May 1, 2018

Labor Day is a perfect time for a picnic in the park

Outdoor meat is universally a celebration

In China, watch on YouKu.

I met Jessy on a bus, who introduced me to Michael, who invited me to Xi Jiang’s BBQ this Sunday! It was a lovely afternoon of grilled meats and outdoor karaoke. The sun chased us around the lawn a little, but we found refreshing shade in a small grove of trees.

This particular spot of green is right next to the “new bridge”. It’s a piece of land that Peter and I are very familiar with … from the window of the bus that took us in and out of the city when we worked at the countryside campus of Tianfu Middle School. As we drove by, we’d spy people out cavorting there, and wonder about the attraction of hanging out next to a major road. You can see the approach in this video that we took of that bus ride in 2015.

Having now spent an afternoon there, I can say it’s actually quite peaceful. The bridge is far enough away that it just makes for a nice view, and the landscaping is arranged so that when you’re on the lawn, you’re hardly aware of the traffic at all.

Of course, that area across the “new” bridge is hardly countryside at all any more. In the past few years, there’s been SO MUCH construction: apartment complexes, shopping malls, more schools. The People’s Hospital of Luzhou — where Peter and I get our health checks to renew our visas each year — is moving to a new facility out there, Jessy told me. I’m not loving this urban sprawl; the charm of Luzhou is that it was a little more contained (and downright walkable!) than China’s bigger cities. But, as long as the city keeps planning parkland alongside its concrete monstrosities, at least it will still be pretty. And we’ve got friends with cars.

Apr 30, 2018

Eating around the world

Drink Up Luzhou: Pilot episode

We first had the idea for “Drink Up Luzhou” almost two years ago. We had just moved back to Luzhou, and decided that our Chinese hometown was something worth doing a project on. The kind of podcast-y/talk show format of getting a bunch of friends together over a meal to discuss a topic seemed doable enough, with just enough action that there would be reason enough to film it. We had our camera, an iPad and a field recorder, and we were sure that we could make something great.

Well, actually executing the pilot … this was a much bigger job than we anticipated. For one thing, filming on location at a restaurant is as tricky as they say. Peter had to edit around a lot of interruptions, and the sound quality — even with our Zoom H4n! — was spotty at best. There’s a reason they filmed in an empty restaurant on “Dinner for Five.” The other big lesson we learned was that we can do it just the two of us, but an extra crew member, or five, would really help. It was hard for me to run camera-two and host the discussion at the same time, and a lighting and a sound tech would boost our quality a lot. Additionally, a script supervisor would have been invaluable to the transition between production and post.

But, I’m pretty proud of the job we did without those things. For the time being, we’re going to have to keep on doing it without those things. It’s an exciting challenge, and Peter and I are really looking forward to season one. I hope that you are, too.

Apr 24, 2018

KTV with Chinese friends

It’s not your turn to sing often enough

I love to sing, but I really don’t enjoy karaoke — not in America, not in China, not in a box, not with a fox. Well, somehow, going to karaoke with my friend Bruce was always fun. You should go to karaoke with Bruce.

Anyway, if you live in China, people are going to take you out karaoke-ing. In the video above, we’re at a colleague’s birthday party. We didn’t really know him before this night. What happened was that we were both at the same restaurant, and we got recognized and invited along for the sing-a-thon.

Here they call it KTV, for karaoke television. If you’re wondering, they do have some songs in English. You get the most expat points, however, if you sing a Chinese-language song. That’s what I’ve heard.

Apr 21, 2018

What it’s like to live in China as an American expat

The same, but different, as living in America

Living abroad long term can start to make the abroad part fade away a little bit — turns out, you’re just living. There are some parts of the expat lifestyle in China that remain distinct from our lives back in America. Everyone wants to take you to karaoke, for one thing. And the food? It’s all Chinese food! But we’re not so different, you and I; we all agree that Chinese TV is terrible.

In this video, we highlight some of the major aspects to life in China that stick out to us, some that are quite different from an American lifestyle, and some that are surprisingly similar. You may not have WeChat (yet), but did you know that we have Uber? And Tinder?

