Posted in essay

Is this decade worse than the ’80s?

A few nights ago, I watched The Dirt on Netflix. It’s a silly film about the rock band, Mötley Crüe. All silliness aside, the opening line is brilliant:

The 1980s… the worst fucking decade in human history.

The Dirt Movie PosterI laughed when I heard that because it seemed so true. The 1980s was, in many ways, a cultural dead zone. It was a period when even the best artists temporarily turned shit. Even Dylan and Springsteen were awful during the eighties. Synth took over music, cocaine blinded the formerly creative people, and movies… well, ok, movies were fine, but think how good they would’ve been in another decade. Scarface, for example, is one of the greatest films ever, but how much better would it have been without the wanky guitar licks? The same goes for almost every other movie of the decade.

I laughed and laughed and then stopped laughing. Actually, the 1980s wasn’t all that bad, was it? I mean, it lacked all the best of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘90s, but it could’ve been worse. Yeah, it’s hard to think of a worse decade than the ‘80s, but then… what about this one? What about this decade we’re living in right now? I don’t even know what you’d call this current decade, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much. It’s almost over, and no one is going to look back and say, “Gosh, weren’t the _____ great?” No, it’s unlikely anyone will ever say that.

What is there to remember from the 2010s? If the ‘80s were shit, at least they had amazing movies like The Goonies, Die Hard, and Stand By Me, to name but a few. Nowadays we just remake movies, and if we’re feeling particularly edgy, we make the new cast all-female. And if it’s not a shitty remake, it’s another bloody comic book movie. I’m not entirely opposed to these, as they certainly have their place, but they seem to have become the cinema staple in the last decade, each pretty much the same as the one before it. It shows an utter lack of imagination, a disrespect for the movie-going public.

(That said, the movie-going public apparently likes it just fine. They clamour for more. But then again, these are the same people who’ve made reality TV popular and then placed one of its stars as president of the United States, so maybe we shouldn’t be giving the people exactly what they want.)

80s fashion
What were they thinking?

It seems to me that the ‘80s were such a cultural wasteland primarily because of the rise of cocaine. In previous decades, drugs had lit up the imaginations of creative people, causing an immense output of artistic creation. Cocaine… not so much. It deadened the imagination, or at least gave people confidence in their shitty ideas. It told them that synthesizers made music better and dumb guitar licks played over panoramic nighttime cityscapes could turn any terrible film into a great one. It told them that tracksuits, perms, and shoulder-pads were cool.

This present generation is not blighted by cocaine, but something far more addictive and destructive: technology. The internet has connected the world, and it has brought us little of real worth. People all over the globe are becoming more similar as our cultures are washed away by this unification of people. Facebook and Instagram are making us all emulate each other, while at the same time causing stark rifts between groups of people. The so-called culture wars taking place between left and right wing factions in the west is a prime example of something that has been exacerbated to an unimaginable degree by the advent of mobile devices that can connect us at all times to the internet. We now shop for news like we used to shop for music. “Metal is the best… fuck everything else!” used to sound so pathetic, and yet now look at us. We choose a political position and believe anything churned out by the fake news-generating meme factories. Orwell couldn’t have made this shit up.

Politics aside, it is disgusting the extent which everyone – myself included – is addicted to their phone. We panic without it. We cannot function without GPS, Google, Wikipedia, and Whatsapp. It has castrated us and lobotomized us. Our powers of concentration, of reasoning, of being able to amuse ourselves or sustain a conversation – all these things are fading quickly. This new technology has developed faster than anything in human history, and its impact is spectacularly far-reaching. I hate to sound like an old fart prophesying doom because of a new invention, but it does not look good.

I am glad that I grew up in the era before the internet, before social media, and before smartphones. Although I am as utterly reliant upon these inventions as most folks, I remember what it was like to live without them, and I think we were better off. Technology is not inherently bad, of course. Smartphones are not innately problematic, and the internet is actually a wonderful invention. But they are like opiates – designed for a noble purpose, but utterly abused.

phone and spine health
Source

In the 1980s, we did not have an epidemic of people taking selfies. We did not have tens of millions of people flying around the world, annihilating cultures and ecosystems just to get photos for their social media accounts, and people did not have an easy platform from which to spread ignorant views to an audience of potentially billions. Nowadays, you are “creative” if you remake a meme you saw on Reddit, “philosophical” if you copy someone else’s Twitter post on your Facebook account without attribution, and we all worship “influencers” who became famous overnight because their clickbait is better than the other ten thousand people who do exactly the same as them.

