at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: Life Learning (Page 10 of 11)

Not even that many people.

Adventures, Records… and Extra Ordinary Life

[Cross-posted from The Ecology of Happiness]

Many of the people who are hailed as great examples of personal development and have cult followings online, showing how life could be much better, how you could come to be great – like them – present their elevated status all through grand adventures, world travel and world records, knowledge of languages.

The world could use more people who don’t just give in to whatever is currently normal, but is quite the fluke if you take a long-term historical perspective. We could well use more ideas for how to take the best of modern living, and live it so that all the world could share that standard of living without the slightly problematic resource requirement it would have if it were based on current European, let alone American, consumption.

Unfortunately, the adventure-consuming, world-traveling, lifestyle business-supported way of life itself – even if it is lived out of a single bag of just a few possessions – is a high-consumption lifestyle in large part enabled only by an all-too-affluent (or wishing it were) part of the world. Thus, not the way forward. That’s not to say that it’s all bad.

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Google+ Pages and Brand Socialization

Brands have been clamoring to get on the social media bandwagon. They are, by and large, still lagging behind, still misunderstanding why their conversation partners (not just customers, but also potential employees, ‘brand ambassadors’, etc.) actually engage with them – and today’s launch of Google+ pages has the potential to leave slow brands, as well as ordinary social marketing experts, even further in the dust.Google+

The stand-out feature that makes me think so is the inclusion of video hangouts, along with circles, also on the Pages.

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Quit Advertising, Answer Questions – Companies and Social Media Conversation

Advertising, PR, and all that, continues to be big business. More money seems to be spent (percentage-wise) on a product’s marketing than on its development, let alone manufacture (e.g. with the iPhone…). PR has even been reaching into politics and international diplomacy, where spin doctors and experts in “nation branding” roam.

Meanwhile, even as online marketing is trying to target its audiences ever more exactly and bring that same personalization into the public (think Minority Report), many a customer is getting better at simply ignoring the onslaught of ad messages. (When was the last time you really noticed one of the ads on Facebook?).

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Be a Good Company, Or Else – Intersections of Social Media, Public Opinion, and Market Success

In recent times, we have been witnessing social media become a force of change.

Dictators have been toppled; at least one autocratic government (even as it strongly censors messages) keeps reacting to the public sentiment expressed via social networking services; Americans are wondering what’s really up with the Occupy Wall Street protests, but they are pointing discussions in a different direction, at least.

Having seen the impact that social media have on purchasing decisions in China, knowing of the same from ‘the West’, working on my own little campaign for better living – “for yourself and, incidentally, for ‘the planet,’ too” – with the ecology of happiness, I wonder what we may yet see happen in regards to ‘the economy.’

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Siloed to Death* – A Non-Apology about My Personal Diversity

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about communication and specialization. I mean, to “sell” effectively – my ideas, my knowledge and expertise, and even just the writings in my blogs – there is a need to communicate well.

That should probably go hand in hand with a focus, a specialization, so that I and my blog/work/service/… can be recognized immediately. Get a tagline that’s catchy, prepare your elevator pitch. You’ve probably heard it all before.

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Lifestyle Designer, Writer, Inspirational Speaker… Can I Just Be a Live-r?

It’s a strange world I’ve been falling into: people who track their life in order to quantify their self, who try to design their ideal lifestyle – and live it, too –, people who aim to be location-independent… and it’s oftentimes the same usual suspects one encounters again and again.

Before long, it also tends to be the same approach one seems to find over and over: “manifests” of just how they want to dominate the world, and change lives for the better, a desire to speak at TED, e-books and courses, and ideas to drive web traffic and build a following.

Oftentimes, what’s presented is presented as something new and fantastic – and if only you buy the book, follow the course, you can be all new and fantastic, too!

I’ve seen it before, though.

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"Ethnic" Dancing in Beijing's Minority Cultures Park

Other Cultures, Understanding, and Interesting Lives

As I am still living in China, but just waiting for some formalities to get finished before this summer’s switch (back) to Austria, an issue is on my mind a lot. It feels almost impossible, at the moment, to do proper China-watching from the outside… or not.

