"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Camp America, a short story from China.

Camp America a short story from China circa 2009

Camp America, a short story from China.

After a prolonged period of stability, I finally bid Belgium farewell in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and traveling.


It was a warm, smoggy Beijing morning as we boarded the private coach at Dongzhimen Station. Taking our seats, I guessed there were around fifty people onboard. Straight away, my ears picking out snippets of crisscrossing conversations, I realised that as so-called Europeans, S and I were heavily outnumbered. 

Zac from Oregon had packed a “sweater” in case it got cold at night. Steve from Philadelphia was wearing a new pair of “sneakers”, fresh from a Beijing market stall. Elsewhere, Sandy from San Diego flashed around a picture of her toddler nephew, dressed in nothing but a “diaper”. Everyone agreed the photo was “awesome”.

Camp America a short story from China.

Camp America, a short story from China.

Our group leader Justin was at the door, ticking off names on his clipboard. Tall, blonde and blue-eyed, with a Good Will Hunting Bostonian accent, he looked like a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Which, as I later found out, wasn’t far off the mark. 

S and I took some free seats next to Joel and Hannah, a timid couple from Ohio who looked genuinely overwhelmed. “We just got here last night,” whispered Hannah, wide-eyed. “It’s our first time outside The States”. The poor girl looked like she’d just landed on Jupiter.

“Do you know anything about where you’ll be teaching?” asked Joel, tapping his fingers against the window, the bus pulling gently out of the station.

Camp America, a short story from China.

Camp America a short story from China.

In a bus, surrounded by Americans.

S and I did not know where we might be teaching. Nor did we have any idea where we’d be living. In fact, we were similarly clueless as to what this training camp was all about. And what exactly lay in store over the next three nights. However it all turned out, I felt sure we were in for another adventure.

“All things going to plan, we hope to be in Miyun in about ninety minutes” announced Justin from the front of the bus. We’d never heard of Miyun, not until I finally did some research online the night before. My reading revealed that it was a suburban district of Beijing famed for stunning scenery, including canyons, waterfalls and the Simatai section of The Great Wall.

Driving from Beijing to Miyun.

Camp America, a short story from China.

Not that we’d be getting to see any of that. Rather, the entire camp was to play out at a country house hotel. All we could do was cross our fingers and hope the place was better than most of the hotels we’d stayed at during our China travels that summer. 

Miyun District, Beijing.

The countryside of Miyun district Beijing.

Camp America, a short story from China.

“Hi I’m Richard!” said the geek-handsome twenty something in the next seat up from mine. Slender and pale, he wore thick, black glasses and a bright green Woody Allen T-shirt that read: What would Woody do? 

Softly spoken and with an endearing shyness, Richard told me that he and his girlfriend Risa had been teaching through the agency for a year. Thus they were attending the camp purely as support to Justin. Helping to supervise activities, answering people’s questions, giving advice and so on. 

Camp America a short story from China.

Camp America, a short story from China.

While I chatted with Richard, Risa introduced herself to S. She was an intelligent, pretty girl with mousy hair and matching cheek freckles. In contrast to her low-key boyfriend, Risa was very outgoing. Boy oh boy did she love to talk! So much so that it was often hard for S to get a word in edgeways.

Richard and I formed an instant bond on that coach trip. We shared our backstories and exchanged favourite albums and movies. Liberal, self-deprecating and frighteningly smart, Richard hailed from Corpus Christi, Texas. I remember my surprise at this, because he seemed to me the most un-Texan person imaginable.

“Well… I do have a cowboy hat somewhere at home,” he drawled.

Impression Inn Miyun Beijing.

Our Miyun base.

With all the chatter, we arrived at our Miyun lodgings in no time. Our hotel was a sprawling residence called Impression Inn that offered simple rooms set around a large garden. The garden was gorgeous, with impeccably kept grass, scattered flowerbeds and a rocky, fish-inhabited pond. En route to our designated room, I spied some geese waddling down to the water. While it was an idyllic scene, I couldn’t help but fear that the poor things would be part of the menu before too long.

Camp America a short story from China by Leighton Travels

Camp America, a short story from China.

Having settled into the room, S and I joined Richard and Risa in the garden for coffee. I had a million and one questions about the camp and our job prospects. As a result, I could hardly hold myself back in seeking Richard’s counsel. “It’s gonna be… interesting” he said, choosing his words carefully. “Justin’s doing his best to keep things professional. But there’s a lot of chaos in the background”.

