“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)