Got the Chinese Phone Plan

I had a brilliant idea for keeping my US phone plan and phone number while living and working in China: Google Project Fi.

I bought a Good Pixel phone (an excellent phone) and signed up for the Project Fi plan (an excellent plan). It allows for free international texting and high-speed service worldwide, for just 30 dollars a month (if you use 1 GB/month).

It worked brilliantly. I had service the moment I landed in China, the fees are reasonable, and I could text my friends back home at any point I wanted.

But, after about 7 months, I found that I needed to switch to a China plan. Why?

This was nothing against Project Fi. It’s the best plan of the best. In my opinion, every US citizen should have this plan. But for China, it caused a few inconveniences.

First, just because my texting is free doesn’t mean that it’s free for Chinese citizens. Any coworkers attempting to text me were incurring huge fees on their own phone bills by texting my US number. I realized that I was becoming a nuisance to contact.

To remedy this first problem, I bought a cheap China flip phone for them to contact. Problem solved, right?

But then I was carrying around two phones, one for America and one for China. And I was paying two phone bills, albeit cheap bills. I was charging two phones at night. It just wasn’t fun for a guy who likes things simple.

My total bills for the month were as follows: $30/month for the US, and another $2/month for China. That’s a grand spanking $32 per month to have two fully-operating phones.

But in China, most citizens use WeChat, even for texting. Explaining to them that I have a US phone linked to my WeChat and a China phone without any WeChat was getting weird. It was also getting weird not knowing which phone number to give to people.

Then I realized: I could just get a Chinese phone plan, with data, for the US equivalent of 7 dollars a month. Yes, it’s that cheap. I’d save another $25/month by consolidating.

Then I accidentally dropped my Chinese cell phone in the laundry, and I had no choice (okay, this played a very significant part in the maneuver!).

So, I have one cell phone now! But it makes sense. US friends can still IM me on WeChat, WhatsApp, or Skype. And at any time I decide to move back to America, I can just put my Google Fi Sim card back in. Voila, back to my old plan.

One more thing I realized this week: it’s about time to get back on Twitter. As much as I despise social media, having one account has its uses. For example, an old Texas friend named Poston used to keep tabs on my life through my Twitter handle. It also brought him to this blog, where he read about my experiences with Aaron Peirsol and decided to share it with other old teammates. Suddenly I was hearing from old friends I never realized gave a damn about my travels.

So maybe social media has its uses (Twitter, NOT Facebook!)…. IF it’s limited in scope.


A “Typical” Friday in China

I woke up at 5:00 am, which is the time I have my alarm set to daily. My room is a little warmer than it was in January. In January, the ceramic heaters just couldn’t overcome daytime highs of zero degrees, which left me sleeping in a hat and scarf on numerous occasions. Now I’m at least sleeping without those, as is expected of a normal human being. I’ve heard that sleeping in the scarf you wear all day isn’t particularly healthy. Just a rumor, maybe.

I woke up and quickly did about 30 minutes of exercise with a jump rope and dumbbells, followed by a few rounds of pushups. I’m eager to jog outside again, but the weather hasn’t quite warmed up enough. Gym? Fuhgetaboutit! It snowed three inches yesterday, on top of another four inches of snow two days before that. The daytime high is still right at 32 degrees F. It’s March 16th. The lakes are still frozen solid.

It’s been a long winter. We’re going on five months of nonstop cold weather (and I mean, COLD). I was one heck of a trooper in January, but I should’ve geared up for a marathon instead of a sprint.

I agreed to teach three extra English classes this term. This morning was to be my first day teaching the extra classes, and I found myself regretting that I accepted them. Last fall, I had 19 classes spread over four days. This term, I have 22 classes spread over Monday-Friday. Those three extra classes make a BIG difference.

After exercising, I trekked over to my newest high school: No. 6 High School. Yeah, I’m also teaching at three different schools now. This is what the workforce does to people who do something well: it gives them more to do!

