Saturday, August 22, 2015

TEFLpocolypse: American Outpost

Hey cats and kittens! I don't have internet hooked up in my apartment yet, but I thought I'd drive my 2013 Toyota Corolla (what a pussy wagon!) down here to the Starbucks and give ya a little American Update.


So the job is okay, a pretty typical TEFL job. A bit longer hours than I like, but smaller classes and a curriculum that is not overly demanding. (Yesterday, we had an hour-long test, and then spent the rest of the day watching THE PROFESSIONAL on YouTube with my students.)



My colleagues are the usual colorful rag-tag bunch of outcasts. (Including, to my surprise, a guy I used to work with in Russia ten years ago, English Teacher G.) This is a pretty out-of-the-way location, so people probably wouldn't end up here unless they really needed a job.

Basically, everybody has a very similar story to mine.

"I was working / trying to work in ______ but then I didn't have _________."

There are the usual stories about "aging out" of jobs in the Middle East and China, as well as qualification or FBI / police check problems with visas / jobs in China or Korea, but the big surprise to me is that even people with fucking master's degrees were having trouble the last couple of years.

A couple of stories were related to having master's degrees or teaching certificates done on-line. As mentioned, that is now COMPLETELY NOT ACCEPTED in the Middle East.

One girl with a master's in Education said that employers kept telling her she needed a CELTA / DELTA in addition to her master's in Education.

One guy with a master's in Applied Linguistics said that he now couldn't get TEFL jobs, because they wanted master's in TEFL / English / Education, wheras Applied Linguistics used to be considered a gold standard of TEFL employability.

One guy, with a Master in TEFL, said that he was just glad to have a job that paid a decent wage, as he'd been laid off from one University TEFL job in America and offered a wage that was barely liveable at another.

I went to the college here, inquiring about Master's degrees in Education, stating the issues I'd had with my qualifications recently, and that I couldn't really take on-line courses for reasons mentioned above, and the advisor said she had heard this story from several people recently.

So the survivors and the fugitives and the refugees gather here, in small-town Southern America, and peer cautiously at a future that seems to be bearing down on us all like an express train.



The manager of the company I work for took us to the Ben-i-Hana last Thursday for some team building and we made merry and they assured us that the program we work for would continue for at least another year, and everyone breathed a quiet sigh of relief. The company was picking up the bill, so we all ordered the most expensive stuff on the menu and gorged ourselves on steak, shrimp, and sushi, and took home doggy bags as well.

NEXT WEEK: Gross shit about whores with Crazy Bob in the Ukraine. Promise!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Among the Ugly Americans

So I accepted this job in America.

I started on Monday. I was supposed to have a week of training, but of course they ended up just tossing me into a class on the second day, as several teachers were out sick and a few others left with no notice. I'll just say it's a job teaching English to foreigners, mainly Middle Easterners, and it pays fairly well by American educational standards. ($50,000 a year.)

It's in a small town in the southwest, not the same town where I grew up (as described in REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND) but with a lot of striking similarities.

It is, perhaps, even more charmless.

I've been living in a Red Roof Inn for the last week. In an area beside the freeway. There are numerous other similar lower-mid-range hotels around me, and a handful of fast-food places.

I'm surprised at how many people are actually living here.

The people living in these hotels are mainly Mexican immigrants, likely undocumented, and people and families who don't have the credit and legal history that would allow them to pass an apartment background check. It's not scary - they frolic in the pool or have quiet parties gathered around their trucks in the parking lot.

The sun bakes relentlessly down on the asphalt, and the pool is full of the pee of fat kids and dead crickets.

Everything is just amazingly ... ugly.



The people, the city, the buildings, even the weather.

Maybe even uglier than my last posting in Saudi Arabia.

But in a fascinating sort of way, actually.

I mean, a good half of the people walking around the streets of small town America would have been considered freak-show circus material back 60 or 70 years ago.

Enormously fat people? Lots of them. Skeleton men? Plenty of meth heads. Bearded ladies? Sure, post and pre-op. Totally tattooed men? Yup. Strong men? Plenty of roided-up doofuses, sure. Lizard people? Yeah, the tanning bed abuse of the 80s is showing on a lot of old faces, that's for sure. Human pincushions? Well plenty of weird facial piercings, anyway.



