China First Hand

2 February 2006


Filed under: Personal — china1sthand @ 9:31 pm

I don’t have any money. I don’t have much time. I don’t really know this country. This week I’ve had to make decisions.

I remember some wise words from my English teacher at school. We were talking about travel, and he said:  “Often the biggest complaint made about holidays is the existence of tourists – but these people were tourists themselves!”  I completely relate to this: Crowds of tourists spoil things for me and I wish they would all go away. How do I escape the paradox? I don’t think I’m a tourist.

I don’t travel to see sights. Why spend money and effort seeing places that don’t change, and have already been photographed too many times? Surely the point of travelling is for the experience? Sure, tourist attractions can be an experience – but it‘s not usually a good one.

I think the best way to travel is through people. People represent the now and what is important to us – we are all people after all. By knowing a local, you discover levels beyond the visual; you learn the stories behind the sights. Tourists get the pretty picture. Unfortunately pictures can lie. With the right person, you get more than the photograph.

I have a simple goal for this trip: To live a Chinese life. No barriers, no special treatment. I want to see the real China.

There is a difference between an idea and its practical application. I have a number of factors limiting me, not least my lack of money and ignorance of the world I’m currently in. How do I achieve my goal?

Thankfully, I am a native English speaker. It doesn’t get me far in the depths of day-to-day Beijing, but natives are in demand to teach English in countries such as China. Written teaching contracts here are numerous and well paid. There would be an opportunity to interact directly with the Chinese with less language barrier. Schools offer a lot of support and I have a TEFL qualification that will help with negotiations.

However, this isn’t me. Contracts are restrictive by nature, and I like flexibility to change with the changes. Teaching students may give you access to the real Chinese, but only as they are within an institution. Finally, foreign teachers are carefully monitored by the powers that be. By accepting a contract you are entering the eye of the watchful bureaucracy. I don’t think this meets my goal.

My friend says it’s easy to earn money by tutoring English privately. This would include the advantages of teaching, along with allowing freedoms for both my student and myself. …Of course, it will be an unpredictable income… I would have to accept a varying diary and probably varying locations…I would have to find my way around this foreign city, and arrange suitable places to meet – I will be spending time with a complete stranger in a country I don’t know and surrounded by a language I can’t speak! And this is even if I can find any students!

I need to. This week of accommodation in my 3-month trip has cost a third of my total travel money.



  1. […] You need an adventurous spirit to deal with such inconveniences. I was concerned, but then it became an extra challenge. In fact, this was a much better introduction to a country: I would see the real China and experience it directly, without the watchful protection of my host. I imagined this would mean suffering a dirty, small hostel environment for the week, and having to arrange my life all on my own… […]

    Pingback by Setting The Scene « China First Hand — 15 September 2006 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

  2. […] Walking south down the river you see much more bustle of Beijing life. The river branches in two, and this part of town has a lot more people passing through. A mile or so down the main branch of the river you reach a wonderful old Chinese building that’s not marked on any map. On a footbridge you can see over roofs of beautiful traditional housing. These are the things you find when you’re off the tourist trail. […]

    Pingback by Walkabout « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  3. […] Having your every need catered for is certainly the most wonderful welcome to a country. Perhaps Westerners have more expectation of independence? You can get too used to being looked after though – on my first trip I was alone to catch my return flight from Hong Kong. As I sat down the flight transmission across the whole plane welcomed my arrival… Just a few minutes ago, I had only just reached the airport! […]

    Pingback by Welcome « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 2:46 pm | Reply

  4. […] I’m a native English speaker. We’re a lazy bunch. Today I tutored my first English language student. I figure the average Chinese learns at least 6 languages. […]

    Pingback by Language Learning « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  5. […] I went to tutor a 12-year old girl today. When I was 12 I didn’t have much homework. I spent these years of my life socialising and watching lots of TV. I was just starting to learn a second language – French – although ‘learn’ is probably an extreme word to use. Maybe I had memorised some numbers, but not much more. I expected to have trouble conversing with a girl this age. […]

    Pingback by Education, Education, Education « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

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