Something happened last Friday morning, something that has been about 21 months in the making. My (now) ex-wife and I finally signed our divorce settlement, slapped down our red inky thumbprints upon our names, and received our divorce papers from the Chinese government. So I guess this might be the end of K-Sqared’s Ghost Bloggy Blog as my life can now officially begin again.
I’m not a prototypical consumer, but I am very accomplished when it comes to buying things I don’t need. I own a little Xiaomi universal IR blaster with which I can control the TV and air-conditioner in my room with my phone. I have at least 5 pairs of earphones, but only 1 pair of ears. I have a podcasting microphone, but I haven’t podcasted in years. I have a Raspberry Pi, and I don’t even like raspberries. Three mice are scampering around my various desks.
My current phone (which I’m satisfied with) is a Samsung Galaxy S9+. I bought it when it launched way-way back in March of 2018. Being that it’s now October 2018, I have no business looking at mobile phones, at least not with the intention to buy. I have no need for a new mobile phone. So why am I checking out the $1,440 Huawei Mate 20 Pro? Because I am a human geek from America, and the media trained me to seek out and consume technology, that’s why.
I probably won’t buy a new phone this year, probably. But I find it disturbing that I want to buy this phone. Tech news sites and podcasts prey upon the geek’s natural desire for cool, new technology. The media feeds us glorified press releases masquerading as news, custom-built to appeal to our appetite for gadgets. The media programmed me to seek out news and information so that when I see something shiny and awesome, I’m primed to buy it as soon as I can. My self-control is constantlybeing put to the test. Services like Amazon Prime which offer near-instant satisfaction would certainly endanger my bank account were I living in the US right now.
I’m about to disappear once more, but not like last time. This time will be different. This time I won’t be running for my life. This time, I’ll just get up on my trusty steed and ride off into the hills in Red Dead Redemption 2. I don’t remember ever feeling so much anticipation over a video game before. I’m sure that feeling has deeper implications about my current desire to vanish into the wilderness without a trace, but I’m not ready to write about that at present. As soon as my Taobao order arrives, I’ll to go to ground. My escape will get underway just in time for the US mid-term elections.
I’m always a little reluctant to talk about my observations and experiences here in China because I know just how trollish certain organizations of people can be when determined to undermine bad news or information that runs counter to their own narrative. I’ve just gotten used to saving it for my journal or internalizing it all together. Such is life here in China.
But I suppose I want to talk about my experience coaching high school basketball and how difficult it can be teaching Chinese high school kids to play together as a team. When I look at how most of these kids were raised, as an only child, often coddled by their grandparents, often without a strong father-figure or male role model, it’s no surprise when I see them get upset about missing a shot, making bad pass, or just turning the ball over because they lack some of the fundamental skills to execute basketball moves they’ve seen NBA players perform. Each of these boys wants to be the scorer, the playmaker, the hero on offense but doesn’t want or know how to work as part of a team. To a man and poor spelling aside, I think each of them believes there is an “I” in “team”.
Most of them struggle with the idea that they are not meant to be the superstar. They resist the idea that the play the coach wants them to run is a more effective, more consistent way to score than their own ideal of 1-on-5. Their preferred way invariably results in one of them launching a contested 19-foot prayer toward the hoop while their teammates stand around watching, frustrated that they aren’t the one with the chance at stardom.
A few of my players understand they need to work hard to improve their skills, and they stay after practice to work on something. But the majority of my team seem to believe they will only improve their game through the frustratingly inane 1-on-5 play I laugh at, then shout at them for. One of the best parts of coaching for me has been taking individual kids aside off the court and explaining to them their importance lies not in scoring points but in some other aspect of the game that they excel at.
This one boy who calls himself “Batman” looked a little depressed last Thursday night during our open-gym time because his team wasn’t getting him the ball so he could shoot more. He was so distraught that he didn’t want to play anymore that night. The next morning before first-period, I went to his classroom and had a short conversation with him in the hallway. I reminded him of the compliments I always give about his defense. He has become a hyperactive monster at the small forward position, disrupting opponents’ passing lanes, harassing and frustrating ball-handlers, grabbing rebounds, even blocking shots as he’s helping out. I told him any points he scores for our team are a bonus and that he should focus on his defensive play because that’s what the team needs most and what he does better than anyone else on the team.
