Friday, December 19, 2014

Old Dogs, New Tricks ... and Old Tricks


Never too late for even a 45-year-old dog to learn a few new tricks -- as long as you have plenty of ibuprofen around for later. That's me surfing in Montanito, Ecuador.

Tonight is my last night in Ecuador - bus ride back to Peru tomorrow, then flying back to the US - and this really hot girl started talking to me on the embankment here in Guayiquil:



But then, unfortunately, just when we were getting cozy, she had to go home to her 6-year-old son. (She's 27.) I can see that's a major issue with trying to date down here in South America; a lot of kids get pumped out at relatively young ages by the local chicas.

All in all I love Ecuador though; the iguanas are EVERYWHERE.


And I saw penguins, sea lions, and motherfuckin' HAMMERHEAD SHARKS in the Galopogas Islands. Made me wish I had one of those stupid Go-Pro cameras.

Anyway! Just a little postcard from the road. Vaya con Dios!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Most Famous TEFL Teachers (Updated for 2015)

(I've been doing an updated version of GUIDE TO TEACHING ENGLISH and I thought I'd update my list of famous TEFL teachers, which was pretty far from being comprehensive.)



There are a number of influential and important figures in the world of TEFL.

These include luminaries such as Stephen Krashen. Noam Chomskey. Jeremy Harmer. Michael Swan.

The problem, of course, is that NOBODY OUTSIDE THE WORLD OF TEFL, and MOST OF THE PEOPLE WITHIN THE WORLD OF TEFL, have never heard of them at all.

Noam Chomsky is arguably well-known among grad student types for his political activism, but until he goes on DANCING WITH THE STARS, the average American will have no idea who he is. In addition I haven't been able to find any indication he ever taught English as a Second Language, despite all the linguistic theory he came up with on the subject.

With that in mind I offer this list of the most famous (former) TEFL teachers.

12) Oliver Stone, film director and screenwriter of such ground-breakingly violent films as SCARFACE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS, taught English for six months at the Free Pacific Institute in South Vietnam, before giving that up to join the Navy. The quote “If you’re not born crazy, you’re born boring” is prominently displayed on his personal website. That strikes me as a very TEFL sort of statement.


11) Nick Hornby, author of novels such as HIGH FIDELITY, which usually centered around spoiled, self-centered man-children as they bumbled their way through life, apparently taught English and TEFL in London at some point. Little information seems to be available about where, why, or how he liked it.


10 ) Bob Geldoff, musician and charity activist, apparently pissed off to Spain at some point to teach English, somewhere in between working at the slaughterhouse and starting the group the Boomtown Rats and single-handedly saving Africa from famine. 

9) Gary Glitter, 70s glam rock star, after fleeing child porn charges in Britain, was arrested in Vietnam for raping teenage girls as young as 12; he claimed he was only teaching them English. Whether he actually did any teaching is a bit in doubt, to say the least.



8) Keith Wright, former Australian politician and leader of the Australian Labour Party, nearly became Prime Minister in 1983 – but in 1993 he was jailed for 8 years for “indecent dealing” with underage girls and rape. A former preacher as well as teacher, he now runs TEFL and teacher training courses in Asia. He is quoted in an article in the Courier Mail as apologizing for his errors and saying that "literacy can free people from poverty. Improving literacy is, therefore, a way of combating child exploitation. I'm glad to say there is a charity element in my work." 
Of course he then admits that there is a commercial element as well, and says he doesn't teach children. Well that's all right then!

        7) Charles Berlitz, the grandson of Berlitz School founder Maximillian Berlitz, probably deserves a place on the list. Unlike his father, it would seem he actually taught English. (His father actually began the Berlitz Schools to teach French and German.)

Most sources are unclear as to whether he actually taught, merely saying that "during breaks he worked for the family language school"; he later worked mainly in the publishing and tape-production part of the business. But we can assume he probably did a little teaching, somewhere along the line, so he can at least earn 7th place on the list.

He sold the company in the 60's, and focused himself on other equally scientific and logical pursuits:



If you don't want to bother to watch that, he apparently believed that The Bermuda Triangle was related to the lost city of Atlantis and ancient astronauts, subjects upon which he wrote many books. He also wrote a book about The Philadelphia Experiment, which supposedly had a World War 2 battleship disappearing due to time-travel and invisibility experiments.