Public high schools can be difficult (as any job can be difficult), regardless of what country you teach in. They present the same common problems (or “challenges”, if you’re a glass half full kinda person). Rebellious kids, smart phone distractions, and a lack of resources are my “Big 3” problem (challenge) makers. I’ve seen all of them aplenty in China, which seems eerily similar to America. Sometimes it’s more challenging in China because there’s a language barrier preventing you from communicating what you want.

So, I wasn’t too keen on going to No. 6 High School, despite accepting the offer. I’d also heard mixed (okay, negative!) things about the kids there.

The school is enormous–six stories high and possessing hallways you can walk down for minutes straight without making a turn. The architecture looks relatively modern. It’s one of those buildings where every surface is glossy enough to see a little of your reflection. That’s not how I would describe the surfaces of most public schools.

When you enter a new school in China, you sometimes get what I think of as the “new foreign teacher treatment.” This means that you arrive with zero communication on what you’re supposed to teach, zero knowledge of where your classroom is, zero knowledge of what your eating situation is going to be (are you really allowed in the cafeteria? Roll the dice!), and zero knowledge of your teaching resources.

I always bring a “goodie bag” as backup in case the classroom is ill equipped. My “goodie bag” has chalk, an eraser, a USB, a computer mouse (sometimes you have a computer without a mouse), about 30 pens (students often forget theirs), a deck of cards for English games, a soft ball for more English games, some textbooks, and some printouts (in case the computer doesn’t work, I have printouts to either distribute or show via an overhead projector).


Sometimes you get a state-of-the-art classroom with a large LED monitor “touch screen” to present your beautiful .PPT-enhanced lectures. It will have a computer that’s easy to use and a sound system that’s perfect for any audio files you might have.

Sometimes you get a dank little cellar with a few rusty chairs, moldy windows, empty candy wrappers littered about the floor, and a stained whiteboard. All that’s missing is some padded walls and a straight jacket.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. In just seven months I’ve seen the full gamut. The quality of the classroom isn’t even dependent on the school. Sometimes the same school will put you in both great and not-so-great classrooms.

Needless to say, you’ve gotta be flexible and expect the unexpected. You have to accept that stability is gone. The moment you sign up to teach English in a foreign country, it falls out the window and crashes into a million sad little pieces.

I hate arriving at places extremely early–I’m a procrastinator by nature–but you need to allow a good cushion of time for teaching in a foreign country, especially on your first day. So I arrived at the school about 45 minutes early and used the extra time to figure out everything I would need before the bell rang.

I met the Chinese teacher in charge of the English department for all of five seconds. She threw a textbook my way and said, “You can use this.” Then she took off, leaving me to an empty classroom and my own devices.

Do I have to use this? Is it optional? Do I test them with this? Do we complete the exercises in this? Welcome to China. This is a common way of beginning a term, so it didn’t shock me like it did back in September.

I then waited in my classroom, in utter silence, until my first class arrived.

Sound like hell? This is a job, and all jobs have positives and negatives. I just described some of the negatives. Nothing in life is Utopian, and if you think teaching in a country that doesn’t speak your language is a great idea, it’s important to realize that there’s a reason foreign teachers don’t tend to last long.

There’s also plenty of reasons why foreign teachers choose to stay for years. As crazy as all of that sounds, the classes can be really fun.

I was pleasantly surprised that I liked the students. They left a first impression of being enthusiastic, attentive, and generally kind; you can’t really ask for much more than that. They genuinely wanted to practice speaking English, and they were eager for me to help correct their speaking. That makes the hassle worthwhile to me. When you have a group of kids that want to learn, the exterior BS becomes meaningless. It also doesn’t hurt that the students seemed to like me (I have an ego, so yes, even I need praise!).

Despite loving free time, I have to acknowledge something important: with every class I teach, I improve a little at teaching. There is something fulfilling about feeling tangible improvements in anything you do. Improvements signify growth, and if we aren’t growing, well… it means we’re dying.

I got home at noon and received a message from my company. “The Bureau of Education will be inspecting your No. 2 High School classes on Monday and Tuesday. Please prepare the best lessons you can. Make them perfect.”

