Thursday, December 23, 2010

God Bless Us Every One: Christmas in Russia 2004


Merry Retro-X Christmas . . . a tale from the alcohol-soaked days of Russia 2004. Strangely this is the only time I can remember I was late for a class because of alcohol. PLEASE NOTE: This might as well have taken place on another planet, compared to what Russia, Russians and private language schools are like nowadays.


VODKABERG, RUSSIA 2004

December 25th rolled around and the management of my school was showing unprecedented Christmas spirit.

They decided to throw us a Christmas party.

This was unheard of, as I said. In the four years that I had worked there, the extent of celebrating Christmas was a plastic Christmas tree in the hallway with some cheap lights wrapped around it blinking feebly. No gifts, no Christmas bonuses -- nothing like that, of course, but they did at least give us a holiday.

We were allowed to take the 25th off, if we wanted, but that isn't actually Christmas in Russia -- Russian Christmas is on January 7th, and the whole country is pretty much drunk from December 30th until January 8th. So most of us just worked on December 25th and then started our two-week holiday a couple days later.

The extent of this fabulous Christmas extravaganza was nothing much -- each class (and we all, at that time had two classes in the evening -- 4:45 to 7:00 and 7:15 to 9:30) got a box of chocolates, a dozen or so mandarin oranges, and some little canapes or something, some ham and olive and cheese things on toothpicks.

And also, each class got two bottles of champagne.

A lot of our students don't drink, but plenty of them do. Those who didn't drink insured that there was plenty of champagne for those of us who did.

The 4:45 to 7:00 classes were jolly enough -- we had a trivia quiz about Santa Claus and read "The Night Before Christmas" and so on. By 7:15, the teachers were all fairly drunk, and the second class featured a much livelier bunch of students, many of whom were coming from Christmas parties at their universities and offices.

By eight o clock someone had broken out a bottle of vodka. By nine o clock we were forcing the collected group of our students to sing "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Many did this enthusiastically. A few embarrassedly snuck out of the building for more sober climes.

Administration came in around nine to ascertain everyone was having a good time, and then they left the building.

Bad move.

By nine-thirty all the kill-joys had left and approximately twenty students and three teachers were in one of the upstairs rooms dancing with the lights off to Harry Belafonte and Aretha Franklin and drinking champagne like it was going out of style.

We ran out of alcohol around ten.

I went to the security guard's office and told him I needed something from the office and took the key. I opened the inner office and stole one of the two cases of cheap local champagne that was in there and took it back to the room.

This was greeted with a general cheer.

I spent most of the evening talking and dancing with a student that I had a bit of a crush on.

I should point out that at that point in my teaching career, I avoided hitting on students. Unless they asked me out first. Or unless they were really good-looking.

And this girl qualified as that. Long curly brown hair and huge green eyes, a mischievous smile and a body that seemed nothing but curves. She'd been smiling at me in the hallways so I finally took the opportunity to get acquainted with her.

I drunkenly slobbered over her, trying to be charming, until eleven or so, when she said her ride was here and she had to go. I escorted her out into the snow to the waiting Mercedes, after getting her mobile phone number. Mercedes -- boyfriend, I figured, but what the hell, she obviously liked me.

When I got back to the party, English Teacher R said to me, "You'd hardly believe she's 15, would you?"

I just stared at him, hoping he was joking.

He saw my look and laughed. "I was hitting on her before you got here, and then English Teacher R2 told me. He's her teacher in Level One, I guess he'd know."

"But. . . but. . ."

"Well, the age of consent is like 14 here anyway, I hear."

"But. . . "

I started dancing with another student of mine, who I knew was 22.

By eleven thirty, everybody was quite drunk and the party was moving back and forth between two rooms. A student was out puking in the snow and English Teacher R fell down the steps, cutting his cheek.

The security guard finally told us we had to leave at twelve.

The party was getting restless at that point anyway; some wanted to go home, others wanted to go to a nightclub. As usual there was disagreement over which nightclub to go to.

I knew where I was going however -- the House of Pain.

The House of Pain (as we call it) is a large university-student-oriented nightclub in our humble city of Vodkaberg, noted for being about the cheapest place in town.

Consequently it's also one of the liveliest -- probably one of the most violent, too, but you take the good with the bad.

The nickname comes not only from the potential for getting your head beaten in by drunken young men, but also the cheap quality vodka -- actually just methylated spirit and water -- which leads to crippling hangovers and, in at least one case, skin rashes and lymphatic problems. (The affected teacher was told by the doctor at the clinic that he frequently saw patients poisoned by cheap vodka from this club.)

I went there to meet the Mormons.

Two young Mormon missionaries had been hanging around with us for the last three months. We'd seen them on the street once, me and African Student S, and they'd struck up a conversation. We were wary of being converted, at first, but quickly saw they just wanted to know more about the city.

We soon discovered that their devotion to the missionary cause was marginal at best -- they just wanted to have the experience of living in exotic Russia. They started hanging around with us, at our house parties and nightclubs, and it was easy for them because there was a general curfew for missionaries after 9:00pm, so they didn't have to worry about seeing anybody from the Church.

They started out slow; first playing pool for money. Then one of them would drink a beer or two. Then the other started drinking beer; then they both started drinking vodka and absinthe and chasing ass along with the rest of us. Even took them to some gay bars and that sort of thing.

They were both like 19, compared to my 35 at the time.

"Dear boys," I would say to them paternally, in my best Dr. Smith from LOST IN SPACE imitation. "Dear, dear boys." They called me "Daddio" and "Uncle" which I just loved.

I tended to be their guide to the nightlife because the other teachers in town either had girlfriends or were married.

I was relentlessly single. I can pass for rather younger than I am, I should say, and I'm terribly immature anyway, so we usually had a ball together.

Somebody drove me to the House of Pain to meet them and African Student S.

While I was there I blacked out.

I suppose we drank vodka. We always did. The champagne had hit me hard; not something I drank very often.

The evening must have ended around 7:00am because I have a vague memory of the lights coming on in the night club. Always a bad feeling.

I also have a vague memory of making out with somebody, around that time. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a guy because I remember a fairly good sized breast.

I came back to consciousness the next day at around two o clock. I had a class at three, an individual student, a rich man, and I managed to stagger into his office, stinking of alcohol, at three-thirty.

I apologized and said I had over-imbibed at the Christmas party. In a magnificent display of rich guy sarcasm, the rich guy said not to worry about it, and then at the end of the lesson gave me $100.

I nodded and mumbled through the lesson, then went out onto the street. It was snowing but not too cold -- just a bit below freezing. At four-thirty, the sun was already starting to go down. Light grey was changing to dark grey.

