Living And Training In China!

Should You Do It? What's it like? How do you do it?

by David Smith (aka Wu Shuai, Da-Wei) (5/10/04)

David has participated in the message board here at for quite a while, he's taken the time to share his experiences and views on moving to China for wushu. As this is a major undertaking, I want to caution people from doing anything rash without sufficient research and preperation. I'll add a few more comments at the end of the article as well. -Raffi


By 'living' in China, I don't mean a "six month save up as much as you can and then come to Beijing till you've spent it" trip. I mean quitting the job, kissing the family goodbye, closing your bank accounts, and relocating your entire life to China.

My last training session in Hyde Park, London. With Shawn Ward and Naokii Ishii
  I'm writing this article because I am indebted to so many great people. Throughout my life I've had the honour of meeting some great Wu Shu masters and Teachers, I've achieved and learned a great deal thanks to their guidance. I now hope that people now can benefit from my mistakes and experiences, I also hope people can give me feedback and corrections to help me. There are a lot of people who are more experienced than me and I hope they might be able to improve this document.

Advice varies from person to person so I've decided to try and stay away from giving too much direct advice. Instead I'll let you know a little about my background and my reasons for making the change. Then I'll tell you what I've gained and what troubles I've had, so you should be able to make a more informed decision for yourself.

I've been training in Wu Shu fairly seriously since I was about seventeen (1994), before that I did a bit of TaeKwonDo and Karate. After graduating from University in 1996 I went to China for my first holiday, which was a five month training trip in Beijing at the TiYu ShiFan DaXue. Second holiday was in 2001 when I came to Shanghai QingPu WuXiao for two weeks. The third holiday was in 2002 when I came to Beijing for the 4th invitational Wu Shu Tournament (run by Wu Bin) and to do some training at Wu Bin school. Meanwhile I had been competing pretty regularly in the UK.

I was doing OK career wise back in the UK. I was working as a database analyst for a bank, so I had a pretty good salary and comfortable life style. New Years eve 2002/3 was a really important time. I was supposed to go to this big party but I was at a friends house playing cards and it was so comfortable and I didn't fancy going all the way to the big party. Midnight came and went and both my friend and me thought we'd wasted the whole evening. Comfortable it was but a good memory it wasn't. It occurred to me that my whole life was going to end up like that and that's when I made the decision to come to China.

Here comes my first piece of advice 'If you do come to China, take the opportunity to Study Mandarin' this was advice which I told myself. At least if I study mandarin, when I do come back to the UK I can use it to help find a job. Wu Shu will be useless career wise in Britian but a second language can be quite handy. I know a banker who lived for a few years in Turkey on the beaches, he also learned Turkish, when he got back home he used his Turkish to land a really nice role as a banker in developing regions. So I used this argument to win over my parents.

China is Extremely Beautiful but also has a few poor regions think carefully before moving there. Liu An, AnHui Province
My initial plan was the same one I would have made now in hindsight but I would say that 'getting a job with a UK/US based company and then getting transferred to China is much better than getting a job directly in China' The salary will be much higher, the moving part will be dealt with for you, everything will be much easier. However it's easier said than done my bank told me they could find me something in Singapore within five years, but I didn't want to wait. The only job I could get was working as an English teacher, but the hours were pretty much supposed to be part time, and would leave me with enough time for the training and Chinese lessons. Most people who read this should strongly consider the English Teaching role. There are more than enough jobs to go round.

(some good website with teaching jobs in China :,, use these and the links and you will find everything you need!)

So in 2003, I left London and went directly to Anhui province HeFei city. I got the teaching job with a company called English First. I found that it promised much but the "almost part time hours" didn't feel almost part time to me, and I was much too busy. 'Read your contract carefully' That goes ! without saying but as a guide about twenty five teaching hours a week is actually pretty busy when you include marking and planning lessons etc. Try to keep below twenty-five teaching hours a week.

Still I got in touch with the provincial coach (a really really nice guy) and arranged private lessons with him four times a week. He was really good as a teacher, he watched all my basics and slowly corrected mistake after mistake. I improved really quickly during my few months in Anhui.