This isn’t the time to be a smart ass and reply, “But no one is perfect!”

Like I said, you have to be flexible if you want to do a job this far off the beaten path. When I get messages like these, I responds with a simple “Ok, I will do my best,” and I get to work. What else can you do? So, I spent the remainder of my Friday creating what I hope are some decent high school lectures for next week.

I might be doing something right. In a field of about 120 teachers, I was selected the “Most Excellent Teacher” in the city for 2017. I don’t say this to brag… okay okay, I do a little! But mostly it’s to suggest that just maintaining a positive attitude and doing your job can elevate you over a very large field, in any facet of life.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to my “normal” weekend routine. This means going to the cinema, eating at a decent restaurant, and reading a good book. Not too much different from the American weekend, I guess.

A day in the life…

What is Enough?

The following passage is cited from Vanguard founder Jack Bogle’s book, Enough:

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . enough.”

I was walking to class with a fifth grade teacher at my primary school today. “What is your dream job?” I asked her. It’s a common question that I’ve often asked and been asked by friends.

“This is my dream job,” she replied with a smile, pointing at the school building. It was one of those moments that was simple and brief, but also profound.

I do believe that life is transient, and the question of “what is enough” is an important one for everyone to ask themselves. You cannot intrinsically be happy if, in the deepest part of your soul, you do not have enough of what you believe you need.

Sadly, we live in a time where it’s easy to always feel a compulsion to climb, to yearn for more, and to chase a greater status. For many, there is never enough, and this, I think, is what causes some of the wealthiest people to ironically die feeling unfulfilled.

We’re always chasing greater returns in our finances, causing us to take on more risk, expenses, and complications. We’re always chasing a bigger home, a better car, a better school for our kids, and a better city to live in. We chase with a vehement and rabid obsession that can bring out the worst in us, when simplicity is the true solution to our problem. I’m guilty of it too! And regardless of how good we seem to have it, a media report springs up about how we could potentially have things even better, if we’d just buy the latest fad!

How can I define what is enough for me now, if it cannot be found in something bigger that I can buy one day in a hypothetical future?

The answer to this question, I think, can be found in the past. There are values that we can derive from the past that are too neglected in the present.

What are these values?

Simplicity and frugality are high on the list. Regardless of your wealth, they lead to peace of mind. They nullify the need to chase and validate beyond what is necessary.

Also high on my list are the willingness to help people in need, and to love and be loved. I don’t think I need to justify these.

Simple, but I don’t see how these values aren’t needed today!

Ironically, when we do these things well, money tends to take care of itself. Work becomes a more fulfilling duty and we become more valued citizens.

I compare the aforementioned teacher with some of the corporate hyenas I knew, who obsessed over their job titles, their offices, their out-of-scope mortgages, their hybrid cars, their hypothetical promotions, and their social media statuses. Their offices tended to have the door closed–how dare the cubicle lemmings speak to them without knocking!

That closed office door was, to me, symbolic of the hole in their core. What compels a person to work somewhere nicer than the company’s fellow men and women, besides the need to flaunt status?

I recall a date I had, many years ago, when the woman asked me, “Do you have your own office at work?” “No”, I answered, “I work in a cubicle.” She then taunted me with the revelation that she had her own office, as well as people who answered to her. She got me, I guess. I wasn’t one of the “chosen ones.”

But did she have enough?

If you choose not to play their game, but live a prosperous and giving life regardless, are you really losing?

Finally, I’ll compare the corporate hyenas I knew with the aforementioned teacher I spoke with. The salary of the corporate crony is probably much higher, yet I’d venture to guess that they also have more debt–possibly much more. More importantly, they have greater stress due to the complications their status chasing has gathered.

Most importantly, the teacher has the crown jewel that they might die having never found: enough.


Teacher Field Trip Day

I was finishing lunch at the primary school cafeteria on Thursday when I found out that my afternoon high school class was canceled. Eureka! I was done for the day. I teach at two different schools–a primary school in the morning, then a high school in the afternoon. It’s an interesting contrast to say the least.

