Murakami Dram #01 – ‘Men Without Women’

It’s 20:38 on a Tuesday evening. It gets dark early now, before five. I left the office in darkness and, today, in rain. My feet were wet by the time I got home; I stripped off my soggy socks and got changed. In my coat pocket was a roll of goat’s cheese, ripe for crackers. This I put in the fridge. I snapped the kettle on to warm myself up.

Now stretched out on the sofa in comfortable clothes, with Art Tatum’s grainy 1940s cheerful piano solos filling my small apartment, I twist the cap off a minibar-size bottle of Dewar’s White Label whiskey and pour its contents into a heavy-bottomed glass tumbler. The lights are turned down low.

It’s time for my first Murakami Dram.

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In my last post I outlined the simple plan. Whilst re-reading Haruki Murakami’s surrealistic, melancholic, effortless prose, I will take my cues from his characters and listen to their jazz, drink their brands of whiskey in the way that they like it, and revisit some of my favourite passages from the novels.

These posts aren’t reviews, more gentle thought experiments. For my own amusement, and perhaps yours, I’ll experience the unique combination of dram, tune and written word provided my Murakami-san and see what spills out of that subtle change of consciousness. Who knows – perhaps I’ll enter a Murakami mindset and tap into his genius? Or maybe, more likely, I’ll just have a fun time.

In this first post I’m reading Murakami’s Onna no inai Otakotachi, or Men Without Women (Penguin Random House, 2017), in the translation by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen.

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Men Without Women is Murakami’s latest, released earlier this year in fancy hardback. It is his second collection of short stories in translation, brought together under the theme of men ruminating on their relationships with women. Like any collection, some stories are better than others.

I’m sure that every novel by this understated but highly-rated Japanese author features his trademark mentions of jazz, whiskey and women. The motifs are so common that his global fans, especially his Japanese followers (unsurprisingly middle-aged men) frequently gather to drink a few measures to some soulful tunes and discuss his work. No doubt they were gutted that he was overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Literature again this year, as was I.

Let’s start with the jazz. As expected there were a few mentions in “Men Without Women”. In the story “Drive my Car”, protagonist Kafuku sips a “single malt whiskey in the booth at the bar” more than once, though there are no brands mentioned. In the story “Kino”, a visitor to Kino’s jazz bar places an order:

 

He raised his hand an inch or two to motion Kino over, and ordered a whiskey. “Which brand?” Kino asked, but the man said he had no preference.

“Just an ordinary sort of Scotch. A double. Add an equal amount of water and a little bit of ice, if you would.”

An ordinary sort of Scotch? Kino poured some White Label into a glass, added the same amount of water, chipped off ice with an ice pick, and added two small, nicely formed ice cubes. The man took a sip, scrutinized the glass, and narrowed his eyes. “This will do fine.”

 

It turns out that there is more than one brand of “White Label.” My supermarket offered a large bottle of Dewar’s White Label Scotch, but I ended up ordering a teeny-sized double measure from Amazon instead. It’s been sitting on my kitchen counter for a couple of weeks, as life threw its usual mixture of best and worst at me.

Next, the jazz.

There’s got to be a mention of jazz in there somewhere. I scoured the book a second time after the enjoyable first reading and was surprised to confirm that it really was 153 pages before there was any mention. Only the story “Kino” mentions music, which isn’t shocking considering it’s about the owner of a bar:

  • ‘Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let the solitude, silence, and loneliness soak in. He listened to a lot of Art Tatum solo piano pieces. Somehow they seemed to fit his mood.’ (“Kino”, p.153)
  • ‘As always, Kamita was at the farthest stool down the counter, sipping a White Label and water and reading. The two men were seated at a table, drinking a bottle of Haut-Medoc […] The two men smoked a lot, though, which for Kino, who hated cigarette smoke, made them less welcome. With little else to do, Kino sat on a stool and listened to the Coleman Hawkins LP with the track “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” He found the bass solo by Major Holley amazing.’ (“Kino”, p.154-155)
  • ‘That night, though, the woman came to the bar alone. There were no other customers. It had been raining for a long time, and when she opened the door cool night air crept into the bar, carrying with it the scent of rain. She sat at the bar, ordered a brandy, and asked Kino to play some Billie Holiday. “Something really old, if you could.” Kino put a Columbia record on the turntable, one with the track “Georgia on My Mind.” The two of them listened silently. “Could you play the other side, too?” she asked, when it ended, and he did as she requested. She slowly worked her way through three brandies, listening to a few more records – Erroll Garner’s “Moon-glow,” Buddy DeFranco’s “I can’t Get Started.” […] She just sat there, listening to the music, lost in thought, sipping her brandy.’ (“Kino”, p.162)
  • ‘All he wished for was some music. Teddy Wilson, Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton – sometimes he longer desperately to listen to their old-time jazz, with its steady, dependable technique and its straightforward chords. He wanted to feel the pure joy they had in performing, their wonderful optimism. That was the kind of music Kino sought, music that no longer existed. But his record collection was far away.’ (“Kino”, p.178)