Camp America, a short story from China.

Surviving Camp America Miyun China.

Richard at Impression Inn.

A short while later we met Marc and Amy, a young couple from New Jersey. I was in the early stages of my Bruce Springsteen explorations, hence Marc was quick to turn me onto his album Nebraska. “Essential”, he nodded earnestly.

Camp America nostalgia.

Marc and Amy from New Jersey.

Before we had the chance to converse further, Justin appeared to call us all into the meeting hall. “Here we go” winked Richard, as everyone filed inside. “The fun starts here”.

I wouldn’t have described the welcome meeting as fun exactly. Justin’s opening speech came across well enough, with a few jokes and plenty of references to the cultural challenges awaiting us. “Nothing wrong with a good noisy spit”, he quipped. “It’s all in the throat!” 

This is China.

Camp America, a short story from China.

By the end of the talk he’d introduced his audience to the mantra “T.I.C” (This is China). Basically, if we could deal with the culture shock, keep our heads and maintain a smile, we’d be fine. Not actually bad advice as it turned out.

Camp America, a short story from China.

Expertise Education training program August 2009

Justin doing his thing in Miyun.

Justin then invited several people onto the stage to talk about why they’d been attracted to a teaching position in Beijing. First up was Paul from England, a plainspoken northerner who told us he’d soon be turning thirty. Not wanting to spend the rest of his life rotting in a soulless office job, for Paul Beijing was a chance for “adventure, amazing food and pretty girls”. 

We also heard from Zac, a Californian surfer who stood up simply to say “China dude…. fuck yeah!!!” But the most memorable of the bunch was definitely the tattooed meathead from Atlanta who called himself “40D”. 

“40D gonna take a year off before I get a real job!” he grinned. 

“China’s gonna be AWESOME!!!”

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Camp America, a short story from China.

The next act saw Justin introduce a chunky, middle-aged man from Arizona. Rosy-cheeked and wearing a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, he reminded me a bit of John Candy in Brewster’s Millions as he laboured up to the microphone with a glass of red wine clutched in his hand. 

“Hi I’m Greg”, he puffed. “I’ve been teaching in Beijing a looooooong time”.

He paused here, clearly expecting a laugh. When none came, he proceeded to perform what was essentially ten minutes of bad stand up. With imaginary tumbleweeds floating across the stage behind him, Justin eventually put Greg out of his misery. Looking more and more strained by the minute, he then announced a break for lunch.

John Candy in Brewster's Millions.


“Well, that was entertaining!” I smiled, reflecting on what had been a strange hour. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” chuckled Richard. As if on cue, there came a sudden outbreak of whoops and hollers as 4OD appeared with an armful of bottles. 

“Jeez, do I need a fucking beer!” he gasped.

“Aaaaalright, party time!!!” cheered a faceless accomplice. “T.I.C. motherfucker!” chimed another. Within seconds, they’d cracked the bottles open and the stall was set for what I would soon christen Camp America

The garden at Impression Inn Miyun.

Camp America, a short story from China.

I had been expecting Justin to have a word with 40D and friends. But instead, he chose to turn a blind eye. After lunch, we were all encouraged to get to know each other. It was the classic “write three sentences about yourself, two false, one true” setup. 

“Maaan, it’s true. I got expelled from college for setting a shopping trolley on fire and throwing it from the fifth floor”.  

This revelation came from a guy from Wisconsin who referred to himself as Jammin’ Andrew. “Why would he even share that?” whispered Steven, a sickly looking boy from Baltimore who kept an inhaler in the top pocket of his shirt. He looked like the kind of guy who’d spent the majority of his childhood being terrorised by people like Jammin’ Andrew. 

Shopping trolley on fire.

Camp America, a short story from China.

Frankly, it was a relief when the day’s training came to an end and we broke for dinner. The hotel laid on a buffet and to be fair it was a very decent spread. At this point pretty much everyone started drinking and within an hour the party was raging.

Remembering Camp America.

Dinner time at Impression Inn.

Soon, the garden had transformed into a grassy graveyard of discarded beer bottles. With the 40D crew getting increasingly rowdy, a bunch of us decided to gather over the other side of the pond by the swings. A good vantage point, we figured, from which to witness the unfolding carnage. 

