Moving to Poland

I had a big life change. Indeed it could be said that I turned my life… upside down.

This is a joke I want to tell at comedy nights, but it’s hard to assume an audience knows that the Indonesian and Polish flags are basically reversed. Come to think of it, the Swiss flag is also just red and white, so maybe it’s an overall trend.

It’s been here for about… 5 days now. It’s quite a contrast from what I’ve been getting used to.

Life in Jakarta had been getting depressing in September. I felt like I had no prospects or plan. Once I had sorted out my visa situation, to the point where I could extend my visa for Indonesia every month, I felt lost without a problem to solve or direction to work towards.

Then the offer in Poland actually approached me. Another teacher they’d hired decided to just go anyway without all the paperwork we thought was required, and it turned out the border was a bit easier than expected, so they told me the offer for me is still open. So I decided to take the same risk.

Poland only went through maybe a month or so of lockdown early on. At this point people only need to wear masks indoors and in public places. There’s some social distancing but it’s not a constant worry. It still hasn’t seen a full on outbreak and you can feel that from people. People obey the rules, but beyond that the virus doesn’t seem to affect their decision making, which is the biggest change.

In Indonesia we were constantly finding ways not to touch things with our hands. Every restaurant or café had social distance tape. Even the little warung stalls for food weren’t letting you sit there anymore, just get takeaway. Jakarta had gone into lockdown, gone out of it, and went back in a gain. Indonesia had the highest cases in South East Asia and so covid was an ever present concern. I didn’t get to say bye to many friends in person because there was nowhere to meet up.

I arrive here and people aren’t even worried. They’re going to bars, going dancing, and honestly I’m just not ready yet. We had a work barbecue and it was so incredibly normal that I felt a bit out of place. It reminded me of how people talk about how being introverted means you need to recharge alone for social time. I wouldn’t consider myself an introvert, I just hate labels, but it’s definitely been an inclination I’ve noticed upon arrival.

I had a walk around on Sunday, and since I’m back in a country where things close down on Sundays the things I needed to shop for to set up my apartment were all closed, but the main pedestrian street was open with all its cafés and restaurants. It was really charming in that quaint European way. People were biking, hanging out, getting ice cream… The only sign that there was any covid concerns were that they would put on a mask to go in.

All the other teachers had a week of orientation before starting classes. They also typically arrived around early September, so they had a few weeks overall to acclimatise to the new environment. My being able to get here was pretty last minute, so I’m having to jump into teaching with basically just a crash course into how things work here. It’s good that I’m not bad at winging it but it still feels a little off.

It’s interesting comparing though. My school in Jakarta typically had 2-3 native English teachers, and around 10-15 local Indonesian teachers. In order to maximise their use of us, we would have some of our own classes and then also co-teach with an Indonesian teacher for around 2 weeks at a time before being shuffled around to other classes. This way the most classes possible would get different native teachers to, ideally, benefit from. Co-teaching is a bit easier since there’s less to plan for and you both get to carry some of the weight.

The school here has a different way of accomplishing the same thing. The students get two sessions per week, one with a local Polish teacher and one with one of us. The Polish teacher focuses on grammar, writing and so on, the native teacher on speaking, listening, reading; the more interactive skills. It does mean that the overall load is a bit heavy though, with 4 classes per day, 5 days a week, and each teacher only seeing that class once per week, and still seeing a lot of classes every week.

I’m sure I’ll get used to it, since it probably requires a different mental approach.

I’ve been told by a few people that I could compile just the last 3 years into a book and somehow that still feels too limited…

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Updates on (Lack of) Jobs and Motivations

Jakarta has announced that they’ll be resuming lockdown procedures soon, since there have been recent spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Which means I probably can’t expect any local jobs to open up anytime soon. Again.

I’ve been generally wanting to turn the comedy of errors that has been my lockdown experience in Indonesia into some kind of comedy set. It’s a tricky one since it’s specific to my experience, and most of the comedy I’m performing is online these days, to international audiences who might not derive as much humour from jokes about the lack of organisation in government bureaucracy that I would. So it’s time for an update!

In my last post I wrote about how there was an announcement that I would have to leave within 30 days. This obviously has not occurred.


