Sunday, November 23, 2014

Around the Fucking World in 80 Days: Lonely Planet Indeed

So I left the Sandbox at the end of July, and I went to Vietnam for three weeks to see some friends there. Then I flew into America via Las Vegas, and spent some time in America, including doing that survival hike in Utah. Then in September, I flew to Turkey to meet the Girlfriend in Marmaris.



So give or take one time zone, I literally flew around the world in 80 days. (Turkey and the Kingdom are a few hours away from each other.)



Then I got back to America for a few weeks, and then in October took off to Peru. I've been here for a month now, and I'm about to cross over the border into Ecuador tomorrow.

Colca Canyon, Inca terraces

The thing that is striking me above all else:

It's so fucking EASY now.

I mean mostly the organizational / administrative parts of travel. You can book plane tickets and hotel rooms pretty much anyplace in the world on the internet, and you can be relatively assured you'll get something up to whatever standards you happen to have. While the $10 options of 20 years ago seem to be fewer, in Vietnam and Peru, $25 - $30 gets you a comfortable hotel room of your own with all the "mod cons" like hot water and cable and wi-fi.

You can even book local bus and train tickets online. If you're ever in Peru, the Cruz Del Sur bus service is very convenient and comfortable.

I think back to the 90s. Fuck, man.

You had maybe a Lonely Planet guide book to recommend some hotel to you. If you could find the place at all, you had no assurance that they'd have any rooms, or really what the rooms would be like.  (As a matter of course, the books were about two years out of date.) You might have to spend half the day wandering around looking for hotels or hostels, during the busy seasons.

(My first backpacking trip, in Europe in July of 1992, I had so much trouble finding rooms I eventually pretty much just gave up and slept on train station floors most of the trip.)

Trying to find local bus schedules and things like that, fuck, that was a nightmare back in the day. I mean you had your Eurrail Pass thing in Europe, but other than that, you kind of just had to take Lonely Planet's word for it or try to find the local bus station and stand in line and hope for the best.

Now? Easy as click click click.

Of course, plane tickets are not getting any cheaper, that's one thing. 20 years ago I flew from the US to Bangkok one way for $350; the one-way flight from Saigon to Las Vegas was $1100 (and that was the cheapest I could find by a few hundred bucks.)



Anyway. If travel happens to be your dream, these days, you have no fucking excuse at all. Get some money together and go baby go.


Oh speaking of administrative things:

Anne Sterzinger did a write-up on me and my new memoir in Takimag. Welcome if you are visiting because of that, and check out some free stuff:

Complete Collected Cartoons is FREE ON AMAZON for the next few days.


Now I'm also trying out my own e-book store at e-junkie (off-putting name though it is, it seems to work well.) I'm offering a special deal there, also, if you haven't read my first two memoirs yet -- you can buy both TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY and VODKABERG in PDF and EPUB formats for only $5. A savings of,like 20 percent of something. (You have to use Paypal.) 


SPECIAL DEAL -- TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY + VODKABERG only $5 HERE. 

Add to Cart


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Most Normal English Teacher


So, obviously, there are a lot of stories about really fucked-up English teachers, and most of the teachers I've known were a bit off in one way or the other.

There were a few guys I would (hesitantly) define as normal that I met in Saudi, but I didn't know these guys closely. I know the guys in my office were all a bit nutty in various ways. Married men "Dating" Filipina whores, secret potheads, borderline autistics, hermit types, guys who ate only one kind of food, etc.

But I often get reviews -- especially on Amazon UK -- from these allegedly completely-professional and normal teachers of TEFL. And there's a whole body of Oxford / Cambridge books that I guess are written by "normal" TEFL professionals. (I guess ...?)



But I've worked in like ten jobs in a half-dozen countries, and I've met so very very few people I'd call normal, in the way I'd call my dentist back in America normal, for example.

So I'm reaching out to my audience: who are the most normal teachers you know?  Are you perhaps one yourself? Best "normal" teacher story wins some free books or $10 or something.

Warning: A lot of these teachers who THINK they're normal are usually the weirdest ones of all.

