Saturday, October 03, 2015

Assassination Tourism, Part 2: The Civil Rights Museum, Memphis TN

A woman named Jacqueline Smith has been sitting outside the Civil Right Museum in Memphis TN for nearly 30 years.

She was the last tenant at the Lorraine Motel, in downtown Memphis, and her protest seemed mainly to be against the removal of affordable housing from the downtown area to build the museum in the motel.

I have friends I regularly visit in Memphis; it's a couple-three hours from where I grew up.

I remember walking by and speaking to her when the museum was under construction, when I was about 18 or 19,  25 or 26 years ago. I gave her $2.

She's still sitting there.

She now encourages people to boycott the museum, and she  has a sign reading, "WELCOME TO THE $27 MILLION DOLLAR JAMES EARL RAY MEMORIAL!"

And, well, she has a point.

The parts about James Earl Ray, the guy convicted for assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis at the Lorraine Hotel in 1968, are unduly extensive and interesting.

This guy was not your typical boring lone wolf nutball; this was something of a dashing career criminal hustler from a family of them. Jailed for a series of burglaries and frauds, he seemed to really get into the lifestyle after he escaped prison, jaunting around the US in a new Mustang, supporting himself (probably) with money from bank robberies, getting plastic surgery, living under assumed identities and attempting to make pornographic films in Mexico. He even took dancing lessons in LA, apparently dreaming of "doing the rhumba in some South American country" with no extradition. Ah, don't we all?

Hard to argue with the evidence: a rifle and binoculars with his fingerprints on them were found in a garbage can near a room he was renting at a dumpy rooming house nearby. His motivations and the possible involvement of others, especially his brothers, however, remain unclear.

He was arrested at Heathrow, travelling on a false Canadian passport, apparently on his way to live in newly-independent Rhodesia. Purportedly, he hoped to work as a mercenary soldier there. (There is no indication he ever considered teaching English.)

The museum does address various conspiracy theories, which James Earl Ray himself did plenty to fuel with cryptic shit-stirring comments throughout his imprisonment, referring to a mysterious smuggler named Raoul. The one that intrigued me is that he may have been seeking a sort of "bounty" on the head of MLK, that he thought various racist business owners were offering.

The Lorraine Motel is pretty dumpy also -- the room where Martin Luther King was shot was preserved just as it was at the time. I'm not sure why I thought it would be nicer -- it was the 60s and everything was just dumpier in general, particularly in a city like Memphis, which is still plenty dumpy. 

The actual Civil Rights museum part is certainly not uninteresting, also, and I was unaware that MLK was visiting regarding the Sanitation Strike of the time. Black sanitation workers walked off the job to protest the death of two guys who were accidentally crushed to death in their own garbage truck after trying to seek shelter from the rain there. (They were forbidden by law from seeking shelter anywhere else.)

The events surrounding the strike sounds at least as bad as the current problems in Ferguson, with plenty of violence from both sides during the protests, and tons of uncollected garbage piling up in the already-dirty streets of Memphis.

Like me, the world has gone so far, yet is still pretty much in the same place.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Assassination Tourism, Part 1: The JFK Museum, Dallas, TX

Back in 2013 I had an interview in Dallas, Texas, for a job in the Middle East; after the interview concluded I had some free time before my flight, so I decided to check out the JFK assassination museum, officially known as "the Sixth Floor Museum."

The Texas Schoolbook depository, from which the fatal shot was fired, and in which now you can see a museum about the events surrounding the assassination of President John Kennedy.

The museum itself is a modern one with videos and interactive exhibits with headphones and all that, and worth the price of admission, but it was to me mainly interesting to see the actual area where it happened. 

Dealey Plaza was much smaller than I expected, and the shot from the window did not look like it would have been that difficult to make; the car would have been moving at a straight angle away from the window as it turned onto the highway near the Plaza. 

The museum does address the numerous conspiracy theories and presents some of the evidence for and against them, but it seems to make a point of trying not to be too definitive one way or the other.

