Expat Failures Where It’s Impossible to Fail, Vol I: The ‘Going-Out’ Shirt

Writer’s note: I wrote this in 2014 while living in Bangkok, basing it on nightlife experiences in the darker corners of China, Thailand, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. Fear not, it is more of an anthropological piece on the characters you find in such places rather than anything autobiographical. 🙂

It’s Wednesday night in a Shenzhen salsa club. Ladies night. You’re surrounded by other 30-to-50-something foreigners somewhere around the same range as yourself — but you stopped counting (and celebrating) birthdays after the divorce and the subsequent onslaught of day-in-day-out meals alone.

You can’t salsa, but you’ve been telling yourself for months that this is the night you’ll go out and try something new. You’ll try to have a conversation with someone of the opposite sex. But when you spot a 3/10 you think might be within your range and finally work up the courage to talk to her after a double-shot of counterfeit Johnny Walker that somehow hints at both varnish and varnish-remover in equal parts, she and her friend immediately turn away from you in avoidance, covering their mouths and blushing with embarrassment. As if you never even walked over and spoke to them. As if you were never even there.

Feeling an inch tall, you lean up against the wall next to several aged Filipina prostitutes. They scatter like birds, leaving you exposed and alone. The wall is sticky, and when you try to shift off it, it pulls fuzz off your Kenneth Cole going-out shirt. The droning sound of the (also Filipino) cover band mumbling their way through a salsa-remix of Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back” intensifies, reverberating in your skull. Your ears ring as the smoke, music, and loneliness make the room swim. Every single major choice in your life that has brought you to this moment seems to replay at the same time in your head, a dizzying visualization of a thousand memories overlapping. You slump to the ground, leaving a hundred fuzzy fibers of cheap, pilled cotton stuck to the wall above you.

You have just confirmed what you long suspected: Tonight is a microcosm of the rest of your life as an illicit English tutor without credentials. Staggering to your feet, the plastic Oxfords you are wearing (the same ones you always wear when you go out, even though they give you blisters and bite into your Achilles’s tendon) threaten to take each foot in divergent directions on the cocktail and vomit-slick floor. Somehow you steady yourself, and in that tiny moment of physical stability, you feel clarity. You begin making your way to the roof. You’re on the fifth floor. Should be good enough. On the way up, you fantasize that your ex-wife and son will read about it and care.

But you know they won’t.

A Modest Proposal to Fix America

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes outside my gated high-rise condominium to see that something’s gone slightly awry with the United States of America. It’s particularly noticeable to me after spending the last 12-13 years overseas — but don’t worry, I’ve got some solutions. They’re quite modest, really, and I think you’ll like them.

First, let’s identify the problem: The symptom is that there is far too much stupid shit being written on the internet by people who have no appreciation for the things they have. It might appear to the casual observer to be a problem with free speech, but what I’m willing to bet all of California on is that it’s really a bunch of folk who have never experienced anything but comfort and convenience. Tl;dr: America is just too darn great. Not for everyone, of course. We do have one or two people living under the poverty line. And, I mean sure, we have some *ahem* minor issues here, there, and in the closet and under the rug… but, really, if it weren’t the case that it’s just too easy to survive in America, then what’s with the 36 million Americans active daily on Twitter? How can this random page I found that supports my point say that Americans spend two hours a day watching YouTube, and Americans aged 16-29 spend three hours a day on social media on average? And what is that time on social media doing to these disgusting, craven, and sinful individuals? Making them hateful towards each other. So now that I’ve identified that the problem is a lack of perspective to appreciate our privileges, let’s get into the solutions.

I used to think that we could solve American’s problems with perspective by forcing everyone to leave the country for two years, but then I realized that they’d probably just go to Canada or Amsterdam and become even lazier socialists than they already are: What we need are targeted solutions to specific problems.

Naturally of course, Americans will first need to be implanted with a modest iPhone-sized data-collection system that lets the government record precisely how much time is spend engaging with each media platform. You might be thinking that it would be difficult to get people to have a deck-of-card-sized chip implanted in them for this purpose, but I actually already have a foolproof way to quickly get majority coverage of the American populace.

Give Elon Musk another huge low-interest loan in exchange for him tweeting about how cool the chip is, then go on the Joe Rogan experience to talk it up. Amazon would sell them for dirt cheap, Lew could do a live-implanting on Unbox Therapy. I estimate we can get a quick 50% of the US right there.

Naturally, we can’t expect everyone to jump on board so haphazardly, so we’re also going to need to associate this horribly invasive tumescent chip with social causes it has nothing to do with: An LGBTQ+ rainbow-flag version, a BLM edition, an Amazon-exclusive “stop violence against Asian-Americans” one, a “science is real” one for the Academic hold-outs, and, of course, “Freedom Chip” editions in red, white, and blue. Again, pay no mind to the fact that this chip has nothing to do with (or is even anathema to) the causes we affiliate each edition with — nothing could be less important!

Hell, I already want five of these babies in me! Let’s make a special offer where anyone with all the editions of the chip installed gets free Amazon Prime for life… when they get back, of course.

“Wait, where will they going?” I hear you ask. Modern problems require modern solutions, and we’ll have to split things up according to whichever social media the subject engages most with.

Twitter users seem to enjoy conflict, and so will get sent to Yemen, where they will be tasked with one of two different objectives: Regular Twitter users will be tasked with providing humanitarian aid to the besieged and beleaguered country. “Blue check” users will be tasked with front-line combat and airstrike-targeting for our allies.

Facebook users mostly seem to want to see and experience the same things over and over again in service to a horrible corporate entity ruining the world, and so they can perform their overseas service by working in rare earth mines.

TikTok users like stupid dances and attention, and so they will be sent to parent country of their favourite application, the People’s Republic of China, where they will spend two years traveling as a touring troupe of foreign entertainers to be paraded around the country for the satisfaction of the Party elite.

LinkedIn users are primarily interested in ladder-climbing, making vacuous statements like “Nice post, Greg!” or “Congrats on the promotion, Sally!”, and sharing meaningless corporate platitudes. Actually, on second thought, let’s just shoot these people into space. If they make it back, then they’re probably ingenious enough to actually contribute something beyond a co-working start-up.

With a standard overseas tour length of two years, I have a feeling that whoever makes it back is going to find that running out of almond milk will no longer redline their cortisol. Perhaps someone cutting them off in traffic won’t literally actually totally ruin their whole day. Maybe they won’t think it’s so enjoyable to only be able to do as you’re told. Maybe they’ll get a bit less upset by Mr. Potatohead, someone using words that hurt their feelings, be a little more judicious about calling random people racist/sexist/fascist/Nazis, and find new value for the human rights they didn’t have for just a short little while. It would go a long way towards helping us find a healthier perspective.

Oh, and I almost forgot about the worst offenders: Hypocrites writing inflammatory clickbait nonsense. These people are just *the worst*, and, like LinkedIn users, are probably irredeemable. We’ll have to take more ruthless measures against them in order to stop their propagation of nonsen—

—hold on, there’s someone banging on my door. At this hour? Midnight?! Hold on, let me get that. I’ll be right back to finish this piece of quality writing.