So I'll make a list of disqualifying traits:

DISQUALIFIERS FROM THE NORMALCY COMPETITION:

  1. no teachers with fake qualifications
  2. no alcohol or drug problems 
  3. no gap year or obviously very short-term teachers
  4. no taking of anti-depressants / tranquilizers, even if medically prescribed
  5. no dating students, even if students are of legal age, 
  6. no teachers who are primarily sex tourists / looking for foreign wife or husband
  7. no dating / marriage to a local / foreign man or woman if said man or woman is 15 or more years younger (or a former prostitute)
  8. no ranting (in class or otherwise) about politics, conspiracy theories, bizarre health beliefs
  9. reasonable personal hygiene / appearance
  10. no living alone in middle-age and never going out / living alone with cats (must have at least some level of normal human interaction / socialization)
  11. no working at places where they can get away with minimal-to-no actual teaching; no lecturing / reading to the class from the book / standing there while students write during the whole class
  12. no running from debts / alimony / failed marriages / failed businesses

I've even tried to contact these various "normal teacher" reviewers through Amazon and various other ways, but I've never had any kind of reply. 

So, you know, don't be scared! Let's open a dialogue! Let's build a bridge between our cultures!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SURVIVING TEFL: An English Teacher X Omnibus Now Available

So finally here's a bundled edition of all the books that I've written about Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Just in time for the holidays.


And as a bonus feature, my famous Fake Message Board. Buy this and save like, two or three bucks.



With a new foreword by the author, which I wrote last night and I'll just go ahead and post here: 

* * * 

Well, it’s been almost twenty years since I started teaching English as a Foreign Language. Almost four years since I first published GUIDE TO TEACHING ABROAD, and nearly ten years since I wrote the initial essays that formed the basis for that book.

Surely things have changed a lot in TEFL, right? Globalism has consumed the globe. Surely the need for English as the language of business and tourism has led to higher standards for TEFL teachers and better working conditions and salaries for them?

Ah, no. Not much. The ups are still up and the lows are still low.

I’m writing this in a hotel room in Cusco, Peru, after a year of doing an extremely high-paying job in the Middle East in which teachers were generally called up upon NOT to teach English, but merely to stand there pretending to teach while the students used their telephones under the table. (Trying too hard to force students to study inevitably got them complaining and led to lost jobs.)

My high salary did not at all match my lifestyle – I lived in a sort of grubby trailer park in an industrial zone, where we were glad to be able to still smell the hydrogen sulfide leaking from the refineries and gas-oil separation plants nearby, because we’d been warned that loss of sense of smell was an initial symptom of the neurological damage caused by it.

I came to Peru to visit a couple of friends who are working in an English language school in a large city. Their lives are jolly, with plenty of drinking, hanging out, and eating good cheap Peruvian food. They both work on tourist visas, and make less than $700 per month. They sleep on mattresses on the floor, and have no paid holidays or health insurance. Each trip to the border to renew their tourist visas contains the risk they will be denied entry.

Meanwhile, all across the globe, language schools and TEFL Teacher Training programs are flooded with applications from a generation of disenfranchised liberal arts majors who can’t find any other work in the cutthroat competitive job market of their home countries.

Yet of course, neither I nor my friends have any intention of getting different jobs anytime soon.

      Insane?

      You tell me. 

Welcome to TEFL 2014! Now on with the show!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ghost Story

Of course I've wandered the globe and been to plenty of strange places, but I was trying to think of a good ghost story for you for Halloween.



Only one comes to mind.

I went to college in New Orleans, and my resolutely bohemian existence there (which I will address in my next memoir) continued for a couple years after I graduated.

I worked in a restaurant briefly, but supported myself mainly on a parental stipend -- the money that was left over from my college fund. This meant I had plenty of time to drink, fuck around, take LSD, read, and write. (I wrote and mailed off a few horror stories, but none were ever accepted.)

I lived in a number of colorful dumps in the French Quarter, in small studio apartments that overlooked a courtyard -- these were referred to as "slave quarters" as they were usually where the servants lived apart from the main house. I lived in one on 524 Governor Nichols (which doesn't appear to be any less of a dump these days). This was back in 1993, I believe, not long before I left America pretty much for good in 1994.




(This is the actual place.)

I paid something like $275 a month for rent, and lived there with no furniture, sleeping on the floor and with only a folding table and chair. I was in a mopey depressed state following breakups with the two girls I'd been going out with (at the same time, in different cities) for the previous few years, and I'm sure I'd also fucked my seratonin levels up pretty well with a lot of drug and alcohol abuse in my late teens and early twenties.

