Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Minute to Breathe

Where else but China are you going to hear people greet each other by saying, "Hey, wow, that's a cool filtration mask you've got!"

(That's just a cheap one but you can get all different colors and styles and filter types.)

Maybe you've read about the 5-day pollution emergency going on around Beijing. Nothing new, really; the other teachers say last year was a lot worse. In general November and December was pretty nice this year. (There were at least as many nice days as bad days.0

But for the last five days it's looked about like this:





Schools have technically been closed since the weekend, but since we're a boarding school outside of the city, quite a few kids ended up staying here. We just recently installed air filters in all the rooms, and mostly we've been sitting around with the kids watching movies. 


(A couple of my colleagues out enjoying cigarettes in the pollution emergency.)

I have to say, although I'm in general fond of the apocalyptic, after five days of this, I'm feeling pretty shitty. It's really one of the creepiest and saddest things I've ever seen -- people walking around bundled up like they work in an asbestos factory, the sun a little forgotten smudge in the middle of the opaque blanket of pollution. 



Of course I have an air filter in my apartment, and then I recently bought a hand-held pollution sensor which I have all kinds of fun playing with. (It goes off the chart if you fry bacon next to it, I found.) 

Here's the reading last Sunday, standing by an open window, about 12 times higher than acceptable levels:  



I noticed that my air filter can pretty much handle only one room at a time, so if you live in China you're probably wise to have one for each room:  


video

The main culprit is coal, apparently, which is used for most of the electricity generating, although the cars and industry certainly contribute. So all you Trump supporters eagerly awaiting him to gut America's environmental regulations, bring back industry and use coal again?  All this can be yours!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Requiem for a Poon Hound


I wrote about it briefly almost a year ago; the sad death of one of the guys I know back in Russia.

He was a minor characters in the book VODKABERG, referred to as the Venezualan. 

He wasn't really from Venezuala, although he was from South America. Half Russian on his mother's side, he was working in Russia as an engineer for an oil company, making about 4 times what we made as English teachers. 

(This is the only old blog entry about him I could find, but I think there were others.)

He'd left Russia to go to Mexico to work, about the same time I went to Saudi; we communicated on Facebook a few times and he said he was looking for a job in Dubai,as he didn't much like Mexico.

The last I remember communicating to him was asking him if Mexico was as dangerous as people said, and he said, "Oh yeah, there are murders around here every day." 

So he kind of slipped from my life after that; I thought he just disappeared from Facebook. I missed the post his wife and friends made about his death.  

Finally Crazy Bob pointed it out to me last year. 


His 2010 murder remains unsolved; he was gunned down in the parking lot of the office where he worked. One could assume it was related to cartel figures or guerillas trying to shake down his company for money; he was apparently the financial manager. It could conceivably have been a kidnap attempt.

But I wonder if it might have been a jealous husband.  

Because man was this guy a poon hound. 

He cheerfully fucked all the girls that worked at the oil companies he worked at, even though he was married and they usually were too. "Ah, the guys are always getting drunk with their buddies, I'm not worried," he said when I expressed the idea that he ought to be careful.



Crazy Bob was particularly upset to hear about this guy's death; their lifestyles were similar. We poured over Spanish language newspapers on the internet looking for news about it, and we were at least relieved that he didn't seem to suffer much. He got of his car, was approached by some men, and ran away and was cut down in a hail of semi-automatic weapons fire. 

He was apparently shot by at least three attackers, so that would tend to rule out a jealous husband, unless the jealous husband hired it out. 

But I think he'd have preferred to get killed by a jealous husband in a hot-blooded Latin style, rather than just be another statistic in the often impersonal and senseless drug and political violence that has contributed to the 165,000 homicides in Mexico between 2007 and 2014

He is survived by a Russian wife he'd just married and taken to Mexcio, with whom he had two children, and an ex-wife back home with whom he had had three children. 

