Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Nothing Paradox

There's an inherent dichotomy in teaching Saudis -- they are some of the most difficult students in the world ... but at the same time, working with them, you are most likely going to be paid to sit around and do nothing a lot.

My first job was at a college, and I only actually had to teach about 32 weeks out of 52. My second job was at an oil company, and the trainees came and went at unpredictable intervals due to the complications of bureaucracy there; there were whole weeks and months we were sitting around the office doing not much.

This job, working for a government contracting company, is now experiencing that same "bureaucratic lag." We had 200 students when I arrived, with 35 teachers, but most of them have already been sent home or graduated. Now we have about 35 teachers and 20 students. New students are coming in September -- supposedly.

Needless to say this makes the work day a bit leisurely.

Last Friday at work I played "Don't Starve" for a couple hours and watched the original Conan on Crackle. (Sure, Conan, it's a pleasure to see your enemies destroyed and hear the lamentations of their women, but it's also nice to get paid a full salary for watching movies.)

My replacement is a guy I worked with in my second job in Saudi; I'm supposed to be mentoring him, technically speaking, but there's not much to do there, either. Show him how to fill out some paperwork, and warn him about how to deal with trouble-makers.

My visa for China is being processed, and next Friday will be my last day here. The three weeks in the Canary Islands with the Girlfriend and then I start work in China the last week of August.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

And The Next Destination Is ...


I've been offered a really good job in China. Documents are on their way, so it's a go, unless we go to war with them in the interim, or something.

As readers might remember, I had a job offer in China last year, but ended up not going because of complications with the paperwork, as well as a need to stay in America to help my father get settled at the assisted living place he moved into. 

Readers might also remember that a commenter working in China said that I could probably get a much better job than the one I described.

I was skeptical, but when I mentioned that I had no job offers for September of this year, he offered to show my resume to his boss at the swanky interntional school he works at, which pays a shockingly good salary.

And damned if they didn't interview me and offer me a job almost immediately.

And damned if the contract conditions aren't about the same as my first job in the Gulf -- $4000 + month after taxes, paid accommodation, and 3 months of paid holiday time.

And Most people go to China for the experience, but I'm really kind of going for the dough. (Oh, and the kung-fu, I guess.)

I'll be near the capital city, The City Formerly Known as Peking, although not actually in it.

I am aware that I missed the "Wild East" days of teaching in China and it's probably not as fun and wacky as it was ten years ago. This is surely not the best time to go there -- but then again, it's probably not the best time to go anywhere. It's a bit of a rough patch globally speaking. 

So I need this information from readers, current and former teachers in China: What VPNs work best in China? I use Hotspot Shield now, but I've heard it doesn't work there now. Any advice on that score will be appreciated. 

So, middle-aged formerly depraved ETX working at a swanky international school, teaching rich high school kids? That sounds like a humorous fish-out-of-water comedy!

Friday, June 24, 2016

To The Right, March! (Or: Auslander, Raus!)

Sniff, sniff! Can you smell it?

Something is in the air.

Countries are erecting trade barriers, closing borders, making travel requirements more stringent, and electing increasingly right wing politicians.

Sniff, sniff!

It's the pungent aroma of isolationism, protectionism, and reactionary nationalism!

So! BREXIT, bro!

British teachers working abroad wake up and find their local savings can buy more pounds, as the value of the GBP has fallen about 10 percent. (Digital nomads and sex tourists get slammed as the pound has less value.)

However, I'm sure all the British teachers working and living happily away in Prague and Spain and other places in the EU are breaking into panicky sweats. Freedom of work and travel? Kiss it goodbye. (Although I guess a lot of people will be grandfathered in.)

Stocks markets around the world have taken a nose dive. (Finally my "end of the world" investments might pay off!)

And believe me, the chaos is just getting started if Donald Trump gets elected US president.

So how will this affect English teachers?

Well, for Americans it might be good news, as far as working in the EU. For the last 10 years it's been extremely difficult for Americans to work legally there (and the EU has expanded a lot, as well) and after Britain drops out, they'll have to start hiring native speakers from other countries. (Again. I worked in Prague in 2000, something I would not be able to do now.)

