A public journal, entry #2: Taipei and girls

I’m writing a journal of sorts, only I’m doing it publicly on the blog as an experiment. Here is the first entry. I’ll try to maintain a similar style to how I write in my actual private journal, an activity – more like a thought process – that I’ve kept since high school (although I have since lost most of the high school and college entries, which is a crying shame since they would be hilarious and embarrassing to read now…how little things mattered in hindsight and yet how much things seem to matter today, it’s just samsara, the cycle simply repeats).

I mentioned briefly in the last entry that I feel like a floater here in Taipei: no direct family here, no job that requires a local presence, only a personal preference to live here (for now) and not in America (for now). Three minutes into most conversations that I have here with unknown people, especially Taiwanese people, after they discover that my family is from China and I don’t have a local job, they immediately ask: “Why are you in Taiwan?”

I suppose many of them can’t understand why someone would personally choose to live here, of their own volition, if it weren’t requested by relatives or dictated by a boss. It does highlight the narrow worldview of some Taiwanese, a quality which also has its charms. But the question annoys me and I’m on the verge of just fabricating a story, like “Oh, I started a wholesale company here to export local goods to America.” That seems simultaneously specific and vague and boring enough that people will want to switch topics.

I basically like being a floater, in much the same way – or perhaps for the same reasons – that I like to spend a lot of time by myself. It’s a conscious choice to extract myself from the regular pressures and workaday expectations I had known so well. I am reminded of a throwaway line from an anime called Rurouni Kenshin which my friend Brian introduced me to: “Becoming an artist is the best way to avoid annoying, ordinary society”.

A good friend in Taipei read my first entry and the one thing that stood out to him was my failure to mention girls as a factor for why I chose to live here. Girls, as in how Taiwanese girls are beautiful and friendly and easy for foreigners to date. In his view, perhaps the main reason (or the only reason?) why a relatively young and single American would choose to live in Taipei (as opposed to perhaps China or Europe) is because the dating life is so good.

He’s right, of course. When I look at expats here in Taiwan, or in China, the only other country I know well enough to assess, and specifically I mean expats who actually reside in the country and not college students on a lark for six months, there are two types: type #1 is usually a tad socially awkward, likely not fully integrated or comfortable in their home country, and has a strong interest in Asian culture which is vaguely defined as Asian food / movies / the language; type #2 is horny and largely motivated by the prospect of sex, whether because they were starved of it through their formative adolescent and college years, or because they struggle to develop intimacy in normal relationships and use sex as a kind of physical band-aid for an emotional wound, and are in Asia to take advantage of their more exotic and elevated status in the local dating hierarchy. Or all of the above.

That all sounds very hater-ish, and it is. But most of it also applies to me, and to ABC guys in general. The dating scene is easier for me, too. if I had to make up a number I’d say 25% easier. You are perceived as having more money or status; you’re a different cuisine than the local meal. Pair that with the Asian female tendency – taught from childhood and reinforced by social norms and vague concepts like Confucianism – to be more outwardly submissive and agreeable and naive, and you have an equation for greater amounts of superficial fun.

This craziness was definitely an attraction for me. But like a new laptop, it runs slower and crashes more with each passing year. And now that I’m 33, whether due to declining testosterone levels or hedonic adaptation or rising boredom, popping bottles at Omni or bar hopping on the Bund and trolling for party girls has lost its appeal. If a cute girl flirts with me and gives me obvious signals and the chemistry is good, I might take advantage of the situation if I’m not too tired or hungry or need to pee. But it’s more like a tired dog that eats a treat placed in front of its paws, than an eager puppy who lunges for his food. When I do go out, say for a birthday or holiday party, which still happens at least once a month, I find myself needing to get blackout drunk to have fun. In other words, I have to not be myself. Or else I just find the whole charade to be pretty stupid now.

