Saturday, March 27, 2010

English Teacher History X

2003 -2006 was arguably the peak of personal websites and blogs becoming very popular and spinning off into books and occasionally movies and TV shows. (A couple of notable examples include Diablo Cody and Maddox.)

So the question arises: how widely read and successful was this little website project of yours?

(this link leads to the original English Teacher X site, hosted for free in all it's gaudily colored and illegible glory, on Angelfire in 2003. That year was actually the bulk of all the writing I did, I think.)

The answer is that I have no idea how many people read it, until about 2006 or so. I was using very crude statistic tracking software before that time, and went though several changes of hosts so I'm not really sure.

So sure, in the beginning, I wanted it to be wildly popular and then of course I'd be offered a book deal and Christian Slater would approach me to buy the film rights. I started publicizing it through fraudulent "troll" exchanges on, mostly in the form of an angry professional teacher named Charles Pangolin who was expressing his outrage about the website and the things on it. This lead to some amusing posts, and Dave eventually banned me from the message board, but I'd already made my mark there.

I think the most visitors I ever got in one day was about 800, when I was linked on the now-defunct Tucker Max message board. (Tucker Max, if you don't know who he is, was an early success story in writing about debauchery on the Internet -- he made a book that sold well and a film that did not, and now seems to be laying low on the Internet in the face of a vast legion of haters.)

Another important traffic-boost occurred when I was linked on a site for high-heel fetishists (because of this picture:)

There was also a link to my blog on, a site for white supremacists, due to something I'd written about an African student I knew and his white girlfriend. This led to some lively exchanges.

I thought the big time might really be knocking when a Russian filmmaker living in Canada made a documentary about English teachers in Moscow in 2004. She wanted to use a quote from my website at the beginning -- "God watches out for drunks, little children, and English teachers." And she used it -- but apparently some Canadian TV regulation forbade her using the actual URL, and she just credited it to the "English Teacher X blog." I had just moved servers at that time, so I don't know if this led to much increase in traffic. It didn't seem to.

Was there ever any interest from publishers? Uh, I thought so once -- it turned out to be a fan pretending to be a publisher, for reasons of his own.

So that creeped me out a bit.

Then, in 2006, apparently a young guy was actually inspired to come to Vodkaberg and teach because of me. He apparently found the website by googling "English teacher russia pain death siphillis agony terror" or something like that, and tracked me down by using Google Earth and my description of the area. This kind of freaked me out, although he had already been planning to come to Russia anyway -- he was a student of Russian language -- English Teacher X just kind of pointed him in the right direction. Still, it un-nerved me, and I almost stopped blogging entirely in 2006.

He brought a friend along -- the friend set a new record for the number of muggings in the shortest period of time, and left horrified after two months. (That I actually felt good about.)

And it was all of these things, among other things, that made me wonder about whether I really wanted to be famous for this kind of thing. Watching Tucker Max's legion of rabidly hating fans poring over his personal life looking for ways to harass him called the whole idea of Internet fame into question.

Of course, I was worried that my employers might find out about it. It was an obvious Catch-22 -- if I got a book published about how English teaching sucks, I'd never be able to teach again. . . and then what was my next book supposed to be about? Unemployed X? Another Internet Pop Culture Writer X?

Anyway, I never did anything else to publicize the site after 2006. I have a few links here and there on other English teacher's blogs -- most of which blogs have now been abandoned. (You can find them yourself, if you care.) Like hobo scrawlings on the wall of deserted warehouses and empty buildings, the links linger. I'm occasionally mentioned on in the forums, and other sites related to English teaching -- but not often. This seems to have been the most recent one.

I finally installed Google Analytics about 2007, however, so at least now I know who visits. Traffic has slowly increased -- from about 30 visitors per day to somewhere between 50 and 60 now. I had 1670 visits last month from 654 visitors.

Still, I'm always surprised how many teachers I've met who have heard of this website. I never bring it up in conversation, but if I give someone my e-mail address they occasionally say something about the website.

Its estimated worth by -- $1175.30. US Dollars.

This was the last of the cartoons that I drew for the original website.

Those are definitely the cartoons of a young romantic. 32 was the new 19.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Origin of the Beginning

So people occasionally refer to the English Teacher X icon thing as a "snowman" but in fact the original idea of it was to be sort of a blank slate, a featureless being.

I used to doodle these little scary faces with X-eyes and mouths sealed shut and blobby bodies with elongated limbs all the time, on bar napkins and on pieces of scrap papers at school, but the origin of the English Teacher X "icon" was in about early 2002. I'd begun my climb to being King of Vodkaberg and was hanging out with one teacher and a few of my female students at a gay bar, though in fact it was full of bisexuals and girls trying to get away from their boyfriends or husbands.

Anyway, there were three girls I was hooking up with at that time, all very different -- one was kind of rich and snobby, another was a head-banging rocker chick bisexual, the other was a sort of nice university student type. We were talking about how it might be possible that they would all like me, and I suggested that it was because my generic American good-looks and position as a teacher of English made me kind of a blank slate, a tabula rasa upon which they could imprint their own idea of the International Dream Man.

I'd been travelling for most of the 90's, and far from becoming the fulfilled, broad-minded person that legend tells us travel creates, I found that I felt like a ghost -- seen and heard occasionally, but completely lacking in substance and permanence.

I doodled the first snowman picture on a bar napkin and scribbled "English Teacher X" under it, and liked it so much I went home and drew a bunch of cartoons which the Exile didn't want so I dumped onto the Internet. . . this was mostly before blogs, so I made my own crude and primitive website. Wow, remember websites? Too quaint.

I decided that if I was a ghost, I was going to build my own haunted house.

Most of the original website poured out of me in great violent vomitous red-and-black spurts of unedited typing and hastily-cut together cartoons, between 2003 and 2005.

