My Pastime

As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, I have a day off on Mondays. Recently though, I’ve had nothing else but days off as there have been no tourists wanting to take pictures with me. This has put me in a strange stage of apathy. The less there is to do, the less I energy I seem to have to anything. Now I don’t mean to complain about every possible scenario but when everything and everyone stops, it is genuinely difficult to keep up high energy levels. People who have been unemployed or perhaps incapacitated in some manner know what I’m talking about.

Having friends around would help immensely since shenanigans are a thousand times more fun in good company than alone. Engaging in shenanigans alone is just weird behaviour. But obviously I’ve needed to find interesting pastimes, of which there are very few. There really are very few recreational activities available here. So I’ve been walking in the woods. I used to go skiing on Mondays but it has been much too quiet now and the slope is too ridiculous to keep anyone entertained. I’ve played with the dogs. I put a nail in BB-gun and tried if it would penetrate wood. It didn’t but it flew nicely. Obviously I’ve been writing, reading and watching TV and movies every day. Those activities are just way too solitary and passive to keep me satisfied for 6 months.

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Interestingly the people who have lived here for 5 years already haven’t really gone through any effort to make this place more activity friendly. Sure, they spend their time playing mahjong which offers a great deal of brain activation and social interaction but they seem to do little else. Besides watching TV and playing with their mobile phones. My problem is that I don’t see many sign of trying to make this place more liveable. It’s lacking vigour.

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Mahjong table (which you don’t need to play mahjong) in a “hotel room” upstairs of the skiing centre.
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They also have nicer rooms with a slopeside view from the balcony. Non-smoking is prohibited.

I can’t imagine what five years in a place like this does to the human psyche. At school or university one is constantly “forced” to learn things. Since that is what one does from childhood to early and perhaps even later adulthood, it becomes a norm. You are constantly bombarded with information and your job is to learn. Suddenly one emerges out of the other end of the assembly line into a world which no longer caters knowledge like that. When I’ve been working as a teacher, a job that definitely requires brains and learning, I’ve often wondered how easily one could just do one’s job. Naturally the early years of working require a great deal of learning but most of it is very different kind of information. Even with teaching, one really needs to know one’s own subject and it’s related pedagogy. Almost everything else could be forgotten. And I reckon that it often is. Nobody is teaching you geography any more. And even if one is actively studying, one usually skips the parts are that one doesn’t find interesting. Which often are the parts one should really know more about.

That is really scary for me. That the requirements of professional life are so specific (like the ability to use a certain computer programme or look at some charts the right way or, even in case of certain lawyer and doctors, applying the very same and very limited piece of canonical knowledge ad nauseam). What happens to all the random and interesting tidbits and skills that were so much fun? In my mind you become “rusty” first and before you know it, the skills are pretty much gone and forgotten. Like with some lawyers who have utterly forgotten about the laws and regulations governing anything else except their specific niche. Of course they still have much more knowledge on that niche than a layperson would have but basically their skill set has reduced to writing and reading a very specific text type and their success very much depends on that particular skill.

Obviously a division of labour and a great deal of specialisation is one the best things that has ever happened to mankind but I can’t help but wonder what kind of an idiot I will after years working. Already I found it difficult to teach chemistry to a class full of 9th graders. I was substituting without any preparation and the class was supposed to be about metals. It was sad to notice that a group of random 16 year olds knew about as much about metals as I do. Of course I knew a lot of random information but nothing that would make for a good and coherent lecture. Naturally the class was fine since we just ended up using their textbook. But: what kind of a moron will I be after ten years?

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It only took me a year to become this guy. Imagine what happens to me in ten.

I’ve seen teacher like that. Probably got brilliant grades at school and at their university. Probably wrote an exquisite master’s thesis on some highly scientific topic that I would understand nothing about. And nowadays their professional knowledge has diminished to whatever the textbook and the teacher’s manual say (and of course their original research interest which has little applicable use in any context ever). I’m not even talking about subjects that aren’t their own. History teachers who can’t solve maths problems meant for 9th graders. Maths teachers who don’t know who Charlemagne was.