(Gotta give the people what they want, after all. Everybody loves a good murder mystery.)  

Here's the actual grassy knoll, where various shadowy government-sponsored hitmen might have been hiding. 

Now, I'm the right age to have heard all the conspiracies that were floated around in the 70s, 80s, and 90s up to the present: I've seen plenty of films about it, including Oliver Stone's movie JFK, and have read numerous fictional accounts of the assassination -- Don Delillo's Libra, Jame's Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy, etc. 

The general consensus is that of a CIA / military-industrial complex conspiracy, basically a state coup, that involved the Mafia. 

To me it always seemed strange that possible Russian / KGB involvement is never much talked about. It is documented that Lee Harvey Oswald lived in Russia (then the Soviet Union)  for about four years. He even had a Russian wife, who he brought back to the US.  

Hell, maybe she did it ...

To me, it seems just as likely he was a pawn of the KGB as the CIA. And Nikita Kruschev had plenty of reason to be pissed at JFK, following the Cuban Missile Crisis

I'm not saying I believe that's what happened,by the way, I was just wondering why (even in the Cold War 80s) it wasn't ever much discussed as a theory. 

Me? I personally believe that lone crazy people are perfectly capable of changing the course of history with no assistance from government-sponsored conspiracies. 

Next: Assassination Tourism, Part 2: The Civil Rights Museum / Martin Luther King assassination place, Memphis TN. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Crazy Bob's Night Out in Arcadia

This summer, I spent some time in the Ukraine, and about ten days of it were with Crazy Bob.

While Odessa and Kiev are beautiful cities, the trip was marred by bad luck and bad planning. In addition to the tension of the recent problems in the east, Bob and I spent far too much time sitting in one place drinking, and he simply jumped on the first whores that approached him, usually regretting it afterwards. (There seemed to be two kinds of Ukrainian girls -- those who were dismissive of foreigners, and those who wanted $100 to sleep with foreigners.)

On the next-to-last day that we were in Odessa, we went to the nude beach near Arcadia. It was mostly guys, of course, but it was still an interesting experience. Then we had dinner at a cliffside restaurant and walked onto the main strip in Arcadia.  


Bob started hitting on girls left and right, and after a dozen or so flat rejections, he finally met some girls from a village who didn't mind some male companionship.

They were going into a club and they invited us along. 

I decided to go home. 

Yeah, I know. Old guy. No fun anymore. The main thing was that I had a rash on my crotch from the salt water and sand at the beach, and being the oldest guy in the club is bad enough even if you're dressed nicely, but with swimming trunks and a t-shirt and sandals on, after a day of drinking beer in the sun, it just seemed like a dumb idea. 

I was in bed by 1:00am. 

I woke the next morning at 10:00am to find the following messages from Bob on my phone:  

1:20am One of these girls want to go with you, come back

1:40 am Dude you bailed the dark chick was yours FO FREE!

1:45 am Your absence created a dynamic in which I could not get laid! 

1:48 am The blonde needed the dark haired chick taken away, because she was married, she didn't wan't her friends to see her go with anybody

2:45 am Well the cops ripped me off for 50 bucks for getting a handjob in the garden

2:50 am Wish you had stayed

3:00 am Fucking Odessa!

(Here he included a picture of the club -- which seemed to be mostly men.) 

3:30 am So the girl didn't want to sit with me, I was offended and walked away and in that moment her purse and phone was stolen. 

3:35 am While she danced 

3: 40 am Jesus Fucking Jiminy Christ, how much worse can my fucking luck be in this Goddamned city

4:00 am I'm going to go fucking kill somebody

4:01 am If you don't hear from me, just board the plane without me

Nonetheless, I called and he was okay, and he managed to get checked out of his hotel and meet me at 12:00 looking not too much worse for wear.  We were taking the train back to Kiev that day, at 3:00pm.

"Are you wanted for murder?" I asked. "Are we fugitives?"

"No no," he said. "Nothing like that." 

