Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Re-patriation Chronicles, Part 5: Robert K

While I was in Peru last fall, I had lunch with Robert K, author of the 30 Days to X blog, entrepreneur and nice young feller. Here's his take on expat-ing and re-pating.

ETX: When and why did you get interested in the "self-help" movement?

RK: I got into the self-help movement after two events that happened in rapid succession. I almost got hit by a semi-truck during an icy storm, and I discovered James Altucher's blog. Basically, I decided that there was a bunch of stuff that I wanted to try as soon as possible, lest I get killed in a freak accident.

What were your first experiences when you quit your job to support yourself with internet income?

My first experience quitting my job and working for myself, that's a fun one.

The first business I had consisted of writing fake Amazon reviews for five bucks a pop. I ended up selling more of these than anyone else and I got to read a ton of crummy eBooks about organic pie and stuff like that. I probably made more off that venture than most of the authors who had me reviewing their books.

(But Amazon eventually put a stop to that - Ed.)

Why did you decide to go to Lima? What were your experiences there like?

Basically I moved to Peru on a whim. I wanted to go there after watching some National Geographic special. There wasn't really any serious reason for me to move there other than fun.

Personally, I had a blast. Lima, Peru was pretty inexpensive and had a lot of cool stuff. Great food, cool parks, and Latinas. You can't go wrong with a combination like that.

I also visited the Nazca lines and saw some touristy stuff that anyone could have seen online for free. Sightseeing is a little overrated in my opinion.

Plaza of Love in Lima

Why did you decide to go to Vietnam? What happened to that?

Okay, funny story. I actually bought my ticket and got my Visa (picture included for blog use. I've also sent an uncensored one to verify) to visit Vietnam at the end of January. However, two major events changed my mind.

The first was a Christmas break party I attended. This guy who was about one year older than me had gotten one of those dreaded 9-to-5 jobs that all the Tim Ferriss-types hate. His job was super easy and required virtually no actual work (it was a lame government position where he reviewed paperwork). Yet he made more money every year than most of these "lifehacker" Internet entrepreneur guys. If you've ever read one of those passive income blogs you'll know that $100,000 is the big benchmark for success (or at least according to the people who run those sites). This guy and his girlfriend had a combined income that was pretty close to that.

That was a huge wake up call to me. Once I heard that I realized that most of the passive income guys aren't actually that successful.

Secondly, and I hate to kick a guy when he's down, I discovered that a certain "Make money in Asia" guy was 35 and flat broke. Like struggling to survive in one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest countries broke. While I'm sure the guy is perfectly nice and stuff, his advice was B.S. After I learned that I decided to cancel my trip and focus on learning actual business skills (as opposed to making bush-league passive income blogs or whatever).

Why did you decide to return to America?

Instead of spending a year in Vietnam working on passive income stuff, I ended up sticking around America to learn how to make actual money. My dad has a few different businesses that are all fairly successful (although, admittedly, none of them are as cool as a PUA/Paleo/Weightlifting blog run by a man with a silly pen name).

So I'm spending the summer in the U.S. learning a ton of stuff about marketing and getting people to buy things they don't actually need. It's like Mad Men, but set in Iowa. And way less exciting.

What things do you notice liking and disliking about America in comparison to the countries you visited?

I've lived in four different countries since I was 18. And honestly, I think that most of them are pretty equal to America when it comes to pros and cons. In fact, I'd even say that America is a little better (in terms of culture and infrastructure) than a lot of places. For example, you some times see guys complaining about cultural decline in America, but then they advise young men to move to the Ukraine or Mexico. Two places that aren't exactly known for their stable governments and law abiding citizens.

With that said, there are some things that I really like about living abroad. Outside of a few places, the United States isn't exactly known for great weather or fantastic beaches. When I lived in Belize I'd go swimming every day. And in Peru I went on some massive walks along the coast. Although I'm usually more of a fields and meadows type of guy, hiking along the beach is pretty fun. And food, foreign food is way better than anything in the states.

