Steve Schertzer

Barbarians in the building

Teaching English to savages and the great recession

A group of Christian missionaries visit Africa. They walk into a village with their box of Bibles to meet the elders of the tribe. The elders stand before the missionaries in all their nakedness holding spears and looking at the Christians as if they had just fallen from the sky. "Why you come?" asked the elders.

The missionaries, mostly male, gawk at the elders. They scarcely believe what they see. "We come with good news." One of the missionaries show the elders a Bible. "We learn from each other. Yes, I'll teach you Christianity, my dear Bushman, if you tell me how to grow a pecker like yours."

The roles and mission have now changed. We come to Asia not with boxes of Bibles, (although some still do.) We now come to Asia, and other parts of the world, with textbooks and EFL workbooks. We gawk at the tribes people. They gawk at us. Look honey, a savage. Let's take a picture. And now, thanks to the Great Recession, we are coming to Asia in droves. More than ever before.

Western "civilization", with its double-digit unemployment and the threat of a double-dip recession, is now relying on Asian and Middle-Eastern countries to bail them out. Whether it is the once great United States of America borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China to fund its wars, or itinerant EFL teachers going to Thailand, Japan, and South Korea to fund their social or sexual perversions, the Eastern nations now have us Westerners by the ping-pong balls. And they're not about to let go anytime soon.

This past July I accepted a job teaching English at a university in Saudi Arabia. I was to teach Saudi males in their 20's and was excited about that opportunity. The tax-free salary of around $3,500 U.S. a month along with a rent-free apartment, return airfare, and long paid holidays didn't hurt either. But the real benefit for me was the fact that I would not be bothered by all those pesky Saudi women. Anybody who knows me knows what a babe magnet I am. Even with my burger-belly, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an occasional bout of the gout which has me hobbling for two or three days at a time. After spending time in Thailand and the Philippines, where a 50 year old fat man like myself can't even walk to McDonald's without being propositioned by a pack of 20 year old vixens, it would have been nice to just live in another country and concentrate on teaching.

I say "would have been nice" because when I told my family about my Saudi Arabia plans, they went berserk. I was in Thailand at the time of my decision to go to Saudi Arabia when I was sent article after article and email after email from my father and sisters detailing accounts of beheadings, rape, and torture. Yes, I thought after reading them, but at least they don't pimp their daughters to old fat foreigners like in Thailand and the Philippines. Saudi women are not even allowed to drive cars or vote. Every once in a while a dozen or so Muslims get an uncontrollable urge to fly airplanes into skyscrappers or blow themselves up in a fruit market, but at least I could walk around Riyadh without hearing, "Hey, sexy man! I go wit youuu!" Ah, Saudi Arabia. Sounds like paradise.

"But you're a Jew", my family kept saying. "We're Jewish. They'll kill you. We all know how much these people hate Jews. I'll never be able to sleep", my father kept saying. "Never."

Yes I know how much these people hate Jews. And Christians. And Americans. And Westerners. And.... everybody. These people hate everybody. My people hate everybody. Everybody hates everybody. That's the world we live in. Always has been that way. Always will be that way. Nothing I can do about it. Except maybe.... stay home. Maybe I'll lock myself in a room and watch FOX News. Forever. Just me and FOX News. So I emailed Saudi Arabia and cancelled. I want my father to sleep. He's 75 now, so he needs all the sleep he can get. I don't want my family to worry. I lost my mother last year to complications from multiple sclerosis, so my father and two sisters are all I have left.

Over the years some friends have shared their family's concerns with me over their decision to go to certain countries. "China! What? Yur goin' tu China? What the hell fur? Teach English! Huh? Don't they eat monkeys over there? Don't they sleep with chickens? I hear they eat their young. Throw their baby girls in the river. China! Holy Jumpin' Jesus! You can't teach English to commies."

What amazes me about people who say stuff like this is that they are not all wrong. Their prejudices and outlandish statements are based on fear. And FOX News, which is also based a lot on fear. I have spent the last 12 years of my life travelling and teaching in Asia. About 30 countries. I stopped counting a while ago. I have lived in about a half a dozen Asian countries for six months or longer. Nothing to brag about. It just happened. But what blows my mind is that regardless of all the travelling I have done, (or maybe because of it), I know no more about the world than someone who has never left Kansas.