Rest in peace, muchacho. I hope they have pussy in heaven. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Song Remains The Same: A Cartoon About Songs in Class

This is something that happened back in Russia in the 00s. It was a teacher who just couldn't seem to get along with his students, this big Canadian doofus who had formerly been an emergency medical services guy. 

I heard this from next door, 








Shortly after that, they all walked out of class and demanded a new teacher. 

I think he only lasted about 6 months at our branch, though he struggled through some other jobs at different branches in Russia for a while, too. 

I think the moral is just be aware that seemingly innocent and harmless things can end in disaster quite often in TEFL. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Changing Face of English Teaching, Part 2 (Or: This Shit is Ancient History)

Read Part 1 here

I was sitting and perusing my first book, the English Teacher X Guide to Teaching English Abroad.



I was considering doing a new edition for 2017.

But I'm thinking:

This shit is ancient history. English teaching just isn't like this anymore. 

The meat of that book was written between 2003 and 2007. English teaching (and the world) has changed a lot since it was published in 2011.

Of course my impression is colored by my current job, and my last job, where I was working with a lot of people with primary and high school teaching experience -- actual licensed teachers -- and words like "scaffolding" got tossed around a lot. Places where telling a story about a night at a go-go bar in Pattaya is more likely to get you a somber lecture about the realities of sex trafficking and AIDS rather than laughter.

But then I look at the want-ads on TEFL.com and so forth -- there damn sure are still a lot of $1000 a month jobs left out there, despite all the new requests for state teaching qualifications and master's degrees and all that.

They can't all be full of frumpy female teachers, can they? Married couples and people with kids?

Can they?



Give me some input. Are there still language institutes out there where most of the staff is drunk all the time, where the teachers and the students freely bump uglies, where words like "scaffolding" are reserved for something to watch out for when drunkenly wandering through construction sites?

Or are those days gone forever, a thing of the past like the three-martini lunches of MAD MEN?



I mean, I don't care -- I barely drink at all anymore. I'm not pining for the old days, particularly.

Just wondering,

I mean it's a whole new world in general, and not a particularly light-hearted one.

Just curious.

Anybody still having fun out there?



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Oh, America, Now You've Gone and Done It

So which do you prefer, STAR WARS or STAR TREK?

A pretty easy question, on the face of it. Most people would say STAR WARS (dislike for the prequels aside.)

Why?

Well, it's more exciting.  It's passionate, it's thrilling, it's vibrant.

Sure.

And what's the general theme of STAR WARS?

Well, it's about weak and ineffective republics which are constantly beset by civil war, trade conflicts, and the looming threat of fascism and sudden annihilation. It's about religious extremism -- my Force is better than your Force -- and especially about patricide. Science exists, but nobody seems to know or care much about it, beyond building weapons of mass destruction.

While the various planetary species and races are occasionally seen banding together, it's mostly old white guys who run the show, and it's a world where institutionalized prejudice is such that even robots are not allowed in bars.



It's a world where travel mainly just gets you attacked by monsters, and where problems are solved with blasters, light sabers, and telekinetic death-chokes.

And what's the general theme of STAR TREK?

It's about how the scientific method can solve most of our problems, and how globalism, gender equality and multiculturalism can allow a flourishing of peaceful and united civilization. It's about an interplanetary Federation of professional, intelligent, competent problem-solvers who are able to put aside their differences in the pursuit of lofty goals and in dealing with threats. They might use violence, but generally within strict guidelines and as the last resort.



So America has just cast a vote for a STAR WARS future.

Hardly a surprise, I guess, with that particular American logic: well, all those educated, intelligent politicians never managed to make the country perfect, so why not give a vulgar and stupid one a chance?

Thursday, November 03, 2016

My Sex Life, Part 2: Failing to Get Laid in 2013

Here's another story about me failing to get laid.