Blatant plug for a book

What are you plans for the future? 

After the summer I plan on taking a trip to Tokyo and a few other places in Asia. I bought a really cool travel guide from 1969 and ended up reading all about Japanese culture. I'm also working more on direct marketing and trying to get a few additional corporate writing jobs (which pay pretty well).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Five Pretty Unremarkable International Dating Claims

I don't read a lot of blogs in general - it's hard enough to keep up with my own - and I certainly don't read a lot of blogs about international sex tourism or love tourism or adventure dating or whatever you want to call it.

But having scanned a few, and having recently returned from Thailand, and having overheard / spoken to a few dudes who were overly impressed with themselves, let me point out a few things that people often think are pretty remarkable in their sexual adventures (especially but not exclusively) in SE Asia, that are in fact pretty fucking mundane:

1) The whores liked me so much, they fought over me! -- Believe me, hang around whores often enough,and you will find it more unusual if they DON'T fight over you. Whores are viciously possessive about their customers. But that's related to point two:

2) The whore didn't charge me! -- If I can quote William Burroughs, "Beware of whores that say they don't want money, for in the long run these are the most expensive whores that can be got."

It was a matter of common bar-punter wisdom in Thailand that you should ALWAYS pay the girls you fuck, even and especially when they offer you freebies, or you are setting yourself up for all manner of trouble, up to and including being stabbed in the dick. Cash on the barrel-head is a simple transaction, love is not.

3) I fucked a beauty queen! -- First of all, when a girl says she's a former or current beauty queen, that could mean anything, as those pageants are held daily in some countries (I'm looking at you, Philipines and Dominican Republic.)

Second of all, to win such contests, that means she probably had to fuck all the judges better than all the other girls in the contests, who also had to fuck all the judges.

 (One of my rich guys said that in the mid-00s in Russia, he and his rich friends would organize beauty pageants just so they could get a new crop of hot teenage babes from the villages to fuck.)

4) She cooked and cleaned for me! -- This is also related to #2 above. By the time the girl is cooking and cleaning for you, she's probably going to start getting possessive and expecting you to be the man of the house. So expect cooking and cleaning to be highly correllated with tears and threats, and possibly with getting stabbed in the dick.

5) She washed my feet! -- This is not so much a sign of boundless affection, as she thinks your hygiene is piss-poor. She cleaned your ears and your feet, and your balls?

Yes, because she thought they were yucky.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I'm aware that this would be a really interesting part of the general narrative for me to break down into alcoholism and debauchery and whoremongering.

I don't think that's gonna happen, though.

Alcohol just doesn't seem to agree with me anymore.

It's weird. Alcohol was such a large part of my life, when I was in Russia. And before that, I liked a drink, sure, more or less in different cities and at different times, but I drank, and enjoyed it.

But then when I stopped ... well, it's not like I gave up drinking, it's like drinking gave me up.

I mean I have a beer now and then. A glass of wine. And I've occasionally met with friends to go on an all-night bender or even an all-weekend bender.

And while I enjoy parts of them, I'm also usually glad when they're over and I can sober up and start feeling human again.

The main thing I noticed is how much fucking energy your body has to use metabolizing all that shit. I mean I spent an entire week hiking in Utah with just the clothes on my back and a blanket-pack full of stuff,  and I wouldn't say that wasn't NEARLY the hard work that an all-night drinking binge back at the House of Pain nightclub in Vodkaberg used to be. I mean THAT shit took some stamina.

So it's typical, me being sort of ass-backwards to everybody else. Other people I know continue falling down holes of middle-aged alcoholism and drug abuse -- particularly prescription pills -- or struggle with sobriety, and I'm like, "Damn, being fucked up is too hard work!"

So you can take the boy out of the Middle East but obviously it's not so easy to take the Middle East out of the boy ...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sleeping Rough in Hong Kong: Interview with English Teacher A

In view of my own moment of being trapped outside the TEFL merry-go-round, it's always nice to hear from someone who has it worse than I do, so here's an interview with another teacher with a hard luck story.

