Black Holes & Little Emperors

Black Holes & Little Emperors
tanman Jun 04, 2013 10:58

This is my seventh year in China. My seven year itch started back in 2003, when I spent six months in Haikou, Hainan Island, doing time as a fledgling English teacher at a thriving foreign language school. I was 43 going on 44, happy-go-lucky, and as far as life was concerned still wet behind the ears. I'm a little drier behind the lobes now, and these days I've got luck on my side: lucky year number seven. But when it comes to life I'm still a tenderfoot with plenty of lessons to learn and crosses to bear. Luckily, like so many other run-of-the-mill sad sacks on the planet I've got the rest of my life to work on it.


I carry my self-deprecating sense of humor with me at all times. It help keeps me out of trouble, the kind of trouble so many well-meaning human beings fall into when they start to view the world with the small-mindedness of Little Emperors. An article in Time sums it up: The point is, it's easy to fall into the trap of being a selfish, petty, or narrow-minded person. We all do it from time to time. It's part of one of the inglorious truths of life: that we're all equally imperfect.


Excessive modesty aside, we all grapple with the classic and timeworn battle of good vs. evil. We're all living, breathing, and procreating masters of our own conflicting hearts of darkness. As a species, we teeter and totter ceaselessly between the universal quantum physics of light and dark matter; seemingly lost yet somehow found in the never-ending black holes of fear and hatred, we're continually lifted by grace and grandeur out of the darkness and into the luminous energy of human goodness.


Down in Haikou, in '03, I was fighting the good fight but losing more than I was winning. One of my mistakes back then was taking too much of my time for granted. Despite all my good intentions I was constantly being pulled back into the blackness; falling, drifting, and spinning out of control towards some unknown and as yet unrealized future. There were no manuals to read, no ploys or gimmicks to rely or fall back upon. I was on my own. But like so many of the world's lost and amiable adults on the planet I was in charge of my own actions, and therefore, my own destiny.


I'm reminded here of a Chinese proverb: Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts inspire your words. Be careful of your words, for your words precede your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits build your character. Be careful of your character, for your character decides you destiny.


Old adages aside, how I got from Haikou to here is due partly to diligence and mostly to blind luck. But I'm here, and that's what matters most. We're all here, separate yet connected, alone yet together; thrown into the mix of life in the here and now by unknown and unseen forces of the universe. Like the Jesus Jones song, we're all Right Here, Right Now.


One of my Chinese friends in Haikou used to say there were two versions of me: a bad one and a good one. Sort of like the good witch and the bad witch in The Wizard of Oz, or perhaps even more akin to the two personae of the main character in the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Either way, I'm still learning to live with all of the faces and sides of me, all of the good and evil inside the real me, the imperfect me, the careful and inspired me, all wonderfully and wretchedly wrapped up in the admirable and atrocious aspects of my character.


But learning to cope with life on life's terms comes with a few price tags: one of them is old age. Still, in the long run I'd rather be a live sad sack than a dead one. So I soldier on, set to embrace all of the good in life I can while doing battle with any and all forces of evil within or without – that creep my way. I'm ready. I'm waiting. And with the sapient words of a Chinese proverb to guide me I plan on picking my battles as wisely as humanly possible.

Tags:Expat Tales


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Heres a good one to try and live by: May you never remember whats best forgotten and may you never forget whats worth remembering. I assume you are having a few bad china days, it happens. If you were to blame, forgive your self as youre the only one who can do it. to RASK "You know, how one day you helped an old woman up the stairs, and the next day you punted a puppy like a football": I loved reading that, it made me laugh, even rereading it it makes me laugh.

Jun 06, 2013 16:56 Report Abuse



I love writing too but what the hell was this long poem about? You are experiencing depression? May I suggest spending a lot less time writing for the sake of writing about yourself as you write for writing's sake. Like the old saying "One writes for writing" and of course I sway to the left and surely I'm turning my heart westward, nay though I walk through the shallow breath, one might suppose we are like two turntables to quote Beck italics songs that reminds one of the salad days of yonder ... Look, your experiencing some depression. Which isn't strange at all. It's normal. So talk about getting past it.

Jun 05, 2013 18:26 Report Abuse



-What happened to you? -Why do people love to do this? -Why do so many foreigners in China have such seething hatred for themselves? Such contempt, such self-doubt, such damaged souls? Or perhaps it is only foreigners who write? My own blog post tried to address this, but went over like a lead balloon. Let’s take this apart, line by line and see each and every horrible little character flow examined under the microscope -You write a long, poetic paragraph that boils down to that most idiotic, yet accurate, yet obvious of thought cliché, that people are people. -You were 43 years old and you had just figured out “There were no manuals to read, no ploys or gimmicks to rely or fall back upon”. If you truly are so clueless, then why should we look to you for great insight, hmmm? Perhaps, a man trying to find himself in his 20’s, especially after the Great Recession, would have an excuse, but you, I’m afraid, should know better. -“Like the Jesus Jones song, we're all Right Here, Right Now”. Now come on, the song lyric thing is trite and what will you be saying next, ABBA songs are your guide in life? This is only getting worse. -“One of my Chinese friends…used to say there were two versions of me…” Again, Gogol and Dostoyevsky kind of did that whole thing before you, and a whole lot better. How come you don’t give us an example? You know, how one day you helped an old woman up the stairs, and the next day you punted a puppy like a football. At least that would have a good image, puppy sailing through the air, like a limp sock stuffed with sausage. You end that paragraph with what sounds like a dangerous slide into full-blown multiple personality disorder. -So you end with “I’d rather be a live sad-sack than a dead one.” Well you know, in the category of human virtue, you sure went with some high idealism there. Not “Better to die on your feet than live like a dog” Not “Carpe Diem” Not “We who are about to die salute you!” Not even “I’ll be back” Not even “Nuts!” You talk a tough game, and basically give up at the end, leaving us all hanging. What kind of conclusion is this? -So why did I waste my time writing this harsh criticism? Because I am tired of the mediocrity and paucity of thought that people think passes for greatness here. The world we live in is a powder keg, with new technologies, old rivalries, political changes, and new ideas. People need to be facing up to this. We need to discuss the great issues. Is Xi Jing Ping bring China backwards or forwards? Is the Japanese Island dispute going to turn hot? Will Pakistan implode? Does Iran have the bomb? Is Western Culture really superior? Can China’s authoritarian view of the future bring the world forward, or does this way lie madness and misery? The endless navel gazing and false humility of these poseurs infuriates me. -I bet 50 years ago, you’d be saying “Better Red than Dead.” Well to you I say “Better dead than a scoundrel!”

Jun 05, 2013 10:58 Report Abuse