Apr 19, 2018

Find your Chinese teaching dream job

If you’re looking for money, free time, life-enriching experience ... there’s an ESL job for you

This video is intended to be a comprehensive reference guide for the process of finding a job that’s a good fit for you in China. It’s a long one, but we’ve taken care to organize it into manageable sections. Timecodes are available for each on our YouTube page, so you can jump right to the section you need. Questions and comments are also available on the YouTube page.

If you’re a reader, a full transcript of the video appears below.

Table of Contents

Welcome & self-introduction

Hey Foreigners, as part of our continuing “Teachers exist in China” week, today we bring you the ultimate guide to teaching ESL in China. I’m going to tell you everything I know about the job search: what to look for and what to avoid, to find your foreign teaching dream job. So grab a pen and paper, you’re going to want to take notes.

Let’s begin with an overview of what we’re going to cover. This guide has six parts.

Firstly, I’ll lay out my experience and credentials, so you can decide if you even want to take my advice. Then I’ll break down the kinds of English-teaching jobs you can get in China, and their advantages and disadvantages. Next, I’ll talk about some cultural differences that will be present no matter where you work.

After that, I’d like to make a brief plug for Luzhou, my hometown in China. Then, I’ll go over some interview questions you might not know that you should ask your potential employer. Finally, we’ll wrap it up with a discussion of the legal shenanigans you may come across while teaching in China.

If you have any questions after all that, feel free to leave a comment on our YouTube page, and I’ll address your query to the best of my ability.

Let’s do this.

I’m Emily, of course, and I’ve been teaching in China for more than six years. I’ve done … most of it, from kindergarten to private teaching to working for a couple training schools to working for a public school. I even taught a month-long continuing ed. summer course for other teachers one year. Most of my experience has been right here in Luzhou, a provincial-level city in south Sichuan province, and I spent one year in the even smaller town of Lijiang in Yunnan province. I estimate in my time here that I have taught many thousands of students.

And that’s what Emily means to me.Return to top

Kinds of English-teaching jobs in China

So, what’s the best ESL job?

Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. I’m going to look at four different categories here: private training schools, private kindergartens, public schools, and colleges.

The private training school is basically an after school-tutoring center, where you teach extracurricular English classes. They will all tell you that your students will be of all ages, but pretty much babies are their bread and butter.

Private training schools

Training schools in China are constantly looking for new foreign teachers, so it’s super easy to find these jobs. And they’ll offer you a lot of money, too. Because it is HARD WORK, and a lot of foreign teachers quit before their contract is up. I did. Twice. I have to admit my bias, here: I really think training schools are the worst.

Training schools are privately owned, so the specifics of why each one is the worst may vary. And, I’ve heard that some people who are not me have actually found tenable work situations. Let me know in the comments if this is you. I’m dying to know what a “good” training school is like.

But, so, each school does things a bit differently. You can be sure, however, that you’ll have to work most evenings, and your Saturdays and Sundays will be packed to the gills. If they tell you differently, they are lying to you.

In one of the schools I worked at, I had 24 different classes weekly of four students each, taking lessons across 7 different textbooks. Lesson planning was a huge, hidden part of the job – that they expected me to do pretty much on my own time. When I started, I was also made to do public marketing activities and demo classes, but I eventually negotiated my way out of those. If your school is afraid enough of losing you, they will make a deal. If you’re a shrewd negotiator, you may be able to create the situation you want, but get any extra deals in writing and be prepared to have to constantly defend those concessions.

You’re not supposed to speak Chinese with the kids in most English teaching jobs. And at the training schools, I had assistants to help me out when we got in a translation jam, kind of. As I became more experienced, I realized their role was actually to sell more classes to the parents than to help me out. It was as punishing a job for them as it was for me, so there was also a lot of turnover among the Chinese staff at these schools.

There’s usually a uniform, which is … fine. Some kind of polo shirt or athletic wear with the school’s logo on it. Why is teaching so sporty? I don’t get it.

The vacation policies at training schools are dissatisfying to say the least – if I only wanted two weeks off a year, I would have kept my job in America. And, [sarcasm] as a special … treat, I had a boss who would schedule our school holidays during my weekend, so I wouldn’t get extra days off. Like, in my normal schedule, my days off were Monday and Tuesday, so she scheduled the Christmas break for a Monday.

