Looking after your health is important wherever you are in the world, but for expats in Asia it can be an even bigger concern. Yet for the foreign teacher in China, there are plenty of options on offer – take our advice and find your nearest sports club or activity of choice and get stuck in!
Growing up in the West, it is normal for children to participate in sports, and for adults to continue that practice throughout their life – from twenty-somethings playing football, to seniors going golfing. Yet in Asia, where career is very nearly a religion, the focus lies elsewhere. Children are seldom allowed to participate in sports, and adults seemingly spend every waking minute at work. Yet unlike the over-worked locals, foreign teachers often find themselves in the position of having free time and the inclination to do some exercise. So where can we go, and what can we do to stay fit?
Although China is famously terrible at football, it is nonetheless popular. In fact, President Xi Jinping recently told his citizens that it was their duty to play more football and give the country some hope for the future. Almost every university will have a football pitch or two, and casual pick-up games are typically inclusive. Students love to have a foreigner join in… although in places where international visitors are few and far between, they might be a bit surprised if you can’t play as well as Leo Messi!
Basketball reigns supreme as China’s favourite sport. Basketball courts are everywhere, and while you will likely find yourself the best football player wherever you go in China, the same cannot be said of basketball. The Chinese may be a lot shorter than basketball players in the West, but they are often faster, more skillful, and can jump higher. Once again, they are also typically enthusiastic about having a foreigner join in their game.
Unsurprisingly, ping pong (or table tennis) is very popular throughout China. Although it’s harder to find ping pong tables than a football pitch or basketball court, they are certainly dotted around. As with other sports, Chinese are eager to test themselves against a foreigner. So don’t be afraid to join in.
China is well-known for its home-grown exercises like tai chi and kung fu. There are various disciplines related to these and wherever you go you will find someone who practices some form of martial art. Participating, however, usually requires a certain fluency in Mandarin, unless you’re content simply to watch and follow. Often you will find groups of young people meeting in the evenings on university campuses, or the elderly on weekdays in local parks.
Running and cycling are becoming popular throughout China. Although the country was famous for its bicycles in the 1990s as a means of transport, they are undergoing resurgence in recent years for purely recreational purposes. The cities are dotted with bike shops, and on weekends the roads are filled with cyclists. Running is becoming popular, too, and you can pick up a pair of running shoes at most sports stores. Running on tracks is more common than elsewhere because China’s roads are rather unsafe.
Join a Gym
Finally, if you’re not into sports or simply want to work on your guns, China’s gym scene is improving. Most gyms feature pretty familiar equipment to what you’d know in the West, although at a much cheaper cost. In Shanghai or Beijing it might be expensive (up to 12,000 RMB per year) but in small cities it can be as low as 1,200RMB for a year’s membership. Gyms in China are pretty keen on membership deals, too, and sometimes will offer a two- or three-year membership for the price of one year!
For more information on China, check our “Spotlight On” series of articles cover cities where TFA have openings teaching ESL or subject teaching jobs in international schools. For example, find out more about Shenzhen here: http://www.teachersforasia.com/spotlight-on-shenzhen/. You can also find information on the visa application process at the following link: http://www.teachersforasia.com/china-applications/