Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Return to Vodkaberg, Part One: The Embankment

The first day back in Vodkaberg, I was fucking disgusted with the place.

This is one of the first things I saw, the morning after I arrived; in case it's not clear what that is, it's the bottom portion of a rat that had been cut in half by a tram. 

It seemed filthy. Dank, muddy, crumbling. It was raining and cold. The apartment I rented had a glorious view of a garbage dumpster across the street, and tracksuited thugs sat outside smoking and sneering. In addition, it was expensive; the only temporary apartment I'd been able to find charged almost 50 bucks a night, and a small sushi dinner with the girlfriend ended up costing more than $60.

Then the sun came out, on day three, and I went down to the embankment, and I sort of fell in love all over again. 

I'd been away long enough, it seemed, that finally Russian girls had started to impress me again with their poise and beauty. (If not their morality.) It seemed like a good twenty percent of the women I saw were fucking stunning; like Megan-Fox style stunning, not just bleach-blonde-Buttaface-in -tight-clothes stunning. 

I walked down to the embankment, the scene of so much hanging out back in the day. The enormous, beautiful embankment on the Volga River is now an alcohol-free zone:

Why did they do this? Is the government really concerned about the public well-being, health, and safety? I don't know, but I doubt it. Or is it just a general public-relations blitz for the 2014 Olympics and such? Or perhaps more pragmatically, to drive people into the large indoor entertainment-complex on the embankment, which is supposedly owned by representatives of local politicians? Nobody seemed able to give me a clear answer.

This had been brewing for several years; they'd attempted to build a few permanent bars there, to replace the now-illegal temporary tent-cafes that we'd usually drunk at, and symbolically enough, there's nothing remaining of the area where I did most of my drinking and hanging out other than some burnt-out ruins:

We used to drink at that area so much that we referred to it as the "Summer Office." 

So that felt a little heart-rending, but the atmosphere on the embankment was still nice, with a lot of good looking young babes roller-blading and biking, and happy- and healthy-looking families knocking around, kids playing, etc. Of course people still drink beer down there; just rather more discreetly than before. The weather was beautiful; warmest May in 100 years, the internet said.

There was still plenty of street-drinking going on -- there's a public fountain on a main street where young people did, and still do, a lot of drinking. But I didn't see quite such a huge majority of people carrying beer bottles around on nice summer days as I did in days gone by. 

There are a few outdoor cafes left that sell beer, on the far edges of the embankment, and indeed I sat and drank beer at them. 

"Funny to see you here again," said one of my few remaining former colleagues there. 

"But when I'm actually sitting here, it just seems like a dream I never quite woke up from," I smiled. 


Thursday, May 23, 2013


The bad news is there won't be any updates this week about my return to Vodkaberg.

The good news is I'm in Greece, at the moment, doing things that are going to make for some interesting twists and turns in the last chapter of my third memoir, when I get around to starting it.

But it'll be a little bit different than you expect, as usual.

How's the title REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND sound? Too corny? REQUIEM FOR A WANDERER? REQUIEM FOR A ROVER? Something like that, anyway.

That'll probably be next year sometime, though. 

Part One: The Kingdom (2009 -2012)
Part Two: Youthful Indiscretions (1970 - 1994)
Part Three: The Spaces In-Between (2012 - 2013)

Here's a little mood music for you, while you're waiting. 

Not so sure what the three serial killers in the car might represent, regarding my life, but I think that's a cool movie, anyway.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

April Showers: The Cost of a Move

April sucked.

Tying up loose ends is usually the worst part of a move to a new country. Upon getting my new job in the Sandbox, in April, suddenly expense piled upon stressful expense, boring bureaucratic indignity upon boring bureaucratic indignity.

The Girlfriend and I had been planning a May vacation; but she got a new job, meaning she gets no holiday until October. We decided that I could come to Russia for a month before leaving for Saudi.

