I’m currently in China. I was in Suzhou last year, Shenzhen this year. It’s quite different from Vietnam, I was expecting it to be more similar. The roads are wider and with much fewer motorbikes, making for a very different look and feel. There are tall buildings instead of just an endless stretch of skinny, four story houses. The job market is different too. More stable for one. Salaried full time work is the standard instead of by the hour part time work. There are ESL centers like anywhere else in Asia. Where I work though is at a bilingual private school. There are a lot of schools like this for the Chinese upper-middle and upper classes. I worked at a similar one in Vietnam, but there are fewer opportunities there and the school was much smaller and less professionally run. At schools like mine, kids don’t come here evenings and weekends just for English. This is there regular school. It’s usually half in English, half in Chinese. That varies by school though. Last year in Suzhou I taught a wonderful first grade class. I spend half the day doing English, Math, and Art with them. My Chinese co-teacher assisted when I taught and also taught them classes in Chinese. In my current school in Shenzhen I teach an ESL class but also teach A level Physics. I have my B.S. in Physics. Overall I prefer this kind of work, but there are both advantages and disadvantages.
When looking for a job in China, location matters. Most foreign teachers want to be in a big city, and I can’t blame them. Small cities in China are almost always dirty, ugly, and generic with no unique historical or cultural features. In a nation of a billion people, exceptions exist, but not many. Also, Chinese “cities” will almost always include a fair amount of land that you and I would not consider urban. A better translation these days would be ‘county’. There may actually be separate towns in these rural districts. Guangzhou is such an example. It’s the third largest city in China, but if you accept a job there, you may be in for a big surprise. Your school could be in rural Conghua or Nansha districts, in tiny little towns, hours away from the actual city. Unfortunately, some of the best jobs are to be found in areas like this. After hours language schools are everywhere, especially in the city proper where people live. Universities are usually to big to fit in downtown, so will be on the outskirts. Private bilingual schools are often the same way, the neighborhoods they’re in can be boring if not outright depressing and far away from anything fun. I went to visit a school like this in Shenzhen. I liked the boss, the contract was good, the school seemed good. But then I went to walk around outside. It was practically across the street from the Foxconn factory where they make all the iphones. Which is kind of cool except that it doesn’t help you in any way. They have movie theaters and restaurants inside, but we can’t go in there. So the neighborhood itself just has the dirtiest, nastiest looking restaurants. Just walking down the street there made me depressed. The sidewalk was broken, there were no trees or other greenery, there was nothing around that looked fun at all. I didn’t see any pretty girls to talk to. Unfortunately, for those of you overseas, it can be very hard to check this out before you get there. But do your best. Talk to current teachers. Check it out on google maps. Something else that you should consider when picking where to live is mobility. How will you get around? If you’re in downtown, buses and the subway will get you anywhere. If you’re in a smaller city you can probably buy a motorbike, they can be fun and useful to get around (but dangerous, if you’ve never used one before, don’t jump into it). But bigger cities in China usually ban motorbikes. So if you’re not in the coolest parts of town, but still technically in a big city, your options are limited. Buying a car is way too expensive. Electric bikes are ubiquitous, but not as cool or useful as a motorbike.