Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interview with English Teacher F, the Old China Hand

Been a while since I did an interview, so here's one. Mostly concerning the Magic Kingdom of China and teaching other subjects besides EFL abroad. English Teacher F also maintains a website with cartoons at www.laowaicomics.com

ETX: How long have you been teaching, and where? 

ETF: For the best part of six years now. Mostly in China, in a few different cities, but I was in Thailand for a year as well. I much prefer China, for a variety of reasons, although like most expats here I'm starting to get chinaed out.

What kind of qualifications do you have? 

A BSc, a TESOL, a beautiful pinkish white skin, and a pulse.

Why did you choose to begin teaching English? 

I got hooked by the whole travel thing with college summer trips to Thailand and Europe, both in the backpacker scene and doing my own thing off the beaten track. So when graduation time came, I wasn't sure at all what I wanted to be doing with my life, if I should pursue a Master's or not, if I should stay in the military or not (I was a weekend warrior throughout school), all that shit. Hell, I STILL don't know. I just knew it would be cool to go take a long trip, the problem is, I had zero $$$. I kept seeing those "Teach English In Asia!!! Get TESOL Certified!!!" happy ads all over campus, so I gave it a shot. I ponied up the $1000, did the course, applied to a bunch of jobs, and got offers from South Korea and China. 

The Korean one was the most tempting, because it paid more, but the Korean embassy didn't wanna issue me a visa because I ain't a native English speaker (yet, they hire British and Australian folks with huge fuckin incomprehensible accents, go figure, but hey it's their country, they can do whatever they want). Besides, I'm glad I came to China, ESL teachers in Korea might make more in entry-level positions but holy hell do they look unhappy and are always bitching.

What do you like / not like about your current position? 

I actually moved out of ESL, and am now teaching a "real" subject in an American high school program. The pay is excellent (almost five times what I made at my college ESL job in 2008-2009), I have way less hours, it's infinitely more stimulating, and it actually holds some decent prospects for future employment. The coworkers are definitely more balanced, more professional and have more direction in their life, although there are obviously some off-the-rails types like in every job abroad, and the students are respectful, friendly, and pretty competent as a group. They definitely show that being from an affluent family and being a self-righteous spoiled brat are not always mutually inclusive, and I'm grateful for that. All in all I have it pretty good, despite the odd misadventure or clash with an incompetent or bullying administrator from time to time.

Who have been your most venal and incompetent employers?  

The company I'm working for right now is very legit, they have headquarters in the US and tons of HR staff that take care of things (when it's easy). 

But before working for them, I was also working as a subject teacher for a school that was just starting. The two owners were two businessmen involved in a myriad of other ventures (hotels, cafés, importing shit, and shady gambling) who thought there could be good money in the international education thingy. They were completely right (look at the demographics in every middle-of-the-pack state college in the US now) BUT you need to invest tons first, of course. They didn't even want to buy books, we had to do with badly photocopied counterfeit shit, they paid us cash (huge bundles of cash, I gotta admit) and despite millions of promises otherwise, never got us proper visas. The two businessmen were always out doing some other shit, and as they couldn't stand each other, there were always internal drama of some sort. 

The guy I was working for before that (at some shitty McEnglish training center I should never have taken) wasn't terrible, he was just a bit of an idiot, and a Confucian bully. I'm glad I broke that contract. Nothing bad to say about my first employers, or those in Thailand I worked for.

Any particularly horrifying stories you'd like to share?  

Well, the two businessmen couldn't get more students to sign up, so the whole thing went tits up. They didn't renew my visa, a few days before the summer holiday (I got a SEVEN DAY visa... basically a notice of deportation) and told me not to come back, through one of their secretaries of course (pussies). I did come back though, after re-routing a bunch of flights, getting a new passport (I was sure they had used some of their ass-licking connections with the government to blacklist me, how paranoid of me), and to their credit, they did give me a pretty juicy severance pay that kept my head above water while I looked for other jobs. Still, the whole experience made me lose a fuckton of sleep, ruined my vacation, cost me a lot of money, and made me more wary of deceitful and lying pieces of shit in the industry (which might be a good thing).

Oh and at the McEnglish job before that, they did give me a pretty sweet brand new apartment... but with a roommate. Shit wasn't in the contract. I don't mind roommates, but I do mind it when the said roommate is pretty much the picture perfect middle-aged bloated alcoholic. He also hated my guts, thankfully, and moved out to go live in one of the shitty apartments closer to the school with another teacher who hated me, leaving the pimp-pad for me alone. So I won the war without even fighting a single battle. 

What are your plans for the future? 

Hell if I know... I'm entering the second third of my life, I'm healthy, have money saved, and a decent resumé despite a lack of teaching credentials. But all my friends back home have cars and houses and shit, while I have... a backpack I guess? And a pirated PS3... I get nagging thoughts of repatriation from time too time, that I try to drown with cheap Chinese booze.

Even though I have it good here, as previously mentioned, I'm getting restless. Next year will most likely be spent traveling around. Going to parts of Asia I haven't been to yet, Australia, the US West Coast, Christmas with the family (first time since 2007) and then 5-6 solid months in South America. The goal is to kill that whole travel bug for good and then see what's up. I might do a Master's of some sort, as unappealing as it is after years of having fun abroad and little responsibilities, or get some proper teaching credz and try to score those lucrative international school jobs.

What's your favorite way to kill ten minutes in class?

Hahahaha... don't have to do that much anymore, now that I'm teaching something with an actual objective. Even in my ESL days I tried to organize my classes somewhat, to make the whole thing less tedious for me.

How's your salary versus the cost of living and your standard of life in general?  

Salaries in China are decent-to-good, and the cost of life is still pretty damn cheap. Apartments can get very expensive in big cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing, but are reasonably priced elsewhere. Restaurants and transportation are inexpensive all over the country. So then it becomes a matter of how much you want to spend on entertainment, touristy stuff, clothes, electronics, and how frugal you are in general. I know people who make 5000 yuan and save half, and people who make north of 20k and still can't go out to bars the weekend before paycheck before they're outta funds.

And as for the standard of life, it depends widely on who you ask. Sure, China gives a pretty brutal culture shock (I won't get deep into it, one can just read the millions of blog posts written about the quirky aspects of adjusting to this country) but all in all it's fairly developed, easy to get around, and most importantly, extremely safe. The kind of freedom that foreigners have here when it comes time to be out after dark or going wherever they want is unheard of in Latin America, Africa, or even most US cities. And I gotta say, that's a pretty fucking cool aspect of life here.

Speaking Chinese definitely helps having a semblance of social life here that doesn't revolve around old bitter expats (sometimes a small handful, if in a smaller city) and annoying English-leeches. So many expats come here and stay deeply entrenched in their monolingualism, and then bitch endlessly. Ha. Their loss.

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Speaking of bitter expats bitching, the Kindle Countdown Deal has started for my latest memoir, REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND. Get it HERE on Amazon. 

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