How long have you been teaching, and where? 

10 years roughly. Oman for 1 year (two separate stints!), had a hiatus of about 8 months in Spain, did not even tutor one class...tefl is no good there, and the rest in China mostly at the uni or high/middle school level. Couldn't stand little kids so no kindergartens.

What kind of qualifications do you have? 

BA in English Lit and a 4 week TEFL from the same uni in the UK. No CELTA, but I regret that now, oh well.

What's your current situation? 

I'm sort of sleeping on the beach in Hong Kong, but at least I'm not pissing money away in bars or on a hotel room each night...hence I want out. There are a lot of homeless foreigners, some marry locals, and some just camp on the beach or in parks, the beach is great...until it rains, right now,

How did you come to be in this position? 

I couldn't get the confounded police check and ended up stranded in Hong Kong. I wasn't the only one. The days of sauntering into a place like China on a tourist visa, then going to HK or Thailand to get your work visa are long gone.

China basically changed the visa rules. I was too lackadaisical and it bit me in the arse when I could not get one in Hong Kong.

What do you like and dislike about TEFL? 

I dislike the fact that certain countries consider you too old to teach and basically say goodbye at 60. I also dislike teaching kids at the language mill type of places. I do like teaching at the public jobs in China because the students can be generally nice and respectful, if not a little loud. You always got the odd rude and lazy students, but mostly they were not bad, the opposite of Arab Gulf students, more respectful of the teacher.

What are your plans for the future? 

Hmmmm, hopefully get out of EFL altogether, I am currently applying to a few book editing jobs, so perhaps I can get out of the classroom, but still be involved in English teaching somehow, will depend on the competition in HK, for 1 guy with a BA in Literature like me, there are 10 more the same or with masters degrees.

I'm also getting zip in replies from the Middle East. Time for Taiwan perhaps....China lite, HK is too expensive and my savings from Oman are gone. So I'm hoping to go somewhere and work, and then get it, and the reconsider my options.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Down and Out in Bangkok

 ... but where better to be that than Bangkok?

I mean, where better to do anything at all, than Bangkok?

One of my favorite cities in the world, definitely.

I've been in Thailand a couple of weeks now -- on my own, a very personal and private celebration of my 20 years of English teaching, that started here. Maybe celebration is too festive of a word, as I haven't been partying much. A remembrance ceremony. A meditation, even.

Considering my life path, yes, but also considering Bangkok, where it all began.

I went through Songkran, which has developed from handfuls of people throwing water around to a massive crushing parade of celebrants dousing each other relentlessly. Pumping up your weapon to shoot water on somebody, and perhaps put white paste on their face? Not very subtle sexual sybolism, I suppose, though the original idea was about washing away sin. Now's it's  got a Halloween feel to it, with masks and the LGBT community out in force.

If you read my first memoir, you'll know the story. I went backpacking in 1994, and by 1995, decided I wanted to teach English ... in Taiwan. But they wouldn't give me more than a 2 week visa, so I ended up taking the first job I saw in the Bangkok Post, the largest and shittiest chain language school in the city.

Khao San road was a lively place in 1995, sure, but it was a lot mellower. We weren't tourists, then, or even backpackers, we were "travelers." (With all the snooty pretension you can imagine that goes with that.) It was fairly rare to meet somebody who was just travelling for a couple weeks or a month. People were out for 6 months or a year, in those days. Khao San road was still just mainly one street then --  -- there were a couple bars, a lot of cafes and cheap guest houses -- I think practically none of them had air-con or hot water, in those days.

The big draw in those days were movies; the cafes would play bootleg videos and it was always a treat for those of us who'd been on the road a while. Pirated CDs and cassettes were big in those days, also, as well as the t-shirts and fisherman pants and so forth.