 

It takes me a while to write up the mentions above. I’ve yet to take my first sip of White Label, with an equal measure of water, plus ice. The cubes aren’t “perfectly formed”, more like shallow oblongs, so I’ve thrown in three instead of two. The idea behind ice in whiskey is to soften its harsh burn, should it be that kind of tipple – so too with water. Perhaps both water and ice is redundant, but this is how the strange visitor to Kino’s bar, Kamita, drinks it, and so this is how I will.

It’s only fitting that I re-read the story “Kino”, since it’s the main source of both the whiskey and the jazz. It’s a story of a man who loses his wife, coolly shrugging off the pain of her infidelity, and opens a bar that soon becomes successful. In typical Murakami style, the story takes strange dreamlike turns, featuring an aloof and wounded young lady, smouldering with sexuality and sadness; a procession of snakes; and a force of darkness that soon traps Kino in a place so lonely and isolated that he’s forced to confront his situation as a man without a woman.

As I open the book for the third time, my Art Tatum piano solos have tinkled out. I uncovered a ten minute version of Coleman Hawkins’ “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” on YouTube. It’s riotous, almost disrespectful of the original tune (his take on a slave song from the 1800s, based on the biblical story of the Battle of Jericho, in which Joshua led the Israelites against Canaan (Wikipedia tells me this is Joshua 6:15-21) under the auspices of God. This version is instrumental (not counting the fuzzy, indecipherable scat), lacking the punch of the Hugh Laurie cover I’ve been listening to for the last six years. It’s fun, and reasonably fitting for the story’s opening pages. I let YouTube fetch a few more jazzy Hawkins numbers to carry me through to the second act.

The watered down White Label is very pleasant. It’s smooth going down, leaving only an after-sensation of something having scraped my pharynx. The coolness of the ice makes it feel light. The jazz puts me in a pleasant mood; my blues have long floated away, and a candle is burning down, and I’m conscious of the subtle scrape of the pages as I turn them in my (slightly overpriced but pretty) hardback volume.

After all the prep for this post, by the time that I get a few pages into the story – the part where Kino catches his wife having an affair with best friend and subsequently quits his job, soon to open his bar – the whiskey has given me a pleasant buzz. I’m enjoying the music. There is only a trace of the ache behind my eyes that my day job gives me. And I’m relaxed.

Kino’s problems make me think about how many others suffer such cruel, but common, fates. No blame is ascribed to either Kino or his wife. My stance on cheating is that it is hardly ever acceptable. Forgivable, eventually, as most things are. I’m lucky enough to have only been cheated on one time (as far as I know). Like Kino, I walked away without feeling much of a sting. Also like Kino, I carried it with me without realising, and it’s affected by relationships since, not just with women but with friends and family. Everyone cheats, it seems. No-one seems to be faithful in the way that I have been.

Time for a deeper draught of the old White Label, I think.

When Kino tells his aunt that he’d like to rent her space (to convert into a bar) and admits that he and his wife will soon be divorcing, she is silent for a while. Then she offers him a discounted rate. Did she instinctively sense that he was hurt? Was she empathising, or sympathising? Just how many people have suffered as the result of people being shitty to one another, anyway?

YouTube has morphed away from My Hawkins and into something else. I summon Billie Holiday from amongst a thousand other versions of “Georgia on My Mind”. Is she singing about the place, or a person? The mind is exceptional for keeping someone just under the surface, all day every day, until the hurt heals over. I choose to believe that the brain is wonderful for finding a way to eventually heal from the pain, rather than finding a way to dwell on it.