Justin had positioned himself in a far corner of the garden with a few of the agency’s admin girls. I remember them watching the scene unfurl with a look of genuine horror.

40D and English Paul were having an arm wrestle. A New Yorker called Lou was stripping off to reveal some intimate tattoos to a potential suitor. A beer pong tournament was in the making. None of these people, it seemed, appreciated that this was a training camp. A place where jobs teaching children were up for grabs. 

Camp America, a short story from China.

Dancing partygoers.

The “training camp” vibe veers into a new direction.

At around midnight, a group of Chinese tourists arrived in the garden with a karaoke machine. “Whoaaaa, is someone strangling a cat?!?” howled 40D.  One of the Chinese men could speak English and was not best pleased. Words were exchanged, voices raised.

Taking this as a cue to exit, S and I headed back to the room. But Camp America remained in full swing long into the morning. At some godless hour, half awake, blurry-eyed, I sat listening to a raucous group singalong of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads.

Impression Inn Miyun Beijing

Impression Inn.

The next day’s training session kicked off at 10am. Predictably, half the camp failed to show up on time. We had already begun a workshop on classroom management when a few of the party animals began dribbling in. When 40D eventually appeared, he had sunglasses on and the hoodie of his sweater pulled up. He offered no apology. 

English Paul was the last to shamble in, forty five minutes late. His arrival sparked a round of ironic applause from across the room. “Paul! Paul! Paul!” they chanted, as the man himself performed a mock bow. Lapping up the attention, he raised his arms triumphantly before collapsing into a free chair.

“Justin, what the hell is going on here?” someone asked.

It was break time and there were about six of us standing in a conspiratorial circle. A few people were smoking. Justin was massaging his temple, a medicinal cup of coffee in his other hand. ”You know…” he sighed, “I came into this thing with the best intentions. Get the right people for the right schools. But there are over 100 positions going and… they got impatient. They literally told me to open the floodgates”. 


Camp America, a short story from China.

“Hey guys I’m Mark!!!!” yelped the little man excitedly. Justin had introduced him as “an EFL expert”. “The most experienced teacher in Beijing”. But I’d felt something was off with Mark the moment I saw him. Was it his shifty eyes? His manic energy? The nasal, self-congratulatory Floridian accent? 

In any case Mark had very few words of wisdom. He merely showed us a string of videos from his classes, along with some loose commentary. “Here’s me and my kids playing shopkeeper” he laughed, as onscreen a melee of children threw carrots and tomatoes at each other as if they were snowballs.

“Aw man, I get those kids so jacked up!!!” 

Camp America a short story from China.

Mark “all jacked up” in Miyun.

“Work hard and you’ll get it all back!” he told us. “My kids love me! For teacher’s day I get flowers, home made cards, the works. Man, I get those kids so jacked up!” His lecture went on like this for almost half an hour. “Learning’s gotta be fun, you know? Just attack them with language! Man, I get those kids so jacked up!!!”

“He got the Beijing police force pretty jacked up too” whispered Richard, hand over his mouth. “Smashed up an ATM because it wouldn’t dispense cash. Then got into a fight with a cop. Spent a couple of nights in a cell before the school eventually bailed him out”.  

“He’s probably Beijing’s most famous alcoholic” Richard continued. “And the whole reason he’s here today is that there are jobs going at his school. If Justin offers you a post at Marky Mark’s place, run like the wind!”

Camp America, a short story from China.

Camp America a short story from China.

“Sir, please refrain from assaulting the ATM”.

That evening, quite unexpectedly, an agency rep called Maggie came to our dinner table with news. “I have arranged demos for you both at a school!” she proclaimed. “You will also have an interview with Trudy, the principal. I will drive you there tomorrow. When you finish, we will come back to camp”.

And then she was gone with a curt nod. “Great news!” enthused Richard, as Justin gave me a thumbs up from the buffet table. “You see”, smiled Risa, “it’s all coming together!”

Map Shangdi neighbourhood of Beijing.

Camp America, a short story from China.

The next day Maggie drove us to Shangdi, a nondescript neighbourhood in Beijing’s Haidian district. S and I had been up late the night before planning our demo lessons. Frustratingly, Maggie hadn’t given us many details. All we knew was that we’d be teaching between four to six kids and that each of our classes would last half an hour. 

