Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Pursuit of Happyness (Recent College Graduate Edition)

Please Note: This is the most preachy/self-helpy this blog is going to get, I just figured it was an appropriate thing to write about. Certainly there's a little bit of relevance in that I talk a bit about teaching in China, but mainly just a bit of philosophical ramblings. Also, if anyone who does read this feels particularly moved by it, feel free to message me your opinions (either positive or negative), I'm interested to see how this type of (mainly irrelevant to travel) writing is received.

So a friend of mine and I were talking tonight about his future career plans. In short, he is currently working a job that pays pretty damned well, one that he has worked at for a number of years, and is therefore familiar with it, and one that he, for the most part, enjoys. However, he has also just graduated from a pretty well-respected state school, and is eager to start a career in his chosen path. We were discussing how quickly he should be starting to really search for a full-time job, and at one point he asked "at what point should I start panicking if I don't have a job?" This is a pretty interesting question, as it really says a lot about our society as a whole--the intuitive answer to "when should I start panicking?" is quite simply, whenever you're not happy, because the idea in life is, in theory, to be happy. However, when you throw society into the equation, you may find, for example, that it is difficult to be happy making a comfortable living at a low-skilled job, like waitressing, because it's basically frowned upon by society to work a job like that if you have a university degree. Or at least, that's what I've experienced. Consequently, you might just panic if you wake up at age 25 and you're not advancing in your life, even if you're the happiest person in the world.

I'm writing about this because I've recently graduated, and consequently I know a lot of people who have recently graduated. Many of those very people will soon be making one of the more important decisions of their lives--what should my first job after college be? (and certainly, many recent graduates have already made that decision) And again, outside pressures will probably cause some of you to take jobs that you may not want, for example, if my friend were to decide to take the first decently respectable office job that came along simply to get out of waiting tables due to the fact that it's not as respectable of a job. And how does one balance being happy with being socially acceptable? Because let's be entirely honest, oftentimes the things that make us as humans happiest (eating, drinking,and being merry, to name a few) are often the least socially acceptable.

I'm certainly not saying that societal norms should be completely thrown to the wind, you certainly should try to be an accepted member of society, but realistically, we're here to be happy. Certainly, if what makes you happy is the idea of living a life of obedience to a chosen religion, more power to you. If you enjoy playing 11 hours of World of Warcraft a day, great. Too many people seem to lose focus on enjoying life. One thought that comes to mind is the reaction I've received a few times when I've told people that I'm moving to China to teach for a year--basically "oh my gosh! that's so cool, I wish I could do something like that!" Well the fact is, you can. I'm not going to try to pitch the idea of teaching in China here, but the idea is, it is possible to do what makes you happy while also doing something that's (somewhat) socially acceptable (like, in my case, teaching English in China). So to those people that have graduated and gotten into that grad school that'll look great on a resume, or got that job that looks like it's a wonderful place to enter the corporate ladder, or maybe just going and doing your own thing by traveling through Europe or something, maybe just take a moment and assess, "is this going to make me happy?" Because oftentimes, the thing that's keeping you from doing what truly happy can be fixed pretty easily. Unless you're this guy, in which case there are many, many international laws keeping you from doing what makes you happy.

Because frankly, the only time to panic is once you realize you're a few years into a job you hate, chasing a promotion that doesn't exist, and paying a mortgage that you probably couldn't afford if you left said hated job.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Perfect Example of the Wonders of Globalization, and an Interesting Excerpt

So I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about fake ID's. Any college student in the US surely knows someone who has one, and loads of kids have their own. When I was in High School, the going rate was usually $100-$125, maybe $150 if it's either a very high-quality ID or if you're being ripped off. Even nowadays, my brother told me $75-100 is pretty decent. However, when I posed the question to a friend of mine of "how much would you expect to pay for a fake ID?", her response caught me so off-guard that I had to do a double-take.

