Thursday, May 21, 2015


I'm aware that this would be a really interesting part of the general narrative for me to break down into alcoholism and debauchery and whoremongering.

I don't think that's gonna happen, though.

Alcohol just doesn't seem to agree with me anymore.

It's weird. Alcohol was such a large part of my life, when I was in Russia. And before that, I liked a drink, sure, more or less in different cities and at different times, but I drank, and enjoyed it.

But then when I stopped ... well, it's not like I gave up drinking, it's like drinking gave me up.

I mean I have a beer now and then. A glass of wine. And I've occasionally met with friends to go on an all-night bender or even an all-weekend bender.

And while I enjoy parts of them, I'm also usually glad when they're over and I can sober up and start feeling human again.

The main thing I noticed is how much fucking energy your body has to use metabolizing all that shit. I mean I spent an entire week hiking in Utah with just the clothes on my back and a blanket-pack full of stuff,  and I wouldn't say that was NEARLY the hard work that an all-night drinking binge back at the House of Pain nightclub in Vodkaberg used to be. I mean THAT shit took some stamina.

So it's typical, me being sort of ass-backwards to everybody else. Other people I know continue falling down holes of middle-aged alcoholism and drug abuse -- particularly prescription pills -- or struggle with sobriety, and I'm like, "Damn, being fucked up is too hard work!"

So you can take the boy out of the Middle East but obviously it's not so easy to take the Middle East out of the boy ...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sleeping Rough in Hong Kong: Interview with English Teacher A

In view of my own moment of being trapped outside the TEFL merry-go-round, it's always nice to hear from someone who has it worse than I do, so here's an interview with another teacher with a hard luck story.

How long have you been teaching, and where? 

10 years roughly. Oman for 1 year (two separate stints!), had a hiatus of about 8 months in Spain, did not even tutor one class...tefl is no good there, and the rest in China mostly at the uni or high/middle school level. Couldn't stand little kids so no kindergartens.

What kind of qualifications do you have? 

BA in English Lit and a 4 week TEFL from the same uni in the UK. No CELTA, but I regret that now, oh well.

What's your current situation? 

I'm sort of sleeping on the beach in Hong Kong, but at least I'm not pissing money away in bars or on a hotel room each night...hence I want out. There are a lot of homeless foreigners, some marry locals, and some just camp on the beach or in parks, the beach is great...until it rains, right now,

How did you come to be in this position? 

I couldn't get the confounded police check and ended up stranded in Hong Kong. I wasn't the only one. The days of sauntering into a place like China on a tourist visa, then going to HK or Thailand to get your work visa are long gone.

China basically changed the visa rules. I was too lackadaisical and it bit me in the arse when I could not get one in Hong Kong.

What do you like and dislike about TEFL? 

I dislike the fact that certain countries consider you too old to teach and basically say goodbye at 60. I also dislike teaching kids at the language mill type of places. I do like teaching at the public jobs in China because the students can be generally nice and respectful, if not a little loud. You always got the odd rude and lazy students, but mostly they were not bad, the opposite of Arab Gulf students, more respectful of the teacher.

What are your plans for the future? 

Hmmmm, hopefully get out of EFL altogether, I am currently applying to a few book editing jobs, so perhaps I can get out of the classroom, but still be involved in English teaching somehow, will depend on the competition in HK, for 1 guy with a BA in Literature like me, there are 10 more the same or with masters degrees.

I'm also getting zip in replies from the Middle East. Time for Taiwan perhaps....China lite, HK is too expensive and my savings from Oman are gone. So I'm hoping to go somewhere and work, and then get it, and the reconsider my options.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Down and Out in Bangkok

 ... but where better to be that than Bangkok?

I mean, where better to do anything at all, than Bangkok?

One of my favorite cities in the world, definitely.

I've been in Thailand a couple of weeks now -- on my own, a very personal and private celebration of my 20 years of English teaching, that started here. Maybe celebration is too festive of a word, as I haven't been partying much. A remembrance ceremony. A meditation, even.

Considering my life path, yes, but also considering Bangkok, where it all began.

