The ZUCC Chronicle

Jamie’s recent post outlined his history with China. It was a history which crossed mine. The most significant common experience was had in a college in Hangzhou we call ZUCC. (If you’re American, you say Z-U-C-C, kind of like F-B-I. If you’re Aussie or kiwi, you say “Zook,” rhyming with it “book.” I have always wondered about that little cultural linguistic difference.)

In chronicling my three years at ZUCC, I aim to do three things:

  1. Create an easy reference for myself, since I’m very forgetful.
  2. Provide a reference for friends and family with regards to ZUCC friends.
  3. Provide an idea of what kind of salary you might expect. (Yes, I’m going to disclose how much I was paid for each semester I worked at ZUCC.)

2000, Fall Semester

This was my first semester as a teacher in China. I signed a one-year contract for 3000 rmb per month, no airfare included. There were no teacher dorms at that time, but I was given 800 rmb per month as a stipend to live off campus. I had a nice living arrangement with a friend of a friend, whose father wanted him to learn English, so I actually got free housing off campus. So my net income was brought up to 3800 rmb per month.

I was picked up at my apartment (which was quite a ways from the school) every day at 7:15am and dropped off back home at 5:30pm. Since I only taught 12 hours of class a week, I spent quite a lot of time in my office at ZUCC studying Chinese, doing lesson plans, or grading papers. There were no computers in my office.

I ate all my meals on campus or at cheap little cafeteria-style restaurants. There were four other foreign teachers at ZUCC–all Australian–but they were extremely unfriendly and routinely snubbed me. I practically never went to bars or other foreigner hangouts, so I had virtually no foreigner friends. I spent a lot of time at home studying Chinese and hanging out with my roommate. Practically nonexistent social life.

I taught second year English majors. Since there were no other teachers to show me the ropes, I had to figure out the teaching thing on my own. Sure, I had had some education in the theory, but there were so many other questions: How much homework should I give? How strict should I be in class? What should I do if they don’t listen to me? etc. I learned a lot, largely from mistakes.

2001, Spring Semester

Almost the same as Fall 2000, except the four Australians skipped out on their contract, which left me the only foreign teacher. My class load was increased to 16 hours, and class sizes doubled in many cases. It was not a happy semester. I resolved to become more active in the foreign teacher recruiting process purely out of self interest.

I took another part-time job teaching to earn some extra cash. I had no social life — what else was I going to do with my free time?

2001, Fall Semester

My pay was increased to 3500 rmb per month for another year’s work, and I moved onto campus, into the newly completed teacher dorm. Since I no longer got a housing allowance, I was effectively taking a 300 rmb per month pay cut. No big deal — living on campus was extremely convenient.

I had succeeded in persuading only one foreigner to join me at ZUCC, but my teaching load did decrease a bit. The new guy was named Dougal and came from New Zealand. Dougal probably remains the most quiet/taciturn person I have ever met in my entire life. Having a normal conversation with him was like pulling teeth. In addition, he thought going out into the street or going on any trips within China was “too dangerous,” so he mostly stayed indoors. I eventually gave up on him and let him retreat into his apartment.

I was still teaching English majors, and was experimenting with different teaching styles and evaluation methods.

Thus ended my “lonely years” at ZUCC… a period when I polished my teaching style and learned a lot of Chinese, but had pretty much no social life.

2002, Spring Semester

I had been much more successful recruiting my second time around. The first to arrive was Wilson, who would soon become my constant companion at ZUCC. Helene, my other recruit, also arrived that semester. On its own, the school found the infamous David as well as awesome Aussies Simon, Ben, and Len and Jo [mugshots].

That semester ZUCC began providing offices just for the foreign teachers, decked out with computers. Wilson, Ben, Simon, and I used those a lot (network StarCraft!). It was from that office that I first launched Sinosplice. Wilson got me into blogging (on Blogger). Partway through the semester Wilson and I bought new computers. I’m still using that computer.

The school also began taking its new platoon of waijiao on trips paid for by the school. That was fun.

2002, Fall Semester

Another year contract was at an end, and I was having a good time hanging out with Wilson. My teaching methods were getting a lot of favorable feedback, and my pay was increased to 4000 rmb per month for a one semester contract.

