OK, kids, snuggle in tight- it's story time.
The Saloon was originally founded on Nov. 2, 2003, some 6 years ago at this writing, by 5 guys: myself, Chinasyndrome, Hamish, Sunaru, and Dr. Gonzo. We had all been members of Dave's ESL Cafe (aka 'The Greasy Spoon' or 'Chez Fasciste'), and were sick of the games there...the trolls, the idiots, the draconian jackbooted often-unfair moderation, the culture of rudeness and "I'll build myself up by tearing you down"...everything. We wanted a place without all that stuff.
And beyond that, I (and I think at least most of the other founders, too) wanted a place where we were obliged to be civil to each other as much as possible. I wanted newcomers to China, and those still just thinking about it, to be cherished and supported, instead of the Idiot treatment they tend to get at the Spoon. Reading Dave's forums has been likened to watching a car accident, and I totally concur with this appraisal.
I also wanted a place that was totally non-commercial. The Spoon is utterly in the thrall of the chain schools, the TEFL-Cert mills, and others that are just out to exploit us for profit. If you don't believe me, try criticizing one of their major advertisers some time. Dave Sperling is, IMHO, The Whore of Babylon... (We, I'm happy to say, are completely free of commercial taint. We don't make a dime from this website...we don't even run ads...and are beholden to none. We can say what we want about anyone.)
So, after some talking, I got pointed to Proboards...a company that provides free software and support for forums, as long as you let them run their ads. I found the software quite easy to manage, and set up a test site- Raoul's China Expat Saloon. I didn't really plan on the Raoul name becoming permanent- it is, after all, a direct tribute to the Hunter S. Thompson character. However, apparently we weren't the only ones who felt the way the founders did...first thing I knew, there were lots of people signing on...and so the name stuck and I sort of fell into the character.
The Saloon grew and prospered. Many were brought over by the brave and tireless efforts of Dr. Gonzo and the Dumpster Divers, who continued to read the drivel on Dave's for us and spot the few with some intelligence...and drag them over here. (They got so good at this that Dave eventually abolished the Private Message feature on the Cafe.
)Others found us through search engines- we're pretty well entrenched with them by now. Many got here through our favorite recruiting method- word of mouth by members to their friends.
Soon, we had our first major management split- one of the founders, as I saw it, basically wanted us to be Dave's, only even stricter and with a different name on the cover. The others offered the person an area of his own to do his thing, but he wanted the whole ball of wax...and 2 of the founders left. Two other administrators were soon added to the group.
We continued having fun and growing and learning to solve problems we encountered. The place was really gaining momentum and accelerating in growth and activity- until the day we logged on and found that we, along with literally millions of other Proboards forums, were blocked in China. It wasn't us...apparently some other forums were talking about subjects taboo in China, so the entire system got the ax.
It was at this point when Nolefan leapt into the breach and offered us a new space and support. So "The Alamo" was born.
The Alamo never really thrived...but it kept us alive. It used a new and somewhat experimental software that did some things very well, but couldn't do many other things we really wanted and were used to on the old place. Even worse, it became badly choked by mindless bubble-headed fluff...to the point where I was embarrassed by it and could hardly even bring myself to read it. However, it did firmly plant Nolefan in an Admin seat...just as one of the original Admins moved back to the USA, started a baby and a Master's Degree, and dropped out of sight.
At this time we had the second major management rift, ostensibly over arguments about the kinds of things we could say to each other on the forum but also heavily fueled by some interpersonal problems. The Saloon was pretty much reaching a state of paralysis.
So, Nolefan and I staged a coup d'etat...a naked power-grab worthy of Hitler, Sadaam, Stalin, Fidel, or even George W. Bush. (This is why we're now called "Benevolent Despots"...) We started a second site with simple, functional SMF software, and launched into an Underground Railroad...we started quietly tapping people a few at a time, saying "This place is about to become history...follow me!" until pretty much everyone was here, and pretty much no one was there.
The result was Raoul's China Saloon (V3.0), pretty much as you see it now. Of the other admins...two of them were offered Admin seats here, and turned them down...they had already largely moved on to other things anyway. One of them had clearly backed the wrong side in the coup and was not offered such privileges in the new forum; they were eventually escorted, writhing and foaming, off the premises. One of them, well, they ain't here and probably never will be.
I like to think that The Good Guys, as they so often do, won.
The management of the forum is now down to two people who share genuine brotherly love, and work very well together: myself and Nolefan. When I moved out of China, I named my beloved friend Con as my Chosen Successor, and gave him nominal Admin access. However, the skulking Belgian will have to actually be here before he gets the reins...
We're joined by the lovely and talented AMonk and Dragonsaver, who help us keep things cool in the Ladies-only area. More recently, we've added The Local Dialect and, inexplicably, Escaped Lunatic to the Moderators list, and made all four of them Global Mods. AMonk is also now serving as Membership Goddess, helping us keep the application process fast and smooth.
Since the move, the Saloon has continued to grow and gain influence, and is now much larger and more active than the original ever was. We recently celebrated our 6th Birthday and our 500th Member. We've continued to attract what I think are the finest people in the China Expat biz, and George. I set much of the template for this place...but it's the people who join it and are active on it that really make it what it is. This place would be nothing- an obscure internet blip- without the wonderful cast of characters who fill it and make the vision a reality.
So, here we are...a friendly, busy, helpful, fun-loving place that has helped MANY people improve their lives in China. Many people have tried to split off from Dave's, but as far as I know we're the only ones who really succeeded and built something lasting and important. Our growth is again beginning to noticeably accelerate, just as in the last days of the original Saloon...and I hope that this time, we get to see it through.
God bless Raoul's China Saloon.