The Berlitz company actually entered legal proceedings at one point trying to stop him from using the Berlitz name, as they felt it might reflect badly on the school.

And if his rather kooky wrting wasn't enough -- he married a student!

        6) Perpetually grumpy and acerbic author and professional backpacker Paul Theroux worked as an English teacher for the Peace Corps in Africa as well as at the National University in Singapore.



As we all know, Peace Corps volunteers are hardly the usual kind of English teacher; Theroux didn't think much them, himself, nor did he think much of teaching; in the introduction to a collection of early novels, he describes wanting to write to escape the "tedium of teaching" and that he "found nothing" in Singapore.

Nonetheless, Theroux had plenty of adventures, it would seem; he writes that "In Malawi I saw my first hyena, smoked my first hashish, witnessed my first murder, caught my first case of gonorrhea.” He also got kicked out of various countries for getting involved in political activism.

So we place him respectfully at number six on the list.

        5) Todd Solondz is probably not any better known, in terms of being a household name, than any of the above-mentioned, but he is a director who has made several award-winning and commercially successful films. He taught ESL in the early 90's for the New York Association for New Americans.

One of the characters in his second and most famous film, HAPPINESS, works as an ESL teacher, and has an affair with a Russian student (who turns out to be an abusive grifter.)

The other characters in the film are a father who proves to be a pedophile who rapes young boys, a guy who makes obscene phone calls, and a murderous fat woman. Yeah, it was made in the 90's.

His featuring ESL in a film earns him fifth place on the list.



        4) James Joyce, author of critically-lauded, weighty, unreadable novels worked for many years for the Berlitz chain in Trieste.



We are informed by Wikipedia that during this period his was constantly scheming to make money in other fields, while simultaneously drinking heavily and wasting his brother's money:

"Joyce's ostensible reasons (for teaching) were desire for Stanislaus's company and the hope of offering him a more interesting life than that of his simple clerking job in Dublin. In truth, though, Joyce hoped to augment his family's meagre income with his brother's earnings.
Stanislaus and Joyce had strained relations throughout the time they lived together in Trieste, with most arguments centring on Joyce's drinking habits and frivolity with money."

        3) John Fowles , the British author of THE COLLECTOR and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, wrote his first novel THE MAGUS while teaching English in Greece. Wikipedia states that "Fowles was happy in Greece, especially outside of the school," and that he and all the other teachers were fired after two years for "trying to institute reforms."



















In addition, he stole another guy's wife while he was there, and THE MAGUS was full of a reasonable amount of sex, as far as 60's literature goes. As far as I know, it's the only popular and critically-acclaimed novel in which the main character is an EFL teacher.

Therefore, despite not being particularly widely-read these days, he earns #3 on the list.

        2) John Mark Karr taught English in Gautamala, while fleeing from a child pornography charge in the United States, and was teaching English in Thailand when he was arrested for confessing to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.















Of course he didn't do it, and was exonerated by DNA evidence after he received a business-class trip back to America escorted by federal marshals.

(TEFL teachers around the world should pay attention to this quick, free, and easy way to get a ticket home in an emergency.)

John Mark Karr is apparently in the process of undergoing a sex change and lives as a woman named Alexis Reich.

Since then he has been up on domestic abuse charge and there are recent reports of him making death threats related to organizing a cult around JonBenet Ramsey, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

AND NUMBER ONE:

1) : J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. She taught English in Porto, Portugal in 1992, and in the course of two years, got married to a local, had a child, got divorced, and returned home to be diagnosed as clinically depressed. I'd say that establishes her TEFL cred, wouldn't you?

And of course, eventually, she came up with the idea for Harry Potter books and is now worth a billion dollars.

In addition to being the most well-known, she also provides inspiration to the legions of TEFL bloggers out there hunched over the keyboard. (Rule #1 for success: don't write about TEFL.)

* * *

So we can see that TEFL appeals to people with artistic leanings. And convicted sex offenders.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Penguins Rip My Flesh: The ETX AMA


Hey, gang!

I'm restin' and relaxin' here in the Galapogas (Galopogas? Golopogas?) Islands, and while I intended to do a lot of work on books and stuff while on this holiday, there's way too much snorkeling to do and way too many sea lions to play with.

But I was invited to do an AMA on Reddit, so I've been doing that:


http://www.reddit.com/r/TEFL/comments/2nw65x/englishteacherx_the_ama/

Questions are trickling in at a slow pace, so I'll keep answering them until further notice. (Even here in the Galapogas Islands we have fast internet.)

