Month: September 2017

Talk Talk

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I lament the demise of the art of good conversation. I’ve been working abroad for close to 8 years now, and in that time, I realize my conversation skills have deteriorated to the level of Neanderthal. How can one regress that bad? I’ll tell you how — years of brain-mushing, soul-crushing, vocabulary-shrinking non-talking to people here.

I’ll call it as I see it: No one here makes the effort to keep up a decent conversation anymore. And I don’t even look for witty banter; I just want a minimum amount of articulation, a world view, an informed opinion. Believe me, I’ve tried. Countless times. Standing in line at chow, opening with, how bad does that chicken look, do you really like asparagus, did the Talibans win today? Not much in reply. Mostly a grunt or two, some vague syllables running together, maybe a stupefied look on their faces. Yes, you — I am talking to you, make an effort to answer coherently.

It’s so sad — no — it’s downright miserable to have to sit with people that appear animated, but stay mute. It’s like watching TV with the sound off. Pointless, like an admission of defeat.

I miss being engaged in a good discussion. I miss having my brain cells stimulated, sitting with other people around a table full of wine and tapas, arguing over world events, the impending nukes from NK, guerrilla art taking over the streets, the deadly politics of drugs, heck, even what new fashion trends are popping up in the streets NY and elsewhere. I miss being asked to think for myself, having to cultivate an informed opinion, or being corrected for an erroneous one. I miss the civilized discourse that is the exclusive province of all humans, the thing that sets us apart from the animal. Conversation skill is the equivalent of having an opposable thumb in one’s brain, able to touch all lobes and bring forth an engaging discourse.

But instead, we sit mute in separate chairs and look down on our hands, when we should have had evolved so far as to look up and say something to each other.

Fellow human, talk to me.



In-Flight Spy

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This will be one of those interminable flights, I think as I look around at a full plane. With no in-flight entertainment, I resort to spying on my hapless seatmates.

The man in front of me in 37J, has his laptop open, he is going through work emails. From my spy’s vantage point, I could see his screen so clearly as to read each word as he scrolls past them. The ones in Chinese I see as a picture, as one might view a postcard. The ones in English, I scroll through as he pages down on them, outpacing the owner as only those that are uninvested in their contents can. From what I surreptitiously perused, I learn this man is grappling with organizational changes, an incident involving lost cargo, a petulant superior.

After a single pass through all the unread emails, he opens a blank page and begins to tap tap tap slowly, filling the screen with words. I read along, wishing he would type faster. He begins with an apology, a deliberate set of taps, the words formal and phrased with care. Apologies for my absence, he writes, sorry for having run out of time. I read, unable to stifle the desire to edit. You could be more concise, I think. A lengthy apology consumes time you say you don’t have.

He finishes the email, signing off with a habitually typed “Kind regards,” then he reviews the content line by line, careful to edit for typos. He revises a line or two, but on the whole, seems satisfied with what he wrote — a meticulous and polite man. I appreciate all this from my secret vantage point. He hits send, waits for the email to fly off, and then shuts the laptop, plunging us both into darkness.