“Solitude vivifies; isolation kills.” – Joseph Roux

It’s pretty common knowledge that China does not mix well with the Internet at large, especially prevalent in regards to the standing bans on Facebook and pretty much anything made by Google. These difficulties are expected, though you’d be surprised how many ex-pats I’ve heard try to explain to the people back home that, “No, you cannot just send to me via Google docs.” What most people don’t know s that there are a whole variety of other issues pertaining to the realm of Chinese applications like WeChat, which really shouldn’t be surprising but at this point continues to catch my unawares. It was one of these times recently when my friends began to worry about me, as I was not responding to their messages. Turns out I wasn’t being antisocial on purpose; WeChat had randomly stopped its notification process.

While bemoaning the all-too-frequent struggle inherent in Chinese social media, said ex-pat friend brought up a good point: He had begun to wonder if I had slipped in the bath and was thus incapacitated, just waiting to be found (A situation which I’m sure will haunt my mother’s nightmares after she reads this. Sorry Mom.) Being the peppy, optimistic rays of sunshine that we are, he and I began everyone’s favorite discussion, “How long do you think it would take someone to find you should the worst happen?”

Morbid as this conversation is, I personally believe it’s a question everyone who lives alone should consider occasionally. I don’t mean to give anyone a complex about living alone, but it’s worth knowing how often someone checks on you and whether they would notice if you dropped off the face of the Earth. The safety benefits of this knowledge are pretty obvious, but there are a host of other concerns as well. For one, if you live alone with pets, you should probably be aware of how quickly they will quite literally turn on you.

This scenario is possibly even more important for those of us who live abroad, just due to the isolation factor. Your average person has a day job and likely a close group of friends and/or family that would probably notice a disappearance within 24 hours. For ex-pats, however, it all depends on your work situation and how social you are. My own university, for example, gives me enough of a free rein that I’m not sure how quickly they’d notice I wasn’t turning up to teach classes. I couldn’t even guess how long it would take them to check my apartment.

Before I send my mother into a panic attack, I should mention I have friends here who would probably notice. Apparently the friend I mentioned earlier was showing concern in less than two days, which is pretty good considering I didn’t even know I was ignoring him. Furthermore I live in the same building as four of the other foreign teachers, and I’m pretty confident they would notice my absence.

Isolation is a near-constant when living abroad, but I really do think it’s important for everyone to consider. If you’re like me, you’ve lived alone only a fraction of your life, and the isolation can be worrisome. Don’t get me wrong, it feels pretty good to have your own space, and to not have to share bathrooms or refrigerators. I absolutely do not want to have to live with room mates or with my parents. But in taking a moment to think about how long it would take for someone to break down my apartment door, I realized just how alone I am out here.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

Unrelated Note: I want to start out this post by saying a gigantic thank you to all of my readers. despite the incredible decrease in frequency of my posting, I seem to back amassing no less than a dozen views per day. The idea that so many of you check out my blog even when I haven’t posted anything new is heart-warming and humbling. Now, for a giant non sequitur.

When I was younger I heard one of my parents’ friends remark that, “When you’re young you’d be crazy not to be liberal. When you’re older you’d be crazy not to be conservative,” and while I can’t lay claim to that quote being one hundred percent, word-by-word accurate, it for some reason stuck with me. I can’t say I believe this casually-expressed sentiment wholeheartedly; Even my more right-leaning family would be hard pressed to describe my folks as anything closer than moderate. However, despite the glaring exceptions to the rule that are my parents, there seems to be at least a little truth to the person’s claim. If nothing else, it’s prominent in the stereotypes we Americans seem to carry about our two political parties. No matter what your mental image of the stereotypical liberal person may contain, it is unlikely that your first three adjectives would be “old, white, male.”