Basically, I felt when I worked for a training school, they took all of my energy and all of my good free time. They would reschedule my classes at the last minute without consulting me ahead of time. “Can you come to school now?” was a call I learned to hate.

The sales associates made ridiculous educational decisions without my input, and then because they sold a certain thing to the parents, I would have to teach it. They would assuage these hurts with bonus after bonus, and that was good enough for a while, but in the end, I decided the money wasn’t worth it. I wanted my lazy expat China life back. You may decide differently.

If you do go this route, please keep this warning in mind: Training schools are a highly competitive business, and some of them are less than scrupulous when it comes to getting you a legal visa. We’ll talk more about this at the end of this video, but if you do work for a training school, do your due diligence and know your rights and responsibilities as a foreign national.

Private kindergarten

Private kindergarten, on the other hand, is a dream! Full disclosure, I work for a kindergarten now, but you cannot have my job. Here’s what’s good about it. The schedule is the same every week, about 20 hours a week, and I’m done by 4pm, with a two and a half hour lunch break while the kids nap.

Any prep I need to do can be done during work time, and all of my weekly classes use the same lesson plan. It’s a lot of songs and games and dancing, which if you like these things, it’s kind of fun. I have heard of people complaining that they feel like they have to be a clown for their kids, but I have never felt that. The kids are just looking to make a connection, the same as any other human. I have an assistant, who does all of the disciplining; all I have to do is M.C. the fun.

The base pay is decent, and there is an opportunity to pick up private classes if I feel like making more money. We get all the public holidays off, and between the summer and winter break, I get plenty of time off – to make these videos!

The bad: In China, they start kindergarten at 2 years old, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up with those babies. And there is always someone crying at any given moment. Both of these things took a lot of getting used to for me, but it’s not actually something I mind, now.

Another thing is that the class sizes for the older babies is pretty big. I think I have, like, 40 kids in my 6-year-olds class. But I had upwards of 60 kids in my middle school classes – if you can’t handle large class sizes, maybe teaching in China isn’t for you.

There’s a uniform – another tracksuit – but I only have to wear it on occasional school outings. Which I am well-informed of in advance.

Much like training schools, private kindergartens can vary widely in quality, so do your research before you sign anything.

Public school

My first job in China was at a public middle school, where I stayed for four years. I have really fond memories of working for the middle school … which have kind of obliterated all the annoyances I know that I felt at the time. But first, the breakdown. The standard contract is usually something like 20 40-minute classes a week, which works out to a 16-hour time commitment. I was responsible for prepping 1-2 lessons per week, on my own time – with complete freedom to teach mostly whatever I wanted, as long as it was in English. The flip side of complete freedom, however, is zero guidance; you’re kind of on your own when it comes to teaching, though my school did give me a copy of the English textbook for reference.

I didn’t have an assistant, either, which made communicating with the kids really difficult. But it is doable. Searching out “Immersion Classroom strategies” will help you a lot if this is your situation.

Vacations a-plenty, including paid days off every month when the kids had exam days. The downside is that the pay is often much lower than training and private schools. Some schools provide half pay during the non-teaching winter and summer months off, but mine didn’t, so I had to be careful to hoard my nuts.

And, like I said before, the classes are huge. Gifted kids were about 30 to a class, but other classes could be more that 60. I have heard that if you teach in a rural area, you might have, like, 80 students in one class. Managing that many people to do anything is really hard. Again there is no assistant, so it really is trial by fire of any classroom management techniques you’ve learned.

Education is provided for free in China up through middle school, or about 15 years of age. If they continue their education beyond that, their family has to pay, though there are merit scholarships and financial aid available for talented high schoolers. Classes are tracked by ability, which means you’ll have classes full of gifted kids, which almost teach themselves, and classes full of kids who may drop out at the half year to take a job in a factory. The middle ground is actually where I had the most fun – the gifted kids are well behaved beyond your wildest dreams, but that can be a little boring. The bottom of the bunch are still deserving of an education and your compassion, but honestly, they can be pretty checked out. But! The middling kids are interested in what you have to say, but loose enough to go on some pretty funny tangents.