I began the laborious process of getting a Russian visa. To get a business visa, first you need an invitation from one of many shady companies that will sell you one. (Prices vary, but I paid about $75 for one which arrived in 10 working days.) Then I spent nearly an entire day filling out forms for that, and mailed it off to travisa.com to send to the embassy; I was told a day later that the embassies were no longer accepting scanned copies, and now needed an original. Everything was mailed back to me. (Total expense of mailing, around $70.)

After a few more days of angry consulting, the company that sold me the invitation told me that I could wait a week to get a hard copy, or fly into Kiev and get the visa there with the same invitation, and at about the same price as I'd pay in America -- $450 for embassy and processing fees. Maybe a few days in Kiev would amuse me. Anything's possible.

I got a root canal. A guy that I went to high school with turned out to be the leading endodontist in the area. (Oh yeah? Well I bonked a bunch of Russian babes.) He charged me $700, a 20 percent discount on his usual fees.

I would need a crown over the tooth that had the root canal; that would cost about $1000. I decided that that part I could probably do in Russia, as they were supposed to do decent prosthetic dentistry for lower prices.

I did my taxes. I spent a few days fucking around with Turbo Tax, and failed to find any more deductions. I filled out forms and finally mailed a check for $542.

Envelopes from the company that hired me in the Sandbox began arriving. I started doing all the paperwork and documents for my new job in the Sandbox. I had blood drawn for medical tests, and I shit in a plastic bucket-thing they gave me to affix to the toilet. Then I scraped some out with a stick and put it in a pill bottle and delivered it to the lab to be tested for ova and parasites.

I got papers notarized, I made copies of diplomas and certificates and my passport. I spent more days filling out application forms and letters and so forth. (There were costs for this, hundreds of dollars worth, but they will be repaid by the company that hired me.) Same as last time, I'll need my degree verified and a police background check.

The tricky part about the Sandbox is that when you get hired, very rarely do they give you an exact date to arrive; instead they just tell you to come when all your paperwork is finished, which can take months sometimes. The recruitment company wanted to get me there in July, though I'd prefer August.

Finally I booked a ticket to Kiev at the end of April, which cost about $1200, and then found a connecting flight ($250) to Vodkaberg, Russia, for the first time since August of 2011.

Somebody in the comments described me as "undead" recently, and certainly I've been in-between all year. Not quite together with the girlfriend, not quite single. Not quite faithful and sober, not quite debauched. Not quite free to roam the world, not quite loyally home at my sick parents' side. Not quite employed, not quite unemployed -- making money from e-books all year but mainly just doing administrative crap, not having published much original content.

Maybe that's a good description of middle-age in general, but the in-between year draws to a close. The relationship will be decided. Soon I'll be full-time English Teacher X again, not just Independent Author X.

 Next week: VODKABERG 2013. Whatever happened to ... ?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


So this is going to be my next book. I'm a bit more than 75 percent finished with it, but there's all kinds of shit going on in my life so I don't know when I'll get around to finishing and editing and polishing the fucking thing up and publishing it. Need to give myself a deadline, though, so let's say .. . August?

Graphic descriptions of sex with Slavic women aside, I'm sure that my fans are basically dying to know clear and concise ways to explain grammar. I touched on explaining grammar quite a bit in SPEAKING ACTIVITIES THAT DON'T SUCK, but this next book will go into greater details on  ways to explain all that difficult shit you encounter in class.

ETX is here to help, baby.

What do you think of this cover?

(The girl in the middle there is the Landlady's Daughter from VODKABERG, by the way. Psyche!)

That one is currently in the lead, but I may go outside-the-box and use one of these crazy motherfuckers -- the problem though is that the busy backgrounds distort a bit at thumbnail size, and you generally want a good-looking thumbnail on an ebook. 

Here's an excerpt:


If I see him, I will say hello.

You: Okay, what does “if” mean?

Students: Possibility!

You: What tense is used here in the first part?

Students: Present simple. So it happens every day!

You: WRONG! That IF changes the whole ball game. What time are we talking about here?

Dorky Student: One of many possible futures! Like string theory!

You: That’s it. First conditional – one possible present, leading to one possible future. Give me some more examples.

Dorky Student: If you touch me, I will scream.