"Oh, well I wouldn't pay any more than like $40"
"$40?! I've heard $100 pretty standard"
"Yeah, but people get them in China for like $30"

At this point, it should be noted that the person making this claim has traveled only (to my knowledge) through the US and Peru. She has never been to China, or Asia for that matter. Additionally, fake IDs are not something that you'd expect to see the going rate for online--you're certainly not going to go to Amazon and check how much fake IDs cost worldwide. However, through the magic of globalization, and more specifically the proliferation of knowledge and information across national borders with astounding ease and efficiency, people are able to know these things without ever having been to these places. Certainly, the most obvious result of this is that middlemen get killed--you can no longer have a guy going to China, buying 100 fake IDs at $25 apiece, and selling them in the US for $100. However, it also leads to more educated consumers, and at the end of the day, greater value for them.

But anyway, rather than going on a tangent about how globalization is changing the marketplace, I will simply leave it at this: how remarkable is it that someone who hasn't ever been to Asia, doesn't really know many people who have been there, and who isn't by any means an expert on the market for fake IDs, without hesitation knew that you could get a fake for far, far cheaper in China than one would expect. It's an amazing world we live in, that is unquestionable, and it's only getting more so.

The second part of this post is a quote from the book "China Inc." by Ted Fishman. As anyone who read my last post knows, I am moving to Shenzhen shortly, and Fishman had some interesting insights about it in his book:

"Shanghai, for all its wonders, may not be China's most amazing urban transformation. Those honors almost certainly go to Shenzhen, the city near Hong Kong that until 1980 was a fishing town of seventy thousand people surrounded by rice fields...Everything changed in 1980 when Deng Xiaoping selected the city as one of the country's first experimental centers for market capitalism and dubbed Shenzhen China's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ). In a godlike stroke--or better yet, the keystrokes of a computer gamer playing SimCity--China's paramount leader gave rise to a city that in short order would be bigger than Paris, Montreal, or Los Angeles."

Incidentally, Fishman also makes the rather interesting comparison of "There is no perfect historical analogue to Shenzhen's growth. Chicago may be the closest. The midwestern city took fifty years to record its millionth resident. Shenzhen took less than a decade, and after only a quarter century Shenzhen was a city of 7 million people".

To paraphrase (i.e. change the word India to China) another quote, this time from Slumdog Millionaire, "China is at the center of the world. And I am at the center, of the center"

Friday, July 15, 2011

New Theme, New Look, New Storyline, etc

So it's been almost a year since I've made a post in this blog. To anyone that kept up with my blogging during my last time abroad, I thank you again, and encourage you to check in from time to time. For those who weren't following my blog last time, but are reading this now, welcome to the blog! Feel free to have a look at some of the older posts if you're so inclined, expect the same basic type of writing for this time around, but hopefully with more (sometimes relevant) LINKS!

Anyway, From the time of my last post until now, I've finished my last year of university, traveled to Thailand (twice), Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, and Canada (twice), have done a couple of international consulting projects, learned how to be good at finance, and probably most importantly, made the monumental life decision to move to Shenzhen, China in August to teach English for a year. Yes, you've read that correctly, Blaine Curcio is moving to mainland China. A sentence many (in particular a one Ms. Madlien Schenker, most likely) would have thought they'd never hear. I'll be moving there three weeks from yesterday, certainly one could call this period of time the home stretch before my departure. Given the fact that mainland China is notorious for their internet censorship (mainly that of Facebook and Google), my abilities to keep correspondence with people will be extremely diminished during my year there. Due to that, and my constant need to tell readers (either real or imagined) what I'm doing, I will be re-vamping this blog and attempting to keep up with it as frequently as possible. So let's talk about what to expect here over the coming year:

The program I am doing is quite an interesting one. In addition to paying for my apartment, the program will also pay for my airfare, some Mandarin lessons, and a salary of 6,500RMB (~$1,000) per month. This is an extremely livable salary for China. The program starts off with a 3-week TEFL training course at Peking University in Beijing, China. This will begin on August 5th, 2011. I've not been to Beijing, and I'm looking forward to it, if for no other reason than the fact that I have yet to see the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc. From there, we take a train to Shenzhen, which will be about 25 or so hours. At that point, my career as an English teacher in Shenzhen will begin.

