Sunday, 29 June 2014



STOP! I’m about to write a blog on an unpleasant, stomach-turning topic that is better off left unread. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll click off this post right now and log onto You Tube instead, or play a game or two of Solitaire. I’m not joking around.

Bloody hell! Are you still here? OK, but don’t say you weren’t warned. Today’s topic is dunnies and the squitters. First off, dunnies. Or Asian dunnies to be exact. Public toilets in Asia are few and far between. Far fewer that what you get in the West. Now this may seem of little consequence, but if you’ve got a dose of the squitters, it’s of paramount importance. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Public toilets in Asia are best described as basic. That’s Basic with a capital B. Some have real Western-style bowls that you can actually sit down on. Count yourself lucky if you come across one of these. The toilet seat, if there is one, probably has shoe-prints on it, as Asians are accustomed to half-standing while doing their business. That’s all very well if it’s just Number Ones you’re about to engage in, but a bit off-putting if you have Number Twos in mind. Some modern Asian toilets have diagrams on the walls to explain that you don’t stand, but sit on the seat, but these seem to go largely ignored.

Toilet bowls are a rare luxury. It’s far more likely that you’ll find a squatter (a hole in the toilet floor) in which to deposit your excreta. There’s no flush button – just a bucket of water and a dipper with which to sluice away the bowel motion. There is, of course, no toilet paper. You’re expected to use the dipper to splash water onto your posterior and thus wash away any vestiges of poo. A word of advice here. If that is the set-up in the toilet cubicle you are currently visiting, remove all clothing from the lower half of your body. Otherwise you’re going to end up with very wet trous; a decided embarrassment when you emerge into the sunlight. And while I’m on the subject, these holes in the floor are not a pretty sight to see. They’re often clogged with the evidence of the last five people to visit the facility. No, not pleasant at all.
Are you feeling nauseated yet? I warned you, didn’t I? And here’s another word of warning. This blog is about to get even more basic.

The squitters. The trots, the runs, Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge, diaria, diorhea, diarhea, diahorrea, (if you know how to spell that goddamn word, let me know), the shits.  Words that will have a special resonance for Western visitors to Asia. Because this is the ailment a Westerner is most likely to be hit with soon after arrival. Some say it’s because of the unfamiliar food, some blame the spiciness of the food, some say it’s the body’s reaction to the hot climate. (A doctor back home once told me it’s none of those things. His theory was that it is the different mineral content of the drinking water that causes it.) Whatever the cause, it’s a given that you’ll come down with the shits some time during your visit to an Asian country. So, what to do when it happens? Take Imodium or Loperamide; both of them very effective in relieving the symptoms of diahorria. They don’t actually cure you; they just make life more bearable while you wait for your body to recover of its own accord.

Now let’s discuss a variation of the squitters that I’m all too familiar with. (And it’s not too late to switch to a game of Solitaire, by the way.) When you have the shits you’re running to the toilet six times a day. But when you have tropical spru, you’re making a bee-line to the toilet just three times a day. This elusive disease, tropical spru, is also known as PIMS or Post Infective Malabsorption Syndrome. The symptoms are thrice-daily visitations to the WC, with a thirty-second warning beforehand. Not nice. But here’s a funny thing: most doctors have never heard of it. And stool and blood tests don’t detect it. “Doctor, Doctor, I’ve got the shits!” “No you haven’t.” Yes I have.” No…” Because of this quandary, I suffered from PIMS for over a year, taking intermittent doses of Imodium but never actually getting cured. When I finally did find a doctor familiar with the disease, I was, to put it mildly, most relieved. Ecstatic, even. Solid shits at last! Hallelujah! It had taken a month of daily dosages of Tetracycline and Folic Acid, but it had done the trick. I’ve mentioned this disease because if you are unfortunate enough to contract it, you’ll have some idea of how to get shot of it.

Well, that’s it. Unsettling? Yes. Unpleasant? Yes, to say the least. But, something that may just mean the difference between months of discomfort, and good health. And on that upbeat note I’ll sign off, with a promise that my next blog post will on a nice, wholesome, family-oriented topic.


In my new book, EFL minus the B.S. (now on Amazon) I have touched on this theme, along with many others. In the book you’ll find answers to these questions: How can I get an overseas English-teaching job? Why in the hell would I want to get an overseas teaching job? How can I survive that job once I’ve got it?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014



There’s no big mystery in writing a book. The English language has 600,000 words, give or take a preposition or two. What you’ve got to do if you’re a writer is to choose some of those words (relax, you won’t need all of them), juggle them round until they’re in the right order, insert some punctuation marks, and bingo, you’ve got yourself a book. And if you’ve chosen the right words, you could well have yourself a blockbuster, on the New York Times bestsellers’ list for 36 consecutive weeks. You retire from your day job, do an interview or two with Oprah and Jimmy Fallon, and sit back to count your royalties. Easy street at last!

I did all that with my book EFL minus the B.S. Well, Oprah has yet to call, and the NY Times has yet to discover me, but I’ve done the writing bit. That was the easy part. Now you’d think that once you’d typed ‘The End’ on your manuscript, all your work would be over. Think again. This is where it gets tricky. You’ll need a publisher. So, you send your manuscript off to a bunch of literary agents and publishing houses. I did that – seventeen of them. Three months later I had accumulated seventeen rejection letters. Some were your standard form letters; a couple were real letters. “Your manuscript is a good read and deserves a wide audience. Unfortunately, because of the downturn in book publishing we have cut back on the number of titles we publish each year, and must regretfully….”

