I worked for CTLC for two years, and during that time I worked at two different schools. The first year I was placed at a primary school, even though I was supposed to teach at a middle school. At the last minute the primary school head master decided that he wanted me teaching his kids, and I guess he had the final say. Still, my apartment would be at the middle school, mainly because they weren’t prepared for me at the primary school.
When you teach English in China with CTLC you’ll have a contract that says exactly what your Chinese apartment should have, and shouldn’t. One thing that is also mentioned is that your school is only obligated to provide dorm-style living conditions, although you will get your own room. Many Chinese workers live in dorm-style housing, often many to one room.
That doesn’t mean they’re always the best, or what CTLC promises. The dorm room I was shown at the primary school had a squat toilet, not the western toilet I was supposed to have. Thankfully I convinced them to place me in the middle school’s dorm, one of which had a regular toilet. Still, it was a close thing. There was no security door on either dorm room, however, which was a strict requirement. I figure I didn’t really have anything worth stealing anyway. It also took me several weeks to get internet, which I should have had on the first day.
There’s not too much you can do about it besides negotiate with your school’s contact person, or your CTLC coordinator. So I took the dorm room at the middle school, which would prove to be my home for the school year, and not a very good one at that.
Like most Chinese dorm rooms, this one was meant for two people or more. There were two beds in the room, both hard as rocks. There was a small bathroom, with the typical shower that gets water all over the floor. The sinks were outside the room, on the back balcony, so it was typical to see the middle school students living across the way brushing their teeth in their sleeping clothes each morning. There were a lot of other annoyances.
- Basketballs: There were a few things I really didn’t like about the place. The first was that I was right next to the basketball courts. Each day, seven days a week, I’d hear basketballs bouncing and people yelling from 7 AM to about 11 PM. The only reason this wouldn’t happen is if it was raining or there were tests in progress. So basketballs were the soundtrack of my life.
- Cleaners: Another thing was the cleaner. A cleaner went to all the dorms on my side of the dorm building and cleaned them each day. Oftentimes I’d try to sleep in on the weekend, but there’d she be, opening up my door with her key to take out the garbage, sweep and mop the floor, and move my stuff around. Most days things would be moved around slightly as she cleaned around stuff. I told her many times that I didn’t need her to do that, but it never seemed to register.
- Bells: When you’re living in a Chinese school you’ll hear the bell each day all day and even on the weekends. It’s not a regular bell like in America; here they love to play Mozart. So each morning, even on the weekends, we’d get a good 10-minute blast of Mozart coming over the school’s loudspeakers. And this wasn’t just once, but progressively throughout the day, on the hour, or oftentimes earlier. There wasn’t a whole lot of sleeping in that year.
- Toilets: One time my toilet broke. It was something with the chain, and I couldn’t get it fixed myself. I had to jury rig it with a shoelace which I ran out of the tank and then could pull to flush the toilet. It took them a good week or more to finally come and fix it, and that fix lasted about a week before it broke again. I was glad I saved the shoelace.
- Heels: Chinese women love to wear high heels, no matter how loud they might be on the hard floors. One time some woman moved up to the dorm room above me. That would have been fine, if she would have taken off her shoes. You don’t often hear slippers through your cement and concrete walls, but she refused to take off her heels inside. So everyday and night I’d hear the ‘clack clack’ of her shoes.
- Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes were terrible that first year. I’m not sure exactly why there were so many around the school, but I have a feeling it was because of all the standing water they had. There will often be small fountain-type pools in community gardens and at schools, and that can prove to be ideal breeding grounds for these noxious creatures. They weren’t too bothersome until it came time to sleep. There were sleeping nets hanging from the ceilings, but I didn’t use them for about my first 5 to 6 months. Until then I just put up with the incessant buzzing in my ears.
- Sidewalks: If you’re living at a school you can be sure that at least once or twice throughout the year there will be some big construction project. The big one that I remember the most was when they decided to rip up all the sidewalks around the dorms. They did this starting on a Friday and it stretched over two weekends. In China they love to use electric drills, jackhammers, and just about anything else that makes a huge racket. Listening to that was pure agony.
- Supports: Another time they were replacing all of the air conditioner supports. Everyone in southern China needs an air conditioner; it’s simply too hot without one, unbearable really. Like most metal that’s close to the sea, it begins to rust. The metal supports that were holding the air conditioners up on the outside walls all had to be replaced, which meant a team of about 4 men had to come with ladders and pound out all the old supports with hammers. The supports had been drilled into the cement walls, and that was the only way to keep them up. That was another full week of loud drilling, banging, and headaches. If they would have had a larger crew it could have been finished sooner, and even many of the students living at the school had to put up with it.
The school I was at had a pretty good headmaster from Beijing who, upon first arriving at the school a few years earlier, was so taken aback by the poor food that he hired a whole new team of cooks. Eating in the teacher’s hall was pretty good, often better than some of the restaurants I went to.
Still, looking back on it now I’m surprised I made it the whole year. You’ll put up with a lot your first year in China; mainly because you have few options to do otherwise. You’re inexperienced, perhaps not as familiar with the language as you could be, and you want to be polite and accommodating. This makes you an easy foreigner to deal with, and one that the people at CTLC and your Chinese school won’t have any problems taking advantage of. Lots of CTLC teachers are alright with these accommodations, it’s just that the majority I knew put up with it more than they enjoyed it. Your low salary should ensure better.