Saturday, August 31, 2013

No, Seriously, I Want to Hear It (Book Report, Part Two)

Update on all the books you're going to be enjoying soon:


All right, it's almost done; my book on Grammar. It's at the editor now, and I suspect it'll be done in the next few weeks. Surely by the end of September.

I'm covering how to explain all that hard stuff -- verb tenses, conditionals, the difference between verbs and vowels -- all that.

Now, just need to decide: red gradient, or red flames? The flames too busy? Do I want to go with the e-book flow, and make the title and name bigger?

I'm also including some very basic speaking activities to deal with the stuff I talk about, and as in SPEAKING ACTIVITIES, I'm presenting all this mostly through dialogues. (Which will of course be fucking piss-your-pants funny.)

But let me ask; anybody got any particular grammar points that they find confusing that they want to make sure I address? I'm getting all the really hard stuff -- the dreaded perfect tenses, the difference between "the other" and "another" etc. But feel free to ask about it before I put it out, maybe I forgot something.


Hopefully the final cover won't be quite that fluorescent, but as I stated previously, I'm going to do a new edition of HOW TO SURVIVE LIVING ABROAD, which is my lowest-selling title, despite being the most generally useful. (So much for writing for a broader market.)

As I said, I want to jazz it up with interviews with people who've had difficult experiences abroad. (Remember, we're looking for difficult -- any submission with too many exclamation points or uses of the word "awesome" or "epic" will be rejected.)

I've got three cool submissions already:

- a story about being robbed in Nicaragua from 30 DAYS TO X blogger Robert;
- some information about working as a military contractor from Raul Felix;
- a repost of a story about an experience with two greedy deceitful Ukrainian girls from Eccentric Expat

as well, I'm waiting for a story about diarrhea from Crazy Bob; you know that'll be good, and I'm hoping another former colleague will write up a story about a moped smash-up in Southeast Asia, and I have a couple of others I'm sniffing after.

So again, I put it to the gallery -- if you have any stories you want to share about hard times abroad -- rip offs, robberies, food poisoning, scams, heartbreaks, illnesses, problems with documents or corrupt cops or infrastructure or employers, drop me a line at englishteacherx(at)yahoo(dot)com. I won't pay you except in free books, favors, posting links to your blog, etc.


So I'm actually getting excited about my next memoir; it'll be all about my time in the Kingdom and the Girlfriend, of course, but then the middle part will be a look back at my high school and my college years in New Orleans as well as my first backpacking trips abroad. Those years had enough drunk goth chicks and LSD an such to be a pretty interesting read for those who love the gross and sordid stuff.

A few high points should be:
- My real fling with a genuine Catholic school girl (in uniform, natch)
- My first speed-crazed botched 3-way
- The summer of 100 hits of LSD
- Running with the bulls in Spain (and yet still not feeling especially manly)
- Up close and personal with Giardia in India


And then it'll all tie together in a massive orgy of middle-age failure, like a beautiful Greek tragedy. Heck, I'm beginning to wonder if I've washed out my current life just to give the next book more poignancy. That's the problem with being the hero of your own work ...

NEXT WEEK: Something about whores. Promise.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Authorial Intention (Book Report, Part One)

So almost exactly a year ago I made available my book VODKABERG: NINE YEARS IN RUSSIA, a memoir about my time in a riverside provincial city during the early-Putin era.


It's my second best-selling book, slightly behind SPEAKING ACTIVITIES; and it's currently my most highly rated, with 4.3 stars on Amazon. Reviewers hail it as "enjoyable," "entertaining," "hilarious dark fun," and "full of useless personal information."

(I certainly can't disagree with the last one.)

Actually I was expecting a lot more negative reviews; would you be surprised if I said that I deliberately tried to make the book seem depressing, disturbing and seedy? See, I purposefully set out to write a book that was the opposite of all these "happier abroad" foreign sex brag-fest books that are out recently.

My editor didn't like the book at all -- where were the blithe internal monologues, the breezy pace, the snappy sarcasm and the flip tone of the last book, TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY?

