Saturday, August 31, 2019

The End + 1

Well hey. So what's new?

I turned 50 recently. Here's a half-century update.

I gave up on China.

And I gave up on international schools, also.

I was working hard, actually, and I finished a Master's in Education summer of last year.

But I wasn't happy.

I was sleeping badly, grinding my teeth, and constantly on edge. (Sober though, if that means anything.) The school I was working for was pretty undeniably bad; very few teachers stayed more than a year, and even fewer stayed for a third year.

I managed to stay two and a half years.

Academically, the school was a mess and seemed to get worse rather than better each year.  Curriculum changed at the whims of managers, and I had three different managers in my two and a half year tenure. My teaching hours went from 18 to 20 to 24 or 26 in my final 4 months, when they were unable to hire enough teachers to fill all the classes, as they were offering new teachers about half the salary I was being paid. I was getting paid overtime, but it wasn't worth it when you added in all the assemblies, the after-school activities that all the students hated, and the evening study session I had to do every two weeks.

There were a lot of conflicts about teaching methodology, though the students usually liked me. Management disapproved of using things like videos and games in class, and model lessons I was exhorted to emulate usually had the students sitting quietly writing worksheets. (Problem was it was nearly impossible to get them to sit quietly and do anything.) Doctors of education from the head office demonstrated lessons that would get them kicked out of a budget TEFL course for being too teacher centered. In general I felt a lot of culture clash -- not just West vs. East, but Teachers Who'd Worked at High Schools vs TEFL teachers, Old Whoremongers vs. Young Married Hipster Couples, etc. It was understated, but I felt it.

I was going to try to do a third year, but I saw the writing on the wall. The last semester I was there, they decided that the students needed weekly hour-long tests, and each teacher was responsible for writing his or her own -- each week, an original five or six page test with listening, reading, grammar, and vocabulary. The school was also hiring Eastern European teachers to get the white face for half the salary they paid the Canadians, Brits, Australians, and Americans.

As I mentioned, many of the kids were problem students, who were angry, occasionally violent, and quite rightly resented being sent to the school with its reform school environment.

But I realized recently -- the good students disturbed me even more. The nice kids were getting bullied constantly, the cliques, the kids with autism and special learning needs who weren't getting any specialized help at all -- it was triggering me, as the hipsters say.

So with tariffs and sanctions and everything else looming, I realized I just didn't have the emotional capacity to handle teaching kids anymore. Remember that post about Costa Rica, where I climbed Rincon de la Viejo mountain, but realized it hadn't been worth the effort?

So I fled.


I looked at other jobs in China, but I just had a bad feeling about them, fearing more of the same, and the salaries were about half or maybe  60 or 70 percent of what I'd made at my first job.

So I went back to an easy university job in the Kingdom.

The usual package -- a bit more than 4000 US bucks a month plus an apartment and paid holidays. Same as I was making a decade ago, though prices have gone up considerably. Still, in this day and age, I'm glad to get it.

I started, worked for four months, literally working about half the hours per day I 'd been working in China, and then immediately got a three and a half month paid summer vacation.

I spent 2 weeks in America, 2 weeks in Kenya on my dream safari holiday, 2 weeks in Turkey waiting to get a Russian visa, and then 3 weeks in my old home of Vodkaberg, also known as Samara, Russia. (My book about it is free this week on Amazon.)

Wow, has it changed.

They had the FIFA World Cup there last year, so they tried to make it look modern and progressive. Nice toilets. A new international airport. Coffee shops. Bike lanes. Hipster barber shops. Signs in English. No alcohol on the street.

I saw the girls I used to know; most of them are now 35 or so, most of them with kids. A few were still trying to play at being party girls, but the stress of that was showing. Those days are dead as disco, that was my impression. In our hearts, and on the streets that used to be full of drunk teenagers but were now full of happy young couples pushing baby carriages.

Still, it was a nice visit. The weather was nice, and the beach and embankment is still beautiful, and my friends there were glad to see me, new cold war or no new cold war. And with the value of the ruble being low, it was cheap.

Then in August, the Girlfriend and I went to the Seychelles and got married.

I mean really, why not, right? I could drop dead any day, like Luke Perry or the guy from Soundgarden. Half a century old! The girlfriend just turned 36, also. No spring chickens, we.

So what are we going to do? What will happen? Where will we live? What will we do?

I mean, there's plenty to worry about out there. The world is on fire. Is this happily ever after, or the beginning of the worst part of our lives?

Well now, the answer to that, I guess you'll just have to use your imagination ...

just like we will.

