“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.

“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.

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.

“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.

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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:

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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.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” -Abraham Lincoln

Most of my friends have now graduated college. As they emerge, one by one, into the harsh light of what most people like to call the “real world,” more than a few have turned to those of us who came before, a half formed question on their lips: “So what to I do now?”

It’s been more than a year and a half since I was in college, which is scary in itself, but I think it’s worse because it’s already been so long and I still have no idea what I am supposed to be doing.

What do you do after university, when up until then you’ve lead a structured existence? I started kindergarten at the normal time, progressing into the next grade with every one of my late-August birthdays (It took me until second grade to understand things were not planned this way on purpose.) I spent every year from age five to twenty-two deeply immersed in our education system. Learning was my purpose. It was a fact of life.

I loved my education. I love learning, and I hope I never forget that there are still plenty of ways to broaden and sharpen my mind. I had the good fortune to be handed an institutionalized schooling, a good brain, and parents who encouraged me to use both. I was taught to think critically. I was taught to be aware of possibilities. I was taught that there are many ways to go through life, and that my education would allow me access to more paths. I was taught that, while there are many careers and roads out there, a college degree would lead me to a better one.

This, we have found out, is not the case.

A lot of us have been told, time and time again, that our degree does not matter. Many jobs ask for a Bachelor’s degree, but also 5 years of work experience in your field, which you haven’t had time to do because you were spending that time getting a Bachelor’s degree. Which you only did, again, because otherwise you can’t get a job in your field. I wish I was joking. I am not.

We spend our lives being helped and guided through a process which promises us a bright future but doesn’t necessarily set us up for the next step. When we apply to jobs, get rejected, and then ask the people who are a part of the system why, we get told we’re too entitled, too lazy. We don’t have enough experience, we don’t know what it’s like to be responsible. Every magazine laments the poor work ethic of the “Millenial” generation. Everywhere we turn we see our peers in jobs they are over qualified for. We spent our spare time on summer jobs in order to pay for the unpaid internships that will set us apart for future employers, we shouldered tens of thousands of dollars in debt, we followed every piece of advice we were given by our “mentors,” and when we start on the path to our future we are ungrateful, that we shouldn’t expect hand-outs.

So what do I say to my friends graduating after me? What comfort or direction can I give to someone who is just as lost as I am? How is this not just the blind leading the blind?

I don’t have an answer. I may be embarking on an exciting new journey, but like so many of my friends before me I can’t help but feel like I am simply running away from the problem. Those of my friends who seem to have their lives put together have been working day and night, heart and soul toward their goal, and some of them haven’t made it.

Some have decided that more education is the answer, since their undergraduate career is seemingly for naught. Some have accepted corporate positions, hoping to climb the ladders already established, betting that their path is simply too well traveled to lead them to a dead end. Some have started out on their own, forming small businesses and chasing their dream. I can’t say that one is any better than the others. They all have their obstacles.

The best advice I have ever been given is the only thing I feel comfortable passing along: Focus on the thing you would do for free, if you were simply allowed to ignore all other factors. Isolate this desire, and do whatever thing you think will start you on that path, no matter how big or how small.

Set yourself that goal, and do whatever it takes. Because you’re the only one who will take you there, and you have the rest of your life to arrive.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” -Robert Frost

My friend Alejandra left the States again last Saturday to go back to China. She is actually staying and teaching at the same University I am heading to, which makes sense seeing as she was the person who recommended me to the University and vice versa. She has been in Nanchang for four or five months and came back to see her family, which for me came with some very poignant realizations.

First off, it was nice to see my friend had gone and come back from China, that she was alive and well, etc. I have to be honest, it made me feel a lot better and a lot safer, and I know my friends and family relaxed a little as well. It may just be me, but what starts as a joke (“Well, I mean, China can be very intense and potentially dangerous”) quickly becomes a full-blown anxiety (“What if they steal my kidneys?”), and even though I know my mind was just playing tricks on me, seeing my friend whole and hale and with all her vital organs lets me sleep a little easier.

The other major realization came when I said goodbye to her. Alejandra had a really early morning flight, so I didn’t exactly see her off, but what I did do was send her a message over the WeChat app she told me to download, which I’m sure was just as heartwarming and pretty much the same. What struck me at the time was that, even though I am leaving the US at the beginning of August, I won’t see her again until much later that month. In my mind, my departure date has always been the important part, whereas she won’t see me for roughly three weeks after. 

