Monthly Archives: August 2008

>A Disturbance at LAX

>Thanks to a change in airlines from American to Air China, I had to bypass the security checkpoint and get my tickets from the Air China booth. No one told me this. The airline official looked at my electronic tickets and shrugged and said “I don’t know”. No condolences. Not even a fucking well-wish or an educated guess (though here we might delete ‘educated’). Hell, I would have been okay with a simple “good luck”.

Twas 8:15 pm PST, and no one stood behind the Air China booth. So I waited an hour, a white guy among Chinese, a minority among a majority, a prelude for the census to come. Finally they showed up to work and after another hour, I grabbed my tickets and headed back through security.

Since I had not acquired any automatic weapons or bombs during transit, I breezed through security. As I staggered towards Gate 27, my stomach overtook me and led me to the first restaurant in sight: a Burger King.

I know airport shops suffer from severe inflation. I also know the cost of living in Los Angeles is higher than say, Springfield TN, but no amount of knowledge prepared me for seeing a value meal at $10.

10 bucks for a burger, fries, and a coke. Why not include a side of crack?

Behind the counter stands a guy who looks like Carlos Mencia’s rejected twin brother. The one who lost the parental coin toss. I step up to the counter and he looks to his side and utters rather loudly, “Man my culo’s really itching.”

He starts scratching his ass.

And I don’t mean a light scratch. This isn’t one cheek or the other or both. No, his fingers plunge in deep and plumbs around lower depths, a harsh wince on his face all the while.

He looks to me, a yearning for swift healing. I refrain from helping. Others may have offered a helping hand.

I am not that altruistic. Sorry.

>Entry 2: Leaving Home, Longing for Heaven

>I took an inventory of what I packed. Remembering the hell that was my arrival in Paris over a year ago, I aimed for light.

Clothes: 7 pairs of jeans, 14 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of shoes, 9 pairs of boxers, 11 shirts total, and 1 pair of glasses, no spare, no contacts.

Toiletries: comb, brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving cream, razor, body wash, deodorant and shampoo/conditioner.

Movies: King of the Hill Seasons 2, 3, and 4 DVD The Simpsons Season 5 DVD, The X-Files Season 1 DVD, Aliens, Pulp Fiction, Dumb & Dumber and Rammstein: Live in Nimes.

Books: Already read—The Alchemist, Blood Meridian, Fight Club, When Will Jesus Bring the, Pork Chops, Brain Droppings, Misery, Ender’s Game, Moderato Cantabile, Man’s Search for Meaning. Unread– The War of Art, Parliament of Whores, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Genghis Khan: The Making of the Modern World, The 33 Strategies of War, The 48 Laws of Power, Me Talk Pretty One Day

Video Games: none. I planned on bringing Knights of the Old Republic, but it’s too engrossing.

Electronics: Laptop, 160 Gig IPod, Casio Exilim Camera

Electronic Accessories: Laptop power cord, headphones, IPod charger cord, Camera Battery charger, 2 Gig thumb drive, and Learn Chinese CD-ROM.

Miscellaneous: a pink highlighter, and a pen from Quality Metal Stamping, Henderson, TN.

Believe me, I went light on the books. If I had the room, I’d take a lot more than that.

Do you pack just enough to get by or what makes you feel at home? I’d say both. Home is a strange concept to me anyway. If we accept that the concept of Home is synonymous with Sanctuary (or close enough), then I have not had a Home in quite some time. I have had Places where I stay. Stay a little while, move on to the next place, rinse, repeat, but never dry.

After eleven moves as a kid and a semester abroad, I am a bit accustomed to leaving everything behind for awhile. It’s not easy, though. I don’t think it is easy for anyone. For a few rare cases, it is, but wherever you stay for awhile, you will find reasons to stay longer, and to leave these reasons is to risk losing them forever.

Everything changes. Everything ends. By changing, you postpone the end. By not changing, you beckon it to come. We change, but we change apart and meet again as strangers, our bond a flimsy one forged by memories and the hope that the present can match the past in our heads. The idealized past that is.

That’s what homesickness is: a longing for an idealized version of the past. You recognize the good parts, but instead of stopping there, you allow the good aspects to swarm over and consume reality, and as a result, you find yourself longing for times that were nowhere near as great.

You see it regularly. Not just in travel. Abused wives return to their husbands. A man goes back to a job he hates. You reaccept friends because of what they were rather than what they are. In travel, someone studies abroad and returns home early. Someone else doesn’t even get on the plane while another person feels the urge to go but silences it hastily.