Like Private Joker at the end of FULL METAL JACKET, I'm in a world of shit, but I'm alive, and I'm not afraid.

And I'm not alone.

Do svidoniya!



Anonymous said...

Dude I just came back to your blog for the first time in something like 3 years tonight. How does that timing work out?

Congratulations on your wedding! Na zdorovie!

Anonymous said...

Great epilogue. Don't be such a stranger. You're right, the world is on fire. It's good to hear a few words of reason once in a while to remind us it hasn't always been like this...Can't believe I've just said "a few words of reason"...when referring to English Teacher X. The world is getting stranger indeed. Congratulations on the marriage! Again don't be such a stranger... Many of us do enjoy your updates in these crazy times we are living in...

Pete M said...

Congratulations champ, glad things have worked out so well for you. Thanks for the update, I often wonder how you're doing, glad it's happily ever after.

Thomas Michaelson said...

Wonderful news!
TEFL is a strange industry going off the rails anyway.

Reader L said...

Wow, great update, X, and congratulations! I really enjoy your blog, so am glad to see an update, especially one with such big news. That's awesome. I'm truly happy for you.

One of the reasons I like your blog is the clear info on everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. 4K/Mo.USD is decent money by most people's standards. You've done really well financially since leaving Russia at age 40 with, as I remember the story, not much cash in the bank.

4K a month can definitely do a lot in provincial Russia if you want to build up more of a base/have more expenses there.

Congrats on finishing the masters too.

Good luck with the next phase!

EL BB said...

Congrats on getting married. I have followed the blog since 2003 and did my stint of TEFL teaching too and am still involved in it in another capacity. Time flies man, times change, but we have the memories until Alzheimers gets us, hahaha, so enjoy the present moment, the travel, wife, etc.
The website and blog need to stay on the net man, for future generations to learn about life before the age of smartphones and for old timers to remember the good old days.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, what a joy to read this - so glad you made a post! Congrats the wedding man, and all the best. Shit is getting crazy out here fam.

Anonymous said...

Congrats. Sure you can if you already have not buy a cheap apartment in Samara and eventually retire there. Seems like it all came together for you in the end. Except working in Saudi. I don't see how you handle that. Must be like prison. Why not Dubai?

What were your feelings about Beijing. You talked about the school but what about the city? I have been there many times. First times it was exciting but after a while I just thought it was boring. Provincial Chinese cities are more filthy (Chinese are freaking filthy people) but also much more lively with more street life and also the chaos, good and bad.

I'm almost done with China and on my way out.

English Teacher X said...

IT's currently very hard to find jobs in Dubai -- they're very strict about qualification and I hear they're getting hundreds of applications per position these days. Abu Dhabi is a smidge easier but not much now.

Saud'is not all that bad, except for no bars or easy access to alcohol, but Bahrain is only 45 minutes away (at low traffic hours) Currently 115 of course, but from October to March or April it's 70 degrees and sunny every day.

Beijing is a nice modern city, surprisingly green, with a lot of stuff to do, a wide variety of restaurats, but it didn't feel quite right for me.

Once nice thing about Saudi -- you're conveniently located in the middle of the world. you can easily fly to a lot of destinations from here, while Beijing is pretty far away from everything.

Anonymous said...

Yea, that is true about Beijing; lots of parks and stuff and it is a modern city but being modern means they took the edge off it. But yea, guess it all depends on what you want. If you go to a provincial city it is way more real, more Chinese, like people shitting in the street real but that shit (no pun intended) will get to ya.

You are almost making me want to give Saudi a try. Been in this game for 15 years now. But I get folks from Dubai begging me to come so I think I'd dip my toe in there first.

Keep us up to date X. It's sad when you aren't around. We love you brother. Really.

Anonymous said...

Came here to get wistful on your Bangkok stories and saw this post.

Big congrats X. Patiently hitting refresh until The End + 2.

English Teacher X said...

If I was even ten years younger I might have stuck it out in Beijing, but it just seemed like a lot of work for limited reward at my age. Wifey didn't like it there, also.

Andy S said...

I taught at a bunch of different schools in china and they were all horrible. The administrations at these schools all have a (deeply flawed) idea of what a good lesson should look like, and it's very obvious that they're completely clueless. Many of the schools provide no teaching materials, but will micromanage you at every corner.

The administration at the last school I worked at would give us a list of specific, arbitrary requirements for each lesson that were almost certainly selected at random. Imagine being given a list of a few random nouns and verbs + a theme + a "concept" none of which really went together in any sensical way and being told you have to include them all in your next lesson. And of course, we were given no teaching materials at all.

