Ghost Writing: Some Chinese Students Pay For Academic Help

Starbucks Coffee. Caffeinated friend to hardworking students across the globe.

‘The essay doesn’t have to be written in my style, just make it get me a grade A.’

This was the first line of an email written to a friend of mine who’d been asked to ghost write a student’s essay. The instructions were to write a speech for a ten minute video log on why men and women can’t communicate.

The student, a young man aged about 19, had recently enrolled in an American university and was failing in his parent’s eyes, consistently gaining B’s and B+ in his assignments. It wasn’t good enough. He was causing his parents to lose face and they demanded that he do better. Anything less than an A was unacceptable and, if he really wanted them to be pleased with him, he’d need to achieve an A+ on a regular basis.

Students practice English speeches in preparation for attending international schools.

The student had been considered above average in China where he’d spent most of his free time studying, eschewing common teenage leisure activities such as going to the movies and hanging out with his friends, considering them to be nothing more than ‘a waste of time.’

But now, in America, these same activities beckoned strongly in favour of attempting the much bigger workload and succeeding at it.  It wasn’t that this student was lazy, far from it, he was just overwhelmed. The pressure of studying in a second language with all of its grammatical quirks, assimilating into a foreign culture and pleasing both parents and teaching staff was taking its toll and he was still only two months into a four year degree.

My friend agreed to write the essay, grumbling a little at the short deadline. It was the third request he’d received in less than seven days and he knew there’d be more to come. Once one student had gained an A from the ghost written work, more would flock to the ghost writer freely offering their parents hard earned money.

I asked him if he would write the same essay in different voices so that it was unique to each student. He said that that didn’t matter. Neither the students nor their tutors seemed to care if the essay obviously didn’t match the student’s previous abilities. Schools wanted their foreign students to do well thus encouraging more foreign students to apply and attend paying fairly high fees, while students needed a bank of A grades to move beyond the status of underachiever and keep their parents happy.

Parents listen to a talk detailing how their children can attend universities in the west. 

Helping students in this way begins even before they go abroad. In China there is a thriving market for writing personal statements and Ivy League Admission essays. Ghost writers are usually ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers who are approached by parents, agencies, school or training centre staff. They are also teachers who spot a gap in the market, do their own advertising and set themselves up in an informal but fairly lucrative business.

Although Chinese students are welcomed and supported throughout their American or UK undergraduate education, the competition for places is still stiff. A Skype interview may be requested by the school along with the written application. Coaching for Skype interviews is common, but the biggest request by far is for help with anything which needs to be written.

Transcribing directly from Chinese to English produces Chinglish which is a mish mash of ideas, prepositions and sentence structure and which does no favours for the person it’s supposed to represent. Hence, the scramble to find an ESL teacher who will re-write a personal statement or, even better, create one from scratch.

Perhaps ethically speaking, being a ghost writer for a struggling Chinese student who’s becoming more and more burdened is not the best choice. Surely doing the student’s work for him or her reduces opportunities for personal and academic development?

However, in reality, most students request only a small portion of their assignments to be ghost written perhaps during the first, very tough year.

Would you be able to skilfully cover a topic like this in a foreign language? And what the heck is femtosecond?

It’s hard to tell which is worse; the pressure from parents who are spending $60,000 per term or more depending on the college or, complicit lecturers and professors who recognise the stark difference in an essay worthy of an A grade in comparison to student’s previous work but say nothing.

Is this cheating? Is it doing the student a disservice? Is it an ethical or moral dilemma? Should we expect students who obviously cannot compile academic sentences in a foreign language to succeed on their own  at western universities anyway?

Another email request for a ghost written essay this time for a Chinese student at another American university pops into my friend’s inbox. The subject is about the positives and negatives of volunteering. The student has added a badly worded note saying he’s never volunteered so he wouldn’t know what to write about.

It’s clear to me that the market for ghost writers is not drying up anytime soon.