I wasn't even hungover yet -- I was still drunk. But my body was racked with all the toxins in the cheap vodka. I bought a bottle of beer and walked up to the school as I drank it, full of a general feeling of dread. I'd forgotten my gloves there, and I felt a need to see what kind of damage we'd caused.

The old security guard -- perhaps that's the wrong word -- he's an old man on a pension, perhaps caretaker is better -- was outside the building, and he laughed when he saw me staggering up.

"Haha! You guys were DRUNK last night!" he said, in Russian.

I nodded dumbly and walked inside, saying I'd forgotten my gloves.

The place was trashed. Spilled champagne covered the floors, which were stickier than a porno video booth on 42nd street. Corks and plastic stoppers and empty champagne bottles were strewn about the classrooms, along with the flayed flesh of orange peels. Obscene pictures had been drawn on all the whiteboards, and someone had vomited all over the side of the men's toilet.

I was goggle-eyed as I approached the caretaker.

"Can I help you clean up?" I asked humbly, in Russian.

He just laughed and patted me on the back. "Merry Christmas," he said in English.

I erased the obscene pictures on the whiteboard before I left.

I went out and bought another beer and walked over to English Teacher M's apartment, where the Christmas goose was cooking and the others were already drinking again.

There are pictures of me on this day, bleary eyed and swollen-faced, eyes rolling in different directions, clutching alcohol bottles and a trollop with equal passion.




Needless to say, that was the last Christmas party that our school threw. Amazingly I didn't get in trouble for it -- English Teacher R did. Since he had the cut on his face, everyone assumed he was the trouble maker.

God bless us every one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Message Bored



Ah, the year 2002. (Sometimes I feel like the Highlander in his room full of memorobilia, remembering something that happened 300 years ago.) A Russia without advertising everywhere. . . the original English Teacher X website.

Here today, I present (or re-present) one of the first things that I wrote for my first attempt at a website in its Angelfire incarnation, at the end of the cold winter of 2002.

This was before blogs, before facebook, before myspace, and WAY before twitter -- and I was writing on a huge clunky Pentium 1 desktop that a student had given me. (For some reason, the color function had been turned off and everything was in black, white, and shades of grey. That's why the colors are so strange on that original website -- I couldn't see them.)

Anyway, the only big well-known site about English teaching abroad was Dave's ESL cafe, which had a well-trafficked message board. I found it to be a huge monument to misinformation, whining, and hypocrisy. Negative posts were often quickly deleted in those days.

I wanted to make a real uncensored message board -- and I actually had it up in a couple of forms for a while, but at the time couldn't find a good one that didn't immediately get filled up with spam and even viruses.

So I made a fake one, while I was working on the real ones, which can be seen here:

The original fake message board on the Angelfire Website

A slightly better looking version from the later website, in the wayback machine archives.

It's one of the few things I've ever written that actually made me laugh out loud -- of course, that doesn't mean you're going to . . . but I think I very accurately captured the bombastic yet completely anonymous and shady feel of an ESL message board.

There are two stories there -- the first is a flame-war between Charles Pangolin, a DOS in the Phillipines, and an employee named Robert "Snake" Pliskin (a none-to-subtle homage there -- if you don't get it, do a Google search and then go see one of the most awesome films ever made.) The second involves the Candide-like misadventures of a bright-eyed idealistic young newbie in Thailand and the Phillipines.

Somebody suggested in the comments that I do some fiction? Well, this is the closest you're probably going to get to that.

Prior to about 2002, there actually used to be so few people on Dave's message boards that they were vertically linear -- there would be a list of posts, straight down the page, which you could post on, generally without registering. Check it out via the Wayback Machine, here.

Dave's Message Board in 2000:

At little research there reveals that Dave changed to the current registration type board in 2004 -- I know that's when I started spamming as Charles Pangolin, with extremely funny results -- regrettably they don't seem to be stored in the archives and are thus lost in time.

The fake message board attempts to replicate, not very succesfully, the look of the old linear type board.

I suppose I could make a fake message board that looked real, easily enough, but, now, who cares. . .

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tourist X


I had an acquaintance who worked in a photo-developing place. This was back in the 90's, of course, before digital photography made that job as obsolete as buggy whips and lava lamps.

He kept a massive photo album of copies of pictures he'd stolen.

This was referred to loosely as "The Tome of Agony."

These little glimpses into people's lives were fascinating and terrifying in a way the current carefully planned reams of photos on Myspace or Facebook are not -- the amateur porn (much more than you'd think, of that, went into commercial film developing places), the pictures of profoundly unattractive or overweight or deformed people smiling cheerfully for the camera, the pictures of people who'd been in accidents or assaults and for insurance, legal or just sentimental reasons, had photographed it.

There was a special section reserved for photos of birthday parties of hydrocephalic children.

Anyway, to get to the point:

One section consisted of dozens of identical photos of people on vacation. Separate people, at separate times, making the exact same photos. Again and again and again

There must have been five dozen pictures of grinning tourists standing alone between the legs of the Eiffel Tower, for example.

"Did they all think they were the first person to make this picture," my friend pondered. "Because the look on their faces suggests so."

As Tyler Durden says -- You are not special. You are not a beautiful unique snowflake. You are not special. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

Travelling always makes me think of that now.



Especially thought of it as I stumbled around Jordan with the Girlfriend, a couple of weeks ago. She missed a connection and arrived a day late -- we went to Aqaba, where I suppose I should be grateful for the last few chances to see Red Sea coral before all of it dies, and the magnificent ancient city of Petra, where we paid $80 each to get in and jockeyed for camera angles free of tourists before Girlfreind got hot and tired and we left after 5 hours.



We slapped Dead Sea mud all over each other at a resort there, and wandered the crowded streets and ate shawarmas and chicken in Amman, which seemed to have more heavy smokers even thanRussia.

There are pictures of me at Petra in a plaid shirt, cargo shorts, a white ball hat, and sunglasses and sandals. I look like a complete middle-aged tourist, lacking only a fanny pack.

(Of course I own a fanny pack -- I've had the same one since my first backpacking trip in 1992. Haven't worn it in a while. It's older than most of the people in the Top 40 these days. Uh, is there still such a thing as the Top 40? Maybe I should say "Most Popular on Itunes" or whatever. )

Next trip is in February -- Girlfriend wants to go to Goa in India. (My last trip to India in 1994 -- during which I incessantly wore my fanny pack -- ended with me catching the stomach parasite giardia and losing about 20 kg in weight.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thanksgiving Porno Story






A little more Retro X for you. Obviously, the first comment would be that it DIDN'T happen on Thanksgiving day, 2004, because that would have been a Thursday, and we were working. It happened on the Sunday after.

We tried to celebrate all Western holidays in as stereotypically a way as possible -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, Easter -- in those innocent days before fast Internet. The mere fact that we were watching video cassettes and not DVDs should tell you something.  

