China is very big, very populated, and very intimidating. It’s a country that the West often views with equal parts curiosity and suspicion. But I’m not here to comment on either of those. What I want to talk about is how moving here was the best choice I ever made.
Money is amazingly easy to come by in China if you speak English. It seems like everyone wants to learn English and are willing to pay you well to do it. One hour of tutoring will net you ¥200, which is about $30 USD, or $40 CAD. Often, this involves simple conversation with the pupil, reading with them, or having them write simple assignments. That’s about as hard as it gets.
Depending on what your school offers, they’ll often provide you with free housing. If they don’t provide you with housing themselves, they’ll often offer you a housing stipend and help you find an apartment to stay in.
Cost of Living
An average meal will usually cost you somewhere between ¥10 for street food ($1.50 USD / $2 CAD),¥30-50 for fast food ($4.60-7.70 USD / $6-10 CAD), ¥60-70 at a restaurant ($9.20-10.75 USD / $12-14 CAD) or ¥150-250 at a high-end restaurant ($23-38.50 USD / $30-50 CAD). So that means a meal can cost you anywhere between $1.50-$38 USD ($2-$50 CAD), depending how fancy you want to go. It’s been said that it’s actually cheaper to eat out than it is to cook at home.
Travel to: Yunnan
If you have even the most basic grasp of haggling in Mandarin (ie. “Too expensive! No thank you!”) you can drive down the price of vendors and small shops. Even at the more expensive shops, you can simply ask for a discount and you might get it… though this can be difficult with the language barrier.
Given that you’ll be teaching students, you’ll probably have a month or two off during the year. My particular contract allows me to have 5 weeks off in August-Sept, and 4 weeks off in January. They also provide a flight allowance of up to ¥7500 ($1,150 USD / $1480 CAD) per year, which I can use to visit any of the various countries around Asia, most of which are fairly cheap vacations.
Which leads us to…
Ah, yes, the thing we never have enough of. Well, yet another bright side to China is that you’ll probably have one to three months off throughout the year. Not only that, but some schools will allow you to get all of the above perks while still working part-time! My situation affords me all of this – for only 20 hours of teaching per week.
As for class prep and marking, the combination of the two only takes about 5 hours per week, maximum.
Plenty of time to explore and enjoy the perks of…
Living Like a Minor Celebrity
Alcohol is cheap, with a domestic beer costing you about ¥6-15 ($1-2.50 USD; $1.20-3 CAD) and you can buy them from conveniences stores and general retail shops. You can then take these drinks and walk down the street at your leisure. That’s right – public alcohol consumption is legal. The more expensive foreign alcohol in the tourist locations will set you back somewhere between ¥30-50 on average ($4.50-8 USD; $6-10 CAD).
If you love having a clean apartment, but hate cleaning, China is for you. You can hire someone that will go by the name “Ayi,” which means Aunt. For the low price of ¥50 per week, she will come and clean your apartment, top-to-bottom, wash your dishes, take out your garbage – even do your laundry if you so choose. All this for the measly price of $8 USD or $10 CAD.
Being a tall man myself, you’d think I might have a hard time finding clothing in China. Well, you’d be right. But luckily there’s an app for that: Taobao. Even with meagre skills in Mandarin, you can arrange to have clothes made from scratch to your specifications, or even have them duplicate your favourite pair. I did the second option, costing me about ¥388 ($60 USD / $76.70 CAD) – including shipping. Buying a shirt off the rack can cost you ¥200 ($30.75 USD / $40 CAD), but that’s about the same price as having them tailor-made from a shop.
Virtual Personal Shoppers
You can have a “Chat Secretary” who is fluent in both English and Mandarin that will search out whatever goods you request, and order it for you. They will provides their services for 10% of the total cost of what you’re buying. Let’s say you’re buying something for ¥100 ($15.40 USD / $20 CAD). The total cost for them to find the item, contact the supplier with your specifications, and order it, comes to around ¥110. ($17 USD / $22 CAD).
Right to your door
Anything you could want – all delivered straight to your door. Groceries, clothing, food, random items – all within a week, but usually within 24-48 hours. Delivery is often free, especially if you order over a certain amount.
Walking down the street, people will take notice of you. Some may even stop you to take pictures, depending where you are. This is not as common as people make it seem, only happening once or twice to me, though I have caught people trying to sneakily take pictures of me. Then again, I’m 6’7”, which tends to make me stand out that much more.
While I haven’t gone the full pampering route, I do get a deep tissue massage every Friday afternoon. These massages normally range between ¥60-100 ($9.22-15.40 USD / $12-20 CAD) for an hour. Not only are they therapeutic, but they are performed by therapists who are blind, allowing them to make a living.
Seeing the World
While teaching English will net you a tidy income, you can spend a quarter of that hourly rate on learning Mandarin, one-on-one. Lessons often can cost as little as ¥50 ($7.70 USD / $10 CAD), and up to ¥150 ($23 USD / $30 CAD) on the expensive side. If you’re lucky, you can make a friend and do a language exchange, helping them practice their English while they teach you Mandarin.
Of all the Asian countries I could pick, the language was what finally persuaded me to come to China. Why wouldn’t I want to immerse myself in one of the most spoken languages in the world? With English and Mandarin, you can go nearly anywhere and find someone who shares one of your languages!
The sheer amount of history behind the country makes North America seem like a baby. They have temples, the Great Wall, and countless other things to see across this vast nation. Discovering other nearby countries is easily doable because as I mentioned before, flying within Asia can be fairly cheap
I don’t know about you, but so far my experience here has been more enriching, exciting and challenging than my life in North America ever was…and not just by a little.
If you have the itch for adventure, the nerves to follow your dreams, and the ambition to live life to the fullest, I highly encourage you to come give China a chance! You’ll be glad you did!