People seem utterly indifferent not only to fashion, but to any sense of restraint or self-respect. 60 year old women wear short skirts and mesh tops. Old dudes rock their tattoos, mullets, and biker mustaches. Fat men proudly wear shirts proclaiming themselves "The world's largest source of natural gas!" and fat women wear skin-tight belly-shirts and yoga pants. Hipsters see nothing at all stupid in wearing Grizzly Adams / Taliban beards.

But everybody is so cheerful. "Have a nice day!" they say. People in fast food restaurants greet you like a long-lost friend.

But they just say the craziest shit, too, and the cheerfulness easily flips to rage or tears.

(Examples forthcoming in a future post.)


So as mentioned in the last post, I mainly took this post because my father's conditioned has worsened -- he's almost lost the ability to walk. He moved into an assisted care place on Monday, and he actually loves it. (He was tired of his younger wife bitching at him all the time.) This job will allow me to pay for that care and see him once a month or so. (I'm not in the same state where he lives.)

There are some other possibilities here - while my salary after taxes won't be anything special, the company does have some interesting benefits like tuition assistance, so I could pursue a master's degree at the small college here. I invited the Girlfriend to try again to get a visa -- this time a J1 fiance visa. (Although given the amount of anti-American propaganda she's absorbed recently through Russian TV, she has some serious anxiety about it.)

And I do have a few friends living in this state, including the girl from this post.

I'm moving into my apartment tomorrow, and before I came I bought a car, the first time I've owned a car since the one given to me in high school about 30 years ago. (I sold it in 1994, before I went to work in Thailand.)

So, who'd have fucking thought it? After six months of visiting beautiful exotic places like Budapest, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Dubai, and Prague, I'm perversely enjoying a spell in one of the least exotic places you could imagine, doing another shitty TEFL job.

Go figure!






Sunday, August 09, 2015

The China Syndrome (TEFLpocolypse Part 2)

I got a job in China.

Following my failure to get a job in the UAE (followed by two more failures to get jobs there) in April, I put out a few resumes to contracting companies. One was for jobs in China.



A guy for the Chinese contracting company got back to me almost immediately, and we had a lengthy talk. He gave me a few tips about adjusting my resume. He was very encouraging about the possibility of finding a good job, and then said he'd get back to me.

And then there was the same deafening silence I was getting from all the other applications.

For the next couple months, I devoted myself to writing porn, as mentioned.

Then in July, Amazon changed its payment system, giving a righteous bitch-slap to short porn authors.


So I sent a timid e-mail to the contracting company in China asking if any jobs had come up.

Another guy, a different guy, contacted me almost immediately, and we had another lengthy interview. He was also encouraging about the possibility of finding a job.

And sure enough, a few days later, he had arranged an interview with an international school in a major city there.

I had a nice chat with a woman who worked in the HR department.

After we were finished, she arranged an interview with the principal of the school.

That also went well.

And a few days later, I got a job offer as an English and TOEFL teacher.

Relieved, after months of running in circles and fretting, I signed it.

I'd had a few friends who worked in China, and they said it was a decent offer. $2200 a month after taxes, a couple months of paid holiday (although the salary was only paid at half the normal rate for holidays), paid accommodation on campus and food in the school cafeteria. (Although I was warned not to get too excited at the idea of Chinese cafeteria food.)

They wanted me to start August 8, so we started talking about visas.


There was some initial confusion. Friends who had worked in China said all you had to do was fly to Hong Kong or Bangkok and it took maybe 2 or 3 days.

But there were new rules that had come into effect in 2015. They were so new, even the HR people at the school didn't know about them.

The first thing that was causing problems for a lot of teachers: now teachers need a police background check, in addition to the medical examination.

I got the medical examination in Ukraine. It cost $250, but that's probably a damn site cheaper than America.

Would the school contribute anything for this, I asked?

Unfortunately, no, I was told.

The police background check?

I sent off for one from my home state in America. It cost $25. I had done that for Saudi in 2013, so I knew where to do it. It could be done by mail.

That took a couple weeks to get.

So I can go to Hong Kong and get the visa now?

They checked.

Now, apparently, one can only get the Chinese visa in one's home country.

Since I was in Ukraine, I found a ticket back to America for $1100. A heavy expense, but I really needed to go see my ill father anyway.

