Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sea Changes And The Lost Art of Conversation

More than a calendar month now since I've had a drink of alcohol or seen a woman (not on TV) without 95 percent of her body covered.

You know what the strangest fucking thing is though?

The conversations among my colleagues.

These guys talk about buying condos in Thailand and villas in Cyprus. And buying cars and $2000 suits.

I'm used to teachers talking about, like, syphillis. And projectile vomiting.

(I will say however, that conspiracy theorists seems to be very common among English teachers of all countries.)

Got paid my first paycheck for a month of doing nothing today; this week I'm being paid to sit in the office for 6 hours a day doing nothing, classes start next week. Maybe. Seems there's some worry about swine flu and available vaccine, or something.

Well, whatever. Soon I'm going to be rich, and you're all going to be sorry.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why I Don't Particularly Want To Start My Own English School

Somebody, in the comments section, asked me why I don't just start my own language school, and this is something that is often discussed around English teacher bar tables all over the world.

Let me explain my take on all this.

The first aspect is simple mathematics. To make a profit you need a lot of students. To have a lot of students, you need a lot of space. Since most people want to study at the same time -- after and occasionally before they go to work or university -- the peak hours are 7.00 am to 10.00 am and 6.00pm to 10.00 pm in the evening. That means you'll need a lot of classrooms, each with say 10 - 12 students. And space for administration and a teacher's room, etc.

There is huge inflation going on, especially in terms of property, in the developing countries where the greatest demand for English is; in Europe and America, that kind of office space is going to cost a shitload, especially if it's centrally located.

Now if you happen to already OWN a building with a huge amount of space, why would you want to go to the trouble of starting a school, when you could just rent out the space to someone else and make an easy bundle of cash every month?

Now, add in the cost of paying your teachers, and the expense and hassel of getting them legal working visas and sorting out the tax issues. If you have to pay for accomodation for your teachers, that's also going up tremendously every month. (My apartment in Vodkaberg cost less than $100 a month in 2003; by the time I left the rent had quadrupled.)

Then there's the fact that a lot of countries actually have rules about how many foreigners versus how many locals you have to employ -- in Thailand it was something like there had to be 3 Thais for every foreigner employed. (That meant they had to pay some kids to sit around and do nothing other than open doors and such.)

And if there aren't huge taxes and fees, there are bribes. Often there are both.

And the price that you can charge students to study with a foreigner are certainly NOT going up. It grows cheaper and cheaper to go abroad and study -- walk around central London and you'll hear very little English. But walk around central Prague, you probably won't hear much Czech. Foreigners and English schools are everywhere; anybody with the Internet can practice English whenever they want, and however they want.

The general trend that that kind of conversational ESL I've spent most of my adult life doing is going the way of the brontosaurus -- in ten years most people will use nothing but English in secondary school and the only work will be teaching children and maybe specialized business and testing work.

And let's not got into the development of instantaneous translation software and implants and such. I've got the Discovery channel now and for an English teacher, this stuff is scarier than the magnetic poles of the Earth shifting.

I've known one guy who started his own school -- though I haven't spoken to him lately, even after a few years he was working his ass off and not making a lot of money at it. Every English school owner I've spoken to -- including my former employers in Vodkaberg -- say that the schools don't make much profit. (Some of them were rich, but the English schools were only one of many businesses they owned.) While my school in Vodkaberg shestupled in size, I'm sure it didn't shestuple in profits; the owner went from driving a Lada 100 to driving a Toyota Camry, which is not too far up the ladder.

And of course, even under the best of economic circumstances, running a business in a foreign country leaves you incredibly vulnerable to various political shifts, currency devaluations, war and terrorism, etc.

And let's not discuss the difficulty of dealing with drunken fuck-up teachers and spoiled, demanding students.

Now an exception to all this might be sending teachers to companies to teach in-house; that's a lot lower overhead.

And as a final note, I submit to you that if you knew anything about starting and running a business in the first place, you wouldn't be an English teacher.

So that's the sitch as I see it. If anybody who owns a school is reading this, please feel free to correct my presumptuousness if you disagree.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Notes From Russia

An e-mail I received from a friend in Russia concerning the girl he's been seeing:

I'll take a picture of the butterscotch asap.

By the way, this is a really evil sweety. I'm beginning to feel like your attitude toward the yummies here IS in fact the right one.

