A couple of weeks ago or more I had a short talk with Mathieu Arsenault about goal setting and how he structures the multitude of activities he is involved in. It wasn’t so much what he said, the brain is amazing in how it forgets everything you have learned in the past, but more the timing of the conversation, which has lead me to attempt to re-prioritize the activities I spend time on. Without a boss or employees I tend to spend time on work which though “very important,” doesn’t really help us buy groceries. I really love how serendipitous conversations can lead to all kinds of new insights.
I haven’t really found a way to fit my blogging and twitter activities into the mix but I’m trying to find a way to justify it (it feels similar to how I have been trying to justify buying a new running watch just because it’s on sale).
Robert Pollack: Rethinking Our Vision of Success
How do we understand that our 100,000-fold excess of numbers on this planet, plus what we do to feed ourselves, makes us a tumor on the body of the planet? I don’t want the future that involves some end to us, which is a kind of surgery of the planet. That’s not anybody’s wish. How do we revert ourselves to normal while we can? How do we re-enter the world of natural selection, not by punishing each other, but by volunteering to take success as meaning success and survival of the future, not success in stuff now? How do we do that? We don’t have a language for that.
We do have structures that value the future over current success. I’m at an institution that has one of those structures. Columbia University is one of the most well-endowed universities in the world. That endowment, which is permanent, according to the economic structure of the country, is stable, it produces wealth without taxation, and that wealth is, by government regulation, required to be spent in the public interest. My job is in the public interest, my teaching is in the public interest, my salary comes that way, my sabbatical, which allows me to find the time to talk to you now. The idea of an endowment is perhaps an expandable idea. If I were talking this way, not to you, John, but to the people I hope are watching this, it’s the most wealthy and powerful of them that I wish I was talking to. The more you have, the more you can set aside in a de facto endowment to stabilize the present so that the future doesn’t collapse on us.
That’s not a taxation. That’s not a redistribution. It’s a withholding. It’s an agreement to do with less now for the sake of the future. I don’t see economic structures that do that. I don’t see politics that does that. But I see kids, like those in the street this week, knowing if we don’t do something like that, they don’t have a world.
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with “Naga”, my Chinese teacher, around a number of very simple topics like foods, our past life in Hsinchu, and some of the differences we have discovered between Canada and Taiwan. With the exception of a brief foray into low carb diets, this is about the level of conversation I can handle these days.
We talked briefly about challenges, or the comparative lack their of in my day to day life here.
Some long term residents of Taiwan might chuckle, but just walking outside your door in Hsinchu presents some challenge; you never know when a scooter or a car might come screaming down the side walk. Crossing the street safely introduces a whole other level of difficulty. Add learning a complex language, a culture which beneath the surface is radically different from my own, and high stress work environments, and it might be easy to see how life here is far more sane.
With the exception of possibly being malled by a scooter, I do miss the challenges I faced there – the insanity. Living in a foreign land, even for the length of time I did, keeps you on your toes, forces you to constantly learn new things, and in the case of Hsinchu force feeds you a steady diet of stress. Perhaps it’s telling that I miss the workplace most of all – the hard problems, ridiculous timelines, and the difficulties in communication (I do recognize that my family doesn’t miss the amount of time I needed to normalize after work).
She brought up a salient conclusion that being in the place where you grew up can make you too comfortable, and that I need to create the conditions here that allow for the same amount growth that I experienced there (but for the sake of those around me, without the stress). Achieving that kind of growth alone might be the biggest challenge of all.
A Ghurka rifleman escaped from a Japanese prison in south Burma and walked six hundred miles alone through the jungles to freedom. The journey took him five months, but he never asked the way and he never lost the way. For one thing he could not speak Burmese and for another he regarded all Burmese as traitors. He used a map and when he reached India he showed it to the Intelligence officers, who wanted to know all about his odyssey. Marked in pencil were all the turns he had taken, all the roads and trail forks he has passed, all the rivers he had crossed. It had served him well, that map. The Intelligence officers did not find it so useful. It was a street map of London.
From Bugles and a Tiger, My Life in the Ghurkas via Steven Pressfield
I walked out of the house today without my keys, which resulted in a taxi drive to downtown. This is surely further evidence of my cognitive decline, which I attribute to my laziness towards studying Chinese or deep reading of any kind. If there is a bright side, it’s the knowledge that it’s pretty difficult to get into our house without the fob and key. No windows to slide in through.
The sociologist Robert Stebbins identifies “serious leisure” activities as the most fulfilling: pursuits that require regular refinement of skills learned in earnest. Hobbies are declining, but a hobby is exactly the kind of activity that adds value to the weekend. Stamp collectors and basement inventors may not be cool, but they know the benefits of becoming fully immersed in an activity and losing track of time – that rejuvenating “flow” state.