Since I so enjoyed the bewildered response to the last post, here's another post about that girl, and another Russian girl, and my Girlfriend. From my 2014 memoir REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND, available now wherever self-published shoddy e-books are sold. The girl from the last post is referred to as Nadya in the book. And some added value -- more pictures. 


(In 2013, I had left one job in Saudi to take my Girlfriend to America, but she had been denied a visa. Unable to think of another plan we both agreed on, I accepted another job in Saudi, and while waiting for documents, went back to Russia to see her one last time before we broke up. This happened shortly before my 44th birthday. )

FRIENDS NEW AND OLD

We had brief, spasming sex the morning after I arrived, and spent that weekend together, but the Girlfriend left me alone in the damp flat quite a bit. She had to study for some big test on banking regulations that was a major part of her new job.

So I met up with Nadya and Elena one night.

Elena’s pupils got big when she saw me. She looked much like she had in pictures; blonde and slutty.

I bought the drinks and we sat on a park bench for a while on Vodkaberg’s stab at a trendy downtown pedestrian thorough-fare; 10 years previously it had been an outdoor market where old ladies sold soap and clothes from Turkey. Now it was lined with restaurants and bars. Outdoor drinking was supposed to be illegal, but a lot of young people seemed to do it there.

Eventually I took them to a small bar, actually a pizza restaurant, that had music and dancing and we got drunk; Elena and I started doing tequila shots. Nadya held back a bit and I managed to stay relatively on top of things.

Elena was soon hanging all over me and squirming into my lap, occasionally dragging me out to the dance floor to stagger around a bit to the loud Russian pop music, unsteady on her high heels, her electric-blue thong panties pulling up over the top of her tight low-rider jeans.

Finally, while Nadya was in the toilet, I pulled Elena over and kissed her, getting a handful of tit. She slithered her tongue into my mouth and we made out a while, until finally she pulled away.

“Bad boy!” she said, the first English she had spoken to me, and cuddled against me until Nadya returned.

Elena had to work the next day – she had some kind of office job – and she tumbled drunkenly out of the taxi at 1:30 am.

“You like her?” said Nadya. “She’s a fun girl.” She used the Russian word for sociable.


“Yeah, that’s how I’d describe her.”

Nadya and I made out in the car a little on the way home, but then I got out and went into the dank apartment alone and she went home to her husband.

NIGHT OUT

The Girlfriend spent a few nights at the flat – we had dinner together and watched TV and were mostly comfortable to hang around each other. But we didn’t have sex.

Then the next Saturday night came and again the Girlfriend was studying. She said she couldn’t get any serious studying done in the flat and had gone back to her village an hour away. The tests were very important, she said.


I took Elena and Nadya and another girl out to a new popular club. It was very much in the Russian style, with a bunch of tables around a dance floor and Russian pop music. We drank cocktails and smoked kalyan and danced. I spent a couple hundred bucks.




 Elena and I had a more complicated discussion using a translation program on her phone.

The message she gave me said, “I love to travel very much but I can’t afford it.” She smiled speculatively at me as she said this.

I responded, “Stay friends with me, and you can have more opportunities to travel.”

She knew I lived with a girlfriend. She didn’t mind too much, as she lived with a boyfriend. She wanted to travel more and couldn’t understand how my girlfriend didn’t want to.


She rubbed against me.

At 2:00 am or so we left that place and went to another place near where I’d used to live; a new Irish pub full of people in the kind of bohemian rock-group T-Shirts and leather jackets and beards and tattoos that had never been much of a thing in Russia.

At 3:00 am Nadya and I decided to go home; we left Elena there, as she’d met a bunch of people she knew.

Elena pulled me into an alcove to kiss goodbye; I grabbed her tits again.

“Don’t touch my breasts,” she said primly, “There are friends of my boyfriend here.”


In the taxi on the way home, Nadya pulled up her dress so I could see her underwear as we made out; then she went home to her husband and I went home to the cold dank empty flat.

HUNGOVER

We talked the next day on Vkontakte as I lay hungover around the musty flat.