I went through Songkran, which has developed from handfuls of people throwing water around to a massive crushing parade of celebrants dousing each other relentlessly. Pumping up your weapon to shoot water on somebody, and perhaps put white paste on their face? Not very subtle sexual sybolism, I suppose, though the original idea was about washing away sin. Now's it's  got a Halloween feel to it, with masks and the LGBT community out in force.

If you read my first memoir, you'll know the story. I went backpacking in 1994, and by 1995, decided I wanted to teach English ... in Taiwan. But they wouldn't give me more than a 2 week visa, so I ended up taking the first job I saw in the Bangkok Post, the largest and shittiest chain language school in the city.

Khao San road was a lively place in 1995, sure, but it was a lot mellower. We weren't tourists, then, or even backpackers, we were "travelers." (With all the snooty pretension you can imagine that goes with that.) It was fairly rare to meet somebody who was just travelling for a couple weeks or a month. People were out for 6 months or a year, in those days. Khao San road was still just mainly one street then --  -- there were a couple bars, a lot of cafes and cheap guest houses -- I think practically none of them had air-con or hot water, in those days.

The big draw in those days were movies; the cafes would play bootleg videos and it was always a treat for those of us who'd been on the road a while. Pirated CDs and cassettes were big in those days, also, as well as the t-shirts and fisherman pants and so forth.

While a certain amount of beer got drunk and pot got smoked, I would say in general it was pretty quiet back then. Bangkok was a place to relax and enjoy first-world comforts after the rough roads of India, usually. There were a couple bars, but people were so tight with their pennies in those days that attempts to open nicer bars and nightclubs always failed quickly, because people didn't want to spend the extra money.


Jesus Christ, it's like a cross between Bourbon Street and Bartertown in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The main thing I notice is that "Khao San Road" has pretty much expanded to fill streets on both sides of it and both ends of it.

When I first lived here in 1995, I lived on Rambuttri road, in the Green House Guest House.


At that time I liked it because it was quiet, cheap, and you actually got a real room. (A lot of cheap guest houses those days had plasterboard walls.)

Rambuttri was the street you walked (or lived) on if you didn't want to get bugged by t-shirt vendors on Khao San, a quite street with a couple of guest houses and a bunch of food vendors. Now it's like the motherfucking Champs Elysee. Open air cafes with neon and paper lanterns and giant buddhas and live music and such. There are fire-eaters and break dancers and buskers, too.

The Green House has changed a lot -- they knocked out the side wall and built a sidewalk cafe. (The entrance used to be in that alley.) They have some rooms with air-con and hot-water now, but they still have the little cubicles such as the one I lived in, just a bed and a fan and that's it. (I lived in Room 54 for a year between April 1995 and April 1996 -- the ETX Suite. It costs 350 baht now ($12 now) and cost 100 baht ($4) back then.) Weirdly the walls aren't green anymore. Why would they change that?

But about the area in general, I gotta say, basically, it seems a LOT more fun than 20 years ago. (See, I'm NOT one of those bitter old men bitching about how the old days were always better.)

The backpackers are far and away a more appetizing lot. The Russian and Eastern European chicks certainly up the beauty-quotient a lot, and short-time tourists are just generally healthier and more "kempt" than we used to be. Back in the day, the nationalities represented were pretty much ONLY American, British, Australian and a smattering of other Europeans. There were also a lot of Israelis, usually fresh off military service.

The Brits in the 90s were a bad lot, particularly, football holligans and ravers with IQs decimated by ecstasy abuse and untoward obsessions with the number of beats per minute in the dance music. The female to male ratio seemed way off in those days, also -- a lot more males were backpacking than females. Now it seems fairly even.

Back in the mid-90s, also, Bangkok seemed very uncomfortable with backpackers in general and Khao San Road in particular. I remember there were a couple of scathing articles in the Bangkok Post about what a shithole Khao San Road was, with the firetrap guest houses, a lot of theft and drug abust and rape reports. (There was one guy who sold jewlery, a middle-aged Chinese guy who wore jean shorts and tie-die shirts, who had been accused of rape so many times the police finally put up flyers warning people about him.) The police were constantly busting rooftop parties and such. There was talk of shutting the whole area down to build a mall, if I remember correctly.

