Mike’s experience of teaching in Guangzhou…including a spot of modelling!
My Chinese experience was in the Southern city of Guangzhou, capital of the Guangdong province. It created so many memories I still regularly think back to all the highlights.
China was never actually a country I had thought much about visiting when I was growing up. Other countries had seemed more exotic, other cultures held more appeal. But after graduating from uni I knew I wanted to work and teach somewhere abroad and I quickly became interested in the Oriental region. This has a lot to do with the opportunities on offer in the East. There are placements everywhere: an English teacher job in Seoul here, a Tokyo translation job there.
China, though, was the grandstand choice. It’s the country which will likely have more of an impact over the rest of my generation’s lives than any other and the chance to see just a glimmer of its much hyped transitional phase was too good to miss. It’s the same pull that saw millions flock to the States a century ago, and I wanted to be part of this new movement, if only for a brief period.
In terms of positive energy, China didn’t disappoint one bit. That was probably the most special thing about my experience. Walking through Guangzhou you could feel the atmosphere. It was in the industry, the enormous buildings, the frantic adverts, and of course in the conversations with Chinese people. Maybe it’s because I’m used to the understated, dry-humoured British outlook, but I was blown away by the sheer determination and optimism of almost everyone I spoke to. In a single lifetime, the country has lifted itself of famine and on to the podium of the world stage, and I can honestly say that I felt that sea-change when I was out there.
Even in an increasingly cosmopolitan, ‘wealthy’ city like Guangzhou, you do of course go in with certain privileges. As a white male I got a sprinkle of the feeling of being famous. People looked at me on the tube; schoolkids took selfies with me. It got to a slightly ridiculous level when a contact got me on the books for an advertising agency, and I – a very average looking bloke from Devon (UK)- found myself bedecked in a white suit, standing alongside a beautiful Chinese businesswoman, being filmed looking out over an enormous steelworks project. Apparently I was playing the role of an investor. I didn’t really care, it was enormously exciting and I got paid a fortnight’s teaching wage for two hours of it.
It’s not all glamour, but I liked that too. They have delicious canteens where you can go with your colleagues at the end of a hard day’s work and eat cheap, tasty food. The best bars are the local, makeshift ones. A dodgy toilet, an outdoor BBQ section, a roadside table… some of my happiest (and drunkest) times were spent with good mates at some rundown spot. There are other countries which offer these simple pleasures of course, but few come with the massive advantage of China’s excellent safety record. Crime is low and that allows you to relax and enjoy your time there.
I’d recommend China wholeheartedly. You should go in with the same mindset as you would with any other foreign travel: grab every chance you get, be polite and gracious, accept gifts and give your own back too, use your days off productively and see new areas, appreciate your privileges but don’t feel guilty for them. Have fun and create your own adventures; China’s the perfect arena for them.