Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Then and Now 38 - Army Hotel

Then and Now 38 - Army Hotel
Time: Mid-2007, single and at the hostel.

After I interviewed for my first job and went to the mountain town in Then and Now 30, I was still looking for work, so I went online to find an agent or two that could help me find more interviews. I got in touch with Esther, who got me an interview with a smaller, more family-like job just a few miles southwest of the hostel. We set up a time to meet near there, and when the day came, I took the subway to a stop just a little ways away from the school, and met up with her.

We talked in an American restaurant of some sort, maybe McDonald's or Starbucks, but I don't remember exactly what it was. I do remember that we sat in the corner near some tall windows so we could look outside at the cars passing by in front of the subway station. She was a very direct woman, and I admired that she didn't mince words. Before she introduced the school to me, we talked about life in this country and how I was doing, and she also told me about a good friend of hers who had married a foreigner. But before long, it was back to business, and she started talking about the school and how it only had a few branches, but that it was well-established and managed. I thought this job would be right up my alley, and I started to get pretty excited. And when she was done telling me about the place, she took me directly to the street that would take me to the school.

The tall buildings that surrounded the subway station were in a pretty tight ring, and as Esther and I walked only a few blocks towards my interview, those multi-storied stores and restaurants soon became lines of small independent stores that ran down both sides of a winding, middle-sized road. She wished me luck as she prepared to return to the subway station and meet another client of hers, but before she left, she advised me to go to a little local toy shop and buy a few balls and stickers for the kids, because I would get instant brownie points for doing so. I told her that was a good idea, then we shook hands and parted.

I didn't buy anything. I had years of experience teaching all ages of students back in America both in classroom settings and in tutor sessions, and I was more than qualified to take the job. In addition, I was halfway through my studies of the local language, and had learned more than enough to wow anybody with my skill. At that point, it wasn't because I was all that amazing at the language, but because the vast majority of the foreigners who come here (or go anywhere in the world, I suspect) don't bother to learn anything of the local language or culture, and instead rely on the myth of immersion granting automatic and fluent language skill, when in reality, dedication and effort make it happen.

So I went straight to the school. I turned down a small road away from the larger street lined with shops behind me, and went down a street that was shaded from many trees lined down the sidewalk. Behind them stood a large elementary school with open windows peeking into empty classrooms, and the whole place looked imposing and impressive shrouded in shadow. Per Esther's instructions, I passed two small streets that broke off into little alleyways to my left until I came to the street that would take me to the school, and in no time, I found it.

I was very impressed. The school was tall and spacious, there were toys of all kinds to utilize when teaching the kids, the boss was very nice and showed me around the entire place, and I would have assistance from a local teacher in all of my classes, so I didn't have to worry too much about class order. I loved the pictures that the kids drew that were taped to the walls, the furnished teacher's office that I would have with the other educators there, the cleanliness of the playground outside, everything.

My demo was exquisitely done: the kids were laughing and well-behaved, the co-teacher smiled and seemed to enjoy my fun and engaging style, and the boss really looked impressed when I was done, too. Everything seemed to be very well in order for my new work.

And then, I met the other foreign teachers.

Bald, fat, middle-aged guy:

Me: Hey, howya doin'? I might be the new teacher here.
Him: Oh. Hey.

Then he looked away and went back to work.

Obvious playboy:

Me: Hi! I'm the new guy.
Him: (Eyes staring straight ahead and in a deadpan voice) Nice to meet you.

Then he brushed past me without another word.

Balding, middle-aged guy:

Me: Hey, howya doin'? Nice to meet you.
Him: Hey. Are you the new guy?
Me: Maybe so! We'll see.
Him: Ok. Sorry, I have to get back to work.
Me: Sure. See you.

I have to admit, at this point, I was getting pretty tired of foreigners shooting me stink eyes, pretending to look at something 90 degrees to the side then suddenly losing interest in "it" when they walked past me (what I've dubbed the "foreigner fakeout"), and otherwise ignoring my friendly hellos at almost every turn. Sure, there were some great guys I met, and they're featured prominently in other Then and Now posts. But what I don't mention are the hundreds upon hundreds of them who acted like my very presence was an affront to their authenticity as a foreign guy abroad, or competition for "their" jobs and women.

