teaching

The Flipside

by Fred Colton

They were supposed to practice writing Mandarin characters but Luke always just sat there and drew dicks. 4,000 hanzi to learn and not a single one Luke couldn’t turn into a thin veiny phallus. He incorporated scrotums as needed to help with the curves and slants. Slid the drawings to the other students and everyone chewed off their bottom lips off to stifle the laughter. Hanzi made of cocks. Just twisting and snaking around each other.

Mandarin, mandatory since kindergarten. Mandatory in over one hundred countries. Kids, Mandarin is your passport to the world. Learn it and you can trade stocks in Paris or be a professor in Capetown.

“Or I could just stay here and keep winning races,” Luke told his parents, and his brother Bob, and the bowtie in the guidance office.

“You need to learn it,” his parents said. “You’re doing great everywhere else but Mandarin drags your GPA down below 3.0.”

And the bowtie in guidance said, “If you’re amenable with taking a goose egg then just do your time in Mandarin quietly. The teacher gets upset when you disrupt his class.”

Luke played with the snaps on his track pants. “You should put the word teacher in quotes. Because they can study Viking Anthropology or some other irrelevant shit at a Tianjin community college and still somehow get a teaching job overseas.”

“They’re not all like that.”

“Well, this one is.”

And so here in Massachusetts was Yang Jinhai. 23, from Shanghai. He was a carelessly constructed human being. A bowl cut, distractingly white overbite, and flappy Gumby limbs. No beer belly when he got here but he had one now. No English vocabulary when he got here, either, and that sure as shit hadn’t changed. So when Luke called him Mr. Wang instead of Mr. Yang and made the class bust up, Jinhai didn’t know why.

*

They were at Good Karma Cafe. Luke and his friend Jeff. The menu was in Mandarin and English. Every menu on the continent was in Mandarin and English. Two off-duty PLA soldiers were out on the curb with a miniature forest of Bud Lite bottles between them.

Jeff handed Luke his phone. “Look who’s living the high life.”

Jinhai operated under a secret identity on Facebook but Jeff had stumbled upon the teacher’s profile. So here was a photo roll. Jinhai blitzed at an EDM boat party on the Charles River. Jinhai slack-jawed on a ski trip with his hand down the back of a white girl’s yoga pants. Jinhai in a tan suit at Crossroads and also at the Mission. Doing flaming shots and motorboating some different white girls. Despite inhabiting the visage of bucktoothed troll Jinhai seemed to never go longer than ten minutes with a dry dick.

“The high life,” said Luke. “Life as a bachelor party. What do you think he’s got, some family money?”

“Mandarin teachers make a killing,” Jeff said. “They don’t pay rent.”

“Get the fuck out of here.” Luke scrolled through a few more photos. “I should re-sketch some of these but replace Mr. Wang Jinhai with a giant penis instead. Wearing a suit and going skiing.”

*

On Saturday Luke broke his own 800m record with a 1:52.38. But that was only good enough for silver because a rival from Port Grand broke it harder. Guy clocked a 1:52.01.

But that was OK. Because Luke got faster every week. He dropped on the infield and saw himself on the twenty-foot screen under the scoreboard. It was OK because there were three thousand people at this meet and Stephanie was one of them. It was OK because she was a fox and just catching her eye for a second was enough to wipe his memory. And it was OK because that night she came over and it happened.

First time but it wasn’t awkward. It was done and Luke shuddered and curled up. A warm magic fizz worked through him. When they started talking again he said, “Scouts were there today. I could run go run for—”

Stephanie said, “I might be in Beijing.”

“Shit.”

“I know. I know.”

“But you were talking about Ohio.”

“I could get a better scholarship to Beida and my parents said—”

“Shit.”

She covered up. “Just an idea. I might stay here.”

*

“She won’t stay here,” Bob said.

He was down in the den with the lights off. Doing business on a six-pack of Sam Adams while he leveled up on GTA. A takeout carton next to him held rice and fried eggplant.

“She’ll go to another school and fuck five guys by Thanksgiving,” he told Luke. “Even if she goes to your school, you can’t guard her at every kegger and she’ll still fuck five guys by Thanksgiving. It’s a law of nature, young sir.”