Being given oral relief behind a garage, standing in human filth and syringes, the boyfriend calls. Butterscotch nearly answers the phone with a full mouth. Conversation ends with "Kiss you". Then back to work.

From my bad Russian I gathered that he wanted to know how her day had gone, while she had a need for a little bit more of his money with which to buy course books.

I wanted another date tonight, but sadly butterscotch's gone off to a "dacha" with "girlfriends", and I'm not invited.

I'm beginning to realize that what's good for the cuckold is good for the other cuckold.

No wonder you just got so sick of it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Legends and Lore

Woke up freezing cold today, achy and disoriented, from a dream of Russian girls past.

I'd just left the air-conditioning on too high when I went to bed, but I can see whence was born the myth of the Succubus.

I remember one of my colleagues telling me that his girlfriend, a professional dancer, had fucked the hell out of him. He wasn't bragging about this -- he was saying he'd felt utterly drained and completely exhausted afterwards.

A lot of Russian towns have a legend about why the women are so beautiful there -- Vodkaberg's legend was that Catherine the Great had exiled all of the most beautiful women in St. Petersberg to Vodkaberg because she didn't want any competition. (Some versions of this story have it being all the prostitutes. Or the most beautiful prostitutes.)

My own theory involves the spawn of Dracula. Or perhaps Satan himself.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Things To Do In Saudi When You're Dead

So, talk about 'me' time.

When I first arrived there were a few mornings of filling out and signing forms, getting documents stamped, and of course a morning at a clinic providing my blood, urine and feces. (In Russia that we had provided plenty of blood, urine and feces, but never in plastic bottles to doctors; a bit more indiscriminately, on the streets and dance floors.)

There were a few mornings meeting with my new managers and colleagues; but now, pretty much the entire school is on holiday and most of the teachers won't come back until September 24th.

So I have pretty much nothing at all to do, until classes start in October.

Fortunately, keeping myself amused has never been much of a problem, and I didn't have any problem getting my hard disc with 350 GB of TV shows, movies, e-books, audio books, and comic books into the country.

A typical day?

So I'm tending to wake up at about ten, and then I do my prison cell workout -- pushups, situps, squats and tricep dips, as well as some stretching and jumping rope -- and then I set about preparing the first meal of the day.

Ramadan -- during which it is forbidden even to chew gum or drink water in public between sunrise and sunset -- and the extreme heat -- 40 degrees C, 100 degrees F -- kind of limit my ability to wander unchecked during the day, so the afternoon has me digging into the aforementioned hard disc for some entertainment until about three or four, when I take the twenty minute walk to the beach. I swim for a half-hour or so, and perhaps sit and read on the beach for a bit, then come home and have the second meal of the day.

The college I work at is not exactly centrally located. The old city center is about twenty minutes away, by car, and there's a new waterfront development center with a mall and fast-food places -- that's about a forty-five minute walk away. This area is really for people with cars, so it's not particularly easy to get around on foot.

In the evening, after six, when the Ramadan restrictions end, I usually walk back down the beach to the "e-park" -- about a thirty minute walk -- to use the wireless access there. (Still no internet access in my apartment.) For the hour and a half or so that my battery lasts, I do my Internet business -- the most enjoyable of which is talking dirty with Russian girls I know on instant messenger programs. (Some habits die harder than others.)

There's another shopping center about a ten-minute walk away that has a big modern supermarket, an Applebee's, a bookstore, and a coffee shop with wireless access, as well as a few other random shops; sometimes I go there to use the Internet, but everything closes for the eight o clock prayer for about thirty minutes so I don't go there until about eight-thirty or nine.

The supermarket offers a bit of intriguing wandering, as there are a lot of new food products to consider; I'm diggin on the hummus and the stuffed grape leaves.

Pretty much all the women I see are covered head to toe in black, only their eyes showing -- it does tickle me a bit to see them just going through their normal day, yelling at their kids and buying cornflakes and such, just dressed like ninjas.

The bookshop has books in English as well; turns out the black-cloaked women like that TWILIGHT crap here, too, and the black-cloaked girls like that little trollop Miley Cyrus. So far I'm more surprised by what's NOT banned than I am by what is banned. . .

So I come home at 10.00 or 11.00, enjoy more downloaded goodness from the hard disc (or watch Discovery channel) and get to bed at 1.00 or so, and sleep like a rock for nine hours. Apart from the hum of air conditioners, it's completely quiet.

Far from the madding crowds, indeed. . .

