Beijing Fast Facts – Apr17’08

Matt | Beijing | Monday, March 31st, 2008

These facts were taken from That’s Beijing Magazine, a great ex-pat magazine here in Beijing.


Average monthly starting salary for a college graduate in Beijing, in RMB (approx. $250 USD)


Beijing’s annual per capital disposable income, in RMB

8.88 mil

Number of cars produced in China in 2007.


Proportion of pollutants in Beijng’s air that comes from car emissions.

500 mil

Number of bicycles on the Chinese mainland, according to the Beijing-based China Bicycle Association.

4 mil

Number of bicycles stolen each year. China suffers estimated loses of RMB 2 billion as a result of the theft. ($300m USD).


Percent of Beijingers who commute to work by bicycle. This figue is an 8.2% drop from 2000.


In 1988, the number of Beijing’s traffic was not bicycle-powered.

Teaching English Writing – Let the students write by themselves

Matt | Teach English in China | Sunday, March 30th, 2008

I’m not sure if I started this because I was lazy or because it’s a good way to generate learner independence, but I’ve found that using a marking key and getting students to self-correct is a wonderful way to get them to improve their writing. You can find a guide in any grammar book, like Azar’s, Fundamentals of English Grammar, which is the one grammar book I’d bring if stranded on a deserted island or country teaching English.

Here is the modified system we use in my classes.

  • GM – Grammar mistake
  • WF – Word form error ( “She is a love girl”. Is a little different than, “She is a lovely girl.”
  • SP – Spelling error
  • NA – Not appropriate (I’ve seen lots of mushy writing that is suitable for messaging friend on MSN, but not suitable for an academic paper).
  • WW – Wrong word
  • Chinglish – this is a new one I’ve added to note common mistakes I’ve seen in their writing, where the students will directly translate Chinese into English. Sometimes these could fit in the NA category. E.g.
    • “more and more happy, more and more lovely, more and more richer, more and more ….” yue lai yue…= more and more…
    • golden and silver, flowery words. If you translate Chinese into English exactly, you get a lot of flowery, unclear and unnecessarily wordy descriptions. When you are used to clear writing, this is a challenge.

So, on the first class we clarified the marking key. Whenever I correct, I try to mark using this key instead of just writing in the correct answer. Often I will do a bit of correcting, maybe the first mistake. That way they have a better idea of their error and how to correct it.

When we do any peer editing, I try to get them to use this too. If they don’t know the answer or if their peer made a mistake, I get them to circle it or to guess. It’s a great feeling when I see the students editing their peers’ papers correctly and using this guide. It’s a wonderful thing. I often get them to focus on a few things only when they are editing, such as paragraphing or another grammar point that we’d recently covered.  This helps keep everyone focused.

As for the laziness reason, actually it takes more time to use this. marking key.  It’s easier just to write in the correct answer. So, laziness is not really the reason I do it.  Getting them to self-correct and to look for and improve their own writing is my primary objective.

Although, the peer editing, is a good option to help a teacher be lazy. This especially works well for the large classes in China (50+). Happy marking.

Weekly Roundup: Blogs about China

Matt | Blogroll | Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Here are some happenings from great blogs about China.

Beijing Newspeak – More musings on Tibet’s propaganda drive. An interesting read on how this story has been spun. Made me initially think of other governments spinning stories – like the US & Iraq.

China Law Blog – You want jail time with that? – Great reminder about people coming to China for the Olympics need to be prepared. -managing_the_dragon_more_to_know – Nice piece talking about how successful business people adapt to living in China. The one word takeaway was to be ‘curious’ of the new environment. I’d say this holds true for being an English teacher in China too. Be curious. Have an open mind, open eyes and an open heart and you’ll do well.

Absurdity, Allegory and China – Breaking Eggs and the Birdsnest – A great reminder for people coming to China for the Olympics of what they can expect. Also, what will happen if you step out of line here. Remember you aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Zen Habits – 12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Monk – Nice reminder on how to live your life more peacefully. When reading this piece, I turned off the tv, to focus on writing and immediately got a sense of inner peace. Do one thing at a time. Rule number 1.

Analects of Confucius: Chapter 2

Matt | Analects of Confucius | Friday, March 28th, 2008

Confucianism runs deep through the Chinese culture. Actually, if you want to understand better what moral code that most Chinese follow, I’d say it’s the teachings of Confucius. Here are some of my favourite passages from his book, Analects of Confucius.

Chapter 2

10/ Confucius said, “We can understand a man by observing what he does, how he arrived at his present position and how he feels about it. Then, is there anything about him we do not understand?”