Now they seem to have come to respect it as a cash cow if nothing else. The cops are omnipresent but polite, and keep patient watch over the debauchery.

They even have helpful suggestions on how to amuse yourself. Rock the night away, bro!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure

I know I said I'd write about Bangkok in this entry, and I've written like 5000 words on the subject, just need to get a few more pictures before I post some stuff. It'll probably be two or three entries.

So instead, since I've gotten such interesting and comprehensive advice regarding my current plight of joblessness, I'm going to do something different.

I'm aware there's a blogger who lets his readers vote on his next destination -- I'm going to let my readers vote on the remaining course of my life.

It'll kind of be like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure novels from when I was a kid.

Let's vote:

1) X goes back to America and gets a master's degree from a brick-and-mortar university in his home state, and prays that TEFL doesn't become fully automated before he finishes it.

2) X goes to Universidad de Alcala in Spain to do the TEFL Master's there, as it's cheaper and would surely be a better place to live, and prays that somebody acccepts a TEFL master's from Spain.

3) X takes another year off to write porn and a couple more ETX e-books, hoping that terrorist attacks in the Middle East cull out the surplus of teachers.

4) X does the China thing, getting a position (hopefully one in which he doesn't have to work much) at a university in China and also realizes a lifelong bucketlist goal of studying Kungfu at a Shaolin temple.

5) X just goes and studies at a shaolin kungfu school for a year

6) X buys a Harley-Davidson and becomes a bounty hunter, roaming the badlands of the Southwestern United States fighting crime.

7) X just becomes a crazy old guy, retiring and trying to survive off the money he has saved, in some cheap destination like Costa Rica or Thailand.

8) X goes back to Russia and gets married, getting a crap chain language school job, and spending a lot of time complaining about how the CIA created the situation in the Ukraine.

9) X gets an online master's degree from a school that has a physical campus, and hopes that he can successfully lie that it was done in "real life" if asked.

10) X devotes himself full-time to producing a podcast entitled "Excellence in Failure" in which he interviews and explores people who have failed massively at something.

Vote now!

Friday, May 01, 2015

What the Fuck is Going On Here?

All right, god knows, I'm not exactly the King of TEFL or anything, but I certainly thought I was employable. Not too old yet, fairly well-qualified -- BA in English plus DELTA - and a wide variety of experience in a wide variety of countries. Sure, a few gaps in my employment history, and some wanton job-changing, I guess, but doesn't everybody have those?

Maybe not!

It seems like there has been a VAST sea change since even just the beginning of 2013 when I was last looking for jobs. (I mean, I wrote about it myself. There's a GRAPES OF WRATH-style mass migration to the Middle East going on.)

I got turned down for the third and final job in Abu Dhabi -- it was a rather fishy-sounding affair through a contracting company -- so I applied for a couple more jobs -- one was a highly-paid military contracting job in Saudi, the other was at a college in Bahrain.

Both of these involved uploading ALL my stuff onto websites.Scanned copies of documents, references, all of it. And of course, "Master's Degree preferred."

From both I got no response at all. (Well, not yet anyway, and it's been ten days or so.)

Not a rejection ... just no response at all.

That seems to be the norm now, even for shitty chain-language school jobs, these application portals.Your information will be scanned not by humans but by algorhythms. Your diplomas and certificates and references will be checked BEFORE YOU EVEN GET A JOB.

The world of TEFL is now shitty AND competitive as well! And completely ON THE GRID!

Now let me reiterate: my certificates are all real (now). I have good references from my last couple of jobs.

I'm sure I'd turn something up. I did get offered a job in Saudi in Riyadh, in a sort of bait-and-switch deal. "Oh, our positions in UAE are filled now, but we do have some in Riyadh." And I could go back to my former employers (or so they told me when I left.)

But it got me wondering: what about all the poor fuckers I know who don't have any references, any real qualifications, who just amble along doing private lessons and working on tourist visas? What's going to become of those poor fuckers in this new era of TEFL? Never mind the police background checks and verification of documents even in places like China and Thailand.

