Thursday, April 27, 2017

Self Help

They had plenty of self-help books when I was a kid, but I sure didn't know about them.



The modern era of self-help probably started with Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1934, although books about how to improve your outlook date all the way back to the ancient Greek philosophers.

But me, I read Stephen King novels and comic books, mainly. 

Around the time I hit my early teens, I was aware I wasn't particularly happy with myself. I was a bit pudgy, had bad skin, braces, and was moody and unfriendly.


There were no good role models around me. I lived in small-town Southern America. People were fat but had great teeth, or they were dumb jocks. I considered them phonies at worst, completely ignorant at best. (My father was mostly absent, spending most of his time working in Brazil during my formative years.) 

There was no internet then. And only 3 television channels. 

I was aware that books were the place to look for answers, so I began poking around them for tips for betterment. 

Superheroes in the comic books weren't much help; they generally got their powers through accidents, being born different, or after being motivated by some horrific tragedy. 

I looked elsewhere, and found inspiration in men's adventure books.

Now, really, they weren't much more realistic than the super hero comics. They tended to feature lone men battling the mafia, terrorists, or both, while living by their own codes. Tough, independent, and occasionally outright assholes, they nonetheless captured my imagination.

They traveled widely, banged a lot of hot babes, and fought evil. What's not to like?

You need to be more like these guys, I thought.

Well, I never got around to fighting evil, but otherwise, I didn't do too bad.


From this book, I got an exercise routine that I liked. My dad lifted weights, but I disliked it then and I dislike it now. Hawker used a bodyweight workout, which I considered another sign of how awesomely independent he was. He didn't need no stupid gym.


Now this one, I actually was inspired by the bad guy, who was an assassin called Vancouver. He was so awesome he lived alone on an island in the Philippines, where he had actually put a price on his own head so that the local natives would try to kill him constantly, giving him lethal opportunities to work out on them.

 (The first scene has him killing three of the local natives, who are of course pygmies, and he does it while blindfolded.)

Well, this badass only drank water. That was mentioned specifically; he only drank water.

Being as there was no way to put a price on my own head, I started drinking only water.

My skin cleared up and I lost weight; prior to that, like most early 80s kids, I'd drunk about a liter of Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper per day.

It was a fucking revelation, I tell you. I felt a lot better just from that.

Anyway, sadly, I eventually fell under the influence of the anti-self-help masters, like Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, but I still traveled a lot and banged a lot of babes, though I've still never gotten around to fighting any evil.

Maybe one of these days, huh?

Friday, April 14, 2017

TEFLpocolypse: Endgame



There's a story -- most likely not accurate -- that the early indigenous people, when they first saw the boats of the Europeans crawling over the horizon, simply couldn't see them. Their brains just didn't register something so far out of their experience and frame of reference.



(Perhaps they were just choosing not to swallow the red pill, eh?)

Now that's probably crap, of course. This article suggests they were too busy surviving to react until the explorers got close enough to deal with, for example.

Most certainly, even if they saw the ships, they had no idea they were the beginning of the end of their civilization.

Now, I think of that whenever I look at my smart phone.



The end of my job, and most jobs, as we know them, is just sitting there in our pockets.

I visited the city of Xi'an last week during a long weekend, to see the Terracotta Warriors. See, the emperor thought he could take his army with him to the other side, in the form of 8000 clay statues, but little did he know their heads would fall off and they'd just end up a tourist attraction.


Xi'an is not a very cosmopolitan place, and few people speak English; but that doesn't mean a damn thing anymore, because their phones do. 

Taxi drivers, hotel employees, restaurant personnel -- they all talked to us with their smart phones. There are apps now that not only instantly translate text, but translate voice to text (and vice versa) and can scan a word and change it to spoken or written Chinese. And not just crude sentences of a few mangled words, either -- our taxi driver managed to bark a few gruff words of Chinese into his phone and have it produce, "Shall we return to the hotel now?" in a beautiful British accent. 

I mean, of course, most jobs will be eliminated in the very near future by software and robots anyway. Porn and masturbation robots will even eliminate the need for the world's oldest profession. In a world where you can buy a Scarlett Johansen robot for $50,000, who needs humans anyway?  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha

Instant Message conversation:  

 Crazy Bob: So i ask you, X, if someone had told you in 1976 that you would be living in X place in 30, 40 years would you have greeted the news with wonder and awe?

