Local Walkabout – Shanghai, China

A lot of people post their travel blogs here, which is great, but I’d love to see more local walkabouts in various countries around the world, getting into the grit of real life.

Now, I’m no photographer, and I made no effort to pretend otherwise, but here’s a bunch of photos of my area, no more than 5 minute’s walk from my home in any direction, in the heart of Shanghai, China. Hopefully my descriptions will add some actual value to the sub-par images. So please enjoy the journey with me!

So first up, we have this little enclosed business area with a nice restaurant which is within visual range of my apartment. It’s not interesting in and of itself, but in context of it’s surrounding, I thought it symbolic of the substantial wealth divide rampant in the city/country.

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A few metres away, a typical public toilet. For those who have read my article about toilets in China, your imagination should be running wild by now.

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As you walk, you can see a school is around somewhere…

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To continue, you have to go through a couple of small shack homes pretty much. It looks as if they have been there for many years and urbanization has done its best to consume its surroundings and make it public.

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Around on the side of the little house is a sign in Chinese saying ‘If you want one of our plants you can just ask, stop stealing our shit’ – more or less.

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Here you can see the rich area immediately behind, and some random biker just casually passing through.

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‘Great wall’ internet. 50M is not particularly fast in Shanghai, you can easily get double, but it’s actually faster than I’d ever get back in England (I mean, for the price I’d pay). Right now I have 50M for 90GBP per year.

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Not the best of photos, but I wanted to demonstrate how just about any small home can become a store, and this guy had been doing quite well running a fruit stall until the authorities made all the shops keep to their assigned spaces and to stop spreading onto the street. Now he’s left with a few measly benches of peaches and barely gets by.

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On my way to work, I like to go down these little secret alleyways where the poor families tend to reside. Behind this blue door is a space a little larger than a single bed. Many people use this space as storage down this alley, but at least half of them serve as actual bed-sized homes. It’s quite something to observe when walking down here at night and you get a little peak at them watching a tiny TV with a tiny fan blowing in their faces.

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Trash is typically picked up… infrequently, and most of these trash areas are overflowing for some days, usually until the weekend. In some cases, the piles continue to grow for weeks at a time. On the way to work, one sometimes fills up the entire street until it becomes impossible for cars to actually get by.

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Graffiti in training

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About 2 years ago somebody came up with the bright idea of putting cigarettes into grab machines, and you can pretty much see them everywhere now. Hardly a surprise given that at least 350 million people smoke in China.

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When the trash piles get to a certain size, you can sometimes see weird little auctions where an old lady has been curating various bits of useful trash and others can come and buy it from her, I suppose?

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In the midst of all the housing there lies a secret, female-only temple.

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This guy will unlock any door. I’ve been locked out a few times. It’s quite disconcerting that he can just waltz up to any home and break in silently without a care in the world, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

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Getting into the more populated areas now, you can see the monstrous buildings hiding behind the residential areas.

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Dogs are rapidly becoming a family treasure here, and we’re seeing a growing discomfort with the eating of dogs, and the festivals of dog slaughter, like Yulin Dog Festival, in which 10,000 or more dogs are tortured and skinned alive before eating, because the suffering they go through makes them taste better. Apparently.

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Street food is pretty amazing here. Who knows how safe, but I’d say at least 40% safe.

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Directly across the street you start to see more modern Shanghai. This cafe opened just a few months ago and is proving to be incredibly popular, with customers out the door most days. It turns out the owner of this restaurant is from Hong Kong and is a high school friend of my long-time Hong Kong friend. I’ve yet to take advantage of that via discounts… but I will.

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One of the good things about Shanghai is that they are doing very well at making the city greener. You’ll find most streets lined with trees like this, and in the narrower, French colonial streets, they block the sunlight and create a wonderfully nature-shaded walk. Given the mega city Shanghai is and its mass of cars and pollution, the ubiquitous trees and plants are a very welcome addition.

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I’d say this hospital is about 6 minutes away from my home. This is where I got my toenail removed after it became ingrown. It’s not a good hospital. They removed the whole nail, something that is outdated and generally a bad idea, then they made me return several times to agonisingly and ruthlessly tear off the bandaging and replace it. But the very act of replacing it re-opened the wound and just made matters worse. I took it into my own hands and it healed quickly. Then it grew back even worse and I now live with daily blood stained socks until I find a more decent hospital on the cheap (Work does not provide insurance). Story of my life.

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Going into the subway…

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Down we go. Shanghai has one of the biggest subway systems in the world, and despite its size, a place like downtown Shanghai will see some outrageous numbers of people during rush hour, as you can see:

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Technology is pretty substantial under here. You can scan your phone on this machine and charge your subway card, which also can be used to pay for taxis, buses and all that.

The app you use to scan can also pay for bills, book cinema tickets, flights, book restaurants and all sorts. Pretty amazing stuff.

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Buses outside in this central Shanghai area are powered by electricity. You can see the kind of tram lines above this bus.