As a side note -- somebody once asked why all the English teacher icon/hommunculous figures were always frowning. This person missed the point entirely -- the frown indicates a bad hangover.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Sunday Bloody Sunday


In honor of Halloween -- the bloodiest English teacher story of them all. This happened in 2004 (if I remember correctly) back in Vodkaberg, Russia.

I do regret that I am partially responsible for English Teacher R severing a major artery. . .

This happened during a long holiday weekend.

On Sunday ETR’s wife and English Teacher R moved into a new flat, and they decided to invite everyone over for a house warming. This was a slightly standoffish gathering where the foreigners were on one side and ETR’s wife’s friends were on another. A few games of Twister were played, a lot of Ukrainian pepper vodka was drunk, and things lightened up considerably.

Except of course for English Teacher R. As usual he crash-landed his spaceship on the Blackedout side of the moon, and become belligerent. I’m not sure what he was arguing with his wife about – but he apparently decided he was going to leave at one point. I think he said something about getting on the next train. ETR’s wife hid one of his shoes so he couldn’t go, so he flew into a rage and ordered everyone out of his house at once.

It was after 2:00am at this point so I was happy to go; I’ve had more than enough English Teacher R v. his wife deathmatches to last me a lifetime.

“You too, you simple bitch! Get out!” he roared at his wife. “But not you,” he said to African Student S. “You stay.”

I was lacing my shoes up and said something idly to ETR’s wife along the lines of “You ought to pepper spray him when he gets like that,”

I was joking.

I saw her eyes light up and she rushed to the other room.

Somehow I thought she’d just threaten him.

I rushed out with English Groupie K close behind – I saw them all on the balcony crying, but had no intention of sticking around to see how it played out.

“Too bad,” said English Groupie K. “It was a nice evening before that.”

“They always do that, don’t worry.” I said.

The next day English Teacher M called me and asked if English Teacher R was all right.

“I assume so. Why?”

“I heard glass breaking when I was going out. He looked to be punching his way out of the balcony.”

“Uh oh.”

I called English Teacher R and said, “Hey what’s up?”

“You ASSHOLE! Why did you leave? I ALMOST DIED!”

“Well, I didn’t know you were going to die. I left because you told me to leave. What happened?”

“I severed an artery in my arm and almost died! The paramedics said another ten minutes and I would have been dead! I passed out from blood loss! I had to be resuscitated.”

“Oh dear. Did your wife pepper-spray you?”

“Yeah, and I fell into the window! Jesus Christ, you’ve never seen so much blood. It was fucking. . . just fucking EVERYWHERE.”

“Wow. Yeah, I’ve heard severed arteries are pretty spectacular. Okay now?”

“No I’m not okay! I have ten stitches in my arm! It looks like a dinosaur bit me!”

“You fell into a window? Or you punched it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What are you doing now.”

“Getting drunk. Today is my wife’s birthday.”

The next day was quiet -- I went to the gym with English Teacher A, and then went home to watch DVD's.

I got a call later from ETR and his wife. In the evening, they came over hand in hand to borrow some DVDs to watch. Surprisingly they chose EVIL DEAD 2.

"Crap, you'd think you too would have seen enough blood this weekend," I offered.

ETR shrugged. They were as placid and calm as if they’d spent the previous day at the flea market shopping for antique spoons.

Must be love, eh?

* * *

(Their marriage lasted about 2 years, although I don't think even now they are legally divorced -- his wife lives in America and English Teacher R was last seen in Bulgaria.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Simply The Best


One of the (many) strange things about English teaching is that pretty much all the teachers that I know thinks they're the best teacher they know.

It's not a job like baseball, or sales, where your "stats" are immediately visible. You could consider test scores to be some kind of indicator of quality, but in fact they're not, for numerous reasons -- tests rather more clearly indicate the level of students' motivation, the ability they already had, the length of the course, and (in many cases) whether or not the teacher directly gave them the answers.

The ONLY thing most administrations consider as a measure of teacher quality is whether or not the students complain, or sign up for new courses.

Sometimes students don't bother to complain, though, or are perfectly happy with some kind of shitty teaching as long as it doesn't require them to do anything. In the past, English students were mostly looking for some foreigner to stand there and talk about themselves for 45 minutes, and you still see that, especially at private schools and among teenagers who don't want to do any work.

Teachers, especially long-term teachers tend to be egotistical, self-centered people -- it's a lifestyle that suits those negative qualities, and in general you need a thick skin to survive life abroad.

Now, students will almost never complain to a teachers face -- in fact quite the opposite, they'll shower the teacher with completely false praise. And of course, student complaints are rather often irrational.

As a result, virtually any teacher you ask, no matter how under-trained or inexperienced, think they're better at the job then anybody else at their school, and in most cases anybody else in the city.

You can see the blogs. You know where they are.

And the justifications they come up with for their shittiness can be quite amazing.

"Of course I never do pair work or let my students speak in class! They'd just start chattering away in their native language."

"Of course I don't bother with grammar (or whatever) the students don't like it and don't need it, they'd rather practice real world English by hearing about my last trip to Bangkok."

"Of course I make my students write and do grammar exercises for the whole class, and then just write the answers on the board. How else are they going to learn? I never get any complaints, never!"

"Of course I come to class drunk, I'm more relaxed and the students enjoy it. I never come to class on time, because the students never do either."

Ah, but, as globalism continues to globalize, students are becoming more and more discriminating. Hell, even here in the Middle East at this college, students who would a few years ago never have questioned their teacher are doing so -- I had to take over somebody's grammar class because the students didn't like him. (He was offering the second excuse of the above group.)

So, I guess, the days of the fuck-up are passing; even this low-stress job is becoming more serious and competitive.

It's sad, really. . .

Monday, October 25, 2010

Water Water Everywhere

You'd think an excess of water would be the least of my problems around here, but that hasn't proven to be the case.

As I mentioned, while I was away on my summer holiday, a leak in the water heater caused my bathroom ceiling to collapse, and flooded the bathroom. Since the bathroom (and indeed the kitchen as well) has a drain on the floor, the flooding wasn't much of a problem -- but it caused the walls to mold up.

There's also a constant leak in the hallway outside my apartment -- I don't know if it's the air-conditioning system or the plumbing, or both that are leaking. They fix it, and another appears a few days later.

So then, a couple of weeks ago, I put my clothes in the washing machine -- there's a shared washing machine on the other side of the building -- and turned it on.

The intake hose promptly exploded, spraying hundreds of gallons of hot water into my face, and all the way across the room.

I tried vainly to stop it by shoving the hose back into the wall; then, completely drenched, I went and got help.

The security guard showed up, looked at it, and called another security guard.

Hundreds of gallons of water were now pouring into the hallway. Another teacher and I were haplessly trying to keep the water out of the nearby rooms with mops.