"What did you do after you wrote this last message?" I said, as we toted our bags down towards the train station.  

"I went back into the club, I figured I had to take somebody home.  I mean, really." 

"No doubt." 

"So I hit on a couple more, but then finally, well, I went up to the girl who ... probably the ugliest girl in the club, Most people would say that." 

"Now that's what I call strategy. How horrible was she?" 

"Well, you know. Fat. Bad breath. But I mean, she was grateful. It wasn't that bad. She was enthusiastic."

"And you didn't have to pay her." 

"Well, I did give her some money," he admitted. "It wasn't much though, like $20."

"That was nice of you."

We trailed off into thoughtful hungover silence.  

"Well, you know," I finally said. "What if, you die and go to heaven? And it turns out that God is a fat chick." 

"Hmmm," he said.

"And you are welcomed in, and God says to you, my son, my true disciple, you did what I created mankind to do, to make fat girls happy."

He beamed. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tears in the Rain: Thanks, People

I self-published my first book in 2011.

Early cover draft

And it actually sold some copies!

I don't know how many, in total. Between 20 - 40 a month the first couple of years, and now maybe 10 - 20 a month.

(I remember thinking to myself, before I hit PUBLISH: If I can sell 20 - 40 a month, I'll be very happy.)

Total? Hundreds, I guess, maybe even close to a thousand, four years later.

Like many of life's pleasures, writing (and even selling) a book doesn't seem like that much of a big deal after you do it.

I mean, go into a bookstore. If you can find one.

Or a library.

And just look at all those books that you'll never read.

All the books that nobody will ever read.

And then think of all the other books, that have ever been printed, that didn't even end up in that library.

Lost in time, like tears in the rain.

But some of you read my books, over the last 4 years, and my blog, over the last 12. (!)

(My god, is there anybody out there who has been following this thing since 2003?)

For that, I just want to say, I am actually very grateful.

Thank you for reading!

And I hope you got something out of it. Whether it's a laugh, an idea, or some deeper emotion.

ENGLISH TEACHER X GUIDE TO TEACHING ENGLISH ABROAD available FREE for the next few days on Amazon:

And my second book, TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY, is also available FREE, always: 

Next time: Something bawdy. Promise.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Master

In an attempt to keep myself occupied mentally and physically while I endure this American exile, I enrolled in martial arts classes at a strip mall. Thai boxing, escrima, and jeet kune do.

I also enrolled in one class towards a master's degree in education.

It's an Intro to Academic Research class: statistics and reading scientific studies, that kind of thing.

And it's interesting enough, and it's always nice to learn something new, but I continue to have doubts about whether it's worth the $15 - $20,000 (or more) to get a master's degree.

I was listening to a program on NPR about the continuing crisis in education in America; the salary I get at this job, $50,000, is pretty much towards the top end salary of a normal non-administrative teaching job in America. A master's might get me more, but I'm not sure how much more. I doubt it would be too much more.

I continue to hear stories from China (from readers and one colleague here) about master's degrees actually not being accepted now as proof of qualifications -- the law now strictly demands a 120-hour certificate to get the "foreign expert" thing.

Of course it would probably help me get a position in the Emirates, or some place like Kuwait, but really, so what? I can save more money in Saudi Arabia than either of those places, in addition to saving the $18,000 cost of the master's degree, and Bahrain and Dubai are short hops away.

I know there are some government teaching jobs -- embassy and department of defense positions -- available that require master's, but again, most contractors hire people for the same or very similar positions and don't require a master's degree. (They're more looking for a wrong-headed willingness to put yourself in harm's way somewhere shitty.)

And, just generally, is it really worth it in a field so stupid and half-assed as this one?

So I really am still not convinced ...

Friday, September 04, 2015

Going Postal: Repatriation Chronicles / Interview with English Teacher P

English Teacher P had a rich and varied TEFL career, which he recently decided to toss aside in favor of a blue-collar job delivering mail. He agreed to answer a few questions clarifying his choices. 
Which countries did you teach in, and for how long? What did you like and not like about teaching?  