And you're right about how the reform school environment makes the students resent learning/education. It also doesn't help that the students have like 10 hours of classes per day, plus a lot of homework plus other activities. Evening classes were especially bad to teach because by then the students already had 9 hours of classes and their attention span was long gone. The fact that there are so many schools like this across China clearly shows that many parents in China don't want to deal with their kid.

This is to say nothing of the excessive number of meetings, the office hours, the last minute schedule changes, and the many, many other reasons why teaching in China sucks. Every teacher I knew that had taught English in other countries compared teaching in China unfavorably to every other country they taught in.

Be glad you left china before going completely crazy. Every teacher I met who had been teaching in china for more than 5 years was visibly, certifiably insane.

Sounds like you've got a good gig in Russia though. Those kinds of jobs are getting harder and harder to come by no matter how good your credentials are.

Andy S said...

Looks like I misread your post when I was still a little tipsy, Saudi, not Russia, lol.

Anyway it was nice to hear from you again, does this mean we'll continue to get at least annual updates?

English Teacher X said...

They had actually gone that route back at my place in China also, that we couldn't use the book in class; that somehow using a book designed by ESL professionals employed by an organization that's been producing English language textbooks for a hundred years is inferior to some hastily-found photocopies off the internet.

Andy S said...

China is a strange place in many ways. Chinese (mainlanders, at least) have their own sense of logic and reasoning that makes sense to them and only them. They also love making random, unnecessary changes that benefit no one. It's especially bad whenever there is new management as the new leaders feel the need to make as many changes as possible. Naturally, pretty much all of these changes make zero sense, make things worse, and generally just waste a lot of time.

As for the kids with special needs not getting any specialized help, it's like that at every school in China. China has no special education to speak of. At every school I taught in there were several students with clear, severe learning disorders and usually one that was...whatever the PC term for "mentally retarded" is these days. These students were obviously learning nothing (and probably illiterate even in Chinese) but were always pushed to the next grade as nobody is ever held back. Apparently chinese think special education or specialized help is "shameful" because any sort of mental disorder or disability is "shameful". What a backwards culture.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the wedding man! Happy to hear you are doing well. I spent two years at an American school in China, I loved it, but if I was a little older I'd feel differently. In your 20s it's great, good money and lots of partying.

I'm actually living in provincial Russia now. Not as wild as the stories from Vodakaberg, but interesting. Saving a lot and getting ready to move somewhere I bit more exciting. Like a frozen Saudi I guess.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you still alive, and are doing as okay.

Anonymous said...

ETX , come back man... you're the reason why I packed all my worldly belongings in a red-spotted handkerchief, tied it to a stick, threw it over my shoulder, caution to the wind, and set forth for the mystique of South East Asia (well.. you and Anthony Bourdain. But, take that as a compliment).

Will you ever revisit your former blogger/ebook glory once more..? Go on, indulge us tired and washed-up ESL vagabonds.

Congrats on getting married by the way!

English Teacher X said...

Anonymous, it's a compliment about Anthony Bourdain, but look what happened to that poor bastard. Anonymous previous, where in provincial Russian would you make a decent salary these days? Teaching oligarch children?

As for blogging again, if I feel I have something I want to say, I'll definitely say it, but largely I do not feel I have anything new to add to the 15 years of previosu posts.

Anonymous said...

@X come on man. You don't need to post about whores in Thailand anymore. You can tell us about your domestic life, thoughts on higher things and shite like that.

Your like a guru you know. Don't leave us poor lemmings hanging.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that I've ploughed through some of your books and enjoyed them immensely over the years before you never again look at your blog.

Thank you X

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo!! Holy shit! The King is dead... Long live the King!!

I think that your new bride gets the Texas bronco-buster Wrangler of the Year Award. Or is a huntress metaphor better? Silent and patient like a Spetsnaz assassin.

Maybe you've already caught this type of shit from the peanut gallery? ;)

Does this mean that this and any future ETX check-ins will be accomplished in fevered darkness? Or is she now aware of the hero's identity??

The best to you both.

Anonymous said...

You're getting a lot of questions and suggestions about places to go. They may or may not be misplaced, as you didn't ask for them. At the same time, Saudi seems like a compromise, given your writing about it, and hardly a long term option.

With all of that in mind, here's yet another unsolicited suggestion.

You have enough IT experience via publishing this blog to successfully work through some Udemy courses to bulk up your front end coding skillset (HTML, CSS, Javascript). In every major US city down to at least most third tier cities, there is a lot of demand for front-end people (hundreds to thousands of advertised jobs in each location). Some back-end coding skills that they don't necessarily need a full stack engineer for, like Python, are in even higher demand.