I’ve found that building friendships in China is a slower, more gradual process than in America. People often have a natural inclination to be reserved and shy with strangers here, and it takes time to get past that barrier. There has to be a well established sense of trust to have camaraderie. At first, it can seem as though people are cold relative to their American counterparts. After getting to know you (over months, not weeks), though, interactions feel about as normal as anywhere.

To celebrate “International Women’s Day”, the primary school teachers were taking a field trip to a local movie theater.

“Since you are done for the day, why don’t you come with us?” One of the teachers suggested.

“What movie are we seeing?”

She then searched through her smartphone for the English translation of the movie name. “Fierce China,” she said. “I think that’s what the name means in English.”

“Is the movie in English?” I asked.

“No, all Chinese. It is about the strength and power of China. Maybe you can try and learn Chinese by watching!”

“I’m not sure. Maybe I should get back to the high school.” Considering the movie plotline and the fact that I wouldn’t understand a single word, it didn’t sound like I’d get much out of a viewing. Then again, it was free.

“There is free popcorn and coke too,” she remarked.

“Okay, in that case I’m in,” I said. I quickly got on the charter bus that drove us to the theater.

Even after studying Chinese for a few months and living in the country for half a year, I understood approximately 5% of the film. Not to bash the movie, but as a result of not knowing what was being said, I dozed off about 30 minutes in. I was able to gather that it was a documentary.

It was a worthwhile trip nonetheless; Chinese popcorn is fantastic. Unlike American popcorn, it’s caramel coated. Thus, it’s much sweeter. I had two small boxes.

After the film, I communicated with another teacher via his phone app. You speak into the app, which then translates your words into any intended language.

“Did you see the strength of China today?” the teacher asked me via the app. He was sporting a huge grin.

“Yes, it was amazing to see the growth of this country,” I responded. I’m always sure to keep an upbeat and encouraging response. What can I say, I like making people happy.

After a boast, it is Chinese custom to say something humble and self-critical. That’s exactly how the teacher responded.

“China’s growth rate is 6% now, which is slower than in the past. India’s is higher, and India also aims to be competitive on a global scale.”

“China’s growth is practical and impressive for its size,” I responded. “And Chinese companies are improving rapidly.”

The teacher’s grin widened more. “I would love to speak with you more!” he said as we left the bus.

We’re a few weeks into the spring term here. It’s March 9, yet the city had 6 inches of snow this week and daytime highs below 20. Needless to say, I’m ready for spring!

Changchun translates to “long spring” in English. I asked a teacher when this “long spring” would commence. He smiled and exclaimed, “It is just a name. We have a very spring here. Long winter!”


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.

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.


Bus Rides in Changchun

Winter in Changchun, China can lead to treacherous navigation, as most roads and sidewalks are coated with varying layers of ice. Two teachers that I know personally have broken bones. You have to watch your step, especially at night, when the darkness veils the ice. Oh, and be sure to wear shoes with decent traction.

I’ve seen a few buses stall when driving uphill. It actually doesn’t snow much in this city, but what precipitation the city gets will stick throughout all of winter. The last time it snowed here was about four weeks ago, and it only snowed half an inch. There’s still a quarter of an inch on the ground. When the daytime highs are rarely over 10 degrees Fahrenheit, not much melts.

Cars and buses have snow tires, of course, so rarely do things get shut down. Usually, I take the bus.

Riding the bus in China can be quite an experience. The bus drivers in this city are often totally insane. You have to get used to them yelling and cursing in Chinese, which can be funny because they like to draw out their “arrghhhhs!” like pirates. They drive aggressively by most standards on roads that seem too narrow for the vehicles. They honk constantly and frequently miss hitting adjacent cars by inches. I often stare out the window in awe, thinking, damn, I thought for sure we’d nail that car. I’ve never seen an accident though.

