Before coming here, I had read the all the public blog entries of the previous Santa who worked here. Of course I read them. He is a good writer, I noticed. Much better than I am. The entries proved to be very useful and the blog really helped me get my bearings straight from the get go. Naturally there is nothing that can fully prepare one this experience, which is a common feature with experiences (and also the reason why they are called experiences). Although the philosopher Daniel Dennett would perhaps disagree with me, there always is something in first hand experiences that cannot be replicated in text (or any other) form. You can study all there is to know about the colour red but until you’ve actually seen the colour, there is an important aspect of redness that will remain a mystery to you. The case is even stronger for stranger and more complex experiences.
In history class one is often told the legend about Caesar or Octavius (whichever) going undercover amongst the people to get a read on the overall sentiment and life of the masses. Or you might have watched the TV-reality Undercover Boss which has mainly the same point spiced with some sentimental… padding. However, these introductions or sneak peeks into the lives of others are fundamentally lacking. It is much like a written description, no matter how brilliant, can never fully capture an experience. I could trade my life with a homeless person for two years but I still wouldn’t understand some of the key aspects of his life. In the case of the homeless person, I would always know that the situation is temporary and deliberate. It would be a choice. Yes, I’d probably be unhappy for those two years but it would be different from what the homeless person is experiencing. I wouldn’t be “hopeless” (assuming this particular person was). I’d always know that after two years I can go back and look at the whole ordeal as just an experience. It simply isn’t the same. One of the main problems with being in a dead end situation is exactly the hopelessness. Looking into the future and seeing nothing. But that experience, which fundamentally defines your outlook on life, cannot be replicated under “laboratory” conditions. In a similar manner the homeless person would not understand what my life is like. He could live my life with a YOLO philosophy. In the end, we might both end up saying that each other’s life are “not that bad”. The homeless person might even enjoy my life (why wouldn’t he?).
Besides me not understanding what my job here in China would be like, this privacy and unshareable nature of experiences is very problematic in the public sphere as well. For instance, it might cause people who are well educated and connected to undermine the concerns off those who are not. Someone with an inherent safety net (which they will probably never have to test) can be much happier having the same income level as a person who doesn’t have such a net. If shit really and genuinely hits the fan, there will be someone or something (a state, maybe) to catch you. The day to day struggles might be very similar between those who have such a safety net and those who don’t. Their lives are still worlds apart.
Those interested in virtual reality, this video of people walking a plank while wearing HTC Vive is a good analogy. Those who have a solid floor to “fall” on to would find the plank walk extremely easy. Which it is. It’s a wide fucking plank. However, add a risk of falling (even a simulated one) and suddenly the task is not only more difficult but also terrifying. That’s the difference between having and not having a safety net. People who have them probably need them less frequently than those who don’t.
[Yes, I’m just hypothesising. I don’t actually have any data on this. Feel free to disagree.]
Of course the fundamental problem is that you can’t ever show the person who has a safety net what it feels like not to have a safety net. At least there are no ethical ways of doing it. So, for example, somebody urging people to take more risks might have done so themself because they knew they’d always have something to fall back to.
Weird social lesson aside, this place is weird and cannot be exhaustively explained. Among the weird things, which are common place here, there is the whole “let’s go some place but we won’t tell you where and for how long”-thing going on. I’ve been taken to many places here at a moments notice and receiving the necessary information at the location. I’ve always been extremely tolerant to such things, as my family members and friends can testify. Sometimes things get weird though. The other day as I was going for a walk with the dogs, the village manager asked me to get in the car. So I did. The driver then did some unnecessary offroading which eventually got us stuck and meant that we needed to dig and push. After we got the 4-by-4 back on the road, they drove me to the skiing centre which has been closed now for a week. Everybody went inside and we just sat there. Every now and then someone would show a video to someone else but mostly we just sat. Literally. The whole “event” was just driving to another building to sit in a slightly different location. About an hour went by and I was as bored as I’ve ever been. Eventually they took me back to the dormitory. I still don’t know what the hell went on.
I suppose that is how a child sees the world. Being driven around into places and having no clue why and for how long. Naturally the child might know the name of the place and even the nominal time but often those things really mean nothing to them. I know for a fact that there are some how would go absolutely insane if they didn’t know where they’d be taken, why and for how long. Imagine if on arrival they’d have to wait for a couple of hours without any information on top.
