Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Fun With My Privates

(Another re-post from 2004. Most of you weren't even born then, I'm sure.)

Admit it. You want to hear more about my privates.

In Prague I taught quite a few individual classes -- although a lot of them actually featured two people -- and these were usually young hardworking professional women, who if not exactly thrilling were not particularly agonizing.

Of course after a few years of it all, you develop your techniques. You learn some methodical little tricks to force conversation out of the recalcitrant ones, and the patience to put up with the chatty ones. I no longer dreaded my privates.

I came to Russia and did a few privates here and there. No big whup.

One was the mistress of a fat businessman who even after eight months of English lessons could barely string together a sentence like "It is a pen" or count higher than 100. She was not unpleasant, though she was stupid.

Sometimes she'd bring four Miller Genuine Draft beers to class and we'd drink them while we studied. (It was the last class of the day so I felt no professional compunction about it.) In the warm months we'd sit outside on a bench, patiently practicing the alphabet and basic vocabulary and grammar again and again.

Hey, it beats loading bricks.

They weren't all that good though. Once I had a fat female judge who was horrified that there were pictures of black people in the text book and wanted to talk about how much she hated black people.

"And how many black people have you actually met?" I asked in Russian. She never had another lesson after that.

Then I got this rich guy. He was from one of the ethnic regions to the south, or maybe it's a separate country now, one of those places with a lot of K's and Z's and U's and A's that end in "-stan."

He looked and dressed like a guy you'd make fun of who owned a laundromat, but he was quite rich, owned fish canneries and the usual assortment of other businesses.

He wanted to pal around with me to improve his English -- he invited me and another teacher out for nice dinners a couple of times, took us to his sauna at his country house, all that sort of stuff.

I had a Russian female friend who was pretty experienced with going out with rich guys, and after meeting the guy, she warned me not to hang out with him much.

"He's dangerous," she said.

"You're just saying that because he's ethnic," I said. "Anyway, what's the danger, is somebody going to assassinate us in his sauna?" I laughed.

She looked at me.

"Yeah, that's exactly what somebody might do." She explained that the sauna was a very popular place for gangland rubouts. The target was naked and had nowhere to run or hide.

Crap, and I was worried enough about him looking at my penis.

Anyway, it never amounted to anything. He invited me and another teacher to take an all-expenses paid trip to Lake Baikal during out May holidays, but then I guess couldn't for some reason or the other and was then too embarrassed about it to ever see either of us anywhere again.

Or hell, maybe he got killed or deported or something, how the hell should I know.

Then you get some fucking impossible task, like I did a couple of years ago -- I had to teach this 13 year old kid to prepare, within three months, for the FCE examination.

The FCE (or First Certificate in English) examination, in case you don't know, is an essentially meaningless but impressive looking test of English language abilities, administered by representatives of the testing syndicate of Cambridge University.

I didn't like the looks of the kid -- he'd been to England for a couple of months, but he was a snotty little brat who lived for Rammstein and violent computer games.

I mean that literally when I say he was snotty nosed, incidentally. He often had a runny nose.

His parents attempted to motivate him for the exam by promising to buy him a new computer, but even that didn't do the trick. Not surprising perhaps, since they wouldn't let him play any of the games he liked (though he'd learned a lot of cool English words like "sucking chest wound" and "pimp" and "rubout" from Grand Theft Auto III.

His parents were typical new Russian -- rich, gaudy, energetic, vigorous, and stupid as a couple of houseplants. They'd heard about the exam, and decided that their son needed it because they wanted him to go to university in England. I attempted to explain several times that the test was not valid for university entrance, and even had someone at the British Council confirm that the test was not recommended for people under the age of 16.

No dice.

They insisted; their little brat needed it. Within three months.

The real reason eventually leaked out -- they had a friend whose son had passed the test at age 14. They wanted to keep up with the Ivanovs. I had to go to their luxurious apartment in the morning twice a week to teach the little shit.

Man, I tried. I tried to get him to read by giving him shit off the Internet about computer games, I tried to involve him with grammar in games of all different sorts, I used computer game cut-scenes for listening activities -- nothing worked. He sullenly refused to do any homework, while somehow convincing his parents I simply never assigned any.

The mother, who looked to be whacked out on tranquilizers or perhaps healthy shots of cognac in her morning tea, walked around blissfully unaware with one of her tits hanging out of her dressing gown, and forced me to eat the healthy breakfast of cake she inevitably fed the little bastard.

The father attempted to cajole me into going ice diving with him. He would often return from morning trips with big bags of slimy back fish, and offer to give me some. I'd graciously decline.

