Why I Live in China

Things I’ve gotten used to living in China that make it hard to leave

-My students are an incredible cohort, many of them are deeply intellectually interested, they are honest, real, and they are very bright (my advanced class has an average SAT of 1510), I feel as if my teaching methods have largely developed to work well with the clay I have now and I am always afraid it wouldn’t port well to different clay…

-I can get anything I want, like anything off Taobao. Is Taobao better than Amazon? Let me put it this way, I bought a book once on Taobao, it came in Amazon packaging turns out it was from Amazon’s taobao store…

-I can bike anywhere and feel pretty safe (well so long as the air isn’t poison on that day, which is less and less often!), but taking a taxi across town through an app is extremely fast and cheap, going to my friend’s place 22km away is usually about 10 dollars or less. I have had countless days of just totally randomly exploring the cities and the nearby mountains without ever having to concern about my safety (other than the whole avoid cars thing which since there are so many people on bikes here is easier than most places).

-I can get any groceries delivered to me in 30 minutes, vegetables are so much cheaper, and groceries in general are much cheaper than they would be in most countries.
-My phone is all the money I ever need, carrying cash or cards just feels… like an unnecessary hindrance at this point.

-Medical costs are unfathomably lower than in the USA

-China’s free trade agreement with Australia means I get to be knee deep in delicious Australian meat!

-One problem I had in Japan and Korea is they are so very polite, but it doesn’t come off overly genuine… I have met countless warm genuine people in China, maybe not always so polite or orderly, but warm and real. I have more Chinese friends than foreign at this point though… (I don’t have many friends)

-It is very hard for me to stand for any significant period of time due to medical problems, I also can’t eat outside because… different medical problems! So I have a lot of dishes that need cleaning but that would require a lot of standing to clean. Luckily I can have a really nice person handle all my deliveries and clean my dishes and do my laundry for me who has worked with me for seven years and whom I have  a genuine friendship with(for instance once when I was sick and she thought I was sleeping(I felt too miserable to try to speak Chinese), she tucked me in).

-This is a small thing but I don’t have to wear a seatbelt, I know that is unsafe, I have even read some studies on the matter but… it isn’t in my nature to prioritize safety, and I always feel really resentful when I am forced to do things “for my own good” not saying this won’t eventually change but in general, not having to worry about “health and safety” regulations is a thing I do appreciate though I could understand how many others would be horrified.
-Of course there are a bunch of annoyances and downsides of living in China in general and Beijing in particular. But while they might be the focus of western media, to be honest they don’t effect day to day life all that much, some just require small adjustments don’t publicly discuss politics, stay inside with air filters on bad air days etc. Others you just deal with, the fact it is 30c indoors during the winter probably bugs me the most, oh and the umm internet intranet, the occasional cultural difference, having to deal with the odd flare up of nationalism. No place is perfect but for me the scales tip heavily in favor of living in China. I recognize that is partially my privilege in being who I am in China, but this isn’t a list of why it is great to be a random person in China, instead it is a list of why I find it so hard to leave even after this being my 8th year here.

Learning Economics as a Way to Curb Resentment

I think one of the most important reasons to learn economics is that if it is done properly, it can help you extend your empathy. Also knowledge of economics, specifically that other’s gain is not your loss, consistently helps me curb my natural feelings of resentment.
I was standing in line to pay for my insulin, usually the lines are short because I could just pay at endocrinology, but policy change due to new ownership (PLA) everyone now had to stand in line together. I had debated bringing my cane as for me standing in line is… unpleasant and now faced with a snaking line I regretted being cane-less. About half way through, after putting in 15 or so minutes of grinding my teeth, suddenly there was a flurry of movement. A new line had opened up, but I had missed my chance. Surveying the victors of this sudden disequilibrium event, I noticed that a lot of the people now well ahead of me in line used to be behind me. My first instinct was to be upset at the perceived unfairness, but then I snapped myself out it, and realized that, those people who now have to wait less don’t make me have to wait more and in fact, the line in front of me had also appreciably shortened in the melee, besides how would a fairer way even work? The new line was actually beneficial for everyone, it would be silly to be mad about it. With this realization I felt better, thanking economic insights that make it easier to carry less resentment I slowly worked my way through the line, really regretting the absence of my cane.
After another 15 minutes of waiting in line, my legs nearing their threshold of endurance, it was my turn in line and… a Chinese man from far away came charging at me in the cashier booth, I am, I should mention the only foreigner that was at the hospital. My Chinese is far from perfect, very far in fact, but in this instance it proved ample enough to understand what he was saying. He was Chinese, he had been waiting in line, his legs hurt, and they were going to serve a foreigner before him? It was an uncomfortable situation for all involved, while at first the lady at the register tried her best to just ignore him, his mounting anger, his shrill piercing screaming were too much, she took his documents and started to process him. Anger was my first response, I had waited in line just like everyone else after all, my legs didn’t feel great either, and his characterization of me wasn’t overly kind. But soon the anger turned to pity: what must it be like to be such a man, so filled with resentment, lashing out, not even thinking of the discomfort of all of his fellow citizens whom he had just cut in line in front of. Even though he got his way, I couldn’t help imagine just how painful such an existence must be.
And once again I thanked economics.