Culture is a very peculiar thing to try and understand. Like a fish in the water – or us, surrounded by air – we naturally live in our own culture(s), and simply know what is proper and important. We aren’t usually aware of there even being a distinct culture, except when there is contact with an ‘other’. Only then is what seemed just natural shown to be convention, and thus thrown into starker relief.

"Ethnic" Dancing in Beijing's Minority Cultures Park

“Ethnic” Dancing in Beijing’s Minority Cultures Park

The fundamental issue in trying to understand a cultural other is founded in this same problem of closeness and difference. Such conventions, also of another culture, have to be experienced, observed and lived-in in order to be learned – but at the same time, closeness can make for a simple acceptance. Distance,  meanwhile, makes it easier to focus on the abstract, general concepts that inform the everyday, and are hidden behind its turmoil.

After all, back in Europe, there will be easier (to put it mildly) access to literature and online sources – let alone social networks to connect with others about, well, everything. And given that I do not only have an academic or similar vocational interest in China, but that my significant other is Chinese, I can’t lose deep connections to the country and culture, anyways.

On the other hand, the engagement with China will be less intimate; I will not be surrounded by the daily life of China and its people, of course. The daily observation of the doings in this country, and this particular place within it, thus is lost; most of China is reduced to an idea more than a reality of people.

As I’m starting to try and get back into studies (including of literature) I did not have the time for during my stay here, I think it’s really the usual problem that all of us who want an interesting life have: Excitement seems to come from the outside, from being in the midst of other landscapes, surrounded by people who are different, facing challenging situations, and trying to make some sense of it all. Or at least, to come back with some interesting observations.

That’s only a part of it, though, and oftentimes only an imagined one. Being there, you suffer from a bout of food poisoning, long for some familiar things, find the traffic only too disconcerting, and the people to be just people.

The excitement – and more importantly, the understanding of another culture (and one’s own) – really hinges on attitude.

If you just go to another country, visit three of the big cities and two famous landscapes in a few days, the deep  observation necessary to contribute to understanding isn’t there; if you only look at the books, angling for the deep roots of other cultures, you forget about the actual people and their lives.

The thing that always makes the difference is your attitude towards it. When you seek adventure – and equally, understanding – with an open and inquiring mind, you can find it in books and research as well as in stays within a place.

Just looking for excitement outside, you just wait for your life – and it may not deliver at all, or not in a way you imagined. Circumstances matter, of course, but it’s you yourself who will need to go and decide what excitement you seek, how much understanding you want to gain, and how to find it.

What’s Your Home Philosophy?

It’s quite common to ask travelers about their travel philosophy – Or get travel writers to simply expound it.

Do you need luxury or go frugal; travel lightly and live out of one bag, or have kitchen and sink with you in your steamer trunk, but need a porter to get around? … All well and good (and I think there’s quite a bit to learn from that), but we spend most of our time off the road, in one place. And yet, how often do people ask, What is your home philosophy?

Of course, you can simply be born to a place, never leave it, know your usual ways around, and feel at home there. Creating deep roots with a place is hardly the worst thing.

In this age of consumerism and car-based cultures, it is only too easy to not really be at home where you live, though. Never thinking about it may be easier than having to think and decide yourself, but it may not only be less truly at home, it also is less prepared for the disruptions that increasingly happen, as people need to get uprooted for education or work, are displaced by natural catastrophes, or want to go somewhere else… and yet, search for a place to call home.

Just Visiting, or Really Living?

The fundamental question I see, then, is to know – or explore – what home you can and want to have. – Do you want to be rooted in a place, have it grow to be your home as memories organically create connections with the place and the people? Or do you want to be more of an island unto yourself, making a home wherever in the world you may go?

A simple acceptance of the place you are is quite commendable and admirable; it certainly is very common – but it can all too easily get parochial or reactionary. If you feel comfortable enough, but still don’t know so much about the place, then you may be living there, but you are just like a visitor.

A deeper intimacy with the place you were born and/or live, on the other hand, is one factor that might actually make it a home. At least a part of the feeling of being at home is, after all, simple familiarity.

And if you want to move around? Then, part of the learning to be at home will still be familiarity, the knowledge of where you are. It will get even more important, in fact.

