The Kroonstad Con Man rides again

Earlier this year, I wrote what became my most popular blog ever. The disastrous story of my stint in Poland, cut short by a South African confidence man, drew readership from every corner of the globe — my wonderful friends and family from social media circles, folks who worked with me in Warsaw, even my ex chimed in with some, er, thoughtful feedback.

What really surprised me though, was to watch the story go viral. Friends and family shared with their friends and family. Former coworkers reposted far and wide across the international teaching community this cautionary tale of what can go wrong in a career field where every few years, you enter a new job and country, often sight unseen. A stern reminder that while a working life overseas can be glamorous and wild, it’s also mined with disastrously unexpected pitfalls, ranging from bad bosses to scam schools to prison time.

Comments and emails rolled in like crazy from people who had been affected by Riaan’s sociopathic malfeasance — not just his exploits in Poland but also China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Vietnam, and his own home country of South Africa.

By February, I had mostly put the whole fiasco behind me. After all, I had landed relatively softly, working a full-time classroom gig in American Public. I had a car, an apartment, and looked forward to a new overseas contract set to start in August. That slippery, salacious Safa had wasted plenty of my time and energy already; I hadn’t the time nor interest to stay mad.

That was, until I saw this comment last week:

For months, I’d heard fleeting rumors of his whereabouts and speculations on his latest capers. This was the first solid lead I had on the bastard since he’d flown out of Warsaw’s Chopin International Airport, scot free.

At first, I gave the Linomtha website only a cursory glance. A few clicks later, I was deep down the rabbit hole. By all appearances, RD is up to his same old tricks. What follows is an analysis of this supposed company, based on what I have come to know of the human septic tank, Riaan Diedericks.

Let’s start with the company’s rich portfolio. It claims to be invested in construction, agriculture, livestock, and yes, education.

..or just construction and farming, according to another part of the same site.

Note in the above screen grab, the last sentence sort of trails off, as if the author were drunk and fell asleep while creating a bogus website.

Lest we think this is anything short of a legitimate construction firm, we’re provided pictures of sidewalks.

And lest we think this company is anything short of ‘yuge, we see the company logo photoshopped into images of Times Square and some Korean urban center (presumably sourced from Google Images).

By this point, there were many tell-tale signs of Riaan’s shoddy work. But what do I know about South Africa? Perhaps it’s acceptable for a tremendously successful, multifaceted, global company to host a website rife with clerical errors and broken links. I could not in good conscience go slandering a legitimate company. So I dug a little deeper.

A man by the name of “ARRT Masike” is reportedly the CEO of this company (a company that also does ‘events’ apparently). However, a search for the man on LinkedIn, Facebook, and the general Google of things produces nothing. (However, on LinkedIn I noticed a few people who worked for Linomtha Properties, which is an unrelated company.)

I should also note that many of the links on the Limontha site took me here:

There were other issues too, like this video link that doesn’t actually link to a video.

Navigating this nightmare website (sitemare?), I was sharply reminded of the last project to which I’d been assigned by Riaan at ISW: “fix” the school website. It was indeed a steaming hot mess, that website, full of broken links and broken promises. Led me to wonder, what’s Linomtha’s education site look like?

Oh. My. It’s the same damn website. Seriously, see this archive from the International School of Warsaw.

I mean, there are obviously some differences: geography, school logo, and color scheme. The giant buttons inviting us to Inquire, Visit, or Apply though, that’s straight off the old ISW site. (Spoiler alert: all three buttons take you to the same contact form). We see the copious use of stock photos; I imagined Riaan sweating buckets, seeking images of teachers and students huddled together in classrooms that don’t actually exist, a rich rainbow of pigmentation to reflect an authentically South African clientele. Probably the most glaring similarity was the bevy of links that took me here:

This suggests that, similar to the ISW website, Riaan took it live long before it was ready. Always pushing the marketing way ahead of the product, that guy!

The deeper I dug, the more tragic comedy surfaced. Note the block of text below. It’s full of pedagogical gobbledygook, the sort of language that would entrance potential parents whilst avoiding mention of any actual curriculum or… you know… substance. It sounded like the language you would read on just about any international school’s website.

A school like, oh, I don’t know… the International School of Modena, Italy.

