The Chopstick Delusion

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blog chopsticks miageLiving in China, there are certain things one hears over and over again. A short list of commonly accepted phrases would include:

“Do you like Chinese food?” – this is usually asked by someone when you are enjoying a large plate of Chinese food, or if you’re speaking to a Chinese person and neither of you has anything interesting to say.

“Wow! You look just like _____” – insert actor or actress you look nothing like.

“Oh, you are very good with chopsticks!” – a compliment every foreigner receives at some point and, in a way, a right of passage.

Yes, today’s topic is that common compliment, the one about chopsticks, and what it means. On the surface, it’s sort of goofy and perplexing. I mean, chopsticks really aren’t that hard to use. Why wouldn’t I be good with chopsticks? What kind of god-awful motor skills do you think I have? Like, because I’m American, I’m only capable of stabbing things with a fork?

It’s also a bit awkward because it draws a clear distinction between whoever says it and the foreigner receiving the compliment. It would be sort of like if I walked into a McDonald’s in America and saw an Asian guy eating a hamburger and totally freaked out about it.

blog hamburger head“Holy crap! Do you see what’s happening here? He’s Asian and he’s eating a hamburger! A hamburger! I thought he’d be eating rice or something, but nope! It’s a Big Mac! This guy is wild!”

Perhaps a little overboard, but the chopsticks compliment is in essence divisive. Trust me, I’m aware that I’m very other. We don’t need to point it out yet again. It’s only slightly better than when I say some basic thing in broken Mandarin and am given the thumbs up for it.

blog chopsticksBut all that is minor. The truth is, the annoying aspects of the chopstick compliment are nothing when compared to the importance of it. It’s an acknowledgement, a sign of approval. I believe it signals that I have arrived. That despite my awful Mandarin and the fact that none of the shirts here fit me, I have mastered something that helps me fit in here in China at least a little bit. Chopsticks. I may never be fully accepted as a part of this society, but at least I can pick up a noodle.

Chopsticks have been on my mind a lot lately, ever since the new semester at my school began. See, in the past, the school cafeteria only had chopsticks, and every teacher used them whether they were adept at it or not. This year, however, a tray of forks and spoons suddenly appeared. I was aghast. It was a kind gesture, I suppose, to supply the new foreign teachers with the cutlery of their homeland. Yet, at the same time, it saddened me, especially when I noticed the new teachers were largely opting for the fork and spoon instead of the chopsticks.

blog chopsticks with fork“I can’t use chopsticks,” some of them would say. And that made sense. If you can’t use chopsticks, that could lead to a messy lunch. Although at one point in time I was new, and I sort of got initiated into chopsticks by fire, and I guess I think everyone should kind of do that. In my mind, I tried to imagine being a foreigner living in Asia and never getting the chopstick compliment. It would be like, I suppose, moving to America and living there for decades without ever getting the finger.

You just really couldn’t call it home, I don’t think.

Which brings us to The Chopstick Delusion. This is the idea that forms in the mind of a western person living in Asia that, due to competence in a few areas of daily life, they have been assimilated into the culture that surrounds them to at least some degree. I can use chopsticks. I can order food in a restaurant. I am able to read some signs. I know how to count. Therefore I am not an outsider but someone that belongs here. I can one day feel at home in this country.

And that might be true – if the person continues to work at it. To learn the language, understand the customs, count past ten. But what I see a lot – especially with myself – is that once those basic things are conquered, The Chopstick Delusion sets in and you think you’ve got it made. Why am I judgmental against the new teachers who insist on sticking with the fork? Because I feel they won’t be deserving of their delusion, I think. By giving up the fork, I’ve made a choice to go with the flow, to do like the Romans. And it annoys me to think that the fork people will eventually have Chopstick Delusions of their own without ever having mastered chopsticks. The same way, I guess, people who have learned to speak Mandarin view me.