A hobby is an activity undertaken purely for its own sake, but technology attempts to monetise it. A friend used to make beautiful earrings occasionally. Almost ritualistically, she would buy the beads, and carefully craft the small, coloured jewels in a quiet workspace. Then came Etsy. Now she makes beautiful earrings and sells them, ships them and manages this business along with a full-time job and a family. What was leisure became labour. The side hustle is a weekend thief, but in a time of stagnant incomes, many must choose income over time.
Even though she is exhausted and a little miserable, my friend is praised for her hard work. The Protestant mindset has a firm grip in the culture: live to work, not work to live. We get competitive about our busyness (“I stayed until 9pm!” “I stayed until 10pm!”) because it makes us look wanted and worthy – supply and demand. It is hard to shake the ingrained value that time must be utilitarian and occupied, which is why taking two days off can seem suspect, or a bit like failure.
I was just about to sit down and do some really unimportant work but I think I’ll go hang out with my son instead.
Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame. Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.
I’ve procrastinated for weeks but I’ve finally got around to wearing my new progressive lenses today. It’s absolutely maddening so far, especially trying to find the sweet spot while working. Generally, I don’t need to wear glasses when I work but I’d like to add a bit of distance between my face and monitors. This places the laptop and external monitor just outside the realm of crisp text, but the glasses don’t seem to be much clearer.
Moving my head from side to side while looking at my desk produces an “Inception” like effect, which I think if I kept repeating I might actually enter into some kind of trance like state, or fall out of my chair.
I get the feeling this is going to take some time.
I’ve had the (mis)fortune of living in an eclectic range of places over the past 30+ years.
I remember distinctly the room I rented in Antigonish that was lousy with fleas. I would lay in bed at night and watch the fleas bounce off the blanket, but being a poor student and new to Antigonish, I had no where else to go. Apparently before I arrived, the room I was renting was the family dogs favorite place to sleep. Somehow they seemed offended when I no longer wanted to live there and later moved in with my now wife. I guess I have that dogs fleas to thank for a long and happy relationship. Sheryl’s apartment was pretty special too, featuring a shower head directly above the toilet. Such convenience!
The 10 years in Toronto were largely uneventful, other than the wide range of characters I lived with and the extreme noise from the St. Clair Ave Street Cars. There was the house in Malton that was condemned and I was forced to move out. There was the room I rented in Scarborough from a very bitter, and constantly drunk landlord, and her equally drunk daughter. I remember renting a couch, yes a couch was all I could afford, in one town house, and the guy who broke in through the living room window only to be met by 6 large college students. He sure could run.
My 20 years in Taiwan understandably brought a wide range of experiences. Our landlady in Taipei didn’t like my wife as much as me because my chopstick technique was better than hers. She always shared sweets with me first and then seemingly reluctantly offered them to Sheryl. Our first apartment in Hsinchu suffered from water pressure and large cockroach problems. Turn on the shower tap and dust came out. Eventually I worked out a system of periodically running out of the shower to the kitchen to turn on the hot water, thereby gaining a comfortable flow of hot water. Also, I was introduced to “those people” who train pigeons with fireworks, fireworks that used to explode outside our bedroom window on Saturday mornings. This apartment on Minzu Rd. also had the distinction of being where we experienced the 921 earthquake, the sound of which I will never forget.
Our next house in Hsinchu was an old 3 story alley house, which was nice except for the electrical wires which I melted due to my desire to have the computer and lights on at the same time. Once after a particularly heavy rainfall the drains on the roof became plugged and we had this pretty waterfall pouring down the 3 floors of the house. The hazardous waste that would flow in the drainage channel at the back of our house was becoming a concern, considering we had a new born to look after, thus we moved again.
That brought us to an even larger house in the wilds of Xiangshan. 5 stories of space which necessitated the purchase of an equal number of sofas and matching chairs. Lovely area, perfect for our growing family of 2 kids and 2 dogs, replete with parks and train station nearby, but oddly for Taiwan, no convenience stores in sight. We seemingly had no problems, nor much to complain about, except the previous waterfall was now in our basement bathroom, and the abundance of large wolf spiders that would keep smaller creatures to a minimum. Then we noticed the mold. Taiwan is sometimes lovingly called the big mold, and walls often have to be treated and painted many times to keep it in check. You don’t leave leather laying around and purchasing dehumidifiers is recommended. But this was different – large fuzzy and often mushroom like growth. Our kids developed problems, especially our son, perhaps it was allergies, so we left the “sick house” for the hustle of the Science Park.