Bob installed hardwood floors for ten hours a day. His shoulders resembled watermelons. Still in the nest at 25 because there wasn’t a 25 year-old in the hemisphere who could afford their own place. He had an aging F-150 and as a birthday present to himself had just upgraded the stereo in it.

“Beijing,” Luke said, for no other reason than to state his problem, to lament the existence of it.

“The center of the universe,” Bob said.

“I could go there, too.”

“Or you could just stay here and ‘keep winning races.’” Bob laughed through his nose.

“Ha.”

“Brother, you’re sixteen; your head is fucked. When you’re sixteen you have the logic of a drunk man.”

“I’ve got everything else. I just need Mandarin. I can learn it and go.”

“No. Here’s what you do: you cut it with this little chick. You work on your gift, protect it. Unless you wanna end up on this couch next to me.”

*

San shi wu…OK that’s $35 an hour,” said Jeff.

“Motherfucker,” Luke whispered.

Monday. They were in the Mandarin office at Jinhai’s desk.

The teacher chewed on the tip of his tongue while he texted someone. Jeff was there to translate, something he was capable of since he didn’t spend the entirety of Mandarin class drawing dicks.

“That’s a deal,” he told Luke. “$45 is standard. And academies cost even more.”

OK, Luke thought. But $35 is still a goddamn king’s ransom.

He could pull down $6.75 an hour washing dishes at the cafe. Before taxes. So: eight hours on the clock could buy him one with Jinhai. That was a horrifying exchange rate.

But, after enough hours with Jinhai he could get to Beijing.

“Tell him I can do it,” Luke said.

“The test is in five months. And you gotta be damn near fluent by then.”

“I can do it. When is he good?”

Jeff and Jinhai had a quick exchange and then Jeff said, “Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.”

Luke fixed Jinhai with a quiet stare. The guy had a gold mine in his head. Just say words, get money for them. What a life. What an incredible, incredible life.

“Tell him I’ll pay him on Friday,” Luke said. “For ten lessons.”

*

The call came at 10 P.M. Bob was driving home.

“Someone broke the window. Stole my radio.”

“Shit. Bob, that’s terrible,” said Luke. “Where?”

“The job site.”

“Any cameras around?”

“No.” Bob cleared his throat hard. “It was up in the hills. Only had that fucking thing for a few weeks.”

“That’s fucked up. I’m sorry Bob. I’m so sorry.”

*

Luke handed Jinhai $350 in an envelope on Friday. A wordless transaction that nonetheless concluded with smiles from both parties.

Now Luke had a five week head start on getting another ten lessons’ worth of currency together. He practiced hanzi at lunch. Getting the stroke order down. The characters looked weird when they weren’t rendered as dicks.

He could do this. Five months was no problem. Fast was the only way he could do things anyway.

After school he went to Stephanie’s. Shuddered, curled, tingled again and said, “You’re going to Beijing, aren’t you.”

“Well,” she said. “It makes sense.”

He could tell that was her plan because she never talked about it. And he knew she hadn’t talked about it because once she flew over there, there wouldn’t be a Luke in the equation. Girls were very mature and practical. Did this irritating thing where they looked eighteen months into the future and tried to figure out what would happen.

“Well,” Luke told her, “pretty soon I’m going to have some good news for you.”

*

On Monday Jinhai was gone. Taken his bowl cut and overbite back to Shanghai.

“He got arrested at Foxwoods Friday night,” someone said. “On the casino floor.”

Luke blinked and put down his pen. Didn’t move.

Jeff said, “What happened?”

And some kid said, “He and a few PLA soldiers mixed it up with some BU students. There was talk of an assault charge so he posted bail and caught a plane.”

Luke sat still. Said nothing for the rest of the day.

*

At practice. Out running intervals in the city under the train tracks. Asian actors were on a billboard with a fireball behind them. One of them was in an armored combat suit that let him fly. The red-and-yellow Chinese flag was on the side of that building over there. Hanzi everywhere and it was all a taunt.

But it didn’t have to be. Luke finished and texted Stephanie and said they were done. Someday they’d both see that as the good news he promised.

Then he went home and told Bob the whole deal. He woke up on the floor with a front tooth loose.

Bob said, “Here’s how you pay me back. You work on the crew this summer for two weeks. For no pay.”

“I will,” said Luke.

“And win your next race.”

“I will.”