These questions take some answering...and I’ll just mention some of my attempts to escape TEFL on the journey.

After doing my CELTA in Auckland NZ in 2000, I moved to Sydney, Aus. There I worked in a language mill. I still remember my first elementary class: Japanese and Korean students staring at me reticently, not answering my questions. I would feel exhausted from speaking so much. Not what they taught us on the CELTA at all! After Sydney I moved to Tianjin, China (it’s just down the road from Beijing). Tianjin was a bit different to what it is today,, no subway and few foreigners on the streets. The worst thing for me was trying to cross the roads as traffic never stopped, even for red lights. I left my first gig pretty quickly, and went to Shanghai. There I freelanced all across town earning a good hourly rate, but spending up to four hours a day on the crowded subway. I started working at an expat bar too. I got paid about sixty dollars a night and all the alcohol I could drink. The owner instructed me to give out free drinks to customs who looked like they were about to go home. The bar was one of the cheaper ones in town, frequented by the lower-end of expat society. I met a lot of older guys there with good stories and damaged livers.

My next gig in China (in yet another city of some mere ten million souls) saw me earning English Pounds on a International Foundation Year program. The students were rich kids of limited academic ability looking for a back way into British unis. This was for me the high watermark of loony teflers. The other teachers at the school drank hard whether they be 25 or 65, many of them were highly educated with PHDs. They had dubious morals and limited social skills but I found them interesting. The school housed us in a high rise apartment building in a city block which featured about thirty brothels...

Once I'd saved some money I got out of China and headed to Argentina. China has its charms but I then wanted something as different from the Middle Kingdom as you could get. Argie fit the bill. Back then Argentina was very cheap and I spent six enjoyable months looking for a job. I eventually found one in Chile - teaching at a posh high school was a shock...the students actually were bilingual and would answer my questions! The school was a bit right-wing (they loved Pinochet) though. One of the kids had a father who owned a get the idea. I wasn't really learning Spanish living in a gringo bubble in Chile, so I moved back to Argentina. I decided I'd try and get the hell out of TEFL.

I started to work in a hostel downtown in Buenos Aires and went to basically whatever job interview I could. Occasionally I would teach an English class get through till payday. At the hostel I shared a room with the other receptionists, a Chilean guy and a Brazilian...guys with good education but little cash. I eventually got a gig working in the admin of a school which taught Spanish to paid 800 USD a month (just enough to survive on) 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday...I continued to live and work at the hostel too...but that led to a lot of I rented a tiny room in a shared house for 230 USD a month. I was poor but much happier than when teaching. I met a girl at the hostel (you were waiting for that) she was from Sao Paulo, Brazil. She was Japanese-Brazilian, the same age as I was, intelligent and independent.

After getting fired from my admin job ( for reasons not interesting enough to write down) I joined her in Sao Paulo. I found it easy to pick up business classes in Sao Paulo and the pay was OK, but the schedule was bruising: first class at 7am and last one at 6pm with many a gap in between. I liked the Brazilian students. My favourite student was a banker who used tell me about his fishing trips to the Amazon. Walking and public transporting around Sao Paolo was an eye-opener for a guy from little ol’ New Zealand. The neighbourhood I lived in had a crack epidemic going on. When I broke up with my girlfriend I headed back to Buenos Aires. However, I didn't have the energy to fight again for a job which would barely pay for me to survive.

So with my tail between my legs I flew home. On the home front it didn't look like much was happening jobwise. In need of money I again looked to Asia and ended up in Jakarta, Indonesia. Most of the students I had there were rich ethnic Chinese interested in shopping, going to church and not much else. I hated the teaching there - forcing myself to talk rubbish six hours a day. Outside of Jakarta, Indonesia was an interesting place, but having put a lot of time into learning Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese Indonesian was a bridge too far. Still I had a swimming pool, free gym and girlfriend ten years younger. My colleagues were all in their twenties...they took the job seriously and showed little signs of eccentricity. They were mostly Brits into football and Game of Thrones. They were in general good teachers. In all of this I hit thirty-five and was having much worse withdrawals from drinking binges than before. Don’t get me wrong, there were good times, I went to Bali about four times, but then again Bali is now pretty crowded and my girlfriend preferred candy-crush to my pseudo-intellectual musings…. I did manage a few volcano climbing solo trips in Indo and that’s what I’ll remember.