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Saw this overtly proud backpacker

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The recent crazy of shared bikes is another pretty wonderful addition to Shanghai and other cities around the country. One day, bright orange and silver bikes popped up out of nowhere on the streets – Mobikes. You scan their QR code and you can download a fully English app where you can locate the bikes in your area (always at least one within a few metres, it seems), then you scan the bike code which unlocks the wheels.

Per use, you will pay between 0.5 RMB and 1RMB (around 10cents), depending on the bike.

Within no time, a new, bright yellow, Chinese language only bike came about – OFO. Many prefer this because it’s cheaper, more ‘bike-like’ in comfort and other issues. Within the week you had blue, even cheaper bikes, green electric bikes and now there are even shiny golden bikes.

It’s a little overwhelming, filling the streets and causing problems, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Quality of life has gone up and I wouldn’t be surprised to see pollution data fall in the near future.

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Sometimes it really does come across like the government can’t physically see residential homes and just blindly build giants on top. In reality, the government has the right to demolish and build on any area, and give homeowners a deadline to get out. They do get a rather comfortable compensation (well in Shanghai, at least), but some simply refuse to leave. In some cases the government, rather than make a big fuss about it, simply build around those homes.

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If you look really carefully, you’ll see two Starbucks in this single image. Can you spot them?

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You’ll often find a lot of interesting information, maps and the like on various walls, even back-streets like this one.

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One of my favourite things about East Asia is the love of secret little Cafes. Some do not advertise at all or even have a sign on the front, but simply depend on word of mouth through social media. This one takes up the entire house and is a lot more than just a cafe. Upstairs there is a Playstation room, a bean bag room, a boxing room, a meeting room, a massage/relax room and a whole bunch more.

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Finally I get back home and take a look out my window

On the surface I guess it’s barely worth mentioning, but this sight is particularly unusual in Shanghai, the world’s biggest city and with a population of 25 million people. Sure, you get all the roads lined with trees the same boring trees, but to see these huge, ancient beasts right outside my window is super rare. Finding this apartment was a stroke of luck – these green giants reduce my stress levels by about 60%!

Thanks for coming with me!

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China – the bad, part 3

This is Part 3 of my series on China. Each part can be read separately, but you can read part 1 here
https://steemit.com/politics/@mobbs/china-1-the-bad-part-1

and part 2 here
https://steemit.com/politics/@mobbs/china-2-the-bad-part-2

Previously I discussed:

Economy
Population
Culture (in part)
Health & Safety
Corruption

I’d like to explore more aspects of culture, with my Steemian friend, who, as a Chinese woman, has a first-hand account, @ginafraser. So let’s begin

Equality

In many ways, much of what I say here would probably apply globally, but China has a systematic approach to inequality which, though changing in some of the major ‘first tier’ cities like Shanghai and Beijing, still has a long way to go, and in much – perhaps most – of China, has an unchanged attitude towards equality, in particular, gender equality. I find this particularly striking given their socialist history. According to the Gender Inequality Index, China ranks 91 out of 187 countries (some tied), and 99th in the Gender Gap index.

These statistics may not go against any of your expectations, but let’s dig a little deeper into what this actually means, culturally.

Women in much of China are considered as little more than a homestay maid that provides sexual release for the men. But these women also have to be the right kind. A woman’s value rapidly deteriorates in China based on their age and whether or not they are a virgin.

Marriage markets

When I say value, I really mean value. A common sight in China – even in Shanghai – is the rather famous ‘Marriage Markets’. So much so that they’re even a tourist attraction on many websites.

Here you can essentially sell off women to eager, aging, single men. You can advertise men too, but unlike women, the men tend to increase their value with age, and it’s their wallets that really matter.

剩女

China has a popular idiom ‘剩女’ or ‘leftover women’, which refers to women in their late 20’s that are still unmarried (Just recently, the nation somehow collectively decided to lower this age to mid-20’s). After that threshold, your value decreases and your chances of finding a partner in the markets (and elsewhere) plummets. Women typically then feel pressure to get whatever they can take. Additionally, the ‘virgin system’, as @ginafraser puts it, causes value to drop even more. I find this particularly bewildering given that there is a huge gender imbalance in the population in the other direction; a surplus of 33 million men reside in China.

Once a woman finds a man and the man proposes, it’s not unusual for the woman’s family to put a price tag on their approval. My friend’s fiancée was given the go ahead after a nice, brand-new, widescreen TV was put on offer, for example. Some may simply ask for a lump cash sum to prove you’re a good person somehow.

Rights

Women typically have less rights overall. Mao Zedong, in his little red book, insisted that gender equality is a necessity in society, citing equal pay for equal work decades before modern SJWs were even born. But his words did not match reality, with very few discrimination cases and little to no protection against harassment until very recently when Xi Jinping started to make some reforms, and even that led to little change.