But as I said, school often recycle the same key words and hot phrases. Probably just a coincidence. Except that I visited their admissions page…

And googled a random block of text and found this:

In fact, every single page I visited on the LEG SA site, I found duplicate blocks of text elsewhere on the internet — their mission and vision statements, their teacher job descriptions, admissions policy, their curriculum outline (which unsurprisingly says nothing about the actual content).

Probably the most deplorable intellectual property theft was of an right-minded program started by AIS Johannesburg, seen here:

..brazenly plagiarized on LEG SA’s site, here:

But it doesn’t stop at plagiarism. RD also loved big bubbly numbers. I’ll admit, they looked slick enough on the ISW page to make me think the school was legitimate, way back in 2018. Now I realize, as I first realized while attempting to “fix” the ISW site last October, that the numbers are based on nothing real.

I mean, look at the numbers below. No new school, especially one that has yet to open, could possibly boast 15 after-school activities. Especially not for such a small school with so few actual classes.

But parents wouldn’t necessarily think to do that math.

Ratio? Ration? Practically the same thing, right?

Then there’s this other thing he always did with ISW, and evidently continues to do with LEG SA. He speaks of a hypothetical future as if it were already the present. ISW’s site showed an architect’s graphical depiction of the school, alongside news the campus was all finished, just in need of some landscaping. LEG SA takes it a step further. Here is the alleged school:

And here is a blueprint, which outlines the same things we were promised at ISW. He even spells STE@M with the same annoying @ that he always preferred.

Then there’s another part of the website that claims the LEG SA group has not one but several schools, and Kroonstad is but the latest addition. However they also claim that all the schools are on one Stunning New Pristine Campus. Not sure how that works.

I could continue on with my rants. I really could. For days and weeks. There is so much dark comedy gold between the so-called Linomtha Group and their Education division that I could probably retire writing the airport novel. However, I’d rather the reader explore these pages on their own, while they’re still live. After all, RD never paid ISW’s bills for buses, cafeteria services, immigration lawyers, health insurance, or teachers, much less its web domain. No reason to think he’ll pay for the Linomtha site any longer than it takes him to scam a few investors.

What are his motives? We know RD has less options with every move he makes. Undoubtedly, he realizes he could be quickly compromised if he were to return to certain Asian countries, China in particular. And while the authorities surprisingly allowed him to flee Poland a free man, they may’ve still been gathering their paperwork. He might not be so lucky, were he to return. So naturally, he finds himself back in his home country, where he’s attempted to carve out a niche scam amongst the scammer communities of South Africa.

We can also assume he’s broke, after all this fleeing, which might suggest that this page on the Linomtha site is a bit of a nod and wink:

Way I see it, the best thing concerned people can do is to limit his options yet further. It’s clear from this page that he intends to rope in hapless investors, just as he did in Poland and elsewhere. If this little enterprise is brought down, then his fraudulent behavior will be noticed in South Africa, and then he won’t even have a place to call home. Call me conniving, but this man has ruined innumerable lives, and ostracization is a damning, fitting punishment long practiced by human societies.

Spitballing ideas, I suggest people visit the site and express interest either as prospective parents or potential teacher hires. Or let him know you’re keen to invest in a “franchise school.” Make him think he’s got some inertia going, then nobody show up for the party.

Or, we launch a phone campaign. There is one single contact number on the Education page (+27 087 152 0543) that actually works and as I recently learned, it is manned night and day. By Riaan. I know this because I called it, and he answered… at 10pm South Africa time. Drunk, of course. Anybody have a robo-dialler? Wouldn’t it be fun if the man never slept again? Just spitballing ideas.

Maybe I’m being petty. But some bastards got to pay. Any ideas, hivemind?

Around the World on a Teaching Certificate: a rough cut

In light of this year’s teacher walkouts, I feel there has never been a better time to drop my book, Around the World on a Teaching Certificate.

Please understand, this is a rough cut, or what we elementary teachers call a “sloppy copy.” It’s the culmination of years’ worth of early mornings, tapping away bits at a time. Yet it still needs fine tuning. My hope this year is to run it through a final edit, bring the whole thing online, and make it a little more interactive and user-friendly.

