Friday, November 27, 2015

Apocolypse Now, 1997: Jasmine and Saigon (Part 2)

(This continues an historical look at expat / backpacker sex in Saigon, circa 1997. This is an old paper-and-ink journal entry, presented verbatim. In part 1, I met a pretty Vietnamese girl named Jasmine at a bar called Apocalypse Now; after I went home alone, she went to my guest house in a taxi and waited for me, inviting me home with her.)

"You're very strange. Why didn't you ask me to go home with you before?" she asked, in the taxi.

"I asked you if you wanted to walk outside," I said.

"Who wants to walk in high heels?" she said.

"Well, that's where I was going to ask you if I could go home with you." I didn't add that I still wasn't 100 percent sure she wasn't genetically female.

At her apartment she told me to wait a few minutes, and the follow her in because she didn't want people to see us together.

Her apartment (or rather, her boyfriend's apartment) was gigantic by 3rd world standards, with kitchen and full bathtub and everything. Pictures of her and her boyfriend were all over the walls; the place was well-decorated, and in an office there was a computer and a fax machine and scanner for pictures. Even a small piano and a picture on an easel!

During the week, she said, she took private lessons in painting, acting, and piano. Her acting teacher, she said, told her that she wan't really pretty enough to be an actress.

"It takes all kind of people to make movies, though."

"That's what I said. In SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES, there's one pretty girl and seven ugly little people. Somebody has to play the dwarves."

Her bedroom had a big bed, a TV with a VCR, a stereo (on which she put an Enya CD) and a lot of stuffed animals. A poster of "New Kids on the Block" hung among more pictures of her and her boyfriend,  who was rather a sincere-looking 30-ish Yuppie Scum type.) She said "New Kids on the Block" had personally sent her the poster after she'd written them -- they said she was their only fan in Vietnam.

We talked some more; she smoked a lot of cigarettes, and said she smoked four packs a day sometimes. She revealed she'd had a baby a couple years ago, and had to have a C-section; she said the scar looked like a zipper. (That would seem to settle the issue of her genetic makeup but there was no indication of a child in the place.)

"I look like I fought a tiger, I have so many scars," she said. She showed me some on her face near the hairline; she said she'd been hit in the face with a bottle during a fight with another girl.

"Nothing wrong with scars," I said. "They just show you've had an interesting life."

She wanted to know why I seemed so emotionally distant. "Most guys would have been licking my toes to go home with me," she said.

"It's been a rough last few years," I said.

She said everybody has done things they're not proud of, but you just keep moving forward and trying to do better.

I explained that for me, trying to do better, was not getting involved with people.

She told me a story about a pet rabbit she'd had when she was 17. She'd kept it in a small cage because she didn't want it running away, but its legs had become very weak because of this, however, and when she did let it out of the cage, it got killed by a dog because it couldn't run fast enough.

She said this bothered her a lot, though it might sound silly.

I said I understood perfectly well.

It was about 6:00am by this point, and I was tired. "Aren't you attracted to me in a man-woman way?" she asked. I was tired, and felt emotionally drained already, but I didn't want to be impolite.

We undressed and got at it; she didn't have a penis. My dick wasn't up to much, at that hour of the morning, so we ended up mutually masturbating each other.

Afterwards we dozed a little; then I said, "I guess I'd better go back to the hotel."

She didn't like that. "I thought you were different because you're strange, but you're not."

I apologized and said I'd stay if she wanted, but I had no clean clothes, no toothbrush, no medicine for my athlete's foot, and I could never sleep well around other people.

She got up and walked into the other room and began playing something classical on the piano, which was out of tune. I recognized it but couldn't quite place it.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Nocturne," she said. "I play it when I feel frustrated."

This was every bit as surreal as it sounds.

I left and told her I'd call her. And I actually did, the next day; she seemed surprised and hesitant but not unhappy, but she didn't want to go out.

Health note: athelete's foot is better, finally ...

* * *

For more tales of SE Asia, English teaching, and backpacking in the 90s, read

Available HERE on Amazon, HERE on Smashwords, 100 percent free

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Apocalypse Now, 1997: Jasmine and Saigon (Part 1)

This is a verbatim entry from an old paper-and-ink journal that I kept. The entry is dated March 23rd, 1997. I advertised it as "something gross about a Vietnamese whore" but in fact there's nothing all that gross about it. I present it it as an historical look at expat life and sex in 90s Vietnam.

This happened after I left Korea, where I had taught for ten months; I was 28 years old. 

I left here at about 10:00pm and took a cyclo towards a strip of bars on Mac Thi Buoi; it became quickly apparent that the only lively one -- indeed the only one that seemed to have any customers -- was the tritely-named "Apocalypse Now," which I'd seen advertised on t-shirts all over SE Asia.

I went in and ordered a BGI beer (18.000 dong / almost $2 -- outrageous by local standards) and was not terribly surprised to find that there was nothing much apocolyptic about the place. The decor was minimal -- dark walls, a long wood bar, thatched columns and a pool table and a small dance floor, with a little patio in the rear.

