The Rise of the Facebook Warriors

Each significant news story seems to breed quicker and more vitriolic reactions on social media handles. The perception is that individuals now have a platform to voice their own unique opinions on such matters. Ironically, individuality is lost, not gained, as personal accounts become nothing more than the parroted voices of corporate and political entities vying for power.

All the manufactured rants, arguments, and outrage are the same–they were planted carefully, to spread like wildfire–over and over again. They certainly make it convenient to share click bait for (insert media site with biased talking points here).

Social media is not proof that individualism exists. It is a horrifying proof that people can easily be manipulated to think and emotionally respond to the cues of media conglomerates.

Post a rant, pat yourself on the back for the likes and retweets received, consider yourself a morally sufficient human being who cares, go to bed, feel the dopamine levels gradually dissipate in your brain until the next headline fills you with euphoric outrage, and repeat.

This is the cycle that is gripping the minds of people and imprisoning them to a permanent “logged in” status. It’s what renders men and women increasingly tribal. When media conglomerate viewpoints don’t align perfectly, bridges burn permanently.

Facebook (all social media for that matter) makes everyone a hero in their own bubble, fighting a good fight day in and day out, for the sake of (insert cause here).

I wonder… what is the endgame?



Chinese New Years

It’s Chinese New Years, the longest and most important holiday in the country. The streets, shops, restaurants, and supermarkets are completely shut down. I was told that trains and airports are horrifically flooded with people rushing to their families, which is why I elected to stay put.

It amazes me that in a span of 12 hours, a city of 7 million people can transform into a vacant ghost town.

For about a week, citizens spend time in their homes with family and friends. Thus, over the previous week I stocked up on snacks and drinks. Almost everything is closed for the entire week.

I was fortunate to eat an authentic holiday meal with a colleague (Leeyang, who I wrote about in a previous basketball blog) and his family. It was an invitation I didn’t expect and graciously accepted. We stuffed ourselves with pig feet, fish head, chicken, mushrooms, spicy cabbage, and shredded potatoes.

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I’m not a particularly adventurous eater. Fish head and pig feet aren’t my idea of a quintessential holiday meal, but when you’re the honored guest, I believe you should stuff it down your gullet and stress how much you love it. So, that’s exactly what I did.

It actually was an excellent and delicious meal, by the way.

The pig’s feet actually wasn’t bad, though it’s tough to separate the meat from bone. It’s especially difficult to gnaw with chopsticks, and I found myself repeatedly having to use my hands. Luckily, Leeyang’s family didn’t seem to mind. “You can eat it just like you would at home,” they repeatedly stressed. Still, I tried my best to fare with the chopsticks.

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We may lose at basketball daily to teachers shorter and older than us, but we definitely won at devouring that food.

Leeyang’s father was the head chef of the day. He’s also a renowned dentist in the area, which makes him a useful contact to have in case of a sudden toothache.

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With the iron chef.

I couldn’t help but feel some initial fear–the fear of entering a household with different cultural customs. This stems from not knowing when you are committing a cultural faux pas or doing something that would be considered strange. Am I really using these chopsticks the right way? Am I eating in the correct order, and am I sitting properly? Am I speaking too little or too much? I found myself thinking all of these things and more.

It did give me some perspective on life as a foreigner, and just how many customs we develop over our life that we aren’t aware of. There is a lot more to learn than just another language. Culture is like an onion, and over a long period of time, you peel away layer by layer to gain a better understanding.

I’m still pretty stuffed from that meal, and it’s been about twelve hours. They also had some French red wine for me to take advantage of, which I greedily did.

After finishing the meal we spent a few hours relaxing, talking, and drinking green tea.

Later that evening, the school principal (I work at a high school) visited me with a few bags of gifts.

I’ve heard horror stories of English teachers flying (literally) into bad situations overseas, in which they’re overworked and underpaid. I’m lucky in that my situation couldn’t be more different. I’m treated pretty damn well.

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Of all the goodies in these bags, this was the most interesting:

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This is “Chinese dragon fruit”. You peel away the flesh like a banana and eat what’s inside. I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet, but intend to within the next day or so and report.

It was a great holiday, and hopefully I spend the rest of the week relaxing and munching down dragon fruit.

Tom Brady and Floyd Mayweather: The Greatest Competitors Ever

It might seem like an odd time to rave about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He just narrowly lost a Super Bowl, and his detractors are pinning his late-game lost fumble as the culprit.

But hear me out. The fumble was a masterful play by Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham that came at a crucial time in the game. While his critics point to the fumble in order to diminish the greatest quarterback of all time, I see the game as proof of Brady’s unparalleled excellence.

A 40-year-old Brady carried the Patriots on his back for the entire duration of Super Bowl LII. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s defense was atrocious. They were porous at every position and leaked big play after big play until the clock ran out. The Eagles punted one time in sixty minutes. Once. They dominated ball possession, thus making the game nearly impossible to win. This was the defense of two coaches lauded as masterminds of defensive scheming, and they totally blew it. Make no mistake. An incapable Belichick/Patricia defense, coupled with outstanding play by the Philadelphia Eagles from top to bottom, led to a Philadelphia victory.

Brady was without Brandon Cooks, his top deep threat, as well as Julian Edelman, his top slot receiver. He also lacked power runner LeGarrette Blount, who is now with the Eagles, and tight end Martellus Bennett, one of the best receiving tight ends in the league.