ETX: I would have said, "You mean I don't lose my mind and live in a cardboard box? Far out!"  



So, how many people -- colleagues or former colleagues -- do you know who are in mental institutions, or recently released from mental institutions?

I know three.

Is that a lot?

I don't know.

I'm 47 years old, and have worked with dozens of people, probably hundreds at this point, so maybe it's not that strange that three people on my Facebook feed are institutionalized.

(Not close friends, incidentally, just former colleagues.)

 According to statistics, about 1 in 5 people in America experience serious mental illness in their life. The percentage of people who end up institutionalized is harder to figure, because many end up in jail instead.

Of course I know a tremendous number of people who are barely clinging to sanity, but three of 'em, well, they just couldn't fake it anymore.

(Crazy Bob is still pretty crazy but he's having some health problems that have slowed him down a little.)

I have long postulated that crazy people are drawn to the TEFL lifestyle.

But the world being what it is these days, maybe it's no longer a good place for crazy people to hide.



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Sunday, March 12, 2017

TEFLpocolypse 2017: Take Shelter

It almost seemed too good to be true, this contract in China, considering the ongoing TEFLpocolypse.

I was offered a job with barely a ten minute interview, there were no particular hassles about my qualifications, and the terms are pretty much equal to my first job in Saudi -- $4000 a month plus accommodation and 3 months paid vacation time. 

Almost too good to be true, and turns out it kind of was. 


Two of my colleagues were up for contract renewals recently, and this week found out they wouldn't be offered new contracts. There are perfectly good teachers with qualifications, who are in China with spouses and kids.  

Now they're scrambling to find jobs. 

Word is that the school is going to be hiring more bilingual Chinese teachers next year, and the contracts for international teachers will involve about 20 percent more teaching and 20 percent less salary. 

The rumors are flying around the office, of course. Private international schools are being legislated against, and there's a story that it will now be impossible for a foreigner to work in Beijing for more than 5 years. (I can't find any immediate confirmation of that online.) 


This is definitely one of the hardest jobs I've had, in terms of the students. Everything I'd ever heard about Chinese kids -- that they were respectful, orderly, studious, quiet, and well-behaved -- is absolutely incorrect here. Management is a wreck; pretty much every single management position was vacated at Christmas, and new people are struggling to figure out what's going on. Something like a half-dozen teachers left at Christmas, fed up with the terrible students, inconsistent management, and the isolated location. 

(We're in a new development an hour from Beijing, basically in a construction zone, so most of the teachers had spotty internet service and constant noise. I'm at the front of the compound so haven't suffered that much, and truthfully most of the ones that left were people with a lot of experience teaching back home but not much time abroad, ergo had unreasonable expectations. Like civilization and stuff.) 


But after a rocky start and a conflict with the dotty old lady who was my immediate superior, who also left at Christmas, I;m actually kind of enjoying teaching the spoiled, neglected little shits now. I use classdojo.com to train them like Pavlov dogs, and it works a treat. 

Still it seems this job won't last more than the 2 year contract I have now, ending summer of 2018. 

My teaching philosophy nowadays is basically "take the money and run" anyway. X remains if not fearless, than at least resigned, in the face of a profession, and a world, that is rapidly burning to the ground. 



"The world is not the same as it was. Mutants ... they're gone now."



Sunday, February 19, 2017

X at the Shaolin Temple

We had a one-week holiday the first week of October, only about five weeks after I started this job near Beijing, China.

I went to the Shaolin Temple.

Of course.






Yeah, a few tourists, sure. 
It's not too difficult to get there from Beijing; about 3 hours on the high-speed train to Zhengzhou, and then a bus to Dengfeng and a taxi to the Shaolin Temple.

 (Unfortunately this was during a Chinese national holiday, which means the better part of a billion and a half people were on the move, so the 1.5 hour trip from Dengfeng took more like 3 hours.)

To describe the Shaolin Temple as "cheesy" would certainly be accurate. It's kind of like a kungfu Disneyland.

But you could also use "fucking awesome" and "well worth the trip."

Some students practicing a move that would probably be about the most useless and dangerous thing
 you could possibly do in a fight.


Hey, get a room you two!

Live simply and die with a big monument; that's Zen baby. 