And he did. The guy from Port Grand didn’t even made the podium. The other two guys on the podium were Chinese kids from the international school.

“Foreigners think they can tell you what’s important because they have the Almighty RMB,” Bob said later. “But they can’t. You should know better anyway.”

“I do know better,” Luke said. “But sometimes I forget.”

“You’ll be good. I know you will be. You’ve got something.”

Back to Mandarin class. They had a new teacher, the teacher was a she, and she was so hot that Luke stared and began learning a few words by accident.

*

And Yang Jinhai was home, back in the capital of the universe. Back in with the parents, because you had to pay for rent in Shanghai. The dollars from that American kid were almost gone. He couldn’t get laid here. He was on Baidu looking for work. America was out.

But there were so many other options.

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The (not so) Good Earth

Heron trash

by Eli Toast

So I’m sleeping in fifth gear and lurch awake as if I’ve accidentally down-shifted into first. I run to my kitchen which stinks like hot batteries. The electric stove is glowing orange, the refrigerator door is open, and the shelves are collapsed inside. As my panic ebbs, I await the inevitable emotional tidal wave of jagged flotsam to surge over the levee and dump a bunch of bush-league angst into my so-called soul. I look out my window and life outside is a blazing shithole of consumer goods.

There are warm coins stuck to my body because I slept naked, which is rare because I usually pass out fully clothed, but last night I called multiple people retards and engaged in a vehement argument about whether or not a bear can beat up a lion; which it can.

As I shower, more coins fall from my body and clang in the tub. Beneath the hot water I engage in a, flat, red-eyed, vaguely suicidal shower-thought about eating a heaping spoonful of the entire periodic table of elements and washing it down with a tall glass of the fluid that leaks out of air conditioning units.

Shower finished, I pose in my post shower glisten and behold my grossly flatulent apartment in ruin. I notice the heat from the stove has dissipated and left the room cold. Before dressing I check the news hoping that a family of rich people have sunk their yacht into a shoal of hungry barracuda.

Last night I tried to chop a hamburger in half with my hand. I honestly can’t believe that I have any friends at all. I’m convinced this is the worst hangover of all time, and maybe it is. Well… It probably isn’t the worst, because my first year in college I got so drunk I almost died.

I need to eat and I’ve got wicked heartburn, but whatever, so I use the end of a dirty spoon to apply I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter to some stale whole wheat bread I grabbed out of the cupboard. Then I remember that when I got home earlier this morning I ate three boiled hot dogs smothered in mustard, accompanied with several rugged chunks of cheese that I pried free from a one pound brick of Kirkland sharp cheddar with a fork. I also ate around fifteen kalamata olives and remember dropping several pits on the floor and defiantly leaving them there. Hot dogs, bread, and shorn  hunks of cheese with fiteen or so olives? Sure. I remember that. It was a swarthy and reckless eating session and I’m a steaming pile of shit.

Every single dish I own I leave in the sink, partially submerged in tepid bilge.

Everything will collapse and anarchy will be loosed; roving mobs of murderers will riot with impunity; the seas, lakes, and rivers are so choked with toxic slime and plastic, nothing but poisonous heaps of garbage will be left to our mutated babies when they inherit our newly slag-pitted earth; the banks will burn and the oily smoke will twist into the radioactive sky. Wholesale murder is already rewarded with fist bumps in corporate genocidal fraternities. This is where my head is as I step out the door, dressed, on my way to work.

Outside the sun’s muted rays slant at a cruel angle through the winter haze. A dirty, feral cat roots around a ubiquitous pile of Asian garbage and quickly regards me with near poultry-level skittishness that has been bred into it from a lifetime of matter-of-fact cruelty. On the way to work I walk past a river full of sewage where off in the distance a gray heron stands at the bank and I think about these poor birds forced to live next to this stinking river…but then again, I live next to this stinking river, and so does everyone else.

I turn from the river into an alley and there is an ageless woman bent in half, wearing a puffy nylon jacket, parachute pants, and rubber shoes, pushing an old two-wheeled cart full of cardboard. She’s prowling for more cardboard so she can sell it to a cardboard buyer in some infinitely straightforward cardboard transaction. She is obviously alone and poor, because why else would she be collecting cardboard at her age and condition on such a horrible morning? We pass each other in complete silence.

