Saturday, November 30, 2013

WOW.....sooooo.....where was I, again....?

Jesus, I hadn't been back here in over a year....

....but, before we begin - a special shout out to our friends at the National Security Agency in Washington D.C.!  Please be advised that I have nooooo problem with you guys monitoring this page because, hey, it was MEANT to be public!  So enjoy, and please comment!

Sooooo, where the hell were you?

Well, yeah - I hafta agree with what HRD had stated REPEATEDLY:  The Facebook is absolutely KILLING blogging, and, by extension, writing!  However I do feel obligated to bring out its good points:  It's extremely handy to use when 85% of your friends are twelve Geographic time-zones away from you, and it was never meant to go into ANY sort of depth at all, but rather breadth......a quick skimming of many different surfaces.  But I AM getting tired of the absolutely endless and repetitive memes and I am so totally going to pull out my fucking hair if I see JUST ONE MORE of those Goddamm "someecards"......

STILL - it's really difficult for somebody in my situation to just stop using it.  Mainly because, again, the overwhelming majority of my friends are on it and of those who are, most of them use The Facebook as their primary means of communication with others (including me) if somebody sets up a "Facebook Event" (like a birthday party, marriage, funeral or something), or announces the passing of somebody I knew and cared about, well, I don't really wanna find out about it a year later next time I'm visiting The States!!  In a tragic death situation, or even a simple party-planning situation, a LOT of people do NOT have time to call, text, or even mass E-Mail, yeah, The Facebook IS important to me simply for communication.....I can't just dump it.  But it HAS killed my blogging and helped to turn me into a blathering idiot, so, it's time to get back to writing!

Fine!  So, last time you left had returned from a 800 Kilometre round-trip ride from Hai Phong to Lai Chau in September of 2102.  And since???

Shit....where do I start?  

Allright, so, flew back to The States a coupla times since then (don't care HOW many times you do it - that trans-Pacific flight gets more and more painful each just do NOT fucking get used to it - it only gets worse!) and really nothing else.  Traveled a brief bit to see friends in Bangkok (our honeymoon - three years delayed because neither of us could get away from work) and Ho Chi Minh City, but that's about it.  Work-wise, still doing the freelance English Language instruction gig and it was going well.  Had landed a major international maritime business client a few months before the Lai Chau/SaPa trip, and had other minor clients, and life was good!  

It was around THIS point (dunno....meebee April of 2012 or so) where I just fell asleep and went into hibernation with my head in the sand......

WHAT THE FUCK are you talking about??

Well, what had occurred was when Tam and I closed down the small, private English Language skool (late 2010, meebee....can't really remember precise dates), we had decided to become freelance English Language instructors.  The actual OPERATION of a skool itself was just fraught with headaches and the effort vs. return ratio was sllllooooowly beginning to tilt more towards the "effort" side.

Let's just convert one large room in the house into a classroom facility in case some clients wish to hold classes at OUR site rather than theirs, and run our gigs THAT way!  So we did.

DURING that initial period (guessing early 2011 through to April 2012), I had pretty much kissed babies, back-slapped and glad-handed people and had built up a pretty good base of clients.  At one point, it had gotten to where I had a waiting list and had begun referring people to other competent English instructors - and THAT was during the traditional "Hunger Months" for English teachers of February through May 2012 (where Tet [Vietnamese new year] has just ended and everybody has just totally blown literally all of their cash on the holiday and has no money left for English classes).

Normally, it's like "big fucking deal!", but considering how much I dislike salespeople and the action of myself selling ANYTHING just makes me physically ill, I hadta pat myself on the back a few times!  Really sweet formal business cards, a website, the whole nine worked.

And you lived happily ever after, right?

No, this is Hai Phong, remember?

Actually, events for quite a long while DID make it appear as though it was going to be a fairy-tale ending!  Work and client relations were all going smoothly, and life was generally nice......and then, when I returned from The States, thee absolutely perfect shit-storm struck and it's pretty much looking like the end of the road here for this cowboy! 

"Returned from The States"??  WHICH time??  And WHY all this apocalyptic talk??

Returned to Hai Phong from a trip I took there in August and September of 2013.  I normally head to The States in December and January, but the Hai Phong summer heat and humidity was (and still is) wearing on me, plus I really wanted to catch The National Chicken Wing Festival, a Timbers match, and possibly a Bills game that meant something (as opposed to the ones in December in the shitty weather where they are already well out of contention for the playoffs).

As stated earlier, I had basically just cocooned, hibernated and put my head in the sand in mid-2012!  Didn't really go out at all, hung out at home making lesson plans, spending time with the wife and brats, and hangin' in the ManCave watching films and surfing the 'Net!  Didn't network with my fellow English instructors at the bar, let the website expire, gave out the last business cards on hand and never bothered to print more, etc. etc.......

.........never needed to do any of that!  I was set.

.....until I got back from The States at the end of September!