I don’t mean that people would need to have bits of random information stored in their heads. Not at all. The maths teacher can google Charlemagne in two seconds and the history teacher would (hopefully) recall how to solve the problem once reminded of certain principles. It’s not that. However, one should have at least a general understanding of Charlemagne. One should at least be able to say something about him and his significance. Details are insignificant. Same goes for the maths problem. One should at least recognise that the problem is of trigonometry and that it can be solved by using sine or cosine. Or maybe the problem requires calculating the sum of an infinite series etc. It is very quick to check how exactly one should do it if one understands the question.

That is what general knowledge is about. It is about having enough information to understand the question and to ask the right questions in return. Those who claim that general knowledge is dead in the world of ubiquitous internet don’t really understand what it is. They perhaps agree with a lady who featured in a Finnish dating reality show. She explained that she wants someone who is smart and who has enough general knowledge on things. As she was pressed to define what she meant with general knowledge (a slightly dickish question since briefly defining something like that unprepared whilst being filmed is a bit of difficult task), her answer was: “for example knowing which countries belong to the European Union”. Jesus Christ, I thought. I have a master’s degree in social sciences and I worked in an EU maintained school and I can’t list all the countries off the top of my head. Yes, you should probably have solid idea about the list and especially the key members but I bet very few could come up with the full list. But that doesn’t mean that we are all idiots. A much better question about EU, one that actually is general knowledge, is “why was EU founded?” or “what problems and benefits has it brought?”, “what EU essentially is, i.e. how would you define EU?”. And here is the kicker: if you can’t answer these questions, then having a list of countries in one’s head under the label “EU” is utterly useless.

Some of you might think that in the world of ubiquitous internet, one could just “quickly google EU” and read the Wikipedia article on it or some such. But without basic general knowledge, it’s not that simple. It uses concepts like “politicoeconomic union”, “a hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision-making” and “[It] operates according to the principles of conferral and of subsidiarity“. Sure you could click on the links if you don’t already understand what the words mean but then you’d be reading a lot. The “quick googling” has failed you since you need to have enough general knowledge to understand what you are reading. Of course learning everything on the fly is a possibility, albeit a slow one.

The reason why I am going on about this stems from the fear of what working in a place like this does to a human being in the long run. And that such are the lives of most people around the world.

In all honesty, seeing the general passivity of the people here makes me a little sad. They don’t have the opportunity to have many hobbies and they don’t seem to care about that. I haven’t seen much hobbyist equipment here aside from the broken airsoft Dragunov. Except that someone has a rock collection or something. And some play computer games (though I don’t count that as a hobby as it is all the person the does. No, he doesn’t “compete”).

Strangely my assistant was complaining about the same thing. She finds the people here quite boring. Obviously she doesn’t play mahjong. As we were discussing her former hobbies, she told me that she likes playing badminton and we agreed to acquire some racquets and a shuttlecock (incidentally my favourite “ball” of any game AND my favourite trophy for the winner of a badminton tournament is a shuttlecock-ring. I don’t understand why the badminton community bothers with any other kinds of trophies).

We also found a slightly broken (like everything here) ping pong table which was still usable. Paddles and balls were included. Unfortunately she couldn’t come and play with me so I ended up going solo. I set up a table on the table and started whacking off. It looked like this (which is to say: boring if you do it for an hour). Using a table isn’t really good practice for table tennis (predictability, aiming and spin all work differently or just incorrectly which might teach bad habits) but it can be fun nonetheless.

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Getting to the ping pong table meant crossing this. I’d rather cross the Dead Marshes with a homicidal addict and a gardener than cross this again. Incidentally Barad-dur can be seen just beyond the trees.

I also saw some Chinese fishing the other day. (Yes, I know they weren’t fishing)

 

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