Then an old Korean gentleman waiting at the bus stop asks me where I’m from.

“The States,” I say.

“I’m a minister,” He says, “Are you a Christian?”.

“No, I’m not religious.”

“I lived in the US for 11 years, in Pennsylvania. I’ve met Eisenhower. Are you familiar with Eisenhower?”

“Yes,” I said, “somewhat.”

“How about Pearl Buck?” He asked.

“Sure, I know,” I said, lying.

“She was a friend of mine.”

“Wow, that’s amazing.”

“I hope that someday you find God,” were his parting words.

A headache as evil and big as Monsanto hunkers down behind my eyes as I think to myself: “Pearl Buck? Huh… That was weird.”

Crossing campus I encounter a handful of errant goofballs who’ve strayed from the student body pack; they greet me with unrefined, though hardly pure, glee. I get to my office and thankfully no one is there. I look around and can’t believe any of it’s true. I haven’t earned any of this, but I’m also starting to give up on all that “woe-is-me” bullshit. I find eye drops and gum in my desk drawer and apply both. I take off my jacket and lay it over the back of my chair. I gather my things and wonder if I can summon the cowardice to cancel the day.

I exit the office and wade down the hall until I arrive at my classroom. I take a big breath, walk in and say:

“Good morning everyone. Are you ready?”

And they are.

Warped Tour

nkclass

by Steve K. Feldman

Suki Kim’s excellent new memoir Without You, There Is No Us: My Year with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite surely ranks as one of the greatest Gonzo journalistic feats ever, right up there with Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, or Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between (about a guy who walked across Afghanistan in the months after 9/11). You think you’ve got a tough teaching gig? To get her story, Kim, a Korean-American, lived for a year in Pyongyang, North Korea, teaching English composition at the Pyongyang University for Science & Technology (PUST), a university run by Christian missionaries.

I mean—just imagine . . . having to live with Christian missionaries for a whole year!

And, sure, I guess living in a repressive totalitarian state was pretty tough, too.

Her remarkable undercover stint has resulted in one of the best books on North Korea in recent years. Without You, There is No Us belongs squarely in the first tier of works that seek to illuminate the darkness of this mysterious, closed society. To be sure, Kim’s access was limited to just a geographic and demographic sliver of North Korea. However, no book, not even the best defector accounts such as The Aquariums of Pyongyang and Nothing to Envy, detail such real, extended, relatively unscripted interaction between real North Koreans and an “enemy” American.

At first glance, there aren’t any big revelations here. Much of what Kim presents should be very familiar to anybody who has read any travel accounts in North Korea: the constant presence of the “minders” who “mind” (spy on) your every move; the “sightseeing” mostly restricted to mind-numbing, eyeball-glazing monuments to the Great Leader and Dear Leader; the endless demonization of America; the grinding poverty of a ruined economy lurking behind the paper-thin façade of modernity. This is all well-trodden territory, but Kim presents the familiar themes of barren / creepy / repressive North Korea with her novelist’s sharp eye for telling detail.

Where the book really breaks new ground, however, is in the author’s day-to-day accounts of teaching—or attempting to teach—the fully indoctrinated young men of the book’s title, the “sons of the elite.” All of her students were sons of Pyongyang’s elite ruling class (though she never talked to, let alone met, any of her students’ parents). How do you teach opinion or persuasive essays to people who have been taught—warned, even— never to argue, never to have an opinion? How do you teach them to back up their ideas with supporting evidence when “facts” or “the truth” have always been simply what the Dear Leader declares them to be? “Their entire system was designed not to be questioned, and to squash critical thinking,” Kim writes. In North Korea, “there was no proof, no checks and balances—unless, of course they wanted to prove that the Great Leader had single-handedly written hundreds of operas and thousands of books and saved the nation and done a miraculous number of things.” She sums up trying to teach essay-writing to such blinkered students in one word: “disaster.”