Click the download link below. Please read, and share with friends and colleagues. I invite your feedback. If you like it lots, make a donation. After all, you know what a teacher salary looks like!

 

 

 

 

Debunked: Reasons you could never work overseas

Here’s an excerpt from my coming how-to book, Around the World on a Teaching Certificate. I’ve been working on this thing longer than I can remember, but it’s starting to feel finished. I’ll be releasing bits of it ahead of publication, so my readers can get a feel for the voice and hopefully provide me some feedback. Enjoy. 

“No, I couldn’t do that.”

Reasons people give me for not going overseas

I hear it all the time. I explain, to awestruck admiration (or resigned envy) of teachers back home, how I’m essentially paid money to travel the world and effect positivity on tomorrow’s adults, many of whom, given their family backgrounds in international politics, business, and charity, will actually be in a powerful position to effect positive change themselves.

The responses have become utterly predictable.

“But I can’t. I only speak English.”

Oh, I don’t mean to laugh, but this is the most common misconception about what’s required to teach internationally. Granted, it never hurts to learn some local language, but if you speak English. You’ll be fine. Learn a few “survival snippets” in every new host country (e.g. Where is the bathroom? What does this cost?) but seriously, you’ll be fine. Even in situations where you don’t understand the other person, there will usually be someone on hand to help. Worst case scenario, you play charades.

“But I can’t. I’m not an ESOL teacher.”

Here’s a situation I deal with every time I go home and people ask what I do. I tell them I teach overseas at an international school.

“Ah. So you teach English,” they conclude, their last two syllables descending haughtily, rife with the presumption that I’m a gap year student on his tenth year.

“Yes, I teach English. And science and math and history. I teach it all.”

What follows is a long pause, as the other person digests the information.

“It’s a regular school,” I try to explain further, “like any school you see in America…”

Their eyes light up with familiarity.

“..except it’s overseas, and most of the kids aren’t Americans. Also, the students are respectful and eager to learn. Plus I have better job security and a higher salary.”

The light from their eyes fades as their grey matter short circuits.

Listen, I get it. We all have a cousin or an old college buddy who did the Teach English in Exotic Lands program at some point. Probably for a year, no more than two years. They returned home, and got on with “real life.”

This is not that. International teaching is for actual, credentialed teachers who are certified to teach in their home country. You do not need any sort of ESOL or TOEFL papers to do it. I mean, it won’t hurt, but international schools will be mainly concerned with your state-issued teaching license.

Will you work with English language learners? Absolutely, yes. However, a decent school will have a strong language support program, perhaps one better than the program at your current school. Further, many of the students will speak their mother tongue at home, but they often speak English at home too. You’re unlikely to meet so many bilingual and trilingual students in one classroom.

“But I can’t. What would my partner do for work?”

Explore opportunities, you may be surprised. Can your partner reinvent their job description a bit? Maybe transfer to an international office? Sometimes the host country’s work visa situation is restrictive, but I know plenty of “digital nomads” who moved their office to a laptop and now work anywhere with an internet connection.

On a more cynical note, are you happy in your current relationship? Just a question.

“But I can’t. I have children.”

Oh please. I lost count of how many friends and family members live and work overseas with their children, from toddlers to teenagers. Good schools will pay for your children’s travel, shipping, and tuition. Cities with sizable expat communities will have social groups that facilitate play dates, fun clubs, and family events. You’ll find in many foreign countries that a housekeeper or even a nanny is affordable. You’ve got this.

Moreover, living overseas may be the best thing you could do for your children. Expose them to different cultures and languages. Learn with them as your family discovers different foods, visits historic sights, speaks new languages, and overcomes challenges of life abroad. They’ll make friends from all over the world who will be in their lives forever. Their classmates will challenge them to shoot higher academically, not settle for the lowest common denominator. Think of how much an international diploma could strengthen a university application letter.

“But I can’t. I have debts.”

Debt can be a limiting factor, as far as jobs in expensive countries is concerned. You probably shouldn’t rush to Paris or Stockholm. However, cities throughout Asia, from Dubai to Beijing, are cash cows if you find the right school. Land a job at a school with a generous salary in a city with low cost of living, then subtract the cost of rent (many schools will provide housing or reimbursement). While you’re at it, take away other expenses like your car (you’re unlikely to need one) and health insurance premiums (100% covered by the employer).