Even anecdotally, I know of sexually harassment to friends of mine in public; men touching their underwear with their penis in the subway. Others witness older men casually masturbating over them. ‘When she later asked Beijing locals about the incident she was told that older men were allowed to take part in this kind of activity as they are senile and it was just the way things were.’

According to a Chinese Non-governmental organization, a massive 70% of women here have experienced sexual harassment at work, and 15% have left their jobs because of it.

Furthermore, domestic violence is as high as 40% against women, and even higher in rural areas. Like everything here, the main issue is simply a lack of legislation and enforcement. There is no protection or shelters for abused women, no helping organizations, and abuse is largely considered a ‘family matter’ to the authorities. With that in mind, divorce is not granted on grounds of ‘abuse’. It’s just not a valid argument for divorce in China.

Now we get to the ugly bit.

Unwanted children & abortion

As mentioned above, there are 33 million more men in China than women. That’s a huge number, even for a population as big as China. It may be partly due to the one-child policy I talked about in part 1.
As the policy took over (though many exceptions were available), there was pressure in rural areas to birth males, who are apparently better at work. Women are undesirable; not good for work. So there is a natural desire to abort the fetus or failing that, abandon the baby so they can try again for a boy.

Often, a family is allowed a second child IF the first one is a woman, because this first attempt is considered a ‘failure’. I should note that this attitude in and of itself is common all over including Vietnam and India. This continental gendercide is winding down slowly, like every other problem, but not nearly fast enough. Abortion rates are still incredibly high in China. 336 million abortions were reported since the one-child policy was put into effect, or 13 million each year, many of them forced.

Suicide rates are higher in women than men in China – The only country in the world other than some small island with a population of about 10 people. Now we can start to see why.

CCP

The Communist Party of China, of which there are almost 90 million members, enjoys plenty of general rights compared to the rest of the expendable population. Becoming a member is considered ‘the ultimate resume boost’ to start off, and, going back to the marriage market, your value shoots up substantially. You are culturally more respected and become more influential, because becoming a member is something considered only for the elite – despite it being 7% of the entire population.
To put the cherry on the cake, members literally have more rights according to the Chinese constitution: ‘Article 35 proclaims, “Citizens of the PRC enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration.” Another segment guarantees workers the right to strike, to speak out freely, air views fully, hold large debates and write big-character posters.’ – With a big asterisk at the bottom citing ‘applicable to members of the party only’

Well, that’s nice.

Censorship

China is probably most famous for its incredibly powerful censorship system. With the great firewall, and the lesser known great cannon, billions of dollars put into watching and controlling dissent through social media, internet and a full range of hacking skills, there’s little anybody can realistically do and get away with it – foreigners like me included.
A fellow co-worker, for example, was on skype to his son one day, when he got a phone call from the internet company. ‘Sorry to disturb your call with your son, but’.

Wait, what? It seems they were sitting there, watching them chat through their own computer screen before calling him up, which violates no privacy rights whatsoever. If a private company has that kind of power, what does the government have?
A lot.

五毛党

The Chinese government hires something they call ‘五毛党’, or ’50 cent army’. This is a massive array of individuals paid to manipulate public opinion online (though it’s just as likely it’s an official duty of membership to the CPC). They are responsible for faking 450 million social media posts according to research.

They are also there to snitch on dissenters among other things. They specifically focus on ‘derailing discussions unhelpful to the communist party’. Essentially, they are professional trolls.

Wechat

Wechat is China’s Whatsapp. But it’s so much more than that. It’s an incredible, powerful device that transforms life as we know it. But I’ll get into that in the ‘good’ post later on. The problem is that wechat consumes almost every aspect of life. In the app, you can call taxis, pay your bills, book cinema tickets or flights, order food or pay at restaurants, charge your phone, unlock a shared bike and a whole manner of oth – oh, and chat with your friends.

With 900 MILLION users depending on this all-consuming app, it’s a little worrying when you realise they have a very cozy relationship – as is required – with the government. Censorship is bountiful, and there are 50-cent eyes required in every group chat over a certain number of members. Members of large group of 500 or more also have to register their phone numbers so there’s no escape

The parent company, Tencent, without telling anybody, censors a whole range of key words and images that appear in newsfeeds, typically things relating to political issues like Tiananmen square, the Hong Kong protests and so on. Many users have been arrested and some reportedly ‘disappeared’ (a common theme in China) for writing dissenting ideas where more than a few people could read it.

There is in fact a whole new language created by Chinese netizens meant to be a code to bypass censorship, but the grip gets tighter every day.

Censorship is incredibly fast and efficient here, so word has to spread fast if anybody wants to even hope to make a difference and get people informed.

VPNs

VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are surprisingly not illegal in China. But with the vast majority of the country totally unaware of what that is, it doesn’t mean much anyway, and it allows the hypocritical government to access whatever they please. Just recently however, there has been a crackdown on VPNs, and now only VPNs registered and authorized by the government may function in the country. Surprise, surprise.

