We caught up with Sean at the Ixta Restaurant in between his Spanish tutorials. He very generously gives a whopping discount of 250 pesos to his students if they become Amigos members!
First of all Sean – thank you so much for that amazing discount and for donating it to Amigos. We put it to good use!
I understand you were born at an early age…
I was born in Greenwich Village, New York weighing only 2lbs 15 ozs – there was no incubator so they put me in a cardboard box with a light bulb – I think I probably felt like a chicken! They didn’t think I was going to live. My mother said I was the ugliest baby she had ever seen in her life. But of course I survived. From the Village we moved to Woodstock which was a summer retreat for the artists, then to Tarrytown, New York – they had a great public school system, the State University New York, then to Maine. In all of the places I have lived, Maine was the best place – except for the weather. Then to Texas because Portland became too expensive.
What did you do?
I was a teacher of Social Studies and English.
I moved around there a few times, I quit teaching, took all my retirement money to live on, and I did school photography: I got the majority of the children’s year book photos – but I just couldn’t get the official contract. I did weddings which I hated! I worked in an emergency shelter for abused and abandoned children – they had a maximum 3 weeks stay – and was involved with the juvenile justice and social systems, the job was to find them somewhere to stay. Then I went back to teaching and then went to school and became a respiratory therapist in Austin, Texas.
Then I ended up in the border town of McAllen, in Southern Texas where I was aghast at how horrible the medicine was, so backward, they were using medicine that had not been used in Austin for 10 years – and they didn’t try to update. In Austin we could write orders, like a nurse, but not in McAllen. I was there for 2 years. This was where I started becoming interested in Spanish – it’s 96% Hispanic. I taught myself from books, but I was unable to communicate with anybody because I only knew the rules of grammar. So I went to cantinas to improve my Spanish – 3 beers for the price of one helped! – and I learnt a very coarse Spanish. I used to travel a lot by bus visiting various parts of Mexico and in Mexico City I fell in love and we had a long distance relationship for 2 years. This was before emails. I wrote a paragraph a day in Spanish – it took me three hours! Then I’d mail the letter and hope for a reply. I became well known by everyone in the Post Office so when I went in their reaction would tell me if I had received a letter – or not.
I taught health care science in school for 2 years and when that fell through I was unemployed for 6 months. So I took out my latest retirement money to live on and got a job bar tending and waiting and became bar manager. It was the biggest place in town. I gave myself 5 consecutive days off a month in order to visit Mexico and Patricia.
After two years I decided to move to Mexico City where I initially taught English. There was a lot of demand and I started teaching executives and then switched to private schools. I had a wonderful two years at Tech de Monterrey. This is the second most prestigious after UNAM, it is a private school with an extensive scholarship system. When I was teaching there, 1998 – 1999, they required laptops of all students, which was really rare.
When I first got to Mexico City I lived 4 blocks behind the US Embassy. It was quite expensive and in that building every single person had been robbed – either in transit on the streets or in the building. I moved to Colonia Obrera where I was the only gringo – and nobody got robbed – because nobody had any money! The only time I spoke English was at school. I remember thinking I would be fluent in 6 months!
When I went out to parties, after 30 minutes of talking I had to hide because I was translating – for them it was conversation, but for me it was hard work. Three years later I finally got to the point where I didn’t have a headache. I felt I was fluent – I was still making mistakes – but I was not thinking so hard, not doing the translating. Yes, I think alcohol sometimes makes Spanish easier.
I taught at an all girls school, they were lower middle class girls trying to better themselves as bi-lingual secretaries. If they were Spanish speaking you were lucky to make 3,000 pesos month, but bi-lingual could earn 15,000 a month – that’s more than I was getting as the teacher! There was no attitude, they were wonderful students, and I am still in touch with a lot of them, mostly through Facebook. The first month they hated me, they thought I was weird, but after that they figured out I was “the best”. One year I got “the most popular teacher award” and the other teachers were amazed: “How did you get that? You yell at them and insult them to their face…”
So how did you end up in Bucerias?
My by then ex partner’s brother Eddie moved to PV to do time share and he wrote to me saying I should come too as there was so much demand for English. And so I came. I took the bus from Mexico City – it was 12 hours. I had no idea where to stay but Eddie was staying with a high school friend in Valle Dorado and so I stayed with them. By this time Eddie had decided that timeshare wasn’t for him and had managed to get a job -he trained as a lawyer, but not all lawyers necessarily earn money – he ended up as a security guard at the Four Seasons, Punta Mita.
We decided the best thing would be to live together to share expenses and checked Mano a Mano and I came here and walked all over the town looking for To Rent signs – that was 2005. I stopped at a little store and they had a friend renting in Terralta – I went there but I didn’t like it, it was a bit too structured for me. But they also had a property on Estaciones – it had all the concrete built in furniture – and we took it.