 

He wasn’t sure why, but he felt no anger or bitterness toward his wife, or the colleague she was sleeping with. The betrayal had been a shock, for sure, but, as time passed, he began to feel as if it couldn’t have been helped, as if this has been his fate all along […] He couldn’t make anyone else happy, and, of course, couldn’t make himself happy. Happiness? He wasn’t even sure what that meant.

 

Surprisingly, the music is keeping me chipper. Billie Holiday performed the blues in the way that made them popular: cheerfully. A release from the weight that melancholy brings, by unlocking it with word and voice, but then carrying it away on melodies that bring lightness and cheer.

 

Love me or leave me or let me be lonely.
You won’t believe me, I love you only.
I’d rather be lonely than happy with somebody else.

—Billie Holiday, Love Me or Leave Me

 

In Kino, a regular customer – a soulful woman with an abusive partner – listens to Billie and Erroll and Buddy and then shows Kino the scars of her past. She has “something special about her, something that stood out”. In a particularly so-called male-fantasy way, the sultry woman takes control of the situation, then leaves Kino alone in his bed at some point in the night. He surveys his own wounds – scratches, bites, an aching penis. Even fantasy encounters hurt, apparently. But not as much as cigarette burns.

Fittingly, Billie begins to sing “Blue Moon” – You saw me standing alone / without a dream in my heart / without a love of my own.

I prefer the Elvis version, appropriation be damned.

By the time I reach the halfway point of the story, when Kino’s wife visits soon after their divorce is finalised to apologise for her infidelity, I have a touch of headache at the front of my skull. There is still a little whiskey left, soon to be supplemented by a cheaper but more meaningful 12-year-old Glenlivet I’ve been keeping as a celebration of finally owning my own place. I turn the music down a touch rather than switching to tea just yet. There is still a lot of story to go.

Why doesn’t Kino give his cheating ex-wife a piece of his mind? “You’ve apologized, and I’ve accepted your apology. No need to worry about it anymore,” he says to her. How bland of him.

An ex of mine likes the idea of this little Murakami project. She hates whiskey and doesn’t like jazz, but she’d like to join in. I tell her, hazily, that she’s not allowed – didn’t she read the title of the book? This one is for Men Without Women. We’d had our chance. But maybe for the next book I’ll do this with a sparring partner.

 

“Maybe I don’t have the right to say this,” this woman – his former wife – said, “but I think it’d be good for you to forget about what happened and find someone new.”

“Maybe,” Kino said.

“I know there must be a woman out there who’s right for you. It shouldn’t be that hard to find her. I wasn’t able to be that person for you, and I did a terrible thing. I feel awful about it. But there was something wrong between us from the start, as if we’d done the buttons up wrong…”

 

When Kino is forced to go into hiding following some strange occurrences, he is shocked almost to paralysis by a knocking on his hotel room’s door. He knows who is knocking, but he can’t answer. He sees a monstrous shape crawling near his window. Something he should face, but can’t. It’s his hurt that he should have acknowledged years ago, his living pain. By denying it then, he has a reptilian coldness within him now.

What is it about Murakami that allows him to tap into simple hidden truths? Is he a man without a woman? His characters so often share his interests – jazz, whiskey, running, reading and writing – that it wouldn’t be wrong to call him a partly-autobiographical writer. Has he also suffered loneliness, despair, and hurt? Is this why he can write a book about man’s specific brand of aloneness? Like Kino, is he facing the pain in his own heart head on, by writing this story?

The glass is empty, the candle is burning down. It is 22:39.

—db

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Why I’m boycotting Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’

Doctor Strnage Tibet.jpeg

The Internet has been over this before. In April, Marvel released the trailer for its next blockbuster superhero film, ‘Doctor Strange’, a story about an arrogant surgeon who, after his hands being irreperably damaged in an accident, learns the error of his ways and becomes a powerful scorcerer. Stephen Strange finds his spiritual awakening in Tibet, with the help of a Tibetal mystic known as the Ancient One, and thereafter protects the world from all forms of mystic badness as the Sorcerer Supreme.

Marvel’s first trailer brought accusations of white-washing after it appeared to show that the huge studio, now owned by Disney, has scrubbed all mention of Tibet from the story. In the film, Tibet has become Nepal and the Ancient One is now a white person. The reason seems obvious: to appease the government of the People’s Republic of China, a country that represents a huge cinemagoing audience and has the world’s most notorious wall of censorship, forbidding any mention of politically-sensitive situations like Tibet.