After a half hour or so, the Bangladeshi maintenance guy arrived.

He had not the slightest idea how to turn off the water or stop the leak.

By this time, a group of teachers was busy building a dam in the hallway out of bricks and plastic sheeting. In doing so we managed to channel most of it out the side door.

Eventually I put on a swim suit and cut up an old bicycle inner tube and braved the spray of hot water and forced the tube over the broken hose, trying to channel the flow of the water into some trash barrels. This was succesful, but the trash barrels were filling up completely within a minute, and when full, were basically too heavy to move.

The maintenance main suggested we use the inner tube to direct the water flow into the drainage pipe; we did that for a while and tried using various combinations of duct tape to get it to stay in place, without much luck.

Finally someone hammered a piece of wood into the hole in the wall, and we moved the washing machine in front of it to keep it in place.

Monday, October 18, 2010

About A Whore


All right -- the last story about Thailand. A bit more proselytizing than usual here, I know, but it's a charged topic.


Bangkok -- 1995 and 1999.

Prostitution is wrong.

So is murder. So is war. So is thievery, gluttony, and greed. So is torching the rainforest, fucking up the ozone layer, and using rude language.

Boycotting Thailand, or Thai products, because there are prostitutes there, however, is also wrong. And stupid. Prostitution is NOT legal in Thailand, and the age of consent is 18. Child prostitution is most assuredly not legal.

There are fewer prostitutes in Thailand than there are in Taiwan or Hong Kong, just to name two places, and Bangkok's red light districts are positively wholesome compared to those of Germany. There are underage prostitutes, undoubtedly, but it's probably no easier or more difficult to find them than in America and England.

There are sex tourists in Thailand. A good deal of them. There are also sex tourists in Russia, Brazil, and Kenya, and practically every other nation of South-east Asia. And sex-tourism is not just a solely-male pasttime -- Female British tourists go to Jamaica to bang big Rasta dudes, apparently, and I know plenty of Russian girls who went to Turkey looking for lovers and husbands. Hell, there were even some expat chicks in Thailand who liked the adrogenous long-haired Thai boys.

In 1995, I went to the go-go bars around Nana Plaza with my colleagues about once every three weeks or so. It was always fun, and the girls in the bars never seemed particularly unhappy or exploited. No more so than strippers in any bar I'd ever been to in America, and considerably happier than most. We drank beer and joked around with the girls, danced with them, played Connect Four. It was a popular bar game, Connect Four. Man, some of those chicks were really good at it, too.

As far as I know, all the girls were over eighteen. They were supposed to be, anyway.

I don't know when the idea of actually paying for sex began to appeal to me, but it happened all at once, I know that. Before I had been positively adverse to it. But on my 26th birthday, I decided I wanted to go with a prostitute.

My favorite was a girl named Oh, who worked at the Club Hollywood in Nana Plaza. She danced with a wild exuberance and passion that stirred the soul. She was lovely, lithe and slim.

And she had two crooked front teeth. I mean, they pointed in two different directions.

I don't know why, but I found that incredibly endearing.

Oh spoke no English beyond a few words. "Pay bar fine?" and "You go me?" were two she did know. You had to pay the bar to take a girl out, and whatever price you paid her for sex was up to her. I think the bar fee was two hundred bhat, which at the time was about $8. I did so, and took her to the cheap hourly hotel down the street. I gave her 500 bhat, which at the time was $20. I think she usually charged 1000, though.

Fade out.

I don't know why I was expecting sex with a prostitute to be different than with anybody else, but it wasn't.

In fact it was pretty great.

I was a customer to Oh, of course, but for some reason there seemed to be real tenderness there. As much tenderness as money can buy, you may scoff, but it was real tenderness nonetheless.

As I said, she could speak no English, so it wasn't like I was going to get to know her too well, beyond the obvious Biblical sense. When she was there at the bar, she was always glad to see me. I often gave her money just for sitting and drinking with me. I had sex with her I think about four times in 1995. She was meticulous about hygiene and protection, but passionate and . . . well, the word tender pops up again. It was fun.

The months wore on, and she seemed to be around less and less. She reappeared after a lengthy absence with brand new braces on her teeth. As Christmas approached, she always seemed very unhappy when I saw her. My Thai never advanced well enough to find out exactly why.

I saw her the week before I left for Korea in 1996. She wanted me to pay her bar fine so she could go home. I asked her if she would go to the hotel with me. "Next time," she said.

"No next time," I said, and explained I was leaving. She hugged me sadly and said she had to go.

So that was that.

Or so I thought.

Cut to 1999. The boys didn't go to the go-go bars much anymore, but we made a trip down there for old times sake. I was warned to stay out of the Club Hollywood, though, which had become a bar full of transsexuals.

Nonetheless, I stuck my head in there and had a drink for old time's sake. It hadn't changed too much, but there were indeed quite a few transsexuals around.

I had one beer and was one my way out when a hand fell on my shoulder.

"Don't I know you?"

I turned around and saw a beautiful girl. He hair was dyed reddish purple now, and she had a tattoo of a flaming heart on the small of her back, and it took me a minute to register who it was.

Beautiful Oh. Teeth now straight and suddenly able to speak English.

Whoa.

We eagerly sat down and had a few beers (that was a new habit too -- she hadn't drunk before) and finally I was able to hear the story of who she was. We talked for about two hours.

Her story was sad, of course. Her mother was an alcoholic, divorced from her father, and the mother's boyfriend was always trying to have sex with her. Mother wouldn't stop him so she moved to Bangkok to live with a grandmother. She got a job as a waitress in a cafe near Nana Plaza.

A lot of the bar girls went to this cafe to eat before and after work, and Oh eventually became friends with one of them. The friend told her what good money she could make working at the Club Hollywood, and Oh eventually did it.

The money piled up. She said in an average month she made about $1000 -$1500. (My salary at the time was about $800 a month, and the average Thai waitress of cleaner made about $100 - $150) She had a lot of men who gave her money and gifts just for sleeping in the same bed and holding them. Quite a lot of men either didn't want sex or couldn't get hardons.

Around Christmas of 1995, Oh's friend had been critically injured in a motorbike taxi accident. Before she died, she asked Oh to promise that she'd finish high school and try to get a real job.

Oh had done so. (And obviously gone to a high school with a good English teacher.)

Alas, however, the economic bubble had burst in 1997 and Oh been able to find no job that offered her even half the money she could make having sex with four or five men a month at Nana Plaza.

(This is one reason it's absolutely retarded to boycott legitimate Thai industry.)

I asked her about her social life. She said she'd had a Thai boyfriend for a while, but he'd hit her once so she left him. "It was only once, but if a boy does it once he'll do it again," she said. She'd recently tried to make up with her mother and moved her down to Bangkok and rented a house for them, along with a younger cousin. She had a lot of expenses now.

