So what are the other options?
Most universities have a string of local restaurants either in the school or outside the gates. These typically charge a minimum of 12 RMB for a meal. Most of these restaurants are aimed at the (usually) poor Chinese students who don’t have a lot of money. So the food can be basic and food poisoning is quite a frequent occurrence.
If you teach at a larger university that has more foreign students then it’s more likely you’ll find some Western style restaurants in or near the school. When I went to a university in Guangzhou there were a few Korean style restaurants outside the school gates. There was a pretty good pizza restaurant as well.
If you get a teaching job that comes with a free apartment then you should also be able to cook in your room. I tend to cook a lot of Italian food, simply because pasta and tomato sauces are the most easily found Western ingredients in China.
I try and cook a lot of soup, especially if the weather is hot and humid. Fruit is very easy to find in China although it’s not particularly cheap. The quality is good though.
Vegetables can be somewhat harder to find in the immediate vicinity of your school, especially if the campus is out of town. This is because Chinese students aren’t generally allowed to cook in their rooms, so there’s not much demand for vegetable shops.
The best supermarkets in China as far as Westerners are concerned tend to be French. Carrefour has a lot of stores throughout China, but Auchan is my favourite. Expect to see a lot of French products – it can help if you can read a little French.
The good news is that Chinese cities tend to have a few Western style supermarkets. Tesco, Vanguard, Auchan, Metro, Walmart and Carrefour are all worth seeking out as they have a wide selection of cooking ingredients. They’ll also have some foreign goods that you might want to stock up on as well.
Cooking can be difficult here though, not least because finding basic things like tin openers and pizza trays can turn into a major shopping hunt.
Now here’s the great part. You get loads of vacation time! Under the Chinese education system there are two teaching semesters a year. The first one runs from September to January. The second runs from March to June.
July and August are unpaid, and usually your China visa will expire at the end of June. So you’ll need to do and go somewhere else even if you decide to renew for another year.
You also get a paid month’s vacation for Chinese New Year. This runs between the two semesters. The actual timing of Chinese New Year depends on the lunar calendar, but it’s usually in February. This can be a great time to go exploring China and the rest of Asia. But just bear in mind that Japan, South Korea and most of China can be bitterly cold at this time of yeaer.
Most universities will also wind down their teaching calendar at the end of December. As a result you’ll find you probably have 2 months free.
One tip I’ll give you is to make sure you plan your end of term exam well in advance. Usually your bosses will be happy with you going away once you’ve given your students a final exam and collated the marks.
Note: most schools in China will frown upon you taking time off at Christmas. You might get a week off at most.
Finally China has a few public holidays dotted throughout the year. You’ll usually get time off for these. Some places will insist you do make-up classes. This can involve you having to teach on weekends. Luckily my current school doesn’t bother with them. But it kind of ruins the whole point of having holidays in the first place!
My school also had a few non-teaching days. Freshmen do a couple of weeks’ military training when they first arrive at the school, so there won’t be classes on those weeks. That’s a bonus if you have a lot of classes for freshmen.
Schools generally have a 2 or 3 day sports day as well. Again you won’t be expected to work on these days, but you might get roped into playing some silly team games.
So that’s an overview of the perks and benefits you can expect to receive while teaching English at a university in China. Do you like the sound of it?