Cowboy Dan

Tourists taking photos next to a picture of a kitschy cardboard cowboy… Dan pats his pocket, takes out a cigarette and lights it, inhaling deeply, the smoke mixing with the dry desert air filling his lungs and unceremoniously exiting through his nostrils with a huff. He stood there soaking in the artificiality of it all. A man, younger than he appeared with a face battered by the elements, tanned by the sun, and covered in coarse dark stubble from neglect. A lean man, a hard looking man, he always wore his dusty old tattered cowboy hat, an anchor to who he was. He had moved away from people into the vast expanses of the wild west, but the people found him all the same. What once was a harsh unforgiving land, a land that tested him amongst his solitude, now boasted three Starbucks per square mile. Stomach churning with disgust he enters his pickup and speeds back to the only place in the area he could not feel like an alien, or worse, a relic.
The humble shack that he had built himself, considered an eyesore by the “locals” had to be grandfathered in. What had once stood as a proud testament to man’s resilience in the vast desert, now only served to disharmoniously interrupt the endless rows of cookie cutter houses. Inside, he lights another cigarette, empties another bottle into a chipped glass and throws it down into the pile of bottles and cigarette butts strewn about the floor. God damn that freeway, god damn the people, and god damn this town. At a little past midday in a drunken stupor Dan closes his eyes and passes into unconsciousness.

Awaking at midnight he hears the distant howls of coyotes, he staggers out of bed and realizes the only reason he isn’t hung over yet is because he is still drunk. No matter how much he drank, sleep wouldn’t stick, how he yearned to just have some way of making today into tomorrow, tomorrow into the next day, and so on and so forth.

Grabbing his keys and throwing on his cowboy hat despite the noted lack of sunlight, he once again enters his truck, putting the pedal to the floor heading for the nearby reservation. There is a bar there filled with members of the local tribe. The people that would be there at this time of night would be just as resentful, just as full of hate, just as lacking in purpose, just as clinging to romantic images long since faded as Dan was. He was a regular at the bar, but not a well-liked one. Truth be told, if the community was not in such dire straits he would have been banned long ago, but it was, and his money was still green.

He came there to soak in the bleak atmosphere, to feel a kinship in suffering, to escape the saccharine sterilized modern world that had no place for a man such as Dan. And maybe, just maybe to make a connection with someone, anyone, a reason he would never admit, not even to himself.

There he drank and smoked, his pathology oozing out of him, daring anyone to so much give him a sideways glance. Until someone did, another regular, just as drunk and just as resentful. A gruff exchange took place; “this is a place for members of the tribe, I told you before we don’t need the presence of you drunk thieving white men here.” Dan swung his fist and connected it with the speaker’s jaw, only to be jumped by the remainder of the patrons. He hit his shoulder hard on the ground as he was tossed out of the bar. His face was bloodied, he for an instant reflected on his life, he was overcome with the desire to sob, to cry, to breakdown there laying on the cold hard earth. But he was a man, a real man. Screw them, screw them all, he doesn’t need anyone, he hasn’t ever needed anyone, he is fine alone, he is better alone.

He lights another cigarette and drives into desert, the empty desert.
There Dan looks up the stars
Cowboy Dan fires his rifle into the sky
God if I have to die, you will have to die
Impotent undirected rage, boundless hidden sorrow, a veneer of pride and self importance that he could not ever dare to try to look under.
Cowboy Dan was a major player in the cowboy scene.
He didn’t move to the city, the city moved to him.

Based on the song found here

A Happy Ending for Gordon

Weeks had passed. Gordon’s self loathing from his failure in the river was a crushing weight that visibly sank his shoulders. He had started consuming more and more, trying but failing to sleep more and more, just wishing for the days to pass. Drinking from a standing pool Gordon looked at himself, looked into his own eyes, the self loathing made him recoil but he forced himself to stare at the bear like creature gazing back at him. He headed back through the glade, back for the river. This time he stayed in the water longer, this time he almost caught a fish. But eventually, despite the screaming in his head to tough it out born from the hard won knowledge of the horrors of quitting, he did not persevere, he had failed again. But the next morning when he awoke surrounded by snack wrappers and bottles he thought to himself, I might not be good at being a bear, but I am better at being a bear than I was the day before. With renewed vigor he once again trekked to the river, and he did so almost every day until he became proficient at catching fish, and hardened against the cold. In the glade he caught a deer, in the forest he ate from bushes. He still slipped from the path occasionally, raiding the humans and drinking their fiery water. But he did not fill himself with loathing when he did so anymore, he knew nothing good lay down that path. Instead, Gordon focused on being a little better, a little more of a bear every day, tolerating his mistakes without justifying or excusing them. He would no longer let himself be miserable, or at least stay that way. Gordon was a bear and it was early April, mating season would be soon.

