Thursday, 1 February 2018

Wow - I Found Some German World War 2 Themed "Lego" Minifigs

Growing up in the late 1970's me and my junior school classmates were obsessed with two things: Lego and the Second World War.

Both of my grandfathers served in the war, and saw action in France and Germany after D-Day.

We were taught by many heroes of WW2. In fact one of my teachers was married to the guy who was the last man to leave the sinking Ark Royal. Maybe his precious photos of the heavily listing carrier are what kicked off our obsession with WW2 in the first place.

So while teaching English in China I was overjoyed to find some "Lego" minifigs who combined my love of Lego with an avid interest in the Second World War.

Here are the sets I bought. Each sells for 10 RMB, which is about $1.59.

I should add at this point that these aren't of course genuine Lego Minifigs. They're the exact same size as the genuine thing. But they're not nearly so well made.

When you assemble the kits you have to attach the arms to the torsoes, and you have to put their hands on their arms. That's really fiddly and a good way to detach a fingernail.

So here are the kits. I can read a little Chinese and I believe these are from the North Africa campaign.

This set came with the field commander, who I guess could be Rommel. I didn't think Rommel had a goatee though.

I really love the artwork on these boxes. I think they're better than genuine Lego packaging! That machine gunner is giving it everything.

As is the machine gunner in the second pack, as shown below. I especially like the expression on the other guy's face (he's operating an anti-aircraft battery). You can kind of see it in their eyes that the tide of the war is starting to turn.

This is the back of the 1943 North Africa Campaign packs. This tells you which minifig you're going to get. It also shows the accessories both soldiers come with.

Here's both packs when assembled and combined. I haven't included the extra guns (more on those below).

Both sets came with accessories: barbed wire, 3 sandbags and an oil drum. A nice touch is that both minifigures come with a stand. The field marshal came with a couple of shells.

The Lego barbed wire is really cool and not something I've ever seen before. Heck, my 1970's original Lego Space minifigs didn't even have guns.

I'm not sure who manufactures these minifigs but they're quite good quality compared to other imitation Lego figures I've bought before. A clue to their improved quality is that their hats fit well. Also there are no missing pieces which was a problem I had when I bought some Pokemon Lego from Amazon.

And so to another set I bought. This one is themed on Arctic combat Blitzkrieg troops. I guess they might be serving in Norway.

Although this one has a bigger box it's actually the same price as the two previous sets.

This particular one is an infantry soldier on a snowmobile. I'm not sure how historically accurate this is.

A look at the back of the box reveals there are probably 5 sets in this collection. I really want the motorbike and the anti-aircraft battery. I don't know if I'll be able to find them. These minifig kits sell out really quickly and they're replaced by completely different series of sets.

Other sets I've seen include Minions, Batman and Marvel inspired superheros and some really cool characters from Minecraft.

The snowmobile guy once assembled. Sadly the set doesn't have the helmet or snowmobile decals as shown on the box artwork. There's been a bit of artistic licence used there.

Finally I'll just mention that each kit also comes with a set of weapons. These are so cool!

The sniper rifle is pretty good but I'm not sure if that was standard WW2 issue. The Luger pistol is really recognisable though.

I also love the Stielhandgranate hand grenades which are straight out of Saving Private Ryan.

There's also an anti-tank grenade launcher and a pretty meaty machine gun.

Finally a selfie with Mrs Krabappel (who is a genuine Lego Minifig). I love this minifig as I bought her the day I passed my CELTA English teaching course. It was so ironic that the minifig I ended up with was Mrs Krabappel, who is of course a teacher.

I hope you like these Lego minifigs. I hope to get some more soon if they haven't sold out already. And it would be good to have some Allies to pitch them against.

Do you think they're a great idea, or should they be banned or consigned to history? Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A Trip to a Small Chinese Shopping Mall - What Did I Find?

Here's a photo blog from my trip out to Ningbo's Grand Mall.

Geographically speaking, it's quite near my school. The catch is that it involves a bus ride which is always an adventure in itself in China.

The bus has to cross under the river to get to the mall. Ningbo has too much traffic and way too few river crossing points, so these can be huge bottlenecks.

Here I am on the bus crawling through the tunnel. Thankfully there are no accidents in the tunnel on this particular journey.

I was used to catching the bus when I lived in Guangzhou. In Ningbo it's somewhat harder. The bus doesn't have any English announcements, unlike in Guangzhou.

The Grand Mall is an impressive building and the first time I saw it I thought there would be hundreds of really useful stores. In fact the main building is actually a furniture and home furnishings showroom. There's nothing of interest to foreigners there, unless you actually live in China and happen to own your own apartment.

Of most interest to foreigners in this particular mall is a branch of Auchan. This is a French supermarket with many stores thoughout China. It's a little like Carrefour. However I now prefer Auchan. The food I've bought from the local Carrefour has had problems, like beetles in pasta and melted chocolate on biscuits.

Auchan is really good and arguably the best place in China to buy high quality chocolate at affordable prices.

As it is nearly Chinese New Year here in China, there's a lot of New Year tat. It kind of reminded me of pre-Christmas in the West.

As well as food, Auchan is a good place to buy essentials and non-essentials for your teacher's apartment. I bought a really good food blender there for 99 RMB. I use it to make soups and smoothies - mango works really well.