I sent off copies of all the stuff, waiting for the invitation letter. I'd apparently have to go to the nearest Chinese embassy myself (a 9-hour drive) to get the visa, or hire an agent to do it (costing a couple hundred bucks, total.)

But then I got an e-mail.



There's a little problem with your teaching certificate, I was told.

See, I don't have a CELTA. I have a DELTA. The new law requires that the certificate state that it was a "120 hour" training course. DELTA is a far longer and more in depth course, but the law states that the certificate must state the number of hours studied, which mine does not.

I got some letters from the place I took it, testifying that the DELTA consists of 206 hours of study and 175 hours of self study. I e-mailed these of to China.

And then I sent a worried letter to the contractor saying this didn't seem to be going too smoothly.

He was shocked about this nit-picking, having spent years in the "Wild East", but said I shouldn't worry.

But then the HR woman in China said that I would have to have the letters and certificate notarized and verified by the Chinese embassy in the country where they were issued.

Which was England.

The contractor checked and said that there was a new Foreign Affairs guy in office who was insisting that all schools must follow the absolute letter of the law.

A bit of research revealed I could hire an agent to do the verifying in London for me, at the cost of $200 - $300 or so.

Just to sum up: To go to China now, you'll need about four interviews, a plane ticket home, a $250 medical check, a police background check, hundreds of dollars in fees for verifying documents, hundreds of dollars in fees to hire an agent to get the actual visa.

But if you have a CELTA, rather than a DELTA, you'll be able to get the visa more easily.



Basically, it's now nearly as hard to get a Chinese visa as a Saudi Arabian visa, and it seems the schools will not pay you ANY of the money you spend on the process.

I told them I had to withdraw from the job offer.

My father's condition has worsened recently, so I decided to forego China for the moment and take a job immediately available in America, which I will discuss in the next entry.

All in all, following the stock market crash and the recent random drug testing of foreigners in Beijing, I'm doubting that this is the best time to go to China anyway. Wild East it certainly seems not to be now.

But the place I'm going is nobody's idea of paradise either ...





Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Accidental Pornographer, Part 4: Can't Win For Losing

Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster.



Me, I always wanted to be a writer.

The usual inspirations of a guy my age, I guess. Comic books, Stephen King, The Hardy Boys. Imagine me plucking away at a manual typewriter as a 12 year old. Real paper and liquid paper. Hard work, man. Paper cuts and carpal tunnel.

Now, obviously anybody can write anything they want and put it on the internet, and hundreds, thousands, or millions of people will see it. (Or dozens, or none.)

It's getting paid for it that's the hard part.


MY LIFE IN PORN

I've been making money as a writer of independently-published e-books and paperbacks since 2011. I made money from my books about English teaching, but then I doubled that number with a some "erotica" short stories.

The Accidental Pornographer Part 1

The number got as high as $1500 a month a couple times in 2012, but by 2013 it had leveled off back down to about $500 a month, and by 2014 my enthusiasm for it had waned after tangling with Amazon's censors.

The Accidental Pornographer Part 2

The Accidental Pornographer Part 3

After my humiliating difficulties getting a job this spring, I decided to buckle down and get my writing money up to $2000 a month. TEFL doesn't want me? Fine. I got OPTIONS, dude!

SMUT UNLIMITED

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program allows readers to "rent" as many books as they like, and the author get paid a percentage of the total "fund" from the number of people who paid $9.99 to join. This was since 2013 averaging out to about $1.30 per unit.

Short porn was a big moneymaker there. They people that read it, read a lot of it.

All you had to do was write about gross shit like enemas, age play, pseudo-incest, and so forth. get your keywords accurately figured, get your cover and description past Amazon's censors, and the money would generally flow in. There were stories of people making $8000 a month, and 6 figures a year. 

I rented a place in Budapest in May and devoted myself to writing.

I had a three-pronged plan. I would continue to write my "dark erotica" -- basically just crime / horror novels with a lot of fucking in them -- with some actual attention to detail and content. But at the same time, I would write fast, short, keyword-based profit-spinners about whatever keywords were trending.

And then, I would, as possible, take stuff I'd already written and flip the pronouns and make it gay.

I worked, man.



