Should You Do It? What's it like? How do you do it?
by David Smith (aka Wu Shuai, Da-Wei) (5/10/04)
By 'living' in China, I don't mean a "six month save up as much as you can and then come to Beijing till you've spent it" trip. I mean quitting the job, kissing the family goodbye, closing your bank accounts, and relocating your entire life to China.
Advice varies from person to person so I've decided to try and stay away from giving too much direct advice. Instead I'll let you know a little about my background and my reasons for making the change. Then I'll tell you what I've gained and what troubles I've had, so you should be able to make a more informed decision for yourself.
I've been training in Wu Shu fairly seriously since I was about seventeen (1994), before that I did a bit of TaeKwonDo and Karate. After graduating from University in 1996 I went to China for my first holiday, which was a five month training trip in Beijing at the TiYu ShiFan DaXue. Second holiday was in 2001 when I came to Shanghai QingPu WuXiao for two weeks. The third holiday was in 2002 when I came to Beijing for the 4th invitational Wu Shu Tournament (run by Wu Bin) and to do some training at Wu Bin school. Meanwhile I had been competing pretty regularly in the UK.
I was doing OK career wise back in the UK. I was working as a database analyst for a bank, so I had a pretty good salary and comfortable life style. New Years eve 2002/3 was a really important time. I was supposed to go to this big party but I was at a friends house playing cards and it was so comfortable and I didn't fancy going all the way to the big party. Midnight came and went and both my friend and me thought we'd wasted the whole evening. Comfortable it was but a good memory it wasn't. It occurred to me that my whole life was going to end up like that and that's when I made the decision to come to China.
Here comes my first piece of advice 'If you do come to China, take the
opportunity to Study Mandarin' this was advice which I told myself. At
least if I study mandarin, when I do come back to the UK I can use it to
help find a job. Wu Shu will be useless career wise in Britian but a
second language can be quite handy. I know a banker who lived for a few
years in Turkey on the beaches, he also learned Turkish, when he got back
home he used his Turkish to land a really nice role as a banker in
developing regions. So I used this argument to win over my parents.
(some good website with teaching jobs in China : http://www.eslcafe.com, http://www.everythingesl.net, http://www.teflchina.org use these and the links and you will find everything you need!)
So in 2003, I left London and went directly to Anhui province HeFei city. I got the teaching job with a company called English First. I found that it promised much but the "almost part time hours" didn't feel almost part time to me, and I was much too busy. 'Read your contract carefully' That goes ! without saying but as a guide about twenty five teaching hours a week is actually pretty busy when you include marking and planning lessons etc. Try to keep below twenty-five teaching hours a week.
Still I got in touch with the provincial coach (a really really nice guy) and arranged private lessons with him four times a week. He was really good as a teacher, he watched all my basics and slowly corrected mistake after mistake. I improved really quickly during my few months in Anhui.
'Think VERY carefully about going to poor places. It can be very
rewarding but it will be very difficult.' It's not all romantic and
natural as it might sound. There's some real poverty in China I'm
afraid. One day I went to visit a small town about a hundred km from
HeFei, I eat some noodles and immediately got a horrible burning pain in
my intestines. The toilet I found was incredibly disgusting. You could
really smell it from a good hundred metres away. As I got closer I felt
like I wanted to be sick just because of the smell. Meanwhile some
Chinese peasants were fascinated by this foreigner and had began to
follow me. I got into the toilet (peasants still following), it was one
of those Chinese toilets which is basically a channel dug out which you
squat over. Inside much have been several years worth of faeces. There
were thousands of beetles, spiders, and cockroaches squirming around in
there. I pulled down my trousers and squatted on the wet slippery floor
still being watched by these peasants. Squatting meant I was only inches
away from this pile of faeces. Afterwards I stood up and suddenly had to
be sick, as I turned around to be sick into the toilets a rat suddenly
jumped from the mess and ran over my foot.
Eventually EF started putting the screws in giving me more and more hours of teaching until I coulnd't fit everything in, so I broke my contract and got a job at a University in Beijing. This is much better, Chinese universities get a grant from the government for every foreign teacher they hire, and the grant is more than my wages. So they don't really care what I do. As it is I am contracted to do sixteen hours teaching a week. Plus I have to do another few hours marking and lesson planning.
'If you teach remember that it's a workers market for teachers in China, if you don't like it somewhere, leave'
This leaves plenty of time for WuShu and Chinese. I have a Chinese teacher come to my house four times a week, and I'm now getting pretty fluent. I think I should get an HSK seven or eight for those of you who know what that means. Hopefully by the end of next year I should be up to a decent standard.
I just broke my Personal best and actually got a medal at a Major Asian
Wu Shu competition so I can say that I have defiantly improved since I
came here. I was interviewed and profiled by "Oriental Sports Daily"
and it's really nice that I often get compliments from other foreigners
who come to China to train. I also know a lot more about Wu Shu than I
ever thought I would know, and feel confident that I can become a good
teacher in the future. So from that perspective the move so far has been
a great success.
My real concern now is the same concern that I had the whole time while I was in the UK. "What am I going to do in the future?". I'm afraid that I'm still no closer to deciding what I want to do long term, or forever. I could stay here, I could go back to the UK, visit the US, go to Japan. I could go back to banking, become a Wu Shu teacher, open a gym, become a translator. Experience can give you new options but can't make decisions for you.
I've got millions of photos and videos a small selection of which are on the Photoisland network. You can look at them by going to http://www.photoisland.com and entering user id Dazedandconfused and password password. Most are not wu shu related but show the more picturesque side of China and I will change the content occasionally.
Please feel free to get in touch with me you can use my yahoo email,
email@example.com (English or Chinese is OK). Please note that
the fact I'm asking Raffi to publish this on his website does not mean I
necessarily support any of his political views (nor that I necessarily do
This section is set up for including any comments readers would like to submit to build on David's article, if you have any, email me:
First up, let me take executive privilege as webmaster and add some of my own personal opinions: I agree everything David has said, but I'd also like to further comment on his final point - going to China can be great, especially for wushu enthusiasts and teaching English is one way to put food in your mouth while you're there, but its not necessarily a career. In my time in China and other parts of Asia I've met a lot of what in Japan we called "gaijin bums" -- Westerners who are there goofing off, partying and using English teaching to pay for it. Don't become one of these people! China is growing fast and there are lots of good career opportunities there for bilingual Westerners. If you're going for an unlimited time, think about your long term goals and where wushu will fit in there. English teaching is a way to earn money in China, but unless you're considering education as a career path, you may be better off using English teaching as a stepping stone to something with more future. Keep in mind that it only takes one ACL injury and that competition wushu career you've been dreaming of could slip through your fingers VERY quickly, so if you're going to take the plunge and move to China, have a plan! Thanks again to David for the article.
Last modified: May 10th, 2004
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