Category Archives: Life in China

10 unusual things to do in Shanghai

Personally I think Shanghai is pretty shit as far a tourist destinations go. The only way to truly enjoy this city is have a local show you around. Otherwise you’re limited to shopping at Tianzifang or bumping elbows with the crowds at the Bund. It’s not a bad time, but it’s only enjoyable for so long.

Here are some other things you can do in Shanghai to get a good feel for the city and what makes it such a great place.

1. M50

For all you art lovers out there. It’s a rare find in Shanghai because it isn’t crawling with people. The galleries are clean, tasteful (depending on your definition of the word) and there are many artists just hanging around painting or sleeping. If you’re in Beijing, I highly recommend the 798 Art Zone.

2. Xing Guang Photography Equipment Center

All things photography can be found here. I’m not aware of everything you can do here, but here are a few options:

1. Sell your equipment, or get your equipment fixed or cleaned.
2. Purchase cameras and accessories (lenses, lights, storage) from both major and lesser known brands.
3. Browse massive selections of vintage film cameras and film. Pick up a little film camera for around $200 or an oldschool Polaroid camera for around $80.
4. Get photos printed on just about any surface imaginable.

You could spend half an hour to half a day here, depending on your level of interest.

More to come as I finish editing photos…

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Teaching English in China

And now for the most ridiculous and lucrative venture out there: teaching English in China. Luckily for you and the content of this blog, I have taught English in just about every possible outlet available in China so I know the ins and outs.

Pictured above: My first student, Kitty. A tough little 7 year old who had to go to school 8-5pm every day. Plus the 3 times a week she had to have 2 hours of English lessons with my sorry ass…

Qualifications for teaching English in China are slim to none.

1. You need the face of a foreigner. You don’t even have to be particularly good at English. I have Chinese-American friends who can’t even speak Chinese but they have been rejected from numerous schools because they look Chinese and therefore aren’t desirable as teachers. Some of my fellow teachers hail from Germany, Russia, France, etc. and their English is elementary level.

2. If you do not work well with children (i.e. positive attitude, singsong voice, goofy smile), employers will notice and they will (a) complain and criticize, or (b) fire you. Older students are a bit easier in this sense, but you can’t bullshit your way a through a class as easily. If you are working with adults, make sure you prepare beforehand. You can’t just make stuff up as you go along with adults… they will notice.

3. If you are working with children, Google some basic English grammar concepts and teaching techniques in advance. You’ll need some pictures (I recommend Powerpoint presentations for this) and interactive activities as well. Don’t bore the child to death. There are unlimited resources online for teaching materials, including worksheets and lesson plans.

There are hundreds of thousands of opportunities to teach English in China, and you are 100% guaranteed to find a job if you meet the qualifications I have listed above. Here are your main options for finding work.

Through an agency:
Agencies are the middle men between students and teachers. These places only give you a fraction of what they are charging the parents, but the pay is consistent and you are guaranteed to have students. The agencies I have worked at in the past always pay in tax-free stacks of cash, which is an added bonus. Give them your schedule, and they will fill in your free time with students. Pays $24-30 per hour.

At a tutoring center or school:
These jobs are usually full time and will require you to sign a year-long contract. As always, be wary before signing any contract and have a native speaker read it over. You will usually teach small classes of 3-5 students at a tutoring center, and up to 30 students at a school. Pays $30-40 per hour, although at a school you might make up to $60 if you find a good one.

Private tutoring:
This is the most ideal. Students can come to your home, you can go to their home or you can meet in a public location (I recommend a coffee shop or library). Pays $33-50 per hour.

Do not be afraid to ask for more money. For private jobs, I like to throw out an obscene number at first. For the agencies, I have furiously demanded more money if they go back on anything we originally agreed on. They will screw you over if given the opportunity.

How do I find one of these jobs? Agencies and tutoring centers are everywhere. Go to your nearest mall and you are guaranteed to find at least two of them. Print out a few resumes (or don’t and just write down your e-mail on a slip of paper, they don’t give a shit) and you’ll be summoned for an interview. The interview is usually a joke, although some schools might ask you to prepare a demo lesson. This will be given on a Powerpoint and isn’t a huge deal.