It’s the idealized past. It’s their “reasons” for staying, that they transform into myths that propagate as truths. I am guilty of it too. And not just in travel, but in general. People allow things to tie them down, all centered around one feeling: fear. They fear suffering. In The Alchemist, an amazing book that I highly recommend to everyone, this quote sums it up perfectly:

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

It’s hard to say. Hard to do. But worth it every time.

I sit and type this in Hodges Library. I left home for Knoxville on Thursday. It was early in the morning—a five hour drive between here and there now there and here—when we loaded up and I said my goodbyes.

My sister hugged me and told me she loved me. She appeared ready to cry, but she held back. I almost did, but I have the well-honed strategy of making nervous comments to conceal my feelings. I made one that I cannot recall, and hugged the rest of my family. As I stepped out the door, I looked back to her, and I smiled and waved.

I miss them already. It will grow worse, but it will not consume me. Others? It depends.

>Entry One: Introduction

>“I’m headed to China.”

“What for?”

“To teach English.”

“Are you going to see the Olympics?”

“No, I arrive after the Olympics are over. Thank God.”

“I heard somewhere they have 8 billion people!”

“What?”

“That’s what it said!”

“That’s what what said?”

“Oh the news or something. But they got 8 billion people!”

“Well they do! You better be careful!”

Sometimes the best response is no response at all.

Then again, if it is no response, is it truly a response or simply their interpretation of my silence as a response?

No matter the case, I am going to China next week to teach English for nine months at the Wuhan University of Science and Engineering. My teaching level will be students of sophomore standing, and I am slated to teach conversational English, and perhaps a class on American culture.

China categorizes me as a Foreign Expert Worker, my area of expertise being English. I applied for and received a Worker Visa (type Z), and once I am there, I will apply for (and receive, hopefully) a Residence Permit, which allows me to legally stay there and avoid any messy incidents, like interrogation and deportation. At least let me stay long enough to eat a McDonald’s Cheeseburger. Then I can scratch ‘China’ off my list and be on my way.

I will be a teacher of English as a Foreign language. Getting one of these jobs is easy, if only because there is a high demand for English teachers all over the world, particularly in Asia. ESL Teaching is a hot field. It’s an academic discipline. Many books, theses, dissertations and the like have been written about it. And although an ESL is easy to obtain, it is nowhere near as simple as it may seem. In fact, I’d venture to say the same goes for teaching in general.

To do this, you need to know more than simply how to speak English. As a native speaker, that’s a given. You need to know different nuances of English from the perspective of someone who is learning. It seems obvious, since you are the teacher, but in application, it may prove difficult.

Speaking English is not the same as Knowing English.

For instance, can you explain the difference between a mass noun and a countable noun? You cannot say “I did a homework”. Why? What is the proper adjective order? “Big red balloon” versus “red big balloon”.

Better yet, can you name every verb tense in English? With examples and explanations of each one, how it functions, what it means, and when it’s used? How about the moods?

As you can see, simply being a native speaker of a language is not enough to qualify one as an effective teacher. You need a little more.

To get this job, you need certain qualifications. They do vary greatly, but usually, you have to hold at least a bachelor’s and be a native speaker, but I recommend taking ESL-training classes, read grammar books for ESL teachers, and even take foreign languages. Serious study of any foreign language gives you the chance to look at your own language from a different point of view.

You can also get a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)-certificate, the best being CELTA (offered by Cambridge University both there and in a variety of distance courses), but it’s not necessary. For example, I do not have a TEFL-certificate, though I did take classes geared towards it.

Really, it just depends. If you want to do this, talk to a professor or someone who’s done it and get their opinion. Research carefully too, and remember: it’s not getting the job that’s difficult. Doing it, and doing it well is what matters.

As far as classroom planning goes, the school will provide with lessons and materials, and presumably, I am obligated to follow these preset lessons. Again though, this is something that varies from job to job. I have heard stories of teachers tossed into classrooms with nothing but their own minds to work with. I do know that I will have a certain amount of academic freedom, as they have encouraged me to bring anything I believe will help, but as to how much, that remains to be seen.

For instance, I proposed bringing movies. Their response? No sex, politics, religion, or violence. In other words, nothing good. Thanks guys.

That’s all I had room for this week. If you have any questions, email me. I will either answer them, direct you to the appropriate source, or just read them.

Next week: more information and the week of departure.