About a week or so after making the announcement they realised that a lot of the policies and systems weren’t ready for all the questions, special cases, and requests that inevitably came to them. So they delayed it.

In my panic, however, I hastened my job search. The US at the time, and indeed to this day, doesn’t really look like a good fallback plan, but if I weren’t in Indonesia where could I go?

My search brought me to two particular opportunities, both in Europe as it turns out. One in Spain is part of their Auxiliar de Conversacion program, which brings in native speakers to volunteer at Spanish schools and help teach English. I posted about it last time. The slots are full for this academic year, sadly.

The other was for a language school in Poland, basically offering a similar job to what I had been doing in Indonesia. We had our video call interview and they were very keen to bring me on, which was quite the relief. We had issues regarding the visas, however. Long story short, Poland has a rule that they are only allowed to provide working visas if the applicant is applying at the consulate they’re resident in.

This presents logistical problems, namely that since my work permit expired in March (and no one was getting extensions at the time), I’m not allowed to get it from the embassy in Jakarta. I would have to go to Houston, Texas, to get it. Even under normal circumstances this honestly seems a little ridiculous. In addition, the US isn’t exactly handling the pandemic well and Texas in particular has been in rough times.

After some back and forth, we unfortunately had to at least delay the contract until possibly next year. We’ll see I guess.

This naturally brought my spirits down, though not right away. It got worse when I heard from my HR contact at my old company that Indonesia is also unlikely to process new work permits until next year. I have heard about loopholes, but it’s not very clear. And in any case, getting a work permit without a job on the other side of it is problematic to say the least.

As a bright spot of news, I did get approved for a more official visa to stay here, and that should wrap up within the next week or so. Amusingly, it might even turn out not to be necessary, but it’s best to play it safe and make sure.

Early on in the pandemic people had been encouraging me to push for online teaching work. It was something I did apply for here and there but didn’t push hard for. Considering Indonesia’s “will they won’t they” stance on visas it seemed a lot safer to just hope for a contract job that would provide me with the security of a residency.

As it is, it doesn’t look like jobs will be forthcoming here, and applying abroad elsewhere hasn’t borne fruit yet.

The smart thing to do is to diversify, find a new niche to work in. I’ve started dabbling. To be honest though, my motivation has been plummeting.

Some of my friends in Switzerland were of the general opinion that I was a pretty optimistic person, at least in regards to my life. There I was, with what seemed like a mountain of problems and challenges, but still finding reasons to be happy or to make the most out of a bad situation.

I don’t really feel like that person anymore. Maybe it’s the different environment, or maybe it’s just been a long 6 months on top of everything else, but I’m having a hard time trying to dig myself out.

This is not the first rough patch I’ve had in my life. The lessons I’ve garnered from previous times is that no one will dig you out of your problems but yourself. People can help, and that is very helpful, but the main work has to be your own, and sometimes you’re all you have.

I probably just need more time, but it’s safe to say that the world does not usually wait for you to eventually get better. This is ironic because if anything, this is the closest thing to the world taking a pause.

Well, we’ll see, I guess.

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Updates

I feel like I need to catalogue this for the future, and in case anyone reading is interested in where I’m at at this point in time.

I mentioned previously that I’m staying in Indonesia because Malaysia was locking down and I didn’t think I had anywhere to stay there. I entered on a tourist visa hoping things would blow over within a couple of weeks. Obviously, it didn’t. Indonesia did announce back then that emergency stay permits would be automatically applied to any foreigners stuck here, so I’ve been living on that until now.

It hasn’t been entirely easy. I had a lot of issues with living arrangements. That’s a story on its own. I tried applying for jobs, but it seemed to be a pointless endeavour since no one was hiring. Being a teacher is the most recent work experience I have and thus the most relevant thing to look for, but with no one sponsoring visas and businesses losing money that would be and continues to be a challenge.

Online teaching makes sense in that regard but carries its own problem: it doesn’t give you any kind of residency. Before the end times of this pandemic, there were a lot of teachers who would work as digital nomads who just needed a white wall and a stable Internet connection to live on those wages cheaply and in a flexible and mobile fashion. This is not a lifestyle that corresponds well to travel restrictions and potential infection.