Without these crucial chess pieces, Brady managed over 500 yards passing, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. That’s the most yardage ever thrown by a quarterback in the Super Bowl. It was Brady’s greatness that kept the Patriots competitive. More astounding is that he is over 40 years old. This time, the Eagles were simply too great to ask another miraculous late-game drive of Tom Brady for a win.

As a former athlete with a World Championship gold medal under my own belt, I’m somewhat aware of the sacrifices and perfectionist mindset required to be great in sports. To see an athlete perform at the highest level, year in and year out, for so long, is remarkable. It defies human nature, which suggests that people become complacent after winning. I know firsthand that complacency is a difficult demon to fight, especially when you’re on top. Brady’s competitiveness, though, seems incapable of fading.

I watch Tom Brady in awe because, selfishly, I think that it must make someone feel incredibly alive to maintain so much motivation day in and day out. I want a little of that magic myself. Sometimes in the “real world” I find myself getting too complacent. It’s easier to coast through a job when you can’t get fired, or to watch television rather than put your mind through learning something new. It’s easy to let your mind fry on social media than just about anything. Complacency always seems to be knocking on the front door when things are going right. Guys like Brady are a reminder that it can be beaten.

Floyd Mayweather, in my opinion, is the only other modern athlete (I consider Jordan to be a previous generation’s athlete) to equal Brady as the greatest competitor ever, of any sport. I’m far from a boxing expert, which is why I’m writing about him more briefly. But he finished a career-perfect 50-0 and fought (dominated) his final bout at age 40. To maintain perfection in a sport that brutally punishes the slightest loss of speed, agility, and power is remarkable. To maintain the desire to be the greatest athlete after having been the greatest for so long is idiosyncratic.

Mayweather is the most agile athlete I have ever seen, in any sport. At age 40, he is still the most agile and most utterly ferocious athlete I have ever seen, in any sport. There have been so many all-time-great boxers experience a slow decline in their 30s that Mayweather brilliantly avoided.

What chips have been on their shoulders, to keep them outworking and outplaying their competitors?

Whatever it is, with both athletes passing age 40 and Mayweather already stating his own retirement, one can’t help but see the signal in the distance of the end of their eras. What a privilege to say that I was around to watch the careers of two of the greatest.

Goodbye Coffee, Hello Sleep

I abruptly stopped drinking coffee, as well as all other forms of caffeine, about five months ago. I miss the alert mental state it gave me, but little else.

Caffeine gives me bad skin reactions and horrible sleep. That sounds strange to most people, but it’s true. My skin breaks out when I drink coffee. It doesn’t when I don’t.

I am an abnormally light sleeper and always have been. Back in college, I failed to fall asleep the first night of two out of my four swimming NCAA championships. On the nights that I did manage to fall asleep, I managed a few hours at most.

I remember the sheer nerve-wracking magnitude of two exams that kept me awake for upwards of 48 hours. That’s a lot of time without sleep. Of course, staying awake that long doesn’t help your brain activity, and those exams went much worse than they should have.

For each stock market correction, including this latest one, I’m also lucky to fall asleep.

In a nutshell, I think too much, and I struggle to find an off switch. People think of me as a calm and laid-back guy while the opposite is often true.

I’ve refused to seek sleeping aids out of fear of addiction. I have an addictive personality. It was difficult enough quitting caffeine.

My plan was to quit caffeine in an effort to alleviate my sleeping problem a little. The end result is mixed but skewing slightly positive. There are some positives that I never would have foreseen, as well as some negatives. Here are some of the highlights of a caffeine-free life:

  • I’m falling asleep more easily. This is good. I rarely remain awake past 10 pm. I haven’t managed that since middle school.
  • I’m more consistently entering a state of “deep sleep.” I dream more often and can recall my dreams. This also seems like an improvement.
  • Unfortunately, I’m waking up much more frequently during the night. On average I wake up three times a night: once around midnight, once around 2 am, and once around 4 am.
  • I often cannot fall back asleep after waking up. Several times, I’ve woken up at 2 am and remained awake the rest of the evening. Thus, I’m not sure how much “net gain” of sleep I’m actually getting.
  • On a more positive note, my skin looks much healthier. Caffeine is a diuretic and is known to dehydrate everything, including your skin. My face looks clearer and the pores have a natural patina of moisture that they didn’t before. There is a certain “de-aging” effect associated with staying hydrated. Just look at Tom Brady, who also avoids caffeine.
  • On a negative note, my afternoons are more sluggish. My recall ability is greatly diminished after lunch, as is my overall motivation. Whereas I used to have a consistent caffeine induced mental performance that lasted throughout the day, I am now forced to work through dramatic peaks and valleys.
  • There is a huge cost saving benefit when avoiding caffeine. Someone dependent on coffee likely needs two to three cups a day. If the addict is a regular at Starbucks, this can easily add up to well over a thousand dollars per year.

Overall, I prefer a coffee-free lifestyle, mostly because I was utterly incapable of drinking coffee in moderation. I have an addictive personality, which it’s important that I recognize.

If I drink one or two cups of coffee a day, which I tried for two months before quitting completely, I spend the rest of the day fighting the urge to have another three cups. I don’t have an “off switch.” It made me a pretty good swimmer, but it can be a negative when it comes to issues of consumption. So the best bet, I think, is to remain coffee free.