“The following is, regrettably, a true story. Some of the names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the innocent. Thought few of the people involved were innocent by any definition whatsoever.”
– English Teacher X, To Travel Hopelessly
With the exception of a few titles, I usually hate travel memoirs. Most travel stories I’ve read have managed to be both overly dramatic and incredibly boring. To Travel Hopelessly, by English Teacher X, does neither of these things. There’s a reason that X writes under a pseudonym, and it’s not because his writings are going to earn him a job promotion.
I started reading To Travel Hopelessly with very little idea as to what this book would be like. Since the book tells the story of a man who goes around the world teaching English as a foreign language, I feared that I was in for a boring read. I could almost taste the pretentious “these foreigners are so stupid, it’s a good thing I’m here” attitude common with tales of Westernizing the Third World.
Fortunately I was dead wrong.
To Travel Hopelessly is an incredibly fun read, packed with debauchery. X isn’t some stuffy fifty year old man who’s trying to trying to convert school children to his way of thinking, he’s a twenty-something-year-old dude. As a result, his adventure are less this:
And a whole lot of this:
X started teaching English abroad, when teaching requirements and standards were incredibly low. As he puts it:
“Any white person that could stand upright could get a job there. And many did that couldn’t stand upright for very long.”
Because of the low entry standards, X works along side a colorful cast of characters: thieves, drug addicts, pedophiles, and everything in-between.
Aside from the anecdotes about teaching (my favorites being the one where X accidentally breaks a students arm, and the one where he comes to work while on acid), there are plenty of tales set outside the classroom. These stories often focus more on life within the particular country, and often showcase the harsh circumstances that inhabitants had to endure. I’m not going to lie, some of the environments sound incredibly awful. “Vokaburg,” an industrial city in post Soviet Russia, sounds horrible.
If you enjoy books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Tropic of Cancer, you’ll want to check out To Travel Hopelessly.