Pick of the non-essentials has to be these cute little guys:

More little guys outside Auchan. Are they chipmunks? Cats? Bears? They look kind of faded and creepy.

The mall itself has a walking street where the main non-furniture related stores can be found. There are 3 levels of stores, although the upper 2 floors mainly contain restaurants.

Here's an alternative view. Like just about everywhere in China, it's largely deserted during weekday afternoons. If you're an English teacher then be sure to do your shopping on a weekday. Never go to a supermarket on the weekend - that would be insane!

China has just claimed to have a 6.9% GDP growth in the previous year. But it's always hard to imagine that given how empty many malls are. There's a big turnover of stores as well. I guess a significant part of that GDP growth comes from building malls.

Here's a flower shop with a dog in it. I need to write a photo blog of cats and dogs who own stores. I've got quite a large collection of related photos now.

Highlight of the trip to the mall was this sighting of a coffee shop.

Just another coffee shop?

Not quite!

This is actually a clone of Maan Coffee, which has branches in Beijing, Shanghai and Ningbo. So it's a fake coffee shop!

I'll visit this coffee shop clone sometime as I'm a big fan of the original. The fake one sells the same ice cream and waffle desserts. It even has crappier versions of the bears used as table numbers.

Whenever I visit Maan Coffee I'm always impressed by the number of Chinese people ordering ice cream waffles for lunch.

This is a more manly lunch - a Fashion BBQ:

Much kudos for apparently spelling barbecue correctly.

Which is more than I can say about this store's pretty tragic Chinglish spelling of Ice Snow Cream. This isn't an isolated typo either, it's the same spelling on their menu board.

Another sign - this time just in Chinese. We Westerners like to think that Chinese characters look so cool and all that. Indeed many of us choose to get character tattooes.

The reality is that most Chinese signs are incredibly mundane. They just say boiled fish or something.

To take an example, the two resident dogs in my school are called Xiaohuang (小黄) and Xiaobai (小白). Cute names right? Well they just mean small yellow and small white!

The escalator to nowhere? In China you'll often find that escalators are turned off to save electricity. I didn't get round to exploring the 3rd floor of the mall. I believe there are even more restaurants up there.

Another sign - this one for pickled fish. If you start teaching English in China and have never visited China before then you'll soon learn the sign for fish (鱼).

Just beware that if you order fish in China then it's often very bony. Chinese people are taught how to eat fish bones and all - we're not! So be very careful. Last year I swallowed a fishbone and it was an incredibly traumatic experience.

Here's a stores's display of teeny toddler shoes. I've seen this a couple of times in China now - it's so cute.

More signs - this time in English, Chinese and Korean. At least the English spelling is OK, even if they have had problems with the word spacing.

Chinese people love KTV (karaoke) and this is a two person singbox. There are quite a few of these in Chinese malls but I've never actually seen anyone use them!

There's an Ironman pizza restaurant in the mall but I'm not sure how good it is. I'll have to give it a go. The prices seem a little steep.

The Japanese eel pizza sounds interesting. I'll have to give that a go as I do like grilled eel.

I'm a big fan of Korean food and always buy packs of Kimchi when they're in stock at Carrefour. I love this Korean restaurant's sign showing how far it is from Seoul right down to 3 decimal places.

I do so want to visit Korea sometime. It's actually not too far from Ningbo. But it would be crazy to go to Korea in Winter. It's bad enough in Zhejiang Province.

Well this appears to be a Thai restaurant. I'll have to give this one a go some time. Hopefully it's better than the Indian restaurant my fellow teachers took me to.

Much kudos to this restaurant for actually having a picture with English translation menu. This makes it one of the few restaurants in my neighbourhood I can actually use on my own without ordering random stuff or being refused service for not being understood.

Finally I found an 一点点, yi dian dian. This drinks store is all over the place in China. Sadly the menu doesn't have any English so I'm not sure how easy it is to order if your Mandarin and Chinese reading skills are as basic as mine! My students love yi dian dian though.

So that was a grand tour of the Grand Mall (minus the boring furniture bits). Of course there's also a KFC there - what Chinese mall doesn't have one of those?

Any questions or comments about living in China, leave comments below. I'd love to know if you've sighted a fake coffee store on your travels.

I Quit My Job And Became a TEFL Teacher... Here's My First 24 Hours in China!

Welcome to my blog. Here I post all my braindumps about being an ESL English teacher.

If you've thought about doing the same, then I hope my experiences will help you through your own quest to go overseas and teach English. And if you haven't, well I hope you like my weird and wonderful travel adventures.

In this post I'll log my first 24 hours in China.

Well my first hour in China did not go according to plan. I flew from London to Beijing. It was a pretty easy flight to be honest. But it was an overnight flight, so I arrived in Beijing somewhat lacking in sleep. My body thought it was 7am, but in Beijing it was actually 2pm.

When I booked the flight I thought I was cutting it fine having a 1hr 45min connection to get at Beijing. But I have been there twice before, and last time I made a very tight connection.

This time I was out of luck. I was so late that not only had the gate closed for my connecting flight, it had actually taken off!

Thankfully the Air China counter staff did a good job of getting me booked onto another flight, and at no extra cost. It did take me a while to find out where my suitcase had gone though. I hate getting connecting flights, as I'm never too sure when I will be reunited with my suitcase. And to make matters worse, it's not always consistent. Sometimes it's at Beijing, sometimes it gets sent through to the final destination.

