Today’s interview is with Kiwi Gordie Rogers. Gordie is a long-term China expat, lifestyle design blogger and English teacher. He shares his experiences and advice living in China and trying to build a successful blog. Gordie Rogers is definitely one of the most prolific lifestyle design bloggers out there. I see his comments on blogs everywhere. It is great to hear more about his life.
Please tell us about your blog LifestyleDesignforYou.
I started LifestyleDesignforYou on April 1st 2009. It is a pragmatic lifestyle design and personal development blog. It doesn’t go overboard and hold too rigidly to some dogma such as minimalism or Zen-Buddhism like many lifestyle design and personal development blogs do. LifestyleDesignforYou is about learning what works for you. It’s about finding good and practical stuff to apply to your life from many systems, ideas and theories while discarding the rest. Simply put, it puts practicality first. It’s also quite a broad ranging blog covering such things as entrepreneurship, blogging, health and fitness (new) philosophy, living in China, etc on top of lifestyle design and personal development. I’m also going to start doing some lifestyle design experiments on it, and let people get to know me a little better. Up until now, I haven’t shared much about myself on my blog.
What is your definition of lifestyle design?
I define lifestyle design as being able to get everything good out of life. That means experiencing as many things that make you happy, while causing you to grow and add meaning to your life. Basically it’s being able to do what you want to do when you want.
You started off with a huge effort, writing multiple blog posts per week and commenting everywhere but now you are cutting back. Why the change?
After approximately seven months of blogging, I started to become a bit disillusioned with my blog. It was taking up the majority of my waking hours directly through writing posts and indirectly through promoting my blog, writing comments on other blogs, building relationships, etc. I was doing more and more while not getting any increase in readership on my blog. I’ve only just broken through with 50 email subscribers and just over 60 RSS subscribers. Last week, I wrote a post on my blog called Help! I’m At A Lifestyle Design Crossroads. In that post, I basically reached out to my readers asking them for advice. I got a great response.
As a result, I’ll continue blogging but will only put up one-two posts per week. I want to concentrate on putting what I learn about lifestyle design and personal development into practice in my own life. I can’t do this by spending twelve hours on my computer every day. I have to get out and actually live. Hopefully, this will also provide me with more interesting experiences to write about.
Is it difficult to make money blogging?
I have come to the realization that if you don’t have a great product, or haven’t established a business prior to starting your blog, then you’re going to find it very difficult to make a lot of money from blogging. Many people I know who have succeeded in blogging have developed a business first and use their blog to feed customers to their business. Others, have slaved away in the corporate life for years and years and have so much money, that they can put all their effort into blogging because of the feeling of freedom and adventure it gives them. For those ex-corporate types money isn’t an issue for a while.
If you were to start a new blog now what would you do different?
I would have concentrated on building a business first. I would have used blogging to support that business. In regard to the blog itself, I would have written an ebook of my own first. Ideally, I would have had a decent product on offer from the start. I would have also written comments on a wider range of blogs.
By the way, if there are any lifestyle designers out there with a relevant product, I’m willing to be an affiliate partner. I’ve struggled to find suitable products related to my niche to promote on my blog. Currently, my affiliate partners are more related to monetizing blogs. I’m not interested in putting Amazon or Adsense on my blog as their business models highly favor them over the blogger.
Why did you decide to teach English?
I liked the idea of having a valuable skill that could be of use in many non-English speaking countries. I wanted to be able to travel and live in different countries while having a reliable career to give me enough income to live comfortably while abroad. My major at university was linguistics. I chose it intentionally for the reason of giving me some theory on how people best learn languages and how to teach languages. I have enjoyed teaching English for the past eight years in Korea and China. However, I now want more of a challenge than just teaching. Hence, the move into blogging and next year into business.
Why did you choose China?
When I was in New Zealand studying at Otago University, I was a member of the Otago Chinese Cultural Association. Through it I met many wonderful Chinese people as well as people of Chinese descent such as Malaysians and Singaporeans. I felt a bond with them. After awhile I had an intense passion to learn Chinese and go to China. After seven years here in China, I’ve found it to have been the greatest experience of my life to date. I’ve created so many great memories, that when I’m an old man lying on my deathbed, I’ll only need to think back to my time in China and I’ll die with a smile on my face.