This ideal seems particularly relevant as so many of my peers, those of us who have been begrudgingly dubbed “Millenials,” are coming into our own. There seems to be an ideological gap between us and our parents, who are largely part of the Baby-Boomer population. Unsurprisingly there are a number of issues on which the two generations seem to be split, the most common being the economy and workforce. We know this is true because not one of you readers was surprised to read the last sentence. The foundation for this divide is simple: Of course there is difference between growing up in a period of economic growth, and coming of age during a recession. This leads many crotchety columnists to whinge about the unmotivated layabouts that comprise today’s youth, to which said youth replies scathingly using one of their greatest weapons: The Internet. Obviously these arguments have been reduced to unless simplicity, but here’s one of my more recent favorites all the same.


Again these arguments are pedantic and unhelpful, especially since they tend to primarily circulate in each generations’ preferred media. In short, there’s no conversation taking place here, and instead it seems both sides are just letting off steam. More to the point, these frustrated barbs are just a symptom of an age-old struggle between generations. After all, despite their complaints, I’m sure many Baby-Boomers remember being called lazy and useless back in the 60’s and 70’s.

From the outsider’s perspective, afforded to me by virtue of sheer distance, these squabbles are almost amusing. Not to say that I don’t share in my peers’ preoccupations and frustrated desire for recognition. While sitting half a world away, though, it’s easy to see how history is simply repeating itself. More thought provoking is the dynamic a little closer to home (well, my current home.)

I’ve heard many American ex-pats liken to China’s current state of affairs to the United States during the 50’s, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see what they mean. While some areas (my current city included) are not exactly hubs of civilization with full of booming trade, the rapid acquisition of wealth isn’t difficult to spot. Like several parts of South-East Asia, the last 40 years or so have drastically altered their people’s culture and state of affairs.

Incredibly, I am not using large cities like Shanghai, Beijing, or Hong Kong as reference for this claim. These cities are certainly epicenters of wealth, and in all honesty a visitor to Shanghai would only know they were not in a city like Chicago by the prevalence of Mandarin. More striking, however, are the places like Nanchang, which is where I live and work: The disparity between the very westernized and modern down town areas and the shambles on the edge of town is remarkable.

It was only back in 1987, the year my older brother was born, that foreigners came to Nanchang and coincided with the reformation and expansion of the universities here. Previously there was only one main facility, Jiangxi University (named for the province.) This campus was renamed Nanchang University and quickly overhauled. Those first few years every student, male and female, came sporting their green jackets and hats: the costume of the Chinese working class. Since that time the down town area has tripled in size, and the students today wear a wide variety of name-brand clothing and own smartphones. What was once dirt roads and wandering cattle has become shopping centers and apartment complexes.

What’s truly unique about the situation here and the changes being made is that there are new university-level students, born a decade after this city began to modernize and expand, who now have little-to-no memory of how very rural this town used to be. The town has developed so quickly that a 18 year old and a 24 year old could have had a very different quality of childhood simply due to how fervently the people of Nanchang have tried to modernize their city. At this point, there is not only a very large gap between generations due to the availability of Western culture, but also because of a difference in available opportunity. These kids are being raised in a much more modernized environment and brought up with a likely-outdated ideology. They are seeing the differences between their parents’ lives and their own, and change may very well come both swiftly and loudly.

It may seem like the Millenial generation is trying to make extremely large changes, and that Baby-Boomers have witnessed so many other changes, but this divide cannot compare to the disparity between generations in the China. Imagine, if you will, today’s Millenials with parents who have values from the turn of the 20th century. Compared to that, the disagreements in the US seem more like a gentle shift than a complete transformation.

“Smart, well-meaning people get it wrong when they start believing that the world owes them something and that the rules are different for them.” – Guy Kawasaki

In the spirit of making my readers awkwardly self-conscious about their day-to-day word choice, I want to talk about the phrase “s/he means well.” This conversational diversion is often used as an acceptable catch-all for evaluating someone’s actions or character, but I’d like to reveal it’s more common, and more damaging purpose: an excuse. This may seem harmless, but I promise you it’s actually a horrible scourge upon humanity.

