What follows is a (mostly) unedited, exclusive excerpt from my recently published expat memoir, Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile
"Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something." –Dread Pirate Roberts, Princess Bride
In my spare time at the university, I started writing search engine optimized (SEO) pieces to get older Western women to come to Thailand for titjobs, and for tourists to visit resorts, and other stuff involving foreigners spending money in paradise.
All you need is Grammarly (a grammar checking application), a PayPal account, and flexible morals.
It’s not lying – it’s sales. "Life is sales," said some guy somewhere. Words of wisdom like that on how to sell stuff to people are widely available on the internet. Check them out when you need inspiration.
The most important #1 rule of thumb to remember when composing your new article is: remember your purpose. You are selling ecstasy without consequences. The potential customers who read your work deserve unrelenting pleasure. Think of it like this: when they book their stay for a week, they’re going to get 7 days of nonstop sexual climax. In an honest world, eternal orgasm is what their next month’s credit card statement would read. It’s all nonstop swiping and cumming.
The main thing is to fellate the reader. Your job is to assure the customer that their deepest desires are natural, and more importantly, that they deserve them. Examples of phrases you should sprinkle liberally include:
Let our 5-star staff pamper you
All this implies, in the pursuit of the first rule of thumb, that resort guests' unending gratification by any means necessary at your client's 5-star top-tier high-quality resort is not only possible but that it’s actually the resort's duty to deliver!
Which brings us to our next point, the secondary #2 rule of thumb: the client resort has 5-star and world-class everything. Their amenities are exceptional, luxury, extravagant, exclusive and plush. Nothing, not even the hairbrush on the wall, is ordinary. Those are handcrafted, indigenous hairbrushes. Locals made them out of coconuts. How many guests are going to check how those coconut hairbrushes were actually made? Deep down inside, the majority of your readers must know you're making stuff up anyway. It’s possible they even crave your lies. Indulge them with your deceit.
Everything is ultimate and velvet and unique – and most importantly, exclusive. The resort does not sell food – they sell cuisine. Likewise, they do not sell drinks at the luxury 5-star poolside bar – they sell beverages. Foods and drinks are for peasants in Oklahoma. Cuisine and beverages are for high society (resort clientele) people with credit card numbers that they handed over to the staff on arrival.
A 5-star psychological maneuver:
In the unrelenting pursuit of hedonistic pleasure with no consequences outlined in rule of thumb #1, work to assuage vacationing guests’ guilt about wasting their fleeting time on Earth gratifying themselves. Tell them -- don’t suggest, demand -- that they’re going to check all their responsibilities at the airport terminal at the same time they pass through immigration. Their inner conscience is a nagging spouse in a 20-year failing marriage and you are a sexy 20-year-old free-spirited college girl in a red Camaro, winking at them, sympathizing, granting permission. Through your work, you are their shoulder to lean on. Encourage them to unburden themselves like they deserve to on a hard-earned vacation. Getting rid of the kids, a major burden, is a definite plus. Work these hints into your product:
- Drop the kids off at the 5-star pool.
- Let them play in the 5-star crystalline sand making 5-star sandcastles or whatever while you sip an artisan rum cocktail from our 5-star beachside bar. (Slip a mention of the happy hour promotions in next)
- Abandon your children in an adjacent high-end shopping mall to free yourself up for a romantic dinner with your spouse. The police will probably eventually return them to your custody and everything will end up okay. If not, they're marooned in Shangri-La. Things could be way worse for them.
The #3 rule of thumb: don’t be afraid to be a cliché. Don’t run away from clichés if they work. That’s the only valuable thing I learned from my high school chemistry class.
"Don’t be afraid to be a cliché," my high school chemistry teacher once said. He spent a lot of class time talking about things that didn’t have anything to do with chemistry. Or maybe they did, and I was too dumb to make the connections. Then just as now, I didn't know much about chemistry.
At some point, you’re going to run out of synonyms for indulge and luxury. Grammarly and Word can help out with that. But, again, those words are cliché because they work. Mundane words like fun and decent don’t cut it. Instead of fun, use riveting, exhilarating, and enchanting. Instead of decent, the hotel is unparalleled in quality, superior, and exclusive. For writers new to the field, I can’t emphasize enough that everything is exclusive – on the account of the aforementioned peasant/bourgeoisie divide, etc. Playing on potential tenants' class distinction anxieties fill rooms faster than any genuine description could.
What you might come to realize, in this world you’re entering as a writer, is that there’s no there there. It’s all shells without turtles, mouths making throat noises with no meaning, and fingers typing tap tap tap into a black hole of nonsense. The nonsense is the 5-star sea we swim in – everybody's more or less along for the ride. Keep that in mind – the clichés are as real as anything else in your new line of work turning out sleazy SEO promotional articles. In fact, they’re apropos.
Finally, when your inner conscience starts to nag you, which it likely will, in your work hoodwinking gullible internet people with credit cards into booking rooms at your client's sleazy beachside property, remind yourself that all this is only temporary. Once you get your PayPal transfer, you can redirect your moral outrage elsewhere. You can choose whatever outlet you like, but I like to think about what I would tell Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the wealthiest man in the world, if I ever had enough money to buy stock in the company and got a chance to talk to him at a shareholders' meeting. He'd have to listen then. The customer's always right, Jeff. I’d say:
"You built an empire delivering plastic bullshit to consumers. Is that really what you dreamed about when you were young? How many zeros in a bank account are enough? You’re going to die, Jeff – if not at the barrel of a gun by a some disgruntled employee, then by cancer or something else. Steve Jobs had 10 billion dollars but cancer won eventually anyway, and his corpse is rotting in velvet linen somewhere in Silicon Valley. Meditate on that, Jeff, sometime when you're flying around in outer space on your $12 trillion laser ship. Really think about it. Consider your mortality. Where are your priorities?"
No one likes to be preached to, least of all a guy like Jeff Bezos who's surrounded by sycophants. He probably wouldn't have taken anything I said in my speech at the shareholders meeting to heart, but I wouldn't have given it with any genuine hope that he would anyway.
We're all wasting our time one way or another – some people, Jeff Bezos, for example, just mislead themselves with delusions of grandeur more than others. Somebody has to remind him that death permeates class lines. The Grim Reaper unites humanity where Karl Marx only had goofy pipe dreams.
Sleazy beach resort proprietors, multinational corporate executives with private jets, sleazy SEO article writers, and tourists are all in the same boat.
Ben Bartee, author of Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.