Tianjin Economic Development Area (TEDA) is not in Tianjin, nor is it 29 minutes by bullet train from Beijing as I was told when I accepted the job (whilst standing outside Hong Kong Botanical gardens in the pouring rain!).
TEDA is an hour Chingway ride to Tianjin and half an hour from Tanggu (rough looking Chinese town) where you can catch an hour fast train to Beijing if you can bear to wait in the queue for over an hour and watch the Chinese chavs fight the customer service rep to get a ticket.
Attractions comprise of a man-made beach, a man-made lake, a lame botanical garden, a park, two shopping malls, a library, two supermarkets (including a TESCO) and several seedy entertainment centres (laughingly called bathouses in an attempt to hide the hookers and legitimise the business in the eyes of the Government). It is a new and affluent place, built for growth and where McDonalds deliver!
The weather is grey and oppressive. Pubs (if you can call them that) are expensive and full of lonely Western guys looking for a Chinese wife or bored, desperate expats unable to find much else to do but drink themselves into oblivion. So, what exactly kept a single, white, female entertained in TEDA for nearly four months…?
Well, there was tutoring the Governor of TEDA’s four year old son – one to one – five days a week. Five hours a day of playing shop, make-believe cinema, watching Peppa Pig, learning the names of fruit and veg, making pop corn, going to the park, playing bubbles, finding fun ways to remember new words, playing cars (or more accurately car crash) and having an absolute ball!
Then there were the evening and weekend classes, teaching business English to senior Government officials, public servants and middle managers of petrochemical companies who didn’t want to unlearn their poor pronunciation. They did however display an unparalleled enthusiasm for role play, debating, asking bizarre questions which regularly blind-sided me, such as “Do you believe that the world will end in 2012?” from the lady who couldn’t even pronounce her own job title! And, the students in my Government class were amazing. I only hope that I taught them a fraction of what I learnt in return.
Oh and there’s my surrogate Chinese family too! I ended up privately teaching the daughter of ‘Great’ (the guy who came to fix my internet). For three months, two nights a week, I taught the beautiful Emily at their apartment and was overwhelmed with hospitality, kindness, iPhone translations and mountains of food (and leftovers) from duck neck to shrimp brains and everything in between!
Last but not least there were my incredible flat mates who waxed lyrical with me about everything from communism to cartoon fights, cooking to quitting and talked travelling tales from around the world into the wee small hours (when we weren’t having a movie marathon!). Thank you guys!
I never intended to spend so long in China, but TEFL jobs are very easy to come by (standards and conditions vary) and the longer you spend there the more complex and fascinating it becomes.
I can honestly say, as much as there were a few “what the hell am I doing here?” moments, it was an emotional, exhilarating, exhausting, infuriating and incredible experience that has left me wanting more.