I suppose at some level, both my body and brain (coordinating finally!) are telling me that it’s time to settle down, it’s time to find a serious partner and start a family. My desire is to find someone who is more local to China or Taiwan. Someone who can help fill that missing part of my identity and who has a worldview that is entirely different from mine, but also relatable. This plays a big role in why I choose to stay out here. I simply don’t see myself marrying an ABC in America, and I haven’t dated enough of the other races to have a strong view. All of this I will save for a separate and more elaborated post. But I’ll stop here because I’ve rambled for long enough.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

SHANGHAI, HERE I COME: 6 Reasons Why I’m Spending 6 Months In China

Good memories from a long time ago :)
Good memories from a long time ago :)

I’m moving to Shanghai, folks! (for at least 6 months, anyway)

Some of you might be surprised at the suddenness, but I’ve had this desire for years.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. – an old proverb

I’m tired of waiting. Now is as good a time as any. Hyperink is entering a new stage. I’m ready for a new environment, a new way of life, an external shock to the system.

If you’ve thought about doing something like this, act now. Time is only moving in one direction, so eliminate regrets.

Beyond the timing element, here are 6 specific reasons why I’m moving.

1. My biggest regret in college was not studying abroad

I applied for Stanford in Beijing. For a few mostly short-sighted reasons, I backed out at the last minute. After paying my deposit. I regret this.

There’s more detail in my Quora answer to: What do you wish you’d taken more advantage of while at Stanford?.

2. I had a vivid dream about doing exactly this

A few months ago, I had a crazy dream that I was living and working in Shanghai. The experience was so real, so crisp, so full of people I know or am likely to meet, that I knew my subconscious was shouting at me.

You remember that magic 8-ball you shook in 3rd grade to find out if some cute girl in your class liked you? Well, your brain is like a super powerful 8-ball; dreams are when it shakes itself. Yes, my metaphors need some work…

3. Mandarin, baby!

My conversational Mandarin is at a 6th grade level. My reading/writing are at, at best, a 2nd grade level.

My crappy Mandarin is a source of mild embarrassment and occasional teasing by family and friends; plus, learning Mandarin is super practical: if language dominance is a byproduct of economic dominance (a strong theory), then Mandarin’s stock price is climbing and climbing and climbing.

My goal: to fully understand a normal Chinese newspaper. BRING IT ON.

4. “I’m from the future. Go to China.” – Bruce Willis to Joseph Gordon Levitt in Looper

Everyone in the theater laughed. All good comedy contains a little truth and a little absurd(ity).

China will be a top-3 global player for the next 25, maybe 100 years. There are huge uncertainties (imo: less economic, more sociopolitical) that make it difficult to forecast whether it will play the hero or the villain.

I want to experience it firsthand. Feel the vibes. (nope, not what you’re thinking)

As Paul Graham explains, good design tends to happen in geo-temporal clusters (like Leonardo and Michelangelo in 15th century Florence). I think this concept extends to innovation at large, and Silicon Valley is going through this now.

I’d like to see if Shanghai has this potential. After all, China built a Shanghai->Beijing high-speed train in 2 years. California, pay attention!!

5. I’ve got an idea brewing that will require serious thinking and a change from my Silicon Valley routine

It still amazes me how quickly peoples’ thoughts and actions adapt to their environment. As Malcolm Gladwell elegantly put it,

How we behave at any one time, evidently, has less to do with some immutable inner compass than with the particulars of our situation.

Silicon Valley is about technology and entrepreneurship. The focus on these twin pillars is what makes the Valley tops at cranking out your Facebooks and Googles, and why the most ambitious technology entrepreneurs should live here if they’re serious about changing the world.

Me? I find myself spending too much time wondering what company will be the Instagram-for-video, debating how well Larry Page is leading Google, reading rumors about Apple’s next major product release. Most of the world doesn’t care, and because I’m working on something different, neither should I.

Because it is different, I’d like to THINK differently, LIVE differently, PLAY differently. Shanghai may not be the right long-term city for me, but as the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest.

6. There’s no city like New York, but Shanghai is as close as it gets

Here’s my Quora answer to why New York is, bar none, the best city in the world. In 3 words: energy, people, breadth.

Now take a look at this picture of Shanghai’s famous Bund area in 1990 and 2010.

Blows my mind, every time
Blows my mind, every time

Energy? Check.

People? Check.

Pollution? Unfortunately…

If you’re in Shanghai, or planning a visit, or have any thoughts/feedback, email me or comment below.

I plan to blog a lot about Shanghai life. Til next time, xie xie he zai jian!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.