Re-entry into China: Angie’s Reverse Culture Shock

Angie, feeling more at home in Australia than her native China. Reverse culture shock, though tangible and difficult to deal with is often overlooked and unprepared for.  

I often wonder what it will be like to return to England after so many years away, even more so now with the recent Brexit vote casting a pall of fear and suspicion over the country.

Even though there are many things I’m looking forward to; familiar food, especially Jamaican food, a sympathetic culture and a clear understanding of social norms, I still worry that years spent absorbed in a world light years away from England in terms of attitudes and beliefs means that re-entry may be more difficult than expected.

Take the case of Angie for example.

She’s recently returned to China after 6 years down under and has found herself confronted with severe culture shock as she tries to reassimiliate into the land of her birth. Somehow it no longer matters that she had actually spent more years here than in Australia. This is where her family is. It’s where she spent her formative years and had experiences which would shape her character and play a big part in her outlook. It’s where she made the decision to study and work in Australia and it’s the place which gave her the confidence to go after her dreams of seeing whether or not the grass is actually greener overseas.

But still.

Chinese streets look nothing like those in the west. 

Angie now feels that China is an alien place even though she admits it hasn’t changed that much since she was last here in 2009. Sure there are more sky scrapers and less old, familiar neighbourhoods. The leadership changed in 2012 and the new party Chairman has cracked a severe whip on excessiveness among party members. There are now more foreigners in and around the big cities who seem to feel more at home here than she does.

As she went through her purse and showed me her Australian store cards, library card, driving license, ID card and various other paraphernalia Angie confessed that she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it here and after only two weeks was already plotting how to ‘go home’ to Canberra.


Chinese food. Vegetables, meat and rice wrapped in bamboo leaf with Chinese cucumber, cabbage and spicy soy sauce. Now too strange for Angie to eat. 

I suggested that two weeks wasn’t long enough to feel relaxed and that she give it a little more time. My first two months in China were very very hard and overall it had taken me two years to get used to the place, but even now there are still some days when China takes me by surprise.

She replied that she felt out of place all day, every day.

When she spoke to people she was taken aback at being shouted at, although she eventually recognised that what to her seemed like shouting was just normal conversation for some Chinese.

She commented that her roomate complained about how she filled the fridge with a big weekly shop instead of going to the local markets every day.

She moaned that society in general seemed to ride along on a wave of rudeness with people only looking out for themselves. Locals pushed and shoved to get ahead, didn’t hold the door open or say thank you when it was appropriate.

Emitting yet another sigh Angie asked if I agreed with her premise that conditions between China and the west were like night and day, of course I did.

She said that she longed for Australia and woke up every morning feeling out of place in a country which she could no longer call home.

This last sentence sent shivers down my spine.

Will I be expressing the same sentiments on my return to the UK? I guess only time will tell.





Mothering The Mother: Chinese Traditions for New Mothers



In today’s celebrity obsessed world many women feel pressured to return to their pre-pregnancy body and way of life as soon as they’ve hatched their little sprog.

Not so in China, where the centuries old tradition of staying in bed for a month after giving birth is alive and kicking.

But is this such a good practice to cling to or should China’s modern day women embrace more of the ways of the west?

Scammed By A Fake Taxi Driver

The fake 50RMB note is the one the at top. The main giveaways are the colour which is far to red, the printed numbers and letters which are amateurishly done and the thick line which is off-centre behind the number 50 in the real note but dead centre on the fake one. The fake note is also smaller and the print is faded.

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. In fact I’m lucky it hadn’t happened already.

A few days ago I was scammed by a fake taxi driver, right here in Shenzhen.

This is not a unique experience, sadly. People gotta eat, people gotta live and this requires funds. Some people acquire them honestly and some don’t which is the way the world over.

This is what happened.

It was a little after 2pm and I was coming out of the bookshop feeling happy with my purchase of yet another brand new and beautiful notebook. I do just as much writing by hand as I do by keyboard so it’s lovely to have something wonderful to wrap my words in.