Bring on the 2020s. I genuinely hope that it brings about an awareness of the damage we have done to ourselves. I hope that Facebook and Twitter fade away, and that people begin to reject the technologies that have come to rule their lives. I hope that it these devices and platforms are used more responsibly while they still exist, but that they pitter away and people find that it’s not normal for us to be living such public lives, connected to so many thousands of people, and bombarded constantly with so much information. Yes, we are living in a decade that makes the ‘80s look pretty damn good, but while ‘80s bullshit was shattered by the likes of Nirvana at the beginning of the ‘90s, let’s hope we transition quickly into a better decade very soon. I cannot imagine people putting down their phones, getting offline, and returning to a state of mental awareness, but I really, really hope that it happens.

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Posted in Photography

Another Sunset

I think I take too many photos of sunsets and I don’t know why. In a sense, they always look the same. Then again, it’s always a challenge. Shooting directly into the sun isn’t exactly easy, and most of my photos at sunset look too bright or too dark, or just plain boring.

Yesterday, I went for a walk around Naiharn Lake, and just as the sun was about to set I jumped on my bike and headed for the “windmill” that overlooks Naiharn and Ao Sane. (Those quotes mean that it’s not really a windmill; it’s a wind turbine that everyone romantically calls a windmill.)

It was a little busy but not nearly as crowded as at Promthep Cape, a little further to the south. I stood around and watched as the sun slowly dipped towards the horizon, and shot a few photos.

 

Posted in update

Book Stuff

As regular readers will know, last month my latest book was published: World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. Today, my mum sent me this:

world citizen allen ginsberg review

“Scottish book of the week”? I like the sound of that…

I also edited the latest edition of Beatdom literary journal, which was published a few days ago. Today I checked Amazon and saw that it was listed as No.1 for Literary Criticism Reference. It’s a small category, but still… I was delighted.

A few days ago, I published an interview with Casey Rae about his forthcoming book on William S. Burroughs. You can read that here. I have reviewed the book for another journal, although I have no idea when that will be published. Probably closer to the actual book’s publication date.

Speaking of Burroughs, my own book has gone through a bit of a resurgence of interest (perhaps the result of being excerpted at Tony Ortega’s website) and is selling very well once again. It got a new review a few days ago from a former Scientologist.

Finally, I was interview by Jon Faia for this website. I mostly talk about the Beat Generation and being a writer.

Posted in essay

Thoughts on the Arrest of Julian Assange

In the original incarnation of this blog, there was a post about Julian Assange. I didn’t delete it because of what happened later on, but it was deleted nonetheless when I decided to get rid of everything and start afresh. I can’t remember why I did that, exactly. I think I was looking for a new direction in my writing. Or maybe I wanted to cut ties with parts of the past. In any case, I remember blogging about him and, like many progressive people at that time, I was very much on his side.

I still have the original Word document of that post in an ancient file on my laptop, and I just looked it out. It makes for awkward reading, which was pretty much what my memory had told me it would be.

I’m glad I’m not famous because it’s the sort of thing that really comes back to haunt you. We’re not allowed to have mistakes in our past anymore. Almost anything from our digital lives could be dredged by hack journalists for salacious gossip in an attempt to discredit us among the increasingly vicious “progressive” media: “Oh, he made a joke five years ago that sounds bad now that we’ve completely changed our morality? Well, we’d better throw him under the bus to make ourselves look righteous.”

Fuck that. I can’t stand that attitude. It makes me think of China’s Cultural Revolution. A few days ago, Barack Obama called it the left’s “circular firing squad,” and he was spot on.

But that’s not what I’m talking about today. Not really.

I’m talking about Julian Assange, a man who was a hero to many of us just a few years ago, and who now makes us squirm. I certainly feel a tinge of embarrassment to look back. But I’m not ashamed, exactly. In fact, to go back a few paragraphs, I said that I found my original writing on the topic, and I’m going to share the very worst lines:

What the organization [WikiLeaks] does is invaluable. It is a true wonder of this era and gives me hope for the future of journalism, the internet and mankind.