Now send that windfall back to the States. You could be free of Citi, Wells, and Sallie Mae in the space of a few years. 

“But I can’t. I have a house here.”

Your house seems like a big deal… because it is. I bought one just months before taking a recent overseas job (going back overseas wasn’t part of the original plan, but life happens). It’s a little stressful, thinking about my house while living a hemisphere away. I do feel better knowing that it’s under the watchful eye of a property manager and occupied by a nice retired couple. All I need to do is watch the monthly rent checks arrive. Bonus: no longer need to mow the lawn. 

Of course, you could also sell it.

“But I can’t. My home is here.”

This one I hear the most often. People think of their friends and family, their neighborhood with all its quaint quirkiness, the postman who they know by name. Can’t leave that behind, right?

I would argue that if you’ve read this far, you are at least considering a life less ordinary. I would ask you to also consider that your family, friends, neighborhood, and postman aren’t going anywhere. You’ll see them all in the summertime. Furthermore: imagine yourself decades from now, in your autumn years. Would you rather think back fondly on all the years you spent in your comfortable neighborhood, or the years you spent adventuring around the world? I’m not saying one is better than the other. However I do know which choice I prefer. 

“But I can’t. I’m too old.”

International schools value skills and experience. I’ve yet to work for an international school that doesn’t employ teachers in their 50’s and 60’s. Yes, there are some who will not hire older teachers, but that’s true in the US as well. Your chances are good. Get overseas, and you may discover you’re not as old as you thought.

“But I can’t. I’m physically handicapped.”

Say what you will about America, the facilities and accommodations we have for people with vision, hearing, or mobility impairment are some of the best in the world. You may find the quality matched in similarly developed countries, but few other places.

That said, your scope for international schools could be limited, but not drastically. Practice due diligence when researching potential host countries, especially in the developing world.

“But I can’t. I’m scared.”

That’s good. That’s what this is supposed to feel like. At least you’re being honest. As this book will reveal, there are some parts of overseas teaching that are inconvenient, unhealthy, and at times even terrifying. But so worth it.

I believe the best person to respond would be the late comedian-philosopher, Bill Hicks.

The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while.

Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.”

Footnote: Working abroad with your children

Too often, my friends back home say, “Gee. I’d love to work overseas one day. But I’ve got these damned kids.”

I say back, “You can still work overseas, man. I know plenty of families that do.”

Then my friend develops a subtle scowl across his face and changes the subject because he thinks there’s simply no way it could ever work out with his family.

Yes, I’ve known overseas families with kids. Three, four, five kids sometimes. Newborn babies, teenagers. Kids with medical problems. Kids in wheelchairs. Kids with specific learning needs. Kids who are little assholes. Kids who are freaking saints. Trust me on this: it is possible to teach overseas with kids in tow.

But you’ll never hear me say it’s easy. I asked a few of my kid-carrying colleagues what advice they had for prospective international teachers with children. Here’s what I heard:

Make the children stakeholders. As appropriate, talk about the prospective countries and schools. Will they be kid-friendly? Solicit and acknowledge their opinions. 

What will be required when your family arrives at customs? What papers are needed for the country’s healthcare and social security system, if applicable?

Balance the expat life with reality. In many countries, foreigners live better than locals. Ensure the good times (e.g. nice meals out, household help, weekend holiday jaunts) are measured against humility, hard work, and service to the community.

Foreigners encounter unique hardships. Do not reward children for “surviving” those hardships. They’re part of the family; they should enjoy and suffer what the family enjoys and suffers.

Encourage friendships. The most wonderful thing about overseas work is the lifelong friendships we build. Play groups, sports, and other extracurriculars help transition children into their new community. Such activities are also a help to the parents, who are learning their way around too.

Make regular visits home so they don’t lose touch of who they are.

Think university. If you start working overseas permanently (as many do), how will that affect your children’s tertiary education? Of benefit: academic paths like the AP, IB, and (for Brit schools) IGCSE strengthen a college application. Of detriment: fees are higher without state residency. But then, if your child doesn’t attend high school in the US, why go there for college? Europe may be a good alternative.