Unfortunately, the Aussies we loved so dearly all had left, but Nicola arrived to carry on the Aussie tradition and provide Helene with some much appreciated female company [mugshots]. Chris, a cool kiwi tai chi guy, also showed up. The Smiths, an American couple and their three sons (aged 6-14?), moved in across the hall for me. Matt, a sullen American with a Chinese fiancee, also claimed residence at ZUCC, but we almost never saw him. Wilson was going strong.

I think it may have been after this semester that David ran off to Shanghai.

2003, Spring Semester

Although I had beem having a good time at ZUCC, I was starting to feel the need to do something that allowed me to use my Chinese skills, very possibly not teaching. The school did not want to lose me, so it made a compromise: the position of foreign teacher liaison was created. I was in the unique position (among the foreign teachers) of being able to communicate pretty fluently with the school in Chinese, the English teachers in English, and the Japanese teachers in Japanese. My pay was increased to 5000 rmb per month for a one semester contract. I decided that I would use the money I saved that semester to finance a semester of full-time study, including HSK prep.

Wilson extended his contract by another semester. Chris stayed, and Nadya arrived from New Zealand to assist him with his study abroad prep program. The new Aussies were Andrew and Tom. Andrew was a zany, hilarious mathematician, and Tom was the straight man. Katherine flew in from Hong Kong for a semester of teaching, and Wayne brought his 2.5 years of previous teaching experience in China to ZUCC [mugshots].

More trips and good waijiao bonding this semester… Wilson and Chris founded the Flying Disc Club, and got students learning throwing mechanics and the beginnings of ultimate frisbee.

Although I was getting restless to try something other than teaching, my teaching style was clearly maturing. I was really in the zone, knew what would work and what wouldn’t, all the while experimenting with new methods that were continually producing favorable results.

This was the semester that SARS hit. At the end of it, Wilson left ZUCC. So did Helene and Nadya.

That summer I met my girlfriend in Shanghai, and visited Ben (Spring ’02) and Andrew in Australia with Wilson. It felt like the end of a golden age at ZUCC.

2003, Fall Semester

I went into this semester knowing it would be my last for sure. I was enrolled as a full time student of Chinese at Zhejiang University of Technology, and my class hours were reduced to only 6 (?) per week (plus foreign teacher liaison duties) in exchange for 2000 rmb a month. That was just enough for me to live on comfortably in my rent-free ZUCC apartment.

I was said that it was my last semester, because my blog had somehow successfully lured five new guys to ZUCC to teach! Alf, Greg, Carl, Russell, and John B. all turned out to be amazingly cool guys that got along with each other really well. Wayne, Chris, and Nadya had stayed too [mugshots]. Aussies Ben (different one) and Simone showed up for a one-semester tour.

I felt really torn this semester because I really wanted to hit the books hard and get an 8 on the HSK to get that out of the way, but I also really wanted to hang out with the new guys because they were a blast. I wanted to be part of the formation of the new group of teachers, but I knew I would be leaving them as I headed to Shanghai only several months down the road.

I ended up getting a 7 on the HSK, but I did get a fair amount of socializing in with the new guys, and those friendships have lasted. I found a job in Shanghai with the developer of English language learning materials for Chinese kindergarteners, and my half-year relationship with my girlfriend was about to get a lot easier.

I left ZUCC quietly after three and a half years. My future was in Shanghai.

Wayne also returned to the States, and the Smiths left too.


After I left, Jamie Doom showed up to join the team. Some pretty crazy stories have been told about that next semester and those to follow. Afterward, Jamie left China for the States. Carl and Alf left ZUCC for other work in Hangzhou. John B. went to Changchun to study. Russell eventually left for Japan. Carl moved to Shanghai. Wayne came to Shanghai. Helene returned to ZUCC. John B. returned to ZUCC. Greg didn’t leave ZUCC until last month, when he returned to the U.S. Chris is still at ZUCC.

Related: ZUCC official website, my ZUCC apartment (Fall 2001), ZUCC campus (Spring 2002), ZUCC students

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