My Lockdowns in Asia

I have been teaching ESL in Jakarta for the last year or so. People started worrying about the covid-19 virus for a while, but of course the response varied by country. I’m going to share my experience, mostly because I feel like it should be documented.

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Thoughts on Preparing for the Wrong Apocalypse

“Why did it have to be Jam? We were prepared for zombies.”

Game reviewer, developer, and author Yahtzee Croshaw wrote a book some years ago named “Jam.” The story follows the survivors of an apocalyptic scenario where strawberry-scented flesh-eating jam basically takes over Australia. The protagonist floats among survivor societies who are parodies of modern life who cannot let go of their previous modes of thinking, and his one friend who adapts too well to the apocalypse. Among the survivor societies are the office of a mega-corporation who can only delegate responsibility and never do anything without a committee, and an Internet forum group who do everything ironically and are dedicated to zombie survival. The protagonist himself is a sad sack: passive, useless and constantly seeking guidance from other people, but also empathetic and the only one who seems to be mourning any deaths.

In these times we live in it’s hard not to see it too.

We aren’t in the apocalypse, but it is a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. How people react to it is all going to be different, and we all go into it with our previous convictions.

What I can’t stand, however, is smugness.

I have some hipster environmentalist friends and in general I’m fine with what they do. Their hearts are in the right places, even if I’m skeptical of their efficacy because climate change is so much bigger than organic products and tree planting.

My problem is more with how some of them can’t let go of that mindset. Occasionally I see a meme float around about how this is nature’s way of telling us to slow down, or that it took a virus to prove that we could cut our emissions.

Cut that shit out. A lot of people live from paycheck to paycheck and are thrown into uncertainty about how they’re going to sustain themselves and their families. A lot of poeple are sick or dying. Now is not the time to say that their deaths and suffering is nature’s will.

There is no narrative to our interaction with our environment, and the irony of hipster environmentalism is that it’s often spiritual… which is okay when it makes you feel better, but has nothing to do with the science of it. You should just deal with the facts.

That said, the fallacy of pretending that the world hasn’t been fundamentally changed by what’s happening with the covid-19 virus is certainly not limited to hipsters. President Trump can’t see beyond his ego. Bad government leaders are trying to take political advantage of this. Companies are trying to act like things will blow over sooner rather than later. I have friends who trade in the stock market who are still trying to plan their next quarter investments, in which the virus is only a determining factor, not a gamechanger.

All of it is just very human, and everything feels a bit petty considering the global stakes involved. Iran has reportedly suffered a lot, mostly due to the sanctions put in place because the US unilaterally tore up its own solution to that problem. While the whole situation felt petty even at the time, it seems even more so now. Just consider the suffering of people dealing with the consequences of what we’re doing now.

Climate change and nuclear proliferation and all that are still important, but right now there is very immediate concern, and if there’s any time to let go of your previous hangups it’s now.

Even if you were preparing for zombies, it’s probably something completely different which gets you.

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Thoughts on Workplace Gossip

There’s a fine line between normal and fun gossip at the workplace, and the kind that can tear organisations apart. I’m sure it makes sense in both directions. On the one hand, everyone likes to hear a bit of this or that about other people’s lives, especially the people they spend the long hours of the workplace with. On the other hand, it can quickly spiral out of control as everyone but the person or people in question get stories told about them which often escalate out of control.

I think the key difference is how directly you talk about it. If someone at your workplace does something worth gossiping, the degree to which people feel comfortable asking them about it is basically the determining factor. If they think it’s juicy gossip that you can’t just ask them about, the story can quickly go beyond them, with supposition and assumption filling in the gaps.

People especially like to gossip about interesting or strange people, the ones who stand out from what’s considered normal. There’s a confirmation bias in hearing gossip that confirms your preconceptions. Those preconceptions fill in the gap of reason: why did he cheat on her, why did she hurt herself, why did they do that. You can’t really know without asking the person directly, but when it comes to rather personal issues it’s natural to feel uncomfortable bringing it up if you’re not close with someone.

