Friday, June 29, 2007

The Corporate Life vs. Drunk On The Beach

Being accused of being an old whiner on my last post, I feel I need to make a few additions to my comments. (Even though the guy who accused me of being an old whiner is probably some young puke who thinks he's hot shit because he became an English teacher and laid a decent-looking chick for the first time ever.)

I've never worked for a big corporation; in fact I've pretty much never done anything other than teach English. (I worked as a bartender and a gardener briefly in and around the time I finished college.) I have no idea how tedious office work is -- I suppose those engineer guys work 10 - 12 hours a day, and are probably generally under a lot more stress, and all that.

Nonetheless, they are usually, in the evenings and weekends, exactly where the English teachers are -- hanging out. But with a lot more money.

Now, the obvious good question: if you hate it so much, or envy them so much, why don't you suck it up and go get a corporate job?

Hey, you know, it happens -- a former DOS in Moscow ended up getting a job in the Personnel Department of some big-ass pharmaceutical company's office in Moscow, with the attendant high-five-figure salary, on the strength of his managerial experience and his excellent Russian.

But that probably ain't for English Teacher X. I'm a teacher, and I actually like it pretty much. (Although, as I said, I don't really have anything to compare it to -- I might fucking love office work, for all I know.)

However, as we all know, the salaries and benefits of being an English teacher are pretty woesome -- and please, don't tell me how much money you made from your private students last month. I've done that too -- let's see, nearly $400 this month -- but it's rarely a steady or reliable income, and can dry up as quickly as it came.

People's wages versus cost of living are suffering in most places, I suppose, but I think this is especially true of English teaching. Despite the increased need for English in this global economy, globalism is actually killing this job -- steadily, wages (and course fees) continue to plummet as the allure of studying with a foreign teacher becomes less and less exotic. Foreigners are everywhere, and the whole world is connected by cheap flights. Local teachers are increasing well-trained and experienced, too.

And inflation, of course -- everything in Russia costs twice what it used to 5 years ago, but my salary is barely 20 percent more, in comparative terms, even after becoming a DOS.

Without getting into the pros and cons of whether English teachers are free-living rebels or global bottom-feeders, and whether freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose, the financial realities of it are a bit frightening as you get older. For example, this post on Ernesto Rodriguez's blog detailing how he can't afford his diabetes medication. But it's not like only English teachers have THAT problem.

There's always the Middle East for decent money and benefits, I suppose, but the fun quotient is pretty low there, obviously.

So whither English Teacher X?

Well, I hope to get a Master's Degree in the next couple of years, and get into working for some of the international charities and NGOs. I knew a guy here in Vodkaberg who was making a reasonably sweet $45 - $50,000 a year, plus a local stipend, working for the Soros Foundation, mostly involved in training Russian teachers and giving seminars. Then, I guess, there's always international schools and universities, teacher training, and so forth.

I guess you can stumble along in any career if you don't make any effort to improve your lot in life. After all, these engineer guys worked hard and got great degrees and qualifications to get where they are. I became an English teacher as a result of backpacking through Thailand and running out of money. . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

English Teacher X's Advice Column

Every once and a while I get an email from somebody that goes something like this:

Hi X love your website, especially the story where the dogs eat the vomit! I'm a 43-year-old tool and die engineer from Milwaukee and I have recently decided to chuck a lifetime of hard work out the window so I can come to Russia and get screwed over by slutty slavic chicks and live like a bum, just like you! Whoa! Man! Viva la Revolucion! Do you have any particular advice about how to get started?

Okay, to all you people with actual jobs out there looking to travel:


If you have ANY kind of marketable skill, especially engineering, you can most likely get a posting in another country fairly easily. (According to my brother, an oil engineer, his company is constantly trying to get people to go to Russia and Nigeria and a few other places to work, but most civilized people refuse.)

But not just engineers -- anybody with an MBA is probably in good shape, but there are plenty of lawyers and accountants and managers and programmers, too, working in big companies like Pepsi and Holiday Inn and Nokia and Oracle and so on and so on and so on.