She was off to another city with some friends for a few days, but in a few weeks she was going to Greece for a week-long holiday.

In America, my contract had arrived. They recommended I get back and sign it as soon as possible. I couldn’t get a crown for my tooth in Russia, as it turned out, because all the labs that made them were closed for the May holidays. It would take at least six more weeks, which I didn’t have.

I changed my ticket to go back to America early – and changed the route so I could spend a week in Greece.

Elena was very pleased. “We will set Greece on fire!” she said in Russian. “Did you book a room at the same hotel as us?”

I booked a room at that hotel for five days, and then at another hotel in the city center for the last three days. I didn’t want to seem too clingy.

I explained that the last three days, they could come there before they went to the club.
“Or go there after the club ;-)” she messaged.

Nadya was less pleased. She wanted to go but couldn’t get off work.

NOT UP

The weekend before I left the Girlfriend and I spent together.

It was sunny and warm so we walked down the embankment and then went out for a sushi dinner.
I told her I was going to Greece, although I omitted the Russian girl.

“I want to relax on a beach somewhere warm, and not think about the Kingdom,” I said. That part was certainly true enough.

We tried to have sex when we got home but I completely couldn’t get it up.

I’d had a few substandard performances in my time, but this was the first case of complete impotence that didn’t involve enormous amounts of alcohol.

Maybe it was the allergy pills.

“It’s okay,” she said, “I still don’t feel good after my menstruation.”


TO BE CONTINUED!

Monday, October 24, 2016

My Sex Life, Part 1: The Hypothetical One

People in the comments section have been pestering me about my sex life.

I'll just go ahead and tell you that it's mostly pretty hypothetical, this particular fall.


There are undoubtedly lots of whores in Beijing, but I haven't seen any yet. I've been too busy trying to get adjusted to my new job to go out and drink much. And of course, like my younger contemporaries Tucker Max, Neil Strauss, and Roosh V, I pretty much feel I'm too old for that shit.

But still, to satisfy my readers, how about an update on my mostly platonic mistress?

So let's see. I have had a girlfriend for 7 years now, who I only see every few months.

And, as described in my last memoir, I have been having a side fling with a married girl who I also knew back in Russia.

Mostly just on the internet, however.

Her, I see about every 1 - 3 YEARS. Last time I saw her was in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic back in 2013. Before that I saw her when I visited Russia in 2010 and 2011.

Yet it still lingers! The texting and the sexting and the occasional Skype chat.




Oh, we're always scheming to meet somewhere. Grand fantasy plans about limos and hot tubs and fucking on deserted beaches.

 She wanted to come to Dubai while in 2014 while I was working in Saudi, but it never worked out, even when I offered to pay. (She did successfully visit me there once in 2011.)

 I was in Thailand between jobs in 2015, but her friend wanted to go to Vietnam and they'd just instituted a new high-priced visa for Americans so I didn't go.


Then she tried to get a friend to go with her to Miami in spring of this year, but they were afraid they wouldn't be able to get a visa. (Her husband can't travel abroad because he works for the military.)

So it just never works out, the actual meeting, so it stays mostly online.

Obviously, there's something there we both like and need. Some romance and intrigue, I guess. We can indulge our evil sides without being TOO unfaithful to our significant others. (Or at least only every few years.)

There's always a chance that we'll end up together, I guess; we discuss it occasionally. But I think we both know it won't happen, because we know that the main thing we have in common is dishonesty and unfaithfulness.



But who knows? China's not so far from Russia, and she's got an aunt who works here ... so there might be a sordid sex story in me yet.





Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Verdict

Opinions were divided, amongst friends, acquaintances, and blog commentators, when I told them that I would be going to China to teach rich kids at a swanky international school.

The first possibility was: "Well, Chinese people work hard in general and respect education and teachers, and rich kids will be from good families and be under a lot of pressure to be successful."

The second possibility was: "Well, Chinese though they may be, they'll be rich and spoiled and lazy, and give you a hard time."