This is why I find it fascinating that workplace decisions can take place based on hearsay without actually asking or talking with the person.

I also find that the more the local culture, even as low level as a workplace culture, finds things taboo, the more it feels like it can’t talk about things directly and the worse that culture of spiralling gossip stories gets.

So my personal advice? If you find yourself at the center of some kind of gossip, especially at the workplace, take control of the story as soon as you can. Set the story straight with the people who matter. If you’re in the other position, one where you have to make decisions which affect the lives of those you work with, you also have a responsibility to try and get at the truth and to resist simple explanations that cater to your own biases.

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Thoughts on Star Wars

I just got home from seeing Rise of Skywalker.

In short, I thought it was good. I think it was a little overstuffed, and sloppily put together, but overall takes you places you’re surprised you enjoy going to.

What I can say, without spoilers, is that it rather makes three trilogies feel like one big trilogy, and in way, that’s pretty boss. It does it sloppily, like I said, but gets there. That’s why I want to talk a bit about my personal journey with Star Wars. Sorry that it’s going to get long and rambly, but I did grow up with this franchise and have had a weird life.

I was born in 1985, so obviously too young to have seen them in the cinemas when they first came out, but not by much. My memory of when I saw the first movies are hazy, I think we had a laserdisc version. To be honest, I can’t remember when I exactly saw them. I’m pretty sure I saw them as young as 7 years old, maybe 9. I grew up with Star Wars books and videogames. I devoured a lot of Expanded Universe books, played all the Dark Forces games, among others. I remember wishing throughout my entire childhood to get a joystick so I could try the X-Wing or TIE Fighter games, but never had one. I played both Rebel Alliance games, trying to pilot a T-16 through Beggars Canyon on a 1991 IBM Thinkpad using only what I call the clit-mouse, which is very awkward. I liked the second one, which was a full motion video rail shooter which somehow solidified my love for the B-Wing.

Embarrassingly, I’m pretty sure I wrote a fanfic as an 8 year old about being a rancor and somehow the story involved a girl I had a crush on.

I distinctly remember getting the 1997 Special Editions on VHS. For those who don’t know, they were the official rerelease with the first digital touchups and additions. There was also, as I remember, a behind the scenes explanation of what scenes were added and how they did it. I’m pretty sure at that age that was my first introduction to behind the scenes work on movies, and it made an impression on me that wouldn’t pay off until later.

I was 13 or 14 when The Phantom Menace came out in 1999. I had been reading the promotional material in the magazines my dad would order, and I was excited for it. I was the right age to like it back then too. We had the VHS tape later, and I really liked the final act battle and would rewatch just that part. I didn’t see Attack of the Clones until a little after it had come out, but I distinctly remember visiting a friend in Singapore and him telling me how cool it was that Yoda fought and my sister and I were impressed.

At that point though, it did start to feel a little wrong. I didn’t know how to put it into words, but it was there and I wasn’t sure.

Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005 at an odd time of my life. I was in the process of dropping out of college in the US, but had several friends there who much bigger film nerds and pop culture geeks than I was. We would even watch the Tartakovsky Clone Wars series together.

I don’t remember if I saw it in the theater, and that bugs me. What I distinctly remember is, after having dropped out and moved to Switzerland where my parents were, watching the infamous pirated Chinese version of the movie which renamed it “The Backslap of the West.” My dad took a long time to get over getting pirated DVDs from Asia (which is how it worked for a long time) so I’m pretty sure I watched that on the small TV we had in that first flat in Zürich.

I remember liking some parts of it but definitely feeling like something was wrong and like I was starting to grow out of it somehow.

Jump ahead to 2011. I spent most of this year sort of backpacking in Asia. I still liked Star Wars but mostly through videogames. I loved the KotOR games, and was still sharing that fan love with a friend from the US, who told me I had to watch this YouTube review of The Phantom Menace which was going viral. It somehow put into words a lot of the feelings I had about that movie and the prequels in general. That’s honestly the best thing a review can do: not just tell you whether something is good or bad, but educate you about why this is so.

