Initially part of a letter to explain things

SATURDAY, 4 APRIL 2015

We get paid an average hourly rate of approximately US$20, or R235 per hour. We teach between three and six hours per day, with an hour or longer on the road between classes. Our incomes vary between R10,000 (US$850) and R20,000 (US$1,700) per month, although it can be a thousand rand more or a few thousand less. The month during which Chinese New Year is celebrated may see a reduction of as much as 40% of our usual income.

Most of our classes are part-time “contracts” – when you finish a course, there is no guarantee that a new course will immediately be assigned to you.

Our positions at the school are also part-time. This means when there is a public holiday, we don’t get paid. When we are sick, we may stay at home but we won’t get paid. If it rains too hard and the wind is too strong, all our classes may get cancelled and then we get paid less that month. When we go on vacation to visit our families we don’t get paid for those two weeks or so, but of course rent and bills still have to get paid. If a private student is sick or busy, or if he or she is not in the mood for speaking English that day, a class easily gets cancelled on short notice and then we make less money that month.

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Our rent is about R6,500 (US$550) per month. My health insurance is about R300 (US$25) per month; my telephone bill and contributions to utilities are about R850 (US$70) per month. Living expenses are about R4000 (US$350) per month. My life insurance is almost R600 (US$50) per month. I pay about R850 (US$70) per month tax.

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Since my early twenties I have known that I was not going to make it in middle-class suburbia. Moreover, I had no desire to achieve middle-class success. I had no immediate yearning to get married, settle down, have children, or start a career.

One might imagine I had more hedonistic motivations – to have fun, to seek adventure and so on. My actual motivation was considerably drabber: I needed to know the truth. I used to believe in things. By the age of 24 I believed in nothing but the realities of being alive and the inevitability of death.

The idea of committing myself to a career seemed vulgar, even ridiculous. I wanted … no, I needed to get away from the machine that was society in my eyes.

Unfortunately, by my mid-twenties I had accumulated a significant amount of student debt: modern life’s version of the medieval landlord’s hold on his serfs.

By the end of 1995 I opted for a third path between flight and middle-class suburbia. I went to South Korea for two years to teach English. After a stint back in South Africa in 1998 where I naively believed I was going to start fitting into middle-class society, I came to Taiwan.

Taiwan has worked out well for me in the last 16 years. I earn enough money to survive and to travel to South Africa every two years or so to see my family. I have time to read and write. And against all odds and reasonable expectation, I met and got married to a wonderful woman.

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Back in South Africa, my parents’ financial well-being has been caught up in a seemingly endless roller coaster ride. At times they have made a lot more money than me; at other times less.

Naturally, when they are in trouble, I want to help. For that, I need to make more money.

Here is where the irony kicks in: Despite the fact that I have always been comfortable with a Spartan lifestyle and that I have never been interested in participating in the mad dash for more money, I do not personally know anyone who has tried more ways to make money. The only things I haven’t tried are crime and prostitution.

The fact of the matter is that I am sick and tired of feeling bad because I don’t make more money. No matter what you do, at the end of the day a man who looks like an undertaker asks: “How much money do you have?” Then you try to explain, again. Nothing, he types on his computer. And as you lift your hand to object, he looks straight through you and gestures with a bony finger for the next person in line to step forward.

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