The verdict?









Yeah, they're pretty bad.

Not worse than the Saudis, of course, but pretty bad.

And the swanky international school?

Turns out it has the usual problems -- cramming too many students into one class, books arrived three weeks late, problems with mismatched levels of students, no discipline system, etc.

(In retrospect, the only surprise is that I was surprised by it.)

See, our school is swanky and international, but it also is a private institute with no real admission policy. So you pay the fee, you get to go.

Thus, it's kind of a dumping ground for bratty kids their parents don't want to deal with any more, actually.

And also kids with what are politely called "special needs" and "behavioral issues" and who lay on the "autism spectrum."

(What we used to call retards, spazmos, geeks, and brats, in the old days. Thank god we've all grown beyond insulting terminology, and instead have detached clinical terms to describe them!)

Still, chin up. The pay is good, I generally like it, and China has a lot of fabulous stuff to see and do. Maybe next week I'll write about my trip to the Shaolin Temple. (Oh my aching knees.)








Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Changing Faces of TEFL

I'm pretty sure the average English teacher has changed a lot in the last five or six years, especially.

On the one hand, I'm older and the world has changed, and on the other hand, the jobs that I get now are generally better (in terms of salary, if nothing else) and thus may attract a slightly different breed than the cruddy language schools I started at.

But it seems to me the "average" English teacher has changed.

In the beginning there were these people:


You had the Mean Old Bastard, the Bloated Middle Aged Alcoholic, the Hip Young Guy. They pretty much made up the bulk of language schools employees. Happily drunk, barely qualified, cheerfully amoral. There were the Frumpy Yet Idealistic Young Women and the Professionals, but not nearly so many. The Professional was usually the Director of Studies, and used a lot of jargon, but was often secretly even more depraved than the others. (Come to think of it, it's even been a while since I've heard the term "Director of Studies" used.)

This would have been the 90s. 

In the 00s, things changed. Slowly, and more quickly in some places than others, but they changed. Other people started entering the trade.

And I drew cartoons about them. 

I wrote a whole series of cartoons when I first started this site back in 2003 (!).


But what about now? 

Well, you'll still find all those people in the business. Just in different ratios. 

So the Mean Old Bastards are still around, in smaller numbers, but they're mostly consigned to the shittiest jobs -- rural China, for example -- and clinging miserably to ever-crappier positions in the Middle East. In many cases the Drunk Middleaged Whoremongers became Mean Old Bastards, as it's not nearly so possible these days to stay drunk all the time and keep an English teaching job. 




The Hip Young Dudes kind of surprised me, in that in many cases they have turned into the Professionals. They got Master's degrees and started being more discreet about fucking students, and turned their smarmy ways towards obtaining important positions at well-paying schools. Oh, of course, they occasionally turned in Middle Aged Whoremongers. 



There aren't many Hip Young Dudes entering the business these days, because those guys all want to operate affiliate websites and do online marketing and all that kind of thing. 

Now, the Frumpys?

The Frumpy Young Women tend to be Middle-Aged Women now, but they are fucking EVERYWHERE in TEFL now. They are much more confident, much more professional and qualified, even more blazingly indignant about social justice and GMO foods, but they're still pretty frumpy. 



They've kind of combined with the Hip English Chick archetype, in fact, although I'm seeing a lot more American chicks than English these days. In any event there are a lot of 90s nose-rings still in evidence. 

Many of the others are flat-out disappearing in these days of high demands for qualifications and experience. The Crazy Guys are mostly unemployable, rarely getting past Skype interviews. The Canadians and the Starting Over Guys, who were mostly just doing it for a short time, find it hard to get work. The Bullshit Artists can't verify their documents, and the Conspiracy Guys don't want to.

I am seeing a lot of these, in the modern era:  

These couples used to be middle-aged, but now I'm seeing more relatively hip and young such couples. 