Jesus wept. What's going on here? Who's the commanding officer here?

Well, fuck it. No more job applications, it's too distracting. I make the equivalent of a shitty chain-language school franchise salary from my books and stock dividends, so it's time to hunker down somewhere for a while. Probably have to go back to Russia for a while and live with the Girlfriend, and get that straightened up one way or another. Work on some books -- got one porno novel to finish and then I'll get to hard work on my next memoir, about my early life -- and get that stupid master's degree done. Hell, maybe I'll get TWO master's degrees. I got the loot, anyway. Fortunately.

Although, shit, I might have to change the name of the blog, if I can't teach English any more ...

ANYWAY! Enough about that.In five days, ruminations on Bangkok then and Bangkok now.

(EDIT: It's official, as of 2013, Saudi and UAE are now requiring a letter from your university verifying that you did NOT do your education online. This article is specifically about health-care workers, but it would apply all around. And here's another article from a visa service about that.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Iraq and a Hard Place: Interview with English Teacher M

As mentioned recently in the comments section, you occasionally see jobs advertised in the various war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. One area, Kurdistan in northern Iraq, is not actually a war zone (not yet anyway) and I've known several people who worked there, and most actually liked it well enough -- you can drink there, and it's scenic enough, and you're right in the middle of developing history. 

Of course, the werewolves are coming, so here's a little interview with English Teacher M (who also taught briefly in Libya) who has spent quite a bit of time in Iraq

English Teacher X
are you back in Iraq? Aren't those ISIS motherfuckers trying to tear up that area now?

English Teacher M
In Kurdistan, Isis is still in Mosul, but they're basically surrounded now

English Teacher X
are you working at that same college now?
what's the name of it?

English Teacher M
Different place, (REDACTED)

English Teacher X
how much do they pay?

English Teacher M
In a really shitty little town not far from Erbil
$2400/mo plus the usual perks

English Teacher X
i though I heard ISIS attacked Erbil.
with stolen american tanks and shit

English Teacher M
But only work 12 hrs a week
They attacked a little village 20 miles away
They've done it before

English Teacher X
what motherfuckers
burning people alive, as if beheadings weren't savage enough
"We've gotta take it to the next level, folks!"

English Teacher M
They have to keep upping the ante

English Teacher X
how much vacation time do you get a year in that contract?

English Teacher M
I have a six month contract which is up end of August, we finish classes in mid June
So basically last 2 and half months are paid vacation

English Teacher X
how are the students?

English Teacher M
It's just a dumpy public uni

English Teacher X
i'd have imagined them enthusiastic to make something of themselves
or they feel hopeless about it all?

English Teacher M
Some are, but they just have a long way to go
They don't have much perspective on anything

English Teacher X
a generation of war hasn't left them too enthusiastic about life, I guess

English Teacher M
Plus these are basically the rednecks and hillbillies of Kurdistan

English Teacher X
ah,, right. I taught a lot of those.

English Teacher M
Not the urban elite you find at American uni where I used to teach

English Teacher X
if they had money, they'd be studying in London or somwhere nice.
how do they feel about ISIS? Does it come up in conversaton a lot, or everybody avoids the subject?

English Teacher M
At this point Isis is just a fact of life, doesn't really come up anymore
Last summer it was always a topic of discussion
Lot of the students have family in the peshmerga

English Teacher X
People don't consider them the wolf at the door?

English Teacher M
Nah, they trust the peshmerga to protect them
And it's been 6 months

English Teacher X
and they pissed off the Egyptians and the Jordanians, now
although I imagine they're not shaking in their boots about that, exactly

English Teacher M
I think they've pissed off everybody
Especially the ones living under them
All they rely on now is brute force and fear

English Teacher X
they seem to enjoy being the bad guys
Not since the Nazis have we seen such scary and effective use of propoganda and branding
do they have a logo?

English Teacher M
The black flag I think

English Teacher X
So do you have any kind of evacuation plan, if things go south?
Are there any embassies around there?

English Teacher M
Us consulate 2 hours away in erbil
Airport there

English Teacher X
are you registred with the embassy for updates by SMS? I always tried to do that but it never worked.

