Let's have a chat with Garry Brown. He's a 56-year old Australian who describes himself as 'young at heart'. After seven or eight years shuttling backwards and forwards to Thailand as primarily a tourist, he made The Land of Smiles his permanent home for a further three years. After mixed experiences in Thailand's teaching industry, he thinks he's discovered TEFL nirvana......in China. Garry wonders what took him the hell so long.
Garry, a very warm welcome to the ajarn hot seat. You're 56 years old. I get quite a few e-mails from gentleman in that age bracket who worry that their age might be a barrier to finding TEFL work. Can you offer them any reassurances?
Not the case in China. We are still wanted until 65. Some agencies/schools want younger teachers, but others are happy to take experience over age. Sometimes the reasons are dictated by area.
You travelled around Thailand extensively over a period of seven years before deciding to settle here permanently. Actually living in Thailand is a lot different to being part of the tourist trail isn't it?
Yes, It was the land of my dreams until I started to work.
Er....righto. Tell us how you initially got into teaching in Thailand. It all started with a foot massage right?
Yes, while having a foot massage, I saw an African American sitting opposite me reading a book. I asked him what he was reading and he mentioned that he was a teacher and studying to give a student a test. I asked where he was working and what qualifications were needed to teach. He stated that in some circumstances little or no qualifications were needed, but a TEFL or TESOL and maybe a degree was preferred.
You ended up working at no fewer than six different Thai schools in three years. That's a hell of a lot of schools. What kept going wrong?
It's easy. No experience. I did my TESOL training but didn't have any skills in applying that knowledge. It took a while to learn, but by then I was starting to become disillusioned. Some teachers loved my teaching style, but most saw it as a threat to their existence. So out came the knives into my back. Thats Thailand.
You finally decided to pack your bags and head off to China, and that's what I think most of the people reading this interview would be interested in. But firstly - what was the straw that broke the camel's back? What made you think 'enough is enough'?
I was working on a direct contract in a school near Chonburi. The salary was fair and conditions were basic. The contract expired and a newly-arrived director wanted to enforce the yearly change of 'farang' teachers, so all 3 of us were not rehired. I accepted a job through the ajarn website in central Thailand. The agent promised the world, but delivered nothing. My one-year contract ended up being one term, so I cracked the shits and resigned. How dare they bring me from Chonburi, 400 kilometers away, to the new school and then change the contract. Other teachers there stated that the school had a history of ill treatment to the foreigners and contract variances. I don't need to work for pigs!
So let's move on to China. I presume you did some research before you decided to take the plunge. At that time, what fears or worries did you have about this strange country?
Of course this time I was not going to be fooled by verbal promises. I wanted it in black and white. I looked on the internet and found many sites seeking teachers. Some wanted qualifications and some did not. I applied for several positions but didn't get accepted. Then I contacted an agency called 'Cathay Teacher' who were more considerate and really tried their best for me. Nothing was too difficult. They offered me a few jobs and I selected one in a University in central southern China.
So you had a decent job to go to.
After the problem in Thailand I made sure everything was cut and dried. The biggest difference is the professionalism. The contract, the visa and the resident's certificate were all done very easily. How many teachers in Thailand are sick of continual visa problems? Here everything was done for you and paid for by the school.
You claim to have found a 'TEFLers paradise' so let's delve deeper. Tell us about the actual academic side of things. Who do you teach? What do you teach? How many hours a day? And all that stuff.
I am teaching oral English to first year students (freshmen) at a semi-private university. The hours are what attracted me to this position. I do 16 hours a week plus 2 hours over-time. If you want to go into detail, it's six hours on Mondays and Thursdays, four hours on a Friday, two hours on Tuesdays and I get Wednesday off.
What about the wedge? the wonga? the holding folding? How does the salary compare to Thailand?
The salaries vary throughout China. In the tourist areas such as Bejing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the pay is much more, but then so are the living expenses.
My salary is 5200 yuan plus 1450 yuan in overtime for the month. This is roughly the same as a salary in Thailand.
And how would you compare the cost of living?
This is the kicker. It's a third to a half of what it is in Thailand. No one can tell me that it's cheap in Thailand - at least not for a farang.
I believe you've got some nice bennies thrown in as well?
Yes Philip, but these are normal for most of China. All the perks are advertised on the web for all to see. However some teachers have stated that this college has superior accommodation to other places.
I've got a large furnished one-bedroom apartment (some have 2). The school pays for air, heating, free utilities, phone, internet, food vouchers and reimbursement of plane ticket (absolutely true) I got half of the plane ticket cost reimbursed within 4 days of arrival (as per contract) and the rest at the end of term. You get your own private office with a computer and a phone. This campus also has its own bar, several canteens, restaurant, doctors clinic, picture theatre and normal campus facilities such as a pool and gym, etc.
Top banana! You'll excuse my ignorance Garry but I've never been to China, however, having read comments and reports on the ajarn forum, it seems to be a place you either love or hate - there's rarely a middle ground. Is it easy to see what gets people down about the place?
Sorry friend, I cannot agree. Everyone is friendly and all on this campus speak English. The teachers are helpful and the local townspeople, while speaking little English, always try to help. And there are no rip offs and no tips. The city is superb. It has everything you could want at a really cheap price although sometimes haggling might be necessary. The food is also spicy in this part of China so no difference there.
Having worked with numerous Aussies, Brits and Americans down the years, I've always felt the Aussies are the best at simply 'going with the flow'. I guess that's an important characteristic to have out there?
I am sure that you know about 'face'. It is as important here as it is in Thailand. If we don't cause anyone to lose face then everything is ok. Besides, the pressure is not the same. They already speak English and want to improve. My job is a soda.
You got me with 'cracked the shits' earlier on in the interview and you've battered me into three falls and a submission with 'my job's a soda' but let's crack on. So teaching in China vs teaching in Thailand? A summary kind sir.
No comparison. Students who want to learn vs students who go through the motions. No looking for the knives either.......the ones from the teachers room.
Ah, those unmistakable teachers room knives. I'm sure there's only one contender when it comes to retirement though?
Sure, I am an Aussie and will retire between OZ and Thailand, but I am no longer counting the days. Its good here and they accept individuality.