After sealing all the windows to keep out the poison air and replacing the institutional beige walls with yellow, red and grey we settled into our much smaller apartment a short walk from all the conveniences that we could require. It was interesting and depressing at the same time to live at the epicentre of much of the global 3C supply chain. Despite these apartments being in demand, for a couple years no one lived above us, and luckily no one has ever lived below us (otherwise we would have been their nightmare neighbour). The first neighbour living above would serenade his partner to sleep every night with his ukulele, nice if he could play. The second neighbour wasn’t in the building often but when she was, she would take to vacuuming and cleaning after 10pm. It was the only time we knew she existed, I assumed she worked in China or elsewhere, and just used the apartment when she was required to be in Hsinchu. The next and most recent neighbour would come home late every night, about 10pm or so, with their toddler, who being a toddler needed to spend 30 minutes jumping up and down before settling down at night. And they constantly dropped heavy things, how or what was a source of constant mystery. There is something about that unique sharp sound that caused my anxiety to rise. A full nights sleep was rare. Klonopin (Clonazepam) for those who have panic attacks with vegeto-vascular dystonia, and they also help to relieve muscle tension, anxiety, anxiety, tremor of the head and hands and other types of it. After Klonopin pills, fear and excitement completely disappear, the tremor was gone as was written at KlonopinTabs.com. But I would not advise to take all the time, then there will be a very strong withdrawal syndrome and you will be worse than before you started taking it. It is better to drink one-time before an important event. Side by side with there was no adoption, only a slight drowsiness.
We are early risers. The kids need to get to school early and I have to run before the heat of the day. To get a good nights sleep we need to be asleep long before 10, 5am comes quickly.
Living in China was the same but different. I lived in the managers accommodation, a modern newly built building where I had a large 2 bedroom apartment to myself, luxurious. I would send pictures to my wife teasing her about how great the company provided apartment was compared to what was provided to us in Taiwan. Outside the building was immaculate with an army of workers keeping the environment pristine. But, as luck would have it I had an upstairs neighbour who worked the afternoon shift which would bring her home at about 10 to 10:30 each evening. I can still here the reverberations of her high heel shoes as she stamped across the floor, and the arguments she had with her boyfriend on her mobile phone. As a manager I set my own hours, so could sleep in if I liked, but unfortunately this construction noise (another example) started at sunrise every morning except Sunday. I considered the high heels and the construction noise a form of mental torture.
I’ve never rented in Charlottetown and one of the conditions for us to return here was I never wanted to step foot in an apartment building. Buy or rent a house was to be the only option. Then we realized the realities of trying to find a place to live in Prince Edward Island. Deadlines were approaching. I was panicking. I couldn’t find any house rentals and buying a house remotely from Taiwan proved difficult and risky. Time was running out, so when my cousin cooly stated that he saw some places to rent I called the property manager immediately. My cousin inspected the apartment, and I rented it sight unseen.
Now I have a new upstairs neighbour. He’s what we call in running a heel striker, and every evening and morning he is on some mission to go places in his apartment. Like office workers who walk fast to look important and busy. The building is new, and attractive by Charlottetown standards, but it’s constructed so that it reverberates some sounds in an exaggerated way. I have no doubt that my upstairs neighbour has no idea the effect of his walking style, or that my kitchen table shakes in the morning. The air pressure change from closing a door has a similar but reduced effect. If it impacts my life in a negative way, beyond the already annoyance, I will have a polite word, but beyond that I can’t compel someone to walk “correctly”.
My cousin cautioned me about renting this property due to it requiring a fixed term lease. I read the Residential Property Act before signing and interpreted the act as giving me the right to terminate the contract with 60 days notice. My interpretation was incorrect. It’s very lessee sided and the first contract I have ever entered in without an escape clause. Moving so quickly after arriving is no joy anyway, so it looks like I may be in for another living arrangement to remember.
I stopped into one of my favorite places this afternoon enroute to the eye doctor. The coffee has been pretty consistent at Ink Café over the years and I am going to miss dropping in occasionally. Though I am sure a place exists, I have yet to find any equivalent in my travels throughout Atlantic Canada. Fueled by a couple latte’s and a piece of cheese cake I managed to be productive for a couple hours before I had to leave for the eye doctor.
Being of the age where its common to require reading glasses or progressive lens, I’ve been driven insane by the constant need to take my glasses off whenever I want to read something near to my face. What generally happens afterwards, is a mad scramble around the house whenever I need to go out or watch TV due to not remembering where I placed them.
Hopefully progressive lenses will eliminate that hassle. Without health insurance the visit cost more – ~$30 CAN for prescription in hand. Another reason I will miss Taiwan, cheap near immediate access to quality health care.