And that’s how I got introduced to Red Letter Media, which is how I got started educating myself about how to watch movies.

This was a big deal to me, and I think for a lot of people their early understanding of what makes movies good or not by tapping into our extreme emotions, amplifying the things we love and the things we hate. So it was easy to hate the prequels.

Eventually I grew up a little more and was more interested in just what made them bad. I discovered the Phantom Edit and its sequel The Attack of the Phantom, which was a great education in how editing has the potential to make a bad movie much better.

RLM also recommended watching a documentary called “The People vs. George Lucas” which was about who owns such a classic film, the filmmaker or culture as a whole. It’s a pretty good documentary about the history of Star Wars fandom and their relationship to those movies, especially in terms of Lucas’ changes since the Special Edition and onwards. It’s also horribly out of date now, since Disney bought the franchise.

I was definitely excited in the build up to The Force Awakens. I think I saw it 4 times in the cinema. This time I was living in Zürich again, and had been educating my flatmates in film geekness… semi-successfully. Okay, only slightly. I liked the movie.

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Voooom-Kraksshhhhhhh. Yes, that was an intentional photo.

For a lot of us who had just either not liked the prequels or had their growing up moments realising how bad they were, it was a breath of fresh air. It managed to capture quite a bit of the feeling of the original trilogy while making a solid effort to bring it to a new generation.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was safe and it was fun. There was Internet backlash later about it, but honestly, that felt like a lot of people were having their first love-hate film educational experiences. There was even a resurgence in people defending the prequels.

And now, as an older person looking back… They’re still bad, but I can credit them for trying to be original. Still, being original doesn’t make it good. There are many, many technical problems with those movies which just suck all the life out of them and betray that Lucas didn’t even really understand what he was working with. A lot of good things came out of the prequels, when handled by better creators, but that doesn’t make those movies any better.

In the last few years though, seeing how other people really do have a right to like whatever they want to, it’s been easier for me to just look at the franchise as one big messy thing. Suffice it to say, I’ve kind of lived Star Wars my whole life at some level or another.

George Lucas is definitely an auteur director. He made the films he wanted to make, and it shows. He’s a pretty weird guy, and not very good on his own. Disney has gone on to make new movies, and I’ve had mixed feelings about them. The Force Awakens was fun, but safe. The Last Jedi I had mixed feelings about from the beginning. It felt like an over-stuffed, overly ambitious movie trying to do too many things at once. There were many small ideas at play, each of which seemed alright if they either had enough time to breathe or were less important to the too many stories it was trying to tell at once.

I didn’t hate The Last Jedi. I will say that I only watched it that one time in the cinema. I meant to watch it again, but couldn’t bring myself to.

Just a few days ago, I started it but got bizarrely emotional and couldn’t continue. A friend wanted to rewatch it to catch up for Rise of Skywalker so we ended up finishing it together. I still had problems with it, but I still don’t hate it. I don’t know why I got so emotional early on.

I am not someone who really likes to show his fandom colours. I don’t own Star Wars merchandise. I’ve loved Marvel stuff for just as long as Star Wars and I don’t have anything from Marvel in my clothes or gear or anything. I don’t like showing it. I can love a thing without getting in cosplay. While cosplay is nice, I feel weirder about buying merchandise for a thing. Getting a T-shirt just to show you like a thing is a bit weird to me. Star Wars is this big merchandising empire, and was one long before Disney bought it, and I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with that. I just like the stories and the worlds. Brand loyalty died in me when I saw straight through the Marvel vs. DC comics collaborations as a kid.

I saw Rise of Skywalker just now, and, without spoilers, I can tell you that it somehow manages to make the prequels feel like part of Star Wars that you just accept and say yeah that’s the weird bad part of the story but it’s still part of it. The trailer for the movie dropped the idea that Palpatine was still alive, and like so many people I felt like that wasn’t a good sign, like they were pandering again, but I was open to find out what they were going to do with it.

