew Polly’s, American Shaolin (1994) -is also a more recent experience of living in China and becoming a shaolin kung fu expert. A dream of most (?) young men, myself included; to leave the comforts of the US or Canada, move to the Shaolin temple, the origin of kung fu, and to to train for over a year.

Tomorrow, in part 3, I’ll talk about what questions you must ask to ensure that you can find a Great First Job in China.

Healthy and easy Chinese food: Porridge & Peanuts

Matt | Cooking Chinese Food | Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I’ve never been a fan of porridge… until recently. All my life I grew up on cold cereal and milk. So when my Chinese girlfriend tried to push Chinese porridge towards me to try, I frowned and gave my usual reply, “That’s gross!”. Of course I was quite ignorant as I didn’t even know what was in it. Later I found out “zhou” or rice porridge/congee is a common and simple breakfast for most Chinese along with some steamed bread, “mantou”, and some meat or sausage.

To make the “zhou” is quite easy. All you do is rinse off some rice. (2 hand fulls of dry rice will give you two bowls which is enough for one person). Add about half a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add the rice. Turn down heat to low. Cover and simmer. Stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t burn. Wait for the rice to be soft and edible. Eat the rice with a spoon and you can drink the rice water. While this is an easy breakfast, it is quite bland without a lot of flavour. Then my girlfriend mentioned that you can add crushed peanuts to it. And I was in heaven.

The only difference here is you need to crush and add about an equal amount of crushed peanuts to the mix. In order to crush peanuts we use a grinder, the sort pharmacists would use to crush pills. This works well to crush up the peanuts into small chunks. Add equal amounts of peanuts, rice and a bit of sugar for taste. Really, I don’t think one can add too many peanuts. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer. Stirring occasionally. Wait until the rice is soft. Then I’d wait a few more minutes to boil of a bit more water. You’ll smell the peanut fragrance in the air. Then eat, slurp and enjoy.

To improve the healthiness you could probably substitute brown rice for the white rice and brown sugar instead of white sugar. Unfortunately, these are difficult to come by in China and so I haven’t tried. If you do try these healthier options, let me know how it goes.

Find a Great First Job in China (part 1): Use Your Network

Matt | Preparing to Come,Teach English in China | Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Before you come to China to teach English, or work anywhere, it’s very important that you do your homework.

While I was preparing to come to China to teach English for the first time I was quite terrified as I didn’t know any trusted organizations I could join to ensure my first job would be legitimate. In China, there are many awful schools run by the worst scum of the Earth you can imagine. If you look online you’ll find lots of people complaining about lots of schools. But, just because you see lots of people complaining, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come to China. Instead, I think if you do your homework you can avoid a lot of these problems as there are a lot of good and legitimate schools in China too.

For me, I wanted a job where I would get paid every month, have the visa documentation taken care of, my flights paid for and have a place to live (because finding my own place in China from Canada was a little overwhelming).

During the process I found out three key things that can help you find the ideal (teaching) job you are looking for in China.

1. Use your network by telling your friends your China plans.

2. Do your research online and in books to understand better where you want to go and what to expect.

3. Ask lots of questions ask key questions to ensure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Over the next three days, I’ll look into each of these areas in a bit more detail.  If there is anything I’m missing please let me know.

1. Tell your friends

By telling all my friends that I was going to China to teach English I got a lot of strange looks, interesting questions and words of encouragement. The biggest surprise I found was I ended up getting my first decent job through my network.

From a perfect example of 6 degrees of separation I got a contact in China through my Toastmasters club in Toronto.  I told a friend, Anne (#1) that I was planning on going to China. She had a friend (#2) who through another organization knew this interesting fellow who has lived in China for the past 15 years, Ted (#3). So Anne gave me Ted’s email and we started emailing. He answered heaps of my questions and gave me great insights into living and working in China: the difference between working in a big city Beijing versus a smaller city like Yantai or Xiamen. I told him about my job concerns. He recommended a good one in China. He put me in contact with the school’s recruiter Gus (#4) who was also living in Toronto at the time. We talked for awhile. Then he spoke to the Chinese/Canadian owner Richard (#5) and I got the job.