Get off my lawn

A diatribe from a 40 year old man

Electronic dance music. I try to get it. I’ve tried to get it many times. I’ve gone to many a party, from the volcanoes of Bali to the Great Wall of China to the beaches of Goa to the Acropolis of Lindos. I’ve shaken my ass. I’ve put my hands in the air like I don’t care. I’ve done the move where you put up one index finger and bounce. I get the crowd appeal, sampling popular songs ranging from the 60s to today. I get how the repetitive beat makes a body move. I get how the repetitive beat eventually builds to a crescendo, sometimes accompanied by a bit of synth and perhaps the DJ asking if we are ready. And then some repeated vocals, and the crowd goes nuts. I get all that.

What I don’t get is this: why do people do this to themselves?

I think back to the late nights I used to enjoy. Punk bands. Three chords and three minute songs. A sound that forced a thousand people to surge the stage and rage out, inhibitions cast aside.

One might say, “Hey old timer, what you’re talking about ain’t much different. Both genres are repetitive and predictable as a preschool picture book.” I get that too. But there is a difference.

The difference is drugs and ego. Neither of these elements were necessary to enjoy a punk show. I’ve been sober for both kinds of events, and on other occasions, a bit drunk, and across the board, punk remains fun. EDM is fun for about ten minutes. Maybe less. Often, less.

As for ego, let me explain further. A typical punk show is in a seedy venue and stagecraft is limited to antics of the performers (especially if ska is involved) and a banner behind the drummer reminding us of the band’s name. The audience is allowed to express any number of emotions: joy, rage, sadness, or vacuousness. It’s all fine. We are here for each other.

An EDM show is tens of thousands of dollars worth of lights, smoke effects, and one or several crazy LED displays popping out trippy animations. On those screens, the DJ’s name and face explode out across the crowd to everyone’s delight, though he’s really just flipping switches and doing an occasional index finger thrust. And you’d better look happy the whole time. Even better if you’re in a coveted VIP section with bottle service and all the rest. The crowd feeds the DJ and in theory the DJ feeds the crowd.

I know this makes me sound like a cranky old man who can’t understand the nuance of EDM (if there is such a thing), much in the same way as my old man couldn’t understand the angsty energy of punk, trying in earnest to get me to appreciate the honesty and purity of Neil Young and Bob Dylan and the Beatles. He was eventually successful in the end.

With that, I’ll end with a hypothetical: is it possible for me to not only appreciate what genres preceded my music of choice, but also the genres that emerge with the next generation? Or am I doomed to forever be the old man yelling at the damned kids on his lawn?

My ongoing love affair with hotels

I have long adored hotels. I love the airiness of a grand lobby, the employees who greet you at every turn, the smartly ironed clean sheets, and even the pool, though I rarely use it. I take my time in the lobby, browsing the local paper, sipping on coffee, in no particular rush to explore whatever city I’ve managed to land in.

A stay in a nice hotel is a reprieve from the angst of daily life. It provides restaurants and bars to take care of hunger and thirst, a gym for physical activity, and maid service so I never have to think about making the bed. 

If there is an afterlife, I’m convinced it looks like a Hilton — a really nice Hilton resort for the good people, a Doubletree for the average folk, and a Hampton Inn for the sinners, because I don’t believe in Hell but I do believe in Hampton Inns. 

I have criteria that determines the overall quality of a hotel stay.

1. Cable. Specifically, Asian cable. Asian cable is the bomb. For one, I get Asian MTV. It’s like American MTV, but from the 1980’s, when it was full of these things called “music videos.” Ever wonder what happened to all those video music directors? They started working for Asian MTV. Music videos still exist, and they are awesome. They also run this show called OK Danceoke. YouTube it. I just stole three hours of your life. You’re welcome. Also, Asian cable has about 100 movie channels. Most of those channels run movies from the last three decades I’ve been meaning to watch forever, but life got in the way, and also, I don’t have Asian cable at home. While you’re busy Netflix binging on the latest season of Broken Mirror, I’m in this hotel, watching “Freddy vs. Jason” and “Another 24 Hours.” No commercials, either. Not sure how their business model works, but it works for me. 