And let me remind you this was at 9:00 in the morning. The main reason I've stayed where I am so long is that I don't have to get up early anymore.

Finally we got to the end of the 80 hours or so we'd paid for.

A few months later the boss called me on the carpet.

They told me that the mother and father of the little snotnose had called and screamed because the little bastard had failed the test. And what's more they'd been to America on a holiday and he had claimed not to understand anything anybody said.

(I'm sure he was lying. I envision this scenario. -- "Son, go over there to the car rental desk and speak to the man for us. You need to practice your English."

"But I don't understand anything!" he insists, continuing to search in his computer gaming magazine for the secret code to use in Grand Theft Auto 3 which will allow full frontal nudity.)

There were a couple of other memorable ones. I had a fifteen-year-old demonologist and heavy metal fan who I talked about horror films and such with for 90 minutes once a week, often while playing computer games. We'd discuss the vocabulary of things on the screen while we played DOOM 3.

"What's that thing on the right behind the zombie?" he's ask.

"I think it's a turbine," I'd reply.

Then of course there was my favorite rich guy. He was a colorful media mogul and bag man, who quite openly admitted making his fortune working as a go-between between local mobsters and politicians.

He was colorful in the literal as well as the figurative sense -- he never wore grey or blue when he could be wearing pink, yellow, or green.

He told me lots of interesting stories about who was bribing who and who was behind various assassinations around town. It occasionally worried me. I wondered if his enemies had his office bugged or staked out or something.

We went to dinner a few times, had a few interesting nights at a local strip club, and went water-skiing a few times. We even discovered we'd had sex with the same model, a notorious social climber and gold-digger.

Eventually he suddenly changed teachers. I didn't take it personally -- I'd known for a while that rich guys don't have friends, they have partners and employees. And a lot of enemies.

Anyway, those are the exceptions. The rule is some bored and boring office employee, exhausted and uninterested. It always gets back to that, unfortunately.

"What did you do this weekend?"


"And after work?"

"Watched TV."

"What did you watch?"

". . . I don't really remember, I was too tired."

My privates just aren't the laugh they used to be.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

My Privates

Here you go -- another birthday present -- a cartoon and an old article from the first website. Who loves ya, baby? These are originally from 2004.

"Private students," as English Teacher R pointed out the other day, would actually be defined as students that you are teaching on your own, outside of your normal work arrangement, whereas students you're teaching one-on-one as part of your normal working arrangement might be more accurately called "individual students."

Whatfuckingever, I'll be using the two terms more or less interchangeably.

There are a lot of reasons teachers hate doing one-on-one lessons through their schools -- not least because the student is probably paying three or four times what they'd pay for a normal class, but the teacher is getting paid exactly the same as he always does despite having to work a lot harder.

But mainly it gets down to the tedium factor. A small minority of individual students will have much of anything to say, the rest will just smile uncomfortably at you while you desperately try to jump-start a conversation or run monotonously through the book with them, leaving out all the games and songs and other stuff that makes class halfway interesting.

Fun With My Privates in Bangkok and Korea

We had loads of them in Bangkok in my first job; they gave our individual lessons away at bargain prices outside of the 10:00am to 12:00pm and 6:00pm to 8:00pm peak hours. They were generally unhappy teenagers being forced to study by their parents, sitting with a terrified grin the whole time and answering virtually every question with a nod of the head and a broad smile.

And in a one-on-one class, baby, there's NO WAY OUT. You can't take a break, most likely, and students will probably bitch to the management about too many songs or too much time spent reading. It's ALL YOU, stuck in a small room with somebody you've got nothing at all in common with on any level beyond the cellular.

I can remember them all quite clearly.

There was the middle-aged guy who worked at the TV station, whose wife had just died, who had never studied English and answered every question with a sober nod of the head and a "Hmmmm." There was the little fat girl who looked like she was about to cry she was so frightened. There was the little gay fashion designer named Aye with the punk hairdo who smiled and made cow eyes at me during the whole lesson. (The secretary loved to tell me -- "Piwate student Aye like man, like X! Like man!" and then burst into hysterical giggles.)

Then there was the fat kid. He was pretty typical.

We had a lot of fat kids in Bangkok. Obviously they were rich kids, and in the grand Thai tradition were spoiled rotten and given each and every thing they wanted -- and that usually included a lot of fast food. Our school was in a shopping mall -- in the summer, students were dropped off in the morning, where they ate a big fast food meal, went to some classes at our school in the morning, after which they had a big fast food lunch, and then spent the afternoon shopping, at the cinema, at the waterpark, or at the videogame arcade -- after which they had a big fast food meal.

