Friday, November 30, 2007

A Literary Moment

"Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all the circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left secure, were all the time before us.

Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could forever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or Islands of King Solomon, then there was promise in the voyage. But in pursuit of those mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or another, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over his round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed."

-- Herman Melville, MOBY DICK

I wonder how many Russian girls Melville had to sleep with before he realized that was true. . .

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why I Don't Like Teaching Rich Guys (Redux)

When they told me I would be teaching the rich gangster dude, I was skeptical. "You know what's going to happen," I said. "He'll study for a few weeks and then, when he finds out he can't learn English in a month, he'll start cancelling all his lessons. Not because he's giving up, oh no -- always because he's too busy. And he'll always cancel at the last minute. . ."

They assured me he seemed devoted to the idea of learning English.

I wouldn't know, I never got to teach him.

Apparently he had a couple of lessons with one of our Russian teachers of English, and after a few sporadic lessons, is now cancelled "until further notice."

I predict he might study a few more times, after Christmas, but then will be gone forever once the sun comes out in the spring. (NB -- I get the same salary either way, I don't care whether he studies or not.)

Too bad, I was going to teach him how to say "an offer you can't refuse" on his first lesson.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Smartest Phone of All

Lost my fucking telephone again. Wasn’t even drunk or anything – a bit distracted by an early morning meeting, and it just slipped out of my pocket while I was on the bus.

Like almost all of my telephones, it was a Nokia I bought “second-hand” – at the Bird Market, a fabulously post-apocalyptic sort of market in a bad part of town. (In fact the part of town is so bad it’s actually called “Unnamed.” How’s that for cool?)

This particular market sells a strange assortment of stuff, all of which would be useful for the coming Zombie Uprising. DIY and home improvement stuff – tools, pipes, hardware, toilets – camping and hunting and fishing gear, knives, rope, army surplus junk like gas masks and haz-mat boots, coveralls and gloves, combo pocket tools, pepper spray and stun guns, and a large selection of “second-hand” phones, which are purchased and sold with no questions asked.

(I’ve been told that if you go there and see your recently lost or stolen phone, and can prove it’s yours, they’ll return it to you for a nominal fee of 50 rubles or so. A real group of Gentlemen Thieves, these guys. The cops occasionally crack down on the place, when some group of kids go on a rampage and kill 20 people just for their phones and sell them all out here, but mostly they operate unmolested.)

I love this place; the blatant illegality of it, sure, but it’s kind of like a museum of old phones, too – the old art-deco Nokias from a few years ago. All those old phones, lost in time, like tears in the rain. Who will love them if I don’t?

That was my seventh phone. I always buy Nokias – they’re well-nigh indestructible, which suits my head-banging lifestyle. (Although, having said that, I’ve managed to destroy two of them through Force 9 carelessness -- one of them got thrown into a bathtub full of water after I'd crapped my pants one morning after a rough night on the town and a week of the shits. You can read about that on the old blog, think it was 2004.)

I buy the cheapest ones, or rather, models which are at least three years out of date. I used to like the Nokia 3310 Hockey Pucks back in ’02 and ’03 and tried the Nokia 1100, which I found a bit unreliable as far as being used as a bottle opener. I had a colorful Nokia 3510 – metallic sparkly blue with orange stripes on the side that lit up – in 2005, but eventually moved up to one of those hideous 7000 series ones that had a triangular keypad that was supposed to look like a wolf’s face.

The last year or so I’ve been going for the Nokia 6610i. Sturdy, got a camera – albeit a crappy one -- they usually go for $40 or $50.

Now girls occasionally ask me why I don’t have a nicer phone – one of those fancy shmancy Nokia N70s with Internet and MP3 player and gigabytes of memory and all that crap -- and I admit I am occasionally tempted. I like toys as much as the next guy.

But then the practical adult in me points out that I’d just lose or break it in a matter of days, or get beaten up and robbed for it. While it might be nice to have a decent camera and video, I have no interest in listening to an MP3 player while I walk around – how am I supposed to hear hostiles creeping up on me?

So tomorrow I’m going to go out and look for my phone, and if I can’t find it, I’ll buy a new one. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Some doofus on the hate site dares to doubt English Teacher X's integrity. A bit of news from the DOS front:

The Director of Studies scores his second positive victory in reforming the shitty end of language school work this week. (The first was getting washing machines for the senior teachers.)

So being very short of teachers, we were offered an application from a guy who had been working for a branch of the school in St. Petersberg. Included with this was a letter from the DOS in St. Petersberg warning us that the applicant in question was a terrible teacher, boring and monotonous and unskilled.