Indonesia seemed to escape bad infection rates, but it’s likely that they just weren’t testing as much. The primary concern of the government seemed to be managing the potential social unrest, which is probably why they never fully locked down the country. They closed schools and recommended many businesses to go online or close down, but didn’t substantially enforce it. The big concern was the normal tradition of people in the capital to go home after Ramadan, and with Jakarta being the centre of the epidemic in Indonesia that seemed like a very bad idea.

Now that Ramadan is long over however, they wanted to start rolling out reopening procedures and trying to adapt to a “new normal.” To me, that translates as “everyone, go back to normal, but take precautions” which makes a sort of sense, except that Indonesia is now the most infected country in South East Asia and the number of cases is rising.

In a more direct sense, the immigration office announced that as part of this transition, they also wouldn’t be supporting emergency stay permits anymore. They’re giving us 30 days from that announcement (until August 11th) to either extend our permit or leave. They provided a WhatsApp number to contact for questions, so I did, and they said it would be possible to extend.

Assuming there’s nothing lost in translation, that sounds good. However, the announcement seemed to make it clear that Free Visa holders would have to leave anyway. They have not responded to further questions from me.

On looking it up, I need to physically go to an immigration office and ask directly.

Still, all this is the immediate problem. What about long term? Like I said, I’m prioritising jobs which will give me a residency. It’s definitely problematic that Indonesia thinks it can transition back to some kind of new normal while the rest of the world is still dealing with its first wave, and many regions which reopened their economies ended up having to shut back down again with spikes in covid-19 case numbers.

Still, in the process of trying to apply for jobs for security and survival, I’ve picked up a few points of interest:

  • I’ve been trying to get my old company to rehire me, and they said that they couldn’t until July-August because the immigration offices were closed, which makes sense. They’re opening now, but the new issue is that individual schools are unclear about whether they want to hire foreign teachers since they’re also haemorrhaging students. This makes sense in the short term, but I think medium-long term it doesn’t. Part of their whole selling point is giving students the opportunity to interact and learn from native speakers, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to get new native speakers anytime soon and I’m sure a number of them have left. It would be good for the business to be able to still maintain their key selling point.
  • I saw a post to teach in Spain, which intrigued me. Spain got hit pretty badly with covid-19 early on, but I think they’re evening out now. A company was offering positions for a similar arrangement to come be a cultural ambassador in Spanish schools and give students a chance to learn English from a native speaker. Sounded good to me, but on further investigation, it seems like it’s something the Spanish government is in charge of, and the company was just offering to be a middleman for a sizeable fee of $1400 minimum. I decided to try and just apply through the Spanish government, since I do speak the language and $1400 is a lot of money to just get assistance with the move. However, I discovered that they closed applications for the coming academic year.
  • One program I applied to in South Korea asked for a full-length picture of myself, which I found rather puzzling.

However, probably the most sobering lesson learned is that having an official teacher’s license or degree would help my chances way more than what I have now. It’s been a particularly depressing education in the challenges of trying to work in a field where I don’t have a degree. The field I do have a degree in, hotel management, is in a terrible situation. The hotel and tourism industry is understandably in the toilet right now, so they’re not likely to hire me either. This has led to a large amount of personal soul searching and not being happy with what I’m seeing, which hasn’t been fantastic for my mental health.

Going back to the U.S. presents a lot of other issues, not just because the pandemic is going nuts there and the social politics also set the country on fire, so to speak. It hasn’t been home for almost 10 years now if it even ever was. I only have extended family there, who I’m not comfortable dumping myself upon. Plus, flights from here to there are very expensive right now on this short notice, coming to around $1000 one way.

The best-case scenario is finding a job here, and it’s not one that I’m honestly that comfortable with anyway considering how Indonesia is handling the pandemic, but it’s still something I would happily take because financial security is important right now to ride things out for at least a year, or however long this lasts.

As the last point to add, my last grandfather passed away a few weeks ago. It has added to my complex feelings of the moment and deserves its own post. Suffice it to say that it hasn’t made things easier.

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Diving Deep into Esoteric Topics

Over the past several years I’ve been developing an interest in weird little topics that I’d say most people don’t care about or even the under-appreciated underside of otherwise popular things.