MAN!  Talk about all negative elements combining together during a specific time span!  Christ....

First off, my waiting list had evaporated.  Clients were bitching for Prime Time (basically 5:30PM - 9:00PM), and, because my one major business client pretty much had dibs on THAT slot, waiting list clients got tired of waiting and went elsewhere!

THEN, I lost two of my minor clients because Public School had begun, and the standard practise in Viet Nam for Public school teachers is the "Supplementary Classes" scam!!!  And the students of these clients were having major scheduling conflicts with my classes because of this.

It's the old “
Supplementary Classes” scam!

Uhhh, E?? What the fuck is the “
Supplementary Classes
?” scam??!?? like this. Teachers in Viet Nam command a great deal of respect. Even non-performing ones. And passing classes at Public School and University is not only important, but it brings MUCH dishonour to a student AND their family to bring home an unacceptable grade. There is a LOT, a LOT more societal pressure for a student here not to fuck up than there is in The States.

So why not take advantage of this intense societal pressure and use it to make a few extra Dong?

Soooooo......what Public School teachers do is they teach their normal class during the day (which is EITHER: 7am to 11:30am OR 1pm to 5pm, depending on the grade. Because of severe school overcrowding, older kids go half the day and younger kids go half the day - six days per week) and, in the late afternoons or during the evenings, the Public School teacher will hold a special sort of “helper-tutoring” class, usually in their home.

Oh....and this class is held at an additional tuition/fee.

And you WILL buy your special texts and materials from the Public School teacher herself!! Not from anywhere else.

Now, even if you are WILL attend these classes.

What?? You feel that you easily comprehend the material in class and you don't feel that you need to attend this “supplemental education”? Or that you have better things to do with your evenings??

In that case, your Public School teacher will then ask you - 

"Sooooo....HOW badly do you want to pass this class?”

NOW, UNDERSTAND that this practise has now been made illegal by The Viet Nam NATIONAL Department of Education and Training effective Summer 2013.....

......but, come on!!  You're NOT naive enough to think that this law has actually deterred these Public School teachers from holding these 
Supplementary Classes
, are you??  Come on!  Simply stop holding these classes at your house and rent a classroom inside a licensed private English Language Centre, or, if they DO catch ya, well, a little "donation" goes a loooong way.....tee hee hee!

Soooo, lost two of my minor clients to THAT bullshit, but, still, I figgered - "Meh....C'est La Vie!  Still got my major business client, a minor client and the Saturday Night Advanced class that I myself own and operate.....naw fret!!"

....annnnnnd, I didn't pay attention to the calendar.

Pay attention to WHICH calendar?  The Mayan one?

No, the rotational calendar with my major business client.

Basically, at the beginning, I had gotten off on a very rocky start with certain departments of said international company after a series of blunders on their part had led to myself not receiving tuition payment for three months.  THIS 
information (through a slight bit of nudging on my part) had made its way to the company's World Headquarters, and, obviously, certain Department Heads didn't....uhhhh......end up looking so good because of these mistakes.  Soooo, yeah - they were never big fans of mine.....and they had created a few problems during our 1 1/2 year freelancer-client relationship....

However, there were a few key personnel in a couple of other departments who had SEEN my results and had gone to bat for me on several occasions!

But, again - it's an international company and these folks who stood by my side were due to be rotated BACK to World Headquarters in Europa AFTER serving their two year stint in Hai Phong! 

And THAT was scheduled for mid-October, 2013!

.......annnnnnnnnd you can pretty much guess the rest.....

Jesus Christ!!!!!!!!!  STOP your whining already!  GO OUT AN' GO GIT 'EM!!

Git who?  New clients??  Let's talk about THAT for a minute!

THAT was ENTIRELY on MY shoulders!  Ya really hafta admit it:  I fucked up!!  I performed thee most evil sin of all freelancers!!

I got complacent.....

(I wish that I could use the excuse - "Well, hell - this is my first time freelancing, and I don't know, and know...." - but it's whining!!)

BECAUSE of the aforementioned cocooning, hibernation and general sticking my head in the sand for the past 18 months, I had failed to see.....

....THEE ENTIRE FUCKING ENGLISH LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION MARKET DEMOGRAPHIC in Hai Phong had not been altered or changed....... had been manipulated and contorted beyond recognition!


Yepper....lock, stock and barrel.

Basically, whilst I'd been asleep, a new transformation in the English language program in the Public Schools had begun to seep into Hai Phong from Hanoi.

In the past, if a Public School had wanted a Westerner to come in and teach their English classes, that school was on its own in terms of FINDING and paying a Western teacher.

I had stopped accepting Public Schools as clients around early 2012 because fiddy kids to a class along with a Vietnamese assistant teacher (who was supposed to help me in terms of translation and, most importantly, keeping discipline) who could always be found hunched over in the far back corner of the classroom texting her boyfriend, didn't really float my boat.