I admit that describing another person as “well-meaning” is at times not a big deal. It’s somewhat frequent that you hear someone say something along the lines of, “My boyfriend got me daffodils for Valentine’s day even though I told him years ago lilies are my favorite, but he means well.” Yeah, pretty innocent. Chances are this person’s boyfriend just saw the white tepals (this word is used when petals and sepals are difficult to differentiate) and forgot that the signature corona is a dead give-away. No harm done, right? It would be much worse to hear, “My boyfriend got me roses for Valentine’s Day even though I told him I’m allergic and I spent all day in the ER, but he means well.” Much worse. But before you get too distracted wondering where I picked up my knowledge about Narcissus peoticus and/or telling speaker #2 that they need a new boyfriend, I want to clarify that I’m not saying “means well” is more damaging socially and culturally rather than physically.

Unfortunately we seem to hear “s/he means well” just as often for the little mistakes as we do the big, socially unacceptable ones. What I’m referring to is the frequency with which we hear, “My cousin Steve brought his new Latina girlfriend to Jason’s wedding, and my uncle Philip said some really racist stuff. But you know, he means well.” Yeah, we’ve all heard it. It’s not quite as harmless as the flowers, right? Another bad one is, “My grandma Ellie got completely shnockered at Jason’s birthday party and told Billy he’s her favorite grandson right in front of everyone. We had to call her a cab. But you know, she means well.” If you’re like me, at this point you’re wondering what Jason did to deserve all this.

I don’t think I need to explain the evils of racism and alcoholism, but what I hope made an impact with most of you is how commonplace these situations are. We grow up with these situations and innocuously add “s/he means well,” especially with family and friends who behave inappropriately. It may seem polite to not harp on another person’s issues, but what is really happening is they’re getting a by. I’m not asking anyone to verbally assault their racist uncles, but when you say “he means well,” you’re really saying, “I’m going to deal with this later, i.e. never.”

There’s a real toxicity to excusing someone because “they mean well,” in that you’re ignoring someone’s problematic actions, and it doesn’t just apply to your family and friends. Believe it or not, it’s one of the major problems that social justice and civil rights movements face all of the time. A well-meaning, open-minded person who supports the cause and is willing to join the fight can be damaging overall to the movement itself. Without proper direction, a person’s efforts can be detrimental in a hundred different ways, despite their intention. In other words, a person isn’t safe from impracticality, short-sightedness or false opinions just by virtue of meaning to do well.

We are of the opinion that good intentions are supposed to count for a lot, and I don’t mean to demonize this ideal, but it seems like the people who cite good intentions are most commonly those who aren’t paying the price. “Meaning well” doesn’t count for much unless you have the privilege of your voice being heard. So the next time you excuse someone with “s/he means well,” consider whether or not you mean to give that person an alibi.

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop,” – Confucius

It’s been an interesting week here in China. A few of you may have noticed that about a week ago people were announcing it is now the year of the Ram (or the goat, or the sheep, they just can’t seem to decide.) You probably only noticed if it’s your year on the zodiac, which I can’t blame you for, seeing as I was oblivious to last year being the Horse, which is mine. Anyway, yes, last Thursday, February 19th was Chinese New Year.

Even thought the Chinese use the same calendar as the Western World, in sticking with tradition they celebrate the New Year by the Lunar calendar. This means their traditional New Years celebration day varies, and while it may seem funny to us to celebrate the New Year in February, I’ll remind you America is still one of only five countries to cling to the Fahrenheit temperature scale (Canada would make six, but for them its supplementary) and one of only three countries that refuse to adopt the Metric system of measurement (the other two are Myanmar and Liberia.)

Celebrating Chinese New Year is not altogether different from our own New Years, though seeing as modern Chinese people celebrate both to some extent, I’ve started a petition to call the Chinese Holiday “New Year 2: New Year Harder.” The celebration itself seems to consist of gathering your family, visiting the only restaurant in the city that hasn’t closed for an expensive meal, and then taking turns with your neighbors setting off enough firecrackers to level an apartment complex.

