Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

Teaching in China in your 50s

Meet Doctor X: a male, mature-aged Brit who has been teaching English in China for over six years.

He’s written a tell-all memoir of his adventures and strange encounters in this country he now calls home. Fascinated, I interview him.

Before we start talking about your time teaching in China, I’m intrigued by your pseudonym, ‘Doctor X’. Why the mystery?

I never intended to write a memoir about teaching in China. It hadn’t crossed my mind.

I was in a writers group and was contacted by another old China hand who pointed me at his own memoir, Yellow Fever.

I thought to myself, ‘I could do that! I’ve got six years’ worth of blogs which I could mine for detail.’

But the good stuff was all in my memory. The good stuff was all the naughty stuff I didn’t want my mum or daughter reading about!

Plus I do have a professional reputation to uphold. Hence, Doctor X.

You’ve taught in China for more than five years. What aspect have you enjoyed the most?

I’ve enjoyed the freedom. The freedom from the rules and regulations of the UK. The ties of family and friends. The restrictions of work. 

Here in China I can do what I want and be who I want. It’s a freedom from responsibility.

What’s your experience in China been like as a mature-aged English teacher? 

Read the ebook and be shocked! There’s life in the old dog yet. 

Can you share one of the funny stories from your ebook?

Sure. My girlfriend and I were in Beizhongzhen in Anhui province. We were visiting her grandparents who lived in the mountains.

We were allocated bedrooms for the night. My girlfriend wasn’t allowed to stay in the same bedroom as me as we weren’t married. The moral code was strong in the mountains! 

After some initial confusion, eventually it was sorted out and we slept on opposite sides of the house. To make doubly sure that no funny business would be going on, grandma went around locking all the external and internal doors after we had all turned in for the night.

While teaching in China, Doctor X went to the home of his girlfriend's grandma in Anhui province.

The grandma of Doctor X's girlfriend.

While teaching in China, Doctor X went to the home of his girlfriend's grandma in Beizhongzhen in rural Anhui.

Beizhongzhen is in a rural area of Anhui province, China.

The following day, we took the opportunity to walk around the village. We took photographs and watched the locals as they watched me. 

As we walked back to the house late in the afternoon we met a man herding his two cows back home. We exchanged a ‘good evening’ and he asked, in Chinese, where I was from. 

My girlfriend told him I was English and he said, “Good, so you’re not an enemy like the Japanese or the Americans!” 

We shook hands and then he moved his cows along. 

Do you have plans for retirement and how does China fit in to that?

I am leaving that up to fate. Life in China is never straightforward. 

I could drop dead tomorrow, as I’ve known other older teachers do, or I could be knocking on the door of 90 like my dad. 

My girlfriend’s in her mid-thirties and would be loathe to leave China. And I wouldn’t want to leave her. 

My current school say they are happy to get me preferred worker status next year when my residency runs out. So we’ll wait and see.

How has China changed you?

I am now much less stressed than I was in the UK. I was constantly having migraines and acid reflux that were stress-induced, according to the doctor. 

I am more laid back as a teacher in China. I’m doing things I enjoy. Writing, painting. Time for myself. 

I am happier. Friends say there was a time when I had stopped smiling. Now they comment on all my smiley photos on Facebook.

I was a vegetarian for 30 years. Bloody China changed that!

Thanks to a trip to the UK though, I realized I had to get back on track. So when I returned to China, I started eating mostly vegetarian food again. 

I’d say now I’m about 80 per cent veggie at home (my girlfriend isn’t vegetarian). And when I go out to eat, I can have meat without upsetting everyone!

Doctor X’s ebook, The Adventures of Doctor X in China: Five years teaching ESL in a strange land, is out now.

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