“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.

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“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.

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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.