Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy Friggin' New Year

Another year disappears into the Vortex and we all get a bit closer to the Eternal.

At 45 years old, I feel that a bit more strongly than many of you.

But I can definitely say that 2014 was way the fuck better than 2013. 

Got to some really good destinations this year -- Maldives was spectacular and finally I got to South America (namely Peru and Ecuador and the Galopogas Islands) -- and fulfilled a lifelong ambition of getting altitude sickness and puking, then getting explosive diarrhea at the ancient city of Macchu Picchu. 

I vomited at the bottom of the terraces where the treeline starts; I actually felt so shitty I had to go lay down on the grass in the shade for like 30 minutes. The books accurately describe altitude sickness as feeling like a really bad hangover, and I concur.

(No, I hadn't drunk a lot the night before -- just a couple of beers with dinner.)

Next week I'm going to Prague and Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic with the Refuses-To-Be-Ex Girlfriend. 

As a New Year's gift, you can get REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND free for the next five days; 

Get it here FREE on Amazon as an e-book. In addition to my various other middle-aged adventures since 2009, you can read about my 2014, or at least the January to the end of July part of it. 

I've also done the 2015 Edition of ENGLISH TEACHER X GUIDE TO TEACHING ENGLISH ABROAD, with a couple new essays and a general editing and update: 

Get it HERE on Amazon for only $2.99.

Sales for that title have really plummeted in the last year or so, presumably as the young 'uns realize they can make more money doing practically ANYTHING living abroad. The crappiest jobs on Fiverr and Odesk probably pay twice as much as you'd make in the typical crappy English teaching gig.

I hope I had some hand in reducing the number of applicants for shitty English teaching positions. I've done my Cosmic Duty. 

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Have a Nice Day, and Feliz Navidad

Back in the US.

You wouldn't think that most of the people who work in shops in America would have much to be happy about, but I'm always surprised how cheerful they seem.

"Have a nice day."

That famous and often-mocked bit of seemingly superficial politeness that is the climax of so many customer service transactions.

"Hey, you have a nice day, too."

I always thought it was stupid. "Have nice day," my ass. Maybe I'd prefer to have a shitty day, thank you very much.

But really, I've come to appreciate it.

I mean, it's not much to ask for, is it?

"Have a nice day!"

It's not like, have a nice week, or have a nice year, or have a nice life. It's just ... have a nice day.

It has a bit of wistfulness to it, doesn't it?  "I know the rest of your life probably sucks, but the least I can do is hope that this particular day doesn't turn out too badly for you."

It's not even usually, "Have a great day," although you do hear it. It's usually just ... have a nice day. Have an okay day, you know?  A gesture of hope that we can get through our stupid consumer exchange without any unpleasantries, and even get through the rest of the day that way.

Kids are getting blown up in Syria, cops and protesters are shooting each other daily in urban America, but, here, and now ... let's just, you know, try to have a nice day.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and remind you to draw your loved ones close and wish them a nice day as we all rocket, separately and together, into the eternal darkness.

That I got to hear "Feliz Nazidad" performed by the Navy band in Ecuador was certainly a highlight of the year. 

And I remind you not to get too carried away with the consumerism of the season and enjoy some more basic and humble Christmas traditions. Like "Silent Night, Deadly Night."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Old Dogs, New Tricks ... and Old Tricks

Never too late for even a 45-year-old dog to learn a few new tricks -- as long as you have plenty of ibuprofen around for later. That's me surfing in Montanito, Ecuador.

Tonight is my last night in Ecuador - bus ride back to Peru tomorrow, then flying back to the US - and this really hot girl started talking to me on the embankment here in Guayiquil:

But then, unfortunately, just when we were getting cozy, she had to go home to her 6-year-old son. (She's 27.) I can see that's a major issue with trying to date down here in South America; a lot of kids get pumped out at relatively young ages by the local chicas.

All in all I love Ecuador though; the iguanas are EVERYWHERE.

And I saw penguins, sea lions, and motherfuckin' HAMMERHEAD SHARKS in the Golopogas Islands. Made me wish I had one of those stupid Go-Pro cameras.

Anyway! Just a little postcard from the road. Vaya con Dios!