Because that’s probably how it works. The hierarchy of expat adaptation. For every foreigner who can’t speak the language, I’m sure there’s some other foreign shaking his head, just like the chopstick crowd scoffs at the fork people, and I suppose the fork people, eating their rice and their kung pao chicken, might feel a tad superior to the foreigners sitting in KFC eating fried chicken with their fingers.

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All My Coworkers Are Dirty Pigs

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blog dity pigWorking in China is a unique experience. It’s something I think everyone should go through for at least a year, just to see how different the mindset here is from other parts of the world. Take, for example, what happened two weeks ago, when my school conducted its annual fall apartment checks.

The new employees here are always baffled by the apartment checks. Heck, I was baffled too when I fist started. As soon as the school sent out the staff-wide email about the checks, one of the new teachers, a nice guy named Jesse, came to ask me about it.

“Bill,” he said, “can you explain the email we just got?”

“Well, on Monday the school is going to check your apartment.”

“Yes. But what does that mean?”

“That means that while you’re at work on Monday, your boss is going to go into your apartment and see if it’s clean.”

Jesse needed a second for this idea to settle.

“Why are they doing that?”

This was a question I could not answer. I really don’t know why my boss would care to go into my home and inspect it for cleanliness. You would think the boss would have better things to do. Or that she would see how people not originally from China would be more than a little uncomfortable with the whole thing.

“What if they don’t think my apartment is clean?” Jesse asked.

blog hoarderesAgain, I wasn’t sure how to answer. All of the foreign teachers here at my school are housed in the same place, a big ugly apartment building on the far end of the campus. And every year, our boss comes into our apartments periodically to see if anyone has disgraced the school with sloppiness. If behind these ubiquitous brown doors, there are scenes of chaos and havoc, settings reminiscent of the TV show Hoarders.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told Jesse. “It’s just what they do here. They want to look in your room.”

“But I don’t want them to look in my room. What right do they have to look in my room?”

“None. But they’re going to do it anyways. So just throw out the trash in the morning and try to pretend it isn’t happening.”

The day after the apartment checks, the school sent out another staff-wide email. This one was from the boss, and it congratulated us on our general neatness. It also said that one particular teacher, who went unnamed, had an unacceptably messy apartment and was being spoken to privately.

“I wonder who they busted,” Jesse thought out loud.

In a way, I wished it was me. Just so I could tell them that they’d made the mistake of employing a filthy bastard who was proud of being a filthy bastard, and that it would be appreciated if the next time she entered my place, the boss would clean it up a little.

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Like Watching Turtles Choose Shells

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blog faceless mannequinIt’s a Saturday afternoon and I need a shirt. Really, I need much more than a shirt – a whole new wardrobe would be better, and maybe a stylist, and maybe an endless supply of socks – but whatever, on this day I’ll settle for a mere shirt. I take the 52 Bus to one of the many malls in Beijing, where I stumble upon a store called ‘Jack Jones.’ The place is darkly lit and features faceless mannequins with shiny non-faces that are better dressed that I’ve ever been in my life. They’re also much more muscle toned, and I debate whether or not I’d sacrifice having a face in exchange for better clothes and abs. Really, if someone looked like one of these Jack Jones mannequins, I’d be willing to bet that he’d score more dates than 2/3 of men with faces.

Anyways, I’ve noticed that there’s a Jack Jones in basically every Chinese mall I’ve stepped foot in. All of them, as though the malls of China are like those faceless mannequins, the exact same replicated mirror image being constructed over and over again. Go into a Beijing mall and you’ll be sure to find a KFC, the Japanese fast food joint Yoshinoya, a Jack Jones, a few clean bathrooms, a few nightmarishly unclean ones, and a strange emptiness that pervades the place and invokes sadness the same way your house might the day you move out of it.

blog waldo mallFor a country with 20% of the world’s population, the malls in China are surprisingly vacant and ghostly. Floor after floor, all connected by inconsistently functioning escalators, you’ll find clean and open space, territory unclaimed, stores sitting idle and bored. At an H & M in Dongzhimen, I explored the racks of clothes completely alone while the salespeople stocked the already overstocked shelves. Or, wandering aimlessly around the mall in Xizhimen, I passed by the same t-shirt shop probably a dozen times, never seeing anyone, consumer or employee, inhabiting it. Then there’s the strange mall around Lishuiqiao station, which requires a short pilgrimage from the subway, a ten minute walk down a desolate road where hopeful shoppers slowly move in droves, staggering in the direction of the mall with the enthusiasm and countenance of someone forced down the Trail of Tears in 1831. 