Even the fucking food and beverage industry - there are plenty of international hotels with foreign chefs and kitchen managers and so on. And TGIFriday's are everywhere, too.

And THEN, you'll live in Russia, but have a huge salary, insurance and other benefits, a company car, a nice apartment, and all that.

So please, have half a brain, and try to get a GOOD job before you become an English teacher.

(My posts are getting really negative, recently, I realize -- you can see what hanging around with guys ten years younger than me making 8,000 Euros a month working for whatever global conglomerate, with free everything from drivers to sports club memeberships, is doing to me. . . well , I've still got my health I suppose, cough cough. . .)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Beyond Fucked Up

I tell you, becoming DOS has convinced me that this profession is simply well and truly fucked in the 21st century.

I don't know that I had any illusions that I could vastly change things at our school; but I thought maybe I could change SOMETHING, especially the split shifts. But no, about the only way you can completely block the schedule of all your teachers is to employ no more than about three.

Otherwise, students study in the morning before work, and after work. And company classes want to study in the morning, and maybe in the afternoon around lunchtime.

So that's pretty much when the teachers have to work.

One less-mentioned aspect of split shifts that really sucks is the financial one -- you have to pay for the bus four times a day, unless you want to hang around the school doing nothing all day. Some schools pay for a bus pass for their teachers for that very reason, but ours doesn't.)

So of course, that's why no sane person would do this kind of English teaching for long. Starting at 9:00am and finishing at 9:30? Did we do this job to get out of the rat race? The same hours as some corporate flunky, but 1/10th the pay.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Most Expensive City For Spoiled Yuppie Scum

Once again Moscow tops the list of most expensive cities FOR EXPATRIATES in the world. Without getting into how stupid it is to judge prices by how much corporate expatriate workers pay, let's look at a small extract from this Yahoo article:

The survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting ranked 143 cities around the world, measuring the comparative cost of more than 200 areas such as housing, transportation and food. The findings are designed to help multinational employers determine compensation for their expatriate workers.

In Moscow, a luxury two-bedroom apartment will cost an expat $4,000 a month; a CD rings up at $24.83; one copy of an international daily newspaper is $6.30; and a fast-food hamburger meal totals $4.80.

WHAT THE FUCK?? First of all, you could get a pretty damn nice apartment for, say, $2000 in Moscow, not too close to the center, but with a western standard of appliances and all -- low-end two bedroom in the suburban areas would be less than a thousand. AND WHO THE FUCK BUYS LEGAL CDs in MOSCOW!??!! Any market and most subway passages have bootleg MP3 discs with hundreds of songs for less than $3. And I don't know what fucking "international daily newspaper" is supposed to mean, but can't you just read the headlines on the Internet like everybody else?

I ate at McDonalds a couple times when I was in Moscow in March -- I guess $4 is about right for a Big Mac meal. TGIFridays had a business lunch that was I think $10, and yes, they force the waitresses to smile at you.

But Moscow's public transport is A LOT cheaper than New York or London -- still costs less than 50 cents for a one-way subway journey, whereas in London it now costs like 2 pounds. Food in supermarkets is for the most part a lot cheaper than England or America; alcohol and cigarettes are A LOT cheaper, though of course they're going up in price -- a half-liter bottle of decent beer still costs less than $1, a liter of good vodka costs about $5. Cigarettes are less than a dolllar, too.

(Note to the kids: English Teacher X doesn't smoke, just like the Fonz. AYYYYYYYY!)

Yeah, yuppie scum nightclubs and fancy watering holes costs a shitload, as do name brands of clothing. . .

So anyway, let's all shed a few tears for those poor beleagured Ikea and Shell engineers who will be forced to blow all of their $150 per diem on these outrageous prices of international newspapers, before they go get a couple of $75 whores and fuck all night.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cold War and Hot Babes

There's a lot of talk in the media about the new Cold War between America and Europe and Russia.

Tell ya what -- they're absolutely fucking right.