Like, people care a lot about movies and regularly watch them, and sometimes people will get really into how the movie is made, which is cool. Most of the time this is reserved for big special effects movies with big budgets and that’s, of course, fantastic on its own. I want to own that huge DVD set of The Lord of the Rings mostly just for all the behind the scenes features about how they used simple forced perspective tricks to make hobbits look small next to normal-sized actors. I guess there’s also 12 hours of an epic fantasy story too.

However, I also got really into B-Movies. Most of this is thanks to Red Letter Media, who I originally started following due to their film commentary in general, but now I’m mostly there for their chemistry and overall attitude and presentation while watching and presenting bad B-movies. It’s a little like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 but without having to actually watch those movies and instead have funny people tell the best jokes and express the funniest or most cathartic responses to them.

On their YouTube channel, they also watch a variety of VHS trash, because home video in the 80s to early 90s meant that everyone thought they could strike gold by making THE cheap educational video that you could rent at the video store to learn about how to do magic tricks to make friends because you’re that desperate, how to find satanic worshippers in your Midwestern park, how to apparently seduce women by hypnotism, and how to defend against edged weapons.

This kind of trash, to me, is such a picture into a culture that’s largely forgotten, though in a way modern YouTube presents a much broader window into people’s lives and motivations since the production costs are much lower. Maybe in 20 years, someone else will watch people pick out the simultaneously best and worst YouTube videos.

I’m also a military history nerd and something I was fascinated with even as a child was the complicated process behind loading and firing an old musket. There were so many steps to just firing one shot, which was such a contrast to today’s rain of bullets. It started a long term fascination with the history and engineering of weapons in general but especially firearms, though my interest in them especially wanes once people started actually figuring out really well how to maximise deadly effect with modern technology.

There are a few channels which go into this, but I particularly got into C&Rsenal for their in-depth, usually hour-long videos going into the development history and engineering of particular weapons, as well as their service history. Due to a partnership with the Great War history YouTube channel, they’re mostly focusing on weapons from that time period, and this is right around that awkward and funky stage where automatic weapons were in the early stages of being developed but no one had figured out how best to use them yet.

Firearms are admittedly a rather dark topic to be interested in, considering their usage and especially in terms of their impact on American culture to this day in particular. This is part of why I like diving into older designs which, you know, aren’t currently used to shoot schools and stuff. In addition, there’s something fascinating about how both the development worked, with a lot of manual tinkering, as well as the politics involved in making them happen. Their historical impact ends up being primarily on ordinary people, who get very little attention in history. Generals might plan huge battles, but the ordinary soldier from a rural part of a country fighting a war he doesn’t understand is the one dealing with all the process that went into designing the thing he’s supposed to use to defend his life.

On a much lighter note, I’ve been diving into Jenny Nicholson’s YouTube channel just in the last few days. She covers a variety of topics, and I find her fanfiction readings to be highly entertaining. It’s a peek into the hearts and minds of usually tweenage girls, sometimes out of touch old men, but sometimes even Hollywood writers and directors and the fanfiction that they call screenplays.

As a guy, there’s a natural barrier between me and the fiction and interests that women have. This is especially the case as a smaller nerdier kid who kind of felt the need to make up for it by pushing stuff away as “girls stuff.” So it’s been interesting as an adult diving into it because it’s still a big industry and it’s not fair to disregard them. It’s easy to say “One Direction was just for teenage girls” but it’s about just as ridiculous and silly as the fantasies and interests of teenage boys. It’s about time that it gets the… recognition(?) that it deserves.

That said, she mostly defines herself as a Theme Park YouTuber, which is a pretty niche crowd. She goes into a lot of details about how some theme parks are all about that audiosensory and interaction immersion, how upon entering it all the staff pretend that it’s real, often coming up with their own characters with their own stories to make it more real for theme park goers. She made a point about how the new Star Wars theme park at Disneyworld has Rey lookalikes who find little children and take them on a little adventure hiding behind corners from stormtroopers and it is absolutely heartwarming.

The fact that this is all in service for the crass commercialism of a Disney theme park is sort of what’s fascinating to me. Just because it’s sold as a corporate product doesn’t mean that people can’t take meaning from it, or that there isn’t immense craft involved in creating it, and her videos about these topics are such an interesting peek behind the curtains about it. She reminds us that it’s fun to leave your cynicism behind and just get immersed and that that isn’t mutually exclusive from being an adult who understands how things work and even the potentially problematic implications of the fiction or industry at play.

