Sunday, January 28, 2018

Xiongmao in Zhejiang. Dating Paradise or Freezing Hell Hole of No Eye Contact?

Xiongmao reporting in.

In this post I'll review my first 4 months living in Chinas's Zhejiang Province.

I've lived in China before of course. In 2013 I lived in Guangdong Province for a while. It was fun, but an incredibly annoying place to live. After 4 months I went for a 2 week holiday in Thailand, and stayed there for another 6 months.

So I'm back in China, albeit a different province.

Is Zhejiang better than Guangdong?

In a word - NO.

But there are some positives.

From IT Geek to Language Teacher

My first ever teaching job has gone pretty well. But that's not really anything to do with my location. Chinese Universities are pretty identikit and I don't think the work would have been that different in any other part of China.

I am glad I spent the money getting a CELTA from one of the world's best language schools. I was able to hit the ground running here. Which was good as I was given a pile of textbooks and told to get on with it.

Initially you'll think your students are shy, but they're nothing of the sort. Instead you need to learn how to interact with them, and get them speaking.

They're diligent. Attendance has been great and practically every student does homework assignments. Out of 250 students I have maybe 4 superstars. The rest are all at intermediate level. They think they're a lot better than they actually are. I visited Chad laoshi's class and his students couldn't tell me what major they were studying. I left depressed, as long time foreign teacher Chad cherry picks the best students to teach!

Admin departments in any Chinese university are rubbish - you'll soon learn that. The best way to deal with them is have as little contact with them as possible. They've not even managed to open a bank account for me after 4 months. I ended up doing it myself. Actually I end up doing a lot of stuff myself.

As to other things:
  • My salary is 9750 RMB a month (I got more for having a doctorate).
  • I teach nine 90 minute lessons per week. Each lesson has a 10 minute break in it.
  • Classes have between 18 and 47 students. 18 is a lot if you want to get them speaking, 47 is ridiculous.
  • My accommodation is pretty nice. I got a nice big room and the bathroom alone is bigger than my London studio apartment was. And it's a 5 minute walk to most of my classrooms which is great when your teaching day starts at 8am.
  • I can in theory eat in the school canteen. It's 2 RMB a meal which is practically free. It's worth it for the apple. But on the downside it's pretty bland and only good if you like boiled vegetables or skeletal fish.
  • The best thing about our school? It has its own metro station and it's a 15 minute ride downtown.
Downtown there is a Tesco supermarket, an Ole (for expensive imported foods), a Carl's Jr and of course many other stores. It's kind of hard to use the restaurants though because so few have English menus (and photo menus/plastic food displays) aren't that common either.

Here's a long detailed blog post about my salary and benefits.

If you're interested in teaching English in China (or elsewhere) then check out my TEFL blog here.

4 Months in China - No Dates And No Social Life!

So teaching has been OK, but my social life has been pathetic. My fellow teachers are all older than me and are a pretty miserable bunch it must be said.

We had one social event downtown but everyone left by 8pm.

So I've tried to get a bit of a social thing going but it's been gigantically difficult.

I tried joining an English corner downtown. I'd heard it was a good place to meet ladies who want to meet foreigners. But sadly I got a lot of hostile @#%!? when I tried to join their little group. I found their QQ Group and asked where the meetings were held. But they got all nasty and told me I should read the publicity poster (which is all in Chinese). What a nice welcome.

Well screw them who wants to belong to such a miserable group anyway?

I've generally found that Zhejiang residents are very group orientated. Much like the Japanese. Well they're not going to like me making that comparison, but we are geographically very close to Japan.

And the problem with group orientated societies is that it's very difficult to break into said groups. Especially when you're such an obvious looking foreigner yourself.

Instead I tried dating here, but that's been a total disappointment.

Dating was awesome in Guangdong Province. I met some incredible ladies in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Here it's been terrible.

I tried China Love Cupid as it worked so well in Guangdong Province. But here in my tier 2 city there just aren't enough ladies on the site to be able to find dates. There are a few more if you factor in nearby Hangzhou. But there still aren't that many ladies even in that city.

Widening the radius brings in Shanghai but I've had very little success with Shanghai Princesses. And it's still a 4 hour roundtrip on the train to go and meet somebody.

What else?

WeChat's People Nearby function used to be great for random hookups but it's junk now. Every time you go on there you get spammed by hookers. Why don't they clean it up?

I've tried TanTan which is a kind of Chinese Tinder clone. It's good in that it's free and it has an English UI. But I've not had much success on it. Apparently I've had 42 matches. But it doesn't show you who likes you. You just gotta keep endlessly flipping through ladies giving them social affirmation of their SMV. It's all such a big waste of time, especially as my accommodation wifi/4G signals are so bad.

I tried JiaYuan which is a local dating site. It's immensely tough to use a dating site that only has a Chinese UI. I'm really pleased with myself for managing to create a semi-decent profile on the site. And it's about a quarter of the price of China Love Cupid.