What about the rest of you out there? I welcome your comments. Are my observations typical? Am I moving into such rarefied air in the world of ESL that my finger is far from the pulse, and instead jammed up my ass? 


My collected book of cartoons will be FREE on Amazon, from September 28 to October 3



Saturday, September 17, 2016

TEFLpocolypse: Day of Reckoning

"For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" - Revelation 6:17


The TEFLpocolypse abides. 

Oh, me? I'm fine. Don't worry. My job seems to be going well enough, and I really dig Beijing. 

But I narrowly dodged a bullet at my last job, and some of my colleagues there weren't so lucky. 

Fucking contracting companies. 

I am referring in this case to government contracting companies, not plain old recruitment companies. (The term is sometimes mis-used.) Contracting companies provide personnel for government contracts, usually military / industrial in nature. I worked for one last year in America, and I worked for one in 2013 / 2014 in the Kingdom.

Basically, they provide employees so that the government don't have to provide employees with full time jobs, permanent contracts, full security clearances, and full benefit packages. While your salary might be good or even great, it is the result of a formula designed to provide the lowest bid on the contract. 

And you're fucking expendable. 


My first contracting job, in which me and maybe a hundred other people provided our TEFL skills for the state-run oil company in Kingdom, was to me very unpleasant though highly paid, and I left after a year. I didn't have any particular problem with my contracting company, but I saw many others -- people being suddenly let go for little reason, paperwork being bungled, money not getting paid, people being forgotten about after being promised jobs

Most of the hundred or so people I was hired with were let go in summer of 2015, when the low price of oil caused major repercussions in the economies in the Middle East. Most of them were older guys who had been hoping to ride that gravy train until they retired, and most of them had been constantly reassured they would be offered another contract. 

My last job, in America, struck me as a half-assed, tentative deal from the very beginning.  I was interviewed, then didn't hear anything, then offered a different job, then offered a part-time job, then finally offered the job on the condition that I could start in a week. 

Needing to stay in America to help my Parkinson's-stricken father, I took the job, but I could tell it was no sure thing. The HR guy who met me on the first day was a cynical retired military guy who said he doubted the job would last until Christmas. (The job did, but he only lasted until March of the next year.) When my boss, the manager of the program, came to meet me, she was in tears, having just been bawled out by her superiors (government folks, I guess) over something she didn't want to discuss. 



As the months passed, I was appalled by the e-mails full of corporate nonsense-speak about teams and goals and leveraging our sensibilities, which were lengthy but said very little. I was required to watch something like 5 hours of videos of training in things unrelated to my field. They even once sent out an e-mail asking if we had previously worked on any contracts that they might be able to bid on and poach. 

The students at that job could not care less about learning English; there were nearly 200 when I arrived and they were being sent home in droves, for discipline violations and occasionally completely criminal acts, while none were arriving. 

I expressed my doubts to my colleagues. They were a mixed bag -- mainly retired public school teachers and a lot of younger TEFL refugees bounced back from whatever jobs abroad. 

Usually, I was told to stop being so negative. 


The whole government contract world is extremely complex, with a lot of regulations and rules, and anybody who has ever dealt with the Kingdom will tell you that things rarely get done quickly or accurately. Everyone knew the original 2-year contract was going to end in September of 2016 -- that is, the original contract between the government and the company. (The employees were all on at-will employment agreements, which could be ended at any time.)

In the spring of this year, we found we had few students -- less than 50 remained from 200 --  and a lot of doubts about what would happen next. 

Fortunately I got this job offer at a Chinese international school in May. I continued working in the USA until a week before I left, because mainly we were sitting around doing not much. (My favorite kind of job.) 

About the same time, the boss told everybody that a new company would be taking over the contract in September, and sometime after that, "at least 800" new students would be arriving. She promised everyone they would have their jobs, and she even thought she could get everybody a bit more money. 

Maybe she even believed it. 


All week long, I've been getting panicky, horrified e-mails  from people working there. 

