1. Immerse yourself in the Chinese language.
Yes, it’s possible to learn Chinese back in the West but only in China will you get daily practice in Mandarin and really hone your skills. Everywhere you go, there’ll be spoken and written Chinese because so few people know much English. Initially, this is pretty daunting but it’s amazing how quickly you pick up survival language when your school provides free Chinese classes and you’re working day-to-day with bi-lingual Chinese teaching assistants. Within days, you’ll know your “ni hao’s” from your “mei you’s” and within weeks, you’ll be chatting with cab drivers (a great source of language practice).
2. Stand on your rooftop and enjoy Chinese New Year fireworks.
The Chinese New Year here is a big deal. Every New Year’s Eve, families get together and enjoy a meal together before setting off fireworks at midnight. Sitting on the roof of your building, watching thousands of fireworks go off around you is pretty special.
3. Take a high speed train and meet some fascinating people.
China loves its trains. Almost every major city in China has a high speed line to somewhere else and it’s simply the easiest, cheapest and best way to get around. It seems like every week, a new train line opens from Fuzhou to neighbouring provinces or other major cities (in the last few months, a new train line opened that reduced the train journey from Fuzhou to Beijing by around 10 hours!). It’s so much better than flying as you’re exactly where you need to be when you arrive at your destination. Even if you take the non-high speed trains you still have a great experience. There’s nothing like sharing a sleeper compartment with a Chinese family on a 16+ hour train journey, playing cards, chatting and sharing noodles!
4. Use Taobao to buy anything you want. Seriously.
Taobao / Tmall is sort of like Amazon and Ebay rolled into one. Individual shops have their own store page which sell all the usual items: clothing, equipment, books etc. and also some more unusual items… including exotic sports cars, anti-flame armoured suits, and pets. Yes, you can actually buy live animals on the internet. And no, I don’t know how they are delivered…
5. Teach the most amazing, inquisitive children.
If you come to China to teach English, you’ll be overwhelmed at how great the kids are. They love having a foreign teacher and are hugely curious about you and your home country. Any opportunity they get, they will be asking you about your family, food or your experiences at school in the West. The kids I teach at York are the loveliest, friendliest and most hilarious group of students I could imagine. It makes teaching them the most rewarding feeling in the world.
This one’s obvious but worth mentioning – exotic locations are right on your doorstep here. I can head to my nearest airport and later that day, be on a beach in the Philippines without spending a fortune on flights. Alternatively, if you want something closer to home, you can take a bus a couple of hours out of the city and be in the most stunning scenery, surrounded by forest and waterfalls. When you’re living in China, all of these destinations that seemed so far away are suddenly right on your doorstep.
Did I also mention how many opportunities you get to travel? At York, we get around 10 days off for Spring Festival, 10 days in August and a week off for National Day in October. In addition to that, we get a handful of other holidays throughout the year and 10 days of your own holiday to take whenever. How many jobs allow you to do that?
7. Stay in a karaoke bar until the early hours and then arrive home to pre-ordered McDonald’s.
Sometimes you know where a night’s heading. You know it’s going to be a good one. You also know that come 4am, you’re going to be desperate for a Big Mac. Well let me introduce you to the joys of ordering McDonald’s online, in English, and being able to specify when it gets delivered. It’ll change your life.