While a certain amount of beer got drunk and pot got smoked, I would say in general it was pretty quiet back then. Bangkok was a place to relax and enjoy first-world comforts after the rough roads of India, usually. There were a couple bars, but people were so tight with their pennies in those days that attempts to open nicer bars and nightclubs always failed quickly, because people didn't want to spend the extra money.


Jesus Christ, it's like a cross between Bourbon Street and Bartertown in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The main thing I notice is that "Khao San Road" has pretty much expanded to fill streets on both sides of it and both ends of it.

When I first lived here in 1995, I lived on Rambuttri road, in the Green House Guest House.


At that time I liked it because it was quiet, cheap, and you actually got a real room. (A lot of cheap guest houses those days had plasterboard walls.)

Rambuttri was the street you walked (or lived) on if you didn't want to get bugged by t-shirt vendors on Khao San, a quite street with a couple of guest houses and a bunch of food vendors. Now it's like the motherfucking Champs Elysee. Open air cafes with neon and paper lanterns and giant buddhas and live music and such. There are fire-eaters and break dancers and buskers, too.

The Green House has changed a lot -- they knocked out the side wall and built a sidewalk cafe. (The entrance used to be in that alley.) They have some rooms with air-con and hot-water now, but they still have the little cubicles such as the one I lived in, just a bed and a fan and that's it. (I lived in Room 54 for a year between April 1995 and April 1996 -- the ETX Suite. It costs 350 baht now ($12 now) and cost 100 baht ($4) back then.) Weirdly the walls aren't green anymore. Why would they change that?

But about the area in general, I gotta say, basically, it seems a LOT more fun than 20 years ago. (See, I'm NOT one of those bitter old men bitching about how the old days were always better.)

The backpackers are far and away a more appetizing lot. The Russian and Eastern European chicks certainly up the beauty-quotient a lot, and short-time tourists are just generally healthier and more "kempt" than we used to be. Back in the day, the nationalities represented were pretty much ONLY American, British, Australian and a smattering of other Europeans. There were also a lot of Israelis, usually fresh off military service.

The Brits in the 90s were a bad lot, particularly, football holligans and ravers with IQs decimated by ecstasy abuse and untoward obsessions with the number of beats per minute in the dance music. The female to male ratio seemed way off in those days, also -- a lot more males were backpacking than females. Now it seems fairly even.

Back in the mid-90s, also, Bangkok seemed very uncomfortable with backpackers in general and Khao San Road in particular. I remember there were a couple of scathing articles in the Bangkok Post about what a shithole Khao San Road was, with the firetrap guest houses, a lot of theft and drug abust and rape reports. (There was one guy who sold jewlery, a middle-aged Chinese guy who wore jean shorts and tie-die shirts, who had been accused of rape so many times the police finally put up flyers warning people about him.) The police were constantly busting rooftop parties and such. There was talk of shutting the whole area down to build a mall, if I remember correctly.

Now they seem to have come to respect it as a cash cow if nothing else. The cops are omnipresent but polite, and keep patient watch over the debauchery.

They even have helpful suggestions on how to amuse yourself. Rock the night away, bro!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure

I know I said I'd write about Bangkok in this entry, and I've written like 5000 words on the subject, just need to get a few more pictures before I post some stuff. It'll probably be two or three entries.

So instead, since I've gotten such interesting and comprehensive advice regarding my current plight of joblessness, I'm going to do something different.

I'm aware there's a blogger who lets his readers vote on his next destination -- I'm going to let my readers vote on the remaining course of my life.

It'll kind of be like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure novels from when I was a kid.

Let's vote:

1) X goes back to America and gets a master's degree from a brick-and-mortar university in his home state, and prays that TEFL doesn't become fully automated before he finishes it.

2) X goes to Universidad de Alcala in Spain to do the TEFL Master's there, as it's cheaper and would surely be a better place to live, and prays that somebody acccepts a TEFL master's from Spain.

