Usually the unpaid time off happens in the summer, around the Chinese new year or when the students are off and is area specific for areas or schools that generally close the schools for longer holidays. Some teachers prefer to have this extra time off to explore China more, some teachers prefer not to have the unpaid break.
When deciding the area/school we can definitely take the teacher’s preference and most of the time we can align the position with or without such unpaid extra time off.
Of course everything understands that emergencies happen and if someone was to get sick or hospitalized and you needed to take some time to fly back home, the Chinese would definitely understand and support. This has happened a couple times to our teachers and everyone has given their full support to the teachers.
It is very important to understand that although teachers are able to travel a lot and have many amazing experiences, this is still a full time job.
The kindergartens are quite strict when it comes to attendance and punctuality. Some kindergartens will have high deductions if a teacher arrives to work late.
There was a situation where a teacher need to take weeks off in the middle of the school year.
Here are some notes that may help you to understand why this difficult for kindergartens to accept:
Often a foreigner may think that if they give enough notice then this should easily be accepted.
For the Chinese thinking, first the Chinese would not ask for this time off as there is a class of children and parents that will expect that their teacher would be at work. It is different when someone is sick (as it is not a decision that they cannot be at work but rather a circumstance that is unavoidable).
If there is enough notice then the kindergarten then puts this responsibility of having another foreign teacher available to replace the teacher taking the time off. Sometimes this can line up, but in advance it is very hard to know if there will be a teacher available to substitute.
In most western countries there is a substitute teacher system (often this includes teachers that have not found full time employment, semi-retirees, or teachers who just prefer to work part time). In China there is no such visa and the visas are location specific so it doesn't work the same. So this means that another teacher would either be full time but just not be working and able to substitute. Generally we do not have extra teachers to cover.
Plus the kindergarten/parents do not want new teachers subbing with their children regardless if at all possible.
For Chinese people they may have a wedding but it would never be during the work week (or no Chinese company would let them leave to take it), so the Chinese are not used to requests for time off in the middle of the year. Moving the schedule around in August was possible as some kindergartens have different schedules or less/no classes so a sub becomes possible.
If someone needs specific weeks off during the year, it is best that they ask for that time before they start their contract. If not the kindergartens usually give an answer such as "as long as you have a replacement"... which means yes but puts everyone in a bad position. There are a good number of holidays, but if more is needed usually it can be arranged during the summer period.
Asia in general has a different work ethic. In Japan, we once had to deal with a kindergarten that would not allow a teacher to leave work for the birth of his child. (They finally allowed it but made him take 2 weeks off just in case the birth landed somewhere in those two weeks and may suddenly affect his work)...