Nightshifts, dive bars and dodging the police are all part of the everyday life of James Burbridge, a full-time English teacher in Shanghai. We talked to him about his experience in the field and got his take on the social divide between Shanghai’s expats.
Where are we and why have you brought us here?
We are at the B&C bar and I’ve brought you here because I would probably classify this as my favourite place in China, well Shanghai, as I’ve only been in Shanghai. To find a place with a friendly bar staff is definitely a find in Shanghai so that’s what makes it my favourite place.
How often do you come here?
Maybe twice a week, three times a week sometimes. Sometimes they throw special nights, I know my roommate and I were trying to throw an Octoberfest thing with them because they have German beer now. You should read the script the bar staff are given to sell the Starker beer – hilarious.
Tell us about your average day in Shanghai.
My average is going to be different because my work schedule is so odd. Lately I usually wake up at 8 or 9am and either go to my Chinese class or my Japanese tutoring class. I get to work in Gubei at about 3pm. Then I get a coffee and work until 8:30pm, six days a week. And after that I usually go out and do something.
How do you think this contrasts with the lives of other expats?
I think there is a big divide between the wealthy professionals who have really awesome jobs here and the teachers who see a different side of things. I think there are two very different expat scenes here, but I don’t want to moan, I just don’t know much about one and I know more about the other.
How does Shanghai’s expat scene here compare to Tokyo’s?
It was a lot smaller and a hell of a lot different. If you’re fairly wealthy in Japan it’s because you’re Japanese. I’ve heard most of the rich ones (people) live outside Tokyo.
EFL schools are notorious for being run as cowboy operations. Is there any truth behind this?
So I took the job without really knowing anything about it. I was interviewed over the phone at midnight when I was in bed, 90 percent naked, in Japan. They offered it to me and I took it. I got here and on the first day I meet my co-workers and they tell me about raids by the equivalent of the INS looking for illegals working here. When I started it was right before the Expo so they did it (a raid) three times in one month, which was unheard of. The teachers all have to run out the back door and not get caught. To be perfectly honest I was shocked when I first got here but it’s gone by relatively smoothly.
So what advice would you give to perspective teachers in Shanghai?
Teaching in Shanghai gives you the luxuries of home that almost nowhere else in China will to give you. You’ll either make good money and work for a private company and just work all the time at really inconvenient hours. Or you’ll work for a school and not get paid as much but have maybe a more enjoyable experience…maybe.
940 Changde Road (near Changping Rd)
Metro: Changping Road, Line 7