Guangzhou City Guide
A popular Tier 1 TEFL city in China, Guangzhou certainly has a lot to offer and is a wonderfully distinct alternative to either Beijing and Shanghai. First and foremost is the fact that despite its commercial prominence as the manufacturing capital of China and the fact that it’s the country’s third-largest city, Guangzhou exudes a much more relaxing vibe. People just don’t seem to be constantly in a rush here, unlike other major teaching cities and that translates to a more laid-back lifestyle for expat teachers. The proximity to Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, the lovely stretch of South China Sea coast nearby, the distinct European influence and the mild climate all contribute to Guangzhou’s immense popularity among foreign teachers.
Much like Hong Kong, Guangzhou also boasts a more amalgamated expat scene. Whilst you’ll find somewhat distinct British, Australian or Dutch expat communities in more prominent cities, Guangzhou and its (relative) diminutive size doesn’t lend itself well to separation: everyone’s thrown into the pot together so your soon-to-be social circles are likely to be a lot more diverse, a mixed-bag of all different nationalities that make life a little more colourful.
A sensational standard of living, fantastic travel opportunities and a wide array of neighbourhoods offering a wealth of scenes (from vibrant and trendy hoods ideal for young singe expats to family-friendly suburbs) Guangzhou has a ‘scene’ to suit every TEFL teacher. The benefits of a Tier 1 teaching destination with the added bonus of being a much more relaxing place to live.
What’s not to love about that?
Guangzhou as a TEFL destination – What’s life like for an expat?
Historically open to the world and welcoming of foreign trade since ancient times, Guangzhou is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in China. If it’s your first time teaching English abroad, you can consider this a ‘safe bet’ as far as culture-shock is concerned. Not only will you encounter plenty of foreigners every single day, but the local cuisine will be a lot more recognisable to you and the overall feel of the city, whilst still very authentically Chinese, will seem much more international. Because it is!
Here’s a quick overview of life in Guangzhou that’ll help you decide if this southern Chinese city is just the English-teaching destination for you.
Climate in Guangzhou
The subtropical monsoon climate of Guangzhou means you miss out on those very frosty winters that are typical in the north (hooray) yet you will have to deal with the torrential downpours of wet season (Summer), which runs roughly from May to September, with May and June being the rainiest months of all. Typhoons are not uncommon during this period yet the resulting Autumn colours in which the city is entrenched from October to January, will more than make up for it. January is the coldest month of the year, with very bearable daily averages of around 10 -degrees-C.
Guangzhou boasts a lot of green areas that are ideal for morning jogs and outdoor exercise, none more so than Luhu Lake, just north of the city centre. If you’re an outdoorsy kinda person and the mere thought of living in a ‘hectic Chinese city’ frightens the bejeesus out of you, consider moving to this area of the city just to have this incredible oasis at your doorstep.
Cost of living in Guangzhou
Being an affluent city yet not the #1 most-coveted TEFL destination makes Guangzhou incredibly affordable. You can score a brand-new apartment for much less than the same would cost you in Beijing, Shanghai and even Shenzhen although your best bet is to save a ton of cash by renting in an older building. Luckily, Guangzhou still has plenty of ‘old(er)’ left (for now) which can make living here incredibly affordable. Teacher salaries can be right up there with the best, moreover, and that translates to a very profitable choice for expat teachers. Local food is super cheap (as is local transport) and even Western meals, normally priced much higher, are cheaper here than elsewhere.
You could certainly live it up big in Guangzhou by choosing a city centre apartment and dining in expensive restaurants. Yet move just outside the boundaries of the CBD and your rent will drastically decrease (by almost 50%). Moreover, local grocery shopping and dining can see you save a neat bundle every month. Guangzhou offers plentiful choice…so choose wisely!
Entertainment & outdoor activities in Guangzhou
One of the first things that might strike you as you land in Guangzhou is the surprisingly good quality of the air here, most especially if you’ve visited the northern cities before. Despite its ‘factory headquarters’ status, Guangzhou enjoys a better air quality than its counterparts and that lends itself well to outdoor pursuits, enjoying the lovely riverfront areas and the many parks all over the city. Hike up Baiyun mountain to keep fit (or cheat and hitch a ride on the cable-car), take the kids to Chimelong Safari Park to swoon over pandas, get totally lost in the enormous Yuexiu Park and, when you’re done with that, lose entire days (or weekends) in one of the many ginormous shopping malls for which the city is world-renowned.
Guangzhou is also awash with entire streets dedicated to (yes, you guessed it) shopping, bar-hopping and dining and you’ll find plenty of expat nightlife options to keep you raging till the wee hours of the morning. Seek out expat forum sites for Guangzhou for the latest news of the hottest places to be.
Dealing with the language/cultural barrier
Guangzhou is very much in Canton-region which means that here locals speak Cantonese a lot more than they do Mandarin. Although many locals do speak a smattering of English, their shyness usually prevents them from being open about communication so you can be guaranteed of a few ‘lost in translation’ moments when you first arrive. Do yourself a favour and join a local language course as soon as you arrive: it’ll make your living and TEFL teaching experience in China all the more rewarding. Mandarin is still the official language of China, of course, it’s just that it won’t be nearly as helpful to you as Cantonese if you’re heading to Guangzhou, specifically.
Many TEFL teaching contracts in Guangzhou include Cantonese lessons so you should enquire about this genius added-bonus when negotiating your contract. If it isn’t offered at your preferred school, however, don’t panic – arranging one of your own accord will be easy, inexpensive and certainly worth its weight in gold.