The new bosses came  -- and said that since they have not yet received orders for the arrival of new students before the end of the year yet, they would only be hiring 2/3 of the staff. 

One colleague was a guy who I worked with in the contracting job in the Kingdom. He is in his late 50s and had been terribly relieved when he was hired to replace me in May. Now he's at least hoping he'll be eligible for unemployment. 

One guy, who had relocated from another state with his wife and new baby, got an offer -- $2000 less a year than he'd been making before. 

One colleague had developed a brain tumor which was being successfully treated; she will be unemployed and out of insurance at the end of the week. She is thankful for Obamacare. 


"Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." -- Mark 13:33. 


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Far From Home

I am far from home in a new country.

I don't speak the language. Many things are different and unfamiliar. 

I live in an apartment that somebody else furnished, and my own things here could easily be fit into two bags. 

So why do I feel so comfortable? 



I'm sure there are probably volumes of psychology to be written about it, but it all gets back down to the fact that this is what I do. I have spent most of my life teaching English in other countries. It's just ... what I do. 

I feel far, far more comfortable walking around in the streets of Beijing than I did in the small town in America I was living in last year. 

So how is everything?  

The apartment provided is nice enough, roomy, bright, and well-furnished. The area around me is mostly a work in progress, but there are shops and a decent restaurant. 

I live outside of Beijing, but it's easy enough to get to the center with frequent buses. Beijing seems a bit nicer than I imagined, although I am aware the brutal winter will soon be upon us. 

The job? 

So far no problems. Classes have been okay. As at a lot of international high schools in China though, there are a lot of annoying extra activities that involve sitting or standing around more than one would like. 

But I'm teaching some fucking English, baby. 

That's what I do. 







Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Few Suprising (To Me) Facts About China


Week one in China finished; no teaching yet, just a week of orientation and getting settled in. Some first impressions: 

1) Turns out they really do eat Kung Pao chicken in China -- One of the first things people I knew who had worked in China before me said was that the food would be completely different than the Chinese food I was used to. Full of bones, I was warned, and different spices, and putrid fish, and perhaps cat meat instead of chicken. 

Well maybe somewhere, but in the local Szechuan cafe near my apartment, I'm happy to say it's an exemplary version of the Chinese food I grew up with. (Although, I haven't seen egg rolls yet.) My school thoughtfully provided us with a translated menu to point at, and they have a picture menu as well. 

Having said that, though, I'm amazed at the number of people at the school I work at who say that can't or won't eat Chinese food. (Usual fucking brilliant English teachers.)

2) Beijing and the area around it is surprisingly green -- I was surprised how many parks and green areas there are in and around Beijing. I live about an hour from Beijing and it's positively fucking verdant out here. 

Now, you'd think that would go a long way towards mitigating the 800 ppm pollution, but apparently it doesn't. There is still a lot of construction in progress around where I live though, also, so it's full of dust. 

3) Cheap Chinese stuff costs less in other countries than it does in China -- So my new employers took us around to supermarkets and shops to get all the stuff we'd need for our apartments, and all that stuff that's made in China -- toilet brushes, mops, etc -- costs a little bit more here than it would in America or Saudi. (I mean, still not much, of course.)The same seems to go for all the electronics that are made in China. I paid $50 for a coffee maker that would cost $25 in America.

So there you go. The hard-hitting investigative journalism you've come to expect here at ETX. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Girlfriend 2016

We just spent three weeks in the Canary Islands.

We have in the past visited Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, the Maldives, Dubai, Thailand, Italy, and Malta.

We live in separate countries, but we go on vacations together. 4 to 6 weeks per year, so far.


And we've been doing that for SEVEN YEARS, and our relationship has not really moved forward any.

Crazy, right?

Well. Maybe not crazy.


In this day and age when any number of people of all different nationalities are waking up and thinking it's a great fucking idea to bomb, stab, shoot, run over, or set on fire groups of random strangers, you can't say that two people going on vacation together is crazy.