I was in two minds about whether to walk all the way back to the subway station to catch the underground train or to just take a taxi. Being near a main road meant getting a taxi would be fairly easy, on the other hand the subway was a 10-15 minute walk and I was already starting to sweat, feeling hot and uncomfortable in the 32 degree temperatures (89F).

So, it was a pretty easy choice and I stood high on the steps of the bookstore, sheltering from the boiling sun under its protruding roof while scouting out a taxi.

In Shenzhen, taxis have to be on the move all the time as stationary taxi ranks don’t exist, consequently the taxis are always patrolling. All you have to do when you spot one is raise your hand and they will come over to you. That being said, this taxi had just pulled in and was idling by the kerb, which is an illegal action. That should have been my first clue. However, as he was almost directly in front of me, albeit about 20 feet away, I was just pleased that I didn’t have to walk up around in the heat and could get straight in.

The second clue came when I was settled and we were on our way. The meters are clearly positioned on the dashboard with fares starting at 10 RMB (1 British pound and 6 US dollars) the figures shown in red. This meter looked like a normal one, but somehow a little different. However as I was sitting in the back I couldn’t examine it too closely.

The third clue was the receipt dispenser. This is another small machine also attached to the dashboard. Drivers are happy to give receipts when asked. My driver asked me if I’d need one. I said no and he looked relieved. I could see why, the receipt machine was clearly out of order, with a long stream of paper hanging from it to give the appearance that it dispensed proper receipts when it probably didn’t.

But by the time these three clues had registered I was already on my journey and enjoying the air-conditioned ride.

My driver was dressed casually in the Shenzhen taxi uniform of white open-necked shirt and dark trousers and his car was the regulation burgundy and grey standard model, identical to the real taxis. I guess it just wasn’t registered, but there’s no way to know that in advance. Even if there was some kind of public licence displayed it would be in Chinese and I wouldn’t have been able to read it.

As I arrived at my destination approximately 20 minutes later, the meter signalled 44RMB (a little over 4 English pounds and about 7 US Dollars). I handed him a 100RMB note and waited for my change. He shuffled around before handing me a 50RMB note and some coins.

This was the key moment.

If I’d checked my change immediately I would have clearly seen that the 50RMB note was fake, but I didn’t. I took it, said thank you and left as he drove away with my real money. If you’re wondering why I wasn’t more aware, my only excuse is that it was very, very hot and having not eaten all day, I was very, very hungry.

Chinese people constantly check the money given to them in shops, bars and taxis and they advise us to do the same. Sometimes I do, but generally I’m more trusting which is why the taxi driver was able to scam me.

The fake 50RMB note at the top. It’s smaller, darker coloured and has faded, amateurish printing.

Harry, a Chinese friend of mine, recently had a similar experience in a rogue or fake taxi. He’d arrived at the train station in the early hours of the morning, prime time for being scammed. He’d entered the taxi and on reaching his destination had handed over a 100RMB note. The taxi driver exclaimed that it was fake and handed it back demanding a replacement. This went on until Harry had offered 4 or 5 replacements. Eventually the driver was satisfied and allowed Harry to leave. That’s when Harry noticed that the driver had switched all of his real notes for fake ones as he’d returned them.

Many locals will have similar stories with various types of traders. Another common scam which often happens is with buying fruit on the roadside. The seller will encourage you to choose but then switch your purchase with a bag full of lesser quality fruit if you turn away for a moment.

Obviously, not everyone is a scam artist but when the locals tell you to be vigilant, they do so for a reason and you’d be wise to heed their warnings, I know I will from now on.



Tui Na: China’s Blind Massage Experts

My Chilean room mate and I were heading out. She’d just offered to treat me to a typical Chinese massage conjuring up visions of my tired body soon feeling as though it was floating on a cloud. I was so excited!

Suddenly the words ‘you will feel pain!’ coming from the mouth of our third roomate, a Chinese woman, jolted me back to reality, sending an ominous chill down my spine for reasons as yet still undefined.

