Introducing new teacher guest blogger, Alex Feal, who’ll be sharing his teaching in China experiences with us over the coming weeks.
Alex has a degree in History from the University of Edinburgh (UK), and currently teaches in a public school in Shenzhen as part of the 2018 Teach China Graduate Program. He’s a passionate traveller and you can follow him on Instagram @latte.wanderer
*disclaimer- if you have an essay deadline at uni, or are cold in your home country’s winter, there’s a very real chance you’ll hate me in about a minute…*
Chinese New Year
We are now in mid-February, meaning that Chinese New Year is technically over and millions of Chinese are heading back from their hometowns to the cities where they work in the return leg of the country’s ‘great migration’. Approximately 1.5 million passengers left Shenzhen by train in the first 8 days of the holiday transport season, while the government expects 413 million passengers to use the rail network nationwide to return to their hometowns – essentially turning this migrant city into a deserted concrete jungle to welcome the year of the pig.
While there are lots of different legends as to how the different animals were chosen, one says that the Jade Emperor created a race in which the first 12 animals to cross the finish line would become the 12 animals of the calendar. Legend has it that the pig, the last to finish, got distracted searching for food halfway through and then took a nap before stumbling across the finish line. For that reason, the year of the pig has usually been attributed to greediness and lazily, but in recent years this has changed to become a symbol of wealth and opportunity. So hey, here’s to opportunity in 2019!
A Month Long Break as a Public School Teacher in China
Thankfully though, I’m not one of those making the trip back to work. Apart from guaranteeing your weekends off, one benefit of working in a public school in China is that the Chinese New Year holiday lasts a month rather than the standard 5-10 days a lot of companies offer. This means that I’m currently writing this on the terrace of my villa in Bali rather than from the office on a lunch break.
*I mean, I did warn you…*
The low cost of living in China, coupled with our good wages (especially when some companies will either pay you full or half wages for the month off), makes it relatively easy to save for trips like this. Even in Shenzhen, one of China’s most expensive and developed cities, meals will still rarely run you more than 20-30rmb (£2-3) and transport isn’t exactly expensive. With all that in mind, Chinese New Year is the perfect time to explore all those places weekend trips can’t quite cover, so that is exactly what I did. With 2 international airports in Shenzhen Bao’an and Hong Kong International within an hour of my apartment, finding flights or places to travel to isn’t a problem in China.
We have a maid come every Friday and clean the place which is a great help – feels like I’m back in high school again with my clothes folded and the kitchen nice and clean – this is only 80RMB (£8/ $10) a week – an absolute steal, and I split this huge amount with my roommate Viktoria.
Singapore, Kuala Lumpur & Bali
A short 4 hour flight got me to the incredibly diverse Singapore and my Chinatown hotel (you can leave China but I guess China doesn’t leave you eh)! A city famed for its man-made gardens by the bay, Singapore’s hawker centres are home to some of the best food you can find in Asia and a quick google search shows you 10 different Michelin-starred spots for under £5 so if you’re a foodie, Singapore is 100% the place for you!
From there, it was a short hop across to Hanoi and its chaotic old quarter for a couple of days to explore the mountain landscape around Ninh Binh (Vietnam’s Guilin) and the unmissable HaLong Bay, stopping in every good-looking café along the way to satisfy my coffee addiction. On that note, if anyone is going to Vietnam, make sure you grab a glass of coconut coffee! Frozen coconut milk and coffee is mixed together and then topped with shaved coconut ice to make something super sweet but also capable of making you believe you can walk back to China.. yeah, don’t have too many of these in one go!
With no direct flights to Bali, I left my bags at Kuala Lumpur airport just long enough to see the Petronas Towers downtown before jumping back on a plane to the heaven that is Bali and its countless waterfalls and coffee plantations. Not a bad way to spend a winter vacation from teaching, adulting done right! And I thought everyone at uni said that adult life after graduation wouldn’t be all flights and fun…