Don’t Ride the First Horse…



Perils of riding the first horse to come along

China Teaching Perils


That’s one of the important pearls of wisdom my First Sergeant shared with me when I reported to my first duty posting in Korea.

And it applies equally to the ESL field around the world as well as ESL teaching in China..

As headmaster of Kenneth’s English School in Jilin, China, I often shared this with newly arrived teachers.

So, what does this riding a horse perils stuff mean?  In a nutshell, it means be choosy about whom you befriend.


Understand this, every large group and population has misfits, outcasts and exploiters, it is just the way of the world.  And they are always looking for someone to befriend or exploit.  When a new person arrives, they make a beeline for them.

I knew of a school that made the mistake of hiring a local drug dealer as a manager of the foreign teachers. Six months later the school fired six teachers after the drug-tested them. I have never heard of drug testing in China so I assume the Headmaster arranged this. In any event, one bad apple can spoil the bunch.


Now, at Kenneth’s English, our problem wasn’t really with our employees, (although we have have had, briefly, an oddball or two pass through our doors) so much as with people outside our school.

Her is a brief taxonomy of horses in China you do not want to ride:

The Blood-Sucker


vampire blood suckers


One particularly nasty exploiter is the one offering a “business opportunity”.  This blood-sucker usually initiates the scam by inviting you for “a dinner” at a restaurant.  Sometimes, the scammer will even be a parent of a student you teach.

What it eventually boils down to is you are asked to leave your current employer and become “partners” with the scammer.  It is a sweet sounding deal with fantastic projections and promises.

When you ask about your teaching visa status in China and the legality of this, you are told, “No problem, I have strong guanxie with government officials”.

A few months later, you will have yet to be paid, and discover you will have to immediately leave China because the promised visa has never arrived.  You’ve been had.

A variation on this is to ask you to work part time for the scammer or a competitor of your school.   The only real question is who will find you out first, the PSB, (Public Security Bureau) or your employer, (parents and students tend to see all and tell all). So firing and deportation are on your menu while the scammer dines on your account until the scheme is outed.


The Succubus


This is an attractively packaged bottomless pit of emotional neediness and materialistic demands launched like a wire-guided anti-tank round at the first spotting of a new teacher.  I have known of one who spent countless hours over a three day period  to “accidentally” meet a new teacher on his way to class.

There are countless attractive, intelligent and well intentioned Chinese girls and guys one can meet while teaching in China. However, when they come busting out the gate like a wild bronco, wanting a “serious relationship” before the first date has ended, you should be seeing red flags.

Also, it is easier to get rid of a liver parasite than one of these clingy creatures.  As a teacher once shared, “Never throw your girlfriend’s suitcases down the stairs, because sooner or later, you are going to be carrying them back up.”

And this holds true pretty much everywhere.

Unclassified Parasites


*  Parents who invite you to dinner and when you show up, you find a table full of children waiting for their free English lesson.

* People who walk up to you on the street and ask to be your “friend” and teach them English – for free.

* Television commercial producers who get you to perform in a commercial and then disappear when you are to be paid, (pro-tip: cash up front).

By now, I think you get the point. Go slow. Take your time,  and choose carefully who you call a friend.












The Allure of China

The allure of China


The allure of the Chinese street market lies in surprise

The allure of the Chinese street market lies in surprise

During my nearly one decade in China I noted a curious phenomenon – teachers who arrived swearing they would only be teaching one year in China are still there many years later.

As the headmaster of Kenneth’s English School (in Jilin China), I had countless conversations with newly arrived teachers. Many had very specific plans after their one year contract, for example, grad school, join a family business, etc.  And yet, many stayed much longer than the one year they planned.

Now, to be fair, some of these did meet a future mate and stayed longer in part for that reason. But that doesn’t explain the bulk of the number.

I think that a big part of the allure of China, on a day-to-day basis, is simply China is incredibly absorbing, challenging and different. And people who like interesting, different and challenging situations find China is the place for them.

Also, teaching English in China can be fun and interesting.

China isn’t for everybody.  It takes a big leap of faith, flexibility and survival skills to really experience what China offers.

The folks I considered successful in China, what I call “China tough”, were confident, skilled, resourceful, adaptive, and had well developed social skills.  At Kenneth’s English, we were fortunate to have many teachers with these skills pass through our doors and it was a pleasure to have made their acquaintance.

Whether one loves it or hates it, (and one will experience both emotions at times) China is just alien in so many ways, especially away from the big cities.  Marco Polo’s last words were, “I have not told half of what I saw.”. Those who spend much time in China will relate to this. And they will return with a stock of stories and experiences from the allure of China that forever will enrich their lives.

I won’t say, “Come on in, the water is fine.”  But, for those who have the temperament, China’s allure can be amazing.