My Most Memorable Workmates in China

My Most Memorable Workmates in China

A little while ago, I posted a blog on memorable flatmates. They were real characters for sure but lately, I’ve been thinking about some of my most memorable coworkers over the years as well.

Since starting this ESL teaching gig almost 8 years ago, I’ve lost count of the number of teachers I’ve worked with (maybe 200 at a rough guess) Most were OK, but some - perhaps due to a combination of unhealthy lifestyle factors, lack of social and life skills and not having the attitude to adjust to life in China - just couldn’t cope, leaving a trail of destruction and burned bridges behind them.

I know this sounds like the perfect opportunity to trot out the old ‘losers back home’ argument (as if all western countries suddenly decided to send their riff-raff to China, leaving only doctors, engineers and billionaire playboys behind). The truth is that about 90% of the teachers I’ve met seemed perfectly normal. They all had college degrees, some with masters. Some were managers in their countries, a few taught in regular schools back home while others gave up government jobs and middle class lifestyles to teach in China. The truth is that the ESL industry itself is not well run and so, looked down upon.

In training centres for instance, many people tend to stay no more than a year, using it only as a stepping stone to teach in international schools or do editing/proofreading/media work. I do know some (besides myself) who have started families here and settled down for the long term, while many use China as simply a chance to save money and travel. In saying that, there are a few teachers that I think were wise not to sign new contracts and leave China.

When I started at my second company, there was a British guy that I’ll call Harry. He had an odd sense of humour, introducing himself to me as Edgar from Holland. Because I was brand new and barely knew this guy from a bar of soap, I believed him and called him Edgar for a week before he finally came clean. He was also extremely loud.

Sometimes I’d be in the office and he’d be in the classroom right down the other end of the centre, but I could hear him as clearly as if I were right there with him. He didn’t tend to like the students’ company too much and when break time came, he’d give them exactly ten seconds to get out of the classroom, counting down from the top of his voice while they all bolted out. I do admit that he was quite intelligent and was better company outside the office than in it. He was also nice enough to give me some of his materials when he left, including a bunch of world maps, which was quite nice of him.

Also in that team was an American that I’ll call Kylie. She was a polarizing figure who could talk a hole through a wall and had loud opinions on pretty much everything. She had no off switch and would just keep talking and talking, oblivious to the death stares she was getting from everyone in the room. We used to have a Chinese teacher come to our school to give free lessons and Kylie was there for almost every class. After a while I stopped going if I knew she would be there because she would just talk in English at 1000mph for the whole hour, not even letting the teacher get a word in. Even when I angrily told her to shut up many times, it made no difference at all.  

She was extremely emotional, difficult to talk to and often started fights in the office, so it surprised precisely no one when she wasn’t invited to a teacher’s going away party later that year. She found out which restaurant they were in and turned up anyway, letting them all know what she thought of them for not inviting her. Things got so heated that she ended up screaming at one of them to step outside with her and sort it out there. She had her own going away party a few months later. Only two teachers showed up for that and as her final parting shot to us, sent a nasty, vindictive email to everyone in the school.

After she left, some teachers took her photo off the profile board, stuck it to the corkboard in the office and amused themselves by throwing darts at it, until our horrified manager ordered them to stop.  

There were also a couple of Americans that I’ll call Linda and Jim. I’m putting them together because they both had the weakest stomachs and immune systems I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think it was humanly possible to get sick as often as they did, but clearly, I was wrong. They didn’t cope at all well with the food, the environment or the lifestyle. They both got food poisoning at least twice and though Jim usually recovered in time to teach most of his classes, Linda was calling in sick almost every week. With her, it was never a case of if she would call in sick, but what day she would do it. More than once I walked into the office with breakfast and coffee on a Saturday/Sunday morning, looking forward to office hours until lunch, only to be told with 15 minutes notice that Linda was sick and I had to cover her class.