From 12 years old and up, for many students, school is often a sleep-away experience. The middle school I taught at was the size of a small liberal arts college in the States, and the teachers and students all dormed together in neighboring buildings. Because of this, Chinese teachers can be as important in their students’ lives as the students’ own parents. And, if you choose, you can form really strong bonds with your students. We had kids over to our apartment to make western food, or play guitar, or just watch English-language movies. I still keep in touch with some of my students from that time today.

I’m close with my students from private school, too, but being their teacher has much more of a hired-gun feel.

In retrospect, teaching in public school was both really challenging and incredibly rewarding. I stayed at that school for four years and I’m really thankful for that experience.

College & universities

As for college life, beyond the continuing education course I taught, I don’t actually have any experience with teaching English at the university level. The reason for that is because of all the ESL jobs in China, the pay is by far the lowest. At my current job, I make, like, six times what I could make teaching college.

I will also share that when I taught continuing ed. it was a very unsatisfying experience. The adults were completely unmotivated and it seemed that most of them didn’t want to be there. I’ve heard from other teachers that college students are similarly apathetic. In China, the reputation is, you basically kill yourself to get through high school (sometimes literally), but college is kind of a joke.

In fairness, the upside to teaching university level students is that it’s generally a higher level of English, and the lessons can be much more interesting. Also, you can make genuine connections with your young adult students, some of whom are actually interested in learning English. Return to top

Cultural differences between China and America

Because this is China, there is one constant that I will guarantee will be a part of your job, no matter where you end up: People here are terrible at planning, and then also terrible at communicating that planning. I mentioned before the training schools calling to say, “Surprise! You have class right now, come to school!” That was an extreme example in degree, but not all that uncommon in principle. Everyone I’ve ever worked for has had some kind of last-minute: “Hey, come here.”

Also, in the middle school I worked for, at the start of spring term one year, they moved every classroom to a new location on the first day of school, without telling anyone. It was chaos.

We would often get invited to events, and not be told until we got there that we were the star of said event. Or, it’s parents’ day, but nobody told the foreign staff, who had just prepared a normal lesson. For various reasons, I’ve made many impromptu speeches. The key is to remember that no one actually cares what a public speaker says. Just end with, “and your kids are great!”

There may even be a plan communicated to you ahead of time … that has nothing to do with what actually unfolds. Just a few weeks ago, my school had a 2.5 km fun run that had originally been characterized as supervising kids playing in toy cars.

This is China, and those things are going to happen. And more, probably. If you find that kind of disorder upsetting, it’s possible that China isn’t a good place for you. If you like surprises, on the other hand … China welcomes you!

One other thing: Ten to twenty years ago, you used to be able to get a job anywhere in China just by showing up and being white … oh, yeah, sidebar here: The Chinese have a well-known problem with racism. White skin is openly preferred. Because, [gesture down] privilege, I don’t have any experience or advice with this. To teachers of color, I can only offer my condolences. I’m really sorry that this is the case here. It sucks.

To other white teachers, consider pushing back against racist statements when you hear them. People love you for your skin color, you don’t have a lot at stake if you make waves.

But this applies to foreigners of all colors: these days China expects you to actually be able to teach. I work really hard to make sure all of my students are learning something. In fact, when I cited job stress as a reason I wanted to quit training school, my boss told me that my lessons didn’t have to be that good. But that means I get to pick and choose my opportunities, and ask for more money. Being a good foreign teacher gives me a lot of power.

Of course in a small market, you can get away with being just so-so, if that makes you happy.

But it’s not acceptable anymore to roll up hung over and lecture at your students about your drunken exploits the night before. Especially at private schools. The parents pay a lot of money for these lessons, and they demand satisfaction. Their baby better have learned something – they’re watching you on the closed circuit TV. Return to top

A case for Luzhou, a city on the rise!

Alright … here I’d like to make a case for my Chinese hometown, Luzhou.

Come to Luzhou. A prefecture-level city in south Sichuan province, Luzhou has a lot to offer an ambitious foreigner. It’s a city on the rise: Old China is still accessible, but you can also find bread, and butter, and other Western comforts. Not really cheese, yet. But we have our own Peter’s Tex Mex.