Oh suggested we go to the short-time hotel that night. I told her I only had about $8 left and I needed some money to get a taxi home.

She shook her head. "You Americans are always so worried about money."

She gave me a freebie.

I wish I could say we had beautiful earth shaking sessions of love-making, but frankly I was too drunk. Nonetheless we had a very pleasant hour on the sheets there, and then took a hot shower together.

I saw her a few more times before I left Bangkok for my next job, but that was the last time I had sex with her. The night before I left I gave her a gift of 1000 bhat. (About $35 at that time.)

I wish I could say we'd kept in touch, but it would have been nearly impossible -- this was before email and text messages were common.

I hope she's well. I hope she met a nice guy to marry who gave her a comfortable life. She was beautiful and charming and intelligent, and I don't think she was stuck in that world forever.

So yeah, having sex for money is wrong. But I think most people have done it for worse reasons. Boredom, drunkenness, desire to make someone jealous, etc.

And I think of, for example, the cleaning lady at the school. She made $150 a month, worked six days a week ten hours a day and her duties included taking coffee to the owner of the school, at which times she was expected to prostrate herself almost to the floor. She was married to a drunken tuk-tuk driver, who spent all his money on amphetimines and -- on hookers! And these hookers weren't the bar girls of Nana Plaza and Patpong -- these were the places where girls were chained to the bed and forced to service twenty men a day. Run by Thais FOR Thais. It's pretty doubtful he used condoms.

So which woman was getting the short end of the stick here, the gainfully employed married one or the whore?

Another name added to my list of long-lost friends who I wish well:

Beautiful Oh.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Conversation With A Thai Secretary











(These cartoons were originally posted on the website in 2003 and 2004)

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I have such little interest in languages, or polite communication in general, that it's in fact quite remarkable that I've made my living as an English teacher for pretty much all of my adult life.

One aspect of international communication that I do enjoy is learning enough to make stupid jokes, or saying surreal and bizarre things. One of the first questions that I mastered in Russian was "Which do you prefer, bears or wolves?"  Inevitably, girls though this was some kind of psychological test and actually thought hard about their answers.

Basically I need to find somebody goofy to practice the local language with. It's harder than it sounds -- you have to find somebody who doesn't mind whatever stupidass moronic thing you say, and is willing to reciprocate in same.

Good old Miss Ba, back in the 90's, was one of the many blue-coated women who were paid to sit around the front desk of the school in Thailand I worked at -- their ostensible job was to sign students up for classes and deal with various paperwork, but in reality they mostly fulfilled the function of having a certain number of Thais employed for every legally-employed teacher. (Not that there were too many of those.)

They mostly didn't do anything other than eat KFC and giggle; occasionally the owner would come by and make them do some sort of pointless busy-work -- for example, Miss Ba once had to write the word "disc" 500 times, after mis-spelling it on an inventory form.

They were all girls from villages, as I recall, and all lived way out of Bangkok -- they got bussed in enmasse in a mini-van. If I recall correctly Miss Ba said she spent more than 2 hours a day going to work, and more than 2 hours going home. They lived like 10 to an aparmtent, I think -- I imagine them piled up at night like kittens.

Sadly, Miss Ba got fired shortly after I finally left that place, in 1999 -- apaprently for getting a bit too familiar with the teachers, they transferred her to another branch. Just as well that I left -- it would have been like STAR WARS without R2D2.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Teacher Go Porice Station: My First Job

I know, I know -- I said it would only be a week of re-runs about Thailand. But the last entry was 70 percent new material, and in honor of the current visa mess in Russia and all the strict laws that now exist in Asia for working visas, here's a look at old-school visa problems.

Bangkok, Thailand : May, 1995

It was my day off, but I was going in at 6:00 in the evening to make up a class for another teacher who’d been delayed while going to Malaysia to get another tourist visa. This was about three weeks after I’d started.

Working had turned out to be not nearly as bad as I expected. The staff, about 6 guys from England, and a South African , were generally a nice enough bunch, united in their love of Thai woman (or Thai men, in one case) and in alcohol. I was the youngest at 25.

However, the manager was a bit of an asshole – he hated Thailand and he hated Thai people, but he’d married a Thai woman and had a daughter. He sat around playing “Minesweeper” all day while only doing a class himself if it was absolutely unavoidable. He dealt with the secretaries by screaming at them – he spoke no Thai -- and he constantly sent angry memos to the owner about their incompetence. His experience had been as an engineer; he was not blessed with people skills. He dealt with his students in a similar way – he refused to let anyone into the class after ten minutes. He was crabby and sarcastic with the teachers – I was the only one inexperienced enough to be intimidated by him though. A natural choice for manager. His days were numbered, of course.

My classes seemed harmless enough at the outset. I just went through the book with them, occasionally drawing some cartoons on the board to illustrate something or playing the only English game I knew in those days: hangman. They smiled a lot so I assumed everything was just fine. In fact I kind of liked it, despite the fact I had no idea what I was doing. The students certainly didn’t seem to care. They smiled no matter what you did. The only complaints that ever got back to us were that the students expected you to talk more and “be funny”.

The schedule was somewhat unpleasant. I worked weekends – a solid block from 9:00am to 4:00pm, with a one-hour lunch break. I had one day off – Thursday. During the week, I worked from 10:30am to 12:30pm, and then again from 6:00 pm to 8:00pm. This left five hours to kill – fortunately the school was located in a large shopping mall, which meant your shopping never need suffer.

The teachers filled those five hours in many ways. First they tried playing cards, but the owner came down on that hard on one of his infrequent visits. It didn’t look professional. Then we tried playing on the computers (the school also had computer classes.) That was nixed too. Not professional. We then tried going into an empty classroom and watching videos on the school’s one TV/VCR. It worked well enough until the owner found out about it and took the TV away, some months later.

He didn’t mind if we slept somewhere though. That was normal in Thailand. Any Thai office around noon would see half the staff asleep. I took wonderful afternoon naps in the well-insulated sound lab – I’ve never slept so well before or since.

Things were different back in 1995 in many ways. Despite having decent classrooms with whiteboards, there was only one cassette player on the premises. It was jealously fought over. We were expected to purchase our own white-board markers. Almost no one had a work permit – everyone just went to Malaysia every three months for a new tourist visa. Still the salary – 20,000 bhat, which at that time was $800—though we complained about it a lot then, seems incredibly generous by today’s standards.

One guy had taken an EFL course, and another was a former school teacher, but the rest had no training and no university degrees. I never saw anyone preparing for a lesson, and I certainly never did. There was no photocopier and nothing in the way of “resources.” We didn’t miss them because we never knew they were an option. We were even expected to buy our own copies of the books we used. There were some teachers’ books, but not enough to go around. Remember, this was the largest chain language school in Bangkok, at that time.