People often described the first book as 'light" and "easy" and it was -- so I wanted the second book to be different, to REALLY get into the dark side; I was thinking in terms of books like AMERICAN PSYCHO and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, as well as of course Charles Bukowski's WOMEN, for my inspiration.

(Wow, $2.99 Kindle edition for WOMEN? That's a deal, jump on that if you haven't read it.)


I found some notes that I wrote, in a somewhat vain attempt to explain to my editor what I was trying to do:

  • Depressing statistics about Russia will be interspersed throughout the book, and the frequent terrorist attacks throughout that time period will be mentioned, just to keep a generally apocalyptic air
  • Descriptions of places will usually concentrate on abandoned buildings and vomit;
  • All sex acts will either be incompletely described, perverse, or unsuccessful, to emphasize the dis-satisfaction of it all
  • All often as possible, people, especially women, will be "followed" in the book up to their marriages, to emphasize the feeling of life passing the narrator by 
But of course as one colleague told me, when I expressed surprise that anybody would decide to be an English teacher after reading my stuff: some people aren't afraid of gross and sordid, they're afraid of boring. He suggested that the tedious Cambridge and Oxford books about the theoretical aspects of English teaching probably put off far more people than my gross anecdotes.

Some people have said that it's "plotless" but I definitely planned it to have, if not a plot, than at least an arc; the first half of the book sees my erratic blossoming into the Most Eligible Bachelor in Vodkaberg, and the second half sees me burning out and failing miserably while trying to deal with adult-type responsibilities: my Director of Studies job at the school, mentoring younger teachers socially, and of course my floundering attempts to have a real relationship with Almond Eyes.

A structural (editorial?) issue that was controversial was the inclusion of the text messages from Pterodactyl Girl and the IM conversations with Dark Angel: my editor hated the text messages from Pterodactyl Girl, and my beta reader recommended against the IM conversation with Dark Angel, on the grounds that they were difficult to read and didn't add to the story.

The texts with Pterodactyl Girl were included mostly for surreal comic relief during the mostly depressing second half; and I included the text messages with Dark Angel for a number of reasons:

  • To show how internet communication was replacing face-to-face communication even in provincial Russia 
  • To give an authentic voice to a Russian girl, rather than just my reports of what they said, and particularly to a Russian girl who could usually get the better of me 
  • To show the "expat syndrome" from the other side of the fence -- i.e. Dark Angel going abroad where SHE can be popular because of her nationality.


Anyway I'm glad people like it. I think it is, if nothing else, a fairly honest expression of my state of mind and the atmosphere during that time at that place. Back in English Lit class one of the first thing they taught me is that authorial intention doesn't matter much, so I guess I shouldn't worry too much.

My favorite review is this one:

X is like a Buddhist monk in reverse. He pursues unenlightenment, but the humbleness of it, the shining truth, might paradoxically lead him to salvation. Or not.


So how could I improve upon it for a new edition?

I'm thinking a new edition with pictures. Everybody likes the pictures, right?

Or perhaps it would be better if I just released a separate book, VODKABERG IN PICTURES? With cartoons and all those titty pictures everybody likes so much as well as my artistic studies of abandoned buildings and such?

Feel free to weigh in with an opinion in the comments section.


Anyway, that's actually a project for the fall; in the next few weeks I'm going to be publishing GRAMMAR SLAMMER. I'll also be doing a better-organized edition of SPEAKING ACTIVITIES with an index and probably some new activities, a  new edition of SURVIVING ABROAD with interviews, and perhaps an expanded edition of TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY with more stories.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Letter to Former Colleague (Or: It's Gonna Kill Me)

Still floundering in the first week of classes here in my well-paid industrial zone Gulf hell. Here's a letter I wrote to a former colleague in reply to his email saying he was enjoying his retirement, after nearly 20 years in the Kingdom. I thought it would be of interest to you eager newbies; heres's what you could expect from some of the highest-paid English teaching work in the world.