Next up was a visit to the “iPhone doctor”. These repair places are everywhere here and they offer all kinds of upgrades. The place I went into smelled of greasy KFC but the owner and his wife seemed nice enough. My daughter goes through phones like others go through tissue. A new screen for her old iPhone 5s is going cost $60CAN for non-factory original. I might update the battery for an additional $30. BYOD seems to be the best way to go in Canada with the exorbitant fees, so this price certainly beats purchasing through a telecom, or buying off Kijiji.
For the past 15 years or so I’ve kept a diary of sorts, this blog and others also serve as a diary but I haven’t really been able to utilize them as such. I first started just keeping audio recordings, a lazy way of record keeping, and for the past 4 years have been using Day One to write short notes, rants, goals, photos etc. as a form of cheap therapy, and to serve as a record of the days events. I’m not religious about it, but my memory being as it is I find it valuable to look back at the events and mistakes of the past. Day One has a great “on this day” feature that helps with that.
Going through past entries I see that we were all much sicker in the past. My recent bought of sneezes were extremely short lived, all of a morning, and it was truly an anomaly as outside of gastro intestinal issues I seldom get sick. Whether this is due to my relative isolation, better diet, exercise or a combination of all I don’t know. But on a number of occasions in the past I was complaining about bad head colds and other maladies.
Some problems repeat themselves. 10 years ago one of our dogs had me up through the night due to her crying and I was knee deep in doggy poop as a result. Just the other night Sheryl, who does have a bad cold, was up through the night with our other dog who was crying because she needed to go outside to relieve herself.
Lastly, it seems now, as then, I get stuck in these productivity sucking deep dives that take up the better part of the morning. Things like reading past diaries and the resulting introspection.
“I don’t need as much money to live which means I don’t have to work as much,” explains Andrew Odom, who with his wife, Crystal, and their three-year-old daughter recently downsized from their 248-square foot house in eastern North Carolina into a 27-foot travel trailer. “Every penny we would have paid toward a normal American house goes toward living life and adventuring and figuring out the next step, whether that’s living in a yurt or moving overseas.”
There’s plenty of new evidence to suggest that we’d all be happier shrinking our footprint and rethinking the American dream. According to a report published earlier this year by a team from Cornell University, people generally feel happier and more fulfilled when they spend money on experiences rather than material possessions; the anticipation of the outing—canoeing a river, climbing a peak, pulling off a bucket-list expedition—bumps up the happiness factor. In 2010, researchers at the London School of Economics correlated data from more than a million people who recorded their emotional states and locations on an app called Mappiness. The takeaway: We feel happier when we’re outside (yeah, we knew that, too), especially—go figure—near water.
The Downsizing Uprising
I’ve been following the tiny house movement with some interest, and have checked out a model home on display at the Science Park Hub, but have since decided that there is no way we could possibly downsize to that extent. People need some space to themselves, at least I do, and tiny homes mean you are together all the time. But I do get the appeal, the need, and with the fact that I am not getting any younger feel the next house we live in will be much smaller than the current norm. Also, I think we have always felt that “experiences” trump material positions in out life. Something that is hard to explain, let alone share with family, who like most people see success in the light of material gains.
My mother retired at 55 and most of her generation dreamt of early retirement like hers. Unfortunately by the time many of her generation made it to retirement, including my mother, they were so riddled with health problems that living the life they dreamed of became impossible. People I know in Taiwan and China are much the same, but at a different scale. They work insane hours, sometimes for great money, in the hope that in the end they can have enough money to have the freedom to walk away from the pressures of killing themselves.
I never shared this dream of working towards an arbitrary date, a date after reached that you could start living a life worth living. I had different ideas of how I wanted to lead my life, and by my parents definition, I’ve been retired for years now. It’s not been unicorns and rainbows of course, I don’t have a pot of gold, and have little interest, nor the ability, in buying the trappings of wealth like my peers. I’ve failed more times than I can count, I really wanted to work for a select few companies in China, but life has a way of changing your path. Their have been many challenges over the past few years and with a move to Prince Edward Island the greatest challenges are yet to come (how to survive in a region with little possibility of employment), but at least the battles I face are of my own choosing. And the things I have experienced!
I’m copying the following verbatim because I think it expresses much about my ideas of retirement. From Jan Chipchase’s great newsletter:
So what is retirement?
In the Bay Area, the topic of fuck-you money comes up a lot as a retirement goal. In part it’s because the conversation around income, stock and finance is so tied to the mythology of the area, and that most people know of a social or work peer who has achieved the freedom to step away from their job. What I don’t like about the phrase is that it’s a reaction to a negative, it implies earning good money and being happy cannot coexist. I’ve been around corporations most of my life, and understand what they, and the society at large, values financially and why. Not all jobs are intellectually rewarding or provide space for personal growth, but there are many that are — if you’re in the right place at the right time, skillful, and lucky.