But still - the students who GENUINELY WANTED TO LEARN would end up going to one of the private English Language centres or to Tam or to myself!

THAT all had changed shortly after I went to sleep in early 2012....

What had happened was that the Public Schools, The Hai Phong Department of Education and Training that oversees these schools, and the larger private English Language centres (there's, like, three or four of 'em in Hai Phong) had gotten together and, with kickbacks no doubt being thrown to ALL sides, created a system where said schools, THROUGH The Hai Phong Department of Education and Training, would CONTRACT with these private 
English Language centres to provide the Public Schools with Western English teachers, thusly, turning said private English Language centres into de facto employment agencies!!

So WHAT??  I mean, don't the students who GENUINELY WANTED TO LEARN still go to you, Tam or the private English language centres?


Hai Phong is basically a gritty working port town!  It AIN'T Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, where people $plash ca$h all over the place!  There isn't anywhere near the same percentage of affluent people in Hai Phong as there are in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.  Thass why it's soooo Goddamm cheap to live here!  It's a bit like measuring, out of the TOTAL population of a city, the percentage of affluent people in Buffalo vs. the percentage of affluent people in, say, Boston or Los Angeles.  

The kids don't handle the money - the parents do.  So, WHO do you think is PAYING for the expense of Western English teachers coming into little Hoa's or little Linh's classroom??  The taxpayers??


The PARENTS hafta fork out XXX,XXX Dong each month (still haven't gotten around to asking some friends who are in the know exactly HOW MUCH these parents hafta shell out each month - MY guess is anywheres between 400,000VND to 600,000VND [$20USD to $30USD] per month).  This is NOT a tiny percentage of the average Hai Phonger's paycheque!

HOWEVER, in Viet Nam, it is considered (often blindly and without research) a sign of quality and of status to have your child learn English from a Western instructor!  And don't get me wrong - there are some true professionals being placed in these classrooms!!

But there are also a fair number of people being sent by the private English language centres/employment agencies into these classrooms whom I wouldn't trust to babysit my pet cockroaches!!

Really?? SERIOUSLY??  Aren't the parents up in arms about this??

The parents don't probe into the Public School's methods or affairs AT ALL!  This ain't where parents in The States are rioting in front of the Board of Education's offices about Common Core - these people here "know their place" - thusly, they do not question or look into such matters.

So, as mentioned above, since having a Westerner in your child's classroom teaching English is perceived as a 
sign of quality and of status, these parents figure that there is no longer any reason to send little Linh or little Hoa to myself or to my wife or to a private English Language centre!  Even if that Westerner who is in that Public School classroom teaching little Linh or little Hoa had struggled for ten years to get their G.E.D.!  PLUS, after dropping the cash to the Public School for the Western teacher to teach there, many of them don't have the funds remaining to send their child to Tam or myself!, screw the little brats!!  Go grab some more business clients!

Great idea.....except...............

Again, whilst I was sleeping, international companies with operations in Hai Phong had started to become rather vocal towards the local Universities from which they drew their force of skilled and semi-skilled personnel.  They begun to complain about the graduated not being "English-Ready" and that, because communication problems often arose, they were forced to hire outside contractors (read as: Tam, myself, and private English Language centres) to come in on-site and teach personnel how to communicate in English!

SO - The Universities listened and went out and hired Western English language teachers and placed more requirements upon their students, such as being forced to take a three-month intensive English Language course directly after graduation and they would THEN get referred to these multi-nationals for employment!

ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!  These companies had taken a COST on the wrong side of their ledger sheet and were able to remove it by transferring said expense to THE GOVERNMENT (and, indirectly, to the Vietnamese taxpayers)!!  


So there ARE no more freelancing gigs or private classes to be taught in Hai Phong??

Do not get me wrong here - there ARE instructors in Hai Phong who are still doing private contract classes!  However, these people are EMPLOYED by English Language centres as their day jobs, and they are in a position to meet parents, administrators, etc. and therefore NETWORK to get these gigs.  They are not true freelancers.....

DUH!!!  Are you an idiot??  Jes' grab a job at one of these private English language centres!  Jeeze...... don't know me very well, do you?

If I can no longer work for myself, and I hafta become somebody's little bitch, I'll do it in the amenities of a first-world nation, thank you..... 

So.....looks like it's the end of the road for me here in Hai Phong.  Got a few spot gigs and more than enuff savings to see me through The Hunger Months after Tet, but, yeah - it's no more tossing out four or five applications and resumes per year to The States after seeing a really cool job advert and thinking - "WOW....*dream*....THAT'D be cool....heck.....why not toss out a resume into the wind and see what happens :-)"

Naw.....sadly, it's now going to become four or five per WEEK.

.....and, as Nick Lowe sang.....So It Goes.......

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wait ... You have pet cockroaches? If you're still looking to work for yourself, breed the damn cockroaches and sell them!

Pets, protein, whatever, those things have multiple uses.

You're welcome.

- V -