Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tel Aviv Audition

I went to Tel Aviv last month. I was only there for a few days, but I met some people and we did some talking. Now I have an audition next week.

I'm not moving to Tel Aviv. That's not likely to ever happen. I'm not even leaving Hong Kong. I'm sure that will happen some day, but not today. If all goes well at this audition, I'll go to Tel Aviv from time to time for specific performances. It's not a full time gig. It's more like serving in the National Guard. They'll call me up when they want to.

Since it's not any kind of regular job, it won't pay very well. I'm kind of amazed they're even willing to pay anything at all. But I'm not doing it for the money. I'm in it for the experience. If you're a performer and someone wants you to perform on the other side of the world in a country you don't understand, you take it. I have to assume it will be very educational. It also doesn't hurt the CV.

In any event, it's too soon to make any plans. I haven't even auditioned yet. I like to be optimistic, but I could always blow it and none of this will matter.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

English #1 Ok

Ever since I moved to Hong Kong, other expats and would-be expats have asked me about English teaching jobs in Hong Kong. I could never tell them anything because I've never taught English in Hong Kong and I never really knew anyone who did. Until now.

When Lily went to Canada just before her father died, she lost her job here. When she came back, she had 90 days to either get a work visa or leave the country. When I was in Jerusalem, she got a job. Now she works in a cram school.

Cram schools are essentially where students go after their regular school to study whatever subject they're not testing as well in as their parents would like. Most cram schools are English, but they also have math, science and whatever is in demand.

Not that many years ago, foreigners flocked to East Asia to teach English. It was considered an easy job that paid well and left plenty of time off to party and go to bars, not to mention all the cheap & easy travel opportunities that you only get when you live in East Asia.

Those days are over. It's still easier to travel around Asia when you live here, but too many foreigners flooded the market. Now the schools can pick & choose more than they used to. That means more competition for jobs and more qualifications & requirements needed to get what few jobs are available.

The bare minimum government requirements are a bachelor's degree from a recognized university, no criminal record and native English speaker status. You have to be from the UK, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand or South Africa. If you're from anywhere else, they assume you're not a native English speaker, no matter how good your English might be.

Now that there are too many foreigners looking at too few jobs, more schools are requiring degrees in English and previous teaching experience and/or certification. It's also easier for them to discriminate based on nationality. They've always preferred Americans, Brits and Canadians, but they used to take whoever they could get back when there were fewer foreigners. You're also out of luck if you're over a certain age, black or Asian. Ironically, most schools don't want Chinese Americans, even if English is their native language and they were born & raised in America. Some ads will even state “No ABCs”, meaning no American Born Chinese. Since these are English schools, they should probably come up with a different acronym.

Not only are there more foreigners than there used to be, but schools are moving more toward internet and virtual classes. That means each school needs to hire fewer teachers to teach more students. Instead of 1 teacher for every 30 students in a classroom, they can have 1 teacher for 100+ students online.

Lily lucked out in a few ways. She's young, female and Canadian. Schools like all of those things. She's also been living in Hong Kong for several years. That tells schools that she's not going to run away any time soon. Hiring someone right off the boat is always dangerous. You never know who can't handle living in a foreign country until it's too late. And she already had a work visa, so she's already been government approved. That makes life a lot easier for the schools.

Lily just started working at her school, so she doesn't have a lot of amusing stories yet, but from what I've heard from other EFL teachers, she'll have a lot sooner or later.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Smart Phone, Stupid Date

I went out on my first date in a hundred years. Maybe less. It was definitely my first date since Ryan. It was my first first date since high school.

I was supposed to have a date with a guy I met on New Year's Eve, but I had a touch of the bird flu and he didn't want to wait. Six months later, I was back out in the jungle. No one has ever accused me of moving too fast. Knowing that this was my first first date since high school, I didn't want to put too much pressure on it. Dating a new person is hard enough on its own.

We went to a trendy restaurant. It wasn't the kind of place I would normally go, but I'm trying to be open to new experiences. Isn't that what dating is all about? He had made a reservation and we were seated as soon as we arrived, while other people had to wait for a table.

“They know me around here,” he bragged.

We sat down and the waitress, who did not seem to know him at all, handed us our menus.

“We don't need that,” he proclaimed. “We'll take two dao xiao mian, two wonton soups and some hunhe shucai.”

I don't mind if someone orders for me, but I generally prefer it when they know the first thing about me. This guy had absolutely no idea what I like or don't like. I could hate bok choy or be allergic to the peanuts in the noodles. Thankfully, I'm not, but my date never knew that. You want the first date to go well. My favorite food in the world could have been on that menu, but since he didn't know me, he could have ordered something I can't stand. Trying to impress someone can seriously backfire if you're too cocky.