It’s not a spoiler to say that in a way, Palpatine has been part of all the Star Wars movies, just like the generations of Skywalkers have. So it suits George Lucas’ desire for things to be like poetry, like they rhyme, for all these 9 movies to sort of be about that dance between Palpatine and the Skywalkers.

And that’s all I’ll say above the spoiler cut, which will just be rambling thoughts about the movie. Well, very rambly. Still liked it. Just remember that you can love or hate it but you don’t have to, and you definitely don’t need to hate what other people think of it either way.

Again, SPOILERS below.

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Thoughts on Guides to Handling Change

Since moving back to Indonesia, I’ve been confronted with survival guides. Of course, upon hiring me, my company sent me their guide, which was compiled by others before me full of tips on how to not only survive, but also make the most out of my experience.

I didn’t read it. I grew up here.

I’m sure there was still some information which would have been handy, but while I wouldn’t say I hit the ground running upon arrival, I did manage a decent jog. I was lucky that I already had friends here, was familiar with the language, and knew the city a little bit. it struck me even then that if I came straight from Bumfuck, Kentucky that I would have a lot more problems.

I previously had volunteered at a hostel, and a lot of my work there was to be the cool person welcoming them to the location. Before that, I was rather proud of my skills as a tour guide, which included being a cool person welcoming people to the location.

So of course, I was committed to the prospect of welcoming future expat teachers as a cool person welcoming them to the location.

I also discovered that this is far more difficult than it seems, because a lot of it isn’t up to me.

For a start, the person has to want to be here.

More importantly, what I discovered as well is that it depends a lot on where they are in their lives.

It’s an interesting parallel between old school coloninalism and the neo-colonial area that we’re living in that the people who are compelled to leave their homes to go somewhere new can be rather a mixed bag. Some are invited as experts and famous people, but a larger majority have some reason to not stay, and can only see a benefit in leaving.

Upon arrival, the socio-economic disparities in life also influence power dynamics. I’m told by many people that being a white guy here is amazing for your casual dating life, even if you would have been a loser back home.

All this is saying that people who move away from home aren’t necessarily at their best. I wasn’t.

Even so, you can make a guide for moving to Indonesia, but you can’t easily make a guide for surviving the difficulties of early adulthood.

I feel like there’s an underrepresented time of difficulty for people when they adjust from the studying life of university to the working life after it. Indeed, everything that studying has been teaching you about how to live your lifestyle is very different from how you end up living for much of the rest of your life.

Student life is pretty intense. First of all, it has structure, where you apply your effort towards specific goals within a pretedetermined schedule. There are mostly clearly defined standards of success or failure, and many resources to consult if you’re not sure. You’re also surrounded by a social environment to take advantage of, and it makes an active social life very easy to achieve.

When you go out and work, often changing cities to do so, you end up in a new place where you usually don’t know anyone or how things work, with few people to tell you how to help yourself. In addition, the work you do is now endless, without clear achievements or deadlines and very few metrics for success.

All that is difficult even without changing countries.

i feel like maybe I should write a self-help book for this. It would be a lot of setup like this, and explain in long winded terms, basically: you have to make choices for yourself, and they often won’t seem like the best ones but you still have to live with them, but you could probably start by lowering your expectations.

And then go have your Quarter Life Crisis. You could even be like me, and arguably still be living it 10 years later.

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Thoughts on Climate Activism

So it goes without saying that the world is probably doomed as far as long term human life as we know it is concerned. I’m sorry to say it, considering this is where we all live and there’s no foreseeable alternative.

I should establish some groundwork here: there are multiple environmental problems with the world, of which climate change is easily the most existential. It is undeniably caused by human activity in the form of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

There is very little that we as individuals can do about that in terms of our direct actions. It doesn’t matter how much you change your individual carbon footprint, it matters very little. There’s some argument for aggregate numbers of people changing their behaviour (if everyone does it then it will help), but it’s not that simple because our ability to do so entirely depends on factors like infrastructure and public policy.