Can you?

Talk about the love that wouldn't die, no matter how hard you tried to kill the fucking thing!

Anyway, as Constant Readers will know, I tried to bring her to America on a student visa in 2012. She was turned down. I offered to take her to live in Cyprus or any country of her choice, but she was extremely suspicious of the gypsy lifestyle. I offered to bring her to America on a fiance visa last year, but I was unsure about the future of the job I had and she didn't want to leave her mother, who had just been given early retirement and wouldn't be able to afford to live alone. (It tends to take between 9 months and a year to get a fiance visa.)


I have remained mostly faithful to her. She says she has been faithful to me, and I believe her -- I know she's on Skype most nights at 9:00pm her time.

We don't talk about that sort of thing much though. We both have a sort of "it is what it is" attitude about it, at this point. I'm 47, and she's 32 -- it's probably not too far off to say that 32 in provincial Russia is about the same as 47 in the Western world in terms of dating prospects for a woman.

If I'd stayed another year in America, she agreed to come on a fiance visa, but of course a new job in China has come up, which offers more salary and holiday time and general prospects. And it will be much easier for her to come there.

I'm writing this at the airport in Madrid, waiting for my flight to the Magic Kingdom. If my VPN works, my next entry will be from China. Onward and upward!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Fat City

While living in small-town America, I always had an idea that I was going to go sit in some public place -- Starbucks, the Mall, a bar -- and live-blog humorous observations about American people.

The idea never bore fruit, despite numerous attempts.

Because, basically, there's only one observation you can make about people in small-town America -- why is everybody so fat?


And of course there's a global epidemic of obesity. This isn't just an American problem. 

I'm not going to sit here and make fun of fat people, or sing the merits of fat shaming. (Although I might point out that many of the bloggers who spend a lot of time fat shaming women on the internet are themselves not exactly svelte.) These videos by this guy are pretty eloquent and moving statements of the problems faced by overweight people:



And then there was my martial arts class I took, where the instructor and several of the black belts could be dscribed as a bit fat -- shaped like silver-back gorillas, they were nonetheless strong, fast, and had plenty of endurance for 90 minutes of martial arts training that left many thinner people completely exhausted.

So yes, advertising and Hollywood and porn probably give us unrealistic body images, sure. Everbody doesn't need to be rail thin.

But that's a seperate problem from how fucking fat so many people are in America.



The strange thing is that the obesity epidemic is always couched in terms of personal choice in a way that I don't quite get. It seems pretty clear to me that the obesity problem is an issue of addiction, pure and simple.

This article in the New York Times offers proof that food companies exploit the addictive qualities of sugar and salt (and advertising) to make us eat more of it, and numerous studies recently have shown that sugar is about as addictive as any other powerful drug. I see the enormous amount of sugar consumed by my nephews and my father (who are not fat) and it makes me realize that obesity is just the visible end of a larger problem of the incredibly unhealthy food most people eat now (Obviously, diabetes, stroke, cancer, etc, are the other visible ends.)

 And this is not just personal choice, but a public health issue of people with addiction problems.

And what are we going to do about it?

So we could take a War on Drugs approach -- make it completely illegal and declare military war on users and dealers of sugar.

Or we could take the much more sensible War on Smoking approach -- simply tax the shit out of sugar, forbid advertising and use in films, and perhaps also forbid use in public places.

And I personally wonder, is there a connection between the decline in smoking and the increase in obesity? All those pople who would have been out having a cigarette are instead having a Frappucino or a doughnut instead.

Addiction shapes the world in ways I never really noticed when I was fucked up all the time. More on that next entry.




Friday, July 29, 2016

The Worst Shit Ever ... Or Not

People occasionally ask me what's the worst thing I've heard in all my years abroad.

I've certainly heard and seen some very blood-curdling shit, so I don't know if this is the worst, but this is the thing that I always tell people about when they ask.