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

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Tag: location independence

Avenue, Rio de Janeiro 1931

To Rio de Janeiro as an 8-Year-Old…

It was the year 1930. My grandmother was far from being my grandmother yet. She was only 8 years old, after all. Her father, a shoemaker, decided to join in the ranks of the many who sought their luck somewhere else – whether because he had fallen on hard times (which wouldn’t be surprising, given the economic situation in Europe at that time) or lured in by stories of success, we don’t know. In his case, the land of dreams was Brazil.

I wouldn’t normally talk about family history, but this story is old enough, and sometimes still influences enough, that it’s worth putting it up (especially, I find, on a medium that is as unawares of other times as the internet tends to be).

Also, there’s not much more to say, actually – my yet-to-be-grandmother had to return the following year already (alone, on the Cap Arcona liner, apparently), and her father returned a little later (having fallen ill, if stories are true).

There are, however, a few impressions to share:

The one missing image is one of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin airship which visited Rio de Janeiro in 1930 – but that photograph was, according to family history, passed on to an Austrian ambassador to Brazil.

What always strikes me – of course, given the themes I’m focused on – is how much of “globalization” and technology was already possible and ongoing at that time, and how many things we now consider normal were hardly even imaginable. It is an interesting vantage point from which to consider location independence and what may still be possible in an energy- and resource-constrained future, not least…

New Localizing – Networks and the Human Touch

As an “intellectual going public,” I appear a bit too aloof for some people – but aloofness is necessary to have the distance it takes to see connections hidden by what’s (supposedly) just normal. Thus, even as I enjoy it once I get into talking with people (sometimes, only too much so), I like to hold my distance, and don’t seem to be a person who’d call for the importance of community.

Yet, especially as many still think that location is – or should be (made) – unimportant, that you can nowadays live by yourself, create an entrepreneurial lifestyle in which you sell to the whole world, there is a strong case to be made for localizing, for being in and of particular places. In different ways from how it is often conceived, though.

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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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YongHeGong temple detail

Been There. Learned – Nothing?

For somebody whose “business” the diversity and fascination of this, our world, is, I have a pretty bleak view of much of what passes as traveling. Rather than because of the whole matter of carbon emissions from plane travel, it’s because escapes from this world have come to appear extremely problematic to me.

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at home–location (in)dependent

As part job-seeker in education, part independent scholar, part freelancer, and with a focus on the makings of identity and the interplay between happiness and ecology, I have a particular fascination with the role that location plays. Increasingly, it’s been going in two ways at once:

On the one hand, there continues to be a noton of its importance. “Geography is destiny” sometimes still rings true, with the influence of cultural background, living conditions wherever you happened to be born, and chances that different places have to offer. Not least, there is some continuing influence in economics. If you want to be an entrepreneur, for example, the USA continue to offer a more united market than Europe/the EU, and even selling overseas can be rather too much of a hassle for a small business.
And, of course – as this is what these writings of mine are all about – there is a strong interplay between your geographical location and your cultural, social and ecological locatedness within different networks of relationships…

On the other hand,

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To [Insert Verb Here] a Home

I write a lot about my life-work on understanding the “Other” – presently, China – and learning to deal successfully with one’s place in the middle, between own and other. The ends of that, learning to be at home in this world, sometimes get hidden behind the fascination of how strange it can all be – both “Own” and “Other.”

“Learning to be at home” begs a question, however:
What does it take for a person to feel at home, and how do you get there?

To be even more exact, do you…

  • find a home?, or
  • make a home?

Clearly, ever more people are going in search of a better place to live, whether it be the lifestyle design crowd for their “mini-retirements,” “location independent professionals” looking for their dream location, or expats joining the masses of migrants who go to another place for the better life – or at least better chances – these places are assumed to bring to them.

One of the major aspects of globalization is the easier possibility of moving to another place – as well as the likelihood that you will find “other” people and things in your own locality, where you migh enjoy it or hate it.

Often enough, people enjoy taking on exotic things on their own terms, but could do without the people associated with them. After all, you can take a thing – Turkish döner kebap, American movies, Chinese characters, Japanese Buddhist meditation – and make it a part of your life that fits easily, even as you go about decrying the loss of (Other’s) distinct cultural identity.
Other people, however, actually behave in different ways, probably think a bit differently, making it difficult to be quite so comfortable with them – or not, especially if you don’t appreciate the position the “positive” reactions to foreigners come from and feel easily welcomed.

A major problem of the move to exotic locations is the orientalist, if not nearly colonialist, attitude it can exhibit, which becomes particularly striking when you contrast it with the opposite movement:

Americans or Western Europeans tend to move to an exotic location for the easier life, the relaxed atmosphere, the lower cost of living. One hears not so few complaints about one’s not being accepted, being near-impoverished by the lack of certain amenities – which can start with the lack of cheese and butter in China, to use an example I’ve heard – but tend not to know more than the most basic of words, and not even want to accept their surrounding culture as one to integrate into.

Contrast that with the “real” migrants who move from such poorer countries to the “First World,” only to find that the roads are stil not paved with gold, you are unlikely to go from rags to riches, the higher wages you may make get eaten by the higher cost of living – and you are quite possibly not accepted in your new society, but told to integrate yourself anyways.

In either situation, though, looking for the place that will be perfect is probably an exercise in futility. Nowhere is everything perfect. “There’s no place like home” itself may simply hide the problems behind a veneer of normalcy, a comfortable numbness. And yet, it is true too: if you find a new place that fits, or you realize that your origins are comfortable enough, after all, you can make yourself at home. And yes, I see it like that: it’s not either finding or making a home, it’s a combination of both.

As for me, give me my notebook, let me make a living, and I’ll be all right. By now, of course, there’s the woman at my side, and I’ll be happy as long as she is, wherever that is. For two, things do get more difficult again, though. Still, it only gets more important that you don’t just move past, go out searching, but also do your part – and if it’s only accepting that you will have good days and bad, feel perfect and awful at different times, no matter where you are.


Hacking it abroad…

… and no, even if China and hacking is a hottish topic, I’m not talking about that. Geeks, go away, check out #geekhumor. Rather, recent events have made me wonder just what it means to be successful – or maybe rather, successfully be – in a foreign country. Since my writing is evolving in the direction of what it means to be “at home,” in places near and far, in this world, it seems pretty relevant…

We are looking for some kind of success, to make it, in our lives and especially when we take the plunge and go abroad, aren’t we?

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