English Teacher M
I haven't bothered
I probably should

English Teacher X
mind if I use this as a blog entry, with names and identifying information changed?

English Teacher M
Sure, just don't use the town or uni names if that's ok

English Teacher X
do you mind if I use the name Erbil aas being two hours away?
gotta have some reference point

English Teacher M
Just no (REDACTED)

English Teacher X
of course

English Teacher M
Gotta protect my paycheck!

English Teacher X
now I'm wondering if I write something about ISIS, will they try to hack my site or declare a fatwa on me 
shit, am I ready for the big time?

English Teacher M

They'll prob appreciate the publicity

English Teacher X 
I'll call it "Between Iraq and a Hard Place." I'm pretty sure that's wildly original. 

* * * 
Can't we all just get along? (But before anybody asks in the comments, yes, I'm aware that had America not pointlessly invaded Iraq, we wouldn't be having this problem. But then again, don't try to tell the Kurds that Sadaam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Death Takes a Holiday

I saw a guy get shot in Sri Lanka last month.

Actually I didn't see the guy get shot, I just heard him get shot.

It was a quiet beach bar in Hikkaduwa -- it was only about 10:00pm and a few tourists were sitting around drinking quietly.

When I entered, I had seen a group of those pseudo-Rasta beach boy types that live around most tourist areas. From Ecuador to Costa Rica to Thailand, the languages and nationalities might be different, but the guys look very similar -- camouflage cargo shorts, Bob Marley t-shirts, dreds and tattoos; these are the guys who sell the dope, tend the bars, do the surf instructing, and hit on all the tourist chicks.

I was standing there sipping my beer, looking the other way, and I heard, "POP POP! POP POP POP POP POP! POP POP!"

Fireworks had been going off on the beach all evening, so nobody thought much about it. It sounded exactly like firecrackers.

But then the security guards started running towards the bathroom, and a guy covered with blood came out.

He was walking pretty steadily, for all the blood. He wasn't screaming or anything. He was more sort of like, "Awww, shit!"

The dozen or so tourists in the bar began to vacate onto the beach, at this point.

And I walked right by one of the Rasta beachboy guys, holding a small handgun. (Of a brand I didn't recognize.)

I would assume he was the murderer, but I guess he might have just been another guy with a gun there.

Later I heard three guys died, but you know how those stories grow.

"I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter." -- Winston Churchill

Something similar happened in Vodkaberg back in 2007

For all that tactical training I did a couple years ago, I was mostly standing there like an idiot the whole time, an easy target doing not much.

(I did take the opportunity when I fled to grab a purse some Russian girls had left behind, and return it to them and take the opportunity to get acquainted.)

So that's death. Swooping in when you least expect it.

"I'm not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen

I mean really, unless you're in wartime, how are you supposed to keep that ready-for-anything mentality? You go to every beach bar expecting a shootout? Jesus Christ you'd lose your mind.

Now, when I was in the Maldives with the Gilfriend last year, we saw a guy who had died of a sudden heart attack (or stroke, maybe something sudden and final.) A big older Russian guy. We were on a day tour to a resort island, and we walked down to the end of the beach and back, and a guy was down on the sand, with some people trying to do CPR.

It apparently didn't succeed. We saw the tearful family making calls to their embassy in the reception area later.

(A logistical nightmare as well as an emotional nightmare, I'm sure.)

"I intend to live forever or die trying." -- Groucho Marx

That took me back to another beach death I saw in Koh Pi Pi back in 1995. A group of teachers were there for the Christmas holidays, and we saw some divers out in the middle of the lagoon thing there on a rock waving and yelling for help. They'd found a swimmer lying at the bottom, and they and the rescue unit got the guy dragged to shore.

But he was dead already; sand was coming out of his mouth when they gave him CPR. The guy's mother was there, too, horrifically, screaming and wondering why her son was dead.

(I wonder? Cramp? Something stung him? Just choked on a mouthful of water? Just some kind of random medical condition?)

Other than that, I guess I've seen like a half-dozen or so people dead in traffic accidents on the side of the road or whatever.

"Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be glad it happens in that order." -- David Gerrold