Oh, that’s uncomfortable reading. (And not just for the lack of Oxford comma.) It’s a prime example of something that did not age well.

But that’s what life is. We say things, we change our minds for some reason, and we say something else. It’s the ones who don’t admit what they said in the first place that you can’t trust.

I did indeed look at Assange and WikiLeaks as heroic for what they did, and looking back, I can see why. In my original blog post, I called them out for being careless in certain regards, but ultimately I applauded them for bringing transparency and shining a light on the evils of the US government. The US was a tyrant, stomping around the world cloaked in secrecy, hiding evil deeds… Along came Assange and WikiLeaks and suddenly everyone knew, and it wasn’t all conspiracy theories but real hard facts. Like him or not, he helped hold people to account, and probably made it a little harder to get away with war crimes.

I still feel that way, but like most people I’ve come to watch Assange’s hysterics and the organisation’s decline. They have veered towards a darker path, it seems. For many, they are at least partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump and the cancer he has brought upon the United States. Assange’s rage at Hillary Clinton caused him to participate in the skewing of the American political dialogue, pushing opinion in the direction of a man who is easily the worst president in American history. What he did – something that affects the whole world to a great extent – was utterly unforgivable.

I suppose you could argue that he just did what he was always doing – bringing transparency and taking down powerful people. You might say that of course someone on the left of the political spectrum would be angry… that I’m just pissed now that he helped the right wing. However, I think that it changed fundamentally while Assange was trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy, becoming increasingly unstable and bitter. I think that his interference in the election was a matter of spite, whereas his original actions were about transforming the world for the better.

It was uncomfortable for me – and, I presume, for countless others – watching Assange being hauled from the place he’d hidden for so long. I remember him taking refuge in the embassy, and thinking, “Thank god there’s at least one country willing to stand up and do the right thing.” It seemed the whole world was against him and he deserved protection.

Although I now view the man as a twat, and resent his organisation’s role in one of the saddest events in recent years, I hope that he isn’t extradited to the US, and that he doesn’t receive punishment for the WikiLeaks hack. Ultimately, what happened back then was something that needed to happen. As for helping elect Trump, there were a million and one factors at play. No one should be punished for that. We just need to learn from it, and ensure it never happens again.

Democracy has been weaponised. Russia and China and other non-democratic players, whose governments don’t even pretend to value free speech, have figured out how to undermine the things that used to make us – the western world – strong. Organisations like WikiLeaks and people like Assange were, I thought, necessary for an open society. Maybe they still are, but we have seen how they can switch sides and become selective in how they choose to use the information they uncover. Their methods have been subverted, and they have caused chaos, tearing our societies apart.

It’s hard to see any positives coming from this. Not many will sympathise with Assange now, and there are plenty who will castigate him for a wide array of perceived offences. He has helped usher in a dark era in global politics, but perhaps it says more about us than him that that was allowed to happen. I guess he will go off to prison for the rest of his life – a fate probably no worse than spending it in an embassy – and we will all just forget about him. But I can’t help but feel we are living in a world partly of his creation, and one that was very much unforeseen.

Posted in Photography

Lightning over Phuket

I have always loved thunder and lightning, and ever since I took up photography, I have wanted to shoot a lightning storm. That, of course, is problematic. Lightning strikes when and where it chooses, and so you can hardly plan this sort of thing. Moreover, when it does strike, it is gone in a split second.

So how do you take a good photograph of lightning?

After doing a little research, I decided to try various forms of long exposure – somewhere between 10 seconds and 30 seconds. I suspected that 30 seconds might be a bit too long, bringing in too much light, but it was worth a try. As with shooting the stars, I attempted to focus on infinity by finding out from the PhotoPills app where that would be on my lens.

Last night, a long lightning storm off the east coast of Phuket gave me my opportunity. I headed up to the roof of my apartment building and set up my tripod.

(Note: Do not do this. It’s not smart to be on the top of a building in a lightning storm.)

I first tried my GoPro because it’s so much faster to set up, and it can take photos continuously. I tried 20- and 30-second exposures, and managed to capture a few lightning strikes. However, only one really came out well:

(The second pic, which is simply a zoomed-in version of the first, looks like the universe is splitting open. Watch out for Thanos or the Terminator, folks.)