While in Beijing I was fortunate that the airport had wifi and I also got my home mobile roaming to work. I had to hastily rearrange the airport pickup at my final destination. If you're intending to work in China, then make sure you get WeChat installed on your smartphone! It's an absolute essential.

Thankfully the connecting flight eventually took off and I was on my way again. It was so late when I got to my final destination of Ningbo!

I was met in the arrival halls by two of my future students - a girl and a boy. They had a sign with my name. They called me Professor. I felt so honoured! They tried carrying my suitcase but I was so ashamed it was so heavy!

We got in the school's limousine and headed to the campus.

It was 11pm and totally dark but I could make out the usual tall apartment buildings that all Chinese cities have. One thing immediately became apparent - Ningbo was freaking big. Even for a tier 2 city, it was a fair size. It took something like an hour to arrive at my future school, even with barely any traffic on the road.

Eventually we drove through the school's grounds and came to the building that would be my home for the next 10 months.

It took us a way to find a door that would let us in.

We found the right floor, and then the right room.

I was in my new home from home!

First impressions were of how big my room was. This is no estimation to say that my teacher's accommodation bathroom is actually bigger than the micro-flat I lived in back in London.

What else did I have?

I had a small kitchenette, with a big fridge-freezer and a microwave oven. I had a desk for working on. And the bed was a big double. There was plenty of storage space - way too much for a guy with just a 21Kg suitcase of stuff.

The bathroom was nice as well. Unlike my last apartment in China this one came with a Western toilet, and it was clean!

The shower looked good as well.

Finally there was a washing machine. Another thing ticked off my box of "where do I...." list.

By this time it was pretty late so after getting the wifi password I thanked the students and remembered to give them the small box of chocolates I had brought with me for precisely that purpose.

I tried to get to sleep but jetlag made that pretty darned difficult.

After an hour of two of sleep I got up again and decided to start unpacking.

By this time I had realised the shortcomings of coming to my new home in the middle of the night. I had no towel, and not that much food. Thankfully I had the foresight to buy a couple of bottles of water in the Beijing airport departure lounge.

As I started unpacking my suitcase I had discovered that the packet of Longjing green tea I had brought to China with me had literally exploded. Green tea leaves were in absolutely every part of my suitcase. Very soon they would be all over my apartment floor as well.

God knows why I brought tea to China but it seemed a pity to waste it.

I managed to get a little more sleep before dawn. I was woken up to music and a lot of shouting. Well that's not unusual if you live in China. If you take one tip from this blog then it's this - always pack earplugs if you're going to Asia, especially China.

I looked out of the window and found that the freshmen students were doing military drills outside of my apartment building.

At 06:30.

Could you imagine American or British students doing this at their university?

Ha ha.

The good thing about university military service for freshmen as far as being a teacher is concerned is that while your students are marching up and down for several days you don't have to go to any classes. How many freshmen classes you get is up to the school administrators. Sophomore students don't do military training. However, their end of terms typically finish earlier due to important exams. So you'll get a break from teaching them at the end of the semester.

Later that morning I got a WeChat message from the admin lady who deals with recruiting and looking after foreign teachers. I was told to report to her office. I managed to find it OK and at least I could start the ball rolling on the long process of getting the work permit documentation together.

She then took me to meet the two different departmental representatives who would be responsible for my teaching commitments.

I scribbled down a few notes and came away with armfuls of course textbooks.

They took me to lunch in the school canteen. I had no idea how the ordering system worked. I ended up with some bony fish, some vegetables and of course some rice. Oh, and a cucumber. Cucumbers are tiny in China, whereas they're really big back in the UK. Just one of the many everyday differences you'll encounter if you also decide to go and teach English in China.

After lunch I had a sleep, then ventured out on my own for a look round the campus.

Eventually I found the so-called business street. It had a few restaurants and - most valuable of all as far as I was concerned - a supermarket.

I always like looking around supermarkets in or near Chinese universities. They stock exactly what students need in their day to day lives. Sadly since most most students have little money the food tends to be on the cheap and low quality side. Also because Chinese students aren't allowed to cook in their dormitories, the only food tends to be of the instant variety, or non healthy snacks.

Some schools have more of a choice of stores in and around the local neighbourhood. But as I would subsequently find out, our school doesn't have a lot in the local vicinity that would interest a foreign teacher, apart from a Starbucks.

A student also took me to get a SIM card for my mobile phone. This is a real essential when you're living in China! Needless to say this took quite a while to organise and involved showing my passport and of course having over money.

So that was a look at my first 24 hours as a foreign teacher in China. If you have any questions about going to China to teach English, then leave comments below.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

It's So Freaking Hard to Send Money Out of China!!!

I work as an English teacher in China. Since my job comes with a free apartment + utilities + subsidised canteen, I don't really spend a lot of my salary.

There's really not that much to buy here either. And I can't accumulate possessions because I only have a 23 Kg luggage allowance when I eventually return home.

I haven't found much to spend entertainment wise either. Our city is cold in Winter and this fabulous looking bar street is closed for winter:

A whole street of bars? I could see myself spending a lot of money here!!!

I tried dating (women will no doubt find a way to spend my cash) but East China seems to be a dating wasteland. After all, we're really near Japan and their population is actually shrinking.

So the result is that each month I accumulate more and more RMB:

A month's English teacher's salary in cash

When I first started my job my school told me that they would open a bank account for me at ABC (Agricultural Bank of China).