Back to sitting on the verandah in Mill Valley — my colleague defined retirement as “doing only what you want to do”. She acknowledged she was part-way there, and suggested that I was fully retired.
So what is my retirement?
Four things provide the freedom that she described:
- The first, and most obvious is in knowing the cost of living and having the savings to breathe.
- The second is that Studio D passion projects have diversified our income streams to the point where we no-longer require consulting clients. The Handbook, SDR Traveller, retreats, expeditio
ns, plus a few other things bubbling up, all generate relatively predictable income streams; and while revenues ebb and flow, they complement each other well. It means that every consulting client project is taken on for the right reasons.
- The third is in maintaining a light footprint, including no offices or full time employees. This might change if the right opportunity came up, but there’s no rush.
- The fourth, and most important, is in recognizing how little money is required to be happy, fulfilled. I start each year with a figure in mind for the year to live comfortably; after which everything, including whether to take on more work, is optional. We achieved this year’s baseline by the end of February.
If you know me, you’ll appreciate the hours I put in to bringing these things to life, and that it always takes a team. But for all of the past four years, it has not once felt like work. Is that retirement? You tell me.
Years past, New Years Day meant nursing hangovers or preparing for another day of too much food, now I find no better way to start off the new year than with a race, especially when it is with my favorite running partners (I think the kids are a bit more interested in the snacks than the challenge of the race). Last year it was the Xiamen marathon, this year was a 10k run at a comfortable pace, but pain free. I’m committed this year to getting myself stronger so that I cannot only continue running, but hopefully over the long term be a better runner.
On the art of flipping it…
Towards the end of my 30s, I learned to accept that things sometimes don’t work out and that life throws curveballs. One thing that I always say at work, and that my team has adopted, is when something comes our way that is seemingly a problem, or is really not good, I just say, ‘Let’s flip it, let’s flip it.’
So you say, ‘Okay, this sucks. This is absolutely not what I anticipated. It’s absolutely not what I want, but I’m going to flip it on its head and make it good.’
I feel that is something that I’m also teaching my children because you can really do that. You can either start complaining and feeling sorry for yourself or you can channel all of that frustration into how can we look at this from a different angle and make it to something good.
Seriously. It starts with really small things but it is such a powerful tool to remind yourself to flip it.
This year has certainly thrown me some curve balls, but it’s important to see opportunity in the midst of big problems.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that running has been life changing for me, I run as much for my mind as my body, but at 50 it has helped me get fit and be in good general health, perhaps more so than and other time in the past. I’m bounding up stairs while people half my age are groaning in agony.
Running is a great way to establish a daily routine, enforce discipline, overcome a bit of hardship, clear my mind and if the distance is just right, usually around 10k, a great chance to practice the kind of thinking I need to do good work. For 45m – an hour you can focus on 1 – 2 problems and almost always have a solution of some sort.
But as easy an activity that it appears, I seem to struggle more than many.
I’ve only been running for a few years and during that time have participated in numerous 10 – 21k races and 4 marathons. My times are always slow, but there has been steady improvement. Unfortunately, with each year brings a new injury to overcome. Like music or any discipline worth pursuing, accomplishment requires more than just putting in the time, it requires smart practice, and I guess I haven’t been smart enough.
My first injury was when I first started running (I had tried the coach to 5K earlier but didn’t stick with it past it’s completion). I prepared before each session by stretching and warming up, and my mileage wasn’t comparatively that much. One day after a particularly beautiful run through the PEI countryside I suffered a sharp pain in my back. All I could do was lay on the floor, sitting or standing was excruciating. Unfortunately I had a flight to Taiwan the next day – the most painful flight of my life. This began my education of how the muscles are connected through-out your body and the balancing act between strengthening your muscles and over-use. I was out for a few months, not because of my back but due to my glutes.
Another injury was in preparation for a marathon. My feet were painfully sore around my ankles which resulted in a pause in my training. During the race my legs were naturally sore but my feet were in such pain that when I crossed the finish line I needed a few minutes to compose myself, lest I cry in front of my son. I adjusted my training and tried new shoes, Hoka Clifton 3’s.
No major problems developed while I was training in China for the Xiamen marathon. I didn’t work on speed but mostly spent my time working on endurance and some hill repeats. I also made the occasional trip to the company health center to do some strength training. A company sponsored 10K showed some improvement but my left foot complained and I rested for a period. I ran the Xiamen marathon, slowly, but a new problem reemerged. While running in a marathon in Miaoli I suffered from severe dehydration brought on by excessive sweating. I hadn’t trained or run before in such high temperatures. I was close then to having severe problems but managed to crawl across the finish line. At Xiamen, water intake was a constant problem with dehydration and frequent toilet breaks an issue. My feet were problematic too.
