Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

Picturesque park in Shenzhen China.

The southern Chinese city of Shenzhen has changed the life of 39-year-old British teacher Tim Robinson.

This is part 2 of the interview with Tim. Read part 1 of the interview first.

How would you describe Shenzhen?

It’s an ultra-modern and metropolitan city.

There’s a huge range of food and culture which the migrants from all over China have brought with them. It’s also incredibly diverse; China is far from being a homogenous culture.

Shenzhen changes rapidly. The entire social scene you’re used to can change from one summer to the next, with popular areas of town becoming dead and whole new areas opening up.

What has the accommodation been like in Shenzhen?

I’ve lived in a range of apartments in Shenzhen. They’re very similar to the kind of place you could expect in any major city.

The key is to find a place next to a metro station, otherwise you turn up for work hot and sweaty in summer!

What do you think of the food?

I really love it.

I play rugby and have always been quite keen on staying healthy and getting the right nutrition. Chinese fast food is definitely not junk food; steamed dishes with plenty of vegetables are the norm.

My favourite foods are ‘kao baozi’ (roasted meat pockets) from Xinjiang province and ‘jiaozi’ (dumplings).

It’s a good idea to try pretty much everything and see what you like! Eating out is so cheap in Shenzhen I actually spend more money if I cook at home.

Typical Chinese food in Shenzhen China.

While teaching in Sichuan Tim recommends trying all the food and seeing what you like.

Have you been able to learn Mandarin?

I’m learning, slowly.

Becoming functional in taxis and restaurants is fairly easy. However, becoming conversant is quite hard unless you’re disciplined enough to study before or after work and seek opportunities to practise what you’ve learnt.

Website Memrise has been a great find. It’s so easy to learn new vocabulary along with the characters and tones.

Then it’s just a question of throwing words together until you’ve expressed yourself, to the delight or amusement of your Chinese friends!

How long have you been teaching in Shenzhen? And what do you think is the right amount of time?

I’m coming up to five years now, and plan to leave at the end of this contract.

I think that if I had left after one year I would have regretted it. To be honest, I could stay here for another five years. I think this is because Shenzhen is constantly changing.

Have you traveled anywhere outside of Shenzhen?

I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled quite a lot.

I first traveled to play rugby, which wasn’t a bad way to see the country. Since then I’ve visited new places with my wife. This month we’ll visit Macau and next month we’ll have a long weekend in Xiamen, Fujian province.

While teaching English in Sichuan teacher Tim met his wife.

Tim met his wife while teaching English in Sichuan.

Once you’re in China, most places are a short hop away. There’s no reason why you can’t go to a dozen places in a year. Even taking the train four or five hours to a new town and coming back the next day is fascinating.

The best place I’ve been is Urumqi in Xinjiang. It’s my wife’s hometown and where we were married. Unfortunately, it’s one of the places that isn’t a short hop away from Shenzhen.

What advice would you give someone considering teaching English overseas?

Make sure you know why you’re coming.

If you’re only here for a year, find a place that will let you travel, party, learn, whatever, depending on your priorities. If you want to build a career, look for places that offer better salaries and career structures.

I would also say that money isn’t a huge issue. You can save the same amount of money on half the salary in a third-tier town, but you will have to be more adventurous.


Will you return to China in the future?


Our main motivation for leaving is to let my wife experience life outside of China. We’ll be coming back on and off for the rest of our lives, even if she loves living abroad. I can easily imagine living two years here, two years away.

If we didn’t have that tie, I would still come back. There’s a lot to see and do here and five years has only just scratched the surface.

There are also opportunities to learn and grow that can take decades back in the West. Coming to China has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Would you like to teach English in Shenzhen? Apply for a role with us today.


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