Just before Linda left us she went on holiday to the Philippines and unluckily caught a horrible infection while swimming in the ocean there, spending almost her entire holiday in the local hospital. She became too sick to continue working with us and so, after she had recovered somewhat, I saw her just once when she went back to the office to collect her things and never saw or heard from her again. As for Jim, he at least finished his contract with us and signed a new one just before going back to America for contract break. Once there though, he decided not to come back to China after all and my boss had no choice but to tear up his contract.

Finally, there was Thomas. He came in at the start of this year and immediately made himself unpopular due to his bad social skills and slack work ethic. He spoke quietly and mumbled so much that I often couldn’t understand what he was saying. When observing classes, he was supposed to sit there and watch but often interrupted the class by telling the teacher what to do. One time when observing one of the classes he would be taking over, he just walked out after about 15 minutes and wandered aimlessly around the centre, looking into the other classes and making a nuisance of himself. He was fired after just one week, to the joy and relief of everyone in the office. 

As mentioned earlier, I've met many fantastic people who are very professional and diligent in their work. They are very loyal to their students and company, who reward and treat them well in turn. The few workmates I've mentioned here are the exception rather than the rule and I hope they managed to find happiness elsewhere. 

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Keywords: bad teachers China bad English teachers


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I enjoyed reading it. And feel fortunate being where I am.

Apr 27, 2016 14:41 Report Abuse



I'm pretty sure Thomas worked at my school, as we had a guy who called himself that and displayed exactly the same characteristics. He lasted all of 2 weeks. Could have been his clone mind you.

Apr 21, 2016 16:26 Report Abuse



Yes, a lot of interesting characters that have ended up in China... the peculiar thing is that whilst some of them really are the riff-raff from the Western world, others are unique in their interests, lifestyles and backgrounds (unique in a good way...).

Apr 21, 2016 06:47 Report Abuse



couldn't, wouldn't stop talking types gotta go

Apr 21, 2016 05:51 Report Abuse



'Also in that team' , 'didn't cope at all well with the food'. Where are you from? If you don't mind me asking.

Apr 20, 2016 12:41 Report Abuse



There's nothing wrong with her/his English if this is what you're trying to imply(?). In your previous comment you confused "then" with "than". I'm from Poland by the way :)

Apr 20, 2016 21:20 Report Abuse



Wow, did I say anything was wrong with his English?

Apr 21, 2016 09:35 Report Abuse



If you look at my profile, it'll tell you where I'm from. Cheers.

Apr 21, 2016 10:12 Report Abuse



"...if this is what you're trying to imply(?)"

Apr 21, 2016 21:45 Report Abuse



In America we don't refer to our workmates as being on a team (unless we're working on the same project). I noticed many Chinese use team/ teammates to describe co-workers, I've always wondered where they picked up that habit from. Did you start doing that after you arrived in China or is it common in Australia? I hope you can answer that for me, I'm curious. (Disclaimer to simple minded assumption makers: There is a difference between fluent and technically correct. I'm not saying using team in this way is wrong it is just not used that way in my neck of the woods)

Apr 23, 2016 14:35 Report Abuse



Team, group, mob...we don't give much thought to which word is more common in Australia or the US, as long as people know what it refers to. I didn't think about that while writing the article, I chose that word because it flowed better than 'another one of my workmates at that time' or 'also working in that office'. There was nothing more to it than that.

Apr 24, 2016 23:48 Report Abuse



Quality. I bet every one of us has a dozen of these stories!

Apr 20, 2016 09:38 Report Abuse



im sure your a hoot yourself pot, kettle, big mouth

Apr 20, 2016 07:24 Report Abuse



My bad.................are you 5 years old

Apr 20, 2016 11:58 Report Abuse



Having colleagues is one of the most overrated things on this planet. It's the primary reason why I work for myself. Sitting around some communal office whilst everyone talks about how great they are despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and boasting of all the great things they did in the past and thinking wishfully about what they'll do in the future is not my idea of fun. It never ceased to baffle me why foreign teachers in China can also be very strangely territorial and engage in so much one-upmanship as well.

Apr 20, 2016 01:39 Report Abuse