Tasleem Riaz

“Oh my god! What the hell am I doing in China?” along with, “Why the hell did I opt to do this?” were my initial thoughts the first few weeks out here… But they gradually changed to “I can’t believe I’m actually living and working in China!” This was once I got into a routine and started to understand a little bit more about Chinese people and culture.

Not having taken a gap year between school and university, I felt teaching in China would be a great experience and an awesome way to spend a year in a foreign country before getting tied down by a 9-5 job. Not only has it been a great experience, it has also been an eye-opener! I have had a wonderful time, which has showered me with great memories and friends I will cherish forever.

The remaining part of this very informative ‘account’ of my time in China is what you can expect whilst living and working in China.

Working
Chinese students are really friendly and eager to learn and improve upon their English, which makes the job really fun and easy (unlike the Chinese text books which have a whole load of mistakes). In order to make lessons fun for both students and us we were given free reign on what we taught. So it was ‘out’ with the text books; full of mistakes and very formal English we stopped using centuries ago and in with fun and creative lesson plans made up by ourselves on topics ranging from British etiquette to students writing and performing their own plays.

Living – …aahhh the fun stuff!

WARNING: the following is not recommended for vegetarians, those who are prone to shock or scare easily and, well, basically anyone who’s not Chinese.

Be prepared for anything! is my advice to anyone contemplating the programme. Before I came to China I had no preconceived ideas about how it would be here. You think you’ve seen it all but you haven’t; NOT until you’ve lived in China.

So heed the following:

Out and about in town centre or supermarket. – First off, be ready for the stares... Especially if you’ve got blond hair, blue eyes, or dark skin, and are not Chinese looking. One thing that I can say; Chinese people are curious. If you’re in a small town it’s likely people from that area have never seen westerners before. You’ll see a lot of natives doing ‘double- takes’. Also, be prepared for a lot of wayward shouts of “hello”, “westerner” and “foreigner” both in English and Chinese. Another thing you’ll find is a lot of hawking, anywhere from inside supermarkets to aeroplanes. Uh-huh, that’s right: aeroplanes! Chinese streets are great not only because they’re wide and spacious, but because you see a lot on them - ranging from disabled beggars to dogs being skinned (Yummmy! That one’s for the veggies out there).

Roads & Taxi drivers. – All I have to say is, when crossing don’t think twice- just do it! Or observe and follow an expert; the 6-7 year old Chinese kid. After one or two tries you’ll be ruling the roads. Taxi drivers are generally friendly and talkative. The ones we had were either rejects from Formula One or wannabe Formula One drivers. In China there are no rules of the road. You wanna get from A to B? Get in the car and just keep going and don’t stop for anything (not even for the granddad going 2mph at the zebra crossing) until you get to B. Zebra crossings are wasted in China. You’ll end up painted on the road like a zebra if you think whilst crossing. So taxi rides are actually really fun… if you’re not in the front seat or in the taxi.

Parties/Functions. - Have a song ready. Yep, better get those vocal cords in tune, cos you’ll almost certainly be asked to “sing a song!”
TIP – any classic romantic song will be a hit, so dig out that Mariah Carey album from the back of the wardrobe and get practicing!

Public toilets. – Right, let’s start with the word ‘public’; think literally….never will you find public toilets more public than the ones in China. All you have (if you’re lucky) is a 4-5 ft high wall between you and the toilet next to you. Oh, did I mention that they usually have no doors! OK, so if you’re not freaked out yet (there must be something wrong with you) let me tell you about the toilet, which doesn’t really exist. Yes, all you have is a hole in the ground (uh-huh –keep thinking literally).

Travelling. – I don’t have to tell you about the amazing sights there are to see in this huge country. However, I would say there’s probably no need to check out all the temples in China (seen one, you’ve basically seen them all). A word of advice - when your taxi driver tells you there’s a ‘shortcut’ to the top of Bei Bei mountain which means you don’t have to pay the 10 yuan entry fee, don’t believe him. What he actually means by ‘shortcut’ is you having to actually trek up the mountain! Uh-huh, been there, done that and would say “DO IT!” – It was a really good climb and one of my favourite memories of China.

On the whole, the past 9 months have been a rollercoaster of a journey (and I’m not just talking about the taxi and bus rides). There have, however, been more highs than lows, which has made my stay in China fly by. Looking back on my first few weeks in China, I can’t believe how much I contemplated going back home! However, 9 months down the line I can’t help but think how much I’m actually gonna miss this crazy BUT wonderfully unique country!