Oh, and by the way, a little Christmas present to you: GRAMMAR SLAMMER is available FREE until Christmas. Feliz navidad!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Most Famous TEFL Teachers (Updated for 2015)

(I've been doing an updated version of GUIDE TO TEACHING ENGLISH and I thought I'd update my list of famous TEFL teachers, which was pretty far from being comprehensive.)

There are a number of influential and important figures in the world of TEFL.

These include luminaries such as Stephen Krashen. Noam Chomskey. Jeremy Harmer. Michael Swan.

The problem, of course, is that NOBODY OUTSIDE THE WORLD OF TEFL, and MOST OF THE PEOPLE WITHIN THE WORLD OF TEFL, have never heard of them at all.

Noam Chomsky is arguably well-known among grad student types for his political activism, but until he goes on DANCING WITH THE STARS, the average American will have no idea who he is. In addition I haven't been able to find any indication he ever taught English as a Second Language, despite all the linguistic theory he came up with on the subject.

With that in mind I offer this list of the most famous (former) TEFL teachers.

12) Oliver Stone, film director and screenwriter of such ground-breakingly violent films as SCARFACE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS, taught English for six months at the Free Pacific Institute in South Vietnam, before giving that up to join the Navy. The quote “If you’re not born crazy, you’re born boring” is prominently displayed on his personal website. That strikes me as a very TEFL sort of statement.

11) Nick Hornby, author of novels such as HIGH FIDELITY, which usually centered around spoiled, self-centered man-children as they bumbled their way through life, apparently taught English and TEFL in London at some point. Little information seems to be available about where, why, or how he liked it.

10 ) Bob Geldoff, musician and charity activist, apparently pissed off to Spain at some point to teach English, somewhere in between working at the slaughterhouse and starting the group the Boomtown Rats and single-handedly saving Africa from famine. 

9) Gary Glitter, 70s glam rock star, after fleeing child porn charges in Britain, was arrested in Vietnam for raping teenage girls as young as 12; he claimed he was only teaching them English. Whether he actually did any teaching is a bit in doubt, to say the least.

8) Keith Wright, former Australian politician and leader of the Australian Labour Party, nearly became Prime Minister in 1983 – but in 1993 he was jailed for 8 years for “indecent dealing” with underage girls and rape. A former preacher as well as teacher, he now runs TEFL and teacher training courses in Asia. He is quoted in an article in the Courier Mail as apologizing for his errors and saying that "literacy can free people from poverty. Improving literacy is, therefore, a way of combating child exploitation. I'm glad to say there is a charity element in my work." 
Of course he then admits that there is a commercial element as well, and says he doesn't teach children. Well that's all right then!

        7) Charles Berlitz, the grandson of Berlitz School founder Maximillian Berlitz, probably deserves a place on the list. Unlike his father, it would seem he actually taught English. (His father actually began the Berlitz Schools to teach French and German.)

Most sources are unclear as to whether he actually taught, merely saying that "during breaks he worked for the family language school"; he later worked mainly in the publishing and tape-production part of the business. But we can assume he probably did a little teaching, somewhere along the line, so he can at least earn 7th place on the list.

He sold the company in the 60's, and focused himself on other equally scientific and logical pursuits:

If you don't want to bother to watch that, he apparently believed that The Bermuda Triangle was related to the lost city of Atlantis and ancient astronauts, subjects upon which he wrote many books. He also wrote a book about The Philadelphia Experiment, which supposedly had a World War 2 battleship disappearing due to time-travel and invisibility experiments.

The Berlitz company actually entered legal proceedings at one point trying to stop him from using the Berlitz name, as they felt it might reflect badly on the school.

And if his rather kooky wrting wasn't enough -- he married a student!

        6) Perpetually grumpy and acerbic author and professional backpacker Paul Theroux worked as an English teacher for the Peace Corps in Africa as well as at the National University in Singapore.

As we all know, Peace Corps volunteers are hardly the usual kind of English teacher; Theroux didn't think much them, himself, nor did he think much of teaching; in the introduction to a collection of early novels, he describes wanting to write to escape the "tedium of teaching" and that he "found nothing" in Singapore.

