Known as the ‘California of China’, Zhuhai in China’s southern Guangdong province has become a popular choice for many foreign English teachers. Having spent a couple of years teaching on the picturesque island of Qi’ao, I had the quintessential Chinafornia experience. Here I bring you a day in the life of my job as an English teacher in Zhuhai, China.
Source: Jonathan E. Shaw
Introducing the ‘California of China’
In September 2017, I arrived in Zhuhai via high-speed train from Guangzhou. I was greeted at the station by Anne, a teacher from the private boarding school I was to join, and driven to the campus on Qi’ao Island. My time as an English teacher in Zhuhai had begun!
The campus of the Peking University Affiliated Experimental School (a somewhat cumbersome name when translated into English) is directly opposite a beach and a short walk from a small picturesque village. The school is divided into primary, middle and high school departments, and I found myself to be the sole foreign teacher in the middle school.
I was given time to explore the island, the local village and the city of Zhuhai in my first week. I’ve never been to California, but I’m told it’s relaxed, sunny and full of trendy people. On this basis alone, I can see how Zhuhai earned its nickname and why so many expats come here to teach.
Zhuhai seemed very relaxed and, as I found out later, so too was the job. My low salary was made up for with a very light schedule and long holidays.
An Ordinary School Day
7:00-7:40 - Breakfast
On some days I would start class as early as 7:40 am. Luckily, I lived on the school campus so my commute consisted of nothing more than a walk down five flights of stairs and a couple of hundred metres to the classroom. There was even time for breakfast in the school canteen. As early as 7am, the food hall would be packed with fellow teachers tucking into Chinese porridge, yóutiáo (a deep-fried dough sticks), steamed buns, rice and noodles (breakfast is a little different in the Middle Kingdom).
Monday mornings would see students from all three sections of the school gather in the central courtyard. The high school pupils would raise the national flag, while primary pupils, wearing their red neckerchiefs, would sing the national anthem. It was all very patriotic.
7:40-11:50 – Morning Classes
Classes were somewhat short and punchy at 40 minutes a piece, and I would have no more than five or six per day on my schedule. Morning lessons ran until 11:50 when students would break for lunch.
My job was to teach oral English. I was given the standard school textbook and told little else other than my schedule. I was therefore free to be creative and come up with lessons that were different from the usual teaching methods of the Chinese education system. The students tended to enjoy the lessons and were eager to join in with games and activities that helped them get some much needed English practice. A lack support from local staff, however, meant that managing student behaviour could be challenging at times.
11:50-14:00 - Lunch Break
At lunch, students and staff would flock to the canteen and scramble to be first in line. The lunch selection varied day by day. Braised pork, sour spicy shredded potato and tofu were some of my favourites. At one time I had the challenge of helping a new vegan teacher find a suitable meal in the canteen. This proved tricky as even some of the tofu and vegetable dishes were drenched in pig fat. He got by for the entirety of his employment on pak choi, rice and some non-oily tofu.
After lunch the whole school campus would fall eerily silent as everyone went for the obligatory post-lunch nap. Students were told to go to their dorms and get some shut-eye before returning to class at around 14:00. Those working in any other industry in China will no doubt notice that this is a habit that extends well beyond childhood.
14:00-18:00 – Afternoon/Evening Classes
Afternoon classes would run until around 18:00. On some days I was assigned to teach extra-curricular activities. One day, I rummaged around the school sports equipment shed and came across a rugby ball. Having not played rugby in around 10 years, my lesson was at best unconventional. Nonetheless, it was great to see the students get some fresh air and exercise. I also particularly enjoyed these activities as the sports playing field was situated on a hillside against a backdrop of lush green trees.
Form teachers would typically supervise pupils to finish homework later in the evening, so I rarely had to work at this time. Exceptions included Halloween, when I hosted a party complete with apple-bobbing and a costume parade, and Christmas day, when I was charged with handing out candy in a Santa costume.
18:00–22:00 – Free Time/Bedtime
By the evening, I was generally free to do as I pleased. I would often make my way to one of two local cafes on Qi’ao Island and brush up on my Chinese as the sun set. After, I would stroll into Qi’ao village and get a meal. Being a coastal city, Zhuhai’s seafood was pretty good. Other options in the village included Guilin-style rice noodles and some passable Western food.
I would be back to my apartment on the school campus before 10pm. Late evenings were usually pretty uneventful, except for the time I came across a venomous snake on the school grounds. I asked for help from a security guard, who came back with a long pole with a claw at the end, the kind usually used to pick apples. He eventually removed the snake from the school. I slept easy knowing I was on the sixth floor but always treaded a little more carefully when I walked around the island after that.
My weekends started on Friday at around 12 noon when I finished my final class of the week (did I mention the schedule was light?). Luckily, Zhuhai offers plenty of weekend activities.
Qi’ao island itself is particularly good for outdoorsy types. When I first arrived, an American teacher from the high school department who had lived on the island for many years offered to show me around a few of his favourite spots. On one occasion he took me off the beaten track along a secluded beach scattered with debris from the recent typhoon. He also showed me a wooded area dotted with the ruins of Buddhist temples. He was greeted by the locals everywhere he went.
Some weekends I would make my way into Zhuhai city centre and find a café where I would write my blog articles and study Chinese. If I was feeling more active, I would go swimming at the beach or find a park around which to jog.
I also joined a group of expats for a game of soccer once in a while. We played in the evenings with a mix of locals and teachers from the international school and local universities. It was generally laid back and good fun, although some players took it more seriously than others.
Good day trips are also possible from Zhuhai. The small island city of Macau is only an hour away by public transport. Although best-known for its glitzy casinos and shopping centres, the former Portuguese colony also has a vibrant mix of nature spots, cultural sites and cuisines to offer more down-to-earth tourists. Buses and ferries to Hong Kong are also convenient for those living in Zhuhai.
Unfortunately, I never took advantage of the various islands around Zhuhai which I hear make for excellent day trips. One for next time, I suppose.
A Typical English Teaching Job in China?
There are plenty of positions for foreigners in China that will be very similar to my experience of teaching English in Zhuhai. Ones with a modest salary but a relaxed teaching schedule and long holidays at Chinese New Year and during the summer. This is not the sort of job which will allow for rapid career progression or much in the way of money, but it will provide a good introduction to teaching English in China.
You could use such an experience to develop as a teacher, learn Chinese and travel the country. When you’re young and fancy-free, there are few better ways to spend your time.
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if you want to indulge in some back slapping do it with your mates not in public and also, in case you do not know, 2021 has become a year when bragging or boasting about how cool your life is, is seriously un-cool. Furthermore, your experience is about 10 years too late - meaning, quite a few people have already done what you are so eager to boast about. That includes myself, however I have not decided to ever write about it online. Last word is this : known as China's California? Really? That is a new one. Known by who exactly?
Feb 25, 2021 10:52 Report Abuse