Of course we had to wear a shirt and tie every day. No one minded much except one former paratrooper from Liverpool. “I ain’t wearin no rag around my neck!” They needed teachers desperately though. We couldn’t fill all the clasess. Any white person that could stand upright could get a job there. And many did that couldn’t stand upright for very long.

So I remember it was raining really hard – like always during the end of April in Thailand -- and I walked into the chilled consumer comforts of the mall, my tattered umbrella poking out of the filthy old army surplus bag I carried my odds and ends in.

I went upstairs to the school and found it completely deserted.

Strange. The Flying Dutchman English School.

I went down to the office on a lower floor of the mall where the school had a desk full of secretaries to sign up new students. None of the secretaries spoke much English, and I certainly spoke no Thai, but I inquired about what had happened.

“Teacher go porice station.”

Ah. The police station. I asked for more details – no one could express them.

I thought about it. There had been an incident with the paratrooper a few days before – we’d all been forced to go to some gala benefit that the school was sponsoring, at a huge glitzy disco. Loads of Thai pop singers, and we’d swiped a bottle of Johnny Walker from the V.I.P area. It hadn’t turned out so badly – we’d gone to some go-go bars afterwards. Good innocent debauchery.

The paratrooper hadn’t been invited because he refused to dress up. Yet his wife had gone. He arrived at school the next day in a jealous rage that another teacher might have fucked his wife. He threatened another teacher. I’d been in class when I heard the screaming start. I walked outside as the manger proved to be effective in at least that situation, escorting the paratrooper out of the building and demanding that he not return.

In the staffroom, the threatened teacher was smoking a cigarette and nursing his hangover. “Cheers. Why would he think anyone would want to fuck that ugly cow? She looks like a kratoey.” A transvestite. In truth she wasn’t nearly as pretty as most transvestites.

Now of course my first thought was that the paratrooper had come back and started a fight. He was well known for dipping into unbelievably powerful “diet pills” that were available at any pharmacy without a prescription. Maybe he’d killed somebody. He was also know to frequent the little stands outside the mall that sold fried rice, chicken, fruit, brass knuckles, butterfly knives and air pistols.

Worriedly I returned to my guest house.

The next day I got the full story. Everyone was laughing about it.

The entire school had been arrested for not having work permits. Even the two who did have work permits.

“I was doing my class and I saw this bloke outside with a video camera. Of course I waved to him. I thought he was from the news,” one teacher told me. But alas the man was from immigration, and he had some friends with him. The teachers had spent about six or seven hours detained at the immigration office.

Later in the day two sleazy bastards from the head office came over and explained what had happened. They were both English guys with educated accents that made me think of bad guys from American action films.

They told us that though the school paid off immigration regularly, the commander had gone on holiday. One of his lieutenants had decided to make some extra money by shaking down the school. It had all been sorted out, of course. According to them.

I drew on the board a cartoon of a guy with a tie in a jail cell and the caption “WANTED: TEACHERS OF ENGLISH”. Another teacher offered a list of the conjugation of the passive form of “arrest”: I was arrested, we were arrested. . .

The big fat sleazy guy assured us that it was no problem. “Corruption and connections are so commonplace in Thailand that they are a perfectly normal, expected part of doing business.” Having no work permits should not be considered a problem, they explained, but it might be best if we tried to get some.

To that end, they told us, we should start working on making fake university diplomas. They offered some suggestions as to how to do so. I was the only one who actually had one in a related field, so it saw a lot of action in photocopy machines that month.

I heard later the big fat guy from head office liked to have muscular young men crap on him. Or so one of his friends told me.

The other one was well known to like pre-teen boys.

Let’s hope he’s died horribly, hmm?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vomit (Ode to My Mentor)


(You can click on that to englarge it and make it a little easier to read.)

If I had a mentor in the English teaching biz, it would have to have been English Teacher T. That's him there, wearing the blue shirt and tie. (I drew that cartoon back in 2003; an early experiment with the Paintbrush program. The event, which happened back in 1995, was, if anything, even more disgusting than it looks there, because he'd just eaten a big meal of pork and sticky rice when he puked, and the dogs were those typical homeless Bangkok soi-dogs of the time, who were covered with sores and mange.)

It wasn't like he taught me anything about how to teach -- I'm sure he could have, probably, be he never really tried, beyond a few offhand conversations about teaching over drinks.

He was my role model in the world of degeneracy, however.

He was the embodiment of what I loved about English teaching -- the combination of intelligence, experience, complete alienation and borderline depravity that typified a lot of English teachers back then. (And occasionally you still meet them, but not so much as 10 years ago.)

He was an interesting bundle of contradictions -- from London, he was a former skinhead and biker as well as a former chemist for a major petroleum company. He was 32 when I started in Bangkok in 1995, at age 25. He was mostly a pleasant looking fellow when he had his shirt and tie on, a bit plump with a big friendly smile -- however, his teeth were black with nicotine and when he wore a t-shirt his arms were slathered with tattoos.

(He had "NO FUTURE" on his bicep -- I asked him if that was from his punk days but he said, "No, I got that the day I decided to become an English teacher." I assumed he was joking at the time.)

He'd gotten into English teaching the usual way -- he's started backpacking, I think after a divorce, and rolled into Thailand and didn't feel like going home. I forget how long he'd been in Thailand -- seems like it had been 6 or 7 years, at that time.

He held court every evening in the cheap garage bars outside the mall we worked at -- he partied fearlessly with the tough Isaan taxi drivers. When we went to Nana Plaza, his exploits were legendary. He once performed oral sex on one of the strippers onstage -- and not just any stripper, it was one of the chicks that shot bananas out of their vagina. He was known for trying to screw the hugely overweight Mama-Sans that ran the bars there.

I have a very clear memory of him draped leeringly around a Mama-San so fat that he could barely get his arms around her, the rest of us trying to laugh at him with our little brown honeydripped girls in our lap -- and him looking at us with complete placidity and satisfaction, and saying with the utmost assurance -- "You boys have no idea what you're missing."

But, and here's the thing -- he wasn't just some degenerate. He was smart as hell and could converse knowledgeably on a wide variety of topics, and I learned a lot about the verbal Kung-Fu of English teacher bar-table conversations from him.

He occasionally got drunk and descended into lunacy after several day drinking binges -- when he put on his Indonesian sarong and parrot earrings, you knew he had a load on and needed to be avoided.

And he was in his way, an honorable guy. He was as good as his word.

I offer this sterling example: one of the teachers met a girl in the garage bar near the school, and he wanted to take her home. He'd just been paid, however -- 20,000 Thai bhat, equal to about $800 -- so he decided to leave the money with English Teacher T for safekeeping, so the girl wouldn't steal it. (This was admittedly perhaps not the best plan in the world.)

