“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.

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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.

“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?

“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.

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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.

“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.

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” -Marcus Tullius Cicero

A couple of days ago I took the chance to visit my grandfather’s grave, and it left me with a profound realization: Cemeteries are weird.

Welcome to Things That Are Weird Part, uh, VIII? I Dunno, Anyway: Boneyards and Boneheads!

Ever since I was a little kid, cemeteries have been a stressful place for me. This is not due to losing loved ones, or creepy stories about ghosts and ghouls. I’m not worried about zombie attacks or running into the Mystery, Inc. crew (Ten points to Gryffindor for the Scooby Doo reference!) I’m not even worried about the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who.

I just don’t like walking on people’s graves. But seriously, where else is there to walk?

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I’d get closer Grandpa, but I don’t want to step on your face.

Okay, I know people are buried under more than like 4 inches of dirt, so I’m not standing on anyone’s face. Ever since the 17th Century and that whole Black Plague thing, people have been buried 6 feet under, much to the chagrin of grave robbers (although it’s actually like 4 feet on average in the US, either because the depth was deemed unnecessary after the plague or because people’s feet used to be smaller.) So yeah, I know I’m not stepping on a person’s corpse, but when you’re there in front of a tombstone you start thinking that maybe six feet isn’t so far down (Ten points from Gryffindor for the Creed reference.)

Keeping this in mind, I generally try to do the movie-thing where you pick out a path between headstones, though I don’t usually look as cool as the hardboiled cop visiting his ex-partner’s grave. I had a conscious moment, however, where I considered that my grandfather had been cremated, meaning there was no body buried there and I was safe to tread upon his plot. It was nice to relax a moment, and just look at his plaque. (Of course, this means I forgot about picking a path altogether and then later realized I was standing on someone again.)

All jokes aside, I did actually come to a conclusion during my visit: While I enjoyed going with my family, visiting a cemetery should be a personal thing. It was good to go out there, just so I am able to find the grave again, if nothing else. As the youngest grandchild, I never really got to speak to my grandfather man-to-man. Hearing about him from my grandmother, it seems like the man generated too many stories for just one lifetime. But I guess that’s the best way to go, really.

“Ohana means family. And family means no one gets left behind… or forgotten.” -Stitch, Lilo & Stitch (2002)

I almost didn’t get a post up for today, which was really starting to bug me.

Even though it doesn’t matter in the log run whether I manage to post every weekday, it’s become very important to me that I keep to the schedule I made in my statement of intent for as long as I can.

I appreciate my readers very much, but this isn’t for your sake. I made that clear very early on. I love that you read what I write, but at the end of the day I am maintaining this blog just to prove to myself that I can.

Recently it’s been harder to keep up. Preparing to leave the country has kept me very busy, and I don’t spend as much time distracting myself as I used to, hence the decline in goofy posts. I used to write posts roughly a week ahead, now I’m lucky if it’s 24 hours in advance. Fitting in blogging with the rest of what I am doing has put other things on standby, like sometimes personal hygiene.

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Poof levels are high.

Yesterday was supposed to be a catch-up day. A day to write some posts, finish some prep work for China, you know. But no plan survives first contact with the enemy. There were factors in play that would hinder my productivity. For example: I had family in town.

Basically, I never stood a chance.

So instead I took some time to relax and have breakfast (which I appreciated.) I had a shower and a shave (which everyone else appreciated.) I took my uncle I drop off his rental car. I visited my grandfather’s grave. I had dinner with my aunts and uncles.

The truth is, I may not be able to keep up my writing pace once I leave the US. It may not be my choice, since China and the Internet don’t always mix. I may simply just be busy.

But sometimes life just happens, and instead of a burst of productivity, you get a day with your family.

And that’s okay.

“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.”