I won’t re-tread old ground too much, but link to some articles here:

(Lionsroar.com) The Strange Case of Doctor Strange’s Tibet

(The Guardian) Tilda Swinton cast as Tibetan to placate China, says Doctor Strange writer

‘Doctor Strange’ Writer Says China-Tibet Remarks Don’t Represent Marvel

(Screenrant.com) Doctor Strange’s Erasure Of Tibet Is A Political Statement

(The Guardian) George Takei on Doctor Strange controversy: ‘Marvel must think we’re all idiots’

If you didn’t know, Tibet is technically part of China – ever since China invaded and stomped all over Tibet in the 1950s, and has been crushing it underfoot ever since. Before I get accused of exaggeration, let the world be reminded of an independant ICJ  Human Rights Report into the brutalities of the 1950-51 invasion of Tibet, which led to the exile of the Tibetan government, its spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and over 100,000 desperate citizens. The illegal and well-guarded path over the freezing Himalayas has killed many fleeing Tibetans. They were and purportedly are still escaping beatings, brainwashing (thabzing), wrongful arrests and killings, torture,  mutilation, dismemberment, disembowelling, vivisection and crucifixion (yes, you read that correctly). Following the 1959 uprising, those shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama” were reported to have their tongues torn out with meathooks.

Children have been spirited away from villages to be indoctrinated at Chinese schools. Han Chinese have been urged/bribed to move into the “Tibet Autonomous Region”, displacing the native Tibetans an attempt at cultural erasure. Thousands of Buddhist monasteries were looted and destroyed (purportedly 8 of 6,000 remaining, as Potemkin tourist attractions), and celibate Buddhist monks were forced to have sex and marry one another. Nomads with generations of nomadic existence in their blood were told to stay put. Communism brought famine to the near-barren lanscape of the Tibetan plateau.

In Tibet, people are punished just for keeping in touch with their exiled relatives, even though this is now official legal. Self immolators who protest the enslavement of Tibet are thrown, still burning, into trucks and disappear, and may take a day to die. During the 2008 Tibetan uprising, which failed, bodies of protestors were piled high in the courtyards of monasteries. 1.5 million Tibetans have died in defence of their human rights. I’d heard stories, but the facts I found this year when researching my latest novel about Buddhism and Tibet made me sick to my stomach.

But Marvel wants to make money off its latest film, so it continues to pander to the Chinese film requirements. Censors in China only approve 34 foreign films per year, and some censorship requires that a film contains a scene set in China, has the casting of Chinese actors, has Chinese investors, or shows “positive Chinese messages”. Marvel already got into bed with Chinese film studios for ‘Iron Man 3’ to avoid those requirements (and, incidentally, adding additional scenes in which genius Chinese surgeons fix a superhero’s heart problems, adding Chinese product placement, and changing the Chinese villain The Mandarin to a British actor ‘playing’ a villain with a false American accent). You might have noticed a rash of films the last few years with scenes set in China or in which China saves the day, such as Looper (2012), Red Dawn (2012), Gravity (2013), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and The Martian (2015). Why? Because this doubles box office profits from China, as well as allows the film to be shown in the first place. Forget politics, there’s dough to be made.

Weirdly, in the latest comic book issue of Doctor Strange, Marvel has confirmed the Tibetan origin:

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Doctor Strange #011 (Sept 2016)

What’s going on there? Appeasement to fans? A small sacrifice, considering the films are making far, far more money than any comic book run ever could. Not good enough, Marvel.

I don’t know about you guys, but kowtowing to a tyrannical government for profit in light of genocide and cultural suppression sounds pretty uncool to me. If you’ve read my previous travel posts you’ll know that I have a lot of love for historical and present day China, but I despise its government. I have a great love of Marvel, whose comics and characters have brought me some of my greatest joys in life, but I can’t in good conscience see a film I’ve always hoped to be made, with actors I adore. I was hoping that the newly-released second trailer might correct some assumptions – but sadly not. And already people seem to have forgotten about the controversy and are all set to pre-order their tickets. I don’t blame them – but I would blame myself.