2. Million billion thousand hundred thread count cotton bed linens. I’m not much of an IKEA man, but I know good bed sheets when I’m in them. Some folks are really into the hotel mattresses, but I live in the developing world where mattresses are basically just chewed up newspaper stuffed into a burlap sack, so I’m cool with whatever, far as mattresses go. But bed sheets? I want bed sheets that swaddle me like an infant. I’m kinky like that. 

3. Things work. This should not be a tall order, but I’m often surprised. At the time of writing, I’m in a hotel that’s rated four stars, but there’s a small lake pooling beneath the air-con vent and the internet disconnects if I turn on the coffeemaker. I don’t know what the light switches do, but they don’t seem to have any relevance to the lighting in this room. Maybe they work for the lights in the room downstairs. The remote batteries are nearly dead, so the TV powers on, but it won’t power off, and I can’t find the archaic power button on the box itself, so I guess it’s Asian MTV all night long for me. 

4. Things that should be free are free. Water, mainly. Come on guys. Water. In America, outside of Flint, Michigan, tap water is fine. Europe too, I guess. But the rest of the world, people need to stay hydrated, and you’re a terrible company if you charge minibar prices for a bottle of semi-filtered dookie water that costs 30 cents at the neighboring 7-11. 

5. Things that put me at ease about my loud Western footprint. I like hotels that don’t automatically refresh your towels every day. Even better I like hotels that refill things rather than burn through endless tiny plastic containers. Bonus points if the hotel contributes to charities, uses fair trade products, or sources local sustainable food. 

6. Rooftop bar. Don’t need to say much more about this. Bonus for a rooftop pool.

7. Room service that’s worth the 50-100% markup. When visiting a new place, the best food is found outside the hotel… usually. However, when I’ve just come off an insane 14-hour trans-Pacific flight, starved and half-drunk, and none of the signs in town are in English, or if I’ve just landed at the airport hotel by Dallas-Fort Worth and it’s 10pm and the only nearby eatery is a Denny’s, I’m opting for the hotel food. Denny’s wants $8 of my money for that cheeseburger basket. The hotel wants $15. It had better be a damn good hamburger. 

8. Staff that treats me like George Clooney. I’m thinking of George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham from “Up in the Air,” but any incarnation of George Clooney, including George Clooney himself, I’m cool with that. Now that George Clooney stuff isn’t going to happen unless you’re either a regular Joe Businessface who checks into the same Kansas City Radisson every Tuesday to make sure his subterranean Bitcoin servers are still running, or you’re someone with a shiny card that bestows upon its holder added value as a customer… like George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham.

All about the shiny cards

I have a shiny card that skips me past the Chinese tour group at the check-in desk. Sometimes the shiny card can summon a bellhop to seize away my bags and escort me onto a special elevator that goes up to a special floor where  people say “Hello Mr. Campeau,” and ask, “How was your flight?” Their name tags say words like “Tar” and “Pretzel” but I don’t ask questions because this is Asia. 

Pretzel invites me to sink into a velour-upholstered sofa or a studded leather armchair while she takes care of my paperwork and sends my bags up to a room that looks fancier than what I should be able to afford. I enjoy free coffee and scones and read the paper. I’m informed that cocktail hour starts in an thirty minutes, so I can head up to my room now and freshen up, or take my time with the paper while they ice up the booze. 

I go up to the room. I’ve been upgraded. It’s a corner room, far from the Chinese tour group. It’s on a high floor overlooking the high floors in other buildings. The bathtub is fit for two William Tafts. There’s a box of chocolates on the bed. All because of the shiny card. 

Back down in the lounge, a guitarist strums Gilberto Gil while the smart casual crowd gets business drunk on complimentary highballs. This goes on for two hours. Hors d’oeuvres are available, so that’s dinner sorted. Seven PM, time for some Asian cable and free internet. Alternatively, I can throw my feet onto the chaise lounge and watch the city skyline. 

Come morning, any fogginess from cocktail hour is absorbed by a gratis continental breakfast that actually spans the continents. Every country has a sausage, I’ve learned, and they all go well with eggs and toast. While I’m at it, how about that dim sum corner? Or the miso bar? Or the fatty grilled pork with noodle soup? 