So, either way, you can’t expect to be totally at home if you just want to wait and see. You may feel it, but you aren’t quite. Truly being at home in this world is an activity – the act of living there, not an instant feeling. Of course, feelings matter, not just familiarity.

Home Is Where…

For many of us, I dare say, home is where you put all your stuff. And whether you are hoarding or deciding to live with just 100 Things, it will be a part of where – or more definitely, what and how – your home is.

Clearly, this is one easy way a place, nowadays, grows infused with memories and (seems to grow) to be comfortable. It’s also an issue where we tend to fall out of balance, however. Not so few people pathologically hoard anything and everything, and even the majority (the present writer included) have lots of stuff that just piles up. It seemed the right thing to get at the time, and then ends up unused or even a second version of something that you already had, and therefore, a waste of money.

Thinking about belongings and the feeling of home, meanwhile, can be another good way of deciding about the importance of things, as well as of turning a place into a home:

When belongings get so overburdening, it seems like the place belongs to them, and so much money goes there, you don’t have as many reserves as you could have, it becomes a problem. You get stuck.
Finding out what (few but good things) you actually need in support of yourself and what you want to do and be, makes it easier to really be, rather than possess (or be possessed by all the stuff ;-) ), however.

Furthermore, having some things which make you feel at home – even, maybe especially, if they should be small “unnecessary” knick-knacks – helps really make yourself at home, no matter where these things may have to be transplanted. In fact, the very process of thinking about it helps already… both to realize what is important, in both practical and/or emotional respects, and to consider your attitude towards (a) home.

Home is also, as the saying goes, where the heart is. It can in part be a love for a place, and it can also be a relationship. Now, there are enough single mothers in my circle of friends to know that relationships don’t always work out as planned, but I think that the value of mutually committing to each other and providing each other the comfort to create a home even in the midst of adverse circumstances is highly underestimated nowadays.

To Accept, and Be Accepted

The matter of relationships also points to the influence of other feelings for a place. Or more importantly, of other people in that place. Many a person, I dare say, has been afraid of moving somewhere else, because the people might be unfriendly, and you don’t just naturally fit in. Many a person I’ve encountered, living abroad, went looking for a place that just felt right, found excitement and pleasure abroad – but kept feeling that the people there just rubbed them the wrong way.

It seems to me that the problem is twofold, at least.

For one, we tend to simply not notice the contradictions which exist in places where we have lived for a while, let alone grown up. Accepting them, even taking them for granted, just comes naturally – but so can a feeling that it’s not quite a home, but just the place you happened to be.

The problem with this is that maybe you also just need to accept another place as it is in order to be able to call it a home – but that is more than a bit passive, and also underestimates how much we typically complain about our home towns, home countries (let alone families ;), anyways…

The other side is the acceptance by others. Having grown up in a place or otherwise fitting in makes it easier to feel at home, of course. Constantly being pointed out as being different – as the noticeably foreign person in China is – hardly helps to feel comfortable. Not being called out as different, but discriminated in more subtle ways doesn’t exactly help, either, though. And always just staying on your native soil is not the modern way…

It’s not a matter of what is the right thing for the others to do – and I’m particularly doubtful when people go to exotic places to find a home, and then complain about the locals treating them as an exotic transplant (I don’t like it, either – but I *am* the exotic one in China) – but rather of doing right by yourself.

Maybe you can find just the perfect place of your dreams, the one to call home. I doubt it, though. Imperfections are what makes life interesting. And, admittedly, complicated.

So, you need to find your own “home philosophy,” by which you decide and do what’s right for you. Handling the imperfections of ourselves and this world is easily the most important aspect of it. Life is a balancing act, after all, whether you never move anywhere, or try and feel at home in the whole world.

Culture and Catastrophe

As Japan still suffers from the aftershocks – literal and indirect – of the massive Tohoku earthquake of March 11, and even as I’d rather not talk much about it out of reverence for all those affected, there are some noteworthy inter-cultural dynamics playing out in the reaction to it…

It’s been particularly interesting as I’m standing at an intersection of a long-standing interest in Japan, insight into the e-mail list of German lecturers in Japan, a view of German and American media, and the view from China.

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