I recently finished a 5 month stay with Mandarin House, Shanghai (Hankou Lu) (tuition and accommodation). Up until level 6, the tuition is fine. The teachers are really lovely, very well prepared and experienced in teaching Mandarin to foreigners. Above level 6, the teachers are still good but the books are very outdated and overly formal. They use the Boya Chinese books for levels 7 upwards and each lesson contains between 50-90 new words but as you go through the vocabulary list, the teacher quite often tells you that the word you are learning is no longer used by Chinese people. As you can imagine, this is quite frustrating! The teachers have lobbied management to change the books to something more modern and useful but they simply refuse.
The only other thing I would say about the tuition is that the pricing is quite opaque. If you intend to study here (and I would not recommend it after my experience), bargain very hard indeed. A Canadian friend of mine had lunch with other students recently and she was shocked to discover that some were paying half as much as she was for the same number of group lessons. The school seems to view North American and Western Europeans as "rich" irrespective of their actual financial position and charges them accordingly i.e. bleeds them dry.
As for the accommodation, it is dreadful. If it were cheap and dreadful, I would not be complaining but with Mandarin House you pay "top dollar" for a very poor product and service.
- Poor or non-existent internet connection
I kept complaining about this issue and the school kept ignoring the problem. It got so bad that I had to record myself trying (and failing) to open web pages and show it to a senior member of the support staff in order to prove how awful it was. Clients should not have to prove these things! In the end, there was a minor improvement but not by much. It is possible to get proper wifi in Shanghai - it is not cheap though. Given what I was paying the school in accommodation fees, the wifi should have been excellent. As far as I can see, the only reason it wasn’t was because the school thought it could save a few kuai with sub-standard service.
- Poor Maintenance
Things in the apartment were constantly breaking e.g. the bathroom locks, the bedroom door locks. Instead of paying a locksmith to come over and fix the problem, the school would send over a junior member of staff, let's call him "Kenny" (not his real name). Kenny would spend hours “fixing” these locks that would then break again the following week. Apart from the problems with the locks, there was the issue of swipe cards for the lifts. The apartment building changed swipe cards but the school did not give cards to all of the students. I could not leave the building one evening as the stairwell was blocked and while I could go down in the lift, without a working swipe card, I had no way to return to the apartment.
- Dirty and overcrowded living accommodation
The school has accommodation directly across from the school (my experience with that will be outlined below) and three apartments around the corner from the school on Guangxi Bei Road (apartments 401, 501 and an apartment on the 24th floor). For the first 4 1/2 months of my stay, I lived in apartment 401 which has 6 bedrooms. The accommodation was dirty and overcrowded. This was exacerbated by the school’s decision to rent one room to two students who were not even attending Mandarin House (they studied at a local university). As a result, for about 3 months, there were 7 students living in the apartment when at best there is only room for 4 students. Not only did they hog the laundry facilities and the kitchen facilities but they refused to wash their own dishes leaving the kitchen a smelly pigsty that could not be used and smoked regularly despite my complaints to the school. They also had very loud sex in the room next door which I could hear through my very thin walls. These people were not students of Mandarin House so the school had no obligation to provide them with accommodation - it was simply a way to make a fast buck. Mandarin House did not think "maybe housing 7 people in apartment 401 is too much" or "perhaps the other students would not like to live with a couple and be obliged to listen to them have very loud sex on a regular basis”, no, the school just saw this as a way of making money despite the inconvenience to the other people in the apartment who were actually students.
-Lack of privacy and basic respect
I came back from my morning classes on 24 May to find my bedroom door open, my bed moved, personal belongings moved and Kenny and a handyman painting the room. Understandably, I was very upset - I was paying a lot of money for the accommodation and I did not expect to find two strange men had been touching my personal belongings (including my night clothes) without permission let alone painting my bedroom without notice. I tried to explain to Kenny why I was so angry about the situation but his only response was “we keep painting” or “we paint now”. Eventually, I got through to him that he would not be painting my room that day but the whole encounter with him added an extra layer of frustration.
- Planning law raid and demolition of the walls
This was the worst aspect of my Mandarin House experience. I got back from afternoon class one day towards the end of July to find a whole load of people in my living room. I had 6 other room mates so I assumed they had something to do with them although I could not rationalise why they were all there without any of my room mates being there.
More people arrived (sound travels poorly in the apartment) and I got banging on my door. I opened it to find three guys, one of whom had a professional video camera on his shoulder. I looked at them blankly, they all talked at me in unison very loudly and too quickly for me to understand, they then appeared to decide that I was not the person they were looking for. I closed and locked the door, then sent the school an email asking what was going on (radio silence from the school, of course). In the meantime, the banging had started. I'm not exaggerating here - it was very loud. For the most part, I hid in my room (no shame on my part) but I did pop my head out briefly to discover that these guys had taken the doors off the two bedrooms next to me and were knocking down the walls that separate the two bedrooms from the living room.
You can imagine the surprise the two students who lived in those rooms got when they returned home! No one had told the students in advance and their gear was covered in dust, their rooms missing both doors and walls. The school put up some collapsible dividers and used the doors to cover the holes in the wall.