I trained over the winter in PEI for a marathon in Thailand in June. I frequented the gym and other than the freezing cold suffered no real issues – but did start to notice some stiffness in my left leg below the knee. I had to cancel the run but I thought perhaps my problems were behind me.
This summer I began my training for a marathon in October anew. My mileage was to be the same but with a more gradual build and a longer run before the taper. I also incorporated more rigorous tempo runs for the first time. Gone also were the cushy Hoka and Saucony’s that I had worn out, and in were the more responsive Salomon’s. Immediately I had problems. The heat was killing me. I was suffering excessive sweating to the extreme. My sneakers were literally filling up with sweat and I looked more like I was out swimming than running. Over than being embarrassing it was affecting my performance. Some days I would lose 3 kilo’s in water weight and I wasn’t yet running more than 21k. I eventually tuned my hydration strategy and ended up carrying 3L of water on my back for long runs. But that stiffness on my left side persisted and with a visit to a physiotherapist discovered a number of issues including that my right side was far weaker than my left. Before I could start the new exercise regime in earnest, and after a long mid-week run I developed pain in my right foot. It has been severe enough that I haven’t run in 4 days, an eternity for me, and my initial arm chair diagnosis reveals that it’s likely a mild form of plantar fasciitis.
These kind of setbacks are common for many runners, though usually they are far more serious runners than I. Running started out as an easy quick way to get out the door and get some exercise. Get up, put on your shoes, stretch, warm-up and go. Now it requires a far greater commitment to total body fitness than I ever imagined. Where we live is a bit of a dead zone for organized fitness classes, trainers and such (Hsinchu is devoid of any quick transportation options). So this is going to require a bit more discipline and commitment on my part.
A life that doesn’t include hard-won accomplishment and triumph over obstacles may not be a satisfying one. There is something deeply fulfilling — even thrilling — in doing almost anything difficult extremely well. There is a joy and pride that come from pushing yourself to another level or across a new frontier. A life devoted only to the present — to feeling good in the now — is unlikely to deliver real fulfillment. The present moment by itself it too small, too hollow. We all need a future. Something beyond and greater than our own present gratification, at which to aim or feel we’ve contributed.
The Triple Package
Life can disappear on us just like a cup of coffee consumed on autopilot. In other words, to really experience life itself, as opposed to just more thinking about life, we need to remember we’re having an experience.
The Alternative To Thinking All The Time
I turn 50 today. A fact I find very hard to believe as I feel the same as I always have, just lighter and faster.
The day started with hugs and handmade cards from the kids while I drank my first strong cup of coffee for the day. Next up was a slow 5K run around the nearby track – in this heat with each 5k I lose about 1kg of water weight.
The day continued with a trip to the FamilyMart to call a taxi from the service console there. Thanks to what must be a powerful lobby group, Taiwan seems to have outlawed Uber and has no real local alternative. I miss the convenience of 滴滴出行. The taxi delivered me to Fe21 where I watched the first of two ridiculous movies I had planned for the day, The Mummy and the slightly more torturous Transformers. I enjoy being entertained by the silliness of Hollywood movies with their high production values and sometimes great production art. Lunch was at my favorite coffee shop Ink Café where I enjoyed a latte, sandwich and salad, and some free sweet they were handing out.
The day ended takeout sashimi from our local favorite, cheesecake from again, Ink Café, and a late night glass of whiskey with a group of Sheryl’s colleagues. Being tired my introversion shined, but I was delighted to hear people talk about topics of a great deal more depth than what the youngsters I had the pleasure to be around in China talk about. Even more delightful, this was a group of people who actually paid attention to one another. In China, you could have diner with a group of people and they would spend the majority of their time looking at their phone screens.
But for an increased drive to see, experience, and do much more, I have no real change in plans for the 2nd half of my life. It’s more of a feeling that things are just getting started vs. starting to wind down.
I returned to China yesterday after a 3 month absence. There is much to write about the past 3 months and my return to working here, but I think the above video might be a good start. This was what I was greeted with at 5:55am today. Still suffering from the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced I was up at 3am anyway, but only here would they be allowed to produce such soul destroying noise this early in the day (and it’s been going non-stop for 8 months). This may be a contributing factor as why most of my colleagues are now spending there time away from this campus.
Once upon a time, there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse. Ran away. And all the neighbors came ‘round that evening and said, “that’s too bad.”
And he said, “maybe.”
The next day, the horse came back and brought seven wild horses with it. And all the neighbors came around and said, “that’s great, isn’t it?”
