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ESL Teacher's Life in China



     Damien Mathews


One of the highlights of working in the ESL industry is undoubtedly the travel. And if you’re lucky enough to work for JESIE you’ll find yourself living in Wuxi or Nanjing – each a worthy destination in its own right – with many of East Asia’s highlights at your fingertips, from frenetic Shanghai to the sublime Yellow Mountain. The city of Changzhou claims the world’s tallest pagoda (a whopping 13 stories), while nearby Yangzhou was home to Marco Polo for several years. Traditional water towns dot the landscape. However, it is Suzhou and Hangzhou that stand out in the minds of Chinese for their unparalleled beauty. Thus the centuries-old saying ‘Above is heaven, below are Suzhou and Hangzhou’.


Each of the places I’ve mentioned is worthy of its own article, but I’ll just focus on Hangzhou today. I visited the city on a daytrip soon after joining JESIE, and was so impressed that I returned for a weekend stay the following month. Downtown Hangzhou is said to be interesting, but I chose to base myself in the area that makes Hangzhou so special: the West Lake.




After arriving at Hangzhou train station on Saturday morning I caught a taxi to Westlake Youth Hostel Manjuelong Branch. It’s in the mountains just south of the West Lake, and the first thing I noticed as I left the taxi was a lovely perfume that filled the air. The friendly hostel receptionist explained that it came from the local Osmanthus trees, which bloom each October. The smell accompanied me as I wandered up the mountain road to Longjing village after lunch. This village is said to produce the finest tea in China, and the cup I tried in the beautiful Longjing Imperial Tea Garden (featured in CNN Travel) was worth the high price. My good luck continued that evening as I met another Australian at my hostel – this was the first time I’d encountered a compatriot since arriving in China two months ago! We had a nice chat in the common area about the quirks and wonders of China.


The following daybreak found me struggling out of bed to start a busy day of exploring. I rented a bicycle from my guesthouse and rode down the mountain and past tea fields to Lingyinsi, Hangzhou’s most famous temple complex. I expected to spend an hour there but ended up lingering for more than three – in addition to Lingyinsi, the site includes two other temples up a small mountain as well as various ancient statues carved out of a rock face.



The calming smell of incense behind me, I headed for the West Lake. I was starting to worry about the time, but soon found myself stopping for lunch at a quaint little café surrounded by lush tea fields. One plate of green tea fried rice later I was back on my way, and this time I made it to the lake uninterrupted. The following idyllic hour was passed doing the obligatory Hangzhou activity: sipping tea on the shore of the West Lake and contemplating life (Guo’s Villa on the west shore served as the perfect spot).


It was then time to head back to the hostel, so I jumped on my bike and cycled south along the lake’s main causeway, battling hoards of flag-wielding tour groups as I went. After returning my bicycle and collecting my backpack I caught a bus to Hangzhou train station. I made it onto the 7pm train and was back home in my apartment shortly after 9pm, exhausted but thrilled with the memories of the weekend and with the anticipation of all the other weekends still to come.