Friday, September 11, 2009

All Over But The Shouting: Or, Why I Left My Last Job

I posted the e-mails that I sent regarding leaving my former position in Vodkaberg; I described it as a "blow up" with the assistant director, but didn't really give any details.

Allow me to elaborate.

Basically, as far as my former employers, Language Fucks, I'd lost my religion long ago.

When I'd started, the school was a small one, with two teachers, two classrooms and a toilet with no sink or toilet paper; relations with administration were pretty good, just because it was easy with two teachers to fill up a 4.30pm to 9.30pm schedule with big classes, and they were new too, so they thought they had to treat us with respect and decency. There were no sudden changes to schedules, no split shifts, and the salary was pretty decent in comparison to the prices and exchange rate.

But then the school doubled in size, then quadrupled, and by 2006 we had more than a dozen teachers. Our schedules were grueling split shifts, finishing at 9.30pm and starting at 9.00am or even earlier -- 7.00am was not unheard of. They started piling weekend classes on the new teachers, and we started doing company classes with travel time of up to an hour or more each way, for which of course we weren't really paid. New classes were given with only a few hours of notice, and changes in the schedule were made constantly, especially in summer, for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

In short, it became like every other shitty language school in the world. Teachers came and went, sometimes in a matter of weeks. Sometimes because they hated the school, sometimes because the school hated them.

Becoming Director of Studies in 2007 left me trying to assure academic quality in this environment.

I made some steps to try to straighten up some problems that I thought were easily soluble, especially regarding schedules; they were getting so many applications in Moscow at that point, however, that nobody felt there was any reason to change anything. (Applications from completely inexperienced teachers, of course -- they prefer these, because they don't have to pay them -- in Moscow they began some "intern" programs in which people with no experience are hired and paid starvation wages, and given a few hours of training. Pretty heinous.)

It didn't matter what I did or thought, however -- there was one test, and one test only, of whether a teacher was retained, and that was if the students liked them. Others were unceremoniously dismissed, often with hardly enough money to get plane tickets together to leave the country.

Despite all the drunks and trouble-makers, most of the ones who got fired had done exactly one thing wrong -- they'd come to Russia as inexperienced teachers, expecting to be treated with respect.

At the beginning of this year, some poor little 22-year-old guy got the boot because he slurred his speech because of an overbite. Another guy got fired mainly because he was old, as if that fact had somehow not been revealed during the job interview. Of course they were inexperienced teachers, but how were they supposed to get any experience if the school fired them the first time students complained?

The contract, which was like two-pages when I had started, became an enormous document trying to cover all the things teachers couldn't or shouldn't do. (It was completely illegal anyway, I would later find, lacking a Russian translation on the other half of the page.)

Things started going way south between me and my employers at the beginning of 2008; when I arrived in Russia after my Christmas holiday, I was told that I had to take another teacher's classes and would be working 9-hour days on both Saturday and Sunday from now on. I actually quit over that; they backed off after a couple of weeks, however.

It didn't get any better. Prices had gone up tremendously, but our salaries hadn't. With the economic collapse in the fall of 2008,the exchange rate began to take our salary in dollars down, down, down. Our new contracts took away our airfare bonuses and continued paying us in a ruble salary. I refused to sign more than a three-month contract under these terms, and actually began psyching myself to leave for good last Christmas.

Alas, the promise of an old girlfriend returning in January made me decide to stay. But, of couse in January 2009, I arrived in the country with a new passport and an old visa, and ended up having to pay about $2000 in airfare and hotel bills going to Germany to get a new visa.

Now of course I should have double-checked the visa thing myself, but only because I should have known that the Russian woman who got a salary to double check such things wasn't going to bother to do that.

Naturally they refused to pay any of this, even when virtually the same thing happened to another teacher a couple months later.

I will perhaps someday post some of the e-mail I got from the nominal leader of this chain, in Moscow -- it basically said that I had only myself to blame for staying in Russia for so long and that they had, with the economic crisis, "hundreds of applications," (I wonder how many of those they hired stayed more than three months.)

Apart from the guy who owns it, I think I'm the only teacher who has stayed at the school for nine consecutive years.

It didn't take me long to decide that he was right; staying in that position was suicide.

In June, when my contract was finished, I agreed to work part time; it was only when I received my first pay packet in July that I realized they were paying me a part-time rate at about a little more than half of what my normal salary was, with no housing allowance included.