The crowd looked like a bunch of Yuppie Scum if ever I've seen 'em -- polo shirts, khakis, and cigars. Some were obviously local "expat" business people -- a lot of tourists, too, but even the tourists seemed like Yuppie Scum.

I had a few beers and then was ready to leave when I saw a cute Vietnamese girl in a really tight flowered minidress, kicking it good on the dance floor. And damned if she didn't give me the Long Lovely Look. My pulse raced.

However, I've been in Asia for quite a while. I began to think she might be a kratoey (or whatever they call transvestites / transexuals here) or at least a hooker.

I kept my eye on here and we smiled at each other a few times -- she knew a lot of people there, but seemed to be there alone.

Eventually, we ended up dancing together; she writhed coyly. I decided if she was a transvestite or transsexual, she was the greatest one I'd ever seen, and it was high time I tried one. I touched her waist while we danced.

We started talking. Her name was Jasmine. (Of course!) She was 22. After some introductory chit-chat, she was surprisinglyly frank. She said she'd been a whore a few years ago, but wasn't now. She had a boyfriend who lived in Hong Kong and he sent her enough money to live comfortably. She was studying art and graphic design now. (And taking piano lessons.)

Her English was completely fluent and bizarrely had a very thick Southern accent. She attributed this to her favorite film, Forrest Gump, but said that her boyfriend was from Texas, also.

This was all quite strange to me, this time / space warp Tennessee Williams accent coming out of this delicate young Oriental blossom. She was not what you'd call classically beautiful, though -- face a bit too round, maybe, teeth not particularly straight, and (I would later see) a scar on her forehead and another on eyebrow. She had long flowing black hair, though, and a great slim body, and her face had a lot of character, something often absent from Asian girls.

She told me about life in Saigon; said the government and police are all crazy and hassel the foreigners constantly. They'd once come to Apocolypse Now and arrested all the Vietnamese girls there and tried to get them to sign statements saying they'd worked as prostitutes there, wanting to force the bar to close (or pay a large fine) in this manner. All of the expat men had gathered outside the police station and sung "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" She refused to sign and was eventually released.

She said that the expats that worked for large international companies usually had it very good -- they were paid large amounts of money to do nothing, to be a "foot in the door" in Vietnam while deals were endlessly negotiated and formalized with the government.

Around 4:00 am, the bar closed. I asked her if she wanted to walk outside with me; she said she'd stay here for a while. I got her phone number and said I'd call her.

I got on a Cyclc and headed back home -- two whores on a moped followed me and offered me a massage, or a blow job. I said thanks, but I was tired.

When I got back to the guest house, the gate was closed. A voice said, "X!" and I saw a female head sticking out of a taxi cab. For a weird second, I thought it was Kun Jung Ah from Korea but of course it was Jasmine.

"Do you want to come back with me?" she asked quietly.

I nodded and got in.

End part one!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Actual Mechanics of Repatriation

Three months here already, geez!

All the actual administrative stuff involved in moving back to America actually turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.

(To recap: I moved back to America accepting a decent-paying job in a small city in the Southwest, teaching Middle Easterners, mainly so that I could help my father, who has recently moved into an assisted living facility.)

Getting an apartment was a cakewalk. The first place I looked, a mid-range complex near my work, moved me in by the end of the week. After my experience amongst the hotel homeless, I was worried about potential problems with credit checks, references, leases, and deposits; but I moved into a furnished, $700-a-month place, utilities included, with just a three-month lease and a $200 deposit. I don't think they even bothered to call my employers. The apartment isn't exactly the Ritz-Carlton, but it's nice enough, quiet and roomy and gets a lot of sunlight.

It's one of the nicer places I've lived, though that's not saying much.

Phone? Also no problem. My unlocked Lenovo works just fine with the AT and T Pay-As-You-Go plan. I pay $45 a month for unlimited talk and text and 1 GB of data. No contracts for me.

Internet? Also easy enough. No contracts, no deposit. Just pay, plug, and play. $55 a month for that, also.

(I gather that catering to the transient and dubiously-documented is a growth industry.)

Of course I had to buy the first car I've owned since I was 24. (A 2013 Toyota Corolla.) My mother surprised me by gifting me the price of it, knowing that I would be paying most of my father's bills for the rest of the year. Unlike my father, she has managed her money well. "Think of it as money you're going to inherit eventually anyway," she said.
I sit under this tree near my apartment a lot and daydream about when my life was exotic

Getting car insurance was handled by my mother's insurance agent; getting the car registered here in the state I live now took a couple of trips to the DMV and maybe a half-hour of waiting. Relatively painless, if boring.

Now, health insurance?

The company that employs me had a seminar the other day to let us choose which insurance plan we wanted; most of us are TEFL lifers, and had no fucking idea what they were talking about. "Uh ... what's a premium? Who pays the deductible?"

I pay something like $80 a month for health insurance with a $3500 deductible. (Whatever the fuck that means.) That doesn't sound like the best deal in the world, but I can live with it.