Most schools will open a bank account for you. They tend to allocate you to a specific bank as apparently they can save money by paying every employee through the same bank.

This is different to the UK where you're usually free to get your salary paid directly into a bank account of your choosing, unless (weirdly) you actually work for a bank. In which case you often have to have an account with your employer.

Anyway, I started my contract in September. It's now the end of January. I still don't have my ABC account.

I got fed up with waiting with my school/their bank's lack of action, and opened my own account with ICBC.

To their credit ICBC were really great. With their limited English and my limited Mandarin we managed to get a bank account opened for me. They just needed to see my passport and a copy of my job contract. I also needed a China mobile phone number to link to the account.

I got a bit confused when they asked me to make a 6 digit pin number. In the UK we use 4 digits.

So far so good. It only took me an hour to open the account. It cost me just 5 RMB to open the account. For that I can pay money in and get a Union Pay card. That's allowed me to put AliPay on my phone, which is the preferred way for Chinese people to pay for stuff in shops these days. Hell, even beggars on the metro accept AliPay e-payments!!! As do the semi-legit fruit stalls outside our school's gates.

Without a Union Pay card I felt I was living in the 1990's and might as well have been writing checks to pay for my groceries.

I was also worried that without a bank account I was taking a huge security risk. At one point I had the equivalent of over $3000 in cash in my room. That wasn't a good thing. Especially as our teacher dormitory building's door locks are, er, rubbish.

So I finally got a bank account.

That makes it easy to send money out of China right?


In fact it's getting really hard to send money out of China. So this is worth bearing in mind. Especially if you need money to pay off student loan debts or for other purposes.

I have tried various ways to send money out of China, with mixed results:
  • I tried buying some bitcoins with the intention of selling them again on an exchange which allowed me to send money back into my UK bank account. But that was a non starter. As of late 2017 the Chinese government had effectively banned bitcoin purchases by Chinese residents. Of course there may be some loopholes but as a foreigner they're unlikely to be of any value to me.
  • I thought about buying my own small business's software products using my Chinese bank card then waiting for the money to be paid by the payment processor into my UK bank account. A genius plan right? Wrong! There's a 10% sales tax in China plus my payment processor charges 7% commission. So that just wouldn't be cost effective.
  • Wire Transfer from my ICBC Chinese bank account. OK this is successful and I've got it to work. You just need to take your home bank account's bank name, IBAN, SWIFT/BIC and postal address with your passport and they will fill in the necessary paperwork on your behalf. The process is agonisingly slow, especially the first time you do it and if the bank teller hasn't done it before. Thankfully the money flow itself is really quick. I've done it a couple of times now and it's taken less than 48 hours for the money to appear in my UK bank account.

The downside to Wire Transfers? They're expensive! I got charged 200 RMB a time and I could only send a maximum of $500 home in a single, daily transaction. Of course there's also a certain amount shaved off my currency exchanges. So while Wire Transfers work, sending $500 home at a time loses roughly 7% of the value of the cash you send.


I think there is a way round the high fees by bunching up $500 daily foreign currency purchases. To be able to do this though you're gonna need a bank teller with pretty decent English. You might also need to show proof of your income and taxes paid in China. This isn't always that easy - for example my school never gives me payslips. And this is a big university with 30,000 students. You'll probably get even less from the payroll department of a small language school.

BTW don't go out on the street and buy foreign currency notes. It doesn't work that way. In China paper money is not the same as digital money and paper money is not easy to send out of the country.

I haven't tried:
  • Western Union or MoneyGram. These can work quite well apparently. The downside is that you need a money mule at the other end to go and pick up cash on your behalf. I'm not a huge fan of this as I don't like to get other people involved in my financial affairs.
  • Taking cash out of China. Of course you can take cash out of China. But just be aware of the limits. You can only take the equivalent or 1 or 2 month's salary in RMB notes out of China. You can take up to $5000 in foreign currency. But if you do this then you're going to lose big on the exchange rate, and you might fall victim to a fake money scam. Well the overall message here is that you can't take your entire year's salary in RMB notes out of China. For one it's illegal, for another because the biggest note is just 100 RMB then you're going to need a suitcase for your annual salary, especially if you're as frugal as I am.
Many of my peers take cash out of China. But they're all lucky in that they have second homes in Thailand or Vietnam, so they can go home more often than I can. They also have Asian wives who they can give half of their cash to when they leave China.
  • Paypal. You can apparently open a Paypal account in China then send money from it to your home Paypal account. Sadly I can't do this as I got an unfair Paypal ban back in 2014 as and it's useless trying to argue with their idiotic support monkeys.
  • Getting a Chinese resident to send money out of China. AliPay allows Chinese citizens to send money overseas using Wire Transfer. I think the annual limit per person is $50,000. Sadly due to the usual discrimination against foreigners it's something only Chinese citizens are allowed to do. You could get somebody to do it on your behalf. But again it's getting other people involved in your financial affairs.
  • Getting the school to pay me by wire transfer. I'm not sure if this is possible, but I've heard about it. When I'm looking for my next contract I might try to insist on this. I suggest you try it as well, especially if you need money for student loan repayments or a mortgage.
  • Using my Union Pay card overseas. Apparently this is a good one. Just fly back home and use your Union Pay card to withdraw money in your own currency. Union Pay cards are accepted in a lot more countries these days. Apparently they're accepted by the UK's LINK network for example. This effectively means all UK ATM's will accept Union Pay cards. I guess there is a daily limit on this but over a month or two you should be able to withdraw a large amount of your store up salary. Union Pay cards are also usually valid for a long time - mine expires in 10 years. Watch out for your passport expiration date because if the bank notices your passport has expired then your Chinese bank account linked to it might stop working.