He also tried to order in Chinese, which is a bad idea if you don't know Chinese. The people who work at the tourist restaurants will smile and try to figure out what you're saying, but at the local restaurants, they'll look at you like you're crazy. They were used to foreigners at this restaurant, but they were too busy that night to smile and play along. I'm not complaining that my date didn't speak Chinese. I don't know it as well as I thought I would have by now. It just seemed like he did it for my benefit, but all he did was show me how bad his Chinese is. If you want to impress me with a foreign language, speak Catalan or Swahili. Chinese is not all that rare around here.

Waiting for our food, I was fully prepared to play 20 questions. Isn't that what a first date is? You tell him your life story and he tells you his. Maybe I should just refer future dates to this blog. Maybe that's what first dates are now – reading each other's Facebook page.

What I was not expecting was for him to immediately whip it out. His phone, that is. Instead of asking me my favorite color and where I went to kindergarten, he had to update all of his social media statuses. Instead of talking about each other, or even just talking about himself, he talked to the internet.

I was immediately annoyed, but tried to be patient at first. These “smart phones” are my generation's technology, but I never got into it. I can appreciate what today's phones can do, but I think people should interact with the other people around them more than shut out the world and look at cat pictures.

When the food came, I thought he might put his phone down. This shows you how little I know about how important it is to show the internet pictures of every meal you eat. The good news was that he never tried to take any pictures of me. But while he was looking for the perfect angle to capture the oil glistening off his fried vegetables, I casually got up and walked out of the restaurant.

At least half an hour later, I got a text message.

Him: where r u
Me: I don't know what that means.
Him: where are you
Me: What difference does it make? I left an hour ago and you just noticed.
Him: (some kind of smiley face)
Him: r we hooking up l8r
Me: I don't know how to do a “not in a million years” laughing emoticon on this thing.
Him: i dont get it
Him: (cartoon question mark)
Me: No harm, no foul. Enjoy your phone.

Call me old fashioned, but I think you should date a few years before you ignore each other in public.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Taipei Audition

I went to Taipei for an audition. The part wasn't what I expected and I'll turn it down if offered. But since I was in Taipei anyway, I made a long weekend of it.

The first time I went to Taipei, I stayed at the Home Hotel, a nice boutique hotel in the Xinyi neighborhood. The second time, I stayed at a business hotel in Zhongzheng. This time, I was at the Howard Plaza Hotel in Zhongxiao Fuxing, no relation to Howard Johnson. It was another standard business hotel with rooms that look like every other business hotel, but it was in an interesting neighborhood.

The hotel is a large cube with an empty cavern in the center. All the hallways and room doors face the empty space. There is also a large dining area on the ground floor. It looks like a nice place to eat, but sitting at the bottom of a cavern isn't ideal if you want a quiet meal. It might be better to eat in an echo chamber. The hotel breakfast was ok, but after Tel Aviv, I think I'm ruined forever. The Tel Aviv hotel had the best breakfast I've ever had anywhere. I'm still trying to figure out how to make shakshuka with the spices I brought home.

Food wasn't really a problem since this was in the middle of Taipei. The Zhongxiao Fuxing neighborhood is basically shopping and food with an MRT station that will get you anywhere in the city. There are two Sogo department stores across the street from each other, connected by a subway mall. The back alleys around the larger streets are full of restaurants – mostly Taiwanese and Chinese, but there were a few Japanese and Thai. One of the best things about the neighborhood was the lack of American restaurants. There was a McDonald's and Starbucks, of course, and I saw a TGI Friday's, but I never saw a single KFC. That's a huge plus.

The hotel is an easy walk to Da'an Park, which is a nice green place to walk around in the middle of the hustle & bustle. It's about as big as Kowloon Park, without all the buildings. This is the kind of park I would use for a morning run if it were not 90% humidity every day.

Just west of Da'an Park is the 228 Peace Park and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, which is also called Democracy Memorial Park. I'm pretty sure Chiang Kai Shek Memorial isn't the official name anymore, but that's what everyone calls it. Either way, I already saw it since it's in the Zhongzheng neighborhood where I stayed last time.

Not far east of Zhongxiao Fuxing is Xinyi. That's where I stayed the first time and I seem to go back there each time. I don't care about the shopping, but they have the closest Krispy Kreme and a nice bakery directly under one of the tallest buildings in the world.

Taipei has smaller parks along the Keelung River, and I wanted to check some of those out this time, but it rained pretty much the entire time I was in the city. Maybe someday I'll go when it's dry. Or at least not soaking wet.

The hotel had a clean swimming pool, but I didn't bring a bathing suit. Walking around Taipei in June was almost like swimming.