Simple conversations with students in the lunchroom or classroom were just as difficult and fraught with dangers. Every day was a dance through a DMZ minefield of forbidden topics. In answering students’ endless questions about the world outside their hermetically-sealed borders, Kim knew that revealing anything about the wealth, openness and freedom of “out there” was risky, for both herself and the students. A simple, honest answer to an innocuous question like “How many countries have you been to?” would let students plainly see the opportunities available to her that were utterly denied to themselves.

sukikim

Yet as abhorrent and alien as much of their views, behavior  and upbringing are, Kim, like any good teacher, can’t help but  grow attached to them over her two semesters at PUST. She  often calls the students “beautiful” and “lovely” and refers to  them as “her children.” Throughout the book, Kim explores  the wrenching ambivalence of wanting to open up their minds  yet not wanting to get them in trouble—either as students or  in the future when they would supplant their parents as the  top-echelon leadership of the DPRK. In dealing with one  particularly inquisitive student, Kim and her young T.A. Katie realize that saying too much might get themselves deported, but could very well get the student killed. “Until then, I had hoped that perhaps I could change one student, open up one path of understanding,” Kim muses. “But what kind of a future did I envision for the one student I reached? Opening up this country would mean sacrificing these lives. Opening up this country would mean the blood of my beautiful students.”

Her portrait of her students is fascinating, empathetic, and immensely sad. In South Korea, foreign English teachers often bemoan their students’ lives that are equal parts grindstone and pressure cooker, yet the most haggwon-oppressed, sleep-deprived South Korean student would not survive a week in the shoes of Kim’s North Korean students. They are never alone—never, not a single moment. They are partnered up in a “buddy” system for the clear purpose of keeping an eye on one-another. It’s breathtaking how carefully the State raises a population of snitches. Also heart-rending is the physical labor that students are submitted to—most of it either pointless or made pointlessly difficult by the absence of tools or technology: cutting crass with scissors; standing guard in freezing cold weather over the ridiculous shrine to “Kimjongilism;” being carted off during school vacations to work in harvesting or construction sites. Even as sons of high-ranking party members, life is an brutal, endless slog, even if they will never face starvation. For them, attending a weekend math haggwon would be like lounging pool-side with a fruity drink.

Despite the glibness of my lead graph, living with Christian missionaries was, for Kim, its own brand of, well, hell. At times, her evangelical colleagues spur as much forehead-slapping disbelief and anger as the North Korean authorities. When Kim wants to show students a Harry Potter movie, the idea is shot down not by the North Korean officials (who must approve every book and every lesson plan), but by the school’s head teacher who calls it a piece of anti-Christian “filth.” “What would Christians around the world say about our decision to expose our students to such heresy?” the woman rages with staggeringly misguided righteousness.

At one point, a colleague openly talks with Kim about how her reason for being there was to “bring the Lord to this Land,” how “this life here is temporary,” and that the suffering North Koreans “will be received by Him in heaven.” Kim explodes at her, accusing her of delegitimizing the suffering of the North Korean masses: “So are you saying that it’s okay for North Koreans to rot in gulags because in your estimation it isn’t real? . . . If the eternal life waiting for them in heaven is so amazing, should the millions who are suffering here just commit mass suicide? Why don’t you go check out a gulag and then dare to tell me that it’s temporary?”

Kim’s portrayal of the school and its Christian faculty has garnered some controversy. The school has openly expressed hurt and anger over what they call a betrayal by Kim. They deny that they are Christian missionaries at all, and that Kim both misrepresented them in the book and misrepresented herself when she landed the job.

On her website, Kim counters these charges with a simple, powerful statement:

There is a long tradition of “undercover” journalism—pretending to be something one is not in order to be accepted by a community and uncover truths that would otherwise remain hidden. In some cases, this is the only way to gain access to a place. North Korea, described only recently by the BBC as “one of the world’s most secretive societies,” is such a place. [….] I did not break any promises. I applied to work at PUST under my real name. I was not asked to sign and did not sign any kind of confidentiality agreement, nor did I ever promise not to write about PUST. Meanwhile, in the six decades since Korea was divided, millions have died from persecution and hunger. Today’s North Korea is a gulag posing as a nation, keeping its people hostage under the Great Leader’s maniacal and barbaric control, depriving them of the very last bit of humanity. So what are our alternatives? How much longer are we going to sit back and watch? To me, it is silence that is indefensible. (read the full statement at http://sukikim.com/ethicsnote)