In addition to the Shaolin Monastary itself and the martial arts training center, there is a Pagoda forest and a handful of other temples; for your 100 yuan entry fee, you also get Mount Song and the surrounding area, which is pretty fucking cool itself. You can see the cave where Bodhidarma meditated, bringing Zen Buddhism to China. (Of course I didn't take a picture of that, you think I'm culturally insensitive?)




The authenticity of the actual temple is pretty dubious; it's been blown up and rebuilt about a half-dozen times, and most of the stories about its founding and history are more likely legend than reality. (Shaolin Temple wikipedia entry.) 

 But, tourist attraction though it is, it is still a working center where martial arts is taught and studied.


Now probably a lot of you alpha-man-osphere doofs out there are going to chime in that the Gracie Family or Conor MacGregor could kill every living soul in the Shaolin Monastary in about a minute; but I would have to ask, could Conor MacGregor put his leg perpendicular to the ground next to his head, and then do a split onto his testicles?  


I thought not! 

Shaolin Kungfu, according to the legend, was developed by the Bodhidharma after meditating for 9 years; understandably feeling a bit stiff and achy, he began imitating the animals around him (tigers, cranes, mantises, monkeys, etc) for the sake of his fitness.

The reality of course is probably nothing even close to that, but there are so many legends and stories about it all it doesn't much matter anymore. 

And of course, you watch a video like that, you think: Oh, man that's the perfect sport for a middle aged dude. 

I have been doing Shaolin Kung Fu workouts off of YouTube videos since I was a young man of 40 back in 2009; one of my bucket list desires was to actually study kungfu in China. For the last 8 years I have been trying to arrange it. Even with the abundance of money and free time I've had since 2009, I hadn't managed to get it worked out. 


Until now. 

Mission accomplished, baby. 

(And yes I am aware that kung-fu is not really the correct word for Chinese martial arts, but even the schools tend to use it that way, so step off.) 

Plaque near the training center warning against factionalism within schools of kungfu

I stayed there for a total of 4 nights, at one of the small guest houses connected to the various schools in an area to the side of the main tourist area. There seemed to be about a half-dozen small schools and I was absolutely fucking delighted to see groups of  young men in different uniforms jogging around, running and jumping and practicing forms, and even standing on their heads on the concrete. 








 I went and had tea with the guy who owned the guest house connected to the school and he said he could arrange a day of instruction for $100 or so. (That included a t-shirt, some track pants, and some kungfu shoes that didn't fit.)  Probably a bit expensive, but am I going to haggle with a Shaolin Monk?


That evening I met with the actual teacher, who seemed more than a bit skeptical of me and didn't speak any English. When I showed that I was familiar with a lot of the basic moves, and actually in reasonably good shape for an older guy, he warmed up to me a little.



So the training started the next day. Typical day for a Shaolin student consists of: a morning run at 5:00am; 2 hours of training in the morning, 8:00 to 10:00 am; 2 hours of training in the afternoon, 1:00 - 3:00pm, and 1.5 hours of training after dinner, 6:00 - 7:30pm.

Once he established I was familiar with some of the exercises, he took me to train with his main group of students, in one of the many practice fields nearby.

There were about 20 of them. The oldest one was probably 17. Most of them were ripped-to-shreds little extreme athletes, but within the class, there was some streaming of students, and I ended up with the basic class, one of whom seemed to be autistic, several of whom were overweight, and one of whom had some kind of gimpy leg where he could barely walk. Oh, and there was a 5-year-old also.

I ran, I kicked, I punched the air, I leapt and crouched and did the horse-stance. The kids ran rings around me, alhtough I probably did outperform the retarded one and the overweight ones. The kids really got a kick (pun intended) out of me studying with them and were very supportive and helpful with all the moves.

I had a fucking blast.

By the end of the day, of course, both my knees were swollen up like cannonballs, and I could barely walk. The kungfu shoes they had provided were too small, and both of my big toenails turned black, to fall off a few weeks later.

But I did that shit, baby.

I studied kungfu at the Shaolin Monastary.



Sunday, January 22, 2017

Profiles in International Education: William Powell, an Anarchist and a Scholar

Everybody does dumb shit when they're young.

But has ever a generation had their stupidity so carefully and often ineradicably documented as the internet generation?


