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Ms. Guo teaches at a private school six days a week. (Olli Geibel for The Globe and Mail)
Ms. Guo teaches at a private school six days a week. (Olli Geibel for The Globe and Mail)

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A day in the life: Beijing Add to ...

Guo Li: "I'd work for 24 hours if I could."

65-70 hours of work, $230 a week

The life: The 28-year-old lives alone. Her boyfriend is in Korea and they see each other once or twice a year. Her family lives in a village in northern China's Heilongjiang province, which she visits at most twice a year.

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The work: Ms. Guo is a Chinese language teacher at a private school six days a week. She also tutors four to five hours a day.

The pay: About $230 a week, which puts Ms. Guo in China's lower middle class - and allows her to rent a tiny studio apartment (decorated with stuffed animals) in a Beijing suburb. She can also afford a luxury or two: she often goes shopping at the mall and recently purchased an iPhone 4.

The grind: Ms. Guo wakes up at 6:00 a.m., and is out the door within 15 minutes. At a nearby subway station, she waits in line for up to 45 minutes on busy days - from there, it's a one-hour ride to work in central Beijing.

Between classes, Ms.Guo grabs a quick lunch - steamed buns most days - at a 7-Eleven across the street. After school, she travels across town to tutor two Korean children (the family feeds her snacks and sometimes meals, but if not, she usually skips dinner).

Ms. Guo gets home from the Koreans' home most nights at about 10:15 p.m., but her work isn't done. Four or five days a week she spends about two hours tutoring a student in Italy over Skype.

The down time: Chats with friends - and on the phone to her boyfriend in Korea - between classes. Watches movies on her computer. On rare days off she goes to a spa. "I really like massages, foot massage, things like that. You can rent a room for 15 hours for $23. They feed you, give you things to drink. You can even sleep there. It's very comfortable."

The work-life balance: "It's habit. I like being busy - my job's interesting. When I'm busy, I don't think about negative things: 'I have no time, I have no money.' All I think about are the things I've got to do. I actually love to work. I'd work for 24 hours if I could."

Compared to Canada: Ms. Guo's schedule is more hectic than most Canadians can imagine. Although she's happiest when she's busy, she does lament her lack of social life. "I think Canadians work hard, but you guys know how to enjoy life - go out for drinks, meet with friends, play sports. We Chinese don't know how to enjoy life like that. Work is very important."

What would make life better: "I'd like to change apartments. I rent right now, but I'd like to buy a place. I'd like it so when I get home I just felt relaxed. Right now, I don't like my apartment. It's not my place. It's doesn't feel comfortable when I come home, so I don't like to be there."

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