Media

Typically, all media is heavily censored. Songs cannot sing about anything controversial, TV shows are all safe and family friendly (there is no age rating in China, so EVERYTHING has to be safe viewing for EVERYONE), Video games have to be safe and friendly, literature has to be compliant and family friendly. And safe.

There was a period drama released a couple of years ago called ‘Empress of China’ which, famously, was pulled from the network without warning, and was not heard of again until a few weeks later when it was re-instated. See if you can spot the difference:

That’s right. NO CLEAVAGE.

Blood is also unacceptable for the most part. The recent movie Logan was released here surprisingly, but only after a full 14 minutes were cut out. I’m sure you can guess which bits.

Most international movies released here (of which only 36 are allowed in a given year), have a scene or two cut from it. Which leads me to the final section of Part 3.

International Affairs.

You may have noticed a sharp rise in Chinese actors in minor roles in big movie hits across America. This is no accident. With China rapidly becoming the biggest cinema market, and by far the fastest rising market, it only makes sense that Hollywood sucks their… little red book. But over here, it’s even more pronounced. What you don’t see in America are the additional scenes specifically recorded by Hollywood to include a dialogue or action by some famous Chinese actress or actor being patriotic and all round heroic. Some movie examples are:

• Iron Man 3 – An extra scene showing famous Chinese actors as heroic doctors operating on Tony Stark
• X-men – Fan Bing Bing, the most famous actress in China, played a useless role
• Transformers – It includes a wide range of Chinese product placement
• World War Z – Left almost unrecognizable after all mention of China was removed
• Dozens of other movies (Looper, Pixels, Karate Kid, Django Unchained, Hunger games, and so on) – Scenes cut entirely for
Chinese viewing.

It’s safe to say that China is having a substantial impact on the Hollywood industry. Directors are carefully planning their movies to be suitable and attractive enough to fit into that small, 36-movies-a-year movie list in China.

One Belt, One Road

China is of course a global power, and boy, do they know it. But naturally, it’s never enough. Just recently, Xi Jinping has released grandiose plans for the ‘One Belt, One road’ initiative; a giant update of the old silk road

The move plans to economically connect the world with China for developmental and cooperative reasons. But it’s not all it seems to be.

It has already gone under fire when footage of Kenyans protesting about the new rail system being installed by China surfaced. The rail system connecting the one belt will triple import and export times.

The Kenyans were protesting for a pay raise from $2.50 to $5… per day to start, but there was also protest about the track cutting right through a protected wildlife reserve, treatment of workers and all round poor conditions, such as firing Kenyan staff without cause, firing Kenyans for asking for more pay, dredging sand from beaches for construction, and stealing water from local communities.

This is common across Africa with Chinese companies, with many human rights laws being broken, with outbreaks of cholera, no protective gear and more.

But not to worry, it’s a divided issue, and at least thousands of new jobs have been provided to install the project. Sounds great! Except… the companies China brings to Africa import their own labour. Very few Kenyans actually got to work on the project.
The problems get bigger still. Kenya will be forcefully buried into debt as a result of this project. Kenya’s debt is now 700% of its annual budget – 60% of which belongs to China.

Similar plans are happening around the entire belt. In Vietnam, plans to ‘help develop’ the country will add additional debt equal to the country’s entire annual budget. There is certainly something sinister about this peace project.
500 billion dollars was given in trade in Latin America, with a further 250 billion in direct investments. Yes, almost a trillion dollars in the continent. As for One belt? An estimated 3 Trillion dollars will be sunk into that beast.

There are even broader efforts by China of global domination. In New York Times Square, for example, there is a huge propaganda ad playing 120 times a day, and has entire sections of newspapers dedicated to Chinese patriotism all over the country. Chinese propaganda is commonplace with entire TV channels dedicated to praising the CPC and more.

Overall, China spends around 10 billion dollars on international propaganda, compared to the US’s $666 million.

Make of that what you will.


Can you spot the propaganda?

To conclude

China’s influence on the world is phenomenal, and its rate of growth is even more astonishing. As worrying as this might be, the internal issues are, to me, a much greater concern. Political battles, human rights abuses, an extremely alarming disregard for safety standards and health, pollution disasters, substantial poverty, inequality, animal cruelty and a whole range of aspects I didn’t get time or space to cover, they all lead to one thing:

I need to make a Part 4!

But I promise it will be a lot shorter next time.

Thanks for reading this far, and a special thanks to @ginafraser for her personal knowledge included in this article.

Butterflies

I feel nervous. I don’t like this type of nervousness. 

I’m leaving Vietnam and unless I get trapped in some freak storm at sea, It’s unlikely I’ll ever return. I’m going to Hong Kong for a few days. After that, life is utterly uncertain. If plans go according to themselves, I will be in Shanghai within a week. If they don’t, well, I could be in Korea, back in Vietnam, England or Colombia. I don’t have a clue. 