And he said, “maybe.”
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad, because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune. Or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.
This noise started shortly after my arrival at the campus here and has continued unabated for the past 3 months. It goes through walls and reverberates off all the buildings, that coupled with the fact that any repairs that need to be done to the facilities start at sunrise, means that unless you sleep like death, you get up with the sun. For the workers of China, there are no days off.
With regards to food, living in Taiwan, and now China, for the past 17 – 18 years I’ve just about seen it all. Living and traveling throughout the region has opened my eyes to all kinds oddities, but I still get surprised now and again. This past weekend when visiting for what passes as a high end grocery store here, I noticed tucked amongst the neatly packaged pork, a pair of hooves. It would be interesting to know what kind of recipe calls for sheep’s feet.
I’m very much the classic introvert, I love to talk and discuss all kinds of things, love being around people, but at any party, or room full of people, unless necessary, I would never naturally gravitate towards the centre. My voice doesn’t boom and I don’t seek out the attention of others (to a fault – you need to sell yourself). Often this is called shyness, or more rudely anti-social. I just explain that I like to be quiet, listen to, and observe others. Qualities I think also coincidently are good when being concerned with design.
I love my time alone and one of the benefits of being an avid runner is that I often get at least an hour everyday to recharge my mind, body and think through various situations or problems. Walking during lunch has the same or similar benefits, and I believe also improves a persons ability to think creatively. Unfortunately, creative ability hasn’t been in demand in Taiwan these last few years, and so I have no real proof of it’s effects. No correlation, or A/B test.
Being alone here is a state of mind, a perpetual choice, and an occasional imposition, a burden, and a gift — and sometimes the very best way to meet a fellow stranger. “Every form of human expressiveness is on display,” Vivian Gornick writes of walking the streets by herself, “and I am free to look it right in the face, or avert my eyes if I wish.”
But though I love my alone time, these days I am amazed at how strong the effects of being constantly alone have been on me. It’s feels like being stuck in a cabin in the woods in winter.
I left Taiwan over 3 weeks ago, part of that time has been spent in Hong Kong and Fuzhou, places teeming with people. These last 12 days have been spent at the company campus, where they had placed me (dumped) just before the long holiday. The campus is isolated, and though the facilities are first class, there is absolutely nothing to see or do. And no one to talk to or run in to. I think this just might be the first time in my life that I have felt being lonely for any significant period of time.
I don’t seek people out, I am terrible at striking up conversations with strangers and I am happy exploring a strange city alone. I don’t seek out political discourse with opinionated cab drivers or boozy bonding with locals over beers into the wee hours. By the time the hours get wee, I’m usually in bed in my hotel room …
Being away from family is a contributor (attachment theory), and all of the support system I have built in Taiwan over the past 17+ years. People are generally friendly here, in a different way than in Taiwan, they just naturally assume you speak Chinese and go from there. People in Taiwan don’t often greet you, and will not often speak for fear of a misunderstanding.
The effects have been noticeable, with a more general gloomy outlet and decreased productivity. It’s nothing serious, if anything it’s disappointing.
I’ve often dreamed of having an extended period of time alone where I could focus on getting things done. This was a small part of the motivation to come to China in the first place. Focus now so that later we might reap some kind of reward. When in music we would call it woodshedding, and I would often tell stories of how my trumpet instructor spent a long period of time in cabin alone relearning to play his instrument. He came back renewed and a new musician.
Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to work with me. Without some kind of social activity, or the inspiration of colleagues, the pressures of public failure, I don’t seem to function at 100%. There aren’t even many distractions here, during the day the connection to the outside work (VPN) is all but unusable.
Like many experiences this has been a great learning experience and a reminder of the importance of getting out and being around people. And the importance of having people nearby you to inspire and push you to do more things.
Typhoon Meradi arrived across the Taiwan Strait and brought with it high winds and flooding. Work was cancelled and the highway to ChangLe closed, so there was no moving to my more settled location. I spent the day indoors reading, the upside to not having Internet or interest in work.
Staying in all day wasn’t by choice, though by yesterday morning the typhoon had subsided, the flooding it caused resulted in water outside my door that was just below my waist. Not knowing the street and what might be under my feet I heeded the advice of the security guard and stayed in. I’ve lived through typhoons many times in Taiwan and we are usually quite prepared. This time I wasn’t. I hadn’t known how serious the flooding is here and that I wouldn’t be able to get to a store or restaurant for food.
So here I was in my room with 700ml of water, 4 bananas, and a small bag of almonds, wondering how long the flooding would last, and wishing I knew how to swim.