It happens nearly every time we go out, now -- some young doofuses come over and speak bad English and eventually get around to telling us that Russia is the best country in the world but that there are too many foreigners here taking jobs away from Russians. Even a girl I went out with a couple times started in on this topic (while sitting on my lap in her underwear, I might add.)

The hostility is getting more and more pronounced -- there hasn't been any violence, as of yet, probably because we tend to travel in packs and have several large tough individuals amongst our ranks, but it's come pretty close several times.

Last night two morons started shouting "Hey guys!" at us while we were sitting quietly at a table drinking beer, and asked what we thought of Russia. We said we liked it, and they said "That's good! If you no like, we kill you!"

Not to stay we don't still get quite a few chicks fawning over us, but there's a definite ugly mood of nationalism in the air.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's Alive

Finally put something new on the website, another English teacher bar conversation. Although it's not the complete overhaul I hope to eventually do, I changed some colors and shit.

English Teacher X website -- now in black and grey!

New Cartoon -- A Conversation About Cloning

The Death of Fresh

I've been here a fucking long time, over seven years now. It doesn't often seem like so long, however, for a number of reasons -- things changes completely every couple of years, from my friends and colleagues to the shops and buildings and even the bars we go to.

Five years ago there were no supermarkets at all, or at least not any big or modern ones. You had to buy your produce and meat from the old women at the outdoor markets, which was great -- they were always pleasant and the fruit and vegetables and eggs were unbelievable fresh and tasty and flavorful.

You generally bought canned, packaged and bottled stuff -- of which there was a very small selection, canned tuna only appeared in about 2003 -- from the 24-hour produktis, which were cramped little shops staffed by haggard and bad-tempered middle-age women. Everything was seperated from you by a counter, so you had to ask for what you wanted, and they usually ended up yelling at me for not speaking clearly -- nobody every though I was American, just some moronic Estonian or something.

Now there are 4 huge ultra-modern 24-hour hypermarkets within a few minutes' walk of my apartment -- they are pretty much identical to their American counterparts, although of course a lot of the food is labelled in Russian. And they sell books and magazines and DVDs and toys and electronics and all that crap, too.

The vegetables you buy at the hypermarkets all taste like the plastic they are wrapped in, and never seem to rot -- I've had part of a head of lettuce in my refrigerator for at least a month and a half, and it's not even brown.

But, fuck it, the hypermarkets are just so damn convenient. I do most of my shopping there.

Let that be the epitaph for humanity: IT WAS JUST SO DAMN CONVENIENT.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Pathway to the Abandoned Slaughterhouse

An acquaintance here in Vodkaberg is trying to start his own introduction agency, through which foreigners can come here and meet, in person, a bevy of Russian women who may or may not be happy to marry them, or have sex with them, or just spend all their money.

We asked what he'd do if somebody asked him to find some nice Russian girl to torture and kill, like in the movie HOSTEL.

He of course said he'd never do it, but we suggested, what if he found, for example, somebody who was terminally ill already and was willing to let themselves be killed, as long as their family was well-paid in return.

And you can see how it would develop from there -- after you'd exhausted all the terminally ill, you'd start looking for the suicidal, and after that people who you thought deserved to die -- convicted criminals, or whatever.

Then you'd probably move on to, "Oh, okay, we'll capture an innocent person, just this once, but we'll give half the money to GREENPEACE."

And of course you'd always be saying to yourself, "Hey, it's not like WE'RE killing these people, we're just chaining them up and putting them in a room with a German guy, and some hacksaws and surgical implements!"

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hanging Out With Engineers

So of course there are loads of foreign engineers working for oil companies in Russia. I mentioned, last year, one we had befriended, who was from Colombia. He makes about $12,000 a month. He says he could never make an equivalent salary in Colombia -- Russia nets him something like "hazard pay" from the huge multinational company he works for.

Which is funny, since the only hazard he really faces are venereal diseases and angry husbands.

He was in town yesterday to buy a new car, and showed us pictures of the new house he has just purchased in Colombia.

It's kind of a big deal for me to buy, like, a book.

Stay in school, kids.