We’re so close to pandas! And there are tons of under-exposed natural and man-made wonders just a few hours drive from the city. Leshan’s Big Buddha, Yibin’s Bamboo Sea, Mt. Emei, and hot springs! Jiujiagou is a short plane ride away, but IT’S STILL IN SICHUAN!

There’s fantastic hiking all around us. South Sichuan butts up against the Tibetan plateau, and there are forests, gorges, and all kinds of nature to get lost in.

Prefer the city life? We have access to three! Luzhou itself is a city on the rise. And our more established neighbors Chengdu and Chongqing host art galleries and rock clubs that attract acts from around the world.

If you’re looking to improve your Chinese, young people here speak Mandarin! And very few people speak English – as compared to in a first-tier city – so you’ll be forced to take your book learning out into the real world, right away.

There are some other foreigners, but there aren’t a lot of us, which to me is ideal. You have access to an international community, but you won’t get caught in an expat bubble, spending all your time living abroad interacting only with other people like you.

Fewer foreigners also translates into great opportunities for the aspiring English teacher. I get job offers just walking down the street. Seriously, at the grocery store, at the hot pot restaurant, in the elevator of my building. Twice, I got offers of work, while I was ALREADY AT WORK!

And the weather … well, it’s hot and humid, and occasionally sunny! On a nice day, Luzhou rivals any place I’ve been. The river walk is lovely, and we’ve got parks all over. Most larger Chinese cities are unwieldy behemoths, clad in concrete and ring roads. But Luzhou is a manageable, walk-able size, and it actually is beautiful, I think.

So, come to Luzhou, a city on the rise. I honestly can’t imagine why you’d want to live anywhere else. Return to top

Questions to ask of a potential Chinese employer

OK, when you’re looking for ESL work, especially if you’re in Luzhou, there are still a lot of jobs, and not a lot of competition, so I really recommend taking your time to find the job that’s a perfect fit for you. A job interview is a job interview anywhere in the world, but there are some things that are specific to China. We’re going to talk about some of the details you should know in the area of contracts, pay, hours and housing. And then, after a short break, we’ll address the topic of legal working visas in China.


Any reputable school will have a contract translated into English for your approval that lays out all the details of your job, the deal you’re getting, the visa they are sponsoring, fire-able offenses, and how to terminate that contract. They may have you sign two contracts with a small difference that I’ll leave it to them to explain. It’s common practice and no cause for alarm.

But there is a cultural difference around the contract that it’s important to be aware of. My Chinese colleague explained that in local culture, a signed contract does not mean negotiations are completely finished with regards to your job description. Bosses expect to be able to change your duties – usually with no extra compensation. I’ll let you guess what kind of schools are the worst offenders at this: Starts with a T and rhymes with “paining!” If you push back against the mission creep, I can tell you from experience, you’ll be told, “But it’s Chinese culture!” You won’t get fired, though, if you stand your ground. They need you.


Make sure you know what your compensation plan looks like: Base salary, bonuses, stipends. Are holidays paid? Sometimes they aren’t. Public schools increasingly don’t offer any pay for the summer and winter holidays. But some places will offer half pay during your downtime if you sign up for another year.

Will they help you pay your taxes? When is payday? It’s pretty common to be paid only once a month. Also, for a while I was paid in a big, fat wad of cash every month, but most institutions these days can set up direct deposit with a Chinese bank. And, of course, they will help you set up a Chinese bank account.

If there’s a flight allowance, when can you expect that or other expenses, to be reimbursed? What other costs are you allowed to expense? If you’re just arriving in China, know that you will need to have enough savings to get you through at least your first month before any money starts coming your way.

Some schools offer nice perks, so ask what they can do for you – where I work now, they give me free lunch from the school cafeteria, if I want it. You can see what a typical Chinese school lunch looks like in a video from earlier in the week.


The other big part of your contract is the amount of hours you’re expected to work, and what those hours mean. A lot of training schools, in particular, will split your schedule between teaching hours and office hours – at my last training school job, they only paid overtime if you worked extra teaching hours … but they would expect you to work as many office hours as necessary. Ask what duties might be expected of you during an office hour, and be aware that the time between classes, where you clean up after your last class and prepare for your next class, might be counted as a “break.” If you don’t have enough teaching hours in a given week, what happens?