Nonetheless, Theroux had plenty of adventures, it would seem; he writes that "In Malawi I saw my first hyena, smoked my first hashish, witnessed my first murder, caught my first case of gonorrhea.” He also got kicked out of various countries for getting involved in political activism.

So we place him respectfully at number six on the list.

        5) Todd Solondz is probably not any better known, in terms of being a household name, than any of the above-mentioned, but he is a director who has made several award-winning and commercially successful films. He taught ESL in the early 90's for the New York Association for New Americans.

One of the characters in his second and most famous film, HAPPINESS, works as an ESL teacher, and has an affair with a Russian student (who turns out to be an abusive grifter.)

The other characters in the film are a father who proves to be a pedophile who rapes young boys, a guy who makes obscene phone calls, and a murderous fat woman. Yeah, it was made in the 90's.

His featuring ESL in a film earns him fifth place on the list.

        4) James Joyce, author of critically-lauded, weighty, unreadable novels worked for many years for the Berlitz chain in Trieste.

We are informed by Wikipedia that during this period his was constantly scheming to make money in other fields, while simultaneously drinking heavily and wasting his brother's money:

"Joyce's ostensible reasons (for teaching) were desire for Stanislaus's company and the hope of offering him a more interesting life than that of his simple clerking job in Dublin. In truth, though, Joyce hoped to augment his family's meagre income with his brother's earnings.
Stanislaus and Joyce had strained relations throughout the time they lived together in Trieste, with most arguments centring on Joyce's drinking habits and frivolity with money."

        3) John Fowles , the British author of THE COLLECTOR and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, wrote his first novel THE MAGUS while teaching English in Greece. Wikipedia states that "Fowles was happy in Greece, especially outside of the school," and that he and all the other teachers were fired after two years for "trying to institute reforms."

In addition, he stole another guy's wife while he was there, and THE MAGUS was full of a reasonable amount of sex, as far as 60's literature goes. As far as I know, it's the only popular and critically-acclaimed novel in which the main character is an EFL teacher.

Therefore, despite not being particularly widely-read these days, he earns #3 on the list.

        2) John Mark Karr taught English in Gautamala, while fleeing from a child pornography charge in the United States, and was teaching English in Thailand when he was arrested for confessing to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

Of course he didn't do it, and was exonerated by DNA evidence after he received a business-class trip back to America escorted by federal marshals.

(TEFL teachers around the world should pay attention to this quick, free, and easy way to get a ticket home in an emergency.)

John Mark Karr is apparently in the process of undergoing a sex change and lives as a woman named Alexis Reich.

Since then he has been up on domestic abuse charge and there are recent reports of him making death threats related to organizing a cult around JonBenet Ramsey, and his current whereabouts are unknown.


1) : J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. She taught English in Porto, Portugal in 1992, and in the course of two years, got married to a local, had a child, got divorced, and returned home to be diagnosed as clinically depressed. I'd say that establishes her TEFL cred, wouldn't you?

And of course, eventually, she came up with the idea for Harry Potter books and is now worth a billion dollars.

In addition to being the most well-known, she also provides inspiration to the legions of TEFL bloggers out there hunched over the keyboard. (Rule #1 for success: don't write about TEFL.)

* * *

So we can see that TEFL appeals to people with artistic leanings. And convicted sex offenders.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Penguins Rip My Flesh: The ETX AMA

Hey, gang!

I'm restin' and relaxin' here in the Galapogas (Galopogas? Golopogas?) Islands, and while I intended to do a lot of work on books and stuff while on this holiday, there's way too much snorkeling to do and way too many sea lions to play with.

But I was invited to do an AMA on Reddit, so I've been doing that:

Questions are trickling in at a slow pace, so I'll keep answering them until further notice. (Even here in the Galapogas Islands we have fast internet.)

I never bothered to keep up with all the redundant social media out there, but Reddit is a hot new ticket that replicates the old linear message boards of fifteen years ago. (Take a look at this archived Wayback Machine snapshot of Dave's ESL cafe message board in the year 2000.) Running to stand still, I call that.

And anyway, here's a video of a penguin attacking me. OH MY GOD ISN'T HE CUTE?