I'm working for (REDACTED) here in (REDACTED) and so far, it's really making me miss (my last posting.) There's not much of anything in (REDACTED) besides the (REDACTED) compound; but most of the English teachers are contractors, not direct hire employees, so we're not actually eligible to live in it! Now most of us live in this other compound that is pretty much just an American-style trailer park. It's got a swimming pool and the restaurant is okay, but the room I had at (my last posting) was nicer than this dank little place.

As for the (REDACTED) training center, the hours are a bit harsh -- 7:00am to 3:30pm, with five 45-minute classes a day, and there's a lot of ridiculous paperwork to do -- daily official typed lesson plans that nobody ever looks at except to make sure you did them. The students have to do these submissions, sort of homework assignments, every week, and they all have to be assigned on different topics which the teachers are in charge of making up, as well as checking.

In fact, I have several students that I taught at (my last posting) -- the recent college graduates are the best to teach, followed by the new apprentices. The course program seems very complicated to me, with a lot of different books and topics -- we even have to teach Health and Safety courses at various points - but maybe that's just because I'm not used to it.

The actual (REDACTED) employees who are doing English courses are in fact the worst of them -- extremely lazy and arrogant and not afraid of anything because they already have a job and it's not really possible for them to fail. They act almost as bad as the first year trainees as (my last posting).

Then of course the delightfully extended holidays of (my last posting) are absent here -- you can take 2 weeks after 3 months, another 2 weeks after 6 months, and then 2 weeks when you finish your contract. There's no winter break at all for the students -- they study pretty much non stop from September until the next Ramadan. Teachers have to apply for the vacation time, which causes all kind of problems because it takes forever to be approved, then other teachers have to substitute their classes, etc.

Also, the facilities are surprisingly inadequate -- we have these high-tech interactive white boards with projectors, but of course they break downquite often. Not only do we not have our own offices, we barely even have our own desks -- there are two big teacher's rooms with little student-size desks along the walls. It's not a problem now because a lot of teachers are away on leave for the summer, but when they get back, it's going to be chaos. Currently there are about 6 computers to share between 30-something teachers, with a lot of stuff we need to look up constantly on the company computer system. There should be 20 more teachers coming some, and they're expecting so many new trainees (post Arab spring influx, I guess) that they're considering instituting night shifts. Even the toilets don't flush ...

So basically I'm surprise to say (my last posting)seemed to be run much better than the training center at (REDACTED). Maybe (REDACTED) just has a lot of other stuff to worry about. (One reason we don't have computers is because there were a bunch of terrorist cyber attacks on computer systems in the Kingdom last year. Did you hear about that?)

But on the bright side we get free coffee in the office, and they're paying me a metric fuck-ton of money.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Old Random Journal Entry about Korea: A Day in Seoul, September 26th, 1996

While I swim in the seas of too much paperwork as I prepare for my first day of work here in the Kingdom, here's an old journal entry from 1996 about a day off in Seoul, Korea. Share my past boredom with me.

The "Hollywood" mentioned was a nightclub popular with English teachers and some of the (comparatively very small number) of women who went there to work as models or hostesses. They got a few Army guys, and the incident in question led to them banning Army guys from the place.

Spoilers for the 1996 film ESCAPE FROM L.A. included. Read at your own risk.

Thursday, September 26th, 1996 6:00pm

Day off, and not an especially interesting one, excepting my walk to Myong-Dong to see "Escape from L.A." A bit silly, maybe, but nice to see Snake Plissken back in action and the end, when he shuts down the world's electricity with an electromagnetic pulse weapon, is priceless.

Other than that I just wandered around. Everything interesting is closed, and everything else is crowded. Some guy with a ponytail approached me -- a Korean or some kind of Asian -- and asked if I knew where to buy lubricant for a condom. Some kind of crude gay come-on? I grunted "I dunno" and walked off.

2:30 am

I went to the Hollywood, and in addition to a handful of skinny button-nosed models, there was a dandy punch up, involving some big Army guys -- actually more of a wrestling match, shove fest, and shout-a-thon, but some chairs got knocked over and a lot of glass got broken.