Company HR never got in touch during this time, to let me know about work closures, weather or if my meetings with them were cancelled during the day. It’s been obvious for a while that despite individually being nice people, that they have no systems in place for dealing with foreign hires. Luckily I reached out to them and my contacts to see what was going on.
There was running water that I could double boil. I had enough water and food to survive of course, and it’s nothing compared to the struggles of others, but in talking to the security guard I lamented that I hadn’t prepared well, and that I hadn’t eaten. So he gave me one of his dried packages of noodles to eat. And later in the evening showed up at my door with a hot lunch box. Fantastic guy! The cleaning lady kept me abreast of the weather situation. They were the bright points of my day.
Looking outside my window I see people busily starting to clean up all the sludge and garbage that remains. Strangely, despite it being on all day yesterday and though the storm, there is no water today.
I arrived in Fuzhou, Fujian via Hong Kong a few days ago for a work opportunity, a change which has been in the works since November of last year. This has involved the longest, most convoluted hiring process I have ever heard of. I plan on writing something down about the whole on-boarding experience after it has reached some sort of conclusion. I haven’t actually started working yet, and won’t for another couple weeks as HR goes through the process of making everything legal. Why in my case this takes so long hasn’t been communicated to me.
Its bit of an adventure, one in which I thought I needed. It’s difficult to move to a strange country alone, start a new job, and make your way. I thought this might be one of my last chances for this kind of personal growth before we head back to the quiet of Prince Edward Island. Being away from family makes it much more difficult.
Arriving in any strange place the first order of business is shelter and food. The company took care of the shelter part, and I have set out to find something edible. An HR rep. did graciously treat me to lunch/dinner, after hearing I hadn’t eaten all day. It was a delicious meal of dumplings and winter melon soup.
I’m not fanatical about it but I do have a strict dietary regime, if in Prince Edward Island in summer one should eat Cows Ice Cream and go to Strawberry Socials. But I as a rule don’t eat processed foods, nor do I often eat bread, noodles, rice or deep fried things. I tend to eat simple whole foods make up of vegetables and meat, followed by my indulgence of too much fresh fruit. I love curries but generally like to recognise what I am eating.
Thanks to the news, before landing I had already formed an opinion of the food in China, it’s an overly simplistic view that much of the food here contains some kind of poison. I have towards Taiwan’s food a similar perception but to a lesser degree.
Of course, there is also what I can see with my own eyes. The quality of some of the food I have seen is not that great. The steak, well my initial impression is that I don’t think I’ll be eating any cheap beef anytime soon. So I have been very cautious when trying new things and it’s been difficult finding restaurants that serve food that fit my criteria.
I have had some luck. One of the La Veritas chain restaurants nearby has a salad bar, with lettuce and tomatoes comprising what I consider salad. Chicken and salad bar is a bit expensive by local standards but I found it acceptable. I found a Japanese restaurant in the same building, one of the department stores with poor interior design called WangFuJin, that had food similar to what I find in Taiwan. Subway salads due in a pinch, and there is a Taiwanese style buffet nearby that has some egg dishes I like. My lunches have always been a coffee, lots of nuts and fruit. Imported nuts are expensive here, like everywhere, but at least they can be found.
The biggest problem is breakfasts. I tend to eat eggs, meat, fish or occasionally a home made cereal made from ground nuts. But people here seem to carb load. Lots of bread, noodles, or rice. In Taiwan there are breakfast shops galore, and it’s easy to ask the boss to simply fry you some eggs, if you don’t mind the oil. 7-11 has some ok options – tea eggs, fruit, and even salad. Unfortunately in this area none of this is possible. I haven’t even come across breakfast sandwiches, food that is ubiquitous in Taiwan.
Hopefully this is temporary, and when I move to my new place next week I’ll be able to find food closely resembling what I grew accustomed to in Taiwan and Canada.
Sometimes amongst the noise of Facebook a signal appears; some great advice from a high school classmate.
I’ve always taken risks in my life, sometimes they didn’t work out and I was embarrassed. I learned from every one, because I looked for the learning. And I didn’t stop taking risks. Over time, they stopped feeling so much like risks and it’s gotten harder to embarrass me. I’ve learned a lot.
What are you afraid to do? Be bold today. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, something you’ve been scared to try. Look for the learning and do it again next week.
Fear of embarrassment has long been a motivator for me but also an inhibitor to stepping outside my bubble and trying something new. I think I’ll take her advice.
Contrary to the views of the Taiwan Ministry of Education, who believe that genius magically appears in children prior to entering elementary school, a recent New York times column by David Brooks entitled Genius – The Modern View leaves behind the more romantic view of a divine spark, and takes a more prosaic view which emphasizes genius as something to be learned through effort and application.
We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.
What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had – the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.
According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.
Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)