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                                            The place I am leaving

The problem is I only have 2 passport pages left. This was never an issue before, because I just needed one visa into China where I could use my 3 month visa to get the passport replaced. However, as of the start of this month, I suddenly can’t get a 3 month-er anymore. I’m limited to 1 month. On top of this, as of 2014 the UK only allows to renew passports in England, extending the waiting time to a guaranteed minimum of 4 weeks, as if we have reverted back to the ancient times when passports were just being figured out. 

They are doing this to ‘save money’. 

Combined, I no longer have enough time at any point to get a new passport and thus a longer-term visa for Shanghai. 

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                                               Potential port of arrival 1

This isn’t why I’m nervous.

How many times have I gotten on a plane to an unknown realm now? How many times have I flown to Hong Kong? These places aren’t even unknown anymore, I have friends at each stop I go to. Being unsure often comes with the territory and I have the money to simply vanish into Colombia where two good friends will await me and I would suffer no problems in life. Aside from maybe a few gunshot wounds. 

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                                            Potential port of arrival 2

There’s nothing to fear other than a loss of material wealth, and that’s why I’m not nervous about it. This nervousness I dislike so much is a kind of feeling I can’t rationalise, and that irks me and makes it feel worse. 

I’ve been in Vietnam since around November 2012. This is the longest continuous stint in any country I’ve had since Leaving England in 2010. Not only that but I haven’t been very outgoing here, I’ve had my own  little hole and stayed in it for the vast majority of time. I have become *very* familiar with this hole I’ve created.

Suddenly, I’m giving up my apartment, I’m giving up my bike, I’m selling my boots and keyboard. My keyring is just that; a keyring. There are no keys anymore. It’s not even my keyring, I stole it from my now lost apartment. Tomorrow I will leave behind the only person in 1.5 years that actually meant anything to me in the entire country (see some other post I wrote about the pains of leaving people like this).

Once again I have gone from having everything including a feeling of stability and reliable income to having a burst of fast-draining income and the stability of a unicycle mountaineering marathon. But it’s not that lack of stability that is hitting me so hard.

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                                            Potential port of arrival 3

It’s the leaving. And in particular the fact that this conclusion makes no sense. I’ve been wanting to leave for months. I’ve been excited and is has dragged out more than I could handle, yet when it comes to the eve of fate, I walk home, bikeless, departed from the meaningful one, past the Chicken place I ate at so frequently, past the senseless crossing I drove through every day to work and back, past the western style outdoor bar with the same guitar-singer performing in the same purple lights I would see every night. Then I would turn right instead of left. To this hotel which is cleaned back to its original state every time I leave it, all essence of me militarily removed. 

I should be glad to see the back of everything, but I’m suddenly not. Of the choices I have, all but Colombia are grey. The weather will be converted to grey smog and rain, cold and wind. The greenery and the laziness will convert to more grey and rushed individuals. The sweet and relaxed chirping of birds will become few and far between strains of birdal cords, struggling to be heard over human activity and locked in caged for good luck.

The language will become, well, less annoying. 

The prices of drink will go from 30 cents for a bottle of beer to somewhere over the rainbow. A meal, drink and dessert at a restaurant will go from $2 to $15, pizza from $5 to $20. A home will cost 50% more for 50% less home.

It suddenly seems kinda stupid that I’m giving it all up for nothing more than uncertainty. 

These are the feelings in my gut, the ones that make me feel so terrible right now. 

The feelings in my head tell a different story, however. The allergy to the entire country that I have suffered for a constant 6 months, a perpetual sneeze fest, cured only by permanent tissue up each nostril, head under a pillow and significant complaining of hate, will vanish. I will be free from ailments once more. 
The useless methods and slow, late, careless fools that dominate the country will be replaced by smarter, slightly more developed beings. 

The conservative race that limits my conversation to polite small talk will be upgraded to slightly less conservatism, and indeed liberalism around the friends to which I am already acquainted. Ambitions can at the very least be traced and hunted, not put on annual holds whilst I teach my way into funding myself (although that will inevitably take a role in all this). 

Convenience will rise, unreliability will fall. Variation will bloom, routine will wither. 

I’m not going to spend the night convincing myself of the brain’s or the heart’s way. I’m just going to sit here fretting and get it over with. Irrationality irks me and its bumbling around in my gut like it owns the place.

 

Not for long.

The entire history and future of The Universe in 999 personified words.

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Peacefully, the three-dimensional universe coalesced into a series of two-dimensional plates. Within those plates, little balls began to form from the debris. Over a little time, oceans and atmospheres formed and life flourished on several particular globes.

Intelligent life came somewhere towards the end of life’s overall run and inevitably ruined it for everyone aside from the resilient few. Ravens – a rather nifty bird, of all things – did pretty well for themselves on Earth, taking advantage of pretty much everything humans threw at them.

Several species of bacterium and smaller creatures had no trouble with adapting to various chemical poisons and radiation, and intelligent life inevitably rose again and again, each time being annihilated by themselves as if it was some sort of tradition.