It grew pretty large at one point -- two seperate main bouts, one set male, one set female, with a lot of other people wrestling, shoving, trying to break it up, and urging the fighters on. A guy took his shirt off; somebody threw a pool ball at the wall. An older guy was yelling, "They wanna fight the old man, they'll see who's a bad ass!" Some guys who came to break up the fight ended up joining in.

I watched placidly until it all wrapped up. As I walked out, I saw a green glow-stick lying in the broken glass. I picked it up, twirled it a few times, and laid it on a table.

There was a lot more fighting than fucking going on in Seoul for those days. I hope it's better now.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An All-Too-Common Incident

So here's a typical, even stereo-typcial, drunk story that you hear now and then in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand:

(I'd imagine you get this story fairly often in Brazil, also, although I've never been there.) 

I mean, they can be pretty convincing, these girls! And you've got the pre- and post-op brand, as well as the various changes in hormonal pharmaceutical and cosmetic surgery technology, so you're not exactly sure what to look for, sometimes. 

The adam's apple used to be a dead giveaway but they can fix that now; the strangled quality of the voice might be something to look for. Big hands? Shit, I have hands like a 16-year-old girl myself.

But, thing is: there was one guy in Thailand that this "inadvertently" happened to ALL THE TIME. (That would be the same guy in cartoon above.) I mean how many times could it be an accident? You think the guy would eventually just go ahead and admit he liked the lady boys. English teachers in Thailand tend to be pretty non-judgmental.

As for me? 

Hmm. Well, not to my knowledge.

I remember that I sat with and cuddled with one "girl" for about thirty minutes, back in the old days in Thailand, before I figured out her proper gender. I did not complete any deeds with her. One colleague was sitting with another and demanded we leave; he said, "I stuck my finger in her and it only went in about a quarter of an inch."

We discussed the issue over beers later. He was revolted by the whole thing. 

"Well," I said, "I mean, if you like the whole exterior package, what's the big deal? What are you having sex with, a body or a chromosome?"

Monday, August 05, 2013

Greetings from the Desert (This Is What You Want, This is What You Get)

This is gonna be a tough placement, I think.

Or at least it would be tough to most people. Not so much to me, who has been inured to cruddy living conditions by half a lifetime of English teaching abroad.

My last job in the Kingdom pleasantly surprised me; I was living in a prosperous, green, seaside suburb. (There was even a Subway sandwich shop and a bookstore that sold lots of books in English.)


This is sort of a dry dusty spit of land sticking out into the water at the ass-end of the industrial area.

In short, more sort of what you imagine life here would be like.

The job has also surprised me; for all its modern equipment, it's woefully overpopulated, so new teachers don't even get desks. We also have to share about five computers, since most of them were removed due to a spate of cyber-attacks in the Kingdom last year.

The teachers are a bit younger on average than the people at my last posting, but they have that usual deranged or semi-autistic quality of long-term English teachers. Nobody I've met yet has been here long; for all the high salary, the place seems to have a high turnover. 

It's take the money and run, I guess. 

The place I'm staying is a cheap compound, basically a trailer park; merchant marines, Phillipino pipeline technicians, and English teachers. It has an only slightly murky swimming pool and a decent little restaurant, though, and hot water and air conditioning, so it can't be all bad, I guess.

There's also security; a wall and a couple of guard booths and a truck with a mounted machine gun. I'm sure if you went out and shook those guys a few times and woke them, they'd snap right into action and protect the place. 

I'm here non-stop for the next 90 days; I can't get an exit visa until I finish the trial period. Then I get some holiday time.

Most of the city is shut down for Ramadan, but it seems to be pretty sparse. There's not even a McDonald's, though they are building one. 

Right down the street from the slaughter house. 

Only slightly retouched photo of main street

But we got this, also:

So we got a little holiday for the end of Ramadan here, until next Wednesday. I'm going to finish the first draft of GRAMMAR SLAMMER and then I'm going to teach some fucking English.