So, by talking to your network about your plans you’ll be surprised what opportunities you’ll find as well as answers to some of your questions and more questions for you to answer during your job search process.

Tomorrow, I’ll follow on the next step, doing your research to help you Find a Great First Job in China.

Want to improve your English? Join Toastmasters!

Matt | Toastmasters,Working in China | Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

In China, most students complain that they don’t have enough opportunities to speak English. For the most part, I agree. Most students I’ve met are looking for more the chance to speak English and get some feedback. Toastmasters, the Communication and Leadership Club, provides this opportunity – to speak English – and much, much more.

In a normal Toastmasters meeting there are many different roles taken on by the members – from impromptu talks to prepared speeches – all with the purpose to help us improve our communication skills. Giving prepared speeches is a main part of the program. This is probably why most Chinese join a Toastmasters club. While speaking in English is a good way for anyone to improve their spoken English, Toastmasters offers so much more. Here is a typical meeting with all the roles and how a person can improve their English communication skills by taking part.

Toastmaster/Chairperson – runs the meeting. This person has to control and plan the entire meeting. A person can develop their leadership and meeting management skills by taking on this role. Also, this person has to introduce all the other roles. Giving a great introduction takes practice and doing it 10 plus times in a meeting takes a lot of practice.

Table Topics Master – this person runs the impromptu speaking session. Here you can develop your creative skills by bringing interesting ways for members to give their impromptu talks (E.g. read a piece of paper and make a speech or have a debate and give your opinion).

Table Topics Speaker – giving an impromptu talk for 1 to 2 minutes. In my opinion this is great practice for speakers of other languages as it forces you to think quickly and still speak clearly in English within a short 2 minute time limit. You have to organize a mini speech with no preparation time. Also, you don’t have time to think in Chinese or to translate into English. It forces speakers to get their message across clearly within the allotted time. I’ve found that Chinese speakers, generally, have no fear of public speaking. For me it’s the opposite. In fact most will be able to stand for 2 minutes and talk about nothing, regardless if it makes sense or not, just to use up their time. This is probably because these speaking opportunities are so rare and that in school they often had to stand up to give an answer to their teacher. I think this is one of the best ways Chinese speakers can improve their spoken English.

Table Topics Evaluator – this person listens to all the speakers and gives feedback. English skills developed are effective listening and evaluation skills. Similar to the TT speakers, this person has to listen quickly to 6-8 speakers and pick out some feedback gems to give to the speakers. They also have to be able to think quickly on how to create a good evaluation.

General Evaluator – evaluates the entire club. A person taking on this role can also improve their active listening and evaluation skills. Being able to give positive and effective evaluations is skill needed in China and the world over.

Speech Evaluators – evaluates the speeches. This person has to read the speakers speech manual beforehand to understand the speech objective. Then he’ll listen actively in order to be able to give effective and constructive evaluation. Finally, they’ll give their mini speech evaluation in such a way, (Hamburger approach +/-/+), that the speaker will enjoy hearing it and make the recommended changes. Listening, speaking and evaluating skills developed with this role.

Timer – this person times all the key sessions and helps keep the meeting on track. By taking on this role, you can better understand the importance of timing. Also, when you give the Timer’s Report you can practice reading times aloud that each member used. Reading times used for over 20 members in second language isn’t easy. Try it in Chinese or French.

Ah Counter – this person listens for all the “crutch” words people use, like”Ah, Uhm, nei ge, you know…” Taking on this role you can improve your active listening skills. In learning a second language they say listening and speaking are connected. The better we listen the better we can speak. I agree with this.

Wordsmith/Grammarian – this person introduces a new word to be used during the meeting and listens for how good our grammar was. Listening for our proper use of grammar, means that you first must know the right grammar and can hear us when we make mistakes. By teaching us a new word each meeting, means that you first must learn the word. They say if you really want to learn something try to teach it. So, your vocabulary will grow by helping teach us a new word. Also, you’ll listen to how well we used this word during the meeting and improve your listening too.