How do they handle and communicate schedule changes? Like I said earlier, no matter where you work a change of plans WILL happen. Can they guarantee you 24 hours notice? Will they call you at 6am? Or midnight? And what’s the procedure when a class is cancelled or rescheduled?

And demo and marketing activities … I hate these, so if these are a part of the job, I’m out. But if they’re not a dealbreaker for you, you should know exactly what you’re getting into. Ask about it!


It’s common for ESL contracts to include a provision for housing, whether that’s a school-owned apartment or a rent subsidy in your paycheck. If it’s a school apartment – where is it? On campus? There are perks and drawbacks to living with your students.

No matter where you plan on living, get a picture of the facilities first, if you can’t visit in person. I’ve mostly had good apartment experiences, but I’ve also heard horror stories of people being put up in storage rooms, so be careful. Will your apartment have a western toilet? A washing machine? It won’t have a dryer, but you can ask. Also, dishwashers are unlikely.

It’s standard for apartments in China to come furnished, so you probably won’t have to worry about that, but knowledge is power.

If you have to find your own apartment, be aware that rent is generally paid a full year up front – or in some cities quarterly or at the half year. A supportive school will help you find a place, but you’ll have to finance the initial payment yourself – if your school provides a subsidy, it’ll be included with your monthly payment. Rent in Luzhou for a two-bedroom apartment in the nice part of town runs about $300 U.S. per month. I can’t really give you numbers in the rest of the country, but it’s safe to say that bigger cities would be more expensive. Come to Luzhou.

If you can, I really recommend talking to the foreign teacher who was there before you. Schools can be pretty desperate, and tell you things that you want to hear rather than the truth. And bad working conditions can really make your time in China a nightmare. Return to top

Legal working visas, how to get them & what to watch out for

Lastly, I want to talk about work visas in China. I don’t want to alarm you, but I don’t know one person who hasn’t had some issue with theirs … although the good news there is that visa troubles are normal and survivable!

There are two issues with your employer that you’ll have to watch out for: One, they are actually a crook and lying to you. Use your common sense and ask all your questions, and you’ll be able to sniff this out.

Two, they are uninformed and make big mistakes. It happens.

But either way, it’s good for you to know the law and what can happen to you. If you do something wrong, even if it’s what your school told you to do, the consequences fall directly on you. So know your dates of when paperwork is due, when permits expire, all of it.

The correct procedure to follow is that you apply for a Z-visa in your home country, come over here and your school will apply for something called a Foreign Expert Certificate. With the FEC in hand,UPDATE 4/20/18: The procedure for getting a work visa has changed since I first did it in 2011. These days, my manager told me, you get the F.E.C. first, which requires you to come to China (on a tourist visa) to get a medical check-up. Then, you have to leave the country to apply for the Z-visa. And then, once you come back …/UPDATE

You will apply for your foreign residence permit, which will allow you to enter and exit the country multiple times, and, more importantly work there. You should finish the process within thirty days of your arrival in China, though if you need more time, I think you can extend the Z-visa. The school holds onto the foreign expert certificate, and your passport is yours. The school has no reason to take it from you, and you should question it if they say they do.

Unfortunately the goal posts keep moving in terms of what precisely you need to do to qualify as a legal teacher of English in China – as of 2018, you need a valid university diploma and a certificate of no criminal record, both authenticated by the Chinese embassy or consulate in your HOME COUNTRY. If you’re starting out now, a TEOFL is useful too, I hear. Next year, I’m sure the requirements will be something new and exciting, and the same for the year after that.

But here’s something that will always be true: You cannot work on a tourist, business, or student visa, and if someone tells you otherwise, they are lying to you.

Also, only people from countries that have English as their national language can be certified to teach English. I know it’s totally possible to be a good teacher even if English is your second language, but in China, that’s just the rule. Again, if a school tells you differently – lies.

Knowing this, if you still want to take the risk, you are less likely to be caught if you’re further out west, or in a smaller city, but Uncle Foreigner categorically recommends against this. Depending on where you are, how much sleep the police officer got the night before, and what shenanigans you’ve been a party to, the punishment can range from a very steep fine to deportation.

