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.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Nothing Paradox

There's an inherent dichotomy in teaching Saudis -- they are some of the most difficult students in the world ... but at the same time, working with them, you are most likely going to be paid to sit around and do nothing a lot.

My first job was at a college, and I only actually had to teach about 32 weeks out of 52. My second job was at an oil company, and the trainees came and went at unpredictable intervals due to the complications of bureaucracy there; there were whole weeks and months we were sitting around the office doing not much.

This job, working for a government contracting company, is now experiencing that same "bureaucratic lag." We had 200 students when I arrived, with 35 teachers, but most of them have already been sent home or graduated. Now we have about 35 teachers and 20 students. New students are coming in September -- supposedly.

Needless to say this makes the work day a bit leisurely.

Last Friday at work I played "Don't Starve" for a couple hours and watched the original Conan on Crackle. (Sure, Conan, it's a pleasure to see your enemies destroyed and hear the lamentations of their women, but it's also nice to get paid a full salary for watching movies.)

My replacement is a guy I worked with in my second job in Saudi; I'm supposed to be mentoring him, technically speaking, but there's not much to do there, either. Show him how to fill out some paperwork, and warn him about how to deal with trouble-makers.

My visa for China is being processed, and next Friday will be my last day here. The three weeks in the Canary Islands with the Girlfriend and then I start work in China the last week of August.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

And The Next Destination Is ...


I've been offered a really good job in China. Documents are on their way, so it's a go, unless we go to war with them in the interim, or something.

As readers might remember, I had a job offer in China last year, but ended up not going because of complications with the paperwork, as well as a need to stay in America to help my father get settled at the assisted living place he moved into. 

Readers might also remember that a commenter working in China said that I could probably get a much better job than the one I described.

I was skeptical, but when I mentioned that I had no job offers for September of this year, he offered to show my resume to his boss at the swanky interntional school he works at, which pays a shockingly good salary.

And damned if they didn't interview me and offer me a job almost immediately.

And damned if the contract conditions aren't about the same as my first job in the Gulf -- $4000 + month after taxes, paid accommodation, and 3 months of paid holiday time.

And Most people go to China for the experience, but I'm really kind of going for the dough. (Oh, and the kung-fu, I guess.)

I'll be near the capital city, The City Formerly Known as Peking, although not actually in it.

I am aware that I missed the "Wild East" days of teaching in China and it's probably not as fun and wacky as it was ten years ago. This is surely not the best time to go there -- but then again, it's probably not the best time to go anywhere. It's a bit of a rough patch globally speaking. 

So I need this information from readers, current and former teachers in China: What VPNs work best in China? I use Hotspot Shield now, but I've heard it doesn't work there now. Any advice on that score will be appreciated. 

So, middle-aged formerly depraved ETX working at a swanky international school, teaching rich high school kids? That sounds like a humorous fish-out-of-water comedy!

Friday, June 24, 2016

To The Right, March! (Or: Auslander, Raus!)

Sniff, sniff! Can you smell it?

Something is in the air.

Countries are erecting trade barriers, closing borders, making travel requirements more stringent, and electing increasingly right wing politicians.

Sniff, sniff!

It's the pungent aroma of isolationism, protectionism, and reactionary nationalism!

So! BREXIT, bro!

British teachers working abroad wake up and find their local savings can buy more pounds, as the value of the GBP has fallen about 10 percent. (Digital nomads and sex tourists get slammed as the pound has less value.)

However, I'm sure all the British teachers working and living happily away in Prague and Spain and other places in the EU are breaking into panicky sweats. Freedom of work and travel? Kiss it goodbye. (Although I guess a lot of people will be grandfathered in.)

Stocks markets around the world have taken a nose dive. (Finally my "end of the world" investments might pay off!)

And believe me, the chaos is just getting started if Donald Trump gets elected US president.

So how will this affect English teachers?

Well, for Americans it might be good news, as far as working in the EU. For the last 10 years it's been extremely difficult for Americans to work legally there (and the EU has expanded a lot, as well) and after Britain drops out, they'll have to start hiring native speakers from other countries. (Again. I worked in Prague in 2000, something I would not be able to do now.)

Bad news of course, is that more isolationism and protectionism means less work for English teachers, less buying property abroad, more difficulty with visas and residence permits, more trouble marrying foreigners, general xenophobia, etc.

Et cetera et cetera et cetera.

I mean look how well isolationism is working out for North Korea.

Anyway, I guess, if you look at it in perspective, there's not much to be happy about in the world in general. Terrorism, war, Zika and West Nile virus, the largest refugee displacement in recorded history, wildfires and heat emergencies and floods and earthquakes. We should live so long that we get to worry about free and easy travel.

These cycles of globalism / isolationism have been going on for a long time. Empires have risen and fallen, and the waves of globalism and  international trade and travel always come to an end, with tight borders and rigid trade barriers (and sometimes global wars), until people get sick of that in 20 - 50 years, and start demanding more international freedoms again.

But for the time being?

It looks like the doofuses in the man-o-sphere might get their wish! Maybe in a few years we'll all be penned up back in white America with closed borders, working at the ball-bearing factory and going home to our submissive-by-law wives.

Sounds pretty fucking grim.

As for me, I have no regrets. I had my time. I'm old enough to remember the pre-globalism days -- when you couldn't visit half the world, when traveling through Europe meant a considerable expense changing money every stop, when you couldn't just put a card in any bank machine and take money out.

And I remember when the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved, and how excited people were when China, Cambodia, Vietnam and so forth started opening up. And I remember when people's eyes would get wide with joy and say, "WOW! YOU'RE FROM AMERICA??"

Anyway, I'll have a new purpose. The chronicler of late 20th Century Globalism, @1989 - 2016.

RIP, globalism. We hardly knew ye.