What struck me was that I am the person she will see the soonest. I am sure she has made friends in Nanchang, but as far as seeing her family and close friends she only had those three weeks. Now, let’s get one thing straight: Alejandra is much more of a badass than I am. I’m not worried for her sake. But it reminded me that I will be doing almost the same thing. My tenure at this University will not match Alejandra’s perfectly, so there will be plenty of time when I will be in the same, semi-lonely position. And if I get my way, I will be doing this semi-lonely, adventure-having thing for a long time.

It’s not nearly as terrifying as it would have been a few years ago. Now, most of these little anxieties just manifest as a weird, internal itch. I find loneliness to be a pretty easy problem to have, especially since the Internet makes it so easy to speak with people in different countries. But with each little realization, I am inching toward a full understanding of the changes that are about to occur in my life. When I come back, which I hopefully won’t be back to stay for several years, a lot of things will probably be different.

I didn’t have that issue when I studied abroad: my friends were still in Bloomington, and my new friends that traveled with me to Barcelona largely came back to Bloomington as well. Basically, everything just got better for me. It probably won’t be the same this time, though hopefully most of the changes will be good for my friends and family. I am fully expecting that, should I decide to live in the States again, my friends will be at much different points in their lives. For one thing, I know my parents will have moved, and my childhood home will be gone. It will be strange to deal with the new realities. I am starting to feel like I am taking a huge leap, hopefully forward, and I’m not sure exactly what I will be coming back to in the future. 

It’s kind of funny to me that I have already written about how bad I am at saying goodbye, and that I wrote that about my last job, which to be fair was only about 7 months. It’s funny because I’m so much worse at saying goodbye to my friends, the ones I’ve known for years. I’ve had to say a few goodbyes already, and more than ever I feel I’m at a loss for words. What do you say to someone who is still in school, but who will probably start their own adventure before you return? What do you say to someone who is in a similar position, ready to start their own life, and yet has just as little of an idea as to what they really want?

I want to say some of those goodbyes again. I want to give better hugs, because I wasn’t really paying attention to how it was supposed to be a “goodbye” hug. I want to come up with the right thing to say, the right amount of confidence and sadness. I want to give better answers than, “Oh yeah, I’m really excited.” I want to have the right words, because having the right words is what I do. 

But I didn’t have the words then, and I wouldn’t have them now. I think the best words I can give my friends are, “I love you,” and “Thank you,” and “Good luck.”

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” ― John Green, Paper Towns

I spent last week in Bloomington, IN for a kind of a going-away week-long vacation. This may seem kind of redundant, seeing as I have been unemployed for nearly two weeks and have a few more before leaving for China, but I guess I’m just the kind of guy who takes vacations while I’m already on a vacation. Regardless, I think I needed it, in a small way. I needed to say goodbye to some friends, my house, and the city of Bloomington itself. I mean, I did live there for five years, and even though aspects of it drove me crazy, it was my home.

Anyway, saying goodbye to Bloomington made me start thinking more and more about what will be good and bad about China, and I started a list in my head. It’s kind of a “pros and cons,” except I’m already officially going, so it’s more of a “things that I’m excited to leave behind” and “things you’re going to hear me complain about in future posts.” I’ve done a little research and talked to friends, so here we go.

Things I will miss very much:

Bread – Apparently, almost all of the bread that is commercially available in the Pacific Thea- I mean, South-East Asia, is lighter and sweeter than the bread we have in the States. So I probably won’t be able to find Marbled Rye, or Sourdough, or Asiago Cheese stuff. On the plus side I might lose a few pounds just out of sadness.

Personal Space – Everyone stereotypes the Eastern population as being rather small, and apparently we’re not just being racist, we’re being accurately racist. Also, let’s be honest, no one who has met me will call me a small man, so I am probably not going to always find adequate space for my frame. For those who don’t know, the bubble of personal space we consider common courtesy in the US is not a thing that happens in other countries.

Public Facilities – It’s not that China doesn’t have public bathrooms, it’s that you probably don’t want to use them. I’m not really looking forward to training myself to only use the bathroom in my flat, but from what I hear it will be much better than dealing with the squat toilets. And yes, “squat” refers to your bodily orientation, it’s not just an adjective describing how they are short and sturdy.

English – I am fairly confident that American and British Imperialism have been effective enough that I will have only the occasional problem finding someone with a common language as long as I stay in a city. However, just because the average citizen speaks enough English to sell me something doesn’t mean I will be able to converse with them. I’ve lived in another country before, but when one language failed me, I had another at my disposal. I doubt many people in the Republic speak Spanish.