Next, I set up my DSLR and got serious. The lightning storm had continued for more than half an hour and showed no signs of moving on, so I played around with the settings on my camera and tried a number of angles. Unfortunately, the height of the wall around the edge of my roof made it impossible (or at least very difficult) to get a shot of the city, but I was mostly just interested in getting the lightning.

The results were pretty mixed. On the camera, the photos actually looked fantastic, but when I got them on my computer I could see that the wind had jiggled the camera around a little and blurred the images. I’d be annoyed except this is really my first attempt at shooting lightning, and I’m pretty proud of at least one of these. (The one in landscape style.)

The lightning storm moved closer and so I headed indoors. Shortly after, the skies exploded and we were hit hard by a good old tropical rainstorm.

If anyone reading this has any advice on shooting lightning (or other night photography tips), please do share in the comments.

Posted in Photography

Sunset from Promthep Cape

Promthep Cape is the southernmost point of Phuket Island, and it is said to provide some of the best sunsets in the region. To be honest, I’ve see hundreds of sunsets in my life, and when people say “this is the best” or “that is the best”, I roll my eyes. A sunset is a sunset. They are beautiful and magical but they are all pretty similar. It’s more a matter of how the clouds form than the actual landscape. And when the landscape is the sea… well, it shouldn’t matter as long as you are on the western coast of somewhere.

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about the famous Promthep Cape, at the south of Phuket. It’s a nice little bit of land, though grossly overcrowded at sunset. Annoyingly, it’s overcrowded with Chinese… so that means you have to tolerate screaming and shouting and all kinds of ghastly behaviours peculiar to these people. Still, if you can put up with them (think: headphones), then you will be rewarded with some pleasant views and a nice cool sea breeze.

I managed to squeeze among the tourist hordes and get a few shots of the scenery and sun, although for the most part I struggled to get anything I really felt proud of. As I said above, as sunset is a sunset. This shot from my back door recently was better than what I saw at Promthep Cape, and I didn’t have to put up with screaming Chinese to get it. I just stuck my head out the door.

Phuket Sunset
Why do I imagine a fleet of chinooks coming over the trees and The Doors playing…? 

Anyway, I managed to get a few decent photos, and then climbed down a dusty trail to the actual cape, where it was quieter than the vantage point up near the road. I stuck around til after dark and shot a few more photos before the flies drove me away.

And, finally, a panorama taken just after sunset, in the peace and quiet as the tourists departed…

Promthep Cape panorama

Posted in Photography

Playing Around With Night Photography

I’ve been interested in night photography for a long time, and I have posted a few photos on this website. However, it is a difficult thing to master… and in fact, difficult even to be able to do the basics.

Here is a selfie I took under the stars a few years ago:

My selfie with the stars

It’s definitely among the best night photos I have taken. I used a GoPro to shoot this because GoPros are simple and actually surprisingly good for night photography. You can see a light by my life hand – that’s my phone as I remotely triggered the shot.

Using a DSLR allows for far more versatility but it is of course far harder. When you throw in the fact that Nikon’s app (for setting up and triggered photos) is useless, you can begin to imagine how long it takes.

When you are shooting photos at night, you need long exposures, and sometimes many of them. Making a mistake can cost you a great deal of time. And mistakes are easily made when you can’t see a damn thing. For a start, how do you focus in the dark? It took me until last night to figure that out.

Last night I went up on the roof of my building with both my GoPro and DSLR, and took a number of photos. I started with a 3 hour series of long exposures to capture star trails, – something I had never done before. The results weren’t great, but I suppose they were probably better than I expected. I simply plonked my camera down on a mini-tripod, set the timer, and went back indoors for a few hours.

The next day, I used StarstaX to piece it all together. Unfortunately, despite it having been a really clear night, a few clouds moved in for about half an hour in the middle of my shot, and sort of ruined it. Oh well, try again another day. Here’s what I got:

You can see in one photo I have just made do with the clouds obscuring much of the sky, while in the other I pieced together what I could minus the cloudy photos.