A lot of these details across these three topics get forgotten. Old VHS tapes die out as their magnetic tape wears out, and most of them are trash anyway that people wouldn’t care about. Old rifles have a vibrant collector community but it’s interesting to see which pieces are popular and which aren’t and why. Firearms are also just a hobby that attracts both detailed historical preservation people and gun nuts, so it’s a needle that can be fun to thread. Theme parks are this big industry that’s part of an even larger film and entertainment industry, but the work behind them isn’t always as appreciated and it’s still in service to a consumable product for fiction that people love, or at least are willing to let their kids love.

I guess I just got really into nuance lately.

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Quarantine Activities: History on YouTube

While we all have this time indoors, there’s only so much productivity you can manage if you’re not working anymore.  A lot of people watch YouTube.

Now, anyone can watch whatever they like, but personally I just gravitate towards educational independent creator content. I like video essays and historical channels and science channels where I can mostly just be entertained while learning stuff. If that’s your jam, maybe some of this list is for you. I can even sort these into different categories based on my various interests. So we can start with the excellent history YouTube channels:

The Great War: this channel started in 2014 as a documentary project to follow the First World War week by week from 100 years ago with additional special episodes, which was an excellent idea. The show has continued into the chaotic post-war years as well. The production team are also currently releasing their own documentary on the Battle of Berlin for its 75 year anniversary happening right now.

World War 2: The original host for The Great War has since moved on to host the events of the Second World War week by week from 79 years ago, and it’s also quite excellent:

TimeGhost History: That same production team has their own channel at TimeGhost History. They have videos about various topics, but recently completed a series about the inter-war years, and are starting a miniseries about the Indonesian War of Independence:

Military History Visualised: If you like your history to be dry and highly detailed, look no further. Bernhard at MHV produces his own videos with visual aids to give as honest and detailed a look as possible at military history. In stereotypically Germanic (he’s Austrian) fashion, he looks for primary sources with academic rigour, looks at field manuals, and organisational charts. I learned a LOT from his channel which goes against our popular narratives, including how German field manuals recommended taking out enemy tanks with jerry cans, smoke grenade and axes. His other channel Military History Not Visualised is also good for more quick takes and longer podcast style discussions.

Military Aviation History: If you enjoy planes and history, this is the channel for you. Hosted by “Bismarck,” he goes into the developmental history of various historical airplanes, the engineering that made them special, and their service histories. Personally, I got a lot out of his video about the experience of the Swiss Air Force during the Second World War.

Drachinifel: Right up there with the others for dry and detailed military history is Drachinifel. He goes into great detail about naval ships from the last 19th century to the end of WW2. His videos are mostly him talking with a slideshow, so it makes for pretty good background listening, much like a podcast.

C&Rsenal: If there seem to be lots of long details channels on here, well, it’s not like you don’t have time anymore. This channel is hosted by Othais, who gives the entire development and service history of historical firearms. He cooperated with The Great War YouTube channel to focus entirely on handheld firearms used in that conflict, and almost 2 years after it technically ended he’s still making videos because the war was that big. This includes a lot of interesting details for collectors of such historical firearms if you’re so inclined, but if you’re like me and just interested it’s a big education in both history and engineering.

Epic History TV: However, if you do enjoy your military history to have more narrative quality with some degree of detail, I rather like EHTV. They are currently concluding a series on the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte, though they skipped his campaigns in Italy, Egypt and the Levant. Overall the presentation is excellent, though it leans a little toward the Great Person telling of history, though that’s somewhat natural considering the egos and monarchs involved. They also have an excellent series on the overall history of Russia, as well as one on Alexander the Great.

Kings and Generals: Quite a similar channel to EHTV, which I prefer for its overall quality. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of good historical content on the channel. Comparatively, they also pump out a lot more videos, and these vary from videos about Carthaginian culture, to the many repetitive battles of the Thirty Year War, to the rise of Timur and so on.

Well, there you go.

I would say that these are a lot of channels with long videos, but you can choose not to watch them. You can choose to watch videos about funny cats if you like to. If you’re bored, however, and decide you want to dive deep into these generally well-produced historical videos… I can’t recommend them enough.

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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.

Continue reading

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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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