Why not take some Udemy courses while working in the Kingdom and then apply for a coding job in the States sometime down the road?

After a few years you'll be making at or over 100k (check the salary estimates for any one programming language, or role, in each city on Indeed). Entry level salaries are nothing to scoff at either. Opening your own shop is later possible. I'm sure that your wife is bright. This work doesn't necessarily require a college degree. She could work on a skillset as well and eventually get hired. I know that to be a fact, assuming that she is legal in the US.

A place like Austin, Texas is cheap (can easily get places for 1k per month and less), warm, has a party, is in a good (not poor) state, is close to other cheap warm places, and is in dire need of coders. I happen to know that one can bullshit their way into these jobs as long as you have a modicum of entry level skill.

I'm working through one of these courses now. Its effective. Search reddit for recommendations as to the best courses to take, or ask me (I know a couple of well recommended courses from doing research on it) and I'll email you.

/unsolicited suggestion. Things are working out for you. You'll do what makes you happy, which is what matters. I wouldn't be disappointed to see you writing about whores in Thailand again (if it makes you happy). I only wanted to realte this option, though I'm 85% that you are aware of it and have thought this through. Best.

English Teacher X said...

Well thank you, but is it really easy to get such coding jobs? One of my high school classmates did it for a long while, referring to himself as a "code monkey" and not making anything like $100,000 a year, until he eventually got sick of it and opened a barber shop. He implied there were fewer and fewer jobs due to outsourcing and apps and programs that do all the coding work already.

Anonymous said...

Easy is relative. I sent an email.

Duncan said...

Been quite the ride with this blog I've only been keeping track of you since 2010. Influences from you, M13,that weirdo Ryan Boundless, NoJokeHoward (Rest his soul) and few other expats made me quit my shitty security job in a dying Rustbelt town, get a TELF cert and go abroad myself without a bachelors degree teaching in Ghana for 2 years which was a very... interesting experience. Temporarily back in the US and heading to Cambodia next month, I can see how someone can fall in love with the life style but I do feel I'm sacrificing a lot of stability. I'm happier at least, you only live once and sometimes you can't get everything you want in this case stability and a big pay check, but who knows where this will take me, I might drop dead early or I might end up in a good position.

Also congratulations on getting married, hope you can enjoy it for many more decades to come.

Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm teaching the kids of some of the province's richest. Not Moscow level rich, but they'd be upper middle class in America. Maybe more.

The city is way smaller than in China, but work is easy and savings good. Salary is probably the same as in the USA, and things are cheap. Lots of holiday too.

This is at an "international school", but really just a school for rich kids

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your marriage. Is your wife Russian? How does she like Saudi Arabia. I have a friend that does what you do and he spent a lot of time in Saudi because the money was so good.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I feel a huge affinity with part of your life story. The only major difference is that I only did English teaching for a short period of time and, instead, I'm spending my life in the rat race,i.e., the corporate world.

We are about the same age and I also had a "Vodkaberg" period in my life (almost 10 years, for that matter), but the city and country were different. (Minsk, Belarus). Nonetheless, I lived many similar experiences to the ones that you wrote about and yes, when I returned there recently (after almost 10 years absence), the place and the behaviors were way different than what I remembered.

Your posts and the Vodkaberg book take me back in time, in a trip to a world that, in many ways, already ceased to exist. Thank you for sharing your experience.

I ended settling down in Prague and I'm married for almost 8 years now. It was the right decision at the right time. Congratulations on your wedding.

Anonymous said...

Great to see you back X, really have missed your blog. Congrats on the marriage!

Anonymous said...

I hope your enjoying and loving life X. Your blog and books have certainly brought joy to myself and countless others. Also congratulations on getting married! Nobody can tell you what to write or when to write but know that you’ll always have an audience.

moviefan said...

Hey X - welcome back! Visited your blog for the first time again in a year wand as happy to see an update. Congrats on the marriage! Even the old debauchery-filled party guys settle down at some point, right? Your books are what started and inspired me to to do TEFL. Looking forward to more blog posts, they don't all need to be debauchery type content, just random ramblings from an old TEFLer with a Russian wife is interesting enough for your long time readers, X!

alina said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
pfffill said...

Holy Shitboxes, so you're still alive? Definite period flavour coming across this blog again after several years. Takes me back to winter in Shaggy, that most bearable city in China. Tempted to go back for another stint but getting up there in years. Anyway, enjoy married live but never forget the adventure.

Anonymous said...

Wow, glad I dropped by. Congrats!

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