So that's my rant about the difficulty in sending money home from China. I guess it's a bit of a first world problem. But after all we have flown 1000's of miles to work hard and we expect to get paid for it. We do also have commitments at home and it doesn't seem reasonable to expect us to spend 100% of our salary in China itself.

By the way, it's VERY easy to send money TO China. But if you're intending to work in China (or already there) then bear in mind that when you do the math of converting a Chinese salary into USD/GBP or EUR then you'll have to factor in the problems in taking money out of China.

These problems will only get worse for us as China cracks down on money laundering while doing nothing to help us foreign residents move our money freely between countries.

End of rant.

Had the same problems sending money out of China? Found a loophole? Post your moans below.

15 Ways to Boost Your Income While Teaching English in China

I've been teaching English in a Chinese University for one semester so far. My current salary is 9,750 RMB a month, which is roughly equal to £1168 or $1500 a month. I also get a free apartment, flight allowance and access to the subsidised canteen.

My salary affords me a good standard of living here in China, but I could easily earn a lot more. And so could YOU!

So here's my list of 11 real ways of boosting your salary while working as an ESL teacher in China.

Be More Qualified

The first one is easy - up to a point. You simply need to be more qualified.

So what qualifications will get you a better salary?

This usually just comes down to postgraduate qualifications. My school pays their teachers an extra 500 RMB a month ($78) if they have a Masters degree, and 1000 RMB a month ($156) if they have a Ph.D. So that postgraduate qualification can be a bonus if you have one. The subject you studied doesn't matter either.

If you have a PGCE, QTS or other "real" teaching qualification then it won't necessarily allow you to earn more money teaching English in China. But it will potentially allow you to teach other subjects - more on that later.

Teach Kindergarten Kids

So my second tip is that if you want to earn more, then teach younger kids.

I regularly see salaries on offer of up to 20,000 RMB a month ($3122) for teaching English in my city in Eastern China.

The catch?

You usually have to teach much younger kids.

If you're good with kids and have a lot of energy, then this is how to earn big money here in China. Of course the upside + downside to this is that you'll be working with lots of very young kids.

If this topic interests you then after the CELTA you can do the add on course aimed specifically at giving you advice on teaching young learners. This course is highly recommended as the CELTA is specifically aimed at teaching adults. When I did my CELTA at International House we only practiced teaching adults, although we did have one input session on planning lessons for young learners. I found the lesson quite entertaining, although for one of my peers it was all too much and she stormed out of the session!

Teach Other Subjects

How else can you earn more money teaching in China?

This one is simple - teach other subjects!

I see quite a few adverts for teachers of specific subjects - especially Maths, Chemistry and Physics.

If you're a graduate in a specific subject then you might want to look into teaching these subjects. As a Ph.D. in Biochemistry I'd love to teach biology and chemistry for example.

You'll be a really attractive job applicant if you're already a qualified teacher who has real experience of teaching these subjects in your home country.

The downsides? Well most teachers in these subjects are required for coaching students to pass exams like A Levels. So it can be demanding. Also the jobs will most likely be in international schools with long hours and high standards to attain.

The other downside is that there are far less of these jobs going round compared to standard EFL English teacher jobs.

After graduating I worked as a software developer for 20 years. I did look into teaching IT instead of English. However, IT teaching jobs are pretty rare here. I did a search on the eChinaCities jobs board and only found one position available.

In the whole of China.

One of my fellow teachers in my current school teaches IT, but there's not much of an advantage of doing so to be honest. He has to spend a lot more time planning customised lessons. Whereas as an English teacher I can simply download one of the millions of ESL lesson plans available online.

Furthermore I don't believe he earns any more teaching IT than I do for TEFL work.

Finally teaching other subjects is hard work. The students here are all new to IT and programming, but they have been learning English for at least 5 years. I'd rather teach intermediate level students in any subject, rather than teach newbie absolute beginners.

Increasing Your Teaching Hours

If you're intending to teach in China then read your prospective contract carefully to see that:
  • You're happy with your teaching hours.
  • You get paid extra for doing more hours.

I work at a university and in general university teachers teach from between 14 and 20 hours a week.

If you've never taught before then try not go to beyond 20 hours a week in your first semester.

In my contract I get additional payments beyond this (I'm doing 22 hours next semester).

Teaching extra hours can of course be hard work. But the secret here is to try and teach additional classes that require no extra preparation. Then it's easy money. For example, although I'm doing 22 hours next semester, I'm teaching a lot of streamed classes. Effectively I only need to prep 4 lessons a week.

When you're a new teacher, lesson preparation is the most time consuming part of your week.

Oh, and make sure the extra hours pay decent money. I've seen contracts where the extra hours are paid at miserable rates like 100 RMB an hour. You can make 300 RMB an hour by doing private tuition (more on this later).

International Schools

I don't know a lot about these but International Schools are said to pay decent salaries.

