HANOI–Jesus. I could be in trouble here. I didn’t expect today to go sideways like it did.
First interview was at 10 a.m. It would have been the perfect stay-just-busy-enough-to-not-shoot-yourself gig. 8 hours or so a week, teaching college kids. Enough money for me to buy milk and rice and whatever.
But I knew when I walked into the place that I wouldn’t get it. High ceilings, fresh paint. Overlit like an Apple store or the deck of the Starship Enterprise. There was a call center run by slaves in headsets and red embroidered polos. This was a legitimate institution, a place of business, where peons are monitored on surveillance cameras and have their keystrokes tracked. No, no, no. I’m not a drone. I left America to get away from corporations. I knew they would not want me. But still, I wanted them to want me. So here goes.
They were escorting me into the room when I remembered this would be my first interview since 2013. I’m rusty. Feel like I just got out of jail and now have no applicable skills to offer the modern world. I could tell by the cut of the guy’s suit jacket – especially the slim collar — that he has money, shops hard, probably has shit fitted for him in Italy. He eyed my own tailored suit (circa the Paleolithic Era of Fashion, aka 2014) with subdued amusement. Or maybe I’m projecting. Anyway, he looked like money because he is a professional educator, the 1% of teachers, having spent six-figures on the acquisition of a bulletproof list of credentials. He had the kind of bio you will see written in hard-to-read font on a very white, professionally-designed university webpage. That’s him. Me, I am simply a journeyman who has earned his bread by playing Powerpoint games with Korean midgets. He knew.
I expected a grilling but this turned out to be psychological torture. I was blown away. He wanted to know: what the last lesson I taught in Korea. I told him I was a little hazy on that; it’s been three months. Tried to laugh a bit, spin it into a joke. He didn’t laugh. He pressed on: Fred, what was the lesson’s subject, the target language. What were the activities, and how many minutes did each activity take. Did you use a fade, or a wipe effect between PowerPoint slides. That last one is barely a joke.
He curveballed me. Never asked for my strengths and weaknesses. I prepped the shit out of the standard questions. I wish he had. My weakness is: not having a flawless photographic memory, I would have said. God, I’ve got charm and wit for days, but only in hypothetical realities.
I left on my motorbike. The heat worsened my mood. The sun just blasts the life out of the city these days. I don’t know the temperature, I just know that the air is sulfurous. If we get one degree higher the concrete will bubble into magma and then suck us all down into hell. The suit was a bad choice. I took refuge in the Lotte Tower café before the next interview.
On to the next interview. Another hour, another meeting in a suit, like I’m Warren Motherfucking Buffet.
It was near West Lake and up a shady side street. A recruiting office, small area with three desks. The guy was Vietnamese. He didn’t smile. Wasn’t impressed with my height as most life forms tend to be. So again, I felt defeated as soon as I entered the room. But my CV passed muster with him. Which annoyed me, that there was even any suspense about that in the first place. My four years of experience count for nothing. Everyone here has that much. We’re clones of each other.
We can get you some work, he said. How is $18 an hour, for a few classes a week.
I see, I told him. Well, I’ve made up to $40 previously. I understand that your pay scale is local, but I can’t work for $18 when I could be devoting my time to a better offer.
I was acting like I had options, trying to radiate ease, as if I were sitting on pocket aces — which was, of course, a fiction. I thought to myself: you are digging your own grave, young man. Who are you to turn down $18/hr. That is technically infinity times more money than you already make. Anyone who does anything at all in this world makes more money than you do. Even kidnapped kids mining conflict diamonds get free room and board.
The guy didn’t flinch. He just fixed me with this feral squint. He’d heard my tough-guy line before, from my many other clones who’d sat on this same couch and radiated the same fake confidence.
He said: perhaps, eventually you can get $19, maybe $20. If the school likes you.
I shrugged. Could end up being my only option. Who am I to try to find better out here. I’ll have to take what Vietnam offers. Vietnam always wins. I know my history.
Our dick-waving contest concluded, I left.
I unlocked my bike and, more out of persistent spite than anything else, I decided to hold out for a better offer. If he emails, I’ll ignore it. It’s OK. I still have some money. But while I have money, I lack luck. Usually I only get one of those things at a time.
Anyway. Two swings, two misses. It’s all right. I’ve failed so many times in life I’m used to it. I’ve failed so many times that when something good happens, I can’t process it.
I rode home. My bike is a semi-auto, so you get that satisfying crunch as you stomp the shifter. As far as simple joys go, that one’s near the top of the list. Today my contentment comes from throwing gears and punching through the red lights. The bike’s a rental and it’s scarred and the frame has been wired back together. I think someone died on it. Of course someone did; the only way Vietnamese traffic could be more dangerous is if they buried landmines in the street.
The bike is beaten up, because it’s taken the damage for all its previous riders like the portrait of Dorian Gray. All the other wandering immortal alcoholics who have had my bike before me, I want to talk to them. Say: you lied to me. You’ve been spreading legends through the expat community for years about how easy it is to get a job here.
There are jobs falling out of the sky! You’ll find work your first day!
I don’t know what Vietnam you were in, but the one I live in is full of tightwad lowballers and professorial Illuminati. No middle ground. It’s tough out there. I’m gonna have flashbacks of this place like the Vietnam vets do.
Job hunting is a curious thing. You work harder, and stress more, than you will when you actually perform the job. For this, you are not compensated. And there’s no guarantee that the nightmare will end. I’m skirting the edge of a panic attack as I extrapolate five years into the future. Five weeks, even.
Well, on the bright side at least it’s Friday. Thank God I drink.