Bad news of course, is that more isolationism and protectionism means less work for English teachers, less buying property abroad, more difficulty with visas and residence permits, more trouble marrying foreigners, general xenophobia, etc.

Et cetera et cetera et cetera.

I mean look how well isolationism is working out for North Korea.

Anyway, I guess, if you look at it in perspective, there's not much to be happy about in the world in general. Terrorism, war, Zika and West Nile virus, the largest refugee displacement in recorded history, wildfires and heat emergencies and floods and earthquakes. We should live so long that we get to worry about free and easy travel.

These cycles of globalism / isolationism have been going on for a long time. Empires have risen and fallen, and the waves of globalism and  international trade and travel always come to an end, with tight borders and rigid trade barriers (and sometimes global wars), until people get sick of that in 20 - 50 years, and start demanding more international freedoms again.

But for the time being?

It looks like the doofuses in the man-o-sphere might get their wish! Maybe in a few years we'll all be penned up back in white America with closed borders, working at the ball-bearing factory and going home to our submissive-by-law wives.

Sounds pretty fucking grim.

As for me, I have no regrets. I had my time. I'm old enough to remember the pre-globalism days -- when you couldn't visit half the world, when traveling through Europe meant a considerable expense changing money every stop, when you couldn't just put a card in any bank machine and take money out.

And I remember when the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved, and how excited people were when China, Cambodia, Vietnam and so forth started opening up. And I remember when people's eyes would get wide with joy and say, "WOW! YOU'RE FROM AMERICA??"

Anyway, I'll have a new purpose. The chronicler of late 20th Century Globalism, @1989 - 2016.

RIP, globalism. We hardly knew ye.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Worst Year of My Life Hasn't Been That Bad

I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said that childhood ends on the day you go shopping for adult diapers with your father, and spend twenty minutes or so comparing prices.

This year  -- since I started this job in America last August -- by all subjective metrics has sucked pretty hard. No travel or new destinations. No romance and practically no wild fucking. No drunken adventures. Not even much money saved.

But objectively, I got a lot done. My father is comfortably ensconced in his assisted living place, and he can pay for most (although not all) of it himself. I'm three classes into a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis in English as a Second Language. I've made decent progress in the martial arts system I study, which mixes Thai boxing, jeet kun do, and escrima and kali.

Despite the occasional tangle with Amazon's censors, I'm still making decent money from my erotic thriller e-books, and in becoming thrillers, they're much more the books I always wanted to write (just with rather more fucking). I'm leading up to writing one about an English teacher fucking the wife of a Russian billionaire. I'll share that with you folks, should I ever write it.

The place I live now is the same kind of place where I grew up: small town America. Strip malls and fast food places. Mini mansions on one side of town and little shacks on the other. Surrounded by empty industrial buildings and scrap yards and farms and used car lots with huge flags flapping over them.

I didn't much like it then, and I like it less now, but there are things I like. Fresh air. Some great national parks to hike and camp in.

Now as far as my social life, I don't have one, but that's completely by choice. And that's a bit strange, I know. I've been invited out by several of my decent-looking female colleagues and I've always made excuses. My male colleagues invite me out occasionally also, but I also decline. I have not the slightest urge to spend time at bars or clubs. (I mean, I am 47, also.)

You could say that it's sobriety, sexual and otherwise, like my contemporaries Tucker Max and Neil Strauss, who now fly the banner of marriage, monogomy, and sobriety. But getting addicted to solitude isn't a good thing either (and I'll write about this later) but I think it's probably just a desire not to put any more emotional load on my brain. I visit my dad about once a month and spend the other three weekends by my damn self, reading, writing, or hiking. 

Anyway, one thing I haven't done which I wanted to is write much about English Teacher X. I was meaning to get all my old travel journals out and start writing down stories from my early backpacking years, but I still haven't gotten around to it. 

I'll try to do that in the next couple of months, because if all goes well, I'll be starting another job abroad in September. I'm working on finishing the documents now, and it should be a good gig. Things could still go wrong, so I'll wait until I have the visa to talk about it. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Scourge (or: America's Leaning on Pork)

Most students don't take care of their diets too well when they move away from home for the first time, but Saudi students, from my experience, REALLY go nuts.