“It is not who you are inside, but you do you that counts.” Taken from one of my favourite movies, Batman Returns. So it is what you do that counts as well has how you got there and how you feel about being and getting there.

11/ Confucius said, “if one is able to acquire new knowledge by reviewing old knowledge, he is qualified to be a tutor.

I’d say this holds true about being a teacher too.

13/ Zi Gong asked about how to become a gentleman. Confucius answered, “A gentleman always puts his idea into action before he expresses it.”

Don’t be a talker. Do it. Do it first. Let your actions do the talking for you.

17/ Confucius said, “You (given name of Zi Lu, a disciple of Confucius)! Do you understand what I taught you? If you do, say you do; if not, say you do not. Only then you are an intelligent man.”

This holds very true for me. Often in university or school or in previous jobs , I’d often pretend to understand what was going on because I didn’t want to look foolish by saying I didn’t understand. Then, it would become obvious that I didn’t understand and pretended to, which resulted in me looking even more foolish.

18/ Zi Zhang (a disciple of Confucius) consulted Confucius about the proper way of seeking officialdom. Confucius said, “Open your ears to all kinds of advice and opinions, set aside what is dubious and put forward those assured ones discreetly. You will thereby make fewer mistakes. Open your eyes to all kinds of things, set aside the doubtful ones and practice those assured ones carefully. You will thereby have fewer regrets. Officialdom is obtained by those who make fewer mistakes and have fewer regrets.”

I like this quote as it talks about listening to those around you and making better decisions. Also because it reminds me of a quote a friend gave me before coming to China . To,

Open your eyes, open your mind and open your heart.

While I often forget to follow this is advice, I still think this is the right attitude to follow especially when living in China, teaching English.

Grammar Help on the Net

Where can a teacher turn to if they help in understanding or explaining something like English grammar?

In the old days, I’d say open a book (like Azar’s Fundamentals of English Grammar). And while this still isn’t bad advice, there are now quicker answers on the Net. Here are a couple of my favourite sites if you are looking for help with grammar. – this site was a life saver for me. I loved the one page summary of all 12 English grammar verb tenses. It’s a great way to quickly understand and explain grammar. Like when a student asks you, “what’s the difference between past perfect continuous and past perfect tense?” In the past, I’d probably freeze in fear or look for the nearest exit. But now, I’d 1) ask the student to give me an example (to buy myself some time), pull out my print out of‘s Verb Tense Overview with Examples summary to jog my memory and then explain away with an example sentence.

Verb Tense Overview with Examples

Simple Present Simple Past Simple Future
I study English every day. Two years ago, I studied English in England. If you are having problems, I will help you study English.I am going to study English next year.
Present Continuous Past Continuous Future Continuous
I am studying English now. I was studying English when you called yesterday. I will be studying English when you arrive tonight.I am going to be studying English when you arrive tonight.
Present Perfect Past Perfect Future Perfect
I have studied English in several different countries. I had studied a little English before I moved to the U.S. I will have studied every tense by the time I finish this course.I am going to have studied every tense by the time I finish this course.
Present Perfect Continuous Past Perfect Continuous Future Perfect Continuous
I have been studying English for five years. I had been studying English for five years before I moved to the U.S. I will have been studying English for over two hours by the time you arrive.I am going to have been studying English for over two hours by the time you arrive.

On there very detailed tutorials explaining in simple terms the differences between the grammar tenses.  If you click on one of the links in their table above you’ll get a detailed breakdown of that grammar point.  Below is an example of what you’ll see.

Past Perfect Continuous


[had been + present participle]


  • You had been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.
  • Had you been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived?
  • You had not been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.

Complete List of Past Perfect Continuous Forms

USE 1 Duration Before Something in the Past

We use the Past Perfect Continuous to show that something started in the past and continued up until another time in the past. “For five minutes” and “for two weeks” are both durations which can be used with the Past Perfect Continuous. Notice that this is related to the Present Perfect Continuous; however, the duration does not continue until now, it stops before something else in the past.


  • They had been talking for over an hour before Tony arrived.
  • She had been working at that company for three years when it went out of business.
  • How long had you been waiting to get on the bus?
  • Mike wanted to sit down because he had been standing all day at work.
  • James had been teaching at the university for more than a year before he left for Asia.
  • A: How long had you been studying Turkish before you moved to Ankara?
    B: I had not been studying Turkish very long.

I believe gives you all you need to know and to explain grammar easily.

This site is a great one

Go with the Flow in China, End in a Better Place

Matt | Culture Shock,Teach English in China,Working in China | Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

My first year in China was an adventure.

