In the long dark but luminescent ticking hours of the night such thoughts come to me as how long it would be before they found the body if I had a heart attack and died or if that crack up there on the ceiling spread and the whole ceiling came down on me and crushed me and I couldn't reach with my groping hand for my cellphone.
So I think maybe I should leave a final note and what would it be but I'm too tired now to get up and turn on the lights and find my glasses paper and pen and maybe if I lie really still I'll fall asleep now and I turn my head sideways so I can see the clock and I squint to read the numbers 'cause I don't have my glasses and I can't quite read them but I think it says 4 oh something so that leaves me 4 hours before I have to get up.
Now I'm really tired and my eyes hurt but I still can't get to sleep until I wonder if maybe I am asleep and maybe I've always been asleep like that Matrix movie or the science fiction I read in high school or maybe I'm dead and just imagining I'm alive and this is what the afterlife is like and if only Hamlet knew how ironic it was when he asked 'what dreams might come?'
The alarm goes off and I wake up which means I have been sleeping after all and just imagining I'm awake and I push the rubble from the ceiling off my chest and call work and they ask where have you been its Tuesday you didn't come to work yesterday and that's when I wake up for real and write this.
Four hours too early,
I come before midnight.
Now it is pretentious:
the Bohemians' Cafe.
The wannabes here congregate:
artists and lovers.
The chess players,
The card players,
The players of the field.
I know a different cafe,
the cafe after midnight.
Where the homeless,
and the loveless,
and the just plain depressed
gather in quiet
for a last cup of coffee:
just plain caffeine.
There's a recently-published book called "The Five People You Meet in Heaven". So I thought I'd introduce you to "The Seven Ex-pats You Meet In China."
First, the most common type. I call him (or her) 'the gapper' (as in 'gap year'). He is just out of university, and not sure what he wants to do in life. He will probably head back home to get a Master's/Education/whatever degree. He spends the first three months excitedly 'getting into the culture', and the next 9 months at the closest ex-pat bar.
The missionary. Usually an evangelical Christian, she (or he) wants to 'win souls for Christ'. Of course, missionaries officially aren't allowed in China, so she is 'undercover', even though everyone knows she is a Christian, travelling with a Christian organization. I'd say their success rate is about 2:1. That is, for every 2 missionaries who go to China, they convert on average 1 person.
The escapee. He (or she) is running away from a bad marriage, bad debts or other trouble back home. This is more of a 19th Century phenomenon, though, since divorce is so easy to obtain now, and you can't hide from Visa or the banks, even in China.
The diplomat/soldier. Also rare in China, although common in South Korea and other places with large U.S. military bases. He (usually it's a man) is serving his country abroad, often with his family. His children attend an international school in Beijing or Shanghai. I guess you could include the wives of diplomats/soldiers in this category.
The retiree/widow/divorcee. This type of ex-pat is far more common than you'd expect. She (usually it's a woman) has just retired or lost her husband, and therefore gained her freedom. She goes to China for much the same reason that the 'gapper' does. She often makes close Chinese friends (adults). She may have intended to go for just one year, but ends up staying 3 years, or longer.
The emigrant. There is really only one way to emigrate to China- and that is to marry a Chinese citizen. Although 'emigrant' may be a misnomer, as emigrants to China almost always return home eventually. But still, he or she is there for the long haul, buying an apartment, maybe a car (if he is exceptionally brave) and raising kids in China.
And, finally, the true ex-pat, who may have gone to Asia as any one of the above, but finds himself unable to truly assimilate, like the emigrant, or feel at home back in his native country. What can he do? He is stuck in the sandtrap of ex-pat bars, PC bar hangouts, and annual trips to Thailand.
Which am I? Well, if you haven't guessed, I started as a gapper, and I'm now becoming either an emigrant or a true ex-pat. Only time will tell.
Everyday I hear people talk about how violent the world is, and how we live in such troubled times. Certainly some parts of the world, such as Liberia, Congo or Iraq, closely resemble hell, and it is hard to imagine how things could be worse. But there have always been wars, and if we zoom out, to look at the world as a whole, from the perspective of the last 50, or 500 or even 5,000 years, then we see a far different picture. In fact, we have never- I repeat, NEVER- seen a more peaceful era than the one we are living in right now. This is a new (perhaps brief) Golden Age of Peace.
With the end of the Cold War, there were a rash of conflicts as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia broke up. But that is normal when a large empire or multi-ethnic state dissolves- for example, when the Ottoman Empire retreated from Europe, or when Britain withdrew from India-Pakistan. The post-Cold War conflicts have mostly been resolved, or are being resolved now through more peaceful negotiations. Meanwhile, long-standing conflicts which were sponsored by the superpowers of the Cold War have ended, and brutal dictatorships around the world have been replaced by democratic governments (or, at least, less-brutal dictatorships).
Too many civil wars have ended since 1991 to list them all here: Nicaragua, Mozambique, Ethiopia-Eritrea, East Timor and Cambodia, to name a few. Yemen has been re-united. Apartheid has ended. The IRA came in from the cold (sort-of). Hong Kong and Macau were peacefully re-united with China. And popular movements have overthrown dicatorships in Indonesia, South Korea, Congo, and throughout Latin America. Perhaps the most hopeful development in the global spread of peace is the recent withdrawal of Israel from Gaza. Maybe that conflict, too, can be resolved in the next decade. (Alright, I'm not that much of an optimist!)
The surest sign of the Golden Age of Peace is that international conflicts are becoming increasingly rare. Armies just don't cross borders as often as they used to. In fact, if we use the classic definition of 'war' as being a violent conflict involving the armies of two sovereign states, then there is no 'war' anywhere in the world today. Not one. Of course, there are still civil wars, and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But civil wars, as I said above, are becoming fewer, and occupations don't last forever. In a decade or two we might see the end of even these wars. Imagine that: a world without war!
The question I'm sure you're wondering is: why? Why is our era so much more peaceful? There are many hypotheses: the spread of democracy, global interdependence, or even the influence of one monolithic super-superpower, the United States (although, since the U.S. started the last two international wars, and sponsored most of the civil wars of the Cold War era, this last hypothesis is questionable). But that is for another essay. The point I am trying to make here is that we should recognize the true, present state of affairs, and not bemoan 'our violent, troubled times' when in fact we live in the most relatively non-violent, untroubled times in human history. Welcome to the Golden Age!