—db

What is the REAL future of the ESL CLASSROOM? — from AIYSHAH’S ENGLISH PAGE

(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/29LnaH1) One of the greatest phrases I have heard in recent times is, ‘If a computer can take over your job – it should’. Makes you think doesn’t it? For some people it is worrying because they are not entirely sure that they are good at what they do, but they are sure […]

via What is the REAL future of the ESL CLASSROOM? — AIYSHAH’S ENGLISH PAGE

Now you can support your editor!

Occasionally, clients ask me about how to provide a tip for a job well done. This makes me extremely flattered and grateful. The best bonus is a smashing testimonial for this website (read them here), but if you’d like to palm me a little extra, I’ve now made it super easy.

If you’d like to help feed/clothe a starving writer/editor, there is now my fancy new ‘Support’ page (here) where you can drop a little something into my tip jar with just a few clicks.

A huge thanks again to those lovely people who suggested this!

—db

What is line-editing, and do I need it?

The St. Paul's Editing Service - David Brookes

 

As part of my short series on editorial processes, I will be looking at proofreading, line-editing and copy-editing to give some insight onto the features that distinguish them from one another. Last month I looked at proofreading. This article covers a more substantive approach, line-editing.

What is line-editing?
Line-editing, unsurprisingly, works at the ‘line level’ of your text. Often confused with copy-editing (the subject of a future post), this is not a more intensive proofread, but a genuine deep edit that examines the detail of your writing to generally enhance your work. A line-editor will help with clumsy wording and sentence structure, improving your clarity and flow, and fact-checking. It could involve the moving, cutting or adding of whole paragraphs (or, if you really need it, chapters). This is generally what most laypeople think of as “editing”.

A deeper look
A proofreader looks for errors such as typos or obvious blunders. A copy-editor will work on things like grammar and consistency of language and regional spelling (i.e. UK or US English). A line-editor’s job usually comes before both of these things, and works hard to draw out the best from every line in your text. It could be considered “heavy editing” and, at the end of the process, you may be looking at a completely different piece of writing to the one you started with.

Rewording of sentences will help get rid of unnecessary passive voice, extensive adverbs (which Stephen King described as paving ‘the road to hell’) repeated words and phrases, tautology, cliché, overwriting, and mixed or broken metaphors and similes. There’s also an element of fact-checking and improving on the writer’s general voice and style.

Voice is something that I would prefer not to interfere with as an editor, but sometimes it’s necessary. Take a novel. If the writer’s personal voice is too strong, it can draw the reader out of the moment and spoil the illusion that all good fiction strives for. Charlotte Brontë is often lauded for breaking this illusion in Jayne Eyre (“Reader, I married him.”) and good editors have been undoing the damage she caused ever since! Voice should not be confused with style, which is (read “should be”) unique to every writer and carries an element of their voice within it.

Tone is also examined, to make sure that it’s appropriate. In an autobiography I would expect the writer’s voice, style and tone to naturally be perfectly appropriate, since it’s their story after all, but even here tone can distract or confuse the reader. It wouldn’t do to make jokes throughout the chapter of your heartbreaking divorce, for example, but the very nature of reliving such an upsetting episode could interfere with the writer’s sense of what’s appropriate for the scene. Likewise, a children’s picture book with a deadly serious tone probably wouldn’t go down so well (“I must protest, Sam-I-Am. I most sincerely would prefer not to eat your green eggs and ham.”).

I generally consider my job as a line-editor to scrub out anything that holds the text back and, if possible, also elevate the text to something closer to the writer’s original vision for their work, helping with vocabulary, sentence structure and imagery. I would also work (in the case of fiction) on characterisation, plotting and originality.

In terms of an ongoing editing process, I would expect line-editing to come first. Once the writer has written their first draft and given it a once- (or twice-) over and can no longer see how it can be improved, the line-editor gets a go. You could, potentially, end up with something completely different by the time they’ve finished, but it should be improved. The reason this would come before copy-editing is because there’s no use having a copy-editor scour your novel for problems with grammar, typos and other minute issues if the line-editor is going to cut that pointless dream sequence or rewrite all your dialogue afterwards.

Do I really need a line-editor?
How do I answer this?  YES … Probably.

If you’ve finished working on a blog post or some SEO content for a website, there’s a case for saying that deep editing is unlikely to be a major advantage. Generally your proofreader, if they’re feeling generous, will point out any glaring errors whilst correcting your typos.However, if English isn’t your first language or if you’re a new hand at writing, an editor will really help you to develop simply by showing you where you might be going wrong (ideally with some helpful annotations to justify their changes and suggestions).