A ray of light in all of this was that a guy from Argentina who'd interviewed me for a gig in Buenos Aires two years before got in touch via email. He was sending two kids storytellers to schools in Hong Kong in China. In fact he hadn't called the schools to book the tour yet and would I be interested in doing that?

I said yes to his offer and began calling international schools in the mornings before teaching. The price for a day’s worth of storytelling was about 2000 USD and I got a small commision. I was better at it than I expected and when the storytellers went to Asia they needed somebody to look after them...I got offered this job too. So I quit my job teaching in Indo and toured around China with two middle-aged women. Being responsible for westerners who had never been to Asia 24/7 in mainland China was not easy...but the boss dangled the carrot of paying for me to go over to Argentina and do a tour there….and yes he did come through on this. So I went back to South America for a few months and then back to China again for another round of tours. The problem was that the gig was part time. I returned to my school in Indo after being away for nine weeks but the second time I wanted to leave and come back they said no, I would to commit to a whole year if I wanted to teach there again (fair enough).

Enough was enough of this unstable existence...chasing girls and alcohol were no fun anymore, travelling was no fun when you had to look after the needs of a demanding artistic woman twenty years your senior (the profile of most professional touring children's storytellers it seems, yes I didn't know they existed either). It was time to get out of education and the expat life.

I did flirt with the idea of going to live in a small town in Argentina where I’d previously had a good time climbing mountains and dating local women (what more is there to life?). But how would I support myself? They paid peanuts for English classes in such a place.

What made you decide to go back to your home country?  

I was burnt out on airports, big cities and crowds. I was burnt out on teaching pretty much from the word go, and yet off and on I did it for nearly fifteen years! I was particularly sick of being in a foreign country but stuck in a school with a faux 'western' atmosphere. I met many teachers in International Schools (the holy grail of ESL teaching?)...some of them had lived all over, they had long holidays, good salaries...but somehow it still looked pretty awful to me. There were perennial outsiders but without any charming eccentricities and very rarely much cultural insight into the places they were/had been.

I didn’t really relish the thought of signing another teaching contract...another bunch of people around nineteen, twenty having me as the representative of some western paradise of Katy Perry and Bill Gates that they had discovered through their iPhones.

How hard was it to find a job when you got back?  

At first I didn't have a great deal of hope. I wasn't much enthused by the thought of working in the govt or in a company...and with my mottled CV I didn't have much chance anyway. When I saw the Postman job advertised I leapt at it. I have a permanent contract now. I earn more than I did in the majority of my ESL gigs. The job requires you to do more actual work than teaching, but inspires much less dread on a Sunday evening.

What are the easiest / most difficult things about living back in your home country?

The easiest (most enjoyable) thing is being able to hop on a push bike and ride along the coast. I live in a city of 50,000 in NZ. I guess the most difficult thing is that people in their thirties here are into golf, the real estate market and their kids - things I can’t relate too...I can live fine on my  wage but I doubt I'll ever be able to buy a house here. I don't find the women here interesting or attractive and I doubt I'm a catch myself from their perspective. I do miss my South American friends and South American women. I don't really miss much from Asia except the food….oh and I guess the challenge of understanding the place. I like having a public library here - that was something I missed in Asia.

What are you plans for the future?

Keep showing up at 7am six days a week, keep delivering the mail. Get in shape, I always wanted to do kick boxing and now have the chance. Beyond that no idea. I don't come home wanting to kill somebody after work...I'm up early in the morning without a hangover, I work part of the day outside and don't have to talk far that's been a great improvement...hey more than this? You know there’s nothing!