All this is Perfect World Scenario. Shiny Card Scenario. This is the standard by which I now judge hotels. I’m not sure if that makes me a pretentious prick — I’m pretty sure it does — but whatever man. I donate to charity every month and have a rescue dog and I think that goes a little further than thoughts and prayers, so I’m going to enjoy my shiny card benefits. 

Let’s talk about that card some more. Yes, it has an annual fee, and it’s not a small fee, but it’s easily counterbalanced by the cool stuff I don’t have to pay for. Like the George Clooney treatment for one. All this this “Mr. Campeau” business, the executive lounge access, the room upgrade, this all comes with the shiny card.

I also get into airport lounges, where I can sit on a couch and drink complimentary wine and eat noodles and watch the Blazers play basketball and think about getting a free massage while other flyers are sitting in plastic seats that they can’t take a nap on, watching the same Samsung ad run over and over on a loud, angry, 70-inch plasma screen, surrounded by nose-picking toddlers and sweaty bald people. 

In the US, I get to stroll past the morose immigration officials who struggle with anger management, blip my passport, and clear the gate without untying my shoes. 

Upon landing, a Hertz guy walks me to the spaces right next to the office, not the spaces across the parking lot. “Mr. Campeau,” he says (I like that part), “That Ford Festiva you ordered is not available. We’d normally substitute a 1990’s Geo Metro, but you get a Jeep Cherokee. Enjoy.” I never much cared for SUV’s. Then I drove one. I still don’t like them… but I like to drive them. 

I do pay for the base rate on hotels, flights, and rentals, but even that is subsidized by points earned just by using the shiny card. I never thought I’d be one of those people who uses a shiny card, but I’m glad to be one now. 

For more information on shiny cards, I recommend you visit The Points Guy. It is an obsessively comprehensive website that analyzes and evaluates the cards out there. Never a better time than the present to get yourself set up for the George Clooney lifestyle, if only while traveling.

Social media checkout, Day 1

I’m already doing that thing I do when I write. Think about what this will look like in a year, three years, ten… and so on. Will this entry sound foolish and naive, like my earliest overseas writings? Will I be surprised at the wit and insightfulness and honesty, like when I came across all those folded up letters from high school? Will it seem trite, or timeless?

It is probably fitting that this experiment begins at 3am, on an insomniac morning of the risen Christ. Maybe that’s all his deal was. He wasn’t dead, just tired. But he couldn’t sleep, so he went for a little wander.

But I digress.

It’s 3 am on Easter Sunday morning and a few hours ago I deleted my Facebook account.

I made the decision based on a few factors. For one, there’s been the news: the data harvests, the bots, the manipulation of elections. Furthermore, there’s the wasted time. Wake up in the morning, time for the Feed. Breaks and lunch, check the Feed. Afternoon Feed and evening Feed and just before bed Feed.

Sitting in a cafe waiting for coffee? Feed.

Out with the lads and they start talking about soccer? Feed.

In a taxi by myself? Feed.

In a taxi with companions? Feed.

Thought of something actually important to broadcast, like an announcement for the pub quiz I host? I might start with the intention of writing that announcement, but then comes the Feed and I forget.

By my math, I would sometimes spend hours per day on the Feed. Not just Facebook, but sometimes Twitter, occasionally Instagram. As with any habit, I rationalized.

This is the 21st century. This is how modern humans spend their time.

What if I miss a world changing event? I don’t want to be last to find out.

How will people know I’m still alive?

How will I know about the latest meme everyone at work talks about?

How else can I get people from high school to marvel at my perfect, exotic overseas lifestyle?

Perhaps the most terrifying of all: what do I do if I get bored?

The answer, I propose, is writing. Not just one- to two-sentence blurbs about something funny I saw, or a dish I ate. Actual, meaningful writing where I bare my soul. Or not. Whatever I feel like doing that day, really.

Those who know me well, know this is not the first time. After my wife left the country in 2016, I dropped off for awhile. A few months I think. Then it was, “I’ll just post the odd tweet, but I won’t engage in the Feed.” Then it was only Twitter content, but no Facebook. Then it was Facebook, but only for promoting events. Before long, total relapse.

