- Considerations of "Modern life"
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- Joie de vivre
- New York City
- The law
I have been back in New York for almost a week now, but my mind has been going over the last two months I have spent in China. It is inevitable; between the Olympics, Mitt Romney’s ridiculous campaign platform and the article on China that I have been working on, I have been forced to reflect on my perspective and seek some sort of reconciliation which is at this point elusive.
I have great faith in China’s potential and I am not afraid to say that I am so profoundly proud of the distance it has traveled. Of course, my background is a de facto bias on that front, but at the same time this faith in China’s future in no way detracts from my love for the great US of A.
I complain a lot about Americans, their wanton arrogance, their shameless stupidity and the endless slew of other defects, but ultimately, it is both a privilege and luxury to be American sometimes. There’s a reason why so many before us has come to this country and there are still reasons for the millions who risk much to touch American soil today.
I have written before about the jarring contrast of poverty in other cities around the world. Nowhere is that more evident than Shanghai, where panhandlers languish as untreated and unidentified illnesses leave their limps rotten, swollen or deformed, laid out in front of immaculate office buildings on the mile long stretch of sidewalk that janitors are to mop each morning. They are left ignored as luxury cars pull in and out of the driveways each morning providing dramatic contrast. This is the world in which I contemplated a future.
In my more ideal and romantic moments, I liken my own growth to that of China. From a naive child limited by circumstance, I have become a person who has managed to chart a course in life beyond boundaries that I could not even have previously conceived. I am proud of myself just as I am proud of China’s progress. Do you know how far China has come? Without going so far as the Revolution, let’s just talk about my childhood. The entire Pudong skyline was constructed within a span of a little less than 10 years; it has damn near emerged from the dark ages to the dynamic society it is today. Say what you want about the censorship and uniformity, there are at least organic perspectives in China rather than the recycled drivel that gets shoved down the throat as the cloak of democracy is falling apart at every seam. What’s worse, really? And maybe that’s why I can be so indignant and defiant of these assertions. It has not been an easy climb to endeavor yet so easily dismissed.
This summer, I found myself somewhere between where I started, amongst locals 老百姓 whose struggles are a distant memory, and where I may hope to reach, amongst the successful [mostly] expats I have met whose lifestyles I can’t help but seek. Both are humbling; both push me to go further.
And this is where I am on China: she has come a long way but there is still so much for her to achieve. I hope that she can overcome the setbacks and reach a height that has yet to be conceived. Thus, it is not surprising that there can be so many conflicting takes on China. China itself is grappling with its still present past and its future.
I’ve finally settled back into the routine, though I chose to abstain from shenanigans this weekend, which came as a surprise to even myself. During my last week in China, I had a major emo moment with Janelle [via bbm thankgod] re: my experiment with running away from humanity [ok, don’t take it literally, I’m not making a subversive comment on Chinese and Korean people and their exclusion from humanity.]. Yet after a handful of the requisite “I’ve missed you so and tell me all about your trips” mini reunions, I am looking for a break again. So I took the night off to write and watch “Up in the Air” for the 3rd time in as many months [yes, really]. The movie touches me in so many places; I don’t even know where to start.
I’ve been feeling uneasy all week, for a number of reasons, not all of which can be divulged here. But the mixture of jetlag and lingering cold is doing nothing for my insomniac tendencies. Tossing and turning until the wee hours of the morning makes me more neurotic than usual.
The thing is, I’m not sure what I need right now. I guess it’s just a weird time in life? I just paid my deposit for a seat at L-School, which means this blog may soon turn into a giant snoozefest. I had all these grand epiphanies when I was away – a combination of being on my own a lot and having too much time to think and being in a new place always makes me all introspective about where I am and shit [figuratively and literally]. Whenever I visit a city, I get all curious about history on a much more significant way than I would ever think about New York. I don’t ever think about the fact that I am in New York, like how I think about my place in this other city
So, maybe a brief recap?