Maybe Not Meddle with Meddling Externalities

To begin, a meddling externality is where others would be willing to pay in order to change or outlaw the behavior of others, essentially people are willing to pay in order to meddle in the lives of others. In practice this kind of externality is no different than being willing to pay for breathing less polluted air. You might say, yes but that is just in your head, but isn’t all value? What is the difference between being willing to pay $20 dollars for cleaner air, for coffee, for making is so others don’t watch pornagraphy, or that people can’t date outside a narrow set of criteria. These are all psychic harms and benefits when you get down to it. While I accepted this logically, in my heart I was never able to care about them the same as a regular externality.
I finally put my finger on why I tend to think differently about meddling externalities than other externalities. In economics we take preferences as a given, but in actuality they can change and be influenced in fairly predictable ways. I really doubt that in 50 years there will still be a lot of people upset by gay marriage. For civil rights at one point in time there were very large meddling externalities by bigoted whites about people of color being in their “proper place”, but even in the areas where such bigotry used to thrive, such meddling externalities have probably if anything reversed direction. I think if marijuana became legal in 50 years people would largely stop caring about others using it, indeed we are already seeing this. Allowing people freedom tends to result in meddlers changing their preferences, since often these preferences are not founded on anything aside from feelings about outgroups. And since this is the case, I would probably often permit behaviors that at the time might be inefficient due to factors of current taste if such tastes are likely to change due to ingroup outgroup dynamics.

On Bears and the Perils of Modern Life

Economics is a powerful tool, but it does possess its blind spots. We assume that the choices people make are rational ones, and to a large degree this is likely true. But I fear that the modern world often lays before us an easy path, a path that our instincts compel us to follow and yet if we heed their call, we will find ourselves living an empty existence. The following is the tale of an anthropomorphized bear named Gordon that encapsulates the treachery of following the easy path. A similar situation has been observed in nature with baboon colonies near eco tourism resorts, the baboons breaking apart their social structures maladaptivly clinging to the easy nourishment found in bounty of human refuse.

Gordon awoke in his cave, hangover piecing his skull. He shuddered as he became filled with self loathing. Instinctively he reaches his paw to the bottles laying next to him to numb the aching chasm, but finds them woefully empty. Licking at an empty bottle he is forced into an uncomfortable clarity, at this point all he is empty, living each day as pointless as the last. He thinks back to his childhood as a young bear. Hunting, fishing for salmon, foraging for berries with his mother, playing with his brother. Those difficult times, those happy times.
Life had changed ever since the humans had built a campsite near him. He had discovered at first by accident what a simple thing it was, walking into an occupied campsite, watching as the humans fled before him, leaving behind their camping provisions. No chase, no frigid water, no gnawing at bushes, just food. He ate until sated reveling in the ease of acquiring the bounty before him. It was later that he would discover the fiery water they so often brought with them. That was the beginning of the end he reflected, that is what had transformed him from a noble beast into what he was now, alive, fat, miserable.
He reflected, he knew. He vowed, he vowed he would go back on the path, the path bears should follow. Rising from his cave to drink from a nearby stream he planned it all out, he would no longer take from the humans, he would once again hunt, once again fish, once again forage. As he thought this, he plucked up his massive shoulders and headed to a nearby river that he recalled from his youth. It had been a long time since he had walked this far, he could feel his limited endurance, but determined he pressed on. There were voices he heard, in the strange high pitch tone of man. He disregarded them and walked on, his legs growing ever more tired supporting his girth. “I must press on!” Gordon the bear vowed to himself.
A vow which started to decrease and decrease in volume, as it was drowned out by all of the justifications that began to flood his mind. It was okay he told himself, just once more, tomorrow would be another day. He turned around and headed for the voices.
He woke up, this time instead of childhood he thought of Guindalin.
She was a female, she was his mate, they had gotten along, but who would want what he had become? His heart surged, beating uncontrollably, he tried his best to suppress it, managing to do so only for a few scant minutes at a time. Today is his day to reform, he can’t give in, he lay there like that for an hour or two and then Gordon the bear could bear it no more.
Reaching for the bottles next to him he found there were a few left from yesterdays raid, he bit their tops off, desperately consuming them. It is okay he said, tomorrow will be a another day.
Another morning another drunken haze, what is the point of this life? To follow the easy path was spiritual suicide. Today is the day, Gordon steeled his resolve. He headed for the stream again. This time, undeterred by the voices coming from the forest. He arrived at the glade on the way to the fishing spot, it was just as beautiful just as pristine as ever, but was it always so hot, where there always so many flies and mosquitoes? Pausing he listened for deer, remembering they were once prevalent there, but his dulled senses picked up nothing. He carried onward to the river and waded in, he did it, he made it, he was going to be a real bear once again. The water robbed him of his warmth more rapidly than he remembered, the fish moved faster than he remembered, his paws responded slower than he remembered. He decided to take a break from the cold water, just a break. He heard those familiar voices in the distance.
Tomorrow is another day.
continued here