It amazes me that 79 year old Mabel and her 81 year old husband Harvey, who have never left their lovely town in Kansas, except once a year to visit their daughter Gladys in New Jersey come Thanksgiving, can just about nail it when it comes to the dangers of this world. It has taken me 12 years to know what Mabel and Harvey have always known: That people suck; that this world is scum; that human societies have hardly progressed since the 12th century; that most people, if given half a chance, will rip your kidneys out through your nostrils if you dare refuse them a dollar. That Mabel and Harvey can spend their days knitting and watching FOX News and know just as much about the world as your average EFL teacher, who has spent 12 years travelling and living in different countries, is a testament to barbarians everywhere who sleep with chickens and eat their young.

"Yer goin' where? Saudi Arabia? Huh!?! What the hell fur? Teach English? I hear they kill their daughters if they look at a White man. They cut off people's heads over there. And they have sex with camels. You'll never survive."

I survived Korea. I survived Thailand. I survived China. I survived everywhere I went. I've had good years and I've had bad years. I've made money and I've lost money. I can survive the House of Saud. I can survive Africa. Ah, Africa. I recently saw an ad on Dave's ESL Cafe about an interesting teaching position in Rwanda. I think I'll apply.

"Yer goin' where? Africa? Rwanda? Huh!?! What the hell fur? Teach English? I hear they sleep with monkeys and eat people. They all have AIDS, and the water is so dirty there that they have to drink their own urine. I know 'cause I watch FOX News."

I watch FOX News too. In fact, that's just about all I've been doing since returning to Montreal In September. Two and a half months of watching FOX News. And eating. And gaining weight. And looking for jobs, both here and overseas. I've given up on returning to Korea only because I'm not a 25 year old blonde with big boobs. I really hope that I don't have to go back to Korea. Judging by the ads on Dave's ESL Cafe, that seems to be what Koreans want. Edutainers. Twenty-five year olds. No experience needed. And it doesn't help receiving group rejection letters from schools. One school sent a group "we have found our candidate" email to 60 people and I was one of them. What a proud moment. With a flood of English teachers now in Asia, I'm finally learning that it's much better to go to a country where there may not be that many of them.

I've also given up on returning to Thailand to teach. My tango with Tony the Tarantula and his ilk, written about in my September columns, proved that the Thais are just as dumb when it comes to the hiring practises of teachers. Besides, Thailand for a farang may be a great place to live, but it's even a better place to die. And I'm not ready to die. Yet.

Thing is, I want to experience two things before I die. One, I'd like to live in a society that takes responsibility for protecting its own citizens. That includes mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles who do not pimp their daughters and sisters to fat foreign men like many do in Thailand and the Philippines. That's not nice. And two, I'd like to live and teach in a society where finishing school means the difference between life and death. That means teaching in a school where the children are more than happy to be there. That means that the parents of these children are honoured that you are there teaching their children.

So that leaves me with two distinct parts of the world: One, the Middle-East, specifically, Saudi Arabia or the UAE. And let's face it, the money is pretty good too. Or Africa, specifically, Rwanda, Kenya, or Ethiopia.

So I'm at home, in my father's condo, using his computer to look for teaching jobs overseas. He's in the kitchen now. Wait a minute. I think I hear his voice.

DAD: You're not on the computer again looking for a job in Saudi Arabia, are you?
ME: No dad, just downloading some porn.
DAD: Okay, son.

Since when did downloading porn become less of a taboo than teaching English in Saudi Arabia? The truth be known, I've been talking through Skype with a Canadian EFL teacher in Riyadh. According to him, a foreigner in Saudi Arabia is far more likely to die of boredom than anything else. After class you can watch TV, (FOX News, I hope), go to an all male gym, or surf the Internet. And none of those pesky Southeast Asian women running after a fat sexy man like me. Except for, perhaps, Filipina nurses. Ah, Saudi Arabia. Where have you been all my life?