3) X takes another year off to write porn and a couple more ETX e-books, hoping that terrorist attacks in the Middle East cull out the surplus of teachers.

4) X does the China thing, getting a position (hopefully one in which he doesn't have to work much) at a university in China and also realizes a lifelong bucketlist goal of studying Kungfu at a Shaolin temple.

5) X just goes and studies at a shaolin kungfu school for a year

6) X buys a Harley-Davidson and becomes a bounty hunter, roaming the badlands of the Southwestern United States fighting crime.

7) X just becomes a crazy old guy, retiring and trying to survive off the money he has saved, in some cheap destination like Costa Rica or Thailand.

8) X goes back to Russia and gets married, getting a crap chain language school job, and spending a lot of time complaining about how the CIA created the situation in the Ukraine.

9) X gets an online master's degree from a school that has a physical campus, and hopes that he can successfully lie that it was done in "real life" if asked.

10) X devotes himself full-time to producing a podcast entitled "Excellence in Failure" in which he interviews and explores people who have failed massively at something.

Vote now!

Friday, May 01, 2015

What the Fuck is Going On Here?

All right, god knows, I'm not exactly the King of TEFL or anything, but I certainly thought I was employable. Not too old yet, fairly well-qualified -- BA in English plus DELTA - and a wide variety of experience in a wide variety of countries. Sure, a few gaps in my employment history, and some wanton job-changing, I guess, but doesn't everybody have those?

Maybe not!

It seems like there has been a VAST sea change since even just the beginning of 2013 when I was last looking for jobs. (I mean, I wrote about it myself. There's a GRAPES OF WRATH-style mass migration to the Middle East going on.)

I got turned down for the third and final job in Abu Dhabi -- it was a rather fishy-sounding affair through a contracting company -- so I applied for a couple more jobs -- one was a highly-paid military contracting job in Saudi, the other was at a college in Bahrain.

Both of these involved uploading ALL my stuff onto websites.Scanned copies of documents, references, all of it. And of course, "Master's Degree preferred."

From both I got no response at all. (Well, not yet anyway, and it's been ten days or so.)

Not a rejection ... just no response at all.

That seems to be the norm now, even for shitty chain-language school jobs, these application portals.Your information will be scanned not by humans but by algorhythms. Your diplomas and certificates and references will be checked BEFORE YOU EVEN GET A JOB.

The world of TEFL is now shitty AND competitive as well! And completely ON THE GRID!

Now let me reiterate: my certificates are all real (now). I have good references from my last couple of jobs.

I'm sure I'd turn something up. I did get offered a job in Saudi in Riyadh, in a sort of bait-and-switch deal. "Oh, our positions in UAE are filled now, but we do have some in Riyadh." And I could go back to my former employers (or so they told me when I left.)

But it got me wondering: what about all the poor fuckers I know who don't have any references, any real qualifications, who just amble along doing private lessons and working on tourist visas? What's going to become of those poor fuckers in this new era of TEFL? Never mind the police background checks and verification of documents even in places like China and Thailand.

Jesus wept. What's going on here? Who's the commanding officer here?

Well, fuck it. No more job applications, it's too distracting. I make the equivalent of a shitty chain-language school franchise salary from my books and stock dividends, so it's time to hunker down somewhere for a while. Probably have to go back to Russia for a while and live with the Girlfriend, and get that straightened up one way or another. Work on some books -- got one porno novel to finish and then I'll get to hard work on my next memoir, about my early life -- and get that stupid master's degree done. Hell, maybe I'll get TWO master's degrees. I got the loot, anyway. Fortunately.

Although, shit, I might have to change the name of the blog, if I can't teach English any more ...

ANYWAY! Enough about that.In five days, ruminations on Bangkok then and Bangkok now.

(EDIT: It's official, as of 2013, Saudi and UAE are now requiring a letter from your university verifying that you did NOT do your education online. This article is specifically about health-care workers, but it would apply all around. And here's another article from a visa service about that.