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Thomas Aylmer E-mail
Magazine - City Interview
Written by ND
Thomas Aylmer is currently an English teacher in the historic city Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China. Xi'an is a city which is most well known world wide for its Terracotta Warriors, long history, well preserved city wall and numereous historic buildings, parks and places.

He was born and raised on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in economics. Always wanting to spend time abroad, he filled this goal by accepting a job as a university English instructor in China. He spends his time as an independent learner of Mandarin Chinese. Here he describes his experiences as a foreigner in the city of Xi'an, his observations of the city and its people, and gives some advice about what to consider when planning a move to China.

Life in China has its quirks, but U.S.-American expat Thomas still finds that living in another country such as China can be a fascinating experience.

What country are you native to? 

The United States. I am from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It’s about an hour away from Boston.

How long have you lived in China and where? 

I have lived in China for about 4 months now, only in Xi’an.

Why did you choose China, or what factors helped you to decide to choose China? 

I chose China because I had always been curious about learning Mandarin. (And China isn’t a bad place to do that). Conducting international business between China and the U.S. is a real possibility for me in the future—so this is a great way for me to learn Chinese culture and business practices. The fact that China has the second largest economy in the world in terms of GDP --and that more people speak Chinese than any other language— also makes China a practical choice for living abroad.

What other countries did you consider?

I didn’t really consider any other country. I wasn’t set on living abroad after graduation. The weak job market in the U.S. encouraged me to look at some outside-the-box opportunities. Teaching in China was one of them.

Was it difficult to get the documents you needed to live and/or work there? (residency and/or working permit) 

Not really. My university did most of the legwork for me. It did come down to the wire, though— receiving the travel documents just a few days before I left.

What are your favorite activities in China? 

1) Practicing my Chinese.
2) Trying new Chinese foods.
3) Speaking Chinglish with my students.
4) Bonding with people that have a vastly different background from me.

Do you speak Mandarin? 

Before coming to China, I had no knowledge of Mandarin. But, I am very motivated to learn the language now that I am here. I’m an independent student of Mandarin Chinese, no teacher or formal training program. I use blogs, podcasts, Rosetta Stone, talking in Chinese on QQ, and my daily interactions with locals to improve my Chinese.

Do you think it is crucial to know the language in China, or can you get by with English? 

No, it’s not crucial that you know the language. You can get by without knowing hardly any Chinese. It’s amazing how much we can communicate with merely finger pointing and body language. That said, I think learning Chinese while your in China really enriches the experience, not to mention, makes it more convenient to get around.

How do you earn your living in China?

I teach English at the university level. I used an agency that helped me find the job. The process was very easy. In fact, I received a job offer on my first application.

Are there local customs that would make it difficult to fit in? 

Not really. China definitely has its traditional customs but the Chinese are pretty forgiving towards foreigners who don’t know them. The Chinese sense of modesty and “face” seem to most heavily influence the way Chinese people live their lives. It might be a good idea to read up on those customs before coming.

What are the top things you like about China?

1) Bao zi (Steamed buns).
2) How cheap everything is. A can of Coke is only 30 cents, a 600 ML bottle of beer is 50 cents.
3) Observing the traditional architecture, art, clothing, and festivals.
4) The Chinese language (it’s a 180 degree turn from English)—and learning it has opened my mind. 

What are the top five things you DON'T like or find strange about China?

1) The general uncleanliness. Xi’an seems to be a little worse than other cities.
2) Spitting in the streets.
3) The Internet policy.
4) Lack of adequate heating in the winter.
5) Frequent cutting in line.

Do you have any suggestions for people who are thinking about moving to China? 

Come if you are willing to learn and appreciate Chinese culture. Living abroad can be an awesome and special experience. But, I wouldn’t want to come to China only to resist Chinese ways by sticking to Western standards.

What else would you like to say?

If you want a first hand look of what China Is really like...
Check out my blog at

Our valuable Editor ND has been with us since Monday, 15 June 2009.

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0 #1 Giulia 2011-05-02 11:19
Very interesting information Tomas! I am planning a stay, as Italian Teacher, in Xian this summer and i find this site very helpful. Contact me all teachers if you live in Xian: Giulia Morelli,

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