In the end, however, life just kind of gave up throughout the Universe and left it to the elements to roam free, no longer manipulated by curious minds.

By this point though, the Universe is pretty cold. Mr. Entropy has been messing the place up and causing atomic chaos and now there is so little order that energy has just sort of spread out like a regular tub of butter over 46.6 billion slices of toast.

Since temperature comes from the interaction of atoms, there is no longer any temperature because everyone has isolated themselves in their own little patch of the Universe. There were once good days where atoms would jiggle around together emitting heat, since kinetic energy – movement – is the one true form of energy – but I guess after a while you kind of get bored of each other and drift apart. Eventually you’ll stop expecting Christmas cards altogether. I’m pretty sure that’s what Entropy means.

They are consequently collectively destined to decay into nothingness all by themselves. Galaxies were, are and will continue to be things of the past, and at the end of time – a little before 3 o’clock if I calculated it right – temperatures will reach absolute zero (-273.15°C) and penguins will have to find themselves a new, slightly warmer universe in which to reside.

Atoms are a lot like penguins; without coming together and sharing body heat, the penguins tend to get cold and inevitably die alone. A lonely atom cannot share its kinetic energy with its ‘friends’ once it is isolated, and probably wouldn’t even if it could. I’m pretty sure that’s what the Law of Conservation of Energy means.

Of course, there is a solution to all this. If the atoms could just solve their issues with each other, we might see them starting to group up again and get a few barbeques started. This obviously generates heat and we’ll immediately be getting back on track.

With enough friendly atoms, the combined mass would create gravity. Not much is needed, and since it’s a natural result of their turning up to the party, nobody will really mind. Eventually, the party will be so popular and attractive – so to speak – to others that they will have fellow atoms queuing round the corner. Some particles, like electrons, may even turn up to multiple parties simultaneously.

Perhaps rival parties will form elsewhere and other gravitational sources will attract other extroverts, and perhaps some smaller, introvert-friendly invitations might prop up here and there. Something for everyone.

Without even realizing it, there will be numerous groups forming into various elements again like the good old days as a result of interacting with each other and trading various particles here and there. Helium being the most extraverted of elements was always the most popular, and pretty self-absorbed. So they ended up at pretty much every party along with Hydrogen and to a lesser extent, Lithium and Beryllium. These guys are pretty lightweight and light hearted though, so it took some of the bigger parties to create enough pressure to get the more stubborn, introverted elements like Magnesium and Carbon to come out. They did this by means of a strange ritual of colliding into each other at speeds incomprehensible to intelligent life forms since past. Mg and C tended to hang out with the other 80 or so losers in the bedrooms of these parties, aka, the core of stars and other similarly troublesome places. But given enough time, enough interactions will give them the energy needed to see what all the noise was about outside.

Eventually parties come to an end, often due to the particle police coming about the noise. Given that a typical star party might reach constant volumes of about 290db, this is understandable. So with the police ruining it all, the star will explode. It was getting on a bit anyway. The atoms will have to dash before they get caught and so they will once again get sprawled all over the place.

But wait; now all the introverts are out and about. What will become of them? Well, essentially the same as everyone else. The gravity will be spread out, but not nearly as much as the aforementioned butter scenario, and so it will drag everyone back to what I suppose will be the after party.

Clouds and clouds of atoms will whirl themselves together in renewed two-dimensional plates in a three-dimensional universe – solar systems – and once again clump together in significantly smaller parties, as if to keep from troubling the neighbors – how considerate.

Before we know it, more Earth-like planets will form. Jupiter-like planets were and will be always more common, since Helium and Hydrogen really are the true party goers. But hey, Iron and Carbon don’t mind the occasional chill out session and that is what places like earth will consist of.

In time, carbon will clump together and form life of its own. Carbon has always been the most creative atom in the universe so quite a lot of diversity will come from it, just like last time. But hey, who knows, maybe it will avoid the whole ‘intelligence’ thing and stick with what works; bacteria and, at most, the occasional raven.Image

Birthday – brainstorming

Closer to 30 than 20 as of today.
I’m no less of a kid than I was yesterday. I’m no less immature and socially undeveloped.
I’m no less skeptical and sarcastic. I’m no less a coward and I’m no less selfish.

I’m still running down a hill, being chased by the boulder of age. A very smooth boulder against my clumsy gait.

We’re all running, we’re all kids running from the same boulder. Some of us find it fun, like a father playing monsters. Others find it terrifying like an actual boulder relentlessly trying to crush you. Others find it a thrill, others a bore. Some feel nothing and stop in their tracks, wondering ‘Why am I even running?’. The great majority, will, eventually land in the ‘terror’ category, as will I. I enjoy living, running, far too much to have it taken away from me.

Unfortunately, nobody ever steps to the side. Nobody can. This is a two-dimensional hill, this is a platform game. You can neither go against the boulder or go off screen.  These result in death.  Sorry, that’s just the rules.