Turns out, she was right.

Blind massagers
Chinese blind massage therapist learning his craft.

Blind Chinese masseurs have been prevalent in China for a very long time. Their loss of sight is considered to be the main reason for their extra sensitivity in touch.

Being disabled in a developing country is not an easy road. There are many stigmas attached to people with various handicaps or mental illness and, at the time of writing, few public places are accessible to people who are less than almost fully able.

Accordingly the Chinese government has long established deliberate initiatives to enble blind men and women to find work in this area and thus establish a measure of independence. However, be warned. A traditional Chinese massage whether from a blind person or not is far from the luxury kind you will enjoy at an international hotel or, indeed, anywhere in the West.


For about five English pounds, while fully clothed (but minus your shoes) and lying on a soft-ish bed/table, you will be pummellled, pulled, squashed, pounded, twisted and stretched so deeply you’ll feel as if your inner organs are being massaged. This is thought to be the healthiest form of body and muscle manipulation.

I’m not sure I agree.

I went in with relaxed limbs which worked fine but came out foggy headed and dragging my legs, didn’t even bother to try to lift my arms. For the next two days my body succumbed to the powerful, expert manouvering it had received which even had an impact on my mind. Initially I felt as though I was walking through mud, finding it hard to think clearly. But after those two days passed, strangely I was rejuvenated, feeling as though I’d received a boost which radiated throughout my body and lasted for several weeks.


Throughout the 60 minute treatment I learnt to expertly pronounce the phrase, ‘tongku!’ meaning, ‘painful!’ To which my blind therapist, laughingly replied; ‘bu ya tong!’ ‘No pain.’ Oh really?

I suggested he lie down and let me stick my elbow in his buttock cheek and prod it around using all my strength and then let him tell me about ‘no pain!’, but as I spoke in English, I don’t think he understood.

I couldn’t believe that I’d willlingly put myself in a position to reduce my muscles, sinews, cells and molecular atoms to tears via such energetic and vigourous body work, totally different to anything I’d undergone before.

The proper name for this common type of Chinese massage is Tui Na, literally meaning ‘push and grasp,’ which, believe me is exactly what it feels like except that it would be nore accurate to say ‘push and grasp extremely firmly and with a certain (large) amount of duress!’

Time and again my Chinese room-mate’s words came back to me. ‘You will feel pain.’ God, I hate it when she’s right.

Further Information on Tui Na from

Tui na or tuina (/ˌtw ˈnɑː/,[2] Chinese: ; pinyin: tuī ná), is a form of Chinese manipulative therapy often used in conjunction withacupuncture, moxibustion, fire cupping, Chinese herbalism, t’ai chi, and qigong.[3] Tui na is a hands-on body treatment that uses Chinese taoist principles in an effort to bring the eight principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) into balance. The practitioner may brush, knead, roll, press, and rub the areas between each of the joints, known as the eight gates, to attempt to open the body’s defensive chi (Wei Qi) and get the energy moving in the meridians and the muscles. These techniques are claimed to aid in the treatment of both acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions, as well as many non-musculoskeletal conditions. tui na is taught as a part of the curriculum at some acupuncture schools.[4]



The Growing Popularity of British Etiquette in China


Cross cultural etiquette where east meets west.

My initial response came in the form of loud, uncouth laughter prompted by disbelief. “You want ME to teach some rich women about British Etiquette? You mean, like folding napkins and table settings?”Is what I asked the woman who’d gotten my number from somewhere and called me out of the blue.

Apparently, this crazy sounding activity is becoming a big thing among China’s well travelled nouveau riche. I declined the job offer but my curiousity was awakened and I had to find out more about what was driving the popularity of something I’d never previously given much thought to.


Black Women Doing Business In China

Allie; Creator of Bloom All Natural Hair And Skin Products

When I first came to China in September 2012 I was rocking the natural look with my hair.

