Well I’ll be buttered and rolled in cracker crumbs!
Ben Bartee, a regular contributor to The Daily Bell, asked if I was interested in reading a book he wrote which he described as his “memoir.”
I admit I was skeptical, because one, the word memoir sounded boring, and two, that a 30-something should have a memoir seemed premature to me.
But as soon as I started reading, Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, I was hooked.
He drew me in with behind the scenes experiences, events, and people that I have never known personally, but I knew their type existed somewhere. It made me feel like I was being let in on a secret, or given expert observations from an anthropologist studying neo-Nazis, obese intrusive stepmothers, mooching ex-cons, and even a voyeuristic midget.
And that was just the beginning, before Ben left the US.
I think it’s easy to relate to the existential angst he describes. Yet he manages to make some of the darkest drug and alcohol fueled lows in his life darkly hilarious.
He has plenty to say about corporate America and the futility of life for the bottom rungs of society, but the commentary never gets preachy. Nihilism trumps activism, and he essentially imparts, “who am I to take advice from anyway?”
Despite his strong views on race and LGBTQ+++ in society, he never begs the reader to not consider him racist or homophobic or whatever. Because he’s not. He’s just reporting the facts, and anyone who interprets his commentary as bigotry doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together and/or is too autistic to understand irony.
And yet in all the joking, Ben does in fact impart some really interesting wisdom. Especially from Yai, the Thai stranger who, with nothing to gain for himself, narrowly helped Ben avoid homelessness in the Thai countryside.
You’ll also learn about the futility of asking “why?” in Thailand.
But this book is not an expat guide or travel blog. It certainly doesn’t romanticize traveling and living abroad. This is not the literary equivalent to a FOMO-inducing Instagram profile.
Maybe it’s a critique of where Western civilization went wrong– one that offers no prescription and certainly doesn’t praise the East as an alternative.
Maybe it’s a slice of life study on how one young disillusioned American sees and experiences the world.
It definitely has a fair dose of anthropologist-high-on-pills-exploring-subcultures.
Ben gives hilarious accounts of teaching at foreign schools– interesting insights on how third world corruption works.
I also personally loved hearing about the meth-fueled ladyboy prostitute subculture. One, because it is nothing like the trans and LGBT cult in the West. Two, because it is so alien to me and I can’t imagine getting this sort of embedded reporting anywhere else.
Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile is seriously entertaining the whole time. If you want an adventure and a radically unfamiliar perspective, this is a snapshot in time, the likes of which I have found nowhere else.
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