I never bothered to keep up with all the redundant social media out there, but Reddit is a hot new ticket that replicates the old linear message boards of fifteen years ago. (Take a look at this archived Wayback Machine snapshot of Dave's ESL cafe message board in the year 2000.) Running to stand still, I call that.

And anyway, here's a video of a penguin attacking me. OH MY GOD ISN'T HE CUTE?




Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reviewing My Own Books, Part Two: VODKABERG

I re-read my 2012 memoir VODKABERG while on various bus and train rides here in Peru in the last week. I already discussed my authorial intention in another post, but I'll share some of my thoughts on it.


Damn, that shit was dark! Maybe it seems doubly dark to me, since I was there, but it was even darker than I remembered. Like buried-alive kind of dark. A dysfunctional cast of lunatics fucking like rabbits and drinking themselves stupid between muggings in a shattered, bleak, frozen, blood-and-vomit flecked landscape. (That's how I'd pitch it to a movie studio, anyway.)

My editor hated the book and remarked on the first edit, "You're hardly in this book!" and I fucking loved that statement. The idea of writing a memoir that I wasn't really even the main character of appealed to me greatly, and that's just what I'd intended. This is a book about Vodkaberg, not about me.

THE GOOD

I thought I did an excellent job of bringing the First Putin Era to life. People have occasionally called it tedious and repetitive in its focus on endless fucking and drinking, but honestly, that was generally the focus of life in those dark days before fast internet for a good percentage of the population.

I think I did a good job in accurately portraying those various English groupies I knew, and girls like that were probably the rule rather than the exception. And all in all (I thought) I write about the female characters in a fairly sympathetic way. I hope my affection for them (albeit an exasperated affection) came through.

And call the sex scenes anything but tedious and repetitive. The ones that are fully described range from the weird to the downright cringe-inducing. (I'd somewhat forgotten how graphic I'd gotten in describing some of the acts, and I actually found myself sort of embarrassed reading some of them.)

The writing I thought was pretty good in that it didn't call much attention to itself; it just rolled out this cast of lunatics and nightmarish landscape in clear unaffected prose. No referring to myself in the third person here, no sarcastic asides, and not much rationalizing my bad behavior.

And god damn, the ending? Just fucking wrenching.

THE BAD

The drunk stories do indeed become repetitive, in the middle part with Slappy; that was somewhat my plan, though I realize that's a pretty fine line to walk when you try to antagonize the audience that way. I wanted to try to make the reader think, "Jesus, stop fucking drinking so much!" -- a reaction I remember having when I read Lawrence Block's WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES -- but I think I might have carried that a bit too far in the middle and might better have cut a bit of it.

Of course the Skype transcripts with Dark Angel were a controversial addition, and I agree upon re-reading I could have probably cut about half of those out and left the important stuff. (Because there is some important stuff in there.)

From the standpoint of somebody who was there, I thought I also didn't write about my cat enough. That fucking cat kept me sane, and if I'd added that the cat was sleeping comfortably on my neck purring happily during those grey hungover mornings, it might have lightened up the middle sections a bit.

THE ODD

My style of writing it -- everything chopped up into two or three paragraph sections -- is perhaps also a bit controversial. Obviously that happened because I recycled blog entries, but I've always liked books written like that -- Kurt Vonnegut, Bret Easton Ellis, Andrew Vachss -- and I guess it suits my writing well enough.

There are a few times when I take my internal monologues and put them into the form of a vague conversation with other people over drinks; this trick occasionally seems a bit too obvious.

THE CLASSIC

Yeah, again, I found it interesting as a time capsule. That we used to have bottled beer that cost about the same as bottled water in Russia struck me as pretty quaint. I didn't write about things like property prices; the apartment that I lived in would have cost about $25,000 to buy in 2000 and was probably worth $150,000 by 2009.

IN SUM

It's a real Russian novel -- a lengthy list of characters and dark and morbid as hell, an unflinching portrait of an unflinching time and place. I suppose it will be considered my Magnum Opus, and probably rightly so.


Read reviews at these links:

30 DAYS TO X  /  MATTFORNEY / GOODREADS / SOVIETCITY

DISCUSSION OF THE BOOK (AND ME) ON ROOSHV FORUM







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!