We’re kids, running from a boulder that won’t wear out. How could it? It doesn’t have stamina, it doesn’t have a limit, and the hill is smooth. as long as the path remains downward – which it definitely will – wearing out is not an option. Maybe someone can construct a sling or some kind of net as they run, provided they had the right equipment, but the boulder is big, and much too big for any single person to build anything significantly strong enough.

We all run this race alone, so there is no working together. Sorry, that’s just the rules.

I’m running out of options to stop the boulder. We never had any options, honestly. We get bolder and many of us, balder, but we will eventually fall flat or go off screen too quickly. Perhaps you will give up and sit down, waiting for the inevitable. I don’t know what I plan on doing.

Perhaps I’ll find a tree by a river, bask in its shade. Maybe, if I dream hard enough, as the ripples undulate through my soul, the boulder will hit the trunk and deflect around me, the whole time, green flickers of refracted light glaze my surroundings from the leaves above.

Who am I kidding? this is a two-dimensional existence, there is no deflecting around me. But maybe the tree can stop it once and for all. If I dream hard enough.

No dreaming? Oh yes that’s right. the manual strictly states that we are stuck in the real world. You can delude yourself into escaping it temporarily, but you’re still running for the duration. When you wake up, you find you have mercilessly progressed downhill without you even knowing. You can’t avoid the real world. Sorry, that’s just the rules.

There is one good thing that comes from these rules. We run the race alone. How can we possibly lose? Regardless of how you end it, you win.

Happy Birthday to the reminder that you will always be a winner.*

*Or a loser, depending on how you look at it. 

Annoying #1

Work out how much time you waste. Including the time you spend working it out.

Work out how much time you waste. Including the time you spend working it out.

 

Wasteful and unnecessary phrases and utterances in conversation.

This is mostly because wasting time annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, I love wasting time, but it has to be the right kind of time wasting. For example, lying in bed on the weekend until a shameful hour is great, good for the body, good for the mind. Even if you/I do it for months on end.

I don’t even have a problem with Facebook distracting or YouTube. At least Youtube is informative and Facebook is social. But there are things that we do that have no excuse to be taking my life away. And a lot of this time is lost in utterances that are just not needed.

For example, earlier today I was messaging this guy I’m renting a motorbike from. He has taken my bike away for maintenance and he is now ready for me to pick it up, asking me when I plan on coming. I said ‘Oh, cool I was waiting for you. I’m going into District 1 on Thursday anyway so that would be a great time.’

Why did I type the underlined? there is no justifiable cause, no social benefit, nothing. It’s 100% wasteful. Not only that, but I did it via text on a smart phone. Text on a smart phone is an annoyance worth an article in its own and has basically ruined most telephonic communication for me. There are entire websites – numerous websites – based solely on people’s mistakes on smart phone texting, it’s just that useless and unintuitive. (Why is wordpress telling me ‘texting’ and ‘unintuitive’ aren’t words? there’s another post of annoyances)

Anyway, you waste time via texting mistakes, but at least this is a process of learning. Something you build upon and improve and it probably has various cognitive benefits as you go. But let’s see.

Let’s say I write a mere 5 wasted words in a single stupid phrase, once a day. And let’s say that 5 words, removing time for mistakes, takes about 3 seconds to type. 3 seconds a day – and this is a very conservative estimate – lost. 3 x 1 year = 1095 seconds, or 18 minutes. I’ve lost a little over 18 minutes of my year typing pointless shit. I’m already desperate to get back the life I miss whilst in the midst of blinking.

And this is JUST texting. What about the crap I utter vocally? I admit I’m worse than the average for this because I’m socially inept, but even so, countless people I encounter can babble on for entire minutes without saying a single word that involves any form of information other than the individual words themselves. I can learn or respond or develop none of it.

Yeah I came down later than I thought I would because I was doing some stuff in the office which took a little bit of time, but it was pretty annoying because the printer wasn’t working, but it turned out it was working and I was just pressing the wrong button, but nobody actually told me I had to change the name of the printer you know?‘ Ok I learnt that you just wasted 10 seconds of my life saying that to me I suppose, I’ll give you that.

So let’s say I lose a minimum of 1 minute a day listening to mindless nonsense, and I myself waste a good 30 seconds a day doing it myself. 1:30 x 1 year = 547 minutes, or over 9 hours a year.

between the age of 18 – 60, the most active area, I lose a grand total of 390+ hours, or, rounded up to 400, 16.67 days. I think you can understand how this isn’t a joke now, right? I’ve lost 16.67 days. It’s not like I lost it to restoring energy in sleep, or learning a new skill like texting, or enjoying myself in gaming, or exercising by climbing annoying stairs. I’ve lost 16.67 days to nothing. 

Nothing.

We sleep for 1/3 of our life. We work for 1/3 of our life. I only have 1/3 of my life to live. I can’t afford to be messing around saying ‘Oh yeah I haven’t eaten it. I was going to but I wasn’t hungry enough.’