First year Summary

Schools taught in = 4

Number of times moved = 5

Number of times left stranded at the airport = 1

Largest class taught = 35 (Beijing summer program)

Smallest class taught = 1 (Johnny)

Cities visited = too many to count

In China things change and they change often. And usually they change at the last minute. This is a place where the air tickets are cheaper the longer you wait and the later you decide to buy tickets.  You cannot buy your train tickets until 4 days before you want to go on holiday. Planning does not seem to be very popular here.  People seem a lot more comfortable and relaxed with simply going with the flow of things.

As a guy who likes to plan things out in advance, I was not comfortable with concept of flow. I’d stress out about the lack of planning, and couldn’t understand why they don’t plan better. I was having a tough time with things, but fortunately I got some great advice early in my adventure in China that helped me put things in perspective.

Go with the flow of things. Change happens.

Don’t worry too much and you’ll probably end up in a better place.

I think this is very true about China and probably with most things in our lives.  Here is an summary of my adventures of flowing through my first year in China. Looking back at the summary it was anything, but an ordinary year. And I guess that’s why I came to China for the adventure.

August Intro to China

Arrived a month early. Travelled around. Visited about 15 Chinese cities in 30 days. Great intro to China and realization that my Mandarin sucks.

September Left at the boarding gate with nothing but a business card…

Went to the airport ready to catch my flight to Yantai (small city on Eastern coast) to find out from recruiter, “sorry Matt, I’m not kidding, but you aren’t getting on this plane. Here is the phone number of the president. Call him. (Though it was 9pm and the number was to the office!). He’ll explain.”

Spent night figuring out options:

  1. Get on a plane return to Canada
  2. Keep travelling and teach wherever end up
  3. Send biting email to the president of the school about how unprofessional the last minute change was, have a few beers and wait to talk to him in the morning. Then decide. (Chose this option)

The president gave me some BS, but it was enough. I started teaching English at a university in China.

First day of work. Was nervous. Spoke so fast during first class, that the admin girl after asked me quietly later if I could speak slower during the next class as the students didn’t understand a word I said.

October Travel/ Chance meeting on a train/ “kept teacher”

Went on holiday finally to Yantai and Qingdao during the national holiday. Met girlfriend on the train back from Qingdao to Beijing.

After the holiday, the “Snake” president called to tell me I needed to move again to the other campus a 2 hour commute across town due to scheduling problems at the school (not enough students). I wasn’t looking forward to the move.

Then, an opportunity knocked. One of my rich students wasn’t happy about losing a teacher, so he made me an offer, an offer I couldn’t refuse. Same teaching, but one-to-one for double the money. Everything else was the same (annual flight bonus, holidays, work schedule). I went with the flow and decided to quit my job and teach Johnny full-time.

Moved to Fragrant Hills, in the western hills part of town. Was put up in a hotel which also was my classroom. Johhny had his own room next door. I was being paid 8,000 RMB per month plus a free hotel. Fortunately, I had negotiated for a salary per month and not an hourly rate, which turned out better in the end, especially when Johnny started playing hookey. Now I was my own school and was a “kept teacher” for Johnny.

Started studying Chinese through a tutor. Realized I was a lazy student and didn’t do homework.

November School of Matt

Was flowing with the girlfriend and with Johnny. Was developing my classes with Johnny, a beginner-beginner. Thinking how unprepared and unexperienced I was to be creating my own program for Johnny, but we went with it. Picture Dictionary Class (aka vocabulary building) was interesting. ‘Friends’ Class not so interesting for Johnny. Mostly used New Interchange book for 2 hrs per day. Added to this with grammar, reading, vocabulary as we could. We’d have 4 hours of class a day M-F. 9-11am, 2-4pm. Then we’d climb Fragrant Hills together and with the hope of having some deep conversation or at least any conversation in English. Instead, he’d usually bring out a new girl to walk and talk with. Or his driver would climb with us.

One day his driver brought out a taser gun during our walk. I asked why. Johnny said his brother was kidnapped, so he needed protection. I tried to adjust our programs because of this. How do you go on teaching something so insignificant like English grammar, when something horrible like that happens? I tried to be compassionate, and then moved on to learning English. I figured he was here having class as a distraction and wanted to learn English. So working hard would be our solution.

December – Culture shock depression/ went postal

First Christmas in China. All the pretty lights, no religion or meaning to the holiday. Dreadfully homesick. Fought with the post office as they didn’t want to allow me to send a fake calligraphy writing through the mail as they thought it was a Chinese valuable masterpiece. I just stayed persistent and they sent it. Hit the depths of my culture shock depression. Almost burst into tears when I couldn’t call home from my hotel. Eventually, relaxed, opened my eyes and found a Net Bar in Fragrant Hills that I could use to email home.