That’s what I’m thinking as I step into Jack Jones. Immediately, only seconds after I enter, a young Chinese woman in her work uniform approaches me.

“Ni hao!” she smiles. “JACK JONES!”

She nearly screams it, as though she’s shouting out his name in orgasm.

“Yes,” I say, unsure of how to respond. She smiles and walks away, only to be replaced by another shop girl, this one also flashing an oddly frightening smile.

“Hello!” she says in English.

“Hi.”

“Jack Jones!”

“You’ve got that right,” I say.

blog men explore outfitsShe doesn’t say anything else, but parks herself directly next to me. This makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable, awkward, having this salesgirl shadowing me, and I walk towards the back of the store hoping that she won’t follow. My plan doesn’t work. Keeping a safe distance of a few feet, she glides to the back of the store after me, like I’m the sound and she’s the echo. I try and try but I can’t lose her. All these shirts and sweater vests, I can’t even think, all I’m aware of is this stupid salesgirl three feet to my right. She recommends a green flannel shirt and I run. I dart through two full racks of clothes, a tight squeeze, praying that she’ll get stuck between them, but she doesn’t, and moments later she’s practically on my back, the closest I’ll come all day to wearing anything from the store.

I know, I know. This is good customer service, right? I tell myself that. This girl has devoted so much attention to me, it’s amazing, the polar opposite of the neglectful clerks working back home at JC Penny or TJ Maxx. Still, I hate it. I just want to be left alone, by myself, so I can pick something that I personally think is hip, even if it makes me look like I belong in a New Kids on the Block video. It would probably be difficult for her to understand any of this. I don’t really want to be helped. I’d prefer the freedom to fashionably sink or swim on my own.

Without saying anything, I quickly make my way out of the store. I don’t look back to see if she’s tried to follow me. I can still hear that name in my head, over and over, the way they kept saying it.

Jack Jones.

Jack Jones.

Jack Jones.

It’s almost like a siren call, pulling me back. I mean, maybe I should go back, I have no new shirt, and I’m not sure where else to go. But none of that matters, because I’ve returned to the embrace of this empty shopping mall and I’m sure I can find some store, somewhere in the deserted landscape, where the only thing that will tell me I don’t look good in a pink cashmere sweater is the mirror.

*

Sunday Thoughts on Books and Flies

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blog fliesIt’s Sunday afternoon in China and I feel a strange sense of optimism today. Happiness. I think I generally feel this way when my apartment is clean. That’s sort of the key to happiness, I think. Being able to keep your place in a condition that most human beings would want to live in. There have been times in the past when I’ve allowed my apartment to turn monstrous, clothes all over the floor and rotting vegetables on the counter. It’s hard to be happy when that’s what you’ve got. Show me an upbeat individual that’s always smiling, and I’ll show you a person that knows when to throw away lettuce.

Last night it really poured here. Torrential downpour. I sat on my bed and tried to write a blog about people falling in love in Taco Bell, but I just couldn’t concentrate because there was a stupid fly and it kept landing on me. This may sound like an excuse, but it’s really what happened. I literally couldn’t write because this fly kept landing on my knees. And it’s presence wasn’t even logical, because my apartment is finally clean for once and I thought that would mean the flies would go away or something.