The pattern repeated over the last few years. Cold turkey for some days or weeks, then back to the Feed, harder than ever. Just like relapse of other vices, every time I returned, it felt a little more shitty. Less content I cared about, more petty bickering from the political chasm. Fewer dopamine moments, more cortisol.

I found myself mentally muttering “shut up shut up shut up” as I scrolled through all the pettiness. The Right: ranting ad nauseum about guns that don’t kill people, about Europe’s no-go zones, about Her emails, and about the Jesus. The Left, about niche gender identifications, about white male privilege (and what I ought to do with mine), about the cultural appropriation in Hollywood and the Brooklyn food scene, and about Donald Fucking Trump.

Every post was a potential rabbit hole. Do I comment on my cousin’s post to say that guns are in fact the number one cause of gun violence? Or should it be this thread, posted by a friend of a friend from Portland, whom I’ve not seen in a decade? Xi (non-binary pronoun here) says that the white guy who founded Pok Pok has no right to cook that cuisine because he’s not Thai. Do I point out that all recipes in the history of humankind are a result of cultural convergence?

Do I pinpoint their logical fallacies? Their inaccurate data? Their confirmation bias? Their grammar mistakes? Or do I retreat to my mantra?

Shut up shut up shut up.

Articles and podcasts linking social media to depression, these tidbits keep dropping into my life. I’ve been thinking about my choices and my vices. I’ve been thinking about life changes. With my time in Katmandu, the years now, drawing to a close, I think about fresh starts. I feel like it’s going to stick this time. I’m done with the Feed.

A dream woke me, just before I began to write. A bluegrass troupe was visiting the school. I’d been asked to session with one of the pickers. I flaked on the time. Dude was pissed. I found him later and apologized. Oddly, he was married to the actress who played Counselor Troi on Start Trek. They had two kids. The five of us got to know each other and after some friendly banter he asked if maybe I’d like to do some strumming right there. I felt honored, but as I looked for my banjo I realized I’d not practiced playing it in two years. I started to feel embarrassed and ashamed. That’s when I woke up.

Reading about my dreams is about as interesting as reading about anyone else’s dream. At best, it’s boring, at worst, it’s awkward because it starts with something like, “I had this dream about you last night… Oh but it wasn’t sexual…”

Despite that conventional wisdom, I shared this dream to make a point. The dream shook me. I realized I’m not doing much to change the things about myself that I don’t like. I’m not pursuing passions like I once did. Maybe this is a cliché midlife crisis, but whatever it is, I don’t like it and social media’s not doing me a lick of good. Yes, WordPress is still social media, but at least there is no compelling Feed that demands my attention. And I used to write. A lot. So let’s see if I can take all this angst and doubt and struggle and turn it into something that’s actually worthwhile. Rather than hours of scrolling and trolling, let’s use those down times for punching some words into a screen, words that will be read not by 417 friends, family, and friends and family of those friends and family, but by 7 people, according to the WordPress data. Let’s see where this goes.

Haikus on Public Education

As I’m back home this month, the inevitable question comes up time and time again.

So when will you come back to teach in America? 

Listen, I’ve worked in America. Do you know what it’s like, working in schools here? I mean, yes, my body absorbs a daily onslaught on airborne contaminants and waterborne microbes, I’m surrounded in dust and poverty, and I have to shower with my eyes shut, but even still, this is way preferable to teaching in the US.

As one point of evidence, I present here a series of haikus I wrote while invigilating exams at my last public school. I have to sit on my ass for hours, so do the students. The test takes forever. The school spends months on test preparation (as opposed to you know, teaching and learning). Yet my state is still on bottom for testing, nationwide.

These haikus say it better than I can.

Barren walls cry out

To students and visitors

Learning stops this week


Once taught in wartime

Mortars, car bombs; but no test

Kept kids from learning


Rules say no food or drink

Because apparently no one

Here is a grown-up


Accreditation

The report that disappeared

Like all the others


Minutes tick on by

Make me wish for a razor

To slice out my eyes

In case you’re wondering why I left, here’s one final haiku:

“Keep up the good work.”

Said the evaluation. 

On page two: “You’re fired.” 

Nowadays, I enjoy a fulfilling classroom position with professional colleagues and managers. Things are better.