Hot Chick: If you buy me an Iphone 5, I will love you forever.

You: Excellent.


If I saw him, I would say hello.

You: What are these tenses?

Students: Well … past tense, in the first part. WOULD plus the first form, in the second part? What the hell is would, teacher?

You: Well, I guess you could think of it as the past form of will, if you want.

Students: Past form of the future verb. Sure. Why didn’t we see it ourselves?

You: You’re slow but you are learning. So, what’s the difference in meaning?

Students: Second sentence talks about the past?

You: Nope, the IF changes everything. It’s about a future OR PRESENT that’s not probable or ... THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE! For example, if the guy is living in another country. Or dead.

Students: Eek.

If I had a million dollars, I’d buy a house.
If I flew to the moon, I’d write my name in the moon dust with pee.

You: First sentence. Do I have a million dollars?

Students: Judging by your shabby clothes, no.

You: Am I going to get a million dollars? Is it possible, in this crappy job? Am I ever going to buy a house?

Students: (Pissing themselves with laughter) No way, you loser!

You: Second conditional. Not possible, or very improbable?

Students: Just improbable, I guess.

You: Second sentence. Can I fly to the moon?

Students: No chance in hell!

You: Am I going to write my name in pee, there?

Students: Absolutely not. 

You: Impossible, or not probable?

Students: Not possible, teacher!

Dorky Student: If you tried to pee in the vacuum of space, it would suck your prostate out your urethra.

You: That sounds fun, actually. And with a vocabulary like that, shouldn’t you be in an advanced level? So, anyway, in these sentences, we’re talking about the unreal present, and the equally unreal future. Seems strange to have a tense to talk about that sort of thing, but it’s what seperates us from the savages, actually. Imagination. Perception of the future.

Students: Wow.

You: And all this for the price of one English lesson. You’re welcome!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Teaching English in Colombia: Interview with Colin Post

So in an attempt to shift the focus of this blog back to English teaching, I'm going to begin doing at least one monthly article on English teaching; first, more interviews with practicing teachers. (To that end, any of you who feel you have an interesting, unusual, or all-too-fucking-typical story, drop me an email at englishteacherx (at)yahoo(dot)com.)

I often get asked about teaching in South America; I've never even been there, and only spoken briefly with a few people who have worked down there. To that end, here's an interview with indie author and blogger Colin Post, creator of the Expat Chronicles blog and occasional English teacher.

How long have you been teaching, and where?

I don't teach anymore, but I taught for just over 2 years in Bogota, Colombia.

What places have you liked the most, and least?

I only taught in Bogota. I've also lived in Arequipa and Lima in Peru. For being single and partying, Colombia no doubt. For better food and safer streets, Peru. See a more indepth comparison here:


You can still lead a square life in Colombia or a fast life in Peru, just not as much as vice versa.

Why did you decide to start teaching English, if it's not too painful to talk about? 

In 2009, after a year in Peru I quit my job to go independent in Colombia. The plan was to teach English to put food on the table until other businesses allowed me to stop teaching. I never really got away from teaching until I was pseudo-deported back to Peru. In Arequipa the rates were abysmal, so I didn't look for students. And I haven't looked since.

What do you like and dislike about English teaching?

I did not like the boredom, the repitition, or the same errors all the time from Spanish speakers. Nor did I like the hours or the pay.

The best thing about teaching English is there will always be demand. It's the true global language and that is never going to change. Languages like Latin and Arabic achieved world language status in the empire eras, but those days are long gone. With English so entrenched in the internet era, in the "flat world," and given its unrivaled simplicity and effiiciency, I truly believe it will never be unseated as the true global language. So it's something expats and international adventurers can always fall back on. A native speaking gringo will not go hungry in Latin America.

I've heard some teachers say they get fulfillment when their students make progress. I had one student long enough that he improved significantly, but it really did nothing for me. I got to be friendly with that student, and I've made friends with other students, so making friends turned out to be a better benefit than fulfillment for me.

What has been the most difficult moment for you in the classroom?