Given the fact that Kim didn’t hide anything about her past or her career, it’s strange she got the job at PUST in the first place, a point she also makes in the book and in the full text of the above statement. She wrote several articles for Harper’s and The New York Review of Books about previous trips to North Korea, most notably an outstanding account of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang in 2008. That article, unlike a lot of the accounts in the mainstream press, dug underneath the official North Korea-sanctioned feel-good story of “we’re not here for politics / music can bring us together!” Instead, Kim focused on the pointlessness of interaction with North Korea when the interaction was entirely on their terms. Also, her well-received debut novel, The Interpreter, has enough sex to make a evangelical Christian blush (which is to say, any sex at all). Ten minutes of internet browsing might have suggested to school authorities what Kim had in mind in seeking this job. Equally puzzling was North Korea granting her another Visa after those earlier articles—they even assigned to her one of the same minders from the New York Philharmonic trip.

Indeed, Kim worrying about having her cover blown—by both the North Koreans and her Christian colleagues—makes her day-to-day life even more stressful and adds another layer of dark tension throughout the book. In the end, the tension, the stress, the isolation, the bleakness, the cold, and the unceasing vigilance of the State—Orwell’s Big Brother incarnate—grind down her spirit of resistance, as it all was surely designed to: “The sealed border was not just at the 38th parallel, but everywhere, in each person’s heart, blocking the past and choking off the future. As much as I loved those boys, or because of it, I was becoming convinced that the wall between us was impossible to break down, and not only that, it was permanent.”

However, in an incredible coincidence, on Kim’s very last day at the school—a day filled with the bittersweet teacher-student goodbyes that any of us who have taught for a living might recognize—something happens that suggests just maybe that this wall might one day vanish into history: Kim Jong-il dies. Her final glimpse of her students as she’s leaving for the airport is of them in the cafeteria eating breakfast, refusing to look at her, “their eyes swollen and red, [with] no expression on their faces. It was as though the life had been sucked out of them.” She makes no comment on whether or not these tears are real or forced, or perhaps some of both, but simply wonders if their world will change for the better. Three years later, we’re still asking that question.

dearleaders

The Asia Fail

*This piece may have appeared on the web once or twice before, but we’re publishing it again here because we likes it, yes we do.

by Mr. Motgol

In the Old World, people went to the New World to start anew. Once America became settled, folks would head “out West” to shake away their demons, with destinations such as California and Alaska luring folks with promises of riches and rebirth. These were places where no one cared about your history or imperfect past. You were given a clean slate, and only as good as your current effort.

These days, such second chances are harder to come by. Technology and computer data bases have made it much more difficult to shake the specter of previous fuckups. I am told that back home, many shitty, wage-slave jobs now require credit checks, for God’s sake. Big Brother has indeed taken over, which leaves only one choice for the Spectacular Failures of the Western World: Asia.

I was a big fat loser in America. I admit it. There’s really no other way to spin the story. I aimed high and fell lower. Mea culpa.

I came to Korea because pretty much no one else would have me. I was bruised and bleeding–the textbook portrait of a failure–but Korea didn’t seem to care. Her permed hair’d visage looked upon me with kind brown eyes and during my darkest hour, picked me up with her calloused, ajumma hands, and embraced me.

Since arriving on her rocky shores those many years back, I’ve flourished, and despite her many, prickly imperfections, I’m happy to call Asia home. I am grateful every day for the second chance afforded me here, and despite a few major hiccups along the way, I try my best not to screw it up.

However… some of my fellow expats have it the other way around. They come to  Asia, and THEN implode. Whether they blow all their cash, burn their bridges, or just piss the wrong people off, I’ve seen more than my share of expats unravel here. With their tail quivering between their legs they grab what they can, stuff it into their bags, and crawl onto that first plane home. The rest of us shake our heads and wonder how can this happen in Asia, where–at least for us pampered, spoon-fed Westerners–things are just so damned easy.  How is it possible to ASS OUT in a land where Westerners are generally given a berth fit for a cruise ship?

This phenomenon has come to be known as The Asia FailHere’s a list of the main types, in no particular order:

1. THE ALCOHOL FAIL 

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East Asia–with Korea stumbling along at the head of the drunken pack– is a boozehound’s paradise. You can get hammered around the clock for pennies on the dollar. Many countries have NO LAST CALL at the bars. You can booze all night, show up to work bleary-eyed and  reeking of drink, and your boss will congratulate you.