Trash is, of course, a huge problem, but not directly in terms of climate change. It affects animals, environmental beauty, habitats, and economies directly. However, its relation to the existential threat of climate change is a bit more nuanced. Plastics are a byproduct of refining oil, and so the reduction of its consumption has an effect that way, but it’s a side-effect of our dependency on carbon fuels. Changing our relationship to single-use plastics and waste is not a bad thing, and animal and habitat rescue is a great thing, but it’s still important to separate it from climate change. Not all environmental issues are made the same, though there’s no rule that says you can’t work on both.

It’s also important to note that for billions of people, plastic enables them to work, live, and provide for their families. Arguing for reduction or behaviour change is easy when you can afford to and have had the education to have options, but not providing some kind of alternative would be just as irresponsible.

Ultimately, making personal choices to limit your carbon footprint and even to limit your single-use plastic consumption suffers from the same problem: it doesn’t actually matter what you do. The desire to pursue individual action is understandable because in the face of such a crisis as climate change we often look to see what we can do ourselves, but ultimately doesn’t actually do much more than just make ourselves feel better.

As mentioned before, what actually does enable change has to come from government policy in the form of carbon taxes, infrastructure, and so on. No other large scale social actor has the power to do so nor the accountability to the desires of ordinary people.

You cannot recycle without the infrastructure to do so. There have been famous recent news reports where recycling actually just gets shipped off to other countries, so out of sight, out of mind.

You cannot reduce carbon fuels without broad infrastructure. Over 90% of carbon emissions come from large scale industry, like coal power plants and so on. It sounds straightforward to replace those with renewables or other alternatives, but the change would be comprehensive, requiring expertise, technology, and long term political will.

While your choice of vehicle can, sure, make some impact, it is very little compared to the industry which produces them, and the infrastructure which enables them. Most people cannot afford to change their means of transportation, and that’s assuming there are public or electric options available. Even a public transportation option might be powered by coal power plants.

If this sounds hopeless, it mostly is. It is not, however, completely hopeless. The desire to make personal life changes to help fight climate change is totally understandable, but honestly, climate change is not your fault. The way we got into this mess is how most of us got educated, lowered death rates, infant mortality, lengthened our life spans, created social and economic opportunities for women and across the world. What is making us better is also what is costing us.

This is what makes political action the most important route to combat climate change. It’s not about your plastic, your light switch, or your car. This is what makes movements like the climate strike and Extinction Rebellion vitally important. Their goal is to effect political change.

It might already be too late, but that doesn’t make the effort not worth trying. While changing your own behaviour might help you feel better, the only real way to help the environment is to make sure the people who actually do have the power to change things will know that it’s important to you.

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Thoughts on this Blog

I’ve been wondering what to do with this page for a while now. I’m sorry for the lack of posts but it basically comes down to not knowing what I wanted to do with what I post here.

As a supposedly struggling comedian I feel obliged to try and make my posts here funny, but the things I generally want to write about are at least thoughtful and probably often just not popular.

Many would probably tell me to just write what I want to write about, but it’s hard not to feel like it’s in dissonance to some sense of progress.

Comedy itself is a struggling kind of career, and like all showbiz it requires perseverance and honest self improvement and the ability to survive disappointment.

Good thing I have practice there.

I suspect many comedians have said that you either have the strength to keep at it or you discover you’re not into it. If you take that in a positive light then you always learn something. In a negative light it can feel like plain old failure. Same old same old.

So in short I apologise for lack of updates here. I even have a bunch of drafts for abandoned post ideas that I half gave up on. They were abandoned as ideas I hadn’t or couldn’t develop or sometimes felt like maybe just no one would care about it anyway so why am I?

I’ll see if I can mix in some more fun into these posts to give them some variety. But no guarantees.

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