So I gave the school hell and they told me that it was the Shanghai planning department who had come to knock down the walls (they told me that they were in breach of planning laws due to a recent change in the laws (?) - when the apartment block was built 20 years ago, the original plans allowed for 2 bedrooms but they created 6 bedroom by subdividing in the meantime). As the planning department only knocked down 2 walls, the school told me that the department would be back to knock some more walls until there were only 2 rooms left but the school couldn’t/wouldn’t say when this would happen! None of this really made sense. It sounded like the school was always in breach of the law but until recently no one had enforced the law which, in my mind at least, does not constitute a "change in the law".
But it turns out that it was a bit more complicated than that and the school was very "economical" with the truth. I found out that the same thing had happened in apartment 501 but not the apartment the school rents on the 24th floor which has 8 bedrooms in total. This seemed odd - if the planning department was unhappy with subdivision/overcrowding, why not target the worst offender, the apartment on the 24th floor? It sounded as though something more localised had gone on as the demolition had only taken place in apartments 401 and 501. Given how the school treats its paying clients, it wasn’t a leap to think that the school’s dealings with its neighbours in the building would be equally poor. Rather than a mysterious change in planning regulation or enforcement policy, it seemed more likely that a neighbour of 401/501 had complained to someone about the overcrowding. I spoke with one of the building’s doormen and one of the building’s maintenance staff who confirmed that a neighbour had complained about something very serious. It turns out the school had not renovated apartments 401 and 501 properly. As a result the neighbours below apartment 401 (my apartment) had problems every time people in 401 flushed the toilet or used the showers - water would flow down the walls of their apartment!!! Apparently, these neighbours were very patient, they complained to the school, asked them to fix it but the school just ignored it and presumably hoped it would just go away. Flash forward following months of water (probably containing excrement and urine) flowing down the neighbours' wall due to the school's poor renovations and the neighbours had had enough. They complained to the building management who, in turn, complained to the planning department about the overcrowding (they had turned a blind eye up until then) and that's how we get to a camera crew and demolition crew in my living room one Wednesday afternoon in July
When I discovered the true reason for the planning raid and demolition works, I gave Mandarin House an opportunity to clarify the position without telling them precisely what I knew. They maintained that they had told me the truth. I confronted them with further details of what I had discovered regarding the neighbours’ complaint plainly calling their earlier explanation a lie and it’s been radio silence on their part since then.
- Poor customer service and more sub-standard accommodation
Following the demolition works, I moved apartment to the accommodation directly across from the school although I understand that the school continued to house other students in my old room in apartment 401 even though it was under threat of another demolition raid by the planning department and there was a partly demolished hole in the living room.
This new accommodation was also very poor. It was old, battered and outdated. The public spaces between apartments had laundry hanging from doorways, hanging across make-shift clothes lines in stairwells which made the whole place appear like a slum. My new, tiny room technically had a window but one that I could not use as it was an internal window looking onto the kitchen, not the street. When I enquired about the number of bathrooms, I was told that the ratio was better than the old apartment - 3 people and 2 bathrooms. What the school did not tell me (and what I took issue with afterwards) was the fact that the 2nd bathroom was actually an ensuite in one of the other bedrooms so I would not have access to it. Then, of course, there was further issues with the swipe cards in this building. As a result of all this hassle, I got a partial refund (I had intended to stay until the end of September) but deserved much more in terms of compensation for all the stress and inconvenience and I returned home last week. The final insult was yet to come though. As part of my package, I had paid for my airport pick up and drop off. I arranged with the school that I would be picked up on Sunday evening at 8.30pm to head to Pudong Airport. Given how poor my Mandarin House experience had been, I was a bit nervous as to whether they would actually deliver so I sought and received confirmation by email that the trip with the driver had been confirmed. I think you can tell where this is heading? The driver never showed on Sunday evening - a very nice security man watched my bags while I dashed to the ATM to get cash for the taxi following which I had difficulty in getting a taxi driver to take me to Pudong Airport as it was a busy evening.
Having read this post, it’s possible (but unlikely) that you may still be tempted to get in touch with Mandarin House. They may try to reassure you that this is not true (it is true - I have the emails and photos to back up what I say) or that the problems that I have outlined above have since been addressed and they are a professional organization. Please do not believe them - all they want is your money. The consultants all work on commission - they will say anything to get you to sign up and, here’s the key point, demand payment up front in full.
The problems with Mandarin House are systemic and, in my view, are routed in the owner’s desire to extract as much cash as possible from clients without providing a commensurate service. Even if the support staff wanted to solve your problem, quite often they cannot because there is no budget to do so. Had the school engaged with their neighbours and carried out the necessary repairs in good time (i.e. spent money), the demolition raid and demolition works would most likely have been avoided.
I have zero sympathy for the school as it is the architect of its own misfortune. This is not the way to run a business and it appears that their cavalier attitude to matters has had a broader impact on the company's fortunes; recently the company’s second school in Shanghai closed down because it was in the red. Clearly, this business is failing and little wonder why. My suggestion is that you avoid Mandarin House like the plague.
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