My roof proved actually quite interesting (it’s a new house for me, so that was a surprise) and so I grabbed my DSLR (a Nikon D5600) and tried a few shots:

After a good few failed shots, I figured out how to focus on infinity, and managed to get a decent picture of the sky and the (telephone?) aerial. For the second picture, I lined up the shot and then walked around flashing my phone light on the ground. The slimy green goo on the concrete (after it had just rained) looked pretty damn cool.

Post production was a bit tough, as it always is (for me, at least) with night shots. I fired up Lightroom and tweaked a few settings, but it was hard to get the stars to pop while also reducing the nearby light pollution. I think these two pics came out ok.

Finally, I got a selfie with my GoPro. I took one with my DSLR but it didn’t work too well because the mosquitos were biting me and so I moved ever so slightly, blurring the picture.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5458.

Actually, I took another, but for this one I went a bit overboard editing it on my iPhone… I look like I am about to be abducted by aliens.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5457.

Posted in essay

Thoughts on Brexit

I have never written about Brexit before because 1) I hate even thinking about it, and 2) I’m not a legal expert, and even they seem to struggle to fully comprehend it. But here goes…

Like most reasonable people, I am not just opposed to Brexit, but utterly aghast that it is happening. Yet, on some level, I do understand the events and sentiments that led us here. I get why people felt that it might be a good thing: Britain has been in decline for a long time, the EU does have some obvious problems, and immigration (you don’t have to be a racist to agree) comes with some pretty notable problems. Many people were frustrated at the state of our country and they wanted action taken. Like with the election of Donald Trump over the pond, enough people were angry and confused to make something really awful happen.

While those are fair and reasonable issues to complain about, I’m still appalled that they led us down such an unthinkable path. Brexit is nothing short of a national embarrassment, so hideous an event that it seems indeed to be the final chapter in that improbable epic, The History of Great Britain. Brexit simply should never have put to referendum, and in the next few paragraphs I shall explain why.

Firstly, even the dastardly Conservative icon Margaret Thatcher believed it was a bad idea to put such a topic to a public vote. I never thought I’d utter these vile words, but… I agree with Thatcher. *shudders* Yes, that’s right; the Iron Lady was spot on in this one instance. She rightly pointed out that the public may be asked for their vote on comparatively simple issues like the death penalty. This involves a simple moral question: Is it right or wrong to take someone’s life as punishment for their having taken another. However, to ask the public whether the UK should or shouldn’t leave the EU is absurd, as the question is simply too complex.

To put it another way, leaving the EU was never the simple question that Leave proponents put forth, but they were very clever in making it seem that way. They took a wide range of issues and put them under one convenient slogan, and then targeted people who were unhappy with any of these issues. Brexiting is something so wildly vast and complicated that even legal experts struggle to comprehend it, and yet the average man and woman were being asked to weigh in. It is beyond belief that this vote went ahead.

Which leads nicely into my next point. This may sound mean, or even politically incorrect, but go to your local Poundland or Wetherspoons and pick a few people at random. Ask them some questions about EU policies and see what they have to say. Go on; I’ll wait.

The average British citizen nowadays barely has the intellectual capacity to vote for a candidate on <insert trendy reality TV show>, never mind figure out the complexities of a legal separation of two political entities. Yes, they are entitled to their opinion, but no their opinion doesn’t fucking matter.

Does that sound harsh? Well, that’s a shame. Life is tough, but pandering to idiots is a waste of time. If these morons hadn’t voted for Brexit in such vast numbers, most of them would’ve forgotten it by now and would be more concerned about the latest Instagram post by <insert trendy “influencer”>.

Now let’s put aside the fact that asking millions of mentally incompetent people to vote on something that should never have been voted on is a bad idea, and look at what they voted for. To do this, let’s consider the following scenario:

You wish to purchase a banana, so you go to the local fruit market. You have a choice between two bananas. One is a bit bruised and blackened, but the vendor at this stall tells you it is still good inside. The other is perfectly yellow, and that vendor tells you this is the best banana in the world, and that the slightly bruised one is poisonous. Which do you choose? You take the bright yellow banana because it looks so good. Of course, when you go to peel it, you find out that the vendor has taken a shit and painted it yellow. You have been fooled, and now you are holding a yellow turd.