Anyway, at this particular place, I kept seeing a dark shape moving out of the corner of my eye. It looked like a dark-colored cat running across the room.

It could have been a rat, I guess, but it seemed bigger and rounder than a rat. I never saw any evidence of droppings or mouse holes or anything. It certainly could have been possible that it actually was a cat that had crawled across the roof, jumped on the balcony, and gotten in somehow,

But I could never find it. I would just see it running, at the edge of my vision, a few times a week.



Now I'd heard plenty of ghost stories in New Orleans. There were plenty of Goth chicks obsessed with demons and spirits and vampires, plenty of girls who practiced Wicca witchcraft rituals (that they usually just made up themselves, I think) and plenty of brain-damaged old drunks. An old bartender I'd worked with said he heard whispering voices every time he went in the basement of one French Quarter bar he'd worked at.

I'd lived for a while on Royal Street across the road from the most famous allegedly haunted house in the French Quarter, the LeLaurie Mansion where a group of slaves had burned to death in a fire after being abused and chained up by their evil mistress.



One girl who lived near there said she'd been putting on make-up one evening and seen, clearly, reflected in the mirror, a little girl standing behind her watching her. When she turned around nobody had been there.



One night I even thought I felt the mysterious cat sleeping on me. I woke up and searched the house and couldn't find any sign of it, so I assumed it had just been an oddly tactile dream.

Then one afternoon I went down to the Riverwalk Mall to see a movie; I knew a girl there who would let me in for free. I'd missed the start of the movie, however, so I went home for a while and then came back.

As I walked into the mall, I noticed I had three large horizontal scratches across my upper bicep, which looked much like cat scratches.

I was mystified. I hadn't seen or held a cat that day, or walked through a park or anything like that where I could have been scratched by tree branches or something.

The girl who worked at the movie theater confirmed that I hadn't had the scratches when I 'd first come to the movie theater.



So there you go, definitive proof in the existence of the supernatural. Happy Halloween!







Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reviewing My Own Books, Part One: To Travel Hopelessly

Recently while on vacation in Marmaris with the GF (ass pictures coming later) I took the opportunity to sit down and beach-read my own book TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY, which was the second of the books that I published on Amazon KDP in 2011.

(The original cover from 2011)

It was not in fact based on blog entries, as the occasional reviewer has said, but in fact on 2000-word stories that I put on dedicated pages on my original English Teacher X website back in 2003, the (pretty embarrasing) remains of which can still be seen there. The stories did get quite a bit of much-needed editing in 2011, though, and a fair bit of stuff was added -- especially in the chapters about Prague, and of course the story about me spraining the kid's arm in class in Phuket.

THE BAD

It has always been the book that I'm least satisfied with, in general -- at 50,000 words it just seems too short to accurately reflect those five years of my life. (To that end I went back and added a couple of chapters last year -- the part about my mentor in Bangkok and a lengthy description of Nana Plaza.)

In addition I felt like the voice of it was not really very distinct -- not sure whether it was light and David Sedaris-like or dark and edgy and Bukowskian.

Also, as reviewers like Matt Forney pointed out -- it's not really a novel, it's just a collection of stories. They're in chronological order, more or less, but you can see the cracks -- the part about Korea has three different stories ending with me about to leave Korea.

I wanted to chop all the stories up into small bits and rearrange them -- as I pretty much did with VODKABERG -- but I was in a rush to get it published just to see what would happen, and the editor liked the book a great deal as it was.

There's a lot of telling rather than showing there, also -- plenty of inner monologues and rationalizations -- and some dorky narrative tricks like referring to myself in the third person. (I wanted to cut all of those out but the editor kind of liked them. I believe all or most of these stories were written before I'd ever heard of Tucker Max so I wasn't emulating him in that aspect. I'm not sure where I picked that up.)




THE GOOD

But all in all I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. There are some entertainingly lurid (if perhaps a bit overblown) descriptions -- I thought the part where I was projectile vomiting on a rooftop in Bangkok was especially evocative -- and lines like "the sky was aflame like an infected asscrack" leap cheerfully off the page. It is definitely the voice of a young X -- energetic and observant, but of course not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. You can see the writer's voice developing in the book -- the part "Two Hairy Months in Bangkok" where Q comes to visit -- that was more a foreshadowing of the way I wanted to write, and did write, in VODKABERG.

