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A day in the life of an expat in China

Updated 20 Nov 2012

As I'm a teacher, Wednesday is when I start my week, and it ends on Sunday – as the weekend days are busy teaching days in China. I take Monday and Tuesday off, which isn’t bad since there are almost 20 million people living in my city, so not having to fight the crowds of a typical weekend is just fine for me. These aren’t your black-Friday crowds either, imagine your state fair on opening day and then multiply that by five. That is what a typical rush hour crowd looks like in China!


7.30am – wake up

Wake up to my iPhone alarm clock, check my e-mails and pack my bag. I have to make sure not to forget my sweat rag and train/bus pass. You can’t live without these two items. As I leave my building I say "good morning" to the security guard dressed in camouflage and the recycle family that works on the corner. Three blocks to the train station, then down a flight of stairs and another escalator. Hmmm...hungry….so I stop at the 7-eleven in the train station to pick up some bread and coffee and eat it on the train to Kung Fu. Delicious!

8.30am – exercise

Kung Fu starts in the park at 8.30, and everyone is either twice my age or half my age. In my opinion, the morning sun, the mist off of the park grass and a little coffee is all anyone needs to start their morning right. My Kung Fu class costs me $30 for a whole month of classes; they are every day. As my 70-year-old Kung Fu instructor kicks as high as my head, I try to keep up. The sweat starts dripping from my head about 15 minutes into it, which is why I brought my towel. Sweating in public is never any fun and neither is looking like I am dying next to a 70-year-old whose balding head hasn’t even begun perspiring.

After my hour of Kung Fu it is time to make my way to work. My morning teaching job is a quick bus ride away. As the doors to the bus open (it is now rush hour) I rush the bus door, so I don’t get left behind. Waiting for your turn will only get you left behind in China. I never get a seat, but the cheap price of $0.18c makes this reliable and clean bus ride a bargain.

9.45am – checking in

I arrive at a private English school and am greeted by my teaching assistant. She is a young girl about 24 years old and full of energy. She has prepared the classroom and always remembers to water the flower pot on my desk. She checks to see if there is anything that I need. I need an extension cord and some paper. The extension cord is to plug in the CD player, and the paper is for the students who I know have forgotten their paper, again.

10.00am – teaching time

Students and their parents arrive and take their seats. Today the parents want to sit in on the class since some of the students will be “little teachers”. The parents love to see their child’s improvement over the last couple of months.

12.00pm – time for lunch

I love to eat sushi at a local vendor. I pop a squat on a bench outside of their shop and enjoy some green tea with my lunch. The whole meal costs me 5 USD and it is delicious.

1.30pm – nap time...

Hmmm... no complaints.

4.00pm – heading home

Time to get the ingredients for dinner. I head to my local market. On my way there I walk pass the live chickens in bins. You pick your chicken and they cut the throat, let it bleed out and put twine around their feet for you to carry them home. I guess you have to pluck it yourself.

If you want frogs, turtles, or snakes you must go down the block where you can find them all in tanks of water ripe for the picking. Fresh crab is also available from the adjacent corner; they crawl around in the wire bin until you decide which one will go on your dinner plate. Be careful where you walk, most of the trash is just tossed outside by the curb. Alligator and snapping turtle can also be found, but I have no idea how to cook them so I make my way over to the fresh fish. Once I make my selection, the fishseller cleans it and guts it right there. I also ask her to make some slices in the fish so that my ingredients soak in better. I don’t want to do any of that. I pay her my $2.50 for the fish as she throws it into a plastic bag. I always have her double bag it, because as you can imagine it is a little bloody. I then make my way over to the vegetable section. Here you can get almost any vegetable you can imagine, and they are dirt cheap. I buy eggplant, bok choy and some good old potatoes. Tonight I will be making steamed fish, eggplant, bok choy, and of course white rice. My shopping trip costs me $5 and will make a meal for four.

5.00pm – private tuition

My student arrives for her private class at my apartment. By telling people that I am an English teacher I always have people interested in classes. Once we discuss the rate, we then set up a time and a schedule. Tonight’s topic is entertainment. We discuss vocabulary and phrases. Always great fun!

6.00pm – get cooking!

With some quick and easy recipes from my teaching assistant I whip up the meal in less than 20 minutes. Then grab my chopsticks and enjoy! The seaside fish is delicious.

8.00pm – to the public square!

On my way there I pass garbage cans where you will always see someone, not homeless, digging for plastic bottles or any recyclable material. Recycling is big business here in China. If you have cardboard or newspapers you find one of the recycle people and they will actually give you money for your old cardboard, newspaper, and other recyclable material. They then turn around and sell it to the recycling centres. Many people make a living by collecting plastic bottles, cardboard, styro-foam, and other recyclable goods.  In China everything gets reused and recycled!

The public square three blocks from my house always gives me free entertainment. There are guys skateboarding and breakdancing. Then on the other side of the square you have your older women practising their dancing moves, and of course, my favourite, the salsa dancing class. I grab some steamed buns filled with red bean curd and have a seat and enjoy the scenery.

9.00pm – decisions, decisions...

There are so many different opportunities in China it is just a matter of choosing. This evening I teach English online. I connect with my students via Skype and give four thirty-minute classes.  These classes require very little preparation and I can do them in my pyjamas.


Time to call it a day and wrap it up. Another eventful day in China, who knows what tomorrow might bring...

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