Things I will not miss, thank you very much:

Driving – You may have noticed I do a lot of complaining about driving and traffic. I mean, I know I can be pretty subtle, but I have a feeling most of my readers are aware that I sing the praises of public transportation and in turn would rather set my vehicle and everyone else’s on fire than drive every day. It’s not even that I mind driving, just that paying for gas and repairs causes me financial stress, and being in traffic causes me to experience more anxiety-fueled rage than a self-conscious UFC fighter on steroids. In other words, I’d rather take the bus.

Paying Rent – China doesn’t really have a renting culture, and even if they did, my university is going to supply me with a place to stay. I hear the lodgings are far from luxurious but as Great Grampa Alphonse always used to say “Anything free is worth saving up fer,” (Escanaba in da Moonlight.) So, even though I’m half-way certain the university is only giving it to me free because they would feel bad making me pay for it, I’m excited to see that rent check go away.

Other peoples’ English – Seriously, have you listened to the people around you? In China at least I can assume their lack of ability in my language is because, well, it’s not their language. But here? It’s just shameful how some of our population refuse to take the time to learn how to speak correctly. Furthermore, as the people in China won’t speak as much English, I won’t have listen to their conversations. So pretty much what I am saying is that this entry probably should have just been titled “Other people.”

Things that, oh god, why don’t they have this in China:

Good Beer – I have been told the beer in China is at least better than Korean beer, but that’s not exactly setting a high bar. Once again, if you see me in person it’s pretty obvious that I like good food and good beer, and while China has some great food, they don’t fulfill the second half of my flawed lifestyle. It sounds like it will be easier to start my own brewery than to find something worth drinking there. So I guess I had better get started quickly because who wants to stop drinking beer?

Hugs – My friend Ale tells me that, while physical contact like holding hands or interlocking arms is pretty common, no one gives each other hugs in this part of China. This is going to be a problem for me. I am a hugger. I hug. I only hope that if I act strange enough, people will begin to accept my hugs. Either that, or Ale and I will be hugging each other and crying fairly frequently.

Humor – This one is going to be tough. My humor ranges from absurd to dark to awkwardly poignant, and I will probably need some time to get used to not making wisecracks and laughing at things that other people tend to find off-putting. There’s also that whole “they aren’t native English speakers” thing, which makes it hard to bridge the funny-gap.

BEER – But really, I’m going to miss craft beer. Like a lot.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” -Mark Twain

When I was four years old, I couldn’t wait to be five.

I remember telling my mom this, about a week before my birthday. I was so ready to be done with age four, because five seemed so much older. Five is the number of fingers on my hand. It is the next biggest denomination of coin (in the US) after the 1-cent penny.

This continued throughout my childhood, as I am sure it did for everyone else. When I was 11 I couldn’t wait to be 13, to be a teenager. When I was 14 I wanted to be 16, so I could drive, and so on.

It makes sense, especially when privileges are involved, like your driver’s license or the drinking age. I think it’s normal when you consider age-based events, because previously you weren’t allowed and all of the sudden you’re part of the club. I remember this feeling distinctly at 21, because one minute it was illegal for me to possess or consume alcohol, an industry which is extensively marketed and was responsible for over $400 billion in 2010. It seemed absurd, and I still can’t help but feel that way.

Nearing the age of 24, there aren’t a lot of landmark birthdays left available to me. At 25 I can rent a car, and at 26 I need to make sure I have my own insurance again. Not incredibly exciting prospects for me, in all honesty.

However, despite a lack of systemic rewards, age still seems attractive to me and my peers. In my time working at the health care center it was frequently remarked upon that I was “so young,” or “a baby,” despite the fact that we had coworkers who were younger than me. People commonly used their age as a point of validity, of pride, saying, “I’m XX years old, they can’t treat me like that,” as if their age mattered more than the way they handled themselves.

Being “so young” what I have yet to understand is when the tables turn, and people start wishing they weren’t getting older. Some of this is easy to understand, as health issues and financial responsibilities have a tendency to pile up on a person. And yet there seems to be more, as if people seem to be nostalgically wishing they had had more time as a young person. As if by getting older they’ve missed opportunities to have a life more along the lines of what they wanted. I can’t say they are entirely wrong; even I, the baby, know that windows of opportunity close.

However, I do think they are mistaken.

I will not admit that life goes downhill. I will not accept that age is something that can hold you back, that it is the defining factor of our existence. I will not allow health problems and insecurities to weigh me down as I get older.

I will treat my body and mind well. I will live and laugh and do the things I want to do, only at the time that I want to do them. In the few years I have been lucky to have so far, I have met people younger and yet wiser, older and somehow more free.

In the next sixty to eighty years I am hoping to prove my theory is correct, and that the recipe for a happy life is as follows: Work hard, travel far, eat well, and smile freely.

And I hope you join me.