They cram their bodies full of pretty much nothing but sugar, caffeine, and nicotine. (It's a problem in general in Saudi, of course, with diabetes going rapidly off the charts there.)

Here in my job, it was getting to be a serious and immediate problem. Numerous students have been hospitalized for malnutrition, dehydration, and gastric illnesses, due to a diet consisting of pretty much nothing but Red Bull, Mountain Dew, chocolate bars, cigarettes, and potato chips. 

Our students varied from being too hyperactive to sit still and too exhausted to keep their eyes open, and all the teachers were railing at them about it. Numerous lectures about the importance of drinking water and eating healthy food were repeatedly given. 

They made vague excuses. "American food is not delicious." "We don't have time to eat any healthy food." 

Finally one of my students leveled with me. 

It's the pork. 

The students got here and saw all the familiar fast food places they loved: Dominos, Subway, etc. 

And they ordered foods they thought they knew.

But little did they know that these foods were often made with pork in America. Pepperoni and salami, for example. 

"Didn't you ask about it?" I inquired, rather amazed. 

"We didn't speak English well when we arrived. And when we asked the people at Domino's, they always said no pork.")

(Which I guess was probably also ignorance, but coming from a more blissful place.) 

Once they figured this out, and once their English improved, they realized that pork is fucking EVERYWHERE in America. Ham. Bacon. Even salads are full of little chunks of ham and bacon bits. Bacon flavoring in sauces and potato chips!

Certain exceptions are made to the rules of Islam in their lives, to say the least, but most all of them still find the idea of eating pigs really gross. They find pork so revolting, they don't even want to go near restaurants that have it, for fear of cross-contamination. 

You might laugh, but imagine going to a McDonald's in whatever country, and finding out a few months later that the thing you thought was a normal Big Mac was in fact made of sewer rat or liver flukes or something. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Cobra Effect

Famous economics smart guys and frequent statistic manglers Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt talk about The Cobra Effect on their Freakonomics podcast.

This, according to them, is a case of financial incentives misfiring. The example is from the British Raj days of India, when the British offered a bounty on dead cobras. Far from reducing the number of cobras, this led to an increase, because people were breeding cobras just to get the bounty.

I think of that a lot in this job.

Basically, I work for a contracting company in a government / military program. We teach English to Middle Easterners for a year, prior to them joining a certain technical training program.

They get a very generous salary for this; somewhere between 3 and 5 thousand dollars a month plus accomodation and airfare and all that.

The problem is that only about 25 percent of them had any desire or intention to pass the technical training program, and most of them didn't care much about the English part of it.

See, rather than choosing the 200 students who came here through some kind of aptitude testing or choosing them based on their achievements or even asking for volunteers, they seemingly just chose them at random. (Although they chose them from a random pool of military people with good driving records, I understand. They are cracking down on crappy driving over there.)

Most of them arrived with practically no English, and not too much desire to learn. We only have 6 or fewer students in our classes, so it's not too much trouble to deal with them, but most of them really could care less whether they pass the tests or not.

And to complicate matters, if they voluntarily drop out of or quit the program, or if they get sent home for discipline reasons, they will have a splotch on their record which will endanger future career prospects, even at the oil companies or other industries. If they fail out, it's no big deal, they just get sent back home.

Basically, the only way to get home and see your family with no problems is to fail. Otherwise you might get stuck here studying for years, or even worse, you could finish the program and end up doing some difficult technical job.

Most students didn't care much one way or the other. Pass the tests? That means you keep getting salary. Fail the tests? You get to go back home, and continue to get salary.

There are a lot of changes going on in the ME now, though, due to the low price of oil, and as 2016 rolled around they started paring the dead wood out of this program.

Oh, how the guys laughed and cheered when they were told they'd failed out and were going home.

This program started out with 200 students towards the end of 2014; currently we have about 40. About 20 or 25 students have graduated and passed into the technical program. About 150 have been sent home. The remainder are now desperately trying to pass the tests before Ramadan, and many have sort of "accidentally" not managed to fail yet. (That's how easy the multiple-choice tests are.)

But as I said, this isn't the worst job I've ever had, though it's far from the best.

Fortunately I seem to have something better lined up for September -- although no contract signed yet -- but I'll keep that a secret for the moment.