That's the only positives though. JiaYuan has been pretty useless. The moderators almost never approve my profile changes or photo uploads. The site keeps opening dozens of new browser tabs. And I've had hardly any interest on the site.

About the only good thing from the site is that it's taught me very much that marriage is viewed as a financial transaction in China. What Western dating site asks you about the financial strength of your parents?

What else?

DateInAsia - again not enough ladies here.



I tried some free Chinese dating sites but they're so hard to use, many needing phone confirmation routines that are hard to figure out/just don't work.

Cold approach/PUA - hard here as nobody speaks English (well apart from "hello"). My Mandarin is better than last time but I've barely learnt any new language since I've been here.

Disappointingly, nobody has tried to cold approach me. Well apart from the few copy watch guys there are here. I had a lot more random encounters in Guangzhou. The Zhejiang residents seem a lot more distant, and, well, unfriendly.

Other Ramblings

I got really excited about the prospect of working in Zhejiang. It's really close to South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. So I had visions of really awesome holidays in those three countries (two of which I've never visited before).

The downside is that South Korea has been too cold to visit in Winter. And flights to Japan are really expensive. Of course Taiwan needs no introduction if you're a Happier Abroad regular.

So I've ended up with a staycation over the Chinese New Year break. Not least because it's harder to use UK credit cards overseas now, and China's CTrip is a rip-off for international flight bookings.

Hardly anyone speaks English here. I mean not even my students speak it well, and they're majoring in either English or Business English.

They're someway behind the students I met at the Guangzhou university where I studied Mandarin. I've subsequently found out my Guangzhou university was very prestigious and attracted the best applicants from all over China. A couple of my current students applied there but didn't get in.

There are a few tourist sites here but getting out into the countryside is pretty difficult. As is going anywhere to be honest. Our city only has two metro lines. To go everywhere else you have to go by bus. This is nice and cheap, but very slow. Our city has many rivers, and too few bridges. So there are a number of bottlenecks where the traffic is a nightmare. Traffic also seems worse here than in Guangzhou. It's generally wealthier here, and more ordinary people have cars.

Of course there are taxis but I had so much problem in Hubei and Guangdong with taxis, and that was with having a Chinese girl to do the arguing for me!

Most of all though, it's VERY cold here. Particularly as it's a La Nina year. Sure, it was warm when I got here in September, but that's a distant memory now.

It's even colder than my native England. At least we're warmed by the gulf stream in Winter. In Zhejiang it has been relentlessly cold since early December.

It does seem safer here. Crime appears to be very low. Certainly lower than in Guangzhou.

There are very few foreigners here. Over Christmas I went 8 days without seeing a single one.

Food seems to be cleaner here and I've had less problems with dodgy food than I had in Hubei and Guangdong. Of course it's also cooler, which means bacteria grow a lot more slowly.

It's harder for foreigners to live in China than it was when I was here five years ago. Google Maps doesn't work very well so you have to use Baidu maps. Software development standards are really low in China, and I've found all Chinese apps really drain my battery. They're also slow and rarely have English UI's. The work permit system is a real hassle and I had to pay to get my China visa and certificates notarised (about $750 in total).

There's also rampant discrimination and there's loads of stuff you can't do without a Chinese citizen's ID card. By comparison, in London we even let you foreigners use our hire bicycles and you don't need to show your passport when you buy a train ticket. We even let you own land and buy properties.

I can understand more Mandarin now so I have more of an awareness of when people are talking about me. Which is quite frequent. I'm sure they think I'm a spy, especially if I visit one of the working class neighbourhoods near my school.

Am I Truly Happier Abroad?

So is my current life better than my old life back in London?

I do like having a nice big room to live in. Back in London I was pretty much forced to share an apartment with idiots who needed the money, or live in a cupboard under the stairs. In my free teacher's apartment I do indeed have room to swing a cat.

I think teaching is a more healthy lifestyle than sitting in front of a computer coding for 40 hours a week. I've seen what the stress of office life can do to people over the years, and I'm glad I got out before it was too late.

My teaching salary is pretty decent and as there's not much to buy here I've managed to save 70% of my salary so far. What a shame then that it's so difficult to send money out of China. Anyway, if you've just graduated and have crippling student loan debts then teaching in China could be a good option for you.

If I could go back in time then I would definitely try and hold out for a teaching job in a warmer location. But on the other hand I know that your first TEFL job generally sucks and I could definitely have done a lot worse.

It's a few months till I have to decide what to do next year. I probably will stay with teaching, but I will go somewhere warm.

Zhejiang - In Summary

I'd say that Zhejiang is a good place to come if you want to earn money. There are a lot of rich people here who will pay good money for private tuition. But then there are rich people in other parts of China too.

If you're serious about learning Mandarin then it's much more widely spoken here than in Guangdong.

I thought there would be less pollution here than in Guangdong but that's both true and false. The air is worse here - maybe due to local geography. But rivers are cleaner/smell sweeter and there is less trash lying around.

If you like cold and depressing Winters then Zhejiang is the place to come.

Any questions about teaching English in China or living here? Leave your comments below.

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