We had 'em all in our mall -- McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut. Even my personal favorite, Popeye's Cajun Fried Chicken.

The fat kid was about 13 or 14, but probably weighed close to 200 pounds. None of it was muscle. He had a bodyguard, a strange-looking guy with an Elvis haircut who sat by the entrance while the fat kid studied.

The fat kid had asthma. His breath rattled disgustingly in his lungs. He made weird wheezing noises constantly. He was a pack-a-day smoker already, and was being forced to study by his parents, as he would soon be shipped off to Australia to learn English the hard way.

I sat in a small enclosed room with him. The stench of McDonald's lard coming out of his pores was overpowering. I had him read the book and then asked him if he understood. "Understand," he would say. "So what's the difference between the present perfect and the past simple?" I'd ask. He'd nod his head. "Understand."

"So what did you do yesterday?" I'd ask.

"Watch TV." He'd smile in the incredibly uncomfortable way that a person living in Thailand quickly realized was a signal of abject desire to be someplace else.

"Watched TV. Past tense."

"Yes. Understand."

"What did you watch?"

A long pause. "No remember."

"What kind of TV programs do you like, in general?"

He'd smile and nod. "I like watch TV."

"Do you like movies?"


"What kind of movies do you like?"

"Yes, like."

"Did you see BATMAN FOREVER?"


"What did you think of it?"


"You should say, 'I liked it.' Past tense."


Long pause.

"What did you like?"


"No remember."

This gay banter continued for ninety minutes or so. Three days a week.

(But don't let me give you the impression the fat kid was different from most Thais -- that would be a fairly usual exchange between a teacher and a student. It's just the agony of being trapped alone in a room with a fat kid stinking of hydrogenated vegetable oil and salt that I'm trying to get across here.)

When I got to Korea, I had a little more luck. Generally, anybody that cared enough to try to get a private lesson was into it enough to try to actually speak a bit, or at least that was the case with my students. And of course I did all my private lessons outside the school, where I was paid a good $30 an hour or so, and occasionally was bought some nice meals.

I taught one guy who was a real prince. He was a self-made man, a manager of a company that made buttons. He'd started out poor -- he spoke movingly of having to catch and eat crickets as a child -- and got a job in a button factory and managed to actually claw his way to the top, or at least the upper middle.

He was a really pleasant and open guy, only a couple years older than me, and he bought me a lot of nice food and generally made even the worst of the hangovers that I was experiencing on our lessons bearable.

One of those zen-like moments happened while I was teaching him. I met him outside the coffee shop we usually had our lesson in and indicated the rain falling and said, "Do you like the weather today?"

He smiled ear to ear. "I like all weather."

Always thought that there's a great philosophical truth in there somewhere.

Then there was the little religious bitch.

Oooh, fuck she made me mad. But, total prostitute that I am, I sat there quietly and said not a word. For a mere $25 an hour, too.

She was a born-again Christian, I can't remember exactly what denomination, other than it was Protestant, who'd just returned from a two-year long missionary mission in Pakistan. She was a doctor, although she was so petite she looked about seventeen. She even had braces.

She was bigoted, racist, narrow-minded, homophobic, etc, etc. And I had to sit and smile while she told me about how homosexuality was evil and how all Muslims are damned to hell and how she'd visited Notre Damn cathedral in Paris and found herself disgusted by it, as the Catholics obviously had no idea what religion was all about.

And worst of all -- she spent almost a whole lesson telling me about the evils of Halloween.

I just smiled and took it all. I did, however, manage to, with apparent earnestness, undermine her faith in the Bible by pointing out that after Cain kills Able in the Book of Genesis, he runs off with a wife, which means either all people WEREN'T descended from Adam and Eve, or that he was fucking his sister.

I was furious about her for months after leaving Korea. I can recall walking along pleasant beaches in Thailand, money belt fat with cash, fuming about how I wished I'd told that little bitch off.

Of course now I doubt I'd feel much for her other than pity -- she was obviously a lonely and unhappy woman. But I was an emotional and angry boy of 27 then.

I had a lucky couple of years -- I never had any privates in New York, although there were a couple of uncomfortably small classes, one of which contained only a shy Japanese girl and a pathologically lying young man from Zimbabwe who refused to buy a text book and who was attending class for free because he had a lawsuit pending against the school after tripping on the stairs.

I had one interesting private when I returned to Thailand in 1999. It was an eight-year-old girl who'd just spent a year living in Brooklyn in America. Her spoken English was about normal for a native-speaking eight-year-old, but she was pretty hyperactive and living in America had left her foul-mouthed and outspoken.

