■ 23:15 (UTC+08:00), 30 APR 2019 | CHN CHENGDE, HEBEI
Ten years ago, China was going through its best days. Unfazed by the global financial crisis, tube and HSR networks sprung out from nowhere. Expats talked of a still-relatively-tolerant visa/immigration system. There was still that residue from hosting Beijing 2008, as in the positive elements, the bits that made Beijing famous, and desirable. And I was transitioning from dabs in tech and startups to a most-interesting media PhD.
Ten years on, and the voices here are slightly more diverging, and maybe not all of this is positive — in or for multiple aspects. My hats have since changed to a senior academic, and it goes to say that being a die-hard liberal is not without taking its risks. As a Swiss citizen myself, it is impossible to force upon me thoughts that are not what we take for granted at home — free thinking, free expression, free movement (although the Swiss People’s Party threaten to dent that last one as well). Most would say this is a uniquely Chinese problem, but take a look at the wider world, and you’ll find issues elsewhere as well — even some academics State-side are being shown the cold shoulder.
The world has gotten increasingly negative since the twin events of 2016 brought down the liberal democratic order we had gotten used to especially since the end of the Cold War. Brexit is denting Europe but has especially shoved all of the UK into the washing machine, with Westminster manning the washing machine controls like a three-year old having fun pushing soft buttons at random. Trump coming out of 2016 as the next US leader has completely changed just about everything one associates with both the US and what was once known as the “leader of the free world”. In the coldest days of the Cold War we relied on warm, deft, and reassuring sound bites from the likes of Reagan and Bush 41 (a true hero and statesman). Now, the world is shaken, terrorised even, by random 3 AM tweets from the West Wing. The occasional Covfefe tweet is a breather; threats of taking out “Little Rocket Man” and getting tough with erstwhile allies strike much of us all with fear.
Tweets, too, have gotten even more polarising as of late. Ten years back, I didn’t have the Twitter “verified” tick, but the discussion was lively — I made my decisions of Coke vs Pepsi by what you @-tweeted me in favour of. Ten years later, our keyboards are becoming 103-button launchpads of missiles, where every push of a button in terms of a tweet can bring out a tweet so full of ire and anger, it makes North Korea’s launchpads appear a little more peaceful in comparison. Extreme views and tweets are storming our Twitter feed, swearing is the new English language, and “fire and fury” has taken centre stage. It is irrelevant if I have a Twitter tick by now (which I did since late 2016).
Everyone from Swiss telecoms to overseas representations are following me — as well as academics, journalists, and tech geeks. It’s under 8,000 in count, but it’s a fair bit. Oh, and also the rail industry. Twitter is increasingly becoming a landmine of the tweets you don’t want or don’t care for. Your local Waitrose teasing you in Swiss-German is more an exception than the rule. I’ve felt increasingly burnt out by afternoons at the Capital Iron and Steel Works Starbucks, when I wanted to get stuff done, but ended up wasting two hours on angry tweets. It was a very take-no-prisoners approach on Twitter: City chiefs were slammed as “crooked”, the UK prime minister and Brexiteers “lying” or “failing”, and the swearing was so intense at times, even a microphone foam cover a full mile in size and thickness wasn’t enough to shield the profanities from the general public.
Suffice it to say that this has also got “the wrong people” more than interested (it must be no fun being “looked after too well” by people alien to you). Suffice it also to say that I am taking a longer-term Twitter detox (as well as on general social media, too). Maybe, just maybe, one of these days, I might return and do something slightly more different on the service. But for now, it’s Feng Out for now on Twitter and much of social media. A note, too, that if you DM me, I might not respond until a few days later, and I will be taking little to no media interviews until the end of the year (unless it’s due to live events). A man needs time to chill and cool down, and the same will apply for this blog.
I am also taking this time to be closer to family and friends that really matter. Guy Kawasaki once said that they’re those to spend quality time with — before they’re gone. I’ve already seen a startling number of senior family members take their leave with the last meal we had — when it was taken for granted that we’d have the same (supposedly boring) dinner that time next week. It’s rather difficult to ask a person that’s no longer there in flesh and blood to run his beard on your face, just the same as when you were a child, and feeling a dead, lifeless body is indeed a serious damper to the day. The person looks quite like the same as you’ve seen him last time, but there’s something eerie and chilling — something I wish not to touch upon much here.
So please do excuse the eerie silence on social media my end. Sometimes, just like Dantz might have said in their ads (Retrospect backup software for the Mac for the win!), to go forward, you must back up. In addition to making sure my terabytes of data remains safe, I’ll also make sure that the terabytes in the brain (did someone say that was how much we remember? Can’t remember myself) remain intact as well. And chilled down and ready to work after a few well-deserved weeks and months of rest.
Feng out. Take care everyone…
Oh and there’s all those hiking paths of Switzerland to look forward to… ■ ■ ■
Note: The following will be less affected or not affected: Trains Plus network and all contents (including premier blogs and podcasts); academic research and publishing intended for international audiences; matters conducive to eventual resettlement in Switzerland.