English Teacher T ended up drunkenly losing the money somehow. Like all English teachers in Bangkok, he lived pretty much month to month and had no savings.

BUT: he lived on Ramen noodles and rice for two months, and paid the teacher back within 60 days.

How many of you could do THAT?

I've lost touch with him -- he's not the kind of guy who's going to turn up on facebook -- but he'd become DOS of that branch when I went back in 1999, and I heard he'd gotten married to one of the secretaries from the school in 2000. He might be having a Singha or a Chang beer at a cheap garage bar at this moment, wearing his Indonesian sarong and his parrot earrings.

They truly don't make 'em like that anymore.

(You can click on this -- one of the first cartoons I ever drew for this website back in 2002 -- to make it bigger and easy to read. This conversation actually happened when I returned to Thailand in 1999, as I recall.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Excrement

This happened when I was working in Phuket, Thailand in 1999, mostly teaching children. Getting up every day to teach little kids, some as young as two or three -- well, that will take the sheen off of life in the tropics, let me tell you.







In fact though I mostly don't mind teaching little kids, though of course I think it is borderline inappropriate to have scraggly smelly middle-aged guys doing it. Once you've mastered a class of 20 12-year-olds, however, teaching adults is a piece of fucking cake.

And actually it was a a little girl, of about 10 or 11, who asked me the question about excrement -- a word she found in her electronic talking dictionary.

I ended up losing that job in Phuket, at the end of 1999, when I accidentally sprained a kid's arm when I was teaching a class of 20 3-year-olds at a kindergarten. That, as they say, will have to be another story.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Most Fucked Up Teacher I've Ever Met

. . . and perhaps the funniest story from the old website? You be the judge. Certainly it's one of my favorites, and is an excellent thumbnail sketch of ESL in the mid-90's in Thailand. (Albeit perhaps a bit long to be a thumbnail.)

This premiered on the old Angelfire website in July 2003, and there's a thread on ESLcafe inspired by it.



Bangkok, Thailand – 1995

I suppose being fucked-up is a pretty hard thing to quantify, really. Which qualities should be foremost in our scale? Alcoholism, sexual deviancy and anti-social behavior? Or the more subtle qualities like poor motivation and rationality, abysmal social skills, and bad hygiene?

In any event I can safely say I’ve met some really fucked-up people teaching English over the last fifteen years. From the colorfully eccentric to the pathologically deranged to the heart-rendingly pathetic, I’ve seen plenty of ‘em.

If you were to ask me who the most fucked-up person I’ve ever met was, I would probably tell you about English Teacher D.

I didn’t know him too well, I should say. He arrived in Bangkok a few months after I did, in the summer of 1995. He was ugly. Short, middle-aged, with a bad mustache and a stupid little sprig of a ponytail. He had a pock-marked complexion and I seem to recall he showed up for the job interview wearing a plaid sportscoat.

He knew how to bullshit though – he had an impressive resume. I glanced at it in the staff room. His experience was in car and insurance sales and a few other such endeavors. I don’t really know how he ended up in Bangkok, I never asked him. Nobody usually had a clear reason for being there anyway, beyond the obvious ones.

Like any other white person that could walk in and demonstrate the ability to produce sounds through their mouth (no matter how incomprehensibly) he was hired.

I can’t say as I thought he was any worse than anybody else around, at first. Another middle-aged, heavy-drinking whore-monger. He was amiable enough, had a reasonable sense of humor. He was not unkind. I can’t say that I ever disliked him at any point.

But boy was he fucked up.

I didn’t see his first overt demonstration of fucked-upness. I was elsewhere, but some teachers who had been drinking with him in the tiny cafe under their apartment block said after a few drinks he began raving about his Vietnam experiences. He apparently became quite excited about it and showed the scars on his forearm he claimed were shrapnel scars, which had come through the window of his fighter plane. One teacher pooh-poohed it and said they looked more like cigarette burns of the self-inflicted variety.

I make no judgement either way. As I said, I wasn’t there, and it didn’t occur to me at the time to pry deeply into his business. I had my own worries.

Drunken ranting was pretty much par for the course, however, and nobody thought too much about it. We all had our own various emotional drunken outbursts of one variety or the other.

Then, some weeks later, English Teacher D got a toothache. He went to the pharmacy to get some painkillers and discovered it was quite cheap and legal to buy codeine.

He did so, and reactivated a longstanding drug addiction.

English Teacher D began draining the nearby pharmacies of codeine. It was not always easy to find pure codeine capsules, however – usually they were CoTylenol type capsules, that were 3/4 aspirin and 1/4 codeine.

English Teacher D began taking up to 50 of these a day. He was alledgedly up to 70 or 80 a day at one point.

In addition to the mental impairment, this of course caused a considerable amount of gastric distress. English Teacher D would often step into the toilet between classes to vomit up blood.

Again, this was only considered mildly abnormal at our particular branch. It raised a few eyebrows, that’s all. The strict American manager had been replaced by a useless flunky from the head office, a Swedish-Egyptian whose third language was English. His main activity was trying to borrow as much money as possible from both students and teachers. He claimed to have been hospitalized with kidney stones and whined and begged until you slipped him something. He then disappeared suddenly one day, leaving hundreds of dollars of debts behind him. No one ever quite knew what his particular vice was.

With this as a backdrop, a little blood-vomiting and slurred speech by English Teacher D didn’t impress anybody.

English Teacher D somehow got involved with a tall and rather beautiful transvestite. She was apparently a good-hearted and mothering person, and she seemed to try to take care of him, but he became progressively more incoherent. One teacher told me that English Teacher D said that he liked the transvestite because she reminded him of his gay brother who had died of AIDS.

I can’t remember how he stopped working – I think there was a conflict regarding late pay and he walked out. I don’t think he was fired. He continued living in his flat near the other teachers, however, and was a regular fixture at the shabby little garage bars we frequented, albeit an totally incoherent one. He apparently came from a rather well-off family, and he began asking his mother to send him money.

He caused some kind of scene at the flat he lived in one night that aroused the other teachers’ dislike. They lived in not-entirely-easy relations with the Thais in that building, and English Teacher D was causing a lot of trouble. He shit the bed, I believe it was, causing the transvestite to go into hysterics. And believe me, transvestite hysterics are not to be taken lightly.

One teacher said English Teacher D had come to the door one night staggering and slurring and said, “Have you got a knife? The thinner and sharper the better.” Figuring D intended to kill himself or someone else, the teacher declined, but found out later D had just locked himself out and wanted to jimmy the lock. He woke up most of his neighbors asking for a knife.

I should think it was a bit unnerving, indeed, having this strange wasted little troll of a man show up at your door asking for a sharp knife.