“Don’t be nervous!” she told us in the car. It was a mantra she repeated so often during that two-hour drive that she eventually succeeded in making me nervous.

MOMA Residential Complex. Shangdi, Beijing.

MOMA residential complex Beijing.

Camp America, a short story from China.

The school was a small, modern facility located in a swanky residential complex called MOMA. The entire place was positively otherworldly, a vast rectangle of green-white apartment blocks set around a garden of ponds, flowerbeds, rock formations and a children’s playground. Trudy, the school’s principal and sole owner, greeted us on arrival with what was clearly a charm offensive. She made us tea, treated us to snacks and gushed about how handsome I supposedly was.

Our demos were a piece of cake. As expected, we had just a handful of docile kids and they responded well. I did a vocabulary class on animals, S knocked out a rousing rendition of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. All the while Trudy sat at the back of the class smiling, clapping and making encouraging comments.

Head Shoulders Knees and Toes song.

“Thank you so much, both of you”, she dripped, ushering us onto the sofa at reception. And then she disappeared into one of the classrooms with Maggie for a prolonged round of negotiations. Sometime later it was Maggie who emerged, a self-satisfied smile pasted across her face. “She wants you to start in September. Shall we make the contract?”

Camp America, a short story from China.

Camp America a short story from China.

Putting pen to paper.

As soon as we saw what was on offer, S and I knew we’d be fools to turn the job down. Richard had already explained how the agency paid teachers more or less the same salary, regardless of where you went. You could be placed in a school like Trudy’s, with small class sizes and an afternoon schedule.

Alternatively, you could end up in a state high school working nine to five, dealing with up to thirty kids a session. The only downside to our schedule was that it included a full Saturday. Overall though, we felt she was offering a sweet deal. Consequently, we put pen to paper and became Trudy’s first English language teachers. 

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When we returned to Camp America that evening we found the place turned upside down. A bunch of people had left to take the medical exam for the working visa application. Others had been shipped off to various schools around Beijing for demo classes. Those who were still at camp seemed to be in a state of limbo. 

I found English Paul hiding away in a corner of the meeting room swigging from a beer can. Red-eyed and sniffy, he sat shaking his head inconsolably. “It’s all right for some people” he slurred miserably. “If you’ve got blonde hair and blue eyes. If you’re a Ken or Barbie doll type”. He paused for a moment to take another mouthful. 

“But no schools are interested in old Paul”.

Out in the courtyard, I spotted Baltimore Steven deep in conversation with a school principal. He had his inhaler in one hand, a contract of some description in the other. The scandalous news of the day was that with no demo or medical to do, 40D and a few of his disciples had gone to visit a nearby brothel!!! Those with a more wholesome appetite were in the midst of a dumpling making class. With nothing better to do, I decided to join them.

Chinese Dumpling making class.

Richard and Risa try their hands at dumpling making.

The next morning, we all found ourselves subjected to an unspeakably boring lecture by a middle-aged Chinese man representing SAFEA (State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs). With his ropey English and humourless monotone delivery, I don’t think anyone had a clue what he was talking about.

Instead, someone had managed to obtain a copy of Jammin’ Andrew’s CV, which was now doing the rounds to universal hilarity. I half expected to see the shopping trolley story on there. Elsewhere, S was playing hangman with Risa and an Australian girl called Rosey had fallen asleep. I was over the moon when one of the agency reps stepped in to save the day. 

“Leighton, your apartment is ready!” she whispered. 

“You can leave camp tomorrow morning!” With the dreary SAFEA man still droning away in the background, S and I had to suppress our visible delight. We were getting out of Camp America! We were going to the Beijing neighbourhood of Shangdi. To a new job… a new home… a new life. 

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‘Camp America’ is the ninth tale from my short story series Challenged in China.

I’ve also written hundreds of travel reports from all across China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Stan

    you really are a fantastic writer leighton. you set the scene so well and build the tension accordingly. i was chuckling out loud at least a dozen times at the characters and your dry observations of it all. the brothel!!!! thank god that at the end of everything you received your one way ticket out of camp america. you had some great allies in richard, marc and others. anticipating the next chapter.