One bus driver I encounter regularly has every stop light timed to the second on his route. At the longer stops, he will transition the bus to “park”, take out a mop, and start cleaning the floor. Then as the seconds wind down, he’ll rush back over to his driver’s seat and take off just as the light switches to green. It’s a pretty impressive feat because he clearly has the stoplights timed to the second.

If the bus seats are taken and I find myself standing, some of the citizens will be in awe from the height difference. I’ve had a few short people hoist up their hands to see if they can reach my head. I’ve also had a few sneak pictures of me when they think I’m not looking.

Navigating cities in China. Always an experience.

Alternative Lifestyles

“Don’t tell me what I am doing; I don’t want to know! What a way to live. The only way.” – Ray Bradbury

I like to operate differently than most people. I don’t say that to brag; it’s just part of my personality. I prefer to march to the beat of my own drum, for better and at times for worse. Maybe it’s because predictability bores me. You only have so many breaths to take in the world, after all, and I can’t see the point in using my breaths to follow a predesigned plan, an expected path, a linear life. It feels too cliché to live that way, and there’s nothing I hate more than a cliché film! I need a few curveballs thrown my direction and I need to throw a few curveballs of my own, or I ain’t having fun.

Thus, I spend my Sundays ice skating and playing basketball in China, while my old high school classmates pay off their mortgage, change diapers, and break sweat over their chain of emails they’ll have to answer on Monday morning.

I recall, once, a significant other telling me that her dream was to have a nice house in Raleigh, NC, to settle down, and to raise kids that go to a good school, whom she drops off with a RAV4 before heading to her corporate office for a nice middle class salary with a solid 401k plan.

That’s a perfectly decent dream, but it ain’t mine. In my mind, I was scuba diving somewhere far away from this significant other, somewhere like Thailand. After all, I’ve heard that story before, so I don’t see any point in living it. Every story ends the same, after all: with death. And once you realize the inevitability of the ending, you can find it within yourself to start shaping the middle acts in ways that feel personally worthwhile.

I had enough nights at the bar with suburban buddies, talking about who’s pregnant and who’s getting laid off and the bonus you may or may not get in the near future and the list of houses you might buy and the new platinum gym membership and the renovated kitchen.

YAWN! Heard it all before.

By the way, I hate cars, especially RAV4s. And kids are fun to teach and coach, but teaching and coaching is where I draw the line. Once again, it’s just my opinion. And spare me the “you’ll flip on these things” speech. I’m turning 33 this year, and my opinions have solidified on these matters.

I’m not saying that my life is better than anyone else’s. Not at all. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, after all. I know a lot of very happy people in suburbia, as well as some unhappy expat teachers. I’m just saying that I prefer life when it has a twist. I like operating on the fringes, where few dare to go, where you’re on the cusp of a compelling and odd story at the turn of every corner.

I don’t think it surprised anyone close to me when I said that I was moving to China. It would have been more surprising, I think, if I said that I was ready to settle down.

Living life with the chirping and pestering of critics tuned out is something I’ve always done. I cannot explain why or how I do it. I can only say that I’m usually reasonably happy, so it can’t be that bad a thing. To not give a damn what other people think, to me, is always the route to a smile. Thus, I never had the fear of a career decision or life decision being judged as bad by whomever. I just get an idea and go with it.

What’s my point to all this? It’s not to encourage people to pack their bags and move to China. That might not be for you! My point is, there are a lot of unhappy people out there, popping Xanax to get through another bland week, which blends into another bland year, which blends into more gray hairs and a “where the fuck did my life go” panic attic upon looking in the mirror one day as the days and years meld together and the third act to the story nears.

My point is to ask yourself if you’re really happy, and if you aren’t, to ask yourself if you’re living by the standards of outside opinions and judgments. If not, I suggest you go deaf to these outsiders and start having some fun.

But be sure to make money and stay employed. Those two things are also important. You cannot achieve the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, after all, if you can’t put food on the table.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, so don’t let anyone insist to you that their way is the only way. The only “right way” is the way you prefer to use.