Again you can also make good money by teaching subjects other than English. Increasing numbers of Chinese students are choosing to study for non-Chinese qualifications, like English A-Levels.

The key to working in schools is to make sure you're not expected to be in the school itself for the entire working day. Pore over your prospective contract and seriously think twice about joining a school that effectively imprisons you like a corporate drone.

Corporate Work

Corporate jobs can pay VERY well. I've seen them advertised at up to 25,000 RMB a month. That's actually pretty similar to my IT job's salary for a Senior role in the City of London! It would be an absolute fortune in China.

The catch?

Long working hours and far less holidays than if you were to teach in a school.

For example I saw that the Midea corporation were advertising for an English instructor in Guangzhou. Midea is a household name (at least in China). If your free apartment comes with a kitchen then you'll no doubt have some Midea kitchen appliances in it!

This gig required the successful applicant to teach Business English classes to their staff. It could be in small groups, or 1-1 tuition.

I'd love to do something like this. However, the working hours were 08:30 - 18:00.


You'd not necessarily be teaching all these hours. But you would be expected to be onsite.

The other problem with gigs like these is that you're either going to be living in a dull factory district or have a real hassle commute to work every day.

Finally Chinese managers can be really annoying. I try to have as little contact with my current school's admin department as possible. They're freaking useless. They change things at short notice. They tell me the wrong days for things. And they won't ever do anything for me. Move classrooms? Nope. Buy more blackboards? Nope.

Would I want 50+ hours a week of this? No way!!!

Private Tuition

If you have a low teaching schedule and need the money then it's possible to find private tuition gigs in China. These can pay pretty well. When I started at my job, my agent who found me the job told me about a private gig in the same city. The pay was 300 RMB + travel expenses for an hour's work.

The downside?

The traffic is so freaking bad here I realised that one hour's work on a Friday night would literally wreck my entire week and burn me out for the weekend.

Ultimately I turned it down as I don't really need the money - there's very little worth buying here!

If you have student loans to pay off then by all means look into private tuition. But if it's not near your school then it's rarely worthwhile to be honest.

A final tip - be VERY careful about offering private tuition to your own students. It will alienate others, and could also get you in trouble with your school.

Extra Work in School

Sometimes schools have extra things going on and you may or may not get paid for them. For example last semester I judged an English speaking competition, a drama competition and attended a Thanksgiving event (a bit weird if you're a Brit like me). There were also a couple of departmental meetings.

Try and get paid for this!

I was really thankful for my more forceful colleague for insisting that we got paid for all of this. We (or he) succeeded and I ended up getting an extra $420 in my pay packet for the last semester as a result!

It must be said though that employers in China (or anywhere?) hate paying you extra so you'll have to be persistent.

One other tip - use these events to raise your profile (see the next section).

Get a Better Performance Bonus

This one will probably only apply if you're intending to stay at your current school for more than one year.

My current school's salary structure includes a performance related element. This is largely decided from feedback from your students.

It can be quite significant. For example there's a 2000 RMB a month difference between the poorest and highest performance rating!

So you gotta get your performance rating up!

How do you do this?

By being entertaining in class, and being everywhere for your students.

I'm a bit suspicious of performance bonuses that aren't really tied to academic achievements of your students. Because I've found that students like entertaining classes with lots of games. While these are fun and get you big scores in student satisfaction surveys, pause for a minute... Are your students actually learning anything?

Actually I'm not sure students should be rating you at all. After all, how do they know what makes a really great teacher?

Peer observation would be better. This is how teachers are rated back home in my native UK. I've NEVER been peer observed by my school here in China.

If you want to get good performance ratings then the other thing is to be friendly for your students. A quick tip is to set up a WeChat group for each class you teach. Regularly post things on your WeChat Moments so students will get to know you. Market yourself as a brand. Be sure to NEVER post anything even vaguely negative about China! Stick to travel selfies, even if it's just downtown. Also cute things, food and drink and the occasional photo from back home (throwback Thursday?) will get you a huge number of social media "likes".

Export Stuff Home

Of course China is the world's factory and there is a tonne of stuff made here that needs to be exported to other countries.

Why not get a piece of the action?

You could potentially make vast amounts of money. But it requires significant time and often investments as well.

I'll also point out that you've got 1.4 billion Chinese people who want to do the same. Competition will be INTENSE.

It can work well if you know a particular niche. For example maybe you know about fishing and can spot some great fishing gear to export back to your own country.

Importing and exporting is very involved. If you're seriously interested in it then make sure you find a teaching job in a trade hub like Guangzhou/Shenzhen. I lived in Guangzhou for a while and there are many wholesale markets you can visit. I even visited a leather goods showroom that had 3 (or maybe 30?) floors of handbags. I nearly went mad in there.


If you work at a Chinese university like I do then you'll have a lot of spare time. Effectively I only work 8 months of the year!

So there's plenty of time for doing other things.

You might like to try blogging. There are few Westerners in the part of China I'm in, so there's a lot to blog about + not much competition from other bloggers.

Blogging can be fun but it doesn't pay nearly as much as it did in the golden years from 2008 - 2013. Then I was easily making $1000 a month from blogging. On top of my salary.

Travel blogs are fun to write but interest in China tourism is falling away. After all I had to pay £195 for my China Visa - that same amount will get you 14 night's accommodation in Bangkok, Thailand. Can I also add that Thailand has better food, weather, entertainment and of course less pollution?