Anyway, here's a brief rundown of Shenzhen, the city in which I am teaching. Shenzhen was China's first "Special Economic Zone" (SEZ), which became the case in the 1970's. As an SEZ, it became very easy for foreigners to invest in Shenzhen, and since the 70's, the city has seen staggering growth, going from a few hundred thousand people about 40 years ago to over 10 million today. Shenzhen was chosen to be an SEZ due to its proximity to Hong Kong, the former British colony and rampantly free-market yang to China's (at least at the time) communist, closed-market yin. Being immediately over the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen was an ideal place to produce goods to be shipped from Hong Kong's port to cities worldwide. Today, Shenzhen and the surrounding cities in Guangdong province are considered the "workshop of the world"--there's a decent chance that anything you see with "Made in China" on it was at least in part produced in Guangdong province. Anyway, modern-day Shenzhen is a massive and cosmopolitan city, with the world's 9th tallest skyscraper, a new and efficient metro system, and one of the higher per-capita GDP's in China. Shenzhen also has the 2nd largest stock exchange in China, and is becoming one of its most important financial centers. So at the end of the day, it's pretty clear that Shenzhen is at the center of one of the most important regions in China, and is certainly a good place to start a foray into the business world of Asia.

One of my main goals during my year in China will be to learn as much Mandarin Chinese as possible. Shenzhen is a wonderful place to learn Mandarin, given the fact that it's quite close to Hong Kong (just over the border into China), is a relatively western Chinese city, and yet, rather than most of the cities in the region (i.e. Guangzhou, Hong Kong), Shenzhen's population speaks mainly Mandarin, due to their enormous number of migrant workers. For those reading this that aren't familiar with Southern China--the rest of the region speaks Cantonese, a far more complicated language than Mandarin (while Mandarin has 4 tones, Cantonese has 9. 9 tones. That is, you can say the same word 9 different ways, and it means 9 different things. Combined with the fact that Cantonese has 60 million speakers compared to Mandarin's 1 billion, it's no wonder people prefer to learn the latter.) Anyway, Shenzhen is a great place to learn Mandarin, and fortunately, as part of my teaching contract, I will be given Mandarin lessons for the duration of the year. So assuming I put in a solid amount of effort into learning the language, I should have no excuses for not learning at least conversational Mandarin Chinese over the course of a year.

Another goal during my time in the Orient is to see a few more countries while I can. Topping my list at the moment are Mongolia, Pakistan, and Myanmar (Burma), though if I get the time India would also be excellent. Last time around, HKU provided us plenty of vacation time with which we could go wherever we pleased within Asia. This time, the Shenzhen Dept. of Education will be giving us at least one week of paid vacation in October, as well as 4-5 weeks during Chinese New Year (January-February). Additionally, they will be paying us ~$700US (a small fortune in rural China) as a severance package in June, allowing us to travel a bit through China after our teaching is finished.

It should also be noted that a good friend of mine from my exchange in Hong Kong, Mr. John Scutt, will be accompanying me on this teaching program in Shenzhen. As a fellow Sinophile, Scutt has spent a great deal of time in Asia, and has been known to spend more time than advisable at Khao San Road. Consequently, if anyone reading this blog will be in Thailand during the coming year, shoot me an email, we'll have to catch up (over 10-12 Chang Beers).

So anyway, in conclusion (for now), here is the triumphant return of the blog. For those who have read this far, a big thanks, looking forward to keeping anyone who cares to know informed of my whereabouts between now and mid-2012. Expect 1-2 more blog posts before I leave, then intermittent ones as we move along through a year in China.