If your friend is already an alcoholic and says he’s moving to Asia, don’t let him. There’s simply just too much product on hand. After all, would you let your cokehead buddy go work in the rebel-held jungles of Colombia?

A friend of mine was such an alkie that he couldn’t even hold down a job in Korea, where a huge drinking habit is almost a hiring requirement. It is so ingrained in the culture that companies often make pissup sessions mandatory for employees. He carried around soju in a water bottle and would puke every time he went up stairs. For the greater part of a year he lived in a bar.  Yes, such a thing is possible in Asia.

When things got bad enough we finally passed the hat, contacted his family, bought his ticket and practically pushed him onto the plane. He’s lucky, because I’ve known of a couple other guys who have died from liver failure here. And they were both kindergarten teachers.

Before attempting a move home from here, writer Ross Gardiner summed it perfectly: “I’m the only person in history who is moving back to Scotland to AVOID being an alcoholic.”

2. THE IRATE WOMAN FAIL

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is a pretty good maxim to live by. Add Asian to the equation and this “fury” has the potential to morph into a Category 5 Typhoon.

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The warning signs are usually there: Ripped up photos of ex-girlfiends, rivers of threatening text messages, smashed furniture, slaughtered pets…

One friend of mine was smart enough to take his Korean wife–who had serious anger management issues–back to Canada before things got bad here. How do I know? One day I saw him at work, with a seven inch scabby gash on his face.

“What happened?” I asked.

“My wife scratched me,” he replied, as if it was an every day occurrence, like walking the dog or laundry.

“Really?”

“Yeah…. she got drunk and scratched me.”  He continued drinking his coffee and making fantasy football trades on his computer.

“Any particular reason?”

“Nah, not really.”

Another guy I know was deported after his notoriously unbalanced ex-girlfriend ratted him out to immigration for some illegal tutoring he was doing. That’s right, she called the teaching cops him. And sure enough, when he showed up to the lesson, two immigration officials were there, lying in wait. They grabbed him and that was that.  He’s since moved on to greener pastures, but let the lesson be learned.

3. THE DRUG BUST FAIL

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No country in Asia takes either possession of distribution of any substance deemed illegal lightly. Your arguments for decriminalization may hold sway ears in Canada, America, or Europe, but Asians generally have no time for such things.  All drugs are thought bad and that’s that. Get caught and pay the price. Like the strength of currencies in this region, this “price” varies greatly from country to country. Get busted smuggling hash in Japan or Korea and you WILL do time in a spartan prison, but you’ll likely count the years on one hand and you’re unlikely to be brutalized or raped. Do the same in Thailand or the Philippines and you may just spend a decade or two living in your own shit and fending off knife attacks from transvestites in prisons not fit for animals. Try it in Malaysia or Singapore and you may not even spend too long in prison before you find a rope around your neck.

Every year or so there’s a drug bust among the expats in Korea, which I don’t understand. I mean, do you guys really need your weed THAT much? Go home and move to Seattle or Denver and smoke away, though you may have to go back to work at Walmart or the valet parking lot you toiled away at before moving here.

There are so many books written about Thai prisons that they practically have their own aisle the the few remaining books stores left on earth. Warren Fellow’s “The Damage Done” is particularly horrifying.

For a clear and sympathetic account of serving time in a Korea prison for drugs, try “Brother One Cell”. He’s proven that the Asia Fail can go the other way around: It can sometimes actually provide opportunities for you back at home. I’ve often thought of purposely getting arrested for drugs in Asia, and serving my time solely in hopes of landing a big book deal. Expat prison memoirs are hot hot hot.

4. THE HATER FAIL

This one usually manifests itself as the midnight runner (suddenly leaving without notice).  Many would argue that this doesn’t qualify as an Asia Fail because by leaving the country with no notice, you are taking matters into your own hands. Fair enough, but to get to the point where you are willing to grab your shit and ditch out on your job without so much a phone call implies a basic lack of preparation for the bumps and knocks of life in Asia.

But even more fail-ific are the people who move to Asia, hate it with their very skin, yet insist on sticking around, grinding it out, and making it awful for the rest of us. There’s currently one sad sack on Facebook who teaches up ino Seoul and shrieks about it every day. His entire posting catalog is a road map of ESL misery. He moans and whines and talks about how is life here is a “living hell”; he talks of how the school he works at could be destroyed by a bomb with everyone–staff and children include–killed and how he wouldn’t. even.  care. (sic)  In desperation for a online hug, he splays his painful, bleeding vagina for all to see; he longs to return to the loving womb of America, but refuses to take that one clear step to accomplish the goal: Actually leaving.