Jail is unlikely, but not out of the question. Recently, an American on an illegal student visa had to spend a month behind bars in Chengdu, and it did not sound fun.

Something that is a grey area but everybody does it, is that your school may ask you to come to China as soon as possible on a tourist visa, and they’ll work on getting you your work permit while you’re here.

Here’s what I don’t like about this: There is minimal risk of getting caught working in your first months while you’re still on the tourist visa, but it’s still illegal. Also, your school, through malice or incompetence, may not ever be able to get you the legal visa once you’re here, but you’ve already overhauled your whole life for a job in China.

Thirdly, even if everything else works out OK, swapping the tourist visa for a Z-visa, is a big pain. It involves a trip out of the country to reapply at a foreign-soil Chinese embassy or consulate. Usually, you can just do this in Hong Kong, but a few years ago, Hong Kong stopped issuing work permits for a time unless your company had some magic fairy dust or something … and, anyway, even if Hong Kong is issuing work permits, it’s an expensive trip. They’ve got so many tempting great restaurants and bars, and the shopping is fantastic. Some schools will reimburse part of your expenses, but never enough to do Hong Kong right. I love Hong Kong, and it’s a great place to travel, but an emergency trip there to do paperwork is not my idea of a good time.

Though there is a great Cantonese breakfast spot right near the consulate.

My verdict: Tread carefully if you want to go the swapsies route, and have a backup plan in case you need it.

China used to have a reputation as a wild west in the east. Anything went, and there were easy opportunities for losers back home. No qualifications? You could handprint your diploma in crayon, and you’d get hired. Got a criminal record in one province? Move to another.

But this is not really true any more. Behaviors that were fine then just don’t fly now, and regulations are tightening up every year. In addition to the hiring requirements that I talked about earlier, the police have also started to expect your job to reflect what your foreign expert certificate says it is.

This means: no more side hustles. Six years ago, when I taught at a public school, my boss would help me find additional jobs and tutoring students. And it was totally fine. Last year, however, there was a huge crackdown on foreign teachers who took on work outside of the school that sponsored their visa.

That dream of stealing away all of your training school students to start your own secret private school – now you’ll actually need to do it on the up and up. And that involves a lot of paperwork. Also, it’s a jerk move. Open a school if that’s what you want; it’s an advanced move, but for many foreign teachers it’s a legitimate next step. But don’t do it out of spite. Just don’t work for a training school if you hate them. Return to top

Which concludes the advice I have to give on teaching English as a foreigner in China. To sum up: There are a lot of different types of teaching opportunities – do your research to see what situation fits in with your life goals. Ask lots of questions: moving to a new country is a big life change, you’ll want to be reasonably sure of what you’re getting into.

And, always know your legal rights and responsibilities. China can be a great adventure, but paying fines at the police station is not the kind of adventure you want.

If you still have any questions or even your own stories or tips to share, leave them in the comments. I’ll be active in the discussion, and if we get a really good one going, maybe we’ll plan some sort of sequel.

Oh, and consider Luzhou! It’s a city on the rise.

And subscribe to our YouTube channel, why don’t you?

Apr 18, 2018

Sell all your stuff and move across the world

And then buy more stuff

Before you start to exist in China, you’re going to need to pack. The easiest way to pack for a move abroad is to sell all your stuff! It’s the ultimate in light packing. And China is full up with new stuff that you can buy when you get here.

Most of what we packed was clothes. The one thing that is hard to find in China is big enough clothing for your western butt. As for the rest of it, we took a multi-pronged approach to getting our stuff out the door. The media — books, CDs, DVDs, comic books — we sold to the appropriate shops. The book buyers at the Strand are famously mean, but they’ll give you that cash if you’ve got good stuff, and we did! The furniture went on Craig’s List (or, some of it to my parents’ basement). And the guitars went on the plane! We weren’t leaving those behind.

Like it says in the video, these days we’re back up to a small moving truck’s worth of stuff, so I guess we can’t move back. I don’t know where to sell used books in Luzhou!

Apr 17, 2018

What’s in a Chinese school lunch?

I don’t always know, but it’s free for me!