Jan & Feb Travelling during Chinese New Year

Travelling again. Got a month off for the Chinese New year. Visited my aunty down in Bali for 2 weeks. Met up with friends in Thailand for 3 weeks. Much needed holiday.

March – Johnny skipped class/ No progress/ Might as well travel

Start studying Chinese in a school. Great progress. Great school.

Still teaching Johnny, but his schedule was very busy. He studied English with me all day, then went off to work all night. He usually had business meetings over dinner. Often he went out for drinks and karoeke at night. Also missed a lot of classes due to business trips. Then once a month he’d have take a 4 day weekend to study his Executive MBA at a leading Chinese university. So my 5 days of work often was much less, but the pay was the same. His progress also had it’s ups and downs: 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. It was quite frustrating teaching one (busy) student. We flowed and did our best.

Went on mini holiday to visit the Shaolin temple on one week when Johnny went last minute to Europe or to America.

AprilMore travel, if you can afford it.

Work teach and travel again. Planned trip to Yunnan and Sichuan for May holiday. Negotiated with Johnny to have an extra week on in April. Johnny was travelling again, got it. Spent loads of money and time travelling during my first year. All my extra salary, and some of my Canadian savings, went out for travelling.

MayUnemployed in the Middle Kingdom

Travel during May holiday with my girlfriend. Johnny’s assistant called to talk about Johnny’s future studies. Our contract was to run until the end of June, but Johnny had a lot of travelling to do in June. He wanted to end the teaching contract early as he was going to be busy the next two months. I decided to go with the flow and agreed (foolishly). Was now unemployed in China. I was moved into another hotel for a month and looked for work.

Ran into “the Snake” again and he needed someone to teach for him in Qingdao for a summer program. I decided to go with the flow. I knew Qingdao was a beautiful city. Thought it’d be a nice place to work for a month.

June – A (one) teacher in Qingdao

Teaching for a month in Qingdao. When “the Snake” mentioned that I’d have to do a demo class with 3 other teachers the month started, I thought this would be the crew I would be teaching with. I was wrong. The other teachers came up only to do the demo class and were returning to a neighbouring city (Yantai) that afternoon. I was to be alone for the first month of operation of this school.

I was quite upset. Called “the Snake”. We talked about it. He gave me some BS. I had to decide my options: would I stay or would I go? How would I like being the only teacher in a small new school for their first month of operation?

I stayed and it worked out great. I had freedom. My students were great people. Being the only teacher I was able to bond more with the students and staff. Drank lots of Qingdao beer. Unfortunately, had split shifts (9-11am and 7-9pm) which made it tough to travel and enjoy my time off. Had to be forceful and tell the school that I would NOT stay at the school during my off time, even though they really wanted a foreign face to help sell the program. Had a friend from Canada come and visit. Visited the Qingdao brewery. Great times. But, one day I got food poisoning and thought I was going to die. I survived with a lot of help from the school staff who went with me to the hospital. At the school, I was forceful in what I would do and not do, but I really enjoyed being the only teacher in this school. It worked out well.

July – Back in Beijing

Back to Beijing for another one month summer program with “the Snake”. This month was pretty good. I knew what to expect and there were 3 other teachers this time. It was M-F about 4 hours a day of teaching, but lesson prep time was extra. We taught a total of 20 hours teaching per week. This was a heavy teaching work load for China as the Fall program was 16 hours per week. The American teachers who came just for the summer program with the plan to teach and travel around China were a bit disappointed. They didn’t expect to work so hard and I don’t blame them. Also, the location of the school, way out in the East end, didn’t make it any easier.

The American teachers figured out ways to make it worthwhile. We covered off classes for one another, so they could take long weekend trips. They did a lot of travelling when they could. The seemed to go with the flow and it worked out well for them.

The hot and sweaty month ended up well. I survived my first year teaching in China. But I was ready to go home to Canada for a rest.

My first year in China was an unforgettable one. I’m glad that I decided to stay in China and teach instead of getting back on the plane and returning to Canada when I was first stranded at the airport. This year was a crazy one, but I had some truly amazing experiences and met some unbelievable students. In China, things change and they often do it at the last minute. As a Canadian, initially, I wasn’t used to all these last minute changes. Now, it’s no problem. I’ve learned that in China if you go with the flow of things you’ll usually end up in a better place.

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