DAD: You're not looking for teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia, are you?
ME: No no. Just watching some porn?
DAD: Good for you, son.

The Great Recession has been a double-edge sword for teachers, school directors, and recruiters. It's been both a boon and a boondoggle. A blessing because unscrupulous recruiters and perverted school directors can now feed their perversion by demanding that foreign EFL teachers dance for what is now a lower salary, no respect, and little chance of advancement. Let's see you dance, you foreign monkey. And if you don't dance then there are 60 other fat dumb foreigners who will take your place. A boondoggle because EFL is even a bigger joke in the Great Recession. At the best of times EFL in Asia is a waste of time and money. Now, with the almost total collapse of Western economies, it is a perfect opportunity for Eastern savages to exact their revenge on Western foreigners for centuries of abuse, invasion, and colonialism.

I have no idea where I will teach next, or if I'll ever go overseas again. I do know I'd love to. It's what I've been doing for over a decade. It's how I'm trying to make a difference, an impact on people who need to learn something to progress into the 21st Century. (Okay, I just re-read the last sentence and can't believe I said that with a straight face.)

If I listen closely enough, I can hear Mabel and Harvey laughing too. And warning me. Sitting in their charming farmhouse somewhere in Kansas knitting and watching FOX News. "Don't go there!", the scream. "People eat human flesh over there. Bla-bla-bla. They'll kill you! Bla-bla-bla." The question is, am I listening? Another question is, how right are they? We all know the world is dangerous. Do we really think that Mabel and Harvey are joking? That they are just a stupid old couple going on and on about brown savages and yellow barbarians? After all, they do watch FOX News.

A Southeast Asian nation was getting ready for gubernatorial elections. Tribal violence broke out. Over 60 people were murdered, including pregnant women. They were unearthed from mass graves. This is how a newspaper in the capital city described some of the killings:

[Mangudadatu said the body of his murdered wife had been horrifyingly mutilated and that his dead sister and aunt had both been pregnant.

"My wife's private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it," he added.

"They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth. I could not begin to describe the manner by which they treated her."]

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 13:18:00 11/25/2009

Filed Under: Election Violence, Maguindanao Massacre, Crime, Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Politics

Does it matter in which country this atrocity took place? It could have happened in more than a hundred different countries. It just so happens that the country here is the Philippines. Does it matter when these atrocities took place? It could have happened in the Middle-Ages. Or a hundred years ago. Or during World War Two. It just so happens that it took place last month. In November, 2009.

"You're going to teach English where?" (Insert country here.) "Huh!?! Are you insane?They mutilate pregnant women over there. Rip their babies right out of their stomachs! Slash their private parts. Shot women in the breasts and cut off their feet."

Yes Mabel and Harvey, I hear you. At the risk of stating the obvious, people who do things like this have a lot more problems than a lack of English speaking ability. What in God's name can anyone teach people who do this? What can I do?

A group of English teachers go somewhere in the world. Asia or Africa. They walk into a village with their box of English textbooks and EFL workbooks to meet the elders of the tribe. The elders stand before the English teachers in their business suits holding guns and machetes and looking at the foreign teachers as if they had just fallen from the sky. "Why you come?" asked the elders.

The English teachers, mostly male, gawk at the elders. They scarcely believe what they see. "We come with good news." One of the teachers show the elders an English textbook and Cd's. "We learn from each other. Yes, I'll teach you English, my dear Bushman, if you tell me what it's like to pimp your sisters and daughters. Or murder her in an honor killing. Or cut off somebody's head. Or kidnap babies and sell them on the open market. Or slash a woman's vagina. Or chop off the limbs of your neighbours with machetes. Or....."

Wait a minute. That's no joke.


I regularly browse the Ajarn sites as a guest. You have some great topical info and I enjoy reading your input. I also totally agree with your views on the (low) standards of teacher training here in Thailand. I've just visited the forum site and the level of intelligence and input there is frightening. No wonder the Thais think of us in derogatory terms. Well done for highlighting this.

By Annon, Thailand (17th March 2010)

Great article.
That America is in decline goes without saying. It's just a shame there aren't more people like you to help it die with some dignity.

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (2nd February 2010)

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