Updated: Mar 15
With a very low cost of living and the striking contrast between the mountainous regions and the built-up metropolitan areas, China is one of the most diverse places to live in the whole world. After heavy investment over the last few decades, many of the country's major cities have become the rising stars of Asia - with bustling stock exchanges, western bars, restaurants and coffee shops, beaches and national parks all amongst the impressive sky-scraper-filled horizons.
Many foreign teachers take the opportunity to experience China as a means to save up money while also getting a fresh start, and with necessities costing as little as 20 RMB (£2.30 / $2.90) for a full meal or ten mile taxi journey, you might find yourself baffled by how much everything costs upon returning home.
Speaking of readjusting, I think it’s probably wise to discuss some of the main differences between Western and Chinese life – apart from the obvious ‘no drinking tap water’, or ‘yes, a lot of places have squatter-toilets’. As a pre-warning, bring plenty of deodorant with you; the Chinese neither wear nor sell it for the most part, and you will probably be relying on delivery apps such as Taobao (the Chinese Amazon equivalent) to keep you fresh in the humidity of the South. Another major app to get acquainted with is Meituan – similar to Just Eat in the UK – which allows you to take your pick of local restaurants and cafes for food/drink delivery. McDonalds included! Both of these are in Chinese, of course, so you’ll have to have a local friend set you up once you’re here or find an English language partner-site.
Also, you can’t survive in China without Wechat, quite frankly; it is the all-purpose app for instant messaging, paying vendors, bank transfers, digital metro cards, event finding and pretty much all social media features you can think of rolled into one app. Although, if Western social media is something you simply can’t live without, you will need to get yourself a Virtual Private Network set up on your phone, tablet and laptop before you come to China. The Chinese government is infamous for banning Western social media affiliated with Google, such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat, so don’t bother bringing your selfie-stick or planning your filters in advance unless you snag yourself a quality VPN.
As a foreign teacher, a typical work day would generally consist of: arriving at the school/training centre, preparing for and then teaching your first class, a long lunch break (up to two hours in some schools), preparing for and teaching a second class, summarising the day in the required documentation / curriculum update forms, and then heading home. Some schools will require three or more classes per day, whereas others just extend the lesson durations to reach the eighteen/twenty weekly teaching-hour mark.
Other than deodorant, social media and toilets you can sit on (I kid – plenty of places like your apartment, hotels, malls and schools you’ll be working in will have Western toilets), pretty much every need an expat can dream of is taken care of in China. The weather is consistently good, the food is quality stuff and cheap, the metro services are efficient and well maintained, and consumerism is pandered towards as much as any metropolitan area in the West.
You want a Walmart? They’ve got it. Starbucks? There’s three right behind you. An Irish bar? China is a place that exists in the physical realm, so yes, there’s an Irish bar. And three or four giant shopping malls per district – without even mentioning Hong Kong.