Summer Gigs

Being a TEFL teacher is generally a low status job in Western countries and the pay is generally lousy.


TEFL teachers are in huge demand during July and August. And if you work in China then you'll probably only have a September - June contract. This leaves you free to go home and find short term TEFL gigs in your home country.

Many of these jobs are in Summer schools. For example in my native UK a lot of Italian, Spanish and French kids come to the UK to study English. There are also more Chinese exchange students doing the same - you might be able to teach these (and you'll get a huge boost in your application if you've picked up some Mandarin while teaching in China).

Side Gigs

Because there are so few foreigners in China then there's often a huge demand for foreigners to do all sorts of one off jobs. I'm not talking about teaching. These side gigs can be as models, musicians, trade show stand talking heads and things that are just generally classified as rent a foreigner "white monkey jobs".

Actually you don't necessarily need to be white to do them, you just need to be a foreigner.

How to find them?

I've had very little success finding these jobs on eChinaCities. I think it's because I'm in a smaller Tier 2 city and there just aren't enough of these types of jobs posted there.

It's much easier to find these types of jobs on sites set up for specific cities. For example check out GzStuff if you're going to be living in Guangzhou. Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen will all have similar sites.

Word of mouth is also a good way.

One tip with these - make sure you have a legit work permit, especially if you're intending to go to larger events like the Canton Trade Fair in Guangzhou. I know that the Chinese police attend these events as they're great places to find foreigners with expired visas or no work permits.

Of course there are also plenty of online jobs you can do these days. I used to do a bit of freelance website development while I lived in Thailand a few years ago. It gave me a bit of an extra income but it was a hassle. The clients were demanding, and often I had to work on existing sites that were a real mess. So only do this kind of job if you have a particular skill and can put up with diva clients.

Save and Invest

This is something I have been doing for a while now. I regularly save more than 50% of my monthly salary.

I send my money home to my bank account. From that I buy investments.

Actually sending money home from China is a real pain, but that's a topic for a separate rant post!

What do I invest in?

Stuff which pays me an income.

I've bought an apartment which I rent out.

I buy stocks and bonds. These generally pay me an annual income of between 5 and 8%. That interest compounds up as I never spend it. If you're young then this money will really grow over 20+ years.

I've also dabbled in P2P investments which can pay up to 12%. But to be honest that was a bit of a bubble and its best days are over.

I stay away from bitcoins, seed investments in new companies and anything else fancy. I tried buying existing websites, but that didn't work either.

So I've been quietly stashing money away. The result? I now make more money each month from my investments than I do from my network of niche websites and blogs.

Check out Ben's ESL blog and YouTube channel for more tips on how to do this.

Be Frugal

Finally I should also add that I got a decent bank account balance by:
  1. Working hard
  2. Spending less

The second one is VERY important. I have friends who earn way more than me but they're always broke.


Because they have no discipline over their expenditure and they're way out of control!!!

I am relatively frugal in China. In fact thanks to my other income from investments I effectively save 100% of my teaching salary every month!

I don't skimp on food. Especially in China. I tend to buy 60% of my food from the expensive foreign imports supermarket. But food safety is a real issue in China, and it is a false economy to eat cheap food here.

Having said that you could save a vast amount of money by cutting your food bill here. My school has a canteen and it's only 2 RMB for a meal. Practically free! Compare that with a burger + fries + soft drink at Carl's Jr downtown which is 45 RMB.

Do the math on that - you'd save amazing amounts of money each semester.

If you're intending to teach overseas for several years then another way of saving money is by buying stuff where it's cheapest.

For example I buy my medication and vitamin pills at home in the UK as they're cheaper. I also buy most of my clothes at home because weirdly they're also cheaper (and they're guaranteed to fit).

Stationery and teaching supplies are really cheap in China though. IT stuff is also cheap in China. I got an ethernet cable for 5 RMB, and a new keyboard and mouse for 130 RMB.

Finally I seek out free entertainment where possible. The students often have events going on and they don't seem to mind be turning up to watch. Their fashion show was the highlight for me - a brilliant night's entertainment plus the winning student was in my class!

So this was my mega post about boosting your income while working as an ESL teacher while living in China or elsewhere. I hope you liked the post and it reassures you if you need to work and pay off a big student loan.

If you have any more tips about making even more money while teaching, then please post them in the comments section below.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Fake English Certificates - Avoid Them At All Costs!

Just a heads up that TEFL scams are rife online. Most common are fake English test and TEFL certificate scams.

The other day I found this advert submitted to the forum on my Niche Laboratory website's forum:

Get registered IELTS, TOEFL, ESOL All English Language Certificates.

We Produce Real registered IELTS, TOEFL, ESOL without you sitting for an exam. We are out here to help you get your documents easy and help you save your precious years !! and time.

Certificates will be Original and registered in the data base with online verification posiblities Once your details are imputed in the system it will be in the IELTS, TOEFL, ESOL web sites/system and will appear real and legit. We have been in this job for more than 8 years and have helped a lot of people in the past.

Email: (
Just a heads up that fake IELTS/TOEFL and other certificates are to be avoided at all costs. This goes for degree certificates and TEFL teaching certificates (but more about these later).

IETLS and TOEFL certificates are almost always required if you apply to study overseas. The better organisations will check the authenticity of any certificates submitted by applications. I know because I used to work in the admissions department of one of the UK's leading universities. It was surprising how many applications were rejected because of forged documents.