I had last relaxed it 2009 and after three weeks under a boiling Jamaican sun which left my hair fried and frazzled, I decided that that would be the last time I put chemicals so close to my scalp and on my locks. So, I left my hair to just do what it does and it went right back to Africa, which is exactly where it should be.

However, when I started to run out of the hair care products I’d brought from England with no easy ways to replace them, I found that having good looking natural hair was starting to become a problem.

On top of this, when my supply of skin cream became low, I wondered the aisles of Walmart and the local Chinese markets growing ever more frustrated at the rows of ‘Skin Brightening and Whitening’ lotions. What good would that do me? I didn’t want to be brighter or whiter, I just wanted to be moisturised.

Seriously? Nope. I don’t think so! And how come neither of these skin tones look natural?

To add insult to injury, as the seasons changed and it was time to refresh my wardrobe, my western sized body struggled to squeeze into clothes which were made for women with smaller and different body shapes.

It was pretty annoying to say the least.

Fast forward to 2016 and we’re now in a time where accessing black hair products, clothing which fits black men and women comfortably and creams which benefit black skin is no longer a dream but a reality. Thank goodness.

Not much has changed on the shelves of Walmart or my local Chinese stores, but in the virutual world all is possible.

Online shopping has exploded in China with countless deliveries consisting of everything from food and clothing, to household products, technology and electrical items, criss-crossing the country every day.

Online shopping brings you everything you want with zero inconvenience, unless you’re a delivery guy battling with China’s traffic – yikes!

Taking advantage of this new way to do business and servicing a market segment which had previously been ignored (black people in China with unique needs), are the women profiled below.

These ladies are intelligent, beautiful, forward thinking entrepreneurs who are leading the way and they’re definitely not the only ones making waves out here. Black people from across the disapora are discovering China to be fertile ground for making money.

Evelyn, 22 years old, from Ghana. Lives in Nanjing, China

Evelyn; ambition in motion and a perfect model for her own fabulous products.

Having recently graduated from Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology where she majored in Economics, Evelyn had struggled to get the right shade and brand of make-up during her four years in China.

So, stepping out on a leap of faith borne of frustration and the knowledge that there must be a better way, she set-up a business which provides quality, affordable cosmetics for black women. After building up a sizeable base of satisfied customers across China she’s now branched out and added quality hair extensions to her business.

Hairven(TM): Quality hair extensions by Evelyn

Evelyn states that she’s motivated by beauty and passion rather than income. In the future she plans to open a bricks and mortar shop to sell her hair and beauty products in addition to her online store.

Allie, ageless from NY and The Caribbean. Lives in Shenzhen, South China

Allie: Entrepreneur and founder of SoulAngelBeauty / Bloom

After living in China for a few years the negative effects of the infamous pollution on hair and skin had become a cause for concern for Allie.

Consequently she  formulated an expanding  line of products made from natural oils and butters to combat this problem.

Allie’s conditioners, shampoo, and skin creme and clay have proved to be extremely popular. Her emphasis is on creating all natural products with love, which enhance skin, hair and general well-being.

All natural hair and skin beauty products from Allie, SoulAngelBeauty

Talia Sills, ageless. From America, lives in Shenzhen, China.


Network marketing with doTERRA (Essential Oils) is the route which beckoned to Talia allowing her to fulfill her love of working with essential oils while sharing their beauty with others.

Living and working in a developing country with different standards of health care such as China can often mean that you might require a little extra support in some areas in order to maintain optimum health, this is where Talia comes in.

She holds regular events around Shenzhen to educate and inform women of the benefits of Essential oils within a personal and proative approach to healthcare. She also instills valuable how-to knowledge on incorporating using Essential oils as a vital part of your everyday beauty regime.

SOme of the golden information Talia shares in order to enrich the lives of her clients.

As I mentioned earlier these women are just a small representation of innovative, entrepreneurial black people in China. For more on this topic check out..

And for more ideas about non-teaching jobs in China, go to…