How long have you been teaching English in China?
I have been teaching English in China for nearly seven years. In that time I’ve taught mostly at university level, but also spent a year teaching English to primary school kids. I definitely prefer teaching university over primary school. Primary school is a little boring in the sense that you can’t have deep discussions with the pupils. At university, you can exchange ideas on top of teaching English. I find it much more meaningful.
How easy is it to find teaching jobs in China?
It’s getting more difficult for inexperienced, under qualified and older teachers. It also varies from city to city. I don’t know the reasoning, but the government has introduced rules where most schools can’t employ EFL teachers over 60 years old. As a result many older foreign teachers I knew struggled to find regular work and couldn’t get a work visa and so in the end went back home. I’ve actually heard of universities even refusing to employ EFL teachers over 45 years old.
However, if you aren’t too old and are properly qualified i.e. have a degree and either a TESOL/TEFL certificate and/or at least two years teaching experience then it’s still pretty easy. The English learning market is still growing here, and demand for good teachers is growing, especially in the private school sector.
During this current recession, the market has dried up a bit, but I imagine in two years time it will start to bounce back again with an increasing demand for teachers. There are always illegal teaching jobs available, but I don’t want to encourage people to do that. Getting your degree first before coming to China to teach English is the best option.
How much money should the average person have saved if they are planning on teaching English in China?
If you are provided with free accommodation by a university, then I’d recommend having 8000-10,000 RMB (US$1171-$1464) to help buy food, bits and pieces for your apartment, as well as buying a cell phone, setting up and Internet connection, etc for the first month. You could get by on less, but you’d have to be frugal.
If you have to sign a contract for an apartment with a private landlord, then you’ll normally need to pay at least three months of rent in advance. Landlords in China don’t like coming around to collect the rent monthly. They prefer you pay 3-6 months worth at a time. I’d say have 20,000 RMB (US$2928)to have a comfortable financial cushion until you start receiving your monthly paycheck.
What is the cost of living in China?
Rent varies hugely from city to city. Beijing and Shanghai are the most expensive. I can talk about Tianjin, which is China’s third largest city. You can find an average two bedroom apartment for about RMB 1800-2500 (US$264-$366) per month. Going out varies. Most clubs don’t have a door charge, so you’ll just be paying for what you drink inside. Average price of a pint of beer in a club is RMB 20-30 (US$2.93-$4.39). However, in restaurants and cheaper bars, you could get a pint for 6-10RMB (US$0.88-$1.46).
Food in markets is usually cheaper than supermarkets, however because you’re a foreigner, you may be charged more because they view you as being rich and therefore worthy of being cheated because the color of your skin. Lol! You can get by on 1500-2500 (US$220-$366) per month on food. However, if you like Western food and other imported foods, then you’ll be paying substantially more.
In general, food prices have gone up substantially in the past three years. Rents have also gone up. However, teachers’ salaries have hardly moved. In fact, I know one particular university here in Tianjin that offers less now than it did back in 2003.
How much money can the average teacher expect to save?
This will naturally vary according to the salary you earn. Saving a lot is not that likely if you only teach at a university, however, if you wanted to supplement your income by doing private lessons then you should be able to start saving.
If you work at a private school, you’ll be working more hours, but you should also be able save a bit. If you like to go out and eat out a lot, then I think on a RMB 8,000-10,000 (US$1,172-$1,464) monthly salary you could save RMB 2000-4000 (US$293-$586) per month.
Have you found any business opportunities in China?
I personally haven’t found many opportunities. I haven’t really looked as I’ve been content with teaching English while here. However, I do have some friends who have found a few jobs in foreign companies here in the trade fields. I knew one woman who was half-Japanese and half-Canadian and bilingual from birth in Japanese and English and with a very high level of Chinese, who found a high paying translation job for a Japanese company, but besides that I personally haven’t seen that many opportunities outside of the education field. Shanghai would have the most opportunities.
How difficult is it to learn Chinese?