You may think I’m exaggerating, but when I went to visit another ex-pats’ apartment on the night of the 18th, it felt like I was braving the happiest war zone on the planet. In their apartment, our small gathering of foreigners could hardly hear each other talking over what I’m assuming was an amateur re-enactment of Nicholas Cage and Michael Bay’s new film. That’s right, they love the Cage here.

You have to understand, these fits of revelry (which always include firecrackers) started a few days before the 19th, and have occurred sporadically ever since, at any given hour of the day or night. I noticed the city was up and running again a couple days after, and I expected Episode II: New Year Strikes Back to die down shortly. What a fool I am.

I was just informed yesterday, a week after celebrations began, that the Chinese New Year is celebrated through the day of the Lantern Festival. Since I’m assuming you don’t have a quick-reference Lunar calendar on you, just know that the lantern festival this year is on March 5th. Meaning the holiday season is set to last a solid two weeks. Before you start packing up to move to China, however, I should tell you it’s not a free pass, and the kids even start school again on March 2nd.

I’ll leave off by saying 新年快乐 (xin nián kuài lè, pronounced sheen knee-en kwai luh,) and happy year of the Ram! For those of you who are a ram/sheep/goat on the Chinese zodiac, you should know this will be an important year for you. Don’t get too excited, however, as your zodiac year is potentially a year of misfortune. You need to combat your incoming bad luck by wearing lots of red clothing, which is obviously the luckiest color.

“Women hold up half the sky,” – Mao Zedong

I was brought up with this crazy idea that women can do whatever they want. I was raised pretty traditionally, such as: having a stay-at-home mom, two sets of grandparents, dinner every night when Dad came home, etc. We fit very much into the nuclear-family ideal. But it never would have occurred to me as a kid that my mom’s job was considered “lesser,” or that she stayed home with us because she was a woman.

My mom graduated college before my dad did, with two Bachelor’s degrees to his one. She lived alone while he finished his program, and within a couple years had started her career as a designer. I’ve asked both my parents several times why my mom was our primary caregiver, and from what I can remember they said, “[she] was worried that kicking so much ass professionally would cut into her time being a kick-ass mother,” but I might be paraphrasing. Regardless, I’ve had the pleasure of watching her go from a Cub Scout leader and field-trip chaperon to a head-standing yogi and karate Black Belt, so it’s safe to say the ass-kicking hasn’t stopped.

Mom was no exception, either. Both of my grandmothers graduated with Bachelor’s degrees, and while I’d say my paternal grandmother was a force to be reckoned with and a matriarch without equal, my mom’s mom is more akin to a force of nature. Neither one was content to sit in the background. My aunts are no different; It’s my mother’s sister who I know saved at least one kid’s life in her time as a Lifeguard, and my father’s who is being sent all over the world on business. The men in my family certainly aren’t known for messing up, but it’s the women who don’t mess around.

For these reasons it’s always amazed me when I’ve encountered misogyny, because it’s very clearly a learned behavior. My parents never sat me down and said “Now listen up son, women are equal to men.” Instead, they showed me with their mutual respect and their actions. Even if their life decisions were guided by a more patriarchal and traditional background, they never presented any of my mom’s many domestic qualities as something other than a necessity or a choice.

The bottom line is that old rule we all should know: people should be treated as equals. When I came to my parents, young and heartbroken, complaining about how unfair it was that some girl didn’t like me back, they reminded me that it wasn’t my fault because I have no control over her actions. They told me they knew how it hurt, but I had to acknowledge her decision. At the time, it may not have been much comfort, but it was a necessary lesson in agency and respect. It’s a lesson I can only assume that many young men have not learned.

The world, and especially the Internet, is full of angry rants about Feminism, rape culture, and now the ever-ridiculous Men’s Rights Activists, or Meninism. There’s a lot of really unnecessary angst clouding up a lot of serious issues, and it’s mind-boggling. How can you grow up and not see the strength and the ability of the women in your life? How can a father never show his tender side? How could you think that anyone was less deserving of your respect based simply on a thing like gender?