 

To think this is just one aspect of thousands that we waste. Now you just have to think in perspective. How much time is wasted in your life doing various other things; staring at the wall in the shower, waiting for a website to load instead of doing something else while you wait, cooking, peeing, chewing, making decisions, sneezing, traffic lights. All admittedly serve infinitely more purpose than the aforementioned complaint, but you find that you only actually get to enjoy life for about 1/20th of the time you’re actually alive.

I’ll save that maths for yourself. Different people will have different answers. Don’t forget to show your working.

 

How will the modern world react when we find life on other planets?

'We shouldn't have humans to mars in fifty years, we should have humans to mars in TEN.'

‘We shouldn’t have humans to mars in fifty years, we should have humans to mars in TEN.’

In the 60’s and 70’s, space was huge. It was front page material practically every day.

Science hasn’t slowed down. Space exploration hasn’t slowed down. Discoveries haven’t even slowed down, but I feel the enthusiasm has dwindled.
As a 25 year old, I’m completely aware of how people went about their lives in the 60’s so I can tell the difference.

I don’t think it’s down to people getting more depressing and bored of life or any other negative approach towards society, other than that of media distribution. If your discovery or advancement in human achievement isn’t very immediately practical and aesthetically pleasing, it doesn’t hit the magazines and the headlines.

If you make a little guitar out of atoms you get some attention for it but it’s just boasting a novelty without people really realising the point of making it in the first place.

But space, going to space, that’s a real kicker. Humans going to space. Look at the attention Chris Hadfield acquired by expoliting the world’s popular media outputs, Twitter, YouTube etc. Top that off with quirky succinct style and musical creativity, you have yourself a huge following of appreciation and dreamers.

I’m certain, along with many others, that his Space Oddity cover has made a very large handful of kids look in lust and think ‘One day, I’ll go to space’. That’s what we need in this world. Adventurers, explorers, seekers of knowledge.

Anyway, The ISS is barely above the Earth and can only just be recognised as space at all. in comprehensible terms, the ISS is about 3/8ths of an inch away from the surface of the globe, if you are referring to a classroom globe. In the same scale, the moon is an astonishing 30 feet away, and Mars? a mile. A whole mile. They wouldn’t fit in your school books so the scale was never accurate (Information from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist).

Compare the attention and excitement gathered from the Red Bull jump from a balloon to the excitement you would get if Humans went to Mars. The Curiosity Rover got a fair amount of article space, but far less than various filthy celebrities I only breeze past in my life much too briefly to know what any of their names are or what TV shows they’re on.

But humans? How would we react to that? We know robots go into space almost daily these days. 500 humans have gone into space since the first ever went up. Decades ago. There are currently, and usually, 3 people in space at any given time. And this is all within 3/8ths of an inch.

This is hardly pushing the boundaries of space.

If we went a whole mile on the previous scale to Mars, I imagine a whole cacophony of rapid heart beats around the world. But is that accurate? Just because I feel that way, doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same. I am heavily biased in my passion for the sciences.

People by and large take science for granted these days, which is great in its own right, but I do wonder, perhaps worry, that when the news comes about that humans land on Mars, there will be a few days of attention, posts on facebook and people looking at the image going ‘woah awesome’, before quickly fading into the abyss of general memes and back-pagers over the next couple of months.

Of course this is only wild presumptions and I sort of feel like I lack exposure to people outside of the internet to truly have a remote idea of how it would play out. But am I the only one that thinks the reaction to this would pale in comparison to the moon landing?

But what if we push the world of discovery further. What if we found *life*?

I would go crazy and immediately take a course in astrophysics and work my way into space without rest until I get there.

Would the world as a whole give a damn bar the superficial intrigue aforementioned?
Of course the first life we find is only going to be microbial, either somewhere in the depths of mars or maybe the watery underworld of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

Is that impressive? Well, the level of awesomeness will depend on whether or not the discovered life is completely independent of us, or did they originate from the same roots of existence? What I mean is, did the seeds that theoretically planted themselves on earth share itself among other planets, thus containing the same core functions, or is this life created entirely, truly separately, simply by having the same universal ingredients to play with?

I don’t really know which is more exciting or provoking, but both are strong candidates for my first heart attack. One could mean that we come from space, not from Earth, another means that life essentially perpetuates universally, and is inevitable wherever you go, providing those most common of ingredients exist.

Would the economy-driven world of capitalism see this wonderous event as enough to re-ignite a passion for discovery and boost a permanent focus on driving our civilisation out into the solar system, or will it have to be left to the corporations that are willing to spend the book in order for long term gain (tourism, asteroid mining etc)?

This post was far more of a stream of consciousness than I had planned, but it’s something to think about. Are we honestly going to get out there? For me I think we need to, for a plethora of reasons, but if nothing else, to keep the human race from stagnating.

Just picturing the live footage of the first crew on the way to mars, it smells like a fresh breeze coating the entire Earth. Unshackled.