So here I am! A tax-paying, documented, insured, 40-hour-a-week American citizen. I imagine they'll find me slumped over dead of heart failure in my Toyota Corolla, listening to NPR, any day now, so thanks for reading.

I don't have an excess of time to write, but in upcoming weeks, we should have at least some of the following:

Interview with a guy teaching English in Africa
Write-up on my trip to the Galopogas Islands
Preview of my next memoir, about my youth
The Accidental Pornographer, Part 5: Porno History X
Books About Drinking, Fucking, and Traveling: Bukowski, Thompson, Theroux and the 70s


Saturday, November 07, 2015

Interview with English Teacher SF

In honor of my own American exile, here's an interview with a guy who actually started teaching in America, did a few years overseas, and then resumed life in academia. He is also a writer and keeps a website at

How long have you been teaching?

I started teaching in the fall of 1979, so this shall be my 36th year in the profession.

Where have you taught?

I have taught at colleges and universities in South Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas and Illinois. I have taught middle school in Wisconsin and Illinois. As far as overseas goes, I taught in Japan for five years and in Saudi Arabia for one year.

Which places have you liked the most and the least?

The five years I spent in Japan were the best years of my life. The wages were good and there were plenty of privates for the picking. I loved going to Tokyo to hang-out. I saw George Harrison and Eric Clapton in concert there in 1990 or 91. I saw Buster Douglas knock-out Mike Tyson at the Big Egg. I was with the same lovely woman for the entire five years I was there. I wasn’t wild about the magic kingdom. The money was good but the place was dull and the culture meant nothing to me. I made it through a 1 year contract and that’s about it. It was a dog year: seven years for one. In the USA, I’m the happiest in South Carolina.

I loved Japan and the Japanese people but I thought they were very dull and unimaginative as students. I actually preferred the Saudi students because they were talkative and they had this goofball sense of humor. I remember students staying up all night during Ramadan and then sleeping in class. I was spat on and choked in KSA, but I liked the students overall. Over here I like the southern students from South Carolina and Texas more than the snotty and wise aleck students from the Midwest.

What kind of qualifications do you have?

My B.A and M.A degrees are in Communication. I also had a state of Wisconsin Teachers’ Certification. By the time I had gone overseas, I had about 10 years of teaching under my belt. The Celta wasn’t necessary for me to have on my resume when I was hired to work in Japan or Saudi Arabia. Now it appears to be a must in the ESL-EFL field. I have actually thought about taking a 3 month and 120 hour program here in South Carolina to have it in case I wanted to go back to English teaching after I retire.

How's your quality of life compared to your wages?

I am very happy with my quality of life right now. I have been teaching at a community college here in South Carolina for the past ten years. I make a good salary and I have the rank of Associate Professor. In two years I’ll be promoted to a full professorship which is not bad for a blue collar kid from a factory town. I also spend a great deal of time on my writing projects. I have essays, stories and reviews published on-line and with several glossy magazines. It took me a few years to actually re-adjust to the USA, but I now am back in touch with my roots.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m 61 and I hope to continue to teach here until I’m 66. I’d like to retire back to Wisconsin and just write. I suppose teaching English overseas is still in my blood, for I still check-out the job boards at Dave’s ESL to see what’s available. I have always wanted to teach in Eastern Europe and I suppose Poland is my first choice. I’m not of Polish ancestry but I guess I’m comfortable with the fact that they’re Catholics. I don’t think Americans can get visa all that easily in Europe anymore because of the European Union. I probably too old to be hired on for any decent job. To be honest about it, I don’t have the physical and mental toughness any more to adapt to a foreign land.

Do you recommend the ESL-EFL route to young Americans?

In my many years of teaching here in the States I only recall two students expressing an interest in teaching overseas. One ended up teaching in Costa Rica and New Zealand: she loved every minute of it. The other expressed an interest in Japan and Russia so I gave him two books by English Teacher X. He decided to go to China. Yes, I’d highly recommend it to the right type of person. Many people probably shouldn’t even try it, for they’ll be miserable or throw in the towel too quickly. I also would caution a person to make it a 1 to 5 year gig. I know some people score big in the field by starting their own school or by working for a big university. However, I think most lifers aren’t all that happy with themselves or their work after a certain point. I also would recommend to an American not to over-estimate or under-estimate our country, or to over-estimate or under-estimate any other country. You’re still an American and you should grow old and die in your native land.

Is there anything you would have done differently with your ESL career?

Not really. Six years was just about the right amount of time for me personally. I made very good money during those years overseas. More importantly, I traveled extensively: maybe I visited about two dozen countries. However, now I’m more than satisfied to be a ‘stay-at-home-pair of shoes.’ My idea of paradise is no longer an airport, a suitcase and a tour guide book. I also met all sorts of people from all over the world. I learned how to live with diversity before it became fashionable. I have become very capable at defusing obnoxious people who want to argue about politics or religion. Has anybody else ever noticed that many English teachers are closet social workers, aspiring crusaders and failed diplomats?