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Tuha Petroleum Foreign Language School, Hami, Xinjiang
If you have taught in China before, then any problems you have encountered before will probably be repeated here. However, I have generally enjoyed my time (11 months) here.

The FAO has many tricks up her sleeves; she has tried to change teachers' contracts on several occasions and will try emotional blackmail at the very least to try to coerce you into something you don't want to do (ie extra classes, pay cuts, classes with age ranges you did not agree to, less favourable contract clauses). She usually cites lack of money in the company, which is not exactly true (she gets bonuses for money she saves the company). If you stick to your guns, there is a lot of bargaining power for the foreign teacher, as they need you more than you need the job. She has been my biggest problem this year, but if I avoid her my life remains fairly easy. Tip - check whether you are eligible for the 'experts bonus' and make sure you get it if you are.

Another problem with the FAO is the lack of communication with her; several times she has left the base without notifying us (or telling us that she will be gone for 2 days maximum) and has left for more than a week. It's also very difficult to get in touch with her by mobile or trying to catch her in her office.

However, the schools we teach in on the Oil Base are good. The textbooks are fairly standard - you will either love them or hate them, but there seems to be no problem if you substitute the book for your own activities, as long as you are teaching roughly the same language content. Monitoring infrequently occurs via video cameras in the classroom. A problem arises with photocopying though - we have to request it at least 24 hours in advance, and sometimes there will be problems if they feel that you are copying too much/often. Teachers have been criticised for allowing the students to watch the television in the classroom, even if there is good academic reason for it. There are cassette players provided, but no VCD or CD players nor OHPs. Blackboards and chalk are standard.

The heads of the school speak good English and will try to understand problems that you may face, even if they will/can do little about them. We are generally left alone with classroom problems, though the Chinese teachers will help with discipline. There is little interaction between the Chinese and Foreign teachers, until they want their listening exams recorded…however, one or two will want to make friends, if only because they want more English exposure for their child! There is little in the way of extra-curricular activities expected of you. Attendance at sports meetings and the like are desired, as the big bosses and the local media will be there, but it's not compulsory. Bonuses have been cut this year due to money saving, but we still get a box of fruit, supermarket vouchers and other small things every other month.

Students on the whole are motivated and friendly, though of course there are 'difficult' classes, as in any school. Their ages are from Grade 1 to Junior 3. Class sizes are around 20-25, which is one half of the class - so if the foreign teacher of the other half of your class is absent, then you will teach a full class. This semester they started to compensate us for this.

There are also adult and senior school classes available, sometimes for overtime, which is usually paid on time and with no hassles. This is in cash (your salary is by cheque), and this semester I managed to bargain from 1 hour to 40 minute classes per 100 yuan overtime period.

There are usually 6 English speakers, and 3 Russian teachers who teach music. We all live in the same block of apartments, 1 teacher to 1 apartment. These apartments are spacious (70m2) and have internet/kitchen/living room etc. Some apartments are less furnished than others, but constantly badgering for things that are on the inventory but not in the flat soon sorts that out. Some flats have VCD players/speakers etc, but it's not guaranteed. If you don't ask, you don't get is a way of life here!

Hami itself is a very nice small city, with little pollution and small very interesting and cheap minority (Uyghur and Kazakh) markets. However, it is very isolated and quiet (9 hours to the nearest supermarket with imported goods) and because of the distances involved in travelling anywhere, weekend trips away are quite difficult. There's little to see in the way of tourist sights, but cycling to outlying villages and generally wandering around is pleasant. There are a few bars on the Base where the foreign teachers go two or three times per week.

Overall, I give the school 8/10, but I give the FAO about 3/10 - just watch her!