Another plus is that the book is tightly focused on the main things I wanted to write about -- the shitty schools, the wacky teachers, and the English groupies in the various pre-Internet, largely pre-globalism cities of Asia and Eastern Europe. Not much flab, and it really zips right along -- I finished it in a couple of hours.

THE CLASSIC

And another reason I found it interesting -- as a period piece. I mean, it was damn near 20 years ago. As one reviewer said -- "a time before the internet when home wasn't just an email away." The prices kind of amuse in retrospect -- sub-$100 apartments in Prague and Bangkok, for example. I fly from Istanbul to Bangkok round trip for $400 at one point, and mention a $4 cup of coffee in Seoul in a way suggesting it was terribly expensive.

IN SUM

So I can safely say it's a funny brisk little read, and although I feel like it could be better, if I changed it it also probably wouldn't be as light and funny and brisk anymore.

I might experiment with re-writing it, or at least adding some stuff, as there's a lot more to say, but I suspect I'll just leave it be. Books take on kind of a life of their own after you write them -- maybe they're not quite what you imagined them to be, but they definitely take on an identity and, like children, don't deserve to be chopped up and put back together again just because they're not quite what you had wanted.

You can read some other bloggers' reviews of TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY at these links:
Review on 30 DAYS TO X  /  Review on HOT PINK PASSPORT (!)
Review on MATTFORNEY  / Review on ROOSHV
Review on USINGENGLISH / Review on DOYOUSPEAKPOLISH



Buy it as an e-book at :

Amazon US / Amazon UK / Amazon CA
Smashwords / Kobo / Barnes and Noble / iTunes

Buy it as a paperback at:

Amazon US / Amazon UKCreatespace

Buy it in pdf and epub format directly using Paypal:

Add to Cart




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interview with English Teacher F, the Old China Hand


Been a while since I did an interview, so here's one. Mostly concerning the Magic Kingdom of China and teaching other subjects besides EFL abroad. English Teacher F also maintains a website with cartoons at www.laowaicomics.com


ETX: How long have you been teaching, and where? 


ETF: For the best part of six years now. Mostly in China, in a few different cities, but I was in Thailand for a year as well. I much prefer China, for a variety of reasons, although like most expats here I'm starting to get chinaed out.

What kind of qualifications do you have? 

A BSc, a TESOL, a beautiful pinkish white skin, and a pulse.

Why did you choose to begin teaching English? 

I got hooked by the whole travel thing with college summer trips to Thailand and Europe, both in the backpacker scene and doing my own thing off the beaten track. So when graduation time came, I wasn't sure at all what I wanted to be doing with my life, if I should pursue a Master's or not, if I should stay in the military or not (I was a weekend warrior throughout school), all that shit. Hell, I STILL don't know. I just knew it would be cool to go take a long trip, the problem is, I had zero $$$. I kept seeing those "Teach English In Asia!!! Get TESOL Certified!!!" happy ads all over campus, so I gave it a shot. I ponied up the $1000, did the course, applied to a bunch of jobs, and got offers from South Korea and China. 

The Korean one was the most tempting, because it paid more, but the Korean embassy didn't wanna issue me a visa because I ain't a native English speaker (yet, they hire British and Australian folks with huge fuckin incomprehensible accents, go figure, but hey it's their country, they can do whatever they want). Besides, I'm glad I came to China, ESL teachers in Korea might make more in entry-level positions but holy hell do they look unhappy and are always bitching.

What do you like / not like about your current position? 

I actually moved out of ESL, and am now teaching a "real" subject in an American high school program. The pay is excellent (almost five times what I made at my college ESL job in 2008-2009), I have way less hours, it's infinitely more stimulating, and it actually holds some decent prospects for future employment. The coworkers are definitely more balanced, more professional and have more direction in their life, although there are obviously some off-the-rails types like in every job abroad, and the students are respectful, friendly, and pretty competent as a group. They definitely show that being from an affluent family and being a self-righteous spoiled brat are not always mutually inclusive, and I'm grateful for that. All in all I have it pretty good, despite the odd misadventure or clash with an incompetent or bullying administrator from time to time.

Who have been your most venal and incompetent employers?  

The company I'm working for right now is very legit, they have headquarters in the US and tons of HR staff that take care of things (when it's easy). 