So I ended up chasing the fly around my apartment, trying to kill it with a paperback copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The fly kept landing in various locations and I would slam the book down only to realize that the fly had dodged the blow, flown off split-seconds before the words “65 Million Copies Sold” came crashing down on its face. It reminded me of action movies, where the villain fires like 80 bullets at the hero and they all miss. That’s how I felt trying to kill the fly. It was frustrating and it made me wonder if I’m a villainous person, because if I was the good guy, I would probably be able to kill an entire army of flies by myself without much trouble.

Eventually I gave up and decided I’d just have to accept that the fly was going to land on me every few minutes. It was a really smart fly, actually – I mean, landing exclusively on the person trying to kill you is probably the best way to avoid death. Not like I was going to slam The Alchemist into my own head or anything. But then I started thinking about books, and I realized something I hadn’t thought of before.

blog bookI’m not the type to get all romantic about real, actual books versus electronic books. I don’t care about the feel of a book in my hands or any of the stuff I’ve heard friends say. But there is something neat about how a book can become something else in one’s day to day life. I thought about how much goofy nonsense I use books for. I use books as paperweights; I use books as decorations; I’ve used a book as a fan on a hot day; I sometimes use books to put on top of chairs to reach things; I’ve used a book as a pillow before; I use books to kill flies. And that’s what I would love to someday accomplish myself. To write something that becomes old and battered, that a person might scribble something on the inside cover of or put under a wobbly chair leg. Because that’s when your book has really become a part of somebody’s life. When it’s not just about words and themes and all that literary stuff, but is the difference between sitting comfortable and falling over.

These are the things I’m contemplating this Sunday afternoon. The fly seems to have somehow left the apartment, which makes me nervous because I don’t know how it did that and now I believe there must be some hidden entrance/escape route somewhere. Whatever. I’m glad that it’s finally gone. I imagine that it’s in someone else’s apartment, and I wonder what bestseller that person is using to smash the damn thing into oblivion.

Awkwardness at the Meetup Event

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blog meetup sticker“Have you ever gone to a Meetup thing?” Cooper asks me. He’s trying to put together plans for the weekend, figure out something for us to do.

“No,” I say. “What’s a Meetup thing?”

“It’s when you go someplace and a bunch of strangers go there too and you socialize. The point is to meet new people.”

“So it’s the same as going to a regular bar, only you don’t have to come up with an excuse to talk to people.”

“Basically,” he says. “Everybody at a Meetup thing signs up before hand and you wear name tags.”

“Where did you find out about this?”

“On the Internet,” he says. This is no surprise. The Internet seems to have been created to help strange people meet each other. “Anyways, there’s a Meetup thing in Seoul Saturday night. It might be interesting.”

“Right on,” I say. “I’m in.”

How I remember it looking.

How I remember it looking.

A few days later Saturday rolls around and Cooper and I hit up the Meetup event. We arrive an hour late. Enough time, we feel, to seem cool. As soon as we walk in we realize the place is packed. There are tables full of people, all talking to each other. The Meetup organizers are in the front and we pay them a cover fee, then get name tag stickers to place on our shirts like we work at Staples.

“Okay guys,” the Meetup organizer says. “Now go around and meet people!”

This is easier said than done. There are no empty tables and everyone seems to be locked in conversation with whoever they’re sitting with. Cooper and I go to the bar and buy beers. Then we circle around the place two or three more times.

“We should’ve come earlier,” he says. “There aren’t any tables.”

“Should we go and sit with someone?”

“I don’t know, man.”

“Have you ever come to one of these things before?”

“No, man.”

“I think we’re supposed to sit and talk with people,” I say, looking around. “Who do you want to talk to?”

“Nobody, bro,” Cooper says.

“Dude, why did we come to this if you don’t want to talk to anybody?”

“I have no idea. Do you want to talk to anybody?”

“No, not really.”

We go outside and smoke cigarettes. About fifteen minutes have passed since we arrived.

blog meet new people“You want to check out someplace else?” Cooper asks.

“We just got here,” I say. “We’re going to look like the two most anti-social people in the history of Meetup.”

“I don’t care. This sucks.”