People seem to be a bit more cagey about protecting their identities on the internet in the last few years, but between about 2005 and 2010, people were allowing their real names to be attached to all kinds of horrendously anti-social and even criminal behavior on the internet for all to see. (Note to kids -- don't Facebook your crime.)

Sometimes it was just carelessness and lack of foresight that caused this; sometimes it was pure narcissism and desire for fame. (I'm sure Tucker Max and Neil Strauss are anxiously awaiting the day their new children will Google them and run screaming from the house.)

In the old analog days, becoming famous for doing something bad was much more difficult, actually.

But people still managed to do it.



A teacher named William Powell died last year.

He was a respected educator and international school administrator who worked across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. He was one of the founders of Education Across Frontiers, a teacher-training organization. He was a pioneer in inclusive special education programs for at-risk youth in international settings, as well. He is the the author of numerous books about progressive teaching philosophies and methodologies.

One little blemish on his otherwise admirable and squeaky-clean record.

He wrote an insurgency and terrorism manual advocating open revolution against the US government.

It was called the Anarchist Cookbook, written in 1971. (Link is to a Wikipedia article about it.)

There were plenty of copies of this floating around small-town America in the 70s and 80s. I knew a kid who had one. As of now, they are very easy to locate on the internet, even on Amazon. (I hesitate to link to them as I don't want to be on any more watch lists than I already am.)

In it you can see recipes for explosives and improvised weaponry, formulae for illegal drugs such as LSD, and a hodgepodge of information about revolution, resistance, and assorted dirty tricks and violence.

(Yeah, see, before the internet, we had to use books to get information. I know, right?)

The book has been endlessly banned and villified, and linked with all kind of  terrorists and criminal acts as well as just plain old suburban angst. Even the author quickly disclaimed the book, after becoming a father and a Christian, but it was too late; he'd sold the copyright to the publisher, and couldn't get his name taken off it.

Written by William Powell when he was a teenager at the end of the counterculture era of the late 60s, it was mostly written after perusing military manuals in the public library as well as counterculture "zines", and in addition to being now terribly out of date, many of the recipes were known to be dangerous and inaccurate anyway.  For example, Powell included a formula for bananadine, a psychoactive drug derived from banana peels; unbeknownst to him, this was something between an urban myth and a practical joke.



(Actual anarchists weren't too happy with it, either.)

Still, I seem to remember that my high school classmate English Teacher Q managed to make gunpowder using a recipe in the book,a few household substances and a few chemicals lifted from the high school chemistry lab, so it certainly isn't completely harmless.

 (But since you could buy black powder in any sporting good store at that time in the South, making it at home wasn't an especially big deal. And we got more of our information about weapons and tactics from 80s action paperbacks, as I recall.)

Reportedly, Powell's connection to this book followed him even to places in Africa and Asia, and he lost numerous jobs due to his connection with it, although in the last years of his life he made many public pleas for it to be taken out of print.

So there you go! Like Shakespeare said, the evil that men do lives on while the good dies with them. Writing dumb shit can follow you around for your whole life, even in outdated formats.

If he'd sold it under the pseudonym Anarchist X he'd have had no problems, eh? Other than perhaps his conscience.



(Just a couple of sources for more information -- a Newsweek article, a lengthy article in Harper's, and a documentary about the whole deal. There's even a romantic comedy film based on it (!) which you can watch on YouTube.




Monday, January 16, 2017

International Reaction to the Trump Election

Reaction amongst my Russian friends to the election of Trump is generally positive, as you might imagine. 

My mostly platonic and theoretical mistress was especially pleased -- her husband is an ardent patriot and they watch no news sources other than state-controlled ones. 

"Its good that he won," she said to me by instant message. "Hillary was a straight way to war." 


Pterodactyl Girl was a bit more irreverent.

"Oo tebe novi president Donald Duck!" she exclaimed by instant message. She likes him better than the last president, whom she referred to as Barack Obezyanka, which would translate as something like "Barack the Little Monkey."

My girlfriend's response was perceptive -- "They're all oligarchs, it doesn't matter."  


My Chinese students are more perplexed. 

First there was some confusion when they mistakenly looked up the word "Tramp" in trying to understand Trump. The pictures and articles they were directed to astounded them. 

Then they ask, "Why is he so angry? He's a rich man, what is to be so angry about?'

"Good question," was about all I could say to that. 

I work with a lot of Australians and New Zealanders; they mostly shook their heads and laughed.