And when the boss told me that I would be rooming with these guys, two out of three of whom were utter twits, I thanked the boss for her time, told her I would consider the offer, then left. At least if I couldn't find some other work in time, I thought, I could take this job for half a year, then switch to a place where most of my co-workers weren't complete knobs. So just like Then and Now 30, I turned this trip into a little adventure, and decided to walk my way back to the main station. And it was a long walk down a very long road.

The first place I came across was some kind of army base or fort. There was an impressive gold arch that ran over a very tall and wide fence that rolled in and out to let cars through. Outside was a security station that I couldn't see into, and two impeccably dressed local soldiers stood guard in front of the main gate. I looked at the buildings behind the soldiers in wonder as I got a little closer, and when all of us made eye contact, I smiled and waved. The soldier on the right raised his head in greeting, then stepped forward to meet me.

"Hi," I said in the local language. "I just wanted to say that you guys look really cool."

The soldier on the left smiled, and the one on the right barked a laugh. "Ha! Thanks," he said.

"No problem," I replied. "Sorry to bother you. Bye!" The two laughed and waved goodbye, and I continued on.

Next, I came to the back entrance of the army area, and I found that it was open to the public. There was a wide courtyard between the entrance and two buildings ahead of me. The stone ground rose up sharply to position the buildings about twenty feet up, and some stone steps led up to a closed door on each one. Between them was a stone entryway, and beyond that was a huge building bearing a statue of one of the country's most important figures. There was a crowd of locals watching a line of soldiers marching up and down the courtyard, taking pictures as they moved in perfect sync with each other. I took a few pictures myself and left shortly after, but I still remember some goofball kid, maybe ten or so, standing next to the soldiers and miming their movements.

I passed by several trees as the road wound around and around, and hit inclines and declines every few minutes. I knew for certain that I was walking around a mountain. When the road stopped winding and going up and down for a few minutes in both directions, the next place I came to was a large and gated building. The gate was open and there weren't any guards, so I wandered in to see what this place was.

As I entered the foyer, I could see a swimming pool, a tennis court and a few other sporty places through some windows, and thought that I might want to join up to make use of the place when I got some money in the future. A local woman came up to me from a receptionist's desk, and asked if she could help me. I asked her what the place was, and she told me it was a recreation center for foreigners who lived in this country. She didn't ask if I wanted to join, so I figured it might have been pretty expensive, but I asked if she had any information that I could look at, just in case. She happily pointed me to a rack of brochures, so I thanked her and went over to get a better idea of the place. I balked at the monthly price, but kept my cool and waved goodbye before getting out of there.

As I started back on the winding and inclining road outside, the sun had gotten lower in the sky, and was starting to cast shadows from the trees onto the road. I walked through a rather dark stretch of road, and looked up to my right at a shadowed cliff, maybe one or two hundred feet high. It was covered in trees, and there were some stairs with sturdy railings leading up to the top, so I picked one and went on up. When I reached the top, I looked out on a very impressive series of short mountains with houses dotted all over them, and roads winding all around.

Atop one of the mountains was a beautiful, multi-storied, red and yellow building with hundreds of windows, a stylized roof and a huge entrance, but I wasn't close enough to make out more details than that. I ended up going there with my boss and co-workers from the job I eventually landed, as a way of them saying thanks to me for the excellent work I had done for them. It was a hotel, and they treated me to a first class meal in a restaurant on one of the bottom floors. But back to that moment on the cliff, I was very happy to see that sight, and I guessed correctly that it was probably a hotel of some kind.

I felt another rush of euphoria, that when I had gotten a job and made some money, I could go stay there for a night or two just for fun. I was back at the subway station a short while later, and headed back to the hostel to take a shower and relax a while before heading out again that night.

A day or two later, I went back to the school and told the boss that I couldn't work for them, and she practically begged me to take the job, saying I was their very first choice and that I would be a perfect match for their school. I said that I was sorry, but if they needed any help with translations, babysitting or substitute classes, I could mail them my schedule and they could make use of me when they could. After I got my job at the third school, I did so, but I never got any requests from the second school, so I think they did just fine without me.

I feel kind of sorry for the guy who got the job and had to live with those knobs, though.

As for today...

I woke up at 9:00.
I watched TV.
I ate lunch.
I played video games with my son.
I watched TV.
I roughhoused with my son.
I went to work.
I taught students.
I ate dinner.
I came home.
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I hung up wet laundry.
I started a load of laundry.
I played video games with my son.
I slept.

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