In my first months teaching, my institute just threw me into classes. Sink or swim. There were a lot of difficult moments where I bullshitted through explaining something I didn't understand yet (auxiliary verbs).

Those moments decreased with time. Then the difficult moments came during 1-on-1 classes with a student who is a boring person. Not talkative, shy, etc. That makes the minutes crawl.

What is your quality of life like, versus your salary and cost of living?

Teaching English was never my only income. If it were I'd estimate about 2 million pesos / month ($1000 USD), which is a middle class lifestyle in Bogota. Nice restaurants would be a luxury for weekends and, depending how you party, so would the hip nightclubs. If you drink like me those clubs would be out of the question.

While I didn't like the hours of catering to professionals (before or after the workday, so typical day would be 6-8am and 6-8pm), they're not long hours. There's plenty of free time to dick around, have coffees with friends, go to the gym, run errands in off-peak hours. Teaching English isn't hard work. I've never met an English teacher who said he works hard. Even the teachers at large universities on salaries with dozens of students, they work less than 40 work weeks.

What kind of qualifications do you have? 

I was TESOL certified before moving to Latin America. It was an online course that took at most 20 labor hours to complete. I don't believe it's recognized by anyone, I don't remember anything I learned, but it's an official-sounding acronym that's better than answering "Nothing" to this question. A bulletpoint on the resume if needed. It also came with an official-looking certificate that they apostilled and sent to Bogota without charging me extra.

What are your plans for the future?

The only person I care about learning a little English is my Peruvian wife. For that purpose, I plan to spend a couple years with her in the US someday. Until then it's no-espeak-english in my household.

What's your favorite way to kill five minutes in class?

This was how I started every class, and I'd do it for at least 20 minutes. I made the student tell me everything they did since they last saw me. It's boring stuff - went home, watched a movie with my daughter, ate chicken, woke up and went running, etc. - but the repetition and relaxed environment is a great warm-up. And you can fire off questions to clarify things. They get their foods and numbers down. Sometimes the unstructured conversation goes on for 30 minutes or even more, leaving less time for boring exercises.

Do you ever teach small children?

I did and I never will again. One of the kids was more of a babysitting job. I give all the props in the world to the guy who hired me, he's definitely aggressive in getting his Colombian kids speaking English given the younger one was 2! He had a theory that their brains were so undeveloped that they had no choice but to record everything they heard. So he didn't care at all about progress or my methodology, which he later said was "creative." But he just wanted the kids to listen to a gringo a couple hours a day. The 2 years old was aggressive and he'd occasionally attack, and I actually got to liking him. However I wouldn't do it again.

Who is the most fucked-up teacher you've ever met?

I haven't met any disaster like your gay codeine freak in Thailand. While over-the-counter codeine and Thailand in general seems tempting, I'd bet it's still easier to go over the edge in Bogota. So if someone's prone to that at all, they just won't last as a teacher. A minimum level of control is required.

Given that, the most fucked up teacher I've met would be my good friend The Mick. He and I recently spent two weeks in the country doing extensive interviews for me to write his memoir.

Here's a murder he committed in Colombian prison:


Here's a fun story of him getting locked up in Ireland, before ever coming to Colombia:

Here's one of his expat pals from Colombian prison: http://www.expat-

On his alcoholism: http://www.expat-chronicles.com/2011/09/the-micks-terrible-benders/

His first Colombian friend, an assassin: http://www.expat-chronicles.com/2011/04/the-rise-and-fall-of-tachuela/

He's been teaching English independently since 1989. He has had some of the wealthiest clients in the country. See all his stories here: http://www.expat-chronicles.com/tag/the-mick/

Any advice on finding a job?

Advice to find employment in South America - GET DOWN HERE. You're lucky if these people respond to emails. They NEVER finalize business via email. And once you're down here, you'll have a hard time NOT teaching English. To me some cities seem saturated with gringos, but nowhere near what I saw in China or I imagine other parts of the world. Just being down here and walking around will solicit offers to teach English, no doubt about it. Get some savings up and just book the damn flight.