“What is elegance? Soap and water!” – Cecil Beaton

You, as my readers, probably already know how I like to think about words. You may, in fact, be of the opinion that I like to think about and discuss words altogether too much. I should inform you anti-worders, despite how much I appreciate your reading my blog, that this is not likely to change. Anyway, on to the soap.

What? Yes, I want to talk about soap. I’ve been doing some thinking about soap, and the phrases we use that revolve around soap. There’s some pretty obvious ones like “Soap up,” (meaning to cover something or someone in soap) and “wash your mouth out with soap,” (which again refers to soap’s ability to clean things up. Or to taste terrible, I can’t remember.)

If you want to know more about soap and how it is made, here‘s the wikipedia page. The basics, though, are these: “Soaps for cleansing are obtained by treating vegetable or animal oils and fats with a strongly alkaline solution… brings about a chemical reaction known as saponisfication.” So there, you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about soap. You’re welcome. Also, this was probably unnecessary to making my point. I’ll get back to the words.

“Soap Opera” is a phrase used to describe a campy television drama, and believe it or not does actually derive its name from actual soap. These programs certainly aren’t known for their cleanliness, and no, I’m not trying to draw some weird connection between daytime television and fatty acids. “Soap Operas” were given their name because no one watches television during the daytime, and therefore the only advertising the networks could procure was for soap products. Soap is such a commonly-held necessity that its advertising had never garnered much weight, meaning these ads were cheap. So, “soap” is a reference to how poorly funded these shows are, and “opera” is probably a reference to how overly dramatic the acting is (I certainly doubt it’s at all connected to their capacity for musical performance.)

“Soap Box” is another common term (and if you remembered I used it in my last post, you get bonus points) which most people know refers to a person’s tendency to loudly express their opinions in a public forum. You may have also heard “standing on my soap box,” which is even less metaphorical and, yes, does refer to standing on boxes that used to contain soap. As mentioned with “Soap Opera,” soap is a really common item and so it was pretty easy for someone to acquire a box and give themselves an extra foot or so of height for shouting at others. I can only assume that Soap boxes were fairly sturdy, and therefore a good choice for standing on. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to find a soap box to express ourselves any more; we can just use the equally effective tool, Twitter.

“Soft soap” is a less widely-known idiom which isn’t a reference to the brand (though the brand may have chosen their name for the idiom?) It is, however, a reference to leaving the by-product glycerol/glycerin in the newly made soap as a softening agent (those of you who read the Wikipedia article saw this coming.) To “soft soap” someone is to coddle them, or make a subject more palatable. It also mean to sweet-talk or flatter a person. This idiom is probably vanishing as “softer” soaps are becoming the norm, as well as how most people don’t need to make their own soap any more.

“No soap” is probably even more of an obscure phrase, and probably my favorite on the list. This is not a term for a dirty person or a bathroom lamentation. “No soap” is actually referring to the same concept as “no dice,” meaning “I can’t do that,” “I can’t help you,” or “It’s not going to happen.” I have no evidence for why “dice” has outlived “soap,” but I imagine it has something to do with how gambling is still a situational activity and soap is pretty much available everywhere. In essence, lots of people might come up with “no dice” but very few people are in a position of “no soap.”

I’m not gonna soft soap you, there just aren’t that many phrases that use this word. I found these examples interesting and enjoyable too, but no soap, there aren’t any more.

Hey, my blog is back!

If you are or were one of my loyal readers (i.e. my friends and family, probably) you’ve likely noticed I took a several month break from writing for my blog. I want to say a big thank you, for reading my blog when I was on my every-weekday schedule, and I hope you’ll read it as I pick back up with some regurlar, albeit less frequent, posting.

I also want to give a quick shout out to those poor souls who stopped by my blog during the hiatus, and I hope you had a fruitful search through the depths of the Interwebs on your quest for entertainment. Somehow along the line I ended up with 12 people a week at minimum, which is pretty humbling seeing as I wasn’t posting anything new. So yeah, thank you.