If you’re writing an essay, you’d be better off with a copy-editor than a proofreader so that you can have your grammar examined (not all proofreaders consider grammar part of their purview), and a line-editor may be of use there too. Most substantive edits will be a mixture of line-editing and copy-editing anyway, so it’s important to talk with your editor to discuss exactly what you expect from the process. Many fiction writers, when looking for an editor, are seeking a line-editor who will work on their copy too.

The people who I know who have undergone a third-party editing process have always been very relieved that they did!

Finally…

grammar-meme-grammarly-alphabet-soup

…learn from your editor!

—db

 

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Welcome to The STP Literary Service website,
the official site of freelance writer and editor David Brookes.

On this site you can check out his ghostwriting and editorial services, view his portfolio and feedback, and follow his regular blog (below) for news about his latest literary publications and new services for writers of all kinds.

David Brookes
The STP Literary Service

Dispute

I had to be up at 6:30 for a medical the University wanted me to take for insurance purposes.  After finally getting to sleep at 3:30, I was roused by the numerous and loud alarms I had set for myself to avoid oversleeping again.

The medical was interesting.  I was very anxious that the health centre would turn out to be some dodgy back-alley affair, but thankfully it took place at an international health centre.  The impressive building and wide open interiors were sparkling clean.  It made me jealous on behalf of my shithole apartment.  The usual queueless rabble crowded the front desk and my guide did the appropriate shoving and waving to get me seen to.  I watched the people behind the desk: one man in a lab coat stood up from his computer, opened an official looking locker, and took out an encrusted saucepan to drink from.  Soup, hopefully.

Sleep-deprived and anxious, I was led through a battery of tests.  The first was a dreaded blood sample.  I was horrified to see that I would have to sit on a stool and stick my arm through a window in a pane of glass for the nurse.  I have an embarrassing habit of going grey and falling over when I have blood taken.  I warned my guide, went through the painless sampling, and draped myself over two chairs to wait for the tunnel vision and cold chills to dissipate.  The other tests seemed odd or excessive: an x-ray (alarming), an ultrasound on my stomach (“He should work out more,” the doctor told my guide), blood pressure and some kind of body water/conduction test with electrodes.

By the time I was dropped back off at the University, it was only 09:30.  I was starved and shaky, so resorted to McDonalds again, my oasis of Westerness.  I was still experiencing what I assumed was culture shock.  Nevertheless, I had plenty of time before a meeting with the Assistant Director of Studies at 17:00, so I went home for a nap.

Unfortunately the meeting was not a success.  I had already discovered that the school was not part of the University, but a private school renting office space.  I’d already had clues that they wanted me to teach IT as well as English, which wasn’t what I was there fore.  Before the meeting I was taken to a room to sign the contracts.  It seems typical that the employment contracts school are required to send to the government are different to the contracts that the employer-employee have.  “Which one is legally binding?” I asked. “They both are,” was the spurious reply.

The government’s version of the contract omitted a schedule of amendments, which included all my negotiated changes as well as my salary.  The government caps the limit of a foreign teacher’s salary, presumably to keep China self reliant – at half my agreed wage.  It’s to my benefit, but the dishonesty was off-putting.  Apparently I was also to be put on a three month probation at a reduced wage.  Payday is the 10th of each month. “So on 10th of December, I’ll be paid for six weeks?” I asked. “No, just four,” was the reply.  So was I to work for free?  The questions was to go to the accountant, and meanwhile I was to sign…

The meeting took things a step further.  It transpired that now I was to be hired as an IT teacher, not to teach English.  The responsibility was pawned off on me by my predecessor, who hadn’t wanted it either.  I had also been promised that I would teach adults, but all the students I’d seen so far were undergraduates.

I asked the ADOS to reconsider the changes to the agreement.  She would take it to the Director, but any compromise seemed unlikely.

I had gotten in touch with another teacher who had worked with the school.  He had nothing but nightmares to report: refusal of personal leave, lengthy enforced overtime, sly games with his housing agreement, being screamed at by the Chinese staff.

I’d done plenty of research about the pitfalls of accepting teaching jobs in China, and had rejected a dozen offers before settling for what I thought had been a trustworthy company, a University school.  Now, I’d learned that I’d been lied to about the nature of the school, its students, the job and the salary.