So then you eat the words you’d said just twelve short months ago, and decide to self-publish. You look up self-publishing on the internet, and narrow your search down to the two big players in the field: Createspace and Lulu. Both stress the fact that the publishing process is simplicity itself. It ain’t. It took me nearly five months of confusion, frustration, tantrums, and fruitless nights to get it right. But then, at last, finally, a package arrived for me in the mail. The first ever physical copy of my book. I gazed at it, sniffed it, gently riffled through the pages. I went to sleep with it under my pillow, then next morning I gazed at it, sniffed it, and riffled through the pages. It’s mine, all mine! Look everybody! See this wondrous, beautiful work of art. I made that. Me! Unaided! Do you want to hold it? Alright – have you washed your hands this morning? Here….

So, you’ve got a book. One problem remains. You’ve got a book, but no-one else has got it, or even heard of it for that matter. You’ll have to publicise it, promote it, flog it for all you’re worth. That is if you want to sell more than the two dozen copies your family and friends have promised to buy. If you’re self-publishing, you’re on your own when it comes to book promotion. How to do it? Blogs, articles, free copies to reviewers, press releases, advertisements in EFL publications, whatever you can dream up to get your book title out there in the market place. And that’s exactly what I’m embroiled in now. Oh me, oh my! To think I’d breathed a sigh of relief when I typed in ‘The End’!

Oprah still hasn’t called.


“EFL minus the B.S.” is now available on Amazon. Buy a copy today.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014



I don’t often quote Noam Chomsky, but I will here. Nine tenths of the challenge in teaching English is getting your students interested. (Possibly I’m misquoting him here. I can’t for the like of me track down the original quotation, in spite of combing the internet.) But the words are very, very true.

Student disinterest can be an all-pervasive, contagious influence in your class. You walk into the class with a bright and cheery “Hello everybody,” to be met with a mumbled “Hello” from three of your twelve students. The others are engaged in activities far more compelling. Some are talking on their phones, some sending text messages, some gossiping in their own language, some listening to Albert’s long and involved joke. You try again. “How are you?” This time only one responds. Albert, it seems, is nearing his punch-line. Oh shit, you think. Today’s unit is Worldwide Charities. How in the hell am I going to stir up even a glimmer of interest in that dry topic? Good question.

You could, I suppose, forget covering the unit, and instead introduce some topic that’s more likely to elicit a spark of interest. But what topic fits that description? Our Home Town? No, did it last week. Interesting People I Know? No, done that to death. People I Hate? Maybe…. What Annoys Me Most About My Parents? Possibly, though there’s always the chance that a certain percentage of the class will refuse to say one derogatory word on the subject, claiming that their parents are the most wonderful parents in the world. (“Yes, I know, I know, but couldn’t you just conjure up one little thing for the sake of getting the discussion rolling?”)

OK, let’s suppose that you’ve decided to bite the bullet and go with the Charities unit. Now, rule number one: Don’t have them open their text books. If some of the keener ones have already done so, tell them to shut their books. Confronting your students with two dense pages of reading text about the Red Cross, Medicines Sans Frontieres, and Live Aid is a sure-fire way of getting them to slip into the ‘Ahh, who gives a shit?’ mode. The texts are just too dry, too dense, and too riddled with unfamiliar words for them to be bothered getting their heads around. Far more interesting to make a phone call, send a text message, or listen to Albert’s next joke.

Rule number two. Personalize. Now, how do you personalize a charity for a group of students living in a country completely devoid of charities? With great difficulty, I must admit, but let’s give it a go. “Now, you are a pop-singer, Albert. A very famous, popular pop singer. Every girl in the country is in love with you. How would that feel? And how much money would you expect to be paid to sing just one concert? And Jane. You’re a doctor. You just graduated. How long does a doctor have to study in this country? And how much money do you think doctors earn in a year? Anybody know? OK, Albert and Jane, I’ve got a question for you. A very important, very personal question, so you must answer truthfully. Albert, I’m inviting you to sing in a concert that I’m organizing, but I’m not going to pay you for it. Not even a cent. How about it? And Jane, instead of starting your doctor’s practice and earning $XXX,000 in the first year, I’m inviting you to go to Africa for a year, to work for nothing. How about it?” And so it goes. It might be 20 to 30 minutes before they open their text books and start reading, but if it has succeeded in arousing the class’s interest, it will have been time well spent.

Next, keep the pace brisk. Break the lesson up into chunks interspersed with bits and pieces of light relief. Play “We Are The World” and get them to sing along. Do your doctor joke: “Doctor, when I poke myself here, it hurts. When I poke myself here, and here, and here, it hurts. What’s wrong with me?” “You’ve got a broken finger.”

Next, keep up your cheery, enthused demeanor. Let enthusiasm exude from your every pore. Whatever you do, don’t let it show that the unit is every bit as boring for you as it is for them.

Finally, if you think the unit is just too limited in interest to hold their attention for two hours, drop it after an hour and a bit, and do something else. There’s no law etched in concrete saying we must cover every word of every unit. For a book like Straightforward, that would be tantamount to turning your students off learning English forevermore.

Like I said, it’s difficult to arouse students’ interest and sustain it. Good luck.


Here’s a customer’s review of EFL minus the B.S.: “Excellent book. As a former EFL teacher, ten years in Vietnam and Indonesia, this book is spot on in giving the basic lay down of teaching overseas. The book is a quick read and should be read by every EFL teacher. Definitely a good read while on your flight to whatever country you are going to teach.” – J.D.