(In the end I think perhaps Vodkaberg itself became my haunted house. . .)

It still lingers in cached pages on the internet, but the site itself hasn't been updated or changed in years. A lot of it is badly outdated now.

So I'm going to start recycling chunks of it and sticking it up here, starting with the cartoons. (You can't see any of the illustrations on the cached pages, it seems.) You can see the most recent versions of the site on these links.

These are the first English Teacher X cartoons. . . a tachyon transmission from the year 2002. Click on them to make them a decent size.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


I mean, nobody can get drunk and chase slatterns every night. Even in my 20's, even in environments suited to excess like Bangkok, a person just can't go out EVERY night. You end up in an early grave that way. I think there was a time in my mid-30's in Russia we were going out 3 and sometimes 4 nights a week; that took a heavy toll on everybody. (Blackouts, constant shakes, and tons of lost money being the least of it.)

So, what do I do in my free time otherwise?

Well, I like movies. I guess you could say I'm kind of a film geek. I could tell you more about zombies and Michael Meyers than you probably want to know.

When I lived in Bangkok, in the mid nineties, it was easy, because there were plenty of cheap cafes that tried to lure in customers by playing recent (and occasionally classic) movies on video. In addition, the movie theaters played movies in English fairly often, with Thai subtitles.

Korea actually has a lively cinema culture, with some great cinemas, and always played movies with subtitles. And there was the Armed Forces Korea Network, a TV channel that both played classic and recent American films and allowed me to catch up with some TV shows I liked (at that time, X-FILES, NYPD BLUE, and, uh, PARTY OF FIVE. I enjoyed watching the family of hipster doofus orphans suffer, so sue me.)

Arriving in Russia in 2000, I found my options severely curtailed. They played plenty of American films, both in the cinemas and on TV, but they were ALL dubbed badly into Russian, usually by one voice reciting everything said by men, women and children. You could kind of hear the English, though, so I suffered through it.

In 2003 I bought my first DVD player, and the price of pirated DVDs fell from $20 to $10 to $5 to about $1 - $3 by 2005. English was usually an option on most DVD's menu, and many was the Saturday or Sunday afternoon we spent drinking beer and wandering around the "book market," a parking lot full of kiosks that sold school books, old Soviet stuff, and pirated DVDs and software. Search long enough, and you could find anything -- I was always amazed at the stuff that would turn up, oddities from my childhood like TRON and CONVOY.

Alas, it closed in 2007, replaced by a huge shopping mall with a electronics and CD shop full of soulless pop music and flashing TV screen.

But that was about the time I got broadband internet and discovered that the Internet itself is kind of like the book market. . . seek and ye shall find.

Sad that the social element of going out and walking around is removed from the equation; but no matter. I filled up one 500 GB hard drive with downloaded movies, TV shows, audio books, e-books and comic books before I arrived; I've been filling up others as quickly as the poor connection here allows. My connection is not quick enough to watch movies streamed online, and things like Hulu and Netflix are blocked here, anyway. I fear, like the good old disc market in Samara, the days of downloading may be drawing to an end.

But I'll be ready, baby. I'll have everything I need already, snatched right out of the Matrix.

Sometimes I just sit and stare at all the stuff downloading; the numbers click-clocking away, the percentage moving towards 100, cheering when the speed goes up as if it were a favored stock or a good race-hose. . .

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You Go, Girl!

At the risk of becoming a link-whore and not writing about my scintillating experiences and thoughts, this is a notable subject that I don't know how I managed to miss --


She experienced what I, and most people who worked for a school in Russia, experienced -- lack of proper visa support, being told you suddenly have no job and have to leave the country, and failure to pay for medical bills.


I think we ought to all get together and try to prosecute some of the Russian McLanguage Schools under new international anti-human-trafficking ordnances.

One interesting point, as I found out from my own experience, is that your employers in Russia undoubtedly did not really employ you legally; ergo they almost surely do no have the ability to tell you to leave the country suddenly. (In this woman's case however, she lost her passport, so she did not have the advantage.)

Another thing to note is that your embassy really won't be able to help you get home in a hurry unless you're able to prove that you and everyone you know is destitute.

Most likely, the State Department sensibly feels that anyone who is dumb enough to go work as an English teacher in a country like Russia, despite all warnings to the contrary, probably deserve everything that happens to them, and more.

There used to be a blanket warning against teaching English overseas on the State Department website; I can no longer find it but there is a lot of information about the pitfalls and dangers of teaching abroad there.

I tell you, I'm always fascinated by people who AREN'T drinking and whoring degenerates who start teaching English for a McLanguage School. . . for God's sake, why? Who with any sense would enter a profession with terrible salary, terrible benefits, terrible hours, minimal possibilities of advancement, and no pension plan AND do it working for a foreign employer where you have very little legal protection? It's for fuck-ups, the chronically lazy, degenerates, the insane, and people with no qualifications -- end of sentence.

If you're not a drinking whoring degenerate, there are plenty of charity organizations and international companies to work for. An engineer working in Russia makes 10 to 20 times the money most English teachers do, and an English teacher working for (for example) the American Fellowship Abroad program has both protection from the vagaries of greedy foreign employers and a much better salary. Try the Peace Corps or VSO if you want to "make a difference and have an authentic cultural experience" and all that hippie crap.

So stay in school, kids!! This isn't the 90's anymore. . . it's not even the early 2000s anymore. . .

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

But Seriously, Folks. . .

The opening line is important in teaching, as with many of the performance arts.

My sure-fire knock-em-dead opening line here in Saudi Arabia:

"Hello, I'm (real name), your teacher. I'm American, but I also don't like George Bush."

Political! BaDUMPdum. Wait'll I give 'em the old soft shoe. . .