I tried to quit then; they yelled, but then tried the sweet talk approach a few days later. I mistakenly thought they had the ability to cancel my visa if I didn't do at least some work for them -- they didn't because I had no contract at that point, of any sort, and so wasn't legally employed anyway -- and I agreed I would do a few classes, but no split shifts and as few hours as possible.

By August I felt I'd served my time and wanted to take my final few weeks off completely, but they had a problem -- one teacher had left suddenly on a family emergency -- and I agreed reluctantly to do a few final classes.

Anyway, the 'blow-up' came two days before I was scheduled to stop working. After all this -- all of this -- with TWO days remaining, the assistant manager came in and yelled at me that my students had complained that my lessons was boring. Not just told me -- YELLED at me.

I was too dumbfounded to yell back at first; by the time I managed to do so, she had retreated into the lounge. I followed, beginning to order my list of things to yell back about.

"I won't talk to you here. This is the student lounge," she said.

"Then get back in the teacher's room!"

"I'm busy, I can't talk right now." she said, fiddling with the DVD player attached to the big screen TV in the lounge.

I paced back and forth furiously for a bit, then announced that I was leaving.

She demanded my passport and visa and told me I had 24 hours to leave the country.

I told her we could first go to the Department of Employment and discuss how I had been working without a contract.

She said fine. I walked out into the rainy summer evening and walked all the way home, a walk of about foury-five minutes.

By doing this I forfeited to my employers a couple weeks salary -- not many hours, and at that low rate, probably about $150 worth. They had agreed to pay for the new visa, but I suspect they might have wormed out of that some other way.

(As it happened I had no dire need for money, even with that $2000 hit in January -- I've squirreled away quite a bit, by English teacher standards, anyway.)

So this is how a fifteen-year English-teaching veteran, Director of Studies of two years, DELTA trained, gets treated after nine years of employment by a major international language school chain.

Now of course most people think their jobs suck; and a lot of people get fucked over by their employers. But I submit to you:

English teaching is a crock of shit, and any newbies out there reading this: PLEASE don't do this unless you have enough money to get out of any problems you get in.

So that's Reason #1 I'm going for the big score in Saudi. Reason #2 coming soon.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Dichotomy of The Conundrum

So I come all the way to The Kingdom in search of a more mature life, as my former existence was more in line with that of a 20-year-old college student -- binge drinking, chasing young girls, etc.

My existence here, however, so far, is a bit more like being thirteen again -- reading a lot of comic books (downloaded ones) and watching a lot of TV. I watched the movie FLASH GORDON this evening.

And of course masturbating a lot. But I did that in Russia a lot too. No Internet porn here, though. So it's more like being thirteen again -- getting porn was a big deal when I was thirteen -- had to spank it to Cinemax After Dark.

But been swimming a lot, exercising and detoxing, so can't be all bad, eh? As well as getting paid nearly $1000 tax-free a week for it. . .

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Demon Alcohol

If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, from the book THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT

This particular quote comes from a story about a man who loses his short term memory as a result of heavy drinking.

This is my what, twelfth day without an alcoholic drink. . I'm trying to think the longest amount of time I've gone in recent memory without taking a drink. No more than a couple of weeks, certainly. There are times I've drunk more or less than other times, but alcohol was always there, especially in Russia.

I don't really have a very strong craving for alcohol, although I seem to be craving sweet drinks. Holsten makes a variety of non-alcoholic beers which are sold widely here -- there's a Mango flavored beer that tastes like the Peach Melba Rum wine coolers of my youth and I've been tossing those down, along with apple juice and green tea.

Many of the end reuslts of my drinking, especially with vodka -- blackouts, peeing on the rug, screaming, trying to strangle people -- would certainly be considered problematic by a medical professional, but I really don't consider myself an alcoholic. (Like most alcoholics, I suppose, until they take the First Step.) At least not a garden-variety alcoholic. I was a binge-drinker, sure, but I was very much a social alcoholic -- I wasn't the kind of guy that drank by myself. (With the notable exception of times when I had a severe hangover, for which I found beer to be the most effective cure.)

Without people inviting me out for drinks, there's not too much urge to be drunk.

"Why would I want to be sober when I'm out?" I'd say. "If I was sober I'd just as soon be home reading a good book."

Then I'd wash down some absinthe with eight beers or so and get punched in the face, fall down in the mud and take a crap in the bushes on the way back to my apartment.

Just a boy who can't say no, that's me.