I suppose our team won’t win any games against other schools this fall, but I really couldn’t care less about that. My philosophy about basketball has evolved a lot since I began playing here in China. No longer do I keep score when I’m playing, and I don’t argue calls. Instead, I focus my mind on one thing while I’m playing, and that’s whether or not I’m happy. If I’m not happy, I remind myself how lucky I am to be fit enough to play basketball nearly every weekday, how lucky I am that I work at a school where I have access to a gymnasium to play in year-round. When I consider how lucky I am and how good having basketball in my life feels, I can’t help but be happy. For me, basketball has become all about shared experiences and relationships I have with those I play with and coach. Winning is also nice, but I won’t allow not winning to affect my happiness.
This alternate universe known as Shanghai has an energy to it, a vibe that imbues the flow of humans rushing through the streets with an unnatural momentum as though nothing common can stop it, not even an oncoming train. So the government has implemented these rolling gates. Otherwise, you better believe trains all across the country would be forced to stop to wait on the majority of drivers and motorcyclists who clearly believe traffic laws are entirely optional.
Though it was never in my life plan, Shanghai became my home away from home last July. Actually, I should say that I moved here in July of 2017, but it became my home at some point during the fall semester at my new school, probably when I realized the administrators, teachers, and students were quickly becoming my new extended family, and I was feeling safe both on campus and off. Exploring Shanghai on foot, one city block at a time became my hobby and pastime. No longer is walking the desperate, momentary escape it had been for me in Changsha. The day I walked all the way to the Bund and became engulfed in the flood of wide-eyed tourists on East Nanjing Road still echoes in my mind, a fantastic triumph of spirit and fortitude which I’ve subsequently repeated several times. Now, I know this is where I belong (for the time being).
Despite all of the beginning-of-year mini-disasters at my school, I have to say that life has been pretty good for me so far this semester. I’m only teaching two literature courses (instead of 3), and my basketball practices will start tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been averaging over 7 hours of sleep for the past three weeks. That’s an improvement by about an hour over last semester. Although I haven’t yet lost the extra kg’s I gained over the summer, I feel pretty healthy, no aches or pains anywhere, and my basketball skills (such as they are) don’t seem to have diminished.
For three days last week, I traveled with my school on our fall field trip to a place southwest of Shanghai called Nine Dragons. I guess you’d call it a secluded resort area on the coast surrounded on three sides by small mountains. I’d call it a picturesque local except for the three massive sky-piercing smokestacks clearly visible off in the distance from nearly every place in Nine Dragons.
On the afternoon of the first day, the students were placed at random on teams then performed a bunch of cooperation-based tasks, basically team-building 101. When I asked a few students how they liked it, they invariably said it was very difficult. They don’t get a lot of team activities at our school.
On the morning of the second day, we rode horses around the inside of a coral, led by the horse’s trainers who held a lead. I found it a little boring, but some of the kids liked it. We also did some archery followed by kart racing, which I enjoyed most of all the things we did. I’m not hyper-competitive, but I’m proud that I passed everyone in my heat once and passed one person twice. After my race, another foreign teacher ignorantly said my kart was much faster than theirs. I didn’t waste my breath explaining to her that she was slow in the corners, didn’t follow the racing line, and probably wasn’t strong enough to press the throttle all the way to the floor. I just let her think my kart was faster. Hell yeah, it was faster. I drove it faster.
In the afternoon of the second day, we went boating in a small harbor and around some small canals which connected to it. Our small, under-powered boats each held four people. I rode with 3 of my 10th-grade students, and we had a pretty good time tooling around on the water. Once we had found the outlet, we made a tentative plan to escape to the ocean, but we ran out of time and needed to head back to the dock to head to the next activity.
One of the 10th-graders brought a few clubs with him on this trip, a 7-iron, a wedge, and a putter. Too bad he didn’t bring his driver, or we could have had a little driving contest, but he thought we were going to be playing on a par-3 golf course. Most of us had fun pointlessly trying to hit little white balls into a rolling field full of little white balls while Andy, the boy who had brought his own clubs worked on his short game.
The last stop of the day was to play a war game the Chinese kids call CS (Counter-Strike). The war is fought with guns that fire plastic pellets which aren’t supposed to hurt much, but seeing as how I’m a teacher, I didn’t take the chance to get shot in the face by my students and sat this one out. Though most of the kids had a great time fighting it out among the modified shipping containers, one boy was obviously upset that someone he had shot would not admit to having been shot, and I suppose it might have changed the outcome of the game. So I reminded the boy that it’s only a game, and he calmed down. I think he was just hangry, and all of us were looking forward the the big meal at the end of a very long day.
I only have about 12 minutes before my work day is over, and I can leave the office here at school. So I thought I would take a few (five or less) minutes to write a quick micro-post about recent developments in my life. There have been few.