Isn’t such perpetuation of easily-cured pain a kind of fail in itself?

Things are different here. There are cultural barriers that sometimes suck, yes, and in an effort to maintain social harmony, many bosses do have a–how do you say–elastic relationship with the truth.  And the men spit in elevators and the old ladies elbow you in the subway and just maybe they all do hate us.

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And did I mention how expensive cheese is here? Can you believe it? Oh noes. The horror.

5. THE TRYING TO BE FUNNY BUT ONLY ENRAGING THE LOCALS FAIL

This one occurs when cultural insensitivity meets misinterpretation, and one that I was guilty of in 2006. I was arrested and questioned over my role in Babopalooza, an expat sketch-comedy show I helped write and produce. The show made fun of both Westerners and Koreans and nearly got everyone involved deported. One of the sketched lampooned the Korean Immigration Service, which was an idiotic thing to do, since 1: The ridiculing of authorities is frowned-upon in Confucian Korea, and  2. The people we were skewering were also the people who have all the power over our lives: They interpret and enforce the rules that let us stay in the country. Don’t bite the hand that issues the visa.  We eventually got off with a firm “talking to” by the actual police, but “Wonderful Busan, Beautiful Immigration” continued to make our lives hell for years later, every time any of us switched jobs.

There are other examples aside from Babopalooza, most notably Michael Breen’s Samsung Christmas satire, and the forever-instructive “Fancy a bum?” incident, which whipped up the Korean netizens into such an angry, pitchfork and torch mob, that the offending dude (a Busan resident) was literally run out of the country.

6. THE PARANOIA FAIL

No, this isn’t the west, and some of the governments in Asia are downright nasty. This is especially true for the communist ones, who don’t really bother with such pesky things as free speech, habeus corpus, and a right to a fair trial. They’ve also been known to harass and spy on undesirable foreign elements from time to time.

However, most expats–especially lowly English teachers–are barely on their radar and to think otherwise is to only flatter yourself.  That doesn’t stop some folks from convincing themselves that the Secret Police are out to get ‘em, however. A friend of mine was recently living in a Southeast Asian country and posted a sort of real time Facebook meltdown. He claimed he was being watched and followed every step of the way; he told of having his apartment broken into and his computer hacked and tracked. He ended up bolting the country with no cash and barely getting out, subsequently relying on friends chipping in on PayPal to buy his ticket back home.

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Who knows? Maybe he was being followed. Though, having been a dabbler myself years back, I suspect overindulgence in certain substances played a much greater role in pushing him over the precipice than any spooks or security apparatchiks. And is it any coincidence that that this sort of neurosis usually occurs in countries where such substances are widespread and easily obtained? After all, nothing makes gangs of government agents put cameras in your refrigerator like a three-week yabba binge.

7. THE SHITTY TEACHER FAIL

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Let’s face it: Teaching English in Asia is a piece of piss. Could there be anything easier than just talking to people in your native tongue and getting paid for it? Sure, you need a “four-year degree”, and that does succeed in weeding out some of the mouthbreathers, but knuckleheads still abound. Anyone who thinks that a college education alone somehow equals intelligence hasn’t surveyed the Asian ESL crowd.

But let’s face it: Teaching English isn’t for everyone. To do it well in Asia requires a modicum of charm and basic social skills, or at least the ability to shuck and jive and entertain the troops. And if the troops aren’t entertained, they’ll complain, and your ass will be shown the door.

Some folks just aren’t cut out for this gig, yet bounce around from job to job to job, never quite taking the hint that, somewhere along the way, they’ve made a serious vocational error. But the truth is, if you are over thirty and teaching in Asia, you’ve ALREADY made a serious vocational error.

8. THE TEACHING IN KOREA AND THEN GETTING CAUGHT HAVING SEX WITH CHILDREN IN THAILAND FAIL

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This is the worst one, because not only is it morally reprehensible: It just makes living and working here all the more difficult for the rest of us.

Thanks, Swirly Faced Man.