Which is predictably, and perhaps fortunately, cooler, there is this:
There seems to be a perennial conflict between training productive human beings that may contribute to society in a meaningful (meaning, of course, being measured by cash money) way and training well rounded INDIVIDUALS which takes a holistic view of the multiple facets that comprise a persona.
Why must they be mutually exclusive? There is no continuum, apparently. Or, it’s broken.
Incidentally, these two events seem to reflect the disconnect between the societal values of China and the United States.
Indeed, because she lived about 1500 years after Ceasar?
Between detailing the five conferences, paper, interviews, book, and committees he’s working on, the professor peppered the narrative of his career with mentions of his deteriorated marriage. At the end of the two hour lunch, having summed up his endless commitments over the next year, he trailed off with “yeah, building an empire…”, which just sounded like a sad consolation.
Every relationship fights its own battles of pragmatism and romance. When a client walked in today with a man (as opposed to the more salacious, “paramour”) who was clearly not her husband, it occurred to me how much the balance can shift in either direction. She didn’t seem particularly inclined for infidelity – frown if you will at the thought that I can judge such books by their covers, but she has always seemed very earnest, humble and soft spoken. And yet here she was, with a man whose eyes followed her movements, clear about their place in her life – in possession, while her husband is an ocean away and their marriage certificate silently judged from a file folder in her lap.
Many of our clients pair off in this way.
While many writers have waxed poetic about the higher virtues of “love” as an emotion, which, amongst other things like thought, elevate us above other living things, these scenarios make apparent the luxury of that thought. The mere contemplation of love is truly a luxury. And if it is the case, then does it make these couples any more base, though they may shed tears and hurt just the same? And what of the love that may be borne out of mutual respect for each other’s hardships and suffering? (It is in my nature to glorify suffering, because I am my mother’s child. *Sadface*).
This is not to say that my own notions of romantic love aren’t some convoluted ideals cobbled from Sapphic myths, Platonic musings, and the most egoiste expectations of l’amour courtois (thanks Madame for instilling in me the most impractical/impracticable knowledge). But in light of the more immediate demands of life and its circumstances, this preoccupation with love and its seemingly intangible et ceteras is kind of frivolous.
This article is kind of pornographic good for the type A, OCD prone among us. The titillating sensation of reaching “perfection” is truly exhilarating; it’s also universal beyond making an omelette.
Actually reading this reminded me of the first “essay” I had to write, in 3rd grade, in Chinese, in which I used a “chengyu” (set phrases from ancient Chinese) for the first time. Incidentally, it was an essay about making eggs. At the time, I didn’t even know it was a chengyu – until the sentence was read out loud in class (obviously setting off the worst narcissistic vain streak known to mankind, I think the self-deprecation is a conscious effort to offset it). It was perfect.
Shit, somebody call Freud, I think I just found the cause of my neurotic obsession with finding the mot just. Another reason why languages get me off sometimes; and the rare moments when I can almost understand the logic behind Ezra Pound’s cantos.
Tweeted this earlier today. I’m realizing the concept is not only applicable to grand schemes, but to anything that meets an end. Isn’t it true, that most things end with a whimper. There isn’t much flair, drama or climax in life; mostly plateaus, melodrama and disenchantment.
Earlier this week, Runako sent me this article on the children of China’s One Child Policy, hereafter dubbed “Singletons”. Two days later, Janelle linked me to the NYT article on “millennials” in America, which has been ripped to pieces by…basically everyone aside from the NYT.