“Well, let’s just go back in and talk to somebody. One person. I don’t care who it is. I feel like we paid the cover so we should at least say something to one other person.”

“Cool,” he says. “Then we’ll leave.”

Putting our cigarettes out, we open the door and go back into the Meetup event. We decide to stand in the corner. Eventually a Korean girl comes over and talks to us for a few minutes, then leaves to go talk to people who are actually friendly.

“She was cool,” I say.

“Whatever,” Cooper says. “This place is whack.”

Right as we’re about to go, a big Korean guy comes over to us. He’s young and speaks a little English and he begins asking us questions.

Q1: “Where are you from?”

Q2: “Do you like Korean food?”

Q3: “Do you like kimchi?”

The Meetup event has now become torture. I mean, yeah, the guy is nice and everything – super friendly – but I just don’t want to have this conversation. A few times I elaborate on my answers and he becomes lost, unable to understand things when they drift too far from the short answers he expects.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I say. “But we have to go.”

I look at Cooper and nod my head towards the door.

blog is never good for you“Okay,” the friendly guy says. “What is your number? I will text you.”

“Um,” I say, “I just got my phone. I don’t have a number yet.”

He looks at Cooper.

“Yeah, me too,” Cooper says.

The friendly guy smiles, totally unfazed.

“What is your Kakao Talk ID?”

Cooper and I exchange glances. We both mumble the same thing.

“Yeah, sorry man, we don’t have Kakao Talk.”

Obviously it’s a lie. We’ve both been on our phones half the night. I hope the friendly guy didn’t notice this.

“I see,” he says. “I will friend you on Facebook.”

“Oh, shoot, we don’t use Facebook.”

It’s awful. Downright shameful. We shake the guy’s hand and slide by him out of the place. Afterwards, I can’t help but feel really bad.

Here’s the deal – it’s one thing to reject someone’s romantic interests…but to blatantly reject someone’s friendship is way worse. We’d basically just told that guy that we had absolutely no interest in whatever he had to offer. No interest in chatting. Hanging out. No interest in getting to know him. No interest in merely having each other on Facebook and never communicating apart from liking some status updates. None of that. No, we’d rather lie and make up stories than enter into anything resembling even the slightest of friendships with this guy.

And all this was at an event where the purpose was to make new friends. I felt terrible, maybe worse than I’ve felt breaking up with someone.

“I think we just failed at Meetup,” I say.

Cooper shrugs. We go to another bar, one where the people stand there silently ignoring each other, and everyone seems comfortable.

*

You’re Stunning, Mr. Cabbie! No…I Mean It…You’re Literally Stunning Me!

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blog donkey in cabLiving in China can be bizarre. In the three years that I lived in South Korea, I thought that I existed in some strange parallel universe that only vaguely connected to the rest of the world. Silly me. Compared to China, South Korea feels like one of the quirkier states in the US, like how I imagine Portland or Louisiana being. Weird but with a certain degree of charm. China, while absolutely possessing charms of its own, is not really like that.

That’s because China has an overall ambience of lawlessness and disorder that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. Everyone knows that China is a “communist” country. I knew that. But it turned out, when I got here, that communist countries aren’t all how I imagined them being. For starters, there’s not much in terms of propaganda in China. I’ve been here over a year, and I still wouldn’t be able to tell the president apart from some guy working in a corner store. There are no huge pictures of the blog kim jong unpresident plastered across buildings the way North Korea dresses the country up in Kim Jong Un. Likewise, there’s no sense that people are ‘sharing the wealth’ here, not the way my high school history teacher taught me communist countries are supposed to. No, just like in America, a few people here appear to be really rich, and everyone else is broke as hell.

Especially cabbies. Or, in reality, older guys with cars. Because that’s what most cabbies are. You see, China is so extremely deregulated, almost anyone can do whatever job they want to do. Have no training but you own a pair of scissors? Great! You are now a hair dresser. Want to run a restaurant but you’re worried about inspections and getting a good sanitation score? Don’t sweat it! As long as you don’t kill anyone, nobody is going to bother stepping foot in your kitchen. And even if you do kill someone, just stop serving whatever dish they ordered and I’m sure things will work out fine.