Quotemaster – this person brings a new quote to the club each week. They read us an inspiring quote once or twice and explain why it is meaningful to the reader. The speaker can develop their ability to read aloud. You’d think it’s an easy thing to do, but try and read off a piece of paper, while standing and in front of a group of strangers and make it clear, effective and with good eye contact. It’s tougher than you think.

Quizmaster – this person listens to everything that was spoken and makes a 2 minute quiz testing our listening skills. This person has to be able to actively listen during the meeting. Then she’ll make 5-6 simple questions and test us which can developing her, and our, listening skills.

So if you want to improve your language skills, leadership skills and life come out to Toastmasters. I love it. And it has changed my life. It helped bring me to China.

E.T. Phone Home from China

Matt | Calling Home (Phone) | Monday, February 18th, 2008

Calling home from China isn’t easy at first. But like anything, as soon as you find a way, it’s actually a lot easier than you think. To call internationally, there are three ways that I know how to do it: 1) use your land line phone and just call (it’s quite costly); 2) use an IP card, or 3) use Skype on the Net. As the land line option is quite costly, I don’t recommend it. Also, unless you are staying in your own apartment, the university room or hotel room might not allow you to make outgoing calls.

Using an IP Card. This is the preferred way to make long distance calls in China especially if you don’t have your own computer. You can buy these cards at most newspaper stands. Usually you buy 100 RMB cards. But to confuse things, they only should cost about 30-50 RMB . As of Feb, 2008 it costs me 33RMB for a 100RMB card in Beijing. I don’t know why they discount it like this. Some unsuspecting foreigners have paid 100RMB for a 100RMB card. Lots of times I’ve had the vendors try to trick me with this one. Be aware. On the back of the IP card there will be a 17xxx number. You dial it and then there are directions on how to make your international call. The directions will guide you in English, which is a nice plus. The card that works best for me is a China Unicom 17910 card. So I’d dial:

17910 then go through the directions, put in all my numbers and eventually call Canada 001 613 820 0000

This card gives me about 40 minutes for 40 RMB. So it’s about 1RMB ($0.15CAD) per minute. Which isn’t bad, until I finally got on Skype.

Using Skype is the best way I have found to call Canada from China. Now, I should say that I have and use the Internet a lot so I have unlimited Internet hours. I did have to buy a headset (100RMB). But after that, I logged onto bought 10 hours or 600 minutes for 10Euros. This works out to about $0.015 Euro or $0.02CAD per minute. Then all you do is open Skype on your computer dial the number you want 001 613 820 0000 and your call is going through from your computer to their land line. The connection is quite clear. Sometimes there are some delays. But, calling with IP cards in China isn’t always clear either. If you use Skype and the person you are talking to is also on Skype, it’s actually free. Skype is the best and cheapest way I know of to call home or to call anyone.

Now I just need to do it more often.

That’s Beijing – Fast Stats Feb17 ’08

Matt | Beijing | Saturday, February 16th, 2008

That’s Beijing is a great expat magazine here in China. Actually, it is a must read if you are living in China as it keeps you up to date on good restaurants, social and community events. It also has great bar and entertainment listings. But, what I enjoy the most are the articles and the fast stats. City Scene fast stats Feb 2008

  • 78.3 million. Increase in number of Chinese cell phone users in 2007. (More than double the population of Canada)
  • 18.4 Percentage of Chinese university students who admit to having an Internet lover.
  • 246 Number of “Blue Sky days” in Beijing last year. (from my view this is a very questionable number)
  • 47 million. Number of Chinese bloggers (up from 17.5 million at the end of 2006)
  • 550 Average monthly income in RMB for rural residents in China in 2007 (about $800 CAD per month)
  • 2,000 Minimum average monthly income in RMB to pay national income taxes (up from RMB, 1,600) effective from May.
  • 107,290 Average spending (RMB) per wedding in Beijing last year.
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