'Think VERY carefully about going to poor places. It can be very rewarding but it will be very difficult.' It's not all romantic and natural as it might sound. There's some real poverty in China I'm afraid. One day I went to visit a small town about a hundred km from HeFei, I eat some noodles and immediately got a horrible burning pain in my intestines. The toilet I found was incredibly disgusting. You could really smell it from a good hundred metres away. As I got closer I felt like I wanted to be sick just because of the smell. Meanwhile some Chinese peasants were fascinated by this foreigner and had began to follow me. I got into the toilet (peasants still following), it was one of those Chinese toilets which is basically a channel dug out which you squat over. Inside much have been several years worth of faeces. There were thousands of beetles, spiders, and cockroaches squirming around in there. I pulled down my trousers and squatted on the wet slippery floor still being watched by these peasants. Squatting meant I was only inches away from this pile of faeces. Afterwards I stood up and suddenly had to be sick, as I turned around to be sick into the toilets a rat suddenly jumped from the mess and ran over my foot.

The Athletes warm up for the AnHui Youth Championships
That's one story I could write a million about taking public transport, going to the market, buying meat, hot water and other things. So do think about going to a poor city.

Eventually EF started putting the screws in giving me more and more hours of teaching until I coulnd't fit everything in, so I broke my contract and got a job at a University in Beijing. This is much better, Chinese universities get a grant from the government for every foreign teacher they hire, and the grant is more than my wages. So they don't really care what I do. As it is I am contracted to do sixteen hours teaching a week. Plus I have to do another few hours marking and lesson planning.

'If you teach remember that it's a workers market for teachers in China, if you don't like it somewhere, leave'

This leaves plenty of time for WuShu and Chinese. I have a Chinese teacher come to my house four times a week, and I'm now getting pretty fluent. I think I should get an HSK seven or eight for those of you who know what that means. Hopefully by the end of next year I should be up to a decent standard.

I just broke my Personal best and actually got a medal at a Major Asian Wu Shu competition so I can say that I have defiantly improved since I came here. I was interviewed and profiled by "Oriental Sports Daily" and it's really nice that I often get compliments from other foreigners who come to China to train. I also know a lot more about Wu Shu than I ever thought I would know, and feel confident that I can become a good teacher in the future. So from that perspective the move so far has been a great success.

Me (on the right) receiving my first decent international medal at the 7th Shanghai International Wu Shu Festival
But there have been some really hard times I picked up an intestinal ulcer somewhere which made me sick for weeks and required an unspeakably horrible overnight stay in a Chinese Hospital (I could write a whole book about that! Ugh). Then there was the diabolical twenty-four hour coach journey from Xian to Chengdu during spring holiday (the closet I've ever come to killing a man). Anyone who's done a little travelling in china knows what I mean but this particular journey was just incredible. Then there's been the constant 'La Duzi' diarrhoea, which can come due to food, drink, lack of food, lack of sleep, too much sleep, not enough exercise, too much exercise. SARS wasn't too much fun either while I think of it. For some reason it takes a lot less to make me ill in China than it did in the UK. 'Bring some Diarrhoea medicine and pay attention to hygiene and food'!

My real concern now is the same concern that I had the whole time while I was in the UK. "What am I going to do in the future?". I'm afraid that I'm still no closer to deciding what I want to do long term, or forever. I could stay here, I could go back to the UK, visit the US, go to Japan. I could go back to banking, become a Wu Shu teacher, open a gym, become a translator. Experience can give you new options but can't make decisions for you.

I've got millions of photos and videos a small selection of which are on the Photoisland network. You can look at them by going to and entering user id Dazedandconfused and password password. Most are not wu shu related but show the more picturesque side of China and I will change the content occasionally.

  Please feel free to get in touch with me you can use my yahoo email, (English or Chinese is OK). Please note that the fact I'm asking Raffi to publish this on his website does not mean I necessarily support any of his political views (nor that I necessarily do not!).


This section is set up for including any comments readers would like to submit to build on David's article, if you have any, email me:

First up, let me take executive privilege as webmaster and add some of my own personal opinions: I agree everything David has said, but I'd also like to further comment on his final point - going to China can be great, especially for wushu enthusiasts and teaching English is one way to put food in your mouth while you're there, but its not necessarily a career. In my time in China and other parts of Asia I've met a lot of what in Japan we called "gaijin bums" -- Westerners who are there goofing off, partying and using English teaching to pay for it. Don't become one of these people! China is growing fast and there are lots of good career opportunities there for bilingual Westerners. If you're going for an unlimited time, think about your long term goals and where wushu will fit in there. English teaching is a way to earn money in China, but unless you're considering education as a career path, you may be better off using English teaching as a stepping stone to something with more future. Keep in mind that it only takes one ACL injury and that competition wushu career you've been dreaming of could slip through your fingers VERY quickly, so if you're going to take the plunge and move to China, have a plan! Thanks again to David for the article.

Last modified: May 10th, 2004

Click Here to go back to

Send feedback to raffi at