I probably shouldn’t be taking on this post right now since I’m too pooked to even compose a Tweet, let alone a coherent, comparative essay, but I guess I’ll just do a rant:
Singletons = Millennials (in terms of age and doting parents, but for clarity purposes we’ll differentiate the two by their names), yet their outlooks are as divergent as East and West. Lest you miss the point, it has little to do with the “One Child Policy”. If you’re not a moron, then you would have realized that the so called crisis facing many “millennials” is nothing but a case of serious entitlement. I’m not exactly on my knees to worship China and all of its idiosyncrasies here (because Chinese people have serious issues that I will probably get into another time), but we breed men and women that suck it up and get it done. Why? Because if you don’t finish your homework before dinner so you can practice the violin/piano/accordion (yes, stop it), study extracurricular work 3 grades above your current grade level, write essays that implements “Chengyu” (Chinese proverbial idioms, basically SAT words but much much more sophisticated), recite Tang dynasty poetry (like reciting Shakespearan sonnets, but more immediately culturally relevant), you will not only miss the opportunity to read your story book, you will get beat. When you start building that sort of discipline when you’re 7, naturally, you’re not whining about your miserable disposition, for which you have no one to blame but yourself. Furthermore, this middle class bourgeois issue of “soul searching”, is a luxury granted to sons and daughters of millionaires, which is obnoxious under those circumstances, but becomes ridiculous and embarrassing when it’s being supported by the savings of your parents’ middle class income. Income they earned by sucking it up and doing what’s necessary. This moron wants to move out and have his parents pay the rent until he figures it out so he feels like he’s on his own? You know what will really help with your independence? A job.
Do you know what? It’s not some uniquely Chinese characteristic, which the article try to convey with its whole Confuican filial piety resultant no retirement policy, maybe partially, it’s so ingrained that I don’t even notice anymore, because it’s SO CHINESE?! But, I’d like to venture to say that, it is just a matter of humility and basic human decency to want to 1) establish yourself 2) show some gratitude to the parents who’ve spent the last 20 odd years giving you everything you needed to become a failure?
Seriously, Scott, have you no shame? To first be a completely incompetent jerkface and then to bring shame to your family by agreeing to an interview like this? No publicity is bad publicity only holds true if your name is Snooki, please, get a job.
Another note: centralized government, which all the morons in America fear more than HIV and illiteracy, it is the reason why China is basically churning out geniuses and talent and laughing at America at the same time. Because we’re too busy trying to maintain the illusion of free-will, democracy, and individuality, with what? The loan you took out from China? So much for sovereignty. I’m aware of all the negative consequences of this centralized government, so if you want to assert your world news awareness by listing the human rights violations, religious oppressions, corruption, go TA an undergrad globalism class, it would be an ad hominem attack here.
Then earlier this afternoon, I read David Brooks’s op-ed piece, in which this idea of deference lit a bulb. But, of course. America was founded upon this principle; we are rooted in forging our own rules in reaction to rules we don’t like. Obviously, there are different circumstances, but I suppose that’s the American spirit if we are to make cultural attributions. Is it problematic? Is Scott’s refusal to accept the conventional path simply a reflection of his culture? (I’m being very generous here.)
I may be biased in the assessment of the two situations with a bit of idealizing the more distant past, but I do feel very fortunate to have gotten the latter half of my education in the US. With the foundational disciplinarian start in China, it’s allowed me to think for myself, which is not entirely possible in China. There were various moments in that singleton article that made me tear up (on the subway!) in being resonant of various moments in my life. As much as I appreciate the foundation, I’m also very aware of the weight that comes along with this discipline. Sometimes, it pushes me along, but there are other moments, in which the weight of the guilt suffocates me. In an ideal world, we would all have the discipline and discretion to exercise – and not abuse – liberties to their maximum benefit. The absence of liberty is very apparent to those in China, while the absence of discipline in this case seem almost irrelevant. I’m not sure what’s worse.
It’s a shame how skewed the media portrayal presentation of the world can be, because for every Scott Nicolsons, there are plenty more who are doing extraordinary things. It’s a shame that NYT chooses to write about the “products” of these desolate times, which keeps these Scott’s in a cloud of recession complacency. The unemployment, the bankruptcy, the not paying your mortgage, all creating a culture where responsibilities can be evaded on a personal level. Misery does love company.
Also: “…since one-child was set in motion, critics have called the policy “draconian,” “crude,” “horrid,” “drastic” — an intrusive policy that allows the state to strip individuals of the most intimate of human rights: the decision to have a baby.” Isn’t it a bit ironic that “strip individuals of the most intimate of human rights: the decision to have a baby” can be said re: abortions, both anti and forced? Perspective is all relative. Crazy, huh.