LA VIE BOHEME

I'd get up at 9:00 am, usually, and check my email and deal with administrative matters and have breakfast and a lot of coffee. Then I'd exercise, and go for a long walk and enjoy the glorious city of Budapest. Often I'd have lunch outside in a park or square, and then I'd go back and write for 4 or 5 hours. I'd have another walk and then dinner, and then after dinner go back home and edit stuff I'd written and make covers, or research various issues, usually related to the fairly dark sexual fetishes that tend to be the best sellers on Amazon and the history of exploitation film and literature.

Then I'd go to bed around midnight, where my sleep was usually troubled.



After a month of that, my brain was pretty much reduced to a colorful mush.

I was masturbating constantly, and watching a lot of porn for inspiration. I tried to go out to bars or whatever occasionally in the evening, but I was usually too busy worrying about my writing to have any fun. I didn't talk to anybody -- what was I going to say? Ask them if they'd seen The Taming of Rebecca? If they knew that some people get turned on by popping balloons?

Plus, I found it hard to write when drinking or hungover. (Although I am aware that many famous writers wrote while utterly fucking plastered.)

I should say that my age -- recently turned 46 -- probably affected how I felt about all this. If I'd been 28 I probably would have thought it a fabulous life.

But the money went up, steadily. $1300. $1700. And finally, my goal - $2000.

But my brain felt wrecked. I was lonely and felt gross and alienated.

CAN'T WIN FOR LOSING

Then in July Amazon completely changed its payment system.

Authors in the Kindle Unlimited program will now be paid by the page read, not the unit rented. (Yes, Amazon knows how many pages you have read.) This change was probably made to specifically punish people writing very short and very low quality keyword based crap.

The actual amount they will pay is still unknown but it will probably be something like a half-cent per page. So whereas a twenty page story would get you $1.30 before, now it will get you 10 cents.



So I decided to re-intensify my efforts to get an English teaching job. Which I have done -- more about that soon.

I'm not done with porn novels, I don't think -- but it's better as a part time job, for the sake of one's socialization and sanity.

Soul-sucking can take many forms, after all.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Twenty Years Ago Today: An Evening in the Soi

As I'm a bit busy on a holiday in the Ukraine at the moment, mainly in trying to keep Crazy Bob from getting arrested, here's a random journal entry from twenty years ago. In 1995, I'd been in Bangkok for a few months already after starting my first teaching job.



July 23, 1995

At about 11:00pm T and I went back to Banglumphu and cracked a pint of Mekhong whiskey at a little sidewalk food stand in the gritty soi near his guest house on Samsen. We also had sticky rice and a beef and chilli pepper dish that he explained was called "waterfall" because blood fell out of the beef while it was cooking. 

T chatted away in Thai with the various shady types skulking around in the dark alleys. One skinny little Thai man had a home tattoo of Mickey Mouse holding a giant hypodermic syringe. He shook my hand and laughed heartily. 

A cute little girl of about 16 or 17 wearing a Sailor Moon t-shirt joined us; T talked with her for a while and translated for me. She said I was very handsome. She seemed to be a whore, but was a bit vague about it. 

The guy with the hypodermic / Mickey Mouse tattoo and some other guys were sort of hanging around the fringes eyeing us.

"Are we about to get bushwhacked, T?" I asked.

"Oh no. They know me. The worst that will happen is that they'll beat us senseless and take all of our money." 

We had a drink to that. 

It eventually happened that a young floppy haired guy on a motorcycle came up. "My friend," explained the girl. The guy kept talking with T, always smiling, and then walking off and coming back. 

"What's he saying?" I asked

"I'm not entirely sure, but I know it's rude."

"What are you saying back?"

"I keep asking him if he's from Laos. It's a big insult to them."

The guy didn't do anything though, and we finished the pint and I walked back to Khao San road alone, leaving T with Sailor Moon and her boyfriend. 

He was still alive the next day so it must have been a good day.



* * *
I wonder what happened to my old mentor English Teacher T. I went by the Mall where we used to work at and the school didn't seem to be in there anymore. Wouldn't surprise me at all if he were still in Bangkok somewhere, though, sitting a soi drinking beer and eating pork. There are worse fates.

I don't see him on this barebones website for the school, (Although -- somewhat frighteningly -- there are several teachers there who have been there since the 90s.)