This is essentially what happened with Brexit. Immediately after the vote, admissions were made that the promises given to Leave voters were utterly false – not just small lies, but outright fabricated nonsense. Voters had been played like the idiots they in fact are. Many of them, regrettably, still believe the lies and cradle that little yellow poo, hoping it somehow proves to be a banana, while others realize that they were swindled, and wish for the chance to return to the fruit market.

Of course, the politicians who are in power helped sell those shiny yellow jobbies, and they tell us: “Pipe down; the people have spoken. To start handing out real bananas now would be undemocratic.”

Ah, democracy. We hold it up to be the absolute paragon of reason in this tempestuous modern world of ours. But is it really so great? Look around and ask yourself how the fuck we are stuck with Brexit and Trump and a host of other idiotic populist yellow turds. In the era of social media, something has begun to stink, and it isn’t just those shitty bananas.

Democracy was never the perfect form of government, but it was less terrible than others. Asking the same people who watch Geordie Shore to puzzle through the intricacies of international law is a bit like asking a brain-damaged rabbit to build its own new hutch by following instructions that have been fed through an Enigma machine. That we assign everyone an equal vote in the future of our country, despite the fact that the most popular newspapers are The Sun and The Daily Mail, is proof that we need a new system.

But I digress… sort of.

The Brexit referendum ended up 52-48 in favor of leaving the EU, and to me it is quite frankly stupid to have such a small difference allow for a change of such tremendous impact. Surely for something of the enormity of leaving the EU – effectively stranding the UK alone and thrusting us into a world of uncertainty – we should have required the support of 75% of the population at minimum. Right? Is it just me that thinks a slim majority should be able to decide to damn our country? Surely altering the status quo in any significant way should require near total agreement. This isn’t like transitioning from one incompetent government to another – it’s more like asking voters to decide whether or not to implement a Purge day.

I say “our country”, but of course this issue is more complicated even than that. I am Scottish, not British, and yet my country – Scotland – is being forcibly removed from the EU due to the political idiocy and right-wing fervor of our mentally inferior cousins to the south. We are part of a union with the countries with whom we share an island, and the will of the biggest has dragged along the others. Then there’s the Ireland issue and the promises made regarding the open border…

There are so many complexities to this. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, and as is probably abundantly clear by now, I am no legal expert. But it seems undeniable: There never should have been a Brexit referendum, and there should be no Brexit. Surely no right-minded person could argue that the future looks good for Britain. We were given an out by Europe in December when it was decided that we could unilaterally revoke Article 50, and as we draw closer to a no-deal Brexit, it is time we ready ourselves for a few years of being teased by the France and Germans and do the right thing. Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster so far, and the real effects haven’t yet been felt. No good can possibly come from it.* The embarrassment of this situation can be forgotten if we put it aside and go back to figuring things out sensibly, but if we leave Europe and cast ourselves adrift, our decline as a nation will hasten and in this rapidly change world, we will flounder and sink.

 

 

* I suspect that a significant amount of the incomprehensible wishful thinking that comes from the pro-Brexiters even now stems from the old notion of Britain as powerhouse of the world. Alas, those days have come and gone. We may once have ruled the seas and a full quarter of the landmass of this planet, but we are now just a cold, rainy collection of islands whose importance comes largely from history. As part of a bigger whole, we can thrive, but alone we will fail.

Posted in essay

Thoughts on China

In December, 2018, I quit my job and left China. I had been living and working in the Middle Kingdom on-and-off for more than eight years, and I was deeply unhappy. Of course, it hadn’t been all bad for all that time, but as the years went by, certain things bugged me more and more.

In China, it is socially acceptable to push and shove other people, to scream at the top of your lungs in a crowded place, to watch movies on the train at full volume with no headphones on, to spit on the ground just about anywhere, to point and stare and shout at people who look different, to urinate or defecate in public, to torture animals, to throw trash anywhere without a thought to the consequences, to drive like a maniac and blare your horn in residential areas in the middle of the night or light fireworks outside someone’s window at 5am… In short, it sometimes feels like no one in China ever even considers the feelings of people around them.

Chinese kid pooping at airport
Public pooping?! It’s fine in China.

When I first arrived in China, this was all exciting and fascinating. It is sort of liberating to live in a place where anything goes, and where almost everything people do and think and say is the polar opposite of what I – as a western person – was accustomed to. In this totalitarian regime, there were of course a million and one laws, but essentially the only real rule was: “Whatever you can get away with is right; whatever you get caught doing is wrong.” It was like the Wild West, except it was about as Far East as you could get.