You could of course wonder why I didn’t ask. There are some reasons for that. Theoretically, I could’ve asked with the help of Google Translate or similar tools which were available. Or I could’ve called my assistant to ask the village manager why I was taken to the skiing centre. For me, it wasn’t worth the hassle. I can wait. Obviously I find it weird and rude not to inform someone. It shows a certain lack of respect. Or perhaps not even a lack of respect but a lack of empathy.
The same lack of empathy can be seen in the actions of the officials in charge of the Great Firewall of China. Recently one of the architects of the “wall” used a VPN during a public presentation because he needed to access certain websites. And apparently the use of VPN was not the point itself but something that he happened to find necessary during the presentation. This hypocrisy reveals the lack of empathy: “I can use the internet freely for my needs but of course a regular citizen cannot”. Or perhaps the Firewall is just an idiot barrier. If you are dumb enough to not get past the Firewall, then perhaps you are not ready to get past the tightly regulated closed internet that is available in mainland China. Would make sense.
The same idea that is fuelled by the lack of empathy has been dominating most of human history. Why would peasants need to learn how to read? Why would regular citizens need to access the internet? Why would the Santa guy need to know where we are going? You get the gist.
I should perhaps explain that when I say “lack of empathy”, I mean that people don’t see the same needs, emotions and thought processes in the “other” as they see in themselves and in those close to them (or “similar to them” in some significant manner). Other human beings are reduced to behaviouristic automatons. Their inner worlds are of no concern. The only thing that matters is what one should put in to get the desired result as an output. Some simplistic idiosyncratic intentions might be postulated in the mind of the “other” but nothing too complex. And people tend to think that they have the “other” figured out, usually better than the others know themselves. E.g. “You might want to learn how to read but what you’d actually need is … “. Unfortunately, even doctors often treat patients with the same attitude, I’ve heard.
Can’t really say that anything of interest would’ve happened here. I haven’t even been to work for almost two weeks. There simply hasn’t been any visitors to entertain and the roads are still only barely manageable without an offroad capable vehicle. Hence no random stragglers either. This turn of events has made me think of home. I don’t mean in the homesick kind of way but since I feel like my work here has ended, as there is nothing for me to do any more, I’ve felt a bit useless. My mind keeps telling me that this was it and all that there is left is to go home. So my mood has turned to waiting. 40 days is a long time to wait.
It is interesting how my mind and minds of others have often followed the same pattern with stuff similar to this. Towards the end of one’s military service one starts counting the days. It’s usually in the 3/4 mark, I’ve noticed. Even with vacations and such the same 3/4 seems to hold. I’m imagining that prison sentences have the same essential dynamic as well.
When you start, you’re obviously not thinking about the end of it. You’re focused on what’s coming and how to deal with it. Usually the mental prep starts well ahead of the thing itself. For the first quarter one is occupied with getting to know everything and paving one’s future. Making “long term investments”. For instance, during the first quarter I bought some new sheets for myself and gave a lot of things as presents for my colleagues and superiors. I was making long term investments. I was trying to get to know people etc.
The following two quarters are the stable phase. You’re not making long term investments ate the same rate any more but reaping the benefits of them to some degree. You’ve probably decided who and what you like and don’t like. You’ve learned your place and are reasonably comfortable (or uncomfortable) with it. At this stage you might repair stuff or work with other projects but usually not with the explicit purpose of making your life better but rather just because it’s fun. Your personality comes out a bit more at this stage.
During the last quarter you’ve run out of fucks to give. You start realising that it’s over soon and it shows. This phenomenon is particularly common in the military service. People only do what is necessary and nothing more. They’re mentally “gone” already. No point in trying to impress somebody or make long term investments. This is mentally the funniest stage. Not for the person going through it but as a phenomenon. Nothing that one does has any tangible effect on one’s future after the last quarter ends. This has curious consequences on the mind. I’d say that being mentally “gone” is something one has to actively battle against. It has a very debilitating effect not unlike the last days at a shitty job. If the overall experience has been less than enjoyable, people have been known to get a little crazy on occasion when being fired or resigning.
Like I said earlier: I’m starting to be mentally gone from this place already. Or maybe it’s just the fact that there has not been a single visitor in over a week now and I haven’t even gone to work.