Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

Teach English in Yangshuo China

I recently came across a great blog that outlined 40 travel truths you should know by age 40.

Naturally, my brain turned to ‘China mode’ and as I ran through the list I considered how each of the truths applied to China.

So here are 10 of the truths, which I’ve plucked straight from the blog, with explanatory notes on how each of them relate to China.

1. Haggling is essential

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, essentially arguing with someone over money – but haggling is a deeply ingrained part of many cultures, and it’s something you should try to enjoy. But don’t go too hard.

How it’s true for China

Haggling is very much a part of everyday Chinese culture.

Whether you’re shopping for clothes at the local market or taking a risk on an unlicensed taxi, haggling is the norm in China.

Because you have a foreign face, you’re already at a disadvantage compared to the locals. So cut the seller’s original price by about half and go from there.

Although you don’t need to know any Mandarin to teach in China, it pays to learn the numbers so you can haggle and feel comfortable handling Chinese money.


You can haggle at markets like these while teaching in China.

You can haggle at a market like this one in Lijiang, Yunnan province.

2. People are fundamentally good

There’s a tendency to be on your guard at first, to listen to tales of thievery and scams and believe it’s safer to assume the worst in people. But that’s a mistake.

The people you meet on the road are overwhelmingly good of intention and of heart. You might run into the odd exception, but the vast majority of people are kind, generous and well meaning.

How it’s true for China

China is generally a very safe country for foreign teachers. The locals will help you if you get lost, give you tips for getting around and even take you out for dinner once they get to know you.

Of course, it’s still important to follow normal safety precautions when you’re in China – just don’t let that get in the way of getting to know and trust the local people.

3. Off the beaten track is good

Most people tend to begin their travel careers in popular, safe destinations. As time goes on, however, you discover that sometimes the best experiences can be found in the most unlikely places. The entire world is worthy of exploration.

How it’s true for China

This couldn’t be truer for your adventure in China. Ask any Westerner to name every Chinese city they know and they’d be hard-pressed to come up with anywhere other than Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong.

When deciding which Chinese city to teach in, it’s important to think outside the square. Sure, teaching somewhere like Beijing or Shanghai will be an awesome and rewarding experience, but don’t rule out a smaller or lesser-known city.

British teacher Sarah Bucknall taught English in Fuzhou, Fujian province, and had a wonderful time there. Fuzhou is a city of over seven million people but is virtually unknown in the West.

The smaller the city, the easier it will be to get off the beaten track. You could even consider teaching in rural China. Just remember – it all boils down to the kind of experience you want.


You can teach in a city that's smaller than Shanghai and get off the beaten track.

Many people choose to teach in Shanghai but it's easier to get off the beaten track in a smaller city.

4. Travelling alone is amazing

At first, it seems intimidating: going out on your own, tackling all of travel’s challenges without anyone’s help, existing purely in your own company. But solo travel is something everyone should experience. It’s the ultimate freedom, and will teach you more about yourself than you’ve ever known.

How it’s true for China

Teaching in China is the ideal adventure, gap year or long-term career for those who like to go it alone. You won’t be lonely, though – you’re bound to meet plenty of new people and foreign teachers. And your students will always keep you entertained!

Teaching in China is also a great option for couples. You get to work in the same school, but because you’ll be in different classrooms, you won’t get sick of each other! During school breaks you can travel and explore the country together.

5. Expect the unexpected

Things will go wrong when you travel. Trains will run late, bookings will fall through, and restaurants will be terrible. That’s life. The sooner you accept these mishaps and move on, the more enjoyable your travels will be.

How it’s true for China

Things don’t always go to plan in China. Rules and procedures can change without prior notice, timetables change and things never stand still. As a foreign teacher in China, you need to be flexible and adaptable, and just go with the flow.

6. If you can’t afford to lose it, leave it

There’s no point stressing out your whole holiday over your expensive watch, or those nice earrings, or the bag you really love. If you can’t bear to lose something, then don’t take it travelling. It’s not worth the worry.

How it’s true for China

The most expensive thing you’ll need to bring to China is your laptop or notebook. It’s your electronic connection to life back home, as well as a critical tool for your lesson planning while in China.

As for everything else, forget it. The big, expensive camera? No – use your phone or a cheap digital camera instead. The shiny shoes? No – they’re going to get dirty in China anyway.

There’s really no need to bring super-expensive things with you to China.


Don't take your expensive camera to China.

Don't take your expensive camera to China.

7. Trains are better than planes

The hierarchy of transport options goes like this: trains, then planes, then buses.

Trains are the best way to see the world, a way to mix with locals and stretch your legs while travelling efficiently. Planes are fast but soulless. Buses have character, but take forever to get anywhere.

How it’s true for China

The best and cheapest way of getting around this enormous country is by bullet train. The network is extensive and most cities are connected this way.

Flying domestically in China is much more expensive than taking a bullet train, and depending on where you’re going to, may not save you a great deal of time (unless, of course, you’re traveling to a far-flung place like Xinjiang).

Local buses in China are great and will only set you back one or two kuai. Avoid regional buses if you can help it. Traffic can be crazy and you’ll be bored out of your brain traveling the long distances.

8. Always carry toilet paper

It’s a simple trick, but a good one: always carry toilet paper. And always know where the nearest public facilities are.

How it’s true for China

In China, toilet paper is not provided in public restrooms. So always – and I repeat, always – bring toilet paper whenever you leave your apartment.

Carry toilet paper with you everywhere while you're teaching in China.

Always carry toilet paper with you in China.

9. Local food is best

By far the safest way to eat when you’re travelling is to dine on whatever it is the locals enjoy. The food is fresher, it’s cooked with passion and skill, and you eat it surrounded by new friends.

How it’s true for China

Local food in China is far, far better than any restaurant selling ‘foreign’ food. That’s because passionate cooks have been perfecting recipes for thousands of years.

So whether it’s the ‘Lamian’ hand-pulled noodles in Xian or the sizzling hotpot in Chongqing, you’ll fall in love with China’s varied and delicious local cuisines.

You can try Lamian hand-pulled noodles while teaching in China.

Lamian hand-pulled noodles.

10. Coming home is the worst

There really is no more miserable feeling than the ‘back-home blues’, the knowledge that all that excitement, all that anticipation, all of those challenges and joys and thrills, are all finished.

How it’s true for China

Saying goodbye to your teaching adventure in China is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Why? It’s a life-changing experience that you’ll never forget.

Trust me, I’ve been there!


Do you have any travel truths of your own that you’d like to share? Please comment below.

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