I left China in 2013 to move to Cambodia and I missed it. Until then China had still been exciting, not to mention a veritable gold mine. Working there, I could make a small fortune doing stupidly easy jobs. Sometimes I taught at private schools, where really very little teaching was ever done because in the Chinese education system all you need to do is memorize long lists of data and learn how to praise the government. No one ever learns to think. I sometimes did “white monkey jobs” like officiating weddings, pretending to be a famous Russian pianist, or act in ridiculous TV commercials. It was fun, it was weird, and it made me some good money.

When I returned in late 2014, I moved to a city that was the laughing stock of the most backwards province in the country. It was a place where several mayors had gone to prison for corruption, where one of the biggest theme parks in Asia lay empty because it had never actually been opened, where a whole second city had been built to the south of the first one, but stayed empty because the buildings all collapsed before anyone could move in. It was a city where despite annual floods, the government never bothers to install drains, where a big sign at the entrance to the city said “NO PUBLIC DEFECATION!” but no one paid any attention because that is their proud heritage, and where homemade tractors plied the streets, spewing vast clouds of black dirt into the sky. It is famous for massive car pile ups, mine collapses, organized crime, and some of the worst air pollution on earth.

No pooping sign in China
“No public pooping,” say the government. “But it’s our god-given right!” say the people.

At first, I loved it. It was even more fucked up than the rest of China, which is in itself the most fucked up country on earth. I explored the city and its surrounding countryside (although Chinese countryside is more densely populated than British cities, so don’t go imagining any rolling green fields) extensively during those first months. People stared and pointed and shouted, “LAOWAI!!!” (meaning, “foreigner”) as loudly as they could because that’s just what Chinese people do when they see a foreigner.

I loved it.

My job was also wonderful. I had total freedom to design a curriculum for my one hundred eager students on a pleasant university campus at the edge of the city. My apartment was small but comfortable and my salary kept going up every few months because I was getting such great feedback from anyone who came to watch my class. I found a little gym nearby and got healthy, eventually training up to run a marathon in the next big city to the south, Hefei. In my holidays, which were substantial, I spent months exploring the globe from Africa to India and even North Korea. It was bliss, in most respects.

As time went by, my feelings towards China soured. What was once charmingly bizarre soon became irritating; what used to make me laugh now brought me half to tears. I grew sick of the poisonous air, the poisonous water, and the poisonous people. Going to the supermarket meant having my whole life picked over by each and every person in the building. I could not go anywhere without being pointed at, stared at, and rudely talked about, and when once that had just been an odd quirk of the locals, now it boiled my blood. My daily walk to school became a test of my tolerance for abuse, as I heard again and again the old refrain, “LAOWAI!!!” Without exaggerating, it was unlikely that I would go a few seconds without hearing someone loudly expectorate or some idiot beep his car horn for no reason. I grew to resent the ignorance and cruelty of the people around me. Every day I would see something sickening or enraging: an old lady balancing a baby on the front of her ebike as she rode through traffic on the wrong side of the road; dog carcasses hanging in the streets; human excrement everywhere; old ladies handling raw meat in the supermarkets and then chucking it back…

Laowai

And then there was the government.

The Chinese government is among the most insidious of all organizations. I’m sure to any educated, non-Chinese readers, it is hardly worth even mentioning the obvious atrocities: the genocide and cultural destruction of Tibet and Xinjiang, the innumerable human rights violations, the total suppression of free speech, the Tiananmen Square massacre, organ harvesting, and so on. Yet in China the government is revered by almost everyone and their power is utterly unchecked. Their propaganda and censorship are so astonishingly effective that a billion and a half braindead zombies just wait to be told what to think, and will not tolerate any criticism of their dear leader, Xi Jinping.

I loathed being unable to say certain obvious and undeniable truths, to be able to use the internet freely, to have books sent to me from abroad. I hated being monitored on cameras all day, and having my communications watched by Big Brother. It was unimaginably oppressive. But then, if you are an intelligent person who is not Chinese, there is hardly any point in saying this. This is known to all the world except for the blissfully ignorant citizens of the PRC.