Now this applicant in question has signed up for the apprenticeship-type training program in Moscow, where he was given some modicum of instruction and then tossed into a few classes (at a frankly pathetic rate of salary.) The evaluations of these observed lessons were sent down with his application -- such highly professional and helpful comments as "this lesson was absolute shit" and "you better sort yourself out" were typical.

So apparently, they tried to get rid of him by sending him to our branch, thinking that he'd probably quit rather than move out to the sticks.

But this guy was one of the unfortunate cases -- he didn't have enough money to leave , and had nowhere else to go, so he decided to come down.

I was given the dubious task of training him.

It was much like I expected -- he was a shy and quiet and mild-mannered guy, and the incredibly inexperienced and over-worked teacher trainers in Moscow had no time or desire to try to actually teach him much.

It took a couple of weeks, but I taught him some activities and ways to set up the class that would suit a quieter and shyer personality -- you do NOT have to be a performing monkey to be a popular teacher, and in fact Russian students are increasingly impatient with teachers who just come in and spend the whole class talking about themselves. And I think this guy will be okay, actually, with a bit of guidance from yours truly.

Now of course, I can begin to see things from the admin point of view -- I mean, it's certainly not my fault his life is such a mess that he's got no money or place to go, nor that he's got an unengaging personality.
But having been on the short end of the stick before myself
, I'm glad he didn't get ground up and fucked over by the English Teacher Mill at the other branches.

Still can't seem to get them to eliminate split shifts, however, though I wrote up a three page document explaining how we could do so -- they promise they'll try next year.

And they kiss my ass, not vice versa. They know that this new bunch of untrained teachers they've hired would be an impossible situation without my academic support.

So yeah, I'm still the baddest motherfucker in town, in case you were wondering. Even though I take Sialis occasionally.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


"The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinese or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other amiable characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and they are all out sons-of-bitches, barbarians, and chronic drunks."

--General George S. Patton

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The O. G.

I guess I've reached the pinnacle of my profession -- I'm going to be teaching English to one of the most famous gangster-businessmen in Vodkaberg. I mean, this is guy is the O. G. -- a real Don Corleone.

According to the stories, he started out as a pickpocket in train stations in the area -- he got in with a gang of pickpockets and they made enough money to start a car dealership in the early nineties. At that time, car dealerships were very shady - the price paid for cars was nowhere near the price the factories sold them at, and a lot of people disappeared after bringing cash payments to dealerships.

They also got into vodka bootlegging -- that is, selling watered-down methylated alcohol as vodka. They assuredly did this through kiosks which they also bought, and that was pure profit, so they bought up real estate and opened a night club, and now they own insurance companies, cinemas, window companies, etc -- it's now something like a 6 billion dollar a year business.

Naturally they're heavily involved with supporting the campaigns of our local mayors -- apparently an entire entertainment complex was built just to launder this money.

This is all well known local information, and I've heard this from businessmen I've taught, random students, girls who have been at their "parties" and from people who work at this company alike.

While their business is legitimate in the sense of running real companies that provide real products and services for real profits, they are still the top of the pyramid in the criminal scene -- plenty of drugs get sold at their nightclub, for example. I had a girlfriend who worked for one of their advertising companies, and she said she frequently overheard conversations about weapons deals. It's also well known that if this company offers to buy your business, for example, they will offer a fair price -- but you had better accept, unless you're ready for a one-way ticket to the resurrection, as Scarface might say.

They're trying to change their image, these days, though, with a glowing P.R. campaign featuring billboards of snappy young executives giving the thumbs-up and sponsoring scholarships and building schools, etc. As I mentioned a few posts ago, they sent three bodyguard types to study English at our school. That was good for a few laughs. ("What's your job?" "Ha ha, we solve problems.")

So, they call on me, The Oligarch of the English Language, to teach The President of the Company, who is by most accounts about The Baddest Motherfucker in Town.

This guy, by the way, is about the same age as me, maybe a year or two older. (We just had different lifestyle priorities, I guess.)

One of my rich students who had met him several times said, "He's very charming, intelligent and charismatic. You have to keep reminding yourself that he's probably killed a hundred people."

Monday, November 05, 2007


Halloween is becoming popular as a holiday for adults in Russia, as it is in many other parts of the world, largely thanks to Miller Brewing Company sponsoring Halloween parties at nightclubs (in order to sell Miller Genuine Draft beer, which is marketed as a trendy foreign imported beer here.)

I usually tie a black t-shirt around my head and go as a Ninja.

I got some guff from somebody for always going as the same thing.

So this year I tied a blue t-shirt around my head and went as a Blue Ninja.