Wait, last one, I promise: Another quick shout out to the “United Plankton Pictures/Nickelodeon Animation Studio” blog which picked up one of the GIFs on my Squidward post and brought me a buttload of web traffic for no discernible reason. You guys are the best.

The whole thing got me thinking a lot about starting to write for my blog again, because let’s be honest, it’s probably one of the most enjoyable creative outlets I’ve ever had in my life. Which of course meant I was really hesitant to start it again, mainly because I like to be confusing. I told myself it was because I knew I couldn’t maintain the posting schedule, and/or feeling like I ran out of things to say, and/or because to how many new struggles and experiences I would have in China. To be fair I wasn’t lying, but none of those reasons really resonated in a way that made me feel like I was making the right decision. So I’ve done some thinking, and came up with some actual reasons. And so, without further ado and in celebration of reviving my blog, I give you: Reasons why I’m glad I wasn’t blogging this whole time.

Whether you live in America or not, you’re probably aware that a lot of messed up stuff has been happening in my home country. Between the shootings of young, unarmed black men like Tamir Rice and Mike Brown, and the more recent Chapel Hill shooting that resulted in the death of three young Muslim people, there’s a number of racially- and prejudicially-charged situations in the US at the moment. On top of this, congressmen who don’t understand the female reproductive system are trying to limit women’s medical rights, and friends of mine back home are fighting for equality and a better Earth. It’s not just limited to the US, either; There’s mass abductions happening in Mexico, there’s the rising attacks in France, there’s even larger abductions in Africa.

The point of this is that I was inundated with very serious, very precarious issues. I have very strong opinions about a lot of today’s issues, and I’m really, really glad I wasn’t making regular blog posts throughout this period. I’ve hemmed and hawed over posting about important topics before, and I’ve always maintained that I didn’t want this blog to become a political soap box. After all, I like to write in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek manner, and I’d be afraid to lose that kind of rapport with my readers. Strong feelings are fine, as long as I have done my research and can support my claims. Some of these issues make me so mad, however, that I’m pretty sure my witty retorts would just devolve into “Rawr grar this is bullshite,” and that’s not the kind of outlet I want Not to Clear the Air to be. So that’s one reason.

My other biggest concern was this: I started writing this blog because I was unhappy with my job, and generally unhappy with my situation. I hated driving to work every day. I hated working in an office (though I learned that coworkers can eventually make that better.) Essentially, I was using the blog as a reminder that I didn’t want to live that way very long, and certainly not as a career. Like most hobbies, my blog was a bright spot in an otherwise-gray world. In retrospect it’s unsurprising that I wasn’t motivated to begin writing again; in a way it would feel like admitting that my life was once again largely unhappy.

I could have used it that way again. As is common with moving abroad, I went through about a month of homesickness and culture-revulsion. Every world traveler and ex-pat recognizes this point, where the culture-shock seems to never end, and you find more to complain about than to celebrate in your new life. So yes, I could have tried to brighten up my days by writing about them, but I was pretty sure my readers didn’t want to slog through regular updates of me complaining about how the Chinese try to pack a hundred people onto one bus. I know I didn’t actually want to write and edit a piece like that. So why write something no one would want to read? It doesn’t help you accept your situation any more to reinforce your distaste.

By the time I visited the US again, however, I’d gotten over my “Why are you all staring at me? Yes I’m foreign,” phase and honestly had altogether too much time to do not much at all in the US. It was good to see my friends and family, but a vacation isn’t a way of life. So I, rather gratefully, packed up my bags and headed back out of the country. There are a lot of ex-pats who don’t suggest visiting your old home, in case you decide not to come back, but it honestly never crossed my mind as a serious option.

So here I am, glad to be back, and happy to be writing again. This blog does not need to be a release from my situation, and it does not need to be the authority on social and political issues. I will update regularly again, though not as often as before, and I’ll do my best to relate to you what it’s like to live in another culture.

Or maybe I’ll just post more things about Squidward.