    August 9, 2023 - 3:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, thanks Stan, I’m glad that it reads well and was entertaining. Richard was/is a cool guy and pretty much the only person from that period that I’m still in touch with. The brothel yes… it’s hard to believe that actually happened, but I am reliably informed that it’s a hundred percent true. There were more characters at Camp America than you could shake a stick at, myself included I suppose 😉

      August 9, 2023 - 3:55 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    This seems like something out of a movie haha! What an adventure, that first day would’ve drained my social battery so fast.

    August 9, 2023 - 3:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was pretty draining. Not a situation that I wanted to be in at all, if truth be told. But at the end of the day I made a great friend out of that experience. And of course we landed the jobs we wanted. Thanks for checking in, Lyssy.

      August 9, 2023 - 3:59 pm Reply
  • Nora

    Very well written.

    August 9, 2023 - 4:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Nora.

      August 29, 2023 - 9:37 am Reply
  • kagould17

    Great post Leighton. I could feel all the nervous excitement, the boisterous bravado and the ultimate relief at being chosen and posted. I suppose like with any large company, there are a few bad apples that fall by the wayside. It is not the life I would have chosen, but it sounds like you can make your own fun once you end up in the right place with the right group of people. Happy Wednesday. Allan

    August 9, 2023 - 5:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allan. I know where you’re coming from, starting a new life in a strange country is tough at the best of times. And China is just a whole other level of “challenging” that’s for sure. And boy oh boy was this just the beginning of what turned out to be a topsy-turvy ride. I hope you enjoy this part of the series.

      August 9, 2023 - 6:46 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Once again, your humor and outstanding ability to tell the best stories has made my day, Leighton! What a crazy time…I know you can’t make this stuff up, but your character descriptions are hilarious. Some of those guys sound like they thought they were at a fraternity party rather than a job interview/screening. I now have “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” stuck on repeat in my head, which may be a good thing because it kicked out Jain’s “Makeba” that has been swirling around in there for a couple of days.

    August 9, 2023 - 6:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Kellye, you’re too kind. It was a crazy time, no doubt about it and yes, “a frat party” is about right in terms of the tone. I have never heard of Makeba, so I’m off to Youtube now for a look and a listen 😉 Thanks for reading!

      August 9, 2023 - 6:50 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Your experiences always seem to top mine. Our equivalent experience in Zhongshan was relatively tame, the oddballs more subdued. You paint the characters so vividly, I almost feel like I have met them. Kind of hard to believe that most got jobs. I could have used your demo classes a couple of times. Great memories.

    August 9, 2023 - 6:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I think I would’ve taken “subdued” at the time. In fact, I reckon I was the subdued one in this scenario. Hopefully not so much of an oddball. And yeah, I’ve always thought it somewhat criminal that some of those guys got jobs in kindergartens teaching and looking after people’s kids. Thanks for checking in, Memo.

      August 9, 2023 - 7:13 pm Reply
  • Mallee Stanley

    What a nightmare experience!

    August 9, 2023 - 6:57 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha that’s certainly one way of putting it. Like anything though there were positives to take from it. I think I got offered one of the better jobs, seeing as most of “the competition” were absolute morons. I’m also grateful to have met Richard, a great guy who I’m still in contact with. Thanks as ever for reading and commenting, Mallee.

      August 9, 2023 - 7:16 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    I can’t imagine what Chinese parents would feel about some of that crowd teaching their children! Were the worst of them weeded out or did everyone go on to a teaching position?

    August 9, 2023 - 10:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Sarah, I’m sorry to say that most of them went on to get teaching posts. I think just a select few didn’t make it. What will remain untold (I don’t really have a narrative for it) is the stories that unfolded once some of those characters actually began their jobs ha ha. Truly, you couldn’t make it up.

      August 9, 2023 - 10:09 pm Reply
  • Keynote

    awesome storytelling my friend and hella funny. Your Camp America reminds me of a regular day in college way back. I’d wager most of the 40Ds I knew are now working as hedge fund managers and real estate dufuses. I see this story is part of a series, gonna check it out man

    August 9, 2023 - 11:53 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Keynote, thanks so much for reading and adding to the thread. It’s amusing to hear that 40D resonated with some of the guys you knew at college. I never really had that in England, though right enough we had our own brands of 40D. But nobody that would keep me up till 4am singing Country Roads 😉

      August 10, 2023 - 9:29 am Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    It is easy to see why you were among the first to get a job. What a zoo! I’ll try not to take the title as an insult.🤣 Outstanding post, Leighton.