These practical things are easy to describe.  Harder to expound upon are the nebulous emotions and thoughts that fueled my decision to walk away from the job.  I’d felt ill at ease – at best – since I arrived.

Two fortuitous things happened that same day.  The first was that my lost luggage had been found, abandoned at Heathrow by Virgin Atlantic.  It was battered and there were some damaged contents, but nothing serious.  I tipped the delivery guy generously for reuniting me with 80% of my worldly possessions.  The second thing was that I’d been given my passport back by the school.

I booked a night at a hostel in Xi’an’s tourist-friendly old town, then started looking for flights home.

—db

“Phony careers and meaningless lives”

This week comedian and writer Jerry Seinfeld won a Clio award, intended to “reward innovation and creative excellence in advertising, design and communication”.  I don’t know why he won the award (indeed, he didn’t seem to know either), and I don’t really care: advertising and marketing are aspects of the modern consumerist world that make me feel ill if I think about them for too long.

“I love advertising because I love lying.”

Seinfeld comes close to illustrating my sentiment when it comes to advertising, and did this whilst on stage accepting his Clio (named after the Greek goddess and muse, not the Renault).  With the trophy in hand, he tore into the world of advertising:

He goes on to support materialism with such subtle irony that most of the audience, presumably made up of execs there hoping to win one of these awards for themselves, applauds and cheers apparently in a delighted state of ignorance.  Jerry also talks about the 1991 Clio debacle, in which the presenting company suffered so poorly from mismanagement that it had run itself into the ground and its employees had walked out, leaving the award show to be run by the caterer and a few drunken volunteers.  It doesn’t support what I’m saying here, but it’s a grimly amusing anecdote that you can read about on the Wiki page.

I’m writing this blog not because I thought Seinfeld was particularly funny or insightful – in fact, accepting an award only to ridicule its sponsors is a bit of a dick move, when he could have simply refused – but having worked in the world of corporate marketing and sales I hope it might go some way towards explaining why I chose to abandon Western business and take up teaching in the East.

“In advertising everything is the way you wish it was.  I don’t care that it won’t be like that when I actually get the product being advertised … We all believe that ‘Hey, maybe this one won’t stink!’  We are happy in that moment between the commercial and the purchase.”

Advertising has become inherently dishonest and manipulative.  It doesn’t need to be this way: an ad in the paper advertising a car with its specs and price is something that you still see from time to time.  This is all an advert needs, and the product will speak for itself.  But as businesses produce shoddier products, their advertising must become proportionately deceptive in order to make it seem appealing.  I spent over a year writing sales material for a global company and felt unclean the entire time.

“I think spending your lives trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy.”

I spent most of my down-time avoiding television.  I don’t listen to radio, either.  Advertisements bother me to the extent that I don’t even go to where they might appear.  I’m tired of seeing TV ads with misleading charts and statistics, where spurious data is manipulated to appear legitimate.  Anyone who looks closely can see through these ruses, but many do not look, and others accept that deception is a part of advertising.

I look forward to the day when the only marketing I see is in incomprehensible Chinese hieroglyphs.

— db

CHALLENGE COMPLETED

Freedom!

After four weeks of lessons, teaching practice, planning for teaching practice, reading, studying and assignments, we’ve finally completed the CELTA training course.

It was not easy.  Sleep deprivation, prolonged stress and total absence of down-time made it tough for everyone on the course.  There were arguments.  There were tears.  There were moments of genuine stage-fright.  There were penguins.  But somehow we all pulled through and aced that sucker!

It’s amazing how quickly bonds of friendship are formed when you’re trapped in the same room as a dozen people every day for a month.  It almost becomes a survival story.  By the end of week three we were one step away from madness and cannibalism.

I owe my pass grade to my awesome teammates, Kat and Palwasha; to my five tutors at the ELTC who made things as simple as possible for our weary brains; and to the class in general, who made it a much more enjoyable time than it ever needed to be.

So, what now for David?  Task 1 is getting a job.  I’m in talks with one promising looking school in Xi’an, Shaanxi province of China.  More on that later.  For now I’m going to put my feet up, drink unhealthy amounts of tea, and try to remember what it feels like to relax.

It’s coming back to me quite quickly!

—db