By the same token, owning a car is all you really need to do in order to become a cabbie. Yes, there are real cabs here that have meters and a thing on the roof that says ‘taxi,’ but they’re vastly outnumbered by what are generally referred to as ‘black cabs.’ Getting a black cab is easy and can result in a truly exciting experience. Instead of generalizing, I will instead illustrate this with a quick story:

It was about three in the morning, and I was ready to go back to the hotel. My friends were still out, drinking and partying in Sanlitun. But I was tired. So I made my way to the street and hailed down a cab. I knew right away that it wasn’t a legal cab. I did not care. After some confusion regarding where I needed to go (don’t expect an illegal cab to have things like translation or a GPS), the cabbie put the car in drive and we hit the road.

blog cab gullable touristAbout ten minutes later, we were at my hotel. Thinking back, I knew I should’ve bargained the price before we set out. I hadn’t done that because I wasn’t in the mood and also because I didn’t have a good idea of how far away the hotel was. Anyways, now that we had reached the destination, I turned to the cabbie and asked him how much he wanted for the ride.

“100!” he loudly stated.

I almost burst out in laughter.

“100 RMB for a ten minute cab ride? That’s insane! I’ll give you 20.”

This did not please him. The cabbie was probably in his sixties, an old man with thin arms and a bald head. He gave me the look of death and shouted out his next price.

“50!”

“Now way, man!” I said. “25.”

We argued a little more and then, although he spoke only in Chinese, I could tell that he was threatening to turn around and bring me back to Sanlitun.

“Fine, bring me back,” I said. “I’m not paying 50.”

He yelled in Chinese and started turning the car around. Then he stopped and began negotiating again.

“This is stupid,” I said, and I turned and tried to open the door. It was locked. I moved my hand to the lock and pulled it up.

blog stun gunYou’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to leave the cab. My bad. The next thing I knew, his bony little fingers were yanking at my collar. I turned to see him reach under his car seat, remove a stun gun, and proceed to stick it in my face.

“What the hell, man?” I said. “Are you serious?”

He was so elderly. I figured I could’ve easily taken his wrist and snapped it in half, then beaten him with his own hand. But I’m a nice guy. I instead offered another price.

“35. Okay?”

“Okay!”

He still had the stupid stun gun in my face.

“Dude, I’m not paying you shit until you put that thing away! Put it away!”

The cabbie returned the stun gun to its spot under the seat, I paid him the 35, and he let me go. I went to my hotel room and found that my friends had somehow gotten there first.

So what’s the point of all this? That illegal cabs are bad? That China is crazy and unsafe? Nope, that’s not it at all.

The point is simply to say that people who are firmly against government regulation of the business world might not understand exactly what they’re getting themselves into. Deregulation is fine in theory, and even in practice, actually. As long as you don’t mind fighting with cabbies from time to time.

Or getting bad haircuts.

Or being served fake tequila in bars.

Or having a restaurant cook your food with reused oil.

Or having the air so thick with pollution you can barely breathe.

Just think about it. As shady as the beef at Taco Bell is, it could be shadier.

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How Thai Curry Helped Me Conquer My Fears

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blog funnier plane crashI’ve never been good at flying. In fact, every time I step onto a plane, I immediately transform into a crying little baby. Everything about flying terrifies me – the sounds and the movements and the existence of phrases such as ‘shoe bomber.’ Whenever the plane makes a loud noise, I panic and crotch down, assuming the crash position while everybody else quietly naps. If the plane hits a patch of turbulence, my hands shake and I start praying to God like I’m the Pope or Kirk Cameron or someone. And on landings I’m a total disaster, allowing my mind to envision images of wreckage and wondering if my chipped tooth will help the authorities identify my remains.