    August 10, 2023 - 12:41 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, I think if you weren’t a drunken idiot you had a pretty good chance of swiftly getting one of the better jobs. It was a low bar but hey, I passed 🙂 As for the title and aspects of the story, I was wondering if somewhere along the way someone might get offended. I’m glad you saw the funny side of proceedings and recognised that I met some lovely Americans too. Plus, you know, English Paul was one of the frat crowd. Cheers, John!

      August 10, 2023 - 9:36 am Reply

    Fantastic. Great story, brilliantly written. Hooked on every word my friend. It’s not always easy to describe a shambles but this piece does so brilliantly and with humour. I hated so many people at Camp America!

    August 10, 2023 - 1:41 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, thanks Phil. A shambles it was indeed. Not so amusing at the time, but one of those experiences that is a lot of fun to look back on and write up.

      August 10, 2023 - 9:39 am Reply
  • thomasstigwikman

    What an adventure and great writing. You met a lot of interesting characters, some odd. I am curious whether you had to know Chinese to teach English in China or if it was all English. I’ve never been to China but my daughter went to China twice with two different Chinese friends, and my younger son went there as well.

    August 10, 2023 - 3:09 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Thomas. At that time I knew zero Chinese. Later, during my second Beijing stint (2014-2015) I picked up some basic phrases and questions. Then a bit more for my third spell in the country between 2017-2019. Chinese is HARD and if truth be told I never made it beyond the basics. But I always got by with some key vocab, solid charades skills and plenty of good humour.

      August 10, 2023 - 9:43 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    Hey Leighton! Dude, awesome story! Particularly the flaming shopping cart. 😉 This post had me smiling; as usual it’s well written, entertaining, and engaging. What an experience. I could feel your relief when you learned that you’d be able to leave Little America. I’m looking forward to reading more about your time in China. Thanks for sharing!

    August 10, 2023 - 8:11 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your kind words Tricia. As you’ve probably worked out this part of the series deals with my experiences teaching in Beijing. It was a whole other chapter of my Chinese adventures compared to being out on the road travelling and seeing the sights. Hope you enjoy the journey…

      August 10, 2023 - 9:46 am Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Camp America does not sound like they would be very inspiring effective teachers, not to mention giving all Americans a really bad reputation. *face palm* All I could think while reading about the different people was how much I would love to give them a hard shake and a lecture about being a good teacher. I think I would quickly become “that parent” if any of them were teaching my child. But Mark would be at the top of my absolutely not list- he sounds like trouble in the worst way.

    August 10, 2023 - 5:35 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Spot on Meg, they really did give Americans a bad name. I remember Richard in the garden saying they made him “ashamed” to be from the same country as him. But hey, some of your fellow countrymen and women went on to become great teachers from that camp. Certainly Richard, Risa, Amy, Marc, Baltimore Steven and I’m guessing Hanna and Joel. Justin was a good guy too doing his best in a chaotic system that refused to let him succeed. Sometimes this is just how it works out, I’ve taught at a few schools where the lion’s share of the morons were English. What can you do? Marky Mark was an absolute character of the highest order. I often wonder what became of him and every time I conclude that it can’t be a happy story.

      August 10, 2023 - 5:44 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    I seriously felt the chaos and excited energy when I read this post, Leighton. Camp America sounds like a mad show, with a bunch of fresh-faced Westerners excited to be out of the country and on an adventure. I got flashbacks to my orientation teaching in France when I was in my early twenties, as the atmosphere carried a similar vibe: a lot going on, not knowing the language well, and a bunch of interesting characters into the mix! But you’ve come so far since then, and I’m sure this was the start of the great Chinese adventure in the years to come!

    August 10, 2023 - 10:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Rebecca, Im glad that there were some parallels with your own experiences and that this made you remember your early days in France. After our initial monthlong experience of travel in China this was the beginning of a year living and teaching in Beijing. I’m excited to share these stories of the challenges and rewards of life in the Chinese capital. There was never a dull moment, that’s for sure. Thanks for your contribution.

      August 11, 2023 - 11:42 am Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    What, what an adventure it is teaching in a new area like this. It is interesting to see the different personalities come out as well, and how people act in different circumstances. At the end of it, that is cool that you had a great teaching opportunity.