These days, about twice a week, I get food from the kindergarten cafeteria. I could take lunch every day, but two out of five is good enough for me. I like it because it’s healthy and free! I eat what the babies eat; tomorrow we’re having pork and pumpkin, with a tofu soup on the side. It’s usually decent, I think, though Peter turns his nose up at it. It’s comparable, anyway, with the Tianfu Middle School cafeteria food.

I have a two-and-a-half hour lunch break — teaching kindergarten is the best — so I bring it all home in my super-duper lunch box. Watch the video to see this engineering marvel that keep my hot food hot for my entire ten-minute commute home.

Apr 16, 2018

TV star or teaching, Foreigners in China can no longer have it all

Also, don’t hit kids ... c’mon now!

In my life, I keep getting on TV kind of by accident. It started when I was a small baby, and my mom through a wedding party for Luke and Laura that was covered by our local news. You may have heard that it’s really easy to get on TV as a foreigner in China, and that’s pretty much true … but to actually make a career of it is no longer as easy as it once was. I find it much less challenging to find teaching work, and then let the cameras come to me :).

My latest work is a cameo in a PSA against child abuse in Chinese schools. I’m a big supporter of the cause, and my colleague called me and said, “They want to film you playing with the kids. Can you come to school a little early? It’s sunny now, so we need to do it NOW!” Luzhou sun is very fickle. It’s actually just for the school’s moms and dads, but one of our parents works at a local production house, so even the school’s in-house promos are pretty well produced.

This video kicks off a series this week exploring what it’s like to live and teach in China these days. Fame, or the struggle for it, is just one aspect to life abroad. You can watch the whole “Teachers Exist in China” playlist over on YouTube, and we’ll be posting them here on Uncle Foreigner every day through Friday.

Apr 11, 2018

We would follow the Pug anywhere in the world

Our favorite restaurant has left China, but it’s rocking in Bangkok

In China, watch on YouKu.

It’s no secret that we’ve been obsessed for years with The Lazy Pug restaurant in Chengdu. We planned entire trips to the big city, just for a taste of their Taco Thursday. Danny, one of the owners, turned us on to Carrefour, the French-owned supermarket with all the expat goods. Ah, we were so naive back then.

Sadly, the Lazy Pug closed down last summer … we didn’t even get to say goodbye! But, we revisit the good times — as well as the reborn Pug, this time he’s Smokin’ in Bangkok — in our latest Eating Places special. If you find yourself traveling in Thailand and itching for a taste of home while abroad, we highly recommend the new place.

Just watch the video, friends, and then head on over to YouTube to subscribe to our channel!

Apr 7, 2018

Haircuts in China while curly

I’ve started letting other people touch my hair

In China, watch on YouKu.

As a curly-haired girl, I’ve gotten a lot of bad haircuts in my life from hairdressers who just didn’t understand that I didn’t want to blow my hair out every day and live life like a straight-haired person. No. It’s going to curl, it’s going to fluff, and it’s going to frizz unless you treat it right. When I lived in New York, I found a stylist in Tribeca who got it, and paid her every penny she asked for.

I remember the last haircut I got before I left for China, and I remember giving the girl (a different girl in Brooklyn, who was also quite good but significantly cheaper) the absurd instruction that I was leaving New York for good, so I needed a haircut that would grow out gracefully. And then I didn’t get another professional haircut for five years.

I hate the feeling of hair on my neck, though, so for those five years I would either wear it up every day, or give myself the old palm tree cut over the toilet. It wasn’t great, but my foreign-ness was so distracting that people told me I was beautiful anyway.

The thing keeping me from going to a Chinese salon was that old fear of a straight-hair biased barber, and the fact that I didn’t feel confident in my Chinese. Problem two was solved on a trip to Hong Kong last year, when I got my hair cut by a Lamma Island barber. As he cut, he told me all about growing up on Lamma Island. His English was really good; he said he just picked it up over the years from his English-speaking clients.

With that threshold crossed, I just started bringing pictures to the salon — like you’d do in America anyway.

On my latest visit, the stylist gave me Chinese boy-style #5 — girls do wear their hair short here, but she didn’t quite achieve the curly, feminine pixie I showed her. But the cut itself was an enjoyable experience. And like I say in the video, it was the same price as a men’s haircut!