I am an older woman who may come to Shanghai to teach English and I have some questions. I’m concerned about isolation in a suburb and earning enough money compared to the cost of living. Also, the school I’d be working at does not have central heat. Is that common? Any information you could give me would be helpful. — O.L., USA
As someone who has lived in both the city and the suburbs, Shanghaiist knows that there are some big differences. As a teacher in the suburbs three years ago, we made a paltry 4,000 yuan per month and got housing. The housing was excellent and we could get by on about 200 yuan per week. The main downsides included being unable to easily get items that we were used to at home, mainly good bread, cheese, wine, chocolate, beauty supplies and clothes. Far fewer people speak English in the suburbs, so going out for dinner becomes somewhat of an adventure. Finally, many more people will find you a curiousity in the suburbs, which means that you will be stared at a lot more than you are used to (unless you are alrerady really attractive … or really ugly). The best parts about living in the suburbs include cleaner air, fewer people and bigger parks. Living in the suburbs makes a visit to the city more fun and quaint, but also somewhat of a hassle until the subway stretches out further. So, as far as isolation goes, it all depends on whether you think an hour-long trip downtown is a big deal or not (yes, the traffic is terrible). Luckily, there are usually foreign teachers of all ages spread througout the city and you should still be able to find some like-minded people no matter what district you live in. If isolation is a large concern of yours, you might try signing a six-month contract instead of a year, if possible, so that you can get a feel for the liveability of your area.
The cost of living is much lower in the suburbs, but the choices are fewer. In the city, and without housing, you would find it difficult to get by on 4,000 yuan per month and live any type of comfortable Western lifestyle (although it is more than the average Shanghainese makes). Check out Wang Jian Shuo’s blog for more information on the cost of living here.
Although we have been unable to confirm this as truth or urban legend, it is said that Chairman Mao decided that anywhere south of the Yangtze river is “south” and therefore “warm”, relieving himself of worries about the people in Shanghai feeling cold (some say this rule applies to the Yellow River, which is even more absurd). Were you to look at the temperature averages in the winter and the fact that it doesn’t snow, you might think that it’s pretty bearable here in the winter. Sadly, it is not. It’s quite wet here, so a winter breeze doesn’t feel brisk and make one’s cheeks pink like it does in, say, Michigan.The breeze actually goes right through any number of layers of clothing and straight to the bone. During the winter months, it’s not uncommon to see a locals wearing a layer of thermal underwear made from cotton or polyester below a t-shirt, a dress shirt, two sweaters and a sports coat. Somehow that translates into NOT needing central heat. In classrooms in the winter, you will find that the temperature is sometimes tolerable due to the body heat being radiated by 50 children in one room, especially if they just finished gym class. Other times, though, you will be fighting with students about why they feel the need to open the windows in the winter. Either way, you will likely be finding yourself teaching classes in your winter coat for at least part of the winter. Sorry ’bout that.
Photo from BWG.
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