    August 11, 2023 - 2:11 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Allie, thanks for reading. It was exciting to get offered such an opportunity and despite the exceptionally bumpy ride I look back on it all with no regrets. I Hope you enjoy the upcoming tales from this period.

      August 11, 2023 - 11:45 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    It’s pretty wild how you got on a bus for training camp and had no idea where you might be teaching or where you’d be living. It sounds like you met some interesting characters there. Glad to hear you found something reasonable in terms of a teaching job.

    August 11, 2023 - 11:44 am Reply
    • Leighton

      The teaching job turned out to be a roller coaster. The school owner initially seemed like a dream boss before soon becoming something of a nightmare to work for. But hey, it was “character building” as they say. Full details to come in the upcoming chapters. Thanks for checking in!

      August 11, 2023 - 11:56 am Reply
      • WanderingCanadians

        Oh gosh. Now I’m even more intrigued to read about the next chapter in your series!!

        August 11, 2023 - 1:16 pm
  • Monkey's Tale

    What an odd bunch of people you found yourself with! Doesn’t make me think a lot about the school system in China. Great story telling! Maggie

    August 12, 2023 - 1:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      There was virtually no quality control checks done on teachers, whether that be in terms of training or personality suitability. Shameful really, I guess things have tightened up greatly since those days. Thanks for checking in, Maggie.

      August 12, 2023 - 6:03 pm Reply
  • Chris Axon

    Mate, you have lived such an interesting life…lovely stuff.

    August 12, 2023 - 1:47 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers, Chris.

      August 12, 2023 - 6:04 pm Reply
  • christinenovalarue


    August 12, 2023 - 11:12 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    What absolute chaos. I’m not sure I would want to spend too much time with this group of people, but definitely entertaining never the less! I worry for the children’s safety really – in some instances the ‘floodgates’ being open could be really dangerous for them!

    August 13, 2023 - 8:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely Hannah, I know for a fact that there were some really dodgy people that got teaching posts from that camp. A few of which were swiftly fired just a few months into their contracts for various misdemeanours. Madness, really. Thanks for reading!

      August 13, 2023 - 8:17 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    So, that old saying that teachers should be a good role model for children … maybe not in all cases, right? The people you have met over the years Leighton – it has the potential to be an absolute winner on the book shelves! What would have become of 40D and his pals I wonder … did they become parents and then later worry about the influence teachers could have on their children?

    August 14, 2023 - 10:42 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, that’s really interesting Corna, you nearly always leave me with a thought-provoking perspective. I have never considered what 40D might be doing these days as a guy in his mid 40s. Hopefully he’s thinking something along the lines of “Oh man, I was an ass”. Thank you for your kind words, I’m glad you are enjoying this latest batch of my China archives.

      August 14, 2023 - 12:43 pm Reply
  • anoush

    What an amazing adventure and memories, not just from China, but from a China still opening up to the West. Some of these people I feel should not be allowed near children. No wonder you managed to get the job so quickly. What an exciting time it must have been for you!

    August 16, 2023 - 9:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Appreciate the catch up, Anoush. You’re right, in many ways the China I lived in is a whole other beast to today’s model. While I almost certainly (never say never though) would go back to teach again, I would like to think I’ve got one last cross-country journey in me.

      August 16, 2023 - 9:45 pm Reply
  • gederedita

    great story. Visit China is still in my dream. You are very lucky, mate.

    August 20, 2023 - 4:41 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading!

      August 20, 2023 - 8:14 am Reply
  • bronlima

    The good,the bad and the obnoxious. Part of my work in Lima was to do workshops in other South American countries for the IBO International Baccalaurete Organization). Most of those attending the three day workshops were locals with a few foreign contracted members of staff. There was always one foreigner who thought he knew it all, wrongly underrated his/her local colleagues, and had the sensibility of a hedgehog’s behind. Luckily they were easy to spot and the first task was to put them in their place and neutralize them in the first sessions. Appears you have quite a few of these in Camp America

    August 24, 2023 - 9:07 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It’s true that such characters were/are rife in the ESL scene all over the world. As with you I think there was always one in just about every school I worked for all over the world. At Camp America though the whole thing was on speed, with huge numbers of seemingly handpicked idiots rounded up into one small space. I have never (luckily) seen anything quite like it since.

      August 25, 2023 - 10:41 am Reply

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