A Xinjiang English Teacher: Personal Portraits | Xinjiang: Far West China

A Xinjiang English Teacher: Personal Portraits

March 11, 2009 | 1 Comment

This week’s interview is focusing on the all-too-familiar topic of teaching English in China.  Have you ever wondered what Chinese co-workers think about foreigner English teachers getting paid more to do the same job as they do?  Curious about how the ethnic tensions between Han and Uyghur play out on a personal level?  Then read on, because this interview is sure to interest you.

A Chinese English teacher named HeidiIntroducing my good friend, Heidi:

First off, why don’t you just say what you do for a living.

I am an English teacher. I have been teaching for six years at an elementary school in Karamay in Xinjiang, China.

How much are you paid per month?

I am paid about 1,600 RMB (US$235) per month after pension, unemployment, and medical insurance is taken out. We’re actually supposed to receive a [housing stipend].  The school promised this when we first signed our contracts, but we are still waiting…

So then how much are you able to save per month?

Well, I am a mother of a one-year boy and my husband works at an oil company as an engineer who gets about 2,000 RMB (US$293) per month . We usually save 1,000 RMB (US$146) for my [son’s education] and 500-800 RMB (US$70-$120) for emergencies. We have to pay the Nanny who takes care of my son while we are not at home. You might think we spend a lot and we do because sometimes we need pay for some nice dinners for our friends or colleagues to keep a good relation with each other.

Is being an English teacher what you always wanted to do?

I am very proud to be an English teacher because I have been dreaming that one day I could speak very good English and teach my students to learn more about western cultures.

Does it bother you (or did it bother you) that younger, inexperienced foreign teachers make twice or three times as much money as you do?

Well, it does because we spend more time at school and have more responsibility for kids and experience in teaching. However, there are some foreign teachers who are worthy to get such amount of money, including three teachers I worked with before. They were very happy to be a teacher and was beloved by everyone and made every day new for kids and put a lots of efforts for school, it seems they felt the school was their second home.

When did your family first come to Xinjiang?

My family first came to Xinjiang in 1969 and they all came from Sichuan province.

Why did they move from Sichuan?

My father used to be in the Army when he was 17 and was supposed to get a good stable job in Sichuan after being a soldier for three year in Yunnan.  He was late one year to get home, so he lost his job. My father was very ambitious to make his own career; he saw an advertisement that said it was much easier to make money in Xinjiang. Then he moved to my hometown of Tacheng in Xinjiang which he found was even poorer than his home in Sichuan, but he refused to regret his decision. He met my mother when he first went back to his hometown from Xinjiang three years later.

If you could, would you rather live in Xinjiang or in another part of China?

For me , I rather live in a middle city like Karamay because it is clean and cozy plus it is more convenient to visit our parents often (*Note: Tacheng, her hometown, is only 4-5 hours from Karamay*).

As a Han Chinese, what do you think about the relationship between Han people and Uyghur people?

Well, it is very hard to answer this because what our citizen think the relationship between Han people and Uyghur people will hopefully be harmonious forever, but on political side they always have different ideas on issues. Wish they could work it out.

Ok, but what about you?  Do you have Uyghur friends?

Tell you the truth that I had a lots when I was young for we lived in a same village, My younger sister learned Uyghur language as an exchanging student, but I have few now because the place I live and work is separated, we have no chance to make any Uyghur friends.

If somebody asked you why they should come to Xinjiang, what would you tell them?

First of all, the nature and beauty in Xinjiang is something you can’t get in other parts of China. To be honest, though, if you just want to make money, Xinjiang is not the place you should come, but the nature and experience is worthy for visiting and living here.

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China’s western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

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