“Any work needs doin? I can draw a Ninja Turtle, and beat Mario.” – Kumail Nanjiani, “Beta Male”

Ever since, hmm, I’m gonna say the invention of Pacman, roughly, people have had a lot of bad things to say about video games. I was going to litter that first sentence with examples, but I haven’t figured out how to link my blog to the numerous moments in time when my parents told me that playing video games was a waste of time. Yet.


Except for Tetris. No one has ever said anything bad about Tetris, aside from the occasional string of swearing WHEN YOU GET A FRIGGIN’ “Z” PIECE AT THE WRONG TIME. [x]

Even though I’m don’t call myself a “Gamer,” I have been known to, from time to time, get so absorbed in a video game I have to remind myself to eat play some video games. Because of this, *ahem* minor hobby, I tend to fall in with the people who support video games as a viable and not-useless form of recreation. In fact, video games have reached such a high level of popularity that not only do people tend to forget that gaming is actually a pretty nerdy thing to do, but there are comedians like Kumail Nanjiani who regularly discuss video games in their stand up. If you don’t want to listen to a Pakistani man discuss his experience with racially insensitive game design, don’t click the link (Seriously though, listen to his album. He’s pretty great.)

“I’ve logged over 1000 hours on these, but I’m not like, a nerd.” [x]

What Mr. Nanjiani is talking about is the game Call of Duty, which for my older audience is a series of games in which you play various soldiers and complete missions set in famous wars. It’s pretty widely considered the McDonald’s of games (way too common, shows you might have poor taste even though everyone’s done it.) I don’t play Call of Duty. I tend to enjoy games with very involved stories where you are forced to make choices, commonly known as role-playing games.

“But Sam,” you ask, “couldn’t you just read a book or something?”

Yes I could, and yes I do, but ‘video games’ was all I needed to complete the “Reading Fantasy Novels – Browsing Tumblr – Free Space – Blogging” bingo for my How to Get Bullied in High School Bingo card. Honestly though, video games have reached a level where they are like interactive books. So yeah, sometimes I get lost in them, and I’m not ashamed to admit that.

Kumail Nanjiani also touches on the ‘video games are super awesome now’ point, but mentions another common criticism; “Video games aren’t for kids anymore.” This isn’t something I normally have to consider in my defense of gaming, but a recent experience kind of brought this home for me. On my recent flight to Shanghai, there was a Flight Attendant who stuck out to me. I’m going to call him Jerry, because he looked didn’t look like a Phillip. Jerry was one of those people who was always happy, and always bursting with energy, and probably really likes his job. In essence: a jerk.

Anyway, Jerry seemed to like me. You might be thinking, “Male flight attendant who paid extra attention to you? Sam I have something to tell you…” but I didn’t come here for you to make snap judgments about Jerry, so keep it to yourself. I try to be nice to people who spend their time helping me, a revolutionary idea, so it’s always cool to figure out who appreciates that.

Jerry was good at smalltalk, ended up giving me two beers (which I’m not sure if I should have been charged for) and even lent me a DC converter so that I could charge my laptop. Here’s where I connect the dots: My laptop needed charge because I used it to play video games on the flight. I wanted to plug it in so that I could play more video games, because honestly there’s nothing better for sitting in your chair for fourteen hours than a good video game. I noticed later, however, that Jerry’s attitude toward me changed throughout the flight. He started out calling me the commonly used “sir,” and by the time I left I was “buddy.” His body language and tone changed too, going from an exchange between equals to a more unintentionally condescending attitude, and all I can think of is that the man watched me play video games on my laptop.

Now I don’t mean to say that Jerry was anything but awesome, and I don’t mind being called “buddy,” especially since he was significantly older than I am. It was strange, though, to have a man who handed me two alcoholic beverages without checking my ID treat me like a teenager, which is how I am assuming he began to see me. I could almost see his perspective shift when he noticed me engaging in the “juvenile” activity of playing a video game. I figure he didn’t mean anything by it, and I don’t hold it against him.