But before working for them, I was also working as a subject teacher for a school that was just starting. The two owners were two businessmen involved in a myriad of other ventures (hotels, cafés, importing shit, and shady gambling) who thought there could be good money in the international education thingy. They were completely right (look at the demographics in every middle-of-the-pack state college in the US now) BUT you need to invest tons first, of course. They didn't even want to buy books, we had to do with badly photocopied counterfeit shit, they paid us cash (huge bundles of cash, I gotta admit) and despite millions of promises otherwise, never got us proper visas. The two businessmen were always out doing some other shit, and as they couldn't stand each other, there were always internal drama of some sort. 

The guy I was working for before that (at some shitty McEnglish training center I should never have taken) wasn't terrible, he was just a bit of an idiot, and a Confucian bully. I'm glad I broke that contract. Nothing bad to say about my first employers, or those in Thailand I worked for.

Any particularly horrifying stories you'd like to share?  

Well, the two businessmen couldn't get more students to sign up, so the whole thing went tits up. They didn't renew my visa, a few days before the summer holiday (I got a SEVEN DAY visa... basically a notice of deportation) and told me not to come back, through one of their secretaries of course (pussies). I did come back though, after re-routing a bunch of flights, getting a new passport (I was sure they had used some of their ass-licking connections with the government to blacklist me, how paranoid of me), and to their credit, they did give me a pretty juicy severance pay that kept my head above water while I looked for other jobs. Still, the whole experience made me lose a fuckton of sleep, ruined my vacation, cost me a lot of money, and made me more wary of deceitful and lying pieces of shit in the industry (which might be a good thing).

Oh and at the McEnglish job before that, they did give me a pretty sweet brand new apartment... but with a roommate. Shit wasn't in the contract. I don't mind roommates, but I do mind it when the said roommate is pretty much the picture perfect middle-aged bloated alcoholic. He also hated my guts, thankfully, and moved out to go live in one of the shitty apartments closer to the school with another teacher who hated me, leaving the pimp-pad for me alone. So I won the war without even fighting a single battle. 

What are your plans for the future? 

Hell if I know... I'm entering the second third of my life, I'm healthy, have money saved, and a decent resumé despite a lack of teaching credentials. But all my friends back home have cars and houses and shit, while I have... a backpack I guess? And a pirated PS3... I get nagging thoughts of repatriation from time too time, that I try to drown with cheap Chinese booze.

Even though I have it good here, as previously mentioned, I'm getting restless. Next year will most likely be spent traveling around. Going to parts of Asia I haven't been to yet, Australia, the US West Coast, Christmas with the family (first time since 2007) and then 5-6 solid months in South America. The goal is to kill that whole travel bug for good and then see what's up. I might do a Master's of some sort, as unappealing as it is after years of having fun abroad and little responsibilities, or get some proper teaching credz and try to score those lucrative international school jobs.

What's your favorite way to kill ten minutes in class?

Hahahaha... don't have to do that much anymore, now that I'm teaching something with an actual objective. Even in my ESL days I tried to organize my classes somewhat, to make the whole thing less tedious for me.

How's your salary versus the cost of living and your standard of life in general?  

Salaries in China are decent-to-good, and the cost of life is still pretty damn cheap. Apartments can get very expensive in big cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing, but are reasonably priced elsewhere. Restaurants and transportation are inexpensive all over the country. So then it becomes a matter of how much you want to spend on entertainment, touristy stuff, clothes, electronics, and how frugal you are in general. I know people who make 5000 yuan and save half, and people who make north of 20k and still can't go out to bars the weekend before paycheck before they're outta funds.

And as for the standard of life, it depends widely on who you ask. Sure, China gives a pretty brutal culture shock (I won't get deep into it, one can just read the millions of blog posts written about the quirky aspects of adjusting to this country) but all in all it's fairly developed, easy to get around, and most importantly, extremely safe. The kind of freedom that foreigners have here when it comes time to be out after dark or going wherever they want is unheard of in Latin America, Africa, or even most US cities. And I gotta say, that's a pretty fucking cool aspect of life here.

Speaking Chinese definitely helps having a semblance of social life here that doesn't revolve around old bitter expats (sometimes a small handful, if in a smaller city) and annoying English-leeches. So many expats come here and stay deeply entrenched in their monolingualism, and then bitch endlessly. Ha. Their loss.


* * *

Speaking of bitter expats bitching, the Kindle Countdown Deal has started for my latest memoir, REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND. Get it HERE on Amazon.