Of course you could probably study at a lesser organisation with fake documentation. But then a certificate for whatever you study there will be largely worthless in the global marketplace.

Fake TEFL Certificates - What's the Point?

It's so easy to find faked TEFL Certificates online. I'm not sure I really see the point of them because:
  • A real 120 hour TEFL Certificate costs around $300. I think that's what I paid for my TEFL certificate from The TEFL Academy.
  • A CELTA will cost about $2000 but if you do yours somewhere there's high demand for teachers then you're pretty much assured of a job when you finish the course. When I did my CELTA in Barcelona, Spain, all of the students on the course found teaching jobs after completing the course. Well except for me - I backpacked round Europe for a bit then went to work for an insurance company in London.
  • If you're intending to teach in a country like China then you'll need to authenticate your teaching certificate. So it's essential you get a legit one in the first case.
When I applied for my first ever teaching job in China then I had to pay to get my bachelors degree, police check and TEFL teaching certificate authenticated. This cost me £350 which is a heck of a lot of money! However, I should only ever need to do this once.

My bundle of authenticated documents which were certified by the Chinese Embassy in London.

Finally remember that submitting fake documents when applying for a job is illegal in many countries. Most countries are very strict when it comes to immigration fraud, as these examples show:

Two popular TEFL destinations - Thailand and China have become increasingly strict about immigration lately. So you don't want to be made an example of.

In the case of Thailand, it's even apparently common for university teaching staff to have fake degree certificates. This is just one reason why a degree from a university in Thailand doesn't carry much weight. It's a shame because in theory it would be a good place to study for an MA TESOL. But the reality is that academic standards in Thailand are pretty darned low.

Could you sleep at night in Thailand or China knowing your TEFL Certificate or Bachelor's degree certificates were forgeries? Teaching on fake certificates could get you deported and barred from re-entering the country, or even jailed!

Don't take that risk.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Are My ESL Students Actually Learning Anything?

While doing my CELTA at International House, one phrase from one of my tutors stuck in my mind: did your students actually learn anything?

I've made it through my first semester (around 3 months) teaching English in China. I now have just over 200 hours of teaching under my belt. So I'm still a rookie teacher. But I'm way more experienced than when I started.

During term time the schedule is relentless and there's the constant need for MORE LESSON PLANS.

Now in the break between semesters I'm doing a bit of soul searching as to how it all went.

And now I pause and wonder.

Did my students actually learn anything?

I got a lot better at teaching of course. I now know exactly what topics will get them engaged. And I know which activities will generate the most speaking.

I also did a pretty good job of recording their class scores. I know who the superstars are, and who are struggling. But most of the students lie somewhere in between.

The main problem with teaching English at a Chinese university is that your students won't actually get that much better. By the time they've arrived fresh out of High School many of them are at Upper Intermediate level. To get to Advanced level isn't generally going to be possible for any of them unless they actually go and work or study in an English speaking country, or they get jobs where they have to speak English all day. A few of my superstars might manage it, but for some reason they're all boys.

The other problem is that many of them make the same mistakes all the time. The mistakes are so deep rooted that even Chinese nationals who are themselves English Professors make exactly the same mistakes. The key one is he, she and it. Chinese people almost never master this. It all comes down to Mandarin Chinese having only a single word - ta - for all three (although the written characters are different).

I did try doing a mini exercise on different forms of the verb to eat. I noticed that when speaking or writing they're often all over the place. "I like to ate at KFC" and that kind of stuff. But when I did the exercise in class there wasn't a single mistake.

I've also tried teaching them specifics. For example I did part of a lesson with some new vocabulary. But from what I observe from my students, I need to be getting them to practice what they already know, rather than trying to teach them new things. That much was apparent in the exam I set for them. I got each student to describe an object. Yes a great deal of the students were missing specific items of vocabulary. For example, what shape is a pizza? And there were plenty of grammar calamaties - such as does an Octopus have 8 legs, hands or feet? I also found unexpected problems. For example, a pair of socks proved incredibly difficult for students to describe. I didn't see that one coming.
Cute? Maybe? Delicious as far as Chinese students are concerned? Definitely. But ask your ESL students what an octopus has 8 of and you'll get hands, foot, feet, legs, arms and all kinds of answers! One of my students even said it had 6 feet and lived in the sea, which made the rest of the class write a sentence about crabs...

What I most want my students to do is to be able to talk about anything in English. Even if they don't know the precise vocabulary, I just want them to try to be understood. That is the ultimate goal of my lessons, and I hope I have given them some encouragement to just try speaking in English more.

So what else have I done for them?

I hope that I have taught them a few skills beyond learning English.

I've helped them get better at presentations.

One class I did take part in was a translation class. There aren't too many real life foreigners for the students to practice this skill with, so it was good to take part in one of these.

Group working and public speaking is also a valuable skill to practice. In so many of my job interviews in my earlier life I failed to get the job because I didn't speak enough.

I've also shown them a few things from Western culture. I see so many things in my own country that could be wildly successful in China. So who is going to be the first person to introduce China to The Big Phone Guy, or Zippy from Rainbow, or open an English Fish and Chips restaurant?

Do you think it's important that intermediate - advanced students learn new grammar or vocabulary in every lesson? Or should they just practice their speaking skills? Leave your comments below.

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