So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on what would be about nine hours of flying, from Japan to Singapore, with a layover in Kaula Lumpur. This was on the Scoot airline, which I’d never heard of, and whose goofy name inspired about as much confidence as the phrase “Directed by Alan B. Smithee” does appearing in the opening credits of a movie. United Airlines? Air Asia? Now those don’t sound like airlines that would crash. But Scoot? It’s bound to go down. Let’s just say for a second that these airlines were stocks: who on earth wouldn’t choose to invest their money in American Airlines or Air Asia over Scoot? Investing in Scoot would be ridiculous, like pouring all your savings into a company called Boners Inc.

blog flying cartoon not confidentAll that’s to say, I was a nervous wreck the second the plane took off. I tried to stay cool, flipped through the airplane magazine looking at the pictures, and then I just waited for them to come around with the drinks. And then I waited some more. And some more.

See, Scoot is what’s called a “low cost airline.” That means that all the stuff you expect the airline to do for free – like checking your bag or giving you a thimble of orange juice – is not free anymore. This is how low cost airlines make their money. The tickets are mad cheap, but then you have to buy everything. That’s their clever racket.

“There’s no meal with this flight, right?” I asked the flight attendant, already knowing the answer. “Like, I mean, I have to pay for it.”

“Hahaha, of course!” the flight attendant said, laughing at my foolish question. “There’s a menu right in front of you. We take Japanese yen or Malaysian ringgit or Singapore dollars or credit cards or gold or kidneys or anything else that has value, really – whatever’s most convenient for you.”

I sighed. If only I wasn’t so tight with money, then maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. But I’m cheap, or ‘frugal’ as I like to say, and so this meant that I was going to try and make it through the nine hours without eating, and save money and to spite Scoot and their games. I figured if people can make it through periods of fasting, like Ramadan, then I could get through one flight.

As it turned out, I was wrong. My commitment to frugality didn’t last long. Yes, if this was Ramadan, a mere five hours would’ve passed before I threw in the turban.

“I’m starving,” I said to myself. “I can’t take it anymore. Scoot has defeated me in our war of cheapness.”

blog thai curryDisappointed, I called the stewardess over and ordered the curry meal listed in the menu. She disappeared into the back, then returned only to tell me some bad news.

“It’s going to be about twenty minutes. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” I said. “That’s fine.”

As it would turn out, by ‘twenty minutes,’ she really meant ‘an infinite amount of time that cannot be measured.’ Twenty minutes went by with no sign of the curry’s arrival. I was dying, wiggling around in the chair and staring helplessly at the back of the plane.

'I thought we'd never break through those clouds!'And then, what had been my worst fear began to come true. Suddenly, the entire plane jerked. It was sharp enough to produce an audible gasp from the crowd. The jerk was followed by another jerk, then another. Within seconds, the seatbelt sign went on and the pilot was making an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve turned on the seatbelt sign,” he said. “We just hit a pretty rough patch of turbulence. All passengers and crew please be seated.”

blog shatnerNow, normally this would be a complete nightmare. Normally, I would have been screaming and freaking out like Shatner in the Twilight Zone. But this time, while the plane bobbed and weaved, all I could think about was eating.

“This better not affect the curry,” I thought, looking at the seated flight attendants. “They better get their asses up and go get it. I don’t care if we’re crashing.”

It was probably the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced and yet I had no anxiety whatsoever. My fear had been displaced, my thoughts spiraling all around the hunger I felt. I began to realize that maybe I’d stumbled onto something brilliant. Maybe fear could be replaced by other things – hunger, thirst, a need to go to the bathroom, the physical discomfort of tight underpants. Minor physical sensations that could work as a distraction, could displace neurotic anxiety, sending one’s focus onto an alternate outcome (eating curry, obtaining water, etc.) that would assist them in achieving the original desired outcome (making it through a flight, robbing a bank, etc.).

The plane was still unsteady when the curry arrived. I couldn’t have been happier. I knew I’d done it – I had conquered my fear, and I’d even gotten a side of brown rice to go with it.

*