The last time we met here we were talking about starting a quasi-adult life by leaving the United States for work -- that is how I did it anyway. Living apart and outside of the normal world, but on purpose, so news of developments abroad could be relayed home and people could make good decisions at home because of my work.
Yet, while in Europe, watching the chaos that was the initial rumblings of the European Economic Community (EEC) coming into being in the early 1990's -- later to end up the EU -- I fell in love with the idea that 300 million people were consciously deciding to change the world they lived in. At the time, Europe had already knocked the hell out of itself with two world wars in a Century. So, a peaceful way to change the world sounded like something worth trying -- and I was young and optimistic as we all were while East was meeting West in Europe.
So, the idea of being able to study what was then called the Sociology of Law -- why people do what they do and how you can predict, if at all, when and how people will change and follow new laws / mapped out realities like an EU or Modern China, etc. Fascinating -- and nobody was shooting at or around you. Ok, let's do that instead.
Taking the skills of observation learned in the wild places of the world and sitting in leather chairs in some of the best libraries in the world from Amsterdam to Bangkok, Hong Kong and eventually Beijing, occupied the next 25 years of my life. Trained as an academic -- meaning writing down all observations and trying to apply rules to what kind of changes human beings could / would tolerate -- became my life's work.
The thing about being an academic is -- it is hard to get anyone to care about stuff you discover unless you can find a way to show people how it applies in real life. For someone who spent almost 13 years as a student, I can tell you Jonathan Swift's ideas of academics being disconnected from life is more true than I would like to admit.
So, instead of attempting to convince my friends I had discovered something useful -- peaceful transition of millions of people from one way of living to another on purpose -- I went to law school, in order to teach lawyers about the international community already in existence that helps those changing societies become something new. And that gave my friends a way to see some benefit to the idea of paying attention to our changing world.
Unfortunately, the United States does not really consider international environmental law or human rights law to be a career you can do for a job and still remain living indoors. So, I stayed in Europe and Asia where such things were considered grown up jobs with real salaries. Meaning, I did not turn my back on the US so much as the US came up with many of these ideas, yet did not follow them at home.
Thus, my career as an ex-patriot or 'expat' blossomed. What is an expat? Well, there are several million people living all over the world outside of their home country -- flying planes, building power plants, glass factories, ports, a million things we manufacture or operate here there and everywhere in our globalized world.
About half way though my 15 years in China, there were 500,000 people like me in China -- about 75,000 from the USA alone. We call it Expatville -- a community of people who leave home for work and never return. ~97% of people who go expat never go back. Once you have seen the larger world, it is hard to put yourself back into the box of any specific country.
So, when you hear the stories we tell about the life we live and we seem free and without the 'boxes' that you live in -- it is true that we missed the day they gave out boxes in school. Boxes are of course, local politics, social norms, political correctness, credit card debt, car payments, house payments -- all of it. We live outside of that world -- and we like it just fine thank you very much.
Yet, it is not without costs. I got my first television at 45 years old and I was closer to 50 when cable and seamless internet access became normal in Mainland China. So, from 20 years old to 50 years old, I paid attention to work instead of all that America-stuff because I had no access...
And that is how I ended up the only non-Chinese person to open a law firm in Mainland China -- and get away with it for 15 years until they made my job illegal. But more on that next time... M