I don’t remember if he got kicked out of the flat, or if he just left it, but he went to live with his transvestite girlfriend somewhere. Apparently he’d started screaming obscenities at his mother over the telephone and gotten his money cut off. We didn’t see much of him after that. His drug problems got worse and worse, and the transvestite kicked him out, too.

He managed to get hired at another branch of the large chain we worked for, on the other side of the city, but apparently was reduced to living under a bridge at one point. There were plenty of homeless villages under bridges in Bangkok then – I suppose there still are. They often looked kind of festive, with music, cooking and even TV, but apparently white men were only marginally welcomed there.

Now here's the really fucked up part.

I can’t make any claims for the truth of this story, myself.

I didn’t see it. I was told by a person who spoke to the manager of the branch English Teacher D worked at that it was true, however. So it may well be. When I asked English Teacher D himself about it, he merely said he had been robbed, without adding any details.

English Teacher D apparently got a hold of a good amount of codeine and settled down to sleep in whatever miserable nest he’d built for himself under the bridge. After he fell into a stupor, he was robbed or each and every possession that he’d managed to retain, including his clothing. When he came to, naked, still incoherent but knowing he needed help, he wrapped a cardboard box around himself and staggered up to the school, during working hours, to get help.

A few emergency calls home got some money wired to English Teacher D to get a plane ticket home – fortunately his passport had been at the school.

He apparently blew most of the money on codeine, and managed to convince the transvestite to let him stay with her.

The last time I saw him, he was staggering up to our branch of the school. He was clothed in new cheap street market clothes -- polyester trousers and a fake Polo shirt -- but slurring his words like a stroke victim. English Teacher D confirmed that he had been robbed and that he was going back to America for a while. He needed to borrow about a hundred bucks more for the plane ticket, though.

It was quickly agreed among the teachers that we could chip in and get the ticket, as long as English Teacher D agreed never to return.

Former Teacher Q had just arrived a few days previously. He was aghast. “Oh spirit of Christmas Future! Is this what must be, or only what may be?”

We’d even agreed to meet English Teacher D for a farewell drink, but while we were working until eight, he’d managed to go and get into a fight with some Thai guys or something. A Thai told us he was chased away by an angry mob. We never saw him again.

But hey, it’s a small world, huh? Maybe English Teacher D is staggering towards my school as I speak, clutching his freshly printed CELTA certificate, ready to go into the toilet and puke up blood during the communicative pairwork activities.

If you’re out there reading this, English Teacher D, godspeed, brother. I really do wish you luck.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Origin of English Teacher X

This is the first story I ever wrote about English teaching, for the Angelfire website I started in 2003:

Bangkok, Thailand, April 12, 1995.

My first job interview had been going pretty well. The manager had offered me a full time contract, 28 hours a week, 20,000 Thai bhat a month. About $800. Not bad. I agreed I’d start the next Monday.


He spoke up as I was leaving.

“And one more thing.”

“Yes?”

“Are you a fag?”

I blinked. “Uh. . . no. You uh. . have a problem with that?”

“Yeah, cause they don’t wanna work.”

“Well. . . don’t worry.” I tried to smile heartily.

The manager was a 40-ish American former military man with a walrus mustache stained with nicotine. He’d come to English teaching like many other men in Thailand – he’d married a Thai woman and been unable to find any other job.

He laughed out loud and turned to another teacher blearily smoking a cigarette nearby. “Heh, you should have seen the look on his face.” He lit another smoke for himself and turned back to the computer where he was busily playing “minesweeper.” “Heh heh. All right then. You can start next Monday, after the holiday. See you then.”

I nodded. I shifted uncomfortably on my new cheap buffalo leather shoes. “Big Buffalo” was the brand name. I was also wearing a new blue rayon tie that I’d spilled yogurt on while waiting for the bus to the school. It was located in a huge shopping mall on the outskirts of Bangkok that had a food court with animatronic birds and hippos and a waterfall. Somehow I’d envisioned working in a wooden shack.

“So uh, anyway. My experience has mostly been in, uh, private settings. So, as far as the classroom, uh, what should I . . . uh. . .” In fact I had no experience whatsoever. I’d spent the last three months living in a $2 a day beach hut on the island of Ko Samui, and the year before backpacking around Asia. I had contracted giardia in India and was 30 pounds underweight. And also something of a nervous wreck.

They’d seemed impressed by my BA in English Literature though. That was more than any of them had. The manager, I would later learn, had less than two years experience and no kind of teaching certificate to compliment his degree in engineering. He had become manager of this branch of one of Bangkok’s largest language schools because nobody else wanted to move to this remote area, on the opposite side of the city from the go-go bars on Sukhumvit and Patpong roads.

“Ah,” he waved his hand dismissively. “Just follow the book. Do stuff like your English teacher used to do in high school.”

I suppose I didn’t technically become English Teacher X until the next Monday, and it was several years before I really earned the title. But on that day I ceased to be a backpacker, anyway.

Why Bangkok? Why English teaching?

I was running out of money and I didn’t want to go home. Many people had told me that Taiwan was a gold mine for English teaching, and that I could save thousands of dollars. I had tried to get a visa at the Taiwanese consulate in Bangkok and been refused one. “You intend to work illegally, it is obvious,” said the fat angry Chinese man behind the counter in the busy office. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn a t-shirt and shorts to the interview.

Down to my last $800, I'd given a quick scan to the Bangkok Post. It had revealed a lot of ads for English teaching positions. I chose one at random and they told me to come by for an interview.

Did I ever imagine I’d do it for more than a few years?

No fucking way.

But here I am.

It was very hot, even for Bangkok, that day – over 100 degrees. The Thai holiday of Songkran, the Thai new year, was starting – every area with pedestrian traffic was full of people with water guns and buckets of water, splashing everyone in sight. It had something to do, originally, with washing away the sins, but has turned in recent years into a three-day water fight. (Complete with a lot of car accidents and eye infections from the filthy water.)

I was thoroughly soaked by the time I got back to the tiny room I was renting in a guest house near Khao-San Road. Kind of a christening, a baptism. I was born again, but I had only the faintest idea what I’d been reborn as. I felt good. I had a job. I grabbed my super-soaker, bought a Singha beer at the nearby 7-11 and headed out to the street to do battle.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Pig Incident: A Bad Moment In The Classroom

Recent followers probably don't know that not only did I rock Russia during the Party Years, I was in Thailand for that exquisite phase in 1994 - 1995 before THE BEACH was written. This week I will be re-presenting some tales of Thailand, circa mid-to-late 90's.










* * *


This kind of graphic storytelling is visually very well suited to blogging. I first made this cartoon in September, 2004, and it is based on something that happened I believe the second time I was in Thailand, in 1999, working for, of course, the biggest and worst chain school in Bangkok.

It's a damn shame I've lost my fire for self-expression and rarely want to devote too much time to making cartoons. . .