I couldn’t find work and I was getting desperate. Eddie said: “Why don’t you teach Spanish? You can teach English”. So I organized a class of 6 students at our house. The road had only just been paved and it was filthy – all the dust that came in. By the next year I had 4 classes, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, and I had a job teaching at Colegio Bucerias. Eddie brought home “estupi” – “Stupey” the cat – he was an incredible hunter – and he sat in on the classes. Then the property owners decided to return to their house and Eddie and I found separate accommodation – I did house sitting and moved back to the other side of the highway. After two years, I left the Colegio and moved my classes to the BBCC, where I eventually became the administrator there. I put in a curriculum of classes of Spanish and English which were structured so that all the students were at the same levels and that’s when we discovered we needed more teachers. We had a lot of good voluntary teachers, people who really cared and tried. But at the end of March everybody went back to their Northern home, except for me, and it was just impossible to maintain on my own. For a total of 2.5 years I had been teaching and then the administrator, and then I moved the classes to the lot behind the first Lonely Sock Laundry. The class was held under a metal awning but that disappeared in the big winds so then I came to the Ixta Restaurant.
You have had a lot of 2 years time frame experiences!
Yes – unbelievable. I have always valued mobility and independence. It’s not that I was ever in any great conflict with the boss. In fact, my female boss from the emergency shelter has visited me everywhere I have ever lived – yes, she liked Bucerias.
But I was a wrestling coach for 10 years, along with the academic teaching! I believe a real teacher can teach anything he/she knows, and I have the ability to teach things. My classes are not the same. Teaching older people is not the same as teaching junior high school. Now my classes have evolved to make it easier for me and for them to learn. The biggest problem of learning Spanish here is you don’t have to use it! But knowing some of the language makes it easier to understand the culture – which I also teach.
You rent here for 5 months, November – March – where do you live for the other 7 months?
In Tlaxcala, that’s 2 hours East of Mexico City, at an elevation of 8,200 ft.
Do you rent there?
Although Patricia and I have split up, I am still part of the family – anything that happens I get invited to – and my ex mother in law agreed that I could build on top of her two storey home, so I didn’t have to worry about making foundations, pouring concrete, etc. In the States I could only live in a cardboard box on my retirement, but here – if I can get the place finished! – I can live ok. I am so very fortunate in that respect.
But then what happened was Eddie also returned home – to run a disco, so we shared the 2nd floor – free, and I started building on the 3rd floor. Eddie left – he’s now working in Mexico City – but all his stuff is still on the 2nd floor where I stay – and so for the moment Mama is not charging me any rent!
How does it feel to be part Bucerias and part Tlaxcala?
I hated being here in the summer, it made me so negative about this place. Now I can’t wait to get back here! But at the end of the season – I just want to get back to my other Mexican home. This is not true Mexico. But: it is hard to reminisce with a true Mexican – their different backgrounds and so on, but here – that’s what all the older folks like to do! I like authentic Mexican food which I get plenty of there, but after my time there I want to come back for a really good burger and fries fix, or a good thick steak. I think living in both places helps to put my life in balance.
You have visited 48 out of the 50 US states (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) – how many have you been to in Mexico?
I am only missing out on five: Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Baja California and Colima.
Have your family visited you here?
My mother came down and lived here for months when she was 95. My brother came to PV about 20 years ago but he got into diving and that’s why he went to Cozumel and Isla Mujeres subsequently, always first class. Finally he visited me last August in Tlaxcala – but this was by bus. He said: “How can you NOT feel safe in this country? I feel so much safer here than I did in Dallas. I had been intimidated about going to Mexico City.”
What do you miss about USA?
Target, Kohls… The roads are in good condition. It’s clean. Efficiency when something has to be done. Having said that, while visiting USA I can’t wait to get back here.
What are your personal interests or hobbies?
I love cooking. I cooked Coquilles St Jacques when at the girls school , just a little class where the girls didn’t want to crush the garlic and I said they had to be more macho! – and the staff said I ought to teach cooking! I like really good Italian food – which means I like my own cooking! But also that of my good friend, Karen Knapp. I also like creating technical style floor plans for architectural drawings and did the floor plans for my new place. When not teaching, I read an average of 3 books a week. I also hope to get more traveling in, after my construction is done.
Looking back, anything you wished you had known about or anything you would have changed?
I have already changed whatever doesn’t suit me, or what didn’t make me happy.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
When I first came here I had a negative impression of this town. It was the six months of summer heat I objected to as I had lived in Mexico for 10 years. The Mexican food here was not good compared to central Mexico, and the prices were atrociously high. The lack of manners by the local Mexicans was really bad. The local store keepers didn’t greet you, didn’t thank you. My true Mexican friends could not believe that a Mexican man would get on a bus without a shirt, walk down the road without a shirt – it is very disrespectful. And the trash! In Mexico City, yes they throw trash but they have a whole “army” of people coming out every day to keep the place clean. I had a negative impression of the visitors – who continually complained about the Mexicans. However, the inefficiency is getting better, I remember once being in the bank with ticket #85 and they were only on #3…
In general, I like Mexico, I think the people are more sociable – for me, the good far outweighs the bad.
Thank you Sean Mulvaney !