We were discussing the parts of the body once and she didn't so much as giggle as she rattled off "tits, ass, dick, pussy."

And then she extended her middle finger.

"And you know what that means?" I asked.

"Yeah. Fuckin."

She'd never managed to connect a "g" with that word, nor that it had any other conjugation, but I guess living in Brooklyn, you might well not.

She was hard to keep focused, but nobody cared much, so we spent a lot of the class just drawing with crayons and talking about cartoons and New York. There are worse ways to make a living.

Occasionally I'd trick her into doing something academic by bribing her with junk food. "If you do this," I'd say, "we'll go over to 7-11 at the break and get you a snack."

This would backfire -- she'd slam down a couple of donuts or ice cream and a Slurpee, and thus be hyperactive and incoherent with sugar rush for the last hour of the class. On one occasion she vomited all over the floor.

On another she climbed out an upstairs window onto a ledge, and refused to come back inside. I suppose I can consider myself lucky that my superiors didn't find out about that.

We always had a ball.

So as you can see, I've had my ups and my downs with my privates. Haven't we all though.

Just remember what the Button Guy said though -- try to enjoy whatever weather life tosses your way.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Girlfriend Experience

So, man, she just keeps hanging in there.

To recap -- I met her in August 2009, just before I left Russia, and after I got here we embarked on a Skype-and-holiday relationship that I didn't think would last for three months, but somehow has lasted nearly two years.

Obviously the foreign vacations don't hurt -- we went to Barcelona for a week in April -- but greed doesn't seem to be her prime motivation. She frequently suggests ways to save money on these holidays, and dislikes expensive restaurants.

It's really mystifying. She's honest, shy, quiet, hard-working and loyal to a fault. She's on Skype pretty much EVERY night at nine.

She's exactly what I imagined Russian girls were like, before I actually met any.

I'm thinking back -- of all the girls I went out with back in Vodkaberg, how many could actually be called my girlfriend? Certainly no more than 3 of them, and of those -- the longest was only for a couple of months.

While the popular image of English Teacher X is of a heartless cad injecting women full of his misogynistic hatred via sexual intercourse, and leaving them weeping in the stairwell, the actual reality of it was more complicated (if no less sinister.)

The practical girls who went out with me quickly realized that I wasn't nearly serious or wealthy enough to be a good husband -- and there's strong social pressure on girls to be married by 25, in provincial Russia. (Basically, girls had 2 choices after they finished university -- get married, or move to Moscow.)

There were a couple of girls I know who "liked me for me" so to speak -- but in both cases, they had very strict parents. Despite the fact that the girls in question were in their 20's, they couldn't spend the night away from home, except on the occasional Saturday, so it was hard to consider them "girlfriends."

There was one girl, a girl from Kazakstan who was studying in Vodkaberg -- she was great in a lot of ways and, living away from home, she could spend the night with me whenever she wanted. She was the closest thing to a live-in I've had, I guess, and that was really only for about a month.

We argued like wolverines, however, so we broke up, and she got married to somebody else seemingly about a month later.

The party-girls I went out with -- well, they were party girls. They weren't looking for anything serious either. At least, not with me -- some of these girls had "sponsors" -- rich guys, usually older, who they serviced mostly just to get clothes and cash.

These were the most distasteful to me -- the ones who would race to answer their mobile phones in the middle of sex and then run and stick their heads out the window before they answered, so it would sound like they were on the street. "Oh hello honey," they'd exclaim to the married rich guy. "I'm just walking with some friends."

I went out with a couple of divorced single moms. Obviously there, you had the problem of me and my party-boy reputation, as well as not having any money.

So as it turned out, I didn't break as many hearts as you might think. (If indeed most of these girls could be said to have hearts at all.)

Even the girl from Kazakstan kept in touch with me, and we met after she got divorced. (And she got married AGAIN, about a month after I left Russia.)

In general, it would fade out gently; girls would stop returning my text messages, or we'd settle into an amicable friends-with-extras situation, and I'd be somebody they'd call when they were between boyfriends, or fighting with their husbands.

And why not? I was nice to them. A fun guy.

Well. . . almost always nice to them.

There are a couple who curse my name, undoubtedly, but only a couple. And it took a LOT of work on my part, in those two cases. One of those I regret; the other I wish I'd been more cruel to.

(Two, in nine years! That's pretty good, really.)

Anyway, that's what I had to do to get a kind and decent Russian girlfriend -- leave Russia completely. There's definitely a lesson there.

The one I wish I had been more cruel to:

A little retro-Russia gift from ETX to you, on the occasion of his 42nd birthday. God bless us every one!