Finding work at a school or private tutoring is only slightly more challenging. Make friends, and ask around. Or go on eChinacities or Craigslist. There are a lot of expats in China, and the majority of them are teaching English or have at some point in their stay in China, so you have many resources for finding out the best agencies, schools, etc. to teach at. Gather a couple of solid options before you commit to anything.

Part time or full time? Teaching part time is a great way to make some cash on the side, especially if you have been lucky enough to find yourself a job in a field you actually enjoy and it doesn’t pay well. Keep in mind though that you are likely to teach in different locations all over the city, which means you will be spending a lot of additional time and money taking the metro all over town. If you teach full time, you can make good money (up to $2,500 a month), enough to pay for everything you need and to buy your mom something nice.

New apartment checklist

Pictured above: The view from my current apartment. Loved the view so much that I forgot a few key elements.

Here’s what you need to know.

General questions:
▢ Is there any mold? Check every corner, surface and near windows.
▢ Do the windows close tightly and securely? Do they all lock?
▢ Are the walls solid and not rotting anywhere? If you press with some force, they shouldn’t sink in…
▢ Is the paint peeling anywhere? Stick a piece of tape on the wall and see if the paint comes off with it.
▢ Is there a clothing washer and dryer? Most apartments will not have a dryer, so make sure there is a good place to hang dry your clothing.
▢ If your neighbors or roommates smoke, it will waft into your bedroom and your clothes and bedsheets will smell. You’ll also eventually perish from the secondhand smoke.
▢ Where do you get your mail? Is there a mailbox or is it dumped unceremoniously on your doorstep? Are utility bills delivered by mail?
▢ Are there any indications of mice? Look for poop, chewed corners, etc. If this ends up being a problem, I suggest sticky traps. They work like a charm, but the mice will still be alive when you find them and it is a gruesome sight.
▢ Do a basic check of the appliances and make sure all electrical outlets work.

Look out the window:
▢ Where is your closest vegetable market, fruit stand or grocery store?
▢ What is the closest metro stop or bus station?
▢ Are you located near any construction sites? Construction nearby means: potentially noxious fumes drifting into your window, 7am construction times (if they start any earlier, you can call the police to get them to stop)
▢ Are you located near a school? The school is going to play music periodically the entire day.
▢ Are you located near any bars or busy corners? Late at night, especially on the weekends, the street food hawkers will be out in force and people will be drunk and loud.

Bedroom:
▢ Does the heater/air conditioner work? Are there any strange smells when you use it? Open it up and inspect it to make sure it is clean.
▢ Is the bed comfortable or will you have to buy an extra mattress pad for it?
▢ Is the previous owner or landlord leaving any furniture for you? Bedrooms should come furnished with a bed and desk at the very least.
▢ Do the windows close with a good seal? In the winter, cold air is going to leak in. To combat this, you can buy sticky foam padding to seal any cracks, or simply tape over the cracks with packing tape.
▢ Are the walls thin? Can you hear your roommates or neighbors breathing?

Bathroom:
▢ If the bathroom does not have a fan or windows, it is going to stink. After you shower, the steam will collect and have nowhere to go. The foundation will eventually rot and there will be mold and little winged bugs.
▢ How hot does the water get? Does the hot water last for a long time or does it come sporadically?
▢ Can the toilet flush a big #2? Don’t wait until it is too late to find out…
▢ Does the water drain well, or does it collect in a little pool that takes several minutes to drain?

Kitchen:
▢ Is there a kitchen fan for the stovetop? Again, no fan = stinky home.

Signing the lease:
▢ Get a receipt/proof of payment
▢ Take a photo of your landlord’s ID
▢ Make sure you have a native speaker with you to help with any translation issues
▢ Make sure your lease is in Chinese. An English lease won’t hold up in court, this ain’t an English speaking country!!

Roommate(s):
▢ Are they a douchebag?