This is a though question. If you just want to be able to learn how to speak it fluently, then the only major thing that many foreigners struggle with is the four tones in Chinese. But if you can get this right from the start, then learning to speak Chinese is pretty easy. I think Chinese has the most logical and simple grammar system of all languages in the world. There are no annoying irregular verbs, gender aspects, or politeness forms.
If you also want to learn to read and write Chinese, then it’s going to take you a lot longer. Learning to write the thousands of characters and then being able to remember them all will slow down your progress of learning Chinese. What is even more disheartening is that you’ll notice that many Chinese people forget how to write particular characters. The fact is that you don’t need to put much time into learning how to write all those Chinese characters now that you can type them.
I would recommend concentrating on learning how to speak and read Chinese, while only learning how to write your Chinese name, address, etc. This will allow you to learn Chinese much faster.
The unfortunate thing now is that as I spend too much time on the computer working in English, I don’t spend anytime practicing or studying Chinese. As a result, my Chinese level is retrogressing quickly. Now that I’ve settled on doing less blog posting, I hope I can reclaim some time to use for getting back into studying Chinese. An hour a day would be enough for me.
What do you love and hate about China?
I love the fact that it’s so different from my home country, New Zealand. There’s lots of growth and change, it is a completely different culture, etc. I love China for traveling. It has a huge variety of places to travel to. You have nearly all types of scenery here with grasslands, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, etc. Many countries have that, but then you have all the amazing historical sites combined with those too such as the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall, varying styles of Buddhist temples, ancient palaces, tombs of emperors, etc. There’s just so much to see in China. There are also the varying cultures of 56 ethnic groups with their different food, language and music, which make China extra colorful.
I also love the cross-section of expatriates that I can meet here from all over the world. It’s cheaper and more convenient to go out here in the evenings too than it is back in the West. I have made so many international contacts who I hope to meet up with again when traveling in future.
Hygiene is a major problem in China. Spitting, public urination and littering are common place. Air and water pollution are shocking. Corruption and inefficiency can also be frustrating when dealing with Government departments and businesses.
The Chinese also have a huge victim mentality and pretty much see the whole world as against them in the past and present. It’s also sad to constantly hear my university students repeatedly say at every opportunity that they hate Japan and the Japanese. It gets boring after awhile.
However, all of these are bearable once you get used to them. I don’t regret one moment of my time in China and will be sad to leave next July to return home.
Is China a good country for location independents?
China is a mixed bag for location independent people. Internet access is pretty much available everywhere and is improving. It’s not too expensive to set up at home and will cost you about 80-100 RMB (US$12-$15) per month for an ADSL connection. However, internet speed can be pretty slow at times. One more thing you’d want to consider is getting a decent VPN set up before you arrive in China. So many social media and blogging sites are blocked by the Chinese government. Free Wi-Fi is becoming commonplace in cafes, which makes it convenient to take a laptop along.
For visas, unlike many countries where you can arrive at customs and get a 30 day tourist visa on the spot, in China you must get all types of visas organized before you arrive. Visa rules constantly change in China and are treated more strictly at different times. An example is where during the lead up to and after the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a huge number of location independent people who were here on tourist or business visas were not able to get their visas renewed until well after the Beijing Olympics had finished. Many of them had to leave China for up to three months, which hit those folk hard financially. There were more hassles this year because of China’s 60th Anniversary.
I recommend you come here on a Z Visa, which is a work visa. To get that you’ll need to have a job lined up. I think the most suitable work is teaching English at a university, which will give you your work visa, while still giving you plenty of time to work on your online business or other projects. I only teach twelve hours per week, which gives me plenty of time to work on my blog, learn more about my niche as well as travel. You can take the risk of trying to live long-term in China on a tourist or business visa, but you’ll have to trade off flexibility for the hassle of having to do visa runs and possibly being made to leave for extended periods of time like in the examples above.
What do you hope to do when you return to New Zealand?
Once I’ve settled on where I’m living, I want to set up a small business. It will probably be some sort of online business which meets a local community’s needs. I’ll also look at studying psychology part time at university. I want to learn more about how the human mind works and use it my life and blog.