But for goodness sake, I was traveling alone, to Shanghai. I have a job, and a full beard (which doesn’t hide my baby face, but still.) I am, for all intents and purposes, a full-fledged adult. I’m gonna play some video games if I damn well please.

“I was in Shanghai recently, where Twitter is blocked, and yet there were ads and billboards across town with hashtags on them.” – Dick Costolo

The Bund is a 1.6 km riverside promenade in Shanghai, along the Huangpu River (you might know the Huangpu due to Chinese farmers dropping dead pigs in it in 2013 – Careful, this article does actually show pictures of dead pigs). The Bund is pretty famous for it’s view of the Pudong (east side of Shanghai) skyline.


What fewer people seem interested in photographing are the buildings along the other side of the promenade. To be fair, most of them are banks, with heavily western-influenced façades. But I want to talk about this one:


This is the Jardine Matheson building. Pretty unassuming, right? You can read more about the multi-billion dollar conglomerate here, but I won’t give you the whole history in one post. What you need to know about Jardine Matheson is that they started their trade business in Shanghai by smuggling a few commodities like tea and cotton. Oh, and also opium.

That’s right, opium. The stuff heroin is made of. (To be fair there are plenty of valid, medicinal uses for synthetic opioids, but I doubt the good Misters William Jardine and James Matheson were the Robin Hoods of the Opium Trade.)

The University of Edinburgh grads (where my brother studies, incidentally) quickly diversified their business, which, given that opium smuggling does generate a lot of untaxed capital, isn’t all that surprising.

Anyway I’m not condemning the conglomerate or even the founders: I just felt like sharing a little history. The message here is also NOT “just sell opium, guys.” Your respective governments WILL catch you, and I don’t want you saying “Samwise told me to!”

Though I guess if you could go back in time, smuggling opium could eventually get you a company worth almost $60 billion.

If you need a reminder of the scale of 1 billion dollars, see this Tumblr post)

“I shall make that trip. I shall go to Korea.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Korea is a country of stark contrast.

In Seoul, every city block sports looming high-rise buildings; proud giants standing testament to the recent rise of Korean industry. The history palace of Gyeongbokgung, in turn, looks like an artifact of forgotten centuries. It is not a facade, as the structure’s most recent destruction occurred during the Empire of Japan’s occupation in 1911, but is instead indicative of the technological leaps made in the last one hundred years.

At city limits, perhaps a kilometer from unbroken ground, the stoic edifices simply stop. Very few ramshackle constructions marking the edge of the city, almost as if the concrete structures simply leapt from the ground like trees. An apt metaphor, as one really does feel like they’re standing at the edge of a large forest; so dense and full of life and impenetrable.

The people of Seoul are a homogeneous bunch, as expected, though expectation cannot compare to the reality of some twenty million people sharing a culture, an identity, a heritage. Standing amid thousands of skinny, dark-haired faces, each with traces of individuality (yet statistically insignificant to my untrained eye) it was easy to feel like I had walked into something I should not have. As if this were something private, and I, an intruder.

I feel I should stop now, and apologize. For the delay, for the hiatus, for my inability to be contacted (which to be fair is more a side effect of my environment and isn’t really my fault.) Three weeks later, and here I am reporting: My time in Korea was wonderful. I learned plenty, ate lots of delicious Korean food, learned how to read Hangul, got accustomed to eating with chopsticks, and generally spent most of the time cursing and sweating at my friend Ian as we climbed seemingly every hill possible.

I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Asia, or a better tour guide and companion. We saw so much, ate so much, and I even helped him find the local microbreweries to help ease his last two months in the country. As I’ve learned in the intermediate time: Seoul is a city of comforts. Their metro runs regularly and is more or less clean. The cost of living is very affordable, as long as you are not interested in property. There is generally available air conditioning, wifi, and accessible restaurants. The alphabet is easy to learn, so you can read just about anything, even if you don’t know what you’re saying (which, trust me, is way more useful than it sounds.) For all the culture shock and the alienation you feel, it is a remarkably easy place to visit, and I highly recommend it.