One purchase I made on Taobao this week has made me temporarily quite happy has been a new phone case. The first case I bought for my S9+ was just OK. Although it felt good in my hand, I found that it restricted the use of the health sensor on the back of my phone because it had a plastic bar located between the camera and the sensor. In order to measure my blood pressure or to take an accurate heart rate measurement, I needed to remove the case first. With this new Spigen case, such measurements are no trouble whatsoever. In fact, I like this case so much that I ordered another one of the same model only black and bronze instead of dark blue and silver. It’s nice to have options.
As time permits, I’d like to get into the habit of blogging during my lunch break(s), this being the first such post. As I don’t much feel like writing about what I ate for lunch, I suppose I need to begin a new paragraph.
I don’t have a lot on my mind these days. Basically, I’m just waiting out this part of life to get to the better parts beyond. I know. I know. I’ve heard it before, it’s not about the destination, but it’s the trip that should be enjoyed, and I get that. And for the most part, I am enjoying this trip called life, but I know a light at the end of the tunnel awaits me come the middle of July when I’ll once again know the meaning of true freedom once more.
In the meantime, I’ve been walking a lot on weekends and playing basketball throughout the week. Last week, I caught someone’s fingertips in my right eye, and it took about a week for that eye to get back to normal. Every morning I would awaken to a blurry film of goop which I needed to blink away and then rub off my long thick crusty eyelashes. Bright light made me wince in pain as my right eye hurt when it constricted my pupil. I’m all better now, and I can’t wait to play basketball with those teachers who nearly blinded me once again.
I’ve been following MLB baseball this season. I shelled out the $19.99 for MLB @ Bat so I can listen to my favorite teams teams, the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Yankees, play ball on my Bluetooth speaker sent from either my computer or my phone. That low price also entitles me to watch the “Game of the Day” for free. So as far as getting live professional sports content for a low low price, you can’t beat MLB @ Bat! Go Tribe!
The weather here (at my secret location) has warmed up nicely already this spring, and I’ve bought several very nice and very cool, breathable polo shirts. I wouldn’t yet call myself a clotheshorse, but my closet has become a little too full. So much so that I need to bag up my winter weather clothes to make more room for my summer clothes.
In conclusion (the best way to end a lunchtime blog post), I think this blogging session has been a limited success. I count at least 3 paragraphs (not counting this one) of information above.
And I couldn’t be happier about it. There comes a time in the life of every social network when its administrators must decide between treating its users with respect or exploiting its users. I feel like Facebook has had several such moments, and each time, they have chosen to screw the users of their platform. So now it’s time for me to say goodbye to Facebook and all of the subtly racist and sexist content my “friends” post there. According to the response when I “deleted” my account, it has been suspended and will “permanently” be deleted in 14 days.
Way back in 2012, my very first smartphone was a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. By today’s standards, it was slow and tiny with 64 GB of storage, but at the time, it satisfied my meager mobile phone needs. I almost didn’t notice how poor its camera was because I was supplementing my photography needs using a Canon point-and-shoot S95. While in China in 2015, I upgraded to a Oneplus One with a much better camera. I instantly gravitated to the custom ROM scene and installed CyanogenMod.
In April of 2017, I was forced to buy a new phone after my Oneplus One was stolen, and without the time nor the ability to research my phone purchase, I settled on a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. It is a beautiful phone that made me very happy for almost a year, but I have a couple of reasons for deciding to ditch it in favor of a newer, faster phone with a much bigger screen. The first reason I’m planning to upgrade is that buying my S7 Edge was not my choice. It was a decision forced upon me due to circumstances beyond my control in a moment of desperation. If given the chance, I would have held onto my Oneplus One for at least another year. Reason number two: the camera on my S7 Edge suffers from some pretty bad distortion. Perhaps it’s not noticeable to others, but I always notice it, especially in photos of buildings or other things that should appear perpendicular to the ground, but due to barrel distortion. Of course, the Samsung camera app which ships with the phone has a setting to reduce lens distortion, but that app on my phone does not allow the saving of RAW photos, so I usually choose not to use that camera.
Therefore, after reading all of the leaked information about the Samsung Galaxy S9+ I could get my hands on, I’ve decided to pull the trigger and buy one. In fact, shortly after rolling out of bed this morning, I parked myself on Samsung’s website, invested the time and effort in creating an account with my new address, and ordered myself a black 256 GB Galaxy S9+. I realize that it won’t ship for another week, but I feel very good, so good that I also ordered a phone case to fit it.
Will this new phone change my life? Yes! Yes, it will.