Needless to say, all of that ground me down and the country which I once loved and in which I felt at home soon became a prison. I was desperate to leave, and so, in December, 2018, I did.

*

On my various excursions outside of China in the past few years, I have had to witness the tragic Chinafication (or is that Sinofication?) of the world. Back in 2008, when I first visited China, the various powerful nations of the world could openly criticize China’s government for its human rights abuses, but now China is the second wealthiest country on the earth and no one is willing to say a damn thing, lest they feel China’s wrath. Once upon a time, the strong could stand up to China’s bullying of its neighbors or complain about its monstrous actions at home, but now Europe is falling apart, Britain is sliding into mediocrity, and the American President can pretty much be bought off with a few business concessions to his family.

China’s influence has spread, despite having no culture of its own anymore. While the likes of Japan and South Korea have their own domestic cultural creations to send out into the world, China has nothing. Under absolute censorship, where only government propaganda is allowed, there can be no culture. Yet China doesn’t need its version of K-pop or manga, or for that matter its own Hollywood or Bollywood. China has a rich, unscrupulous government with a billion and a half zombies to do its bidding. It has been rapidly eating up the globe, and no one can do a damn thing about it.

Across Africa and Asia, China has freely given away money and then seized land and even ports as compensation for debts unpaid. It sends hordes of its own brainwashed people into these places to Chinafy the local area. The Chinese build vast hotels and casinos – not with local workers, of course – through coercion of local officials, and wipe out local businesses by driving up prices. In Sihanoukville, Cambodia, the Chinese have taken over, pushing out all other foreign business people first, and then making the locals homeless. They bring absolutely nothing to a country except destruction and poverty. Soon half the world will be modeled on China’s ugly, grey urban landscape, where nature has been vanquished and every street and building looks identical.

This is probably starting to sound a lot like colonialism, right? The Chinese are like the Spanish in the fifteen and sixteen centuries, and the British in the eighteenth and nineteenth. It’s reminiscent, too, of US globalization in the twentieth century, where McDonalds and blue jeans were foisted upon every nation of the world, eroding many of the charming distinctions that existed between different cultures. Except this is much, much worse. The Chinese have more power and more people. They have fewer morals are intent on annihilating the environment wherever they go, decimating wildlife, ruining coral reefs, and ensuring that nothing natural remains. They have done a spectacular job of making China into one vast grey nightmare over the past few decades, and now they have their eyes on the world.

China’s neighbours must be quaking in their boots as the CCP look around and lay claim to every bit of land and sea within a thousand miles (or more) of their own rightful shores. They took Tibet and Xinjiang, and they will bully their way into ownership of every last speck of land in the South China Sea. They’ve eroded Hong Kong’s independence, and it won’t be long before missiles fly over the Straits and tanks land on the shores of Taiwan. And who will stop them? Who will stand up for Taiwan?

There is no one.

The world is changing, and not for the better. As Spengler foretold, the West is falling, and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it will be replaced in a position of power by a truly evil entity. There will be not checks or balances, no national discussion, not even the semblance of democratic process… The forces of good in this world will be powerless, and the worst actors in each corner of the globe will be emboldened by China’s rise. We may even see the West fall not just in terms of power, but into Chinese-style systems of oppression, as they attempt to return to the top of the pile.

We have entered the Chinese Century, and it looks bleak.

Posted in update

New Book: World Citizen

It’s been more than 5 years since Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ was published. I quickly began looking around for ideas for my next book, and decided to write about Allen Ginsberg, the poet who wrote “Howl” and “Kaddish” and “America”. After a few false starts, I eventually realized that I could write about his extensive travels. Amazingly, Ginsberg travelled to 66 countries, sometimes spending several years on the road. This was before Google Translate, Tripadvisor, and GPS apps…

Initially, I was interested in how and why he travelled, but as my research led me further into Allen’s world, I realized that travel really shaped who he was. In this new book, called World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller, I explore how travel shaped his poetry, politics, and personality. The book is broken into 4 sections, each covering a distinct phase of Allen’s travelling life: his first forays into the wider world, his early major journeys, the India trip that changed him forever, and his last journeys.

You can now buy World Citizen on Amazon, or go ask your local bookshop if you prefer.

You can read some related articles I have written about Ginsberg’s travels during my research for the book: