Here I sit in a hotel room just off the water in Victoria, about 20 years since the last time I was in British Columbia. Or Canada, for that matter. I want to say that not much has changed. The service is still excellent, the culture is friendly and highly solicitous, things are a bit bland and a bit slow—but they are awfully pleasant.
All images © Aron Hsiao / 2017
I suppose Canada won’t ever change. I suppose the U.S. won’t either. As cousins, Canada is the sensible, friendly one. The U.S. is the one that nudges you again and again to sneak out once the adults have gone to sleep, that somehow leads you to break into an amusement park after hours while you’re out, and that then ends up leaving you arrested and handcuffed by police as a result while it somehow gets away and apologizes half-convincingly, later, once you’ve been bailed out.
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It’s been amazingly nice to finally meet the co-workers I’ve known in some cases for four years, but never had a chance to shake hands with. They’re a great team of people. It was also nice to actually do work in a work environment after years in the home office.
There are, of course, significant positives and perks that are part and parcel of a home office—but things can and do also get exceedingly samey at times.
It was good to join the crowd and work. But the introvert in me was starting to complain by day number three. It is now also very, very good to be sitting on a very clean hotel bed in rather spartan environs typing on an iPad in silence at 7:00 pm. There is nothing to do. Or rather, there is nothing that I want to do.
For a brief moment, for the first time in many years, there is nothing pressing on me, simply because there is nothing that I need to do that I actually can do right now. It is the rarest moment of peace. No significant other to have to worry about or stay in contact with. Kids too young for mobile phones and very far away. No pets to think about. Work done for today, and no work tomorrow. No house to clean. No shopping to do. No pending appointments. Nothing. Just… nothing. Just me.
It’s a strange and ecstatic moment. Is this what retirement is like? It’s not happiness or joy, or excitement, or anything like that. It’s just… relief. Like for a brief moment, the raging world has finally been shut off to cool down.
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- At Seattle SeaTac airport, there is a little wing that I’ve never seen before that is more like a bus terminal than a plane terminal. There are lots of little planes lined up outside wing-to-wing in rows corresponding to matching rows of doors, and when you show your ticket to the gate agent, they just tell you which door to pop through (“Door number 7!”) and you walk out the door, across a bit of sidewalk, and climb up into the plane yourself, watching other people around you doing the same. That’s the sort of plane that I took to Victoria.
- I’m told that somewhere there, there is also a terminal where you can catch a shuttle to a seaplane that will take off from the sea’s surface and then land in Victoria in the ocean, sidling up to the wharf. No doubt that is the route I’ll take the next time I come.
- I’d never been to Victoria before. It’s either the biggest little city or the littlest big city I’ve ever visited. The downtown area is so small that you can walk the whole thing in minutes. I want to say that it feels smaller than Salt Lake City by surface area. But in said downtown area, it has the feel of a much larger global city—like Chicago or New York. Old, a bit dowdy, very diverse, bustling. Then, like five minutes by car from the wharf, it all gives way to green sleepies and a couple strip malls and gas stations.
- For reasons I won’t go into, the whole experience reminds me of why I pursued a career in academia with such abandon just a few years ago. In the rat race, competition is the thing. You are either better than everyone else, every day, or you aren’t. I’d lost this perspective and now have it back again. It’s exhausting to realize, but it’s also important to realize, because that’s where I am. I do not currently have a career in academia, much less “tenure” or anything else of that sort that means that I can merely do a good job. In the real world, no matter how good you are, there is always someone gunning for you, wanting to be one notch better, because then they can and will have your job. This is good for productivity. It is bad for quality of life, and—I want to say—for the bigger picture of culture as a whole.
- I can’t say much for the Chinese food in Victoria, sadly. Tried two places. Both were no damned good. The sushi, on the other hand, was excellent.
- I should be using this time to read. Why am I not reading? Do I not read any longer? That would be bad, as you can’t possibly imagine that you can write unless you first continuously read.
© Aron Hsiao / 2017
- There is a watch that I want that I simply can’t afford. I hate not being able to afford things. It makes me feel like a kid. At my age, and with my credentials, I should be able to afford anything and everything I want. Have to work on this. I am slipping.
- Once, an old girlfriend wanted to take me to strip clubs all the time, but I never went with her. I don’t know why I suddenly thought of that. In any case, the usual line is that women are uncomfortable going to strip clubs with their boyfriends, but I was the man uncomfortable with the idea of going to a strip club with my girlfriend (or, in fact, going in general, but doubly so with my girlfriend). That was twenty years ago, too.
- It’s not entirely comfortable to begin to realize just how many things are “twenty years ago.” That’s what happens when you age.
- In keeping with that theme, I’ve also learned that I don’t have much stamina or patience any longer for “the night life.” During the day at work? Great company. After work, team goes out and hits the bars? I get restless and want to return to the hotel room and read a book (or, in fact, crash out and sleep).
- If I had just averaged one submission a day since I started, I’d now have five or six times the number of photos in my stock portfolio that I currently do, and could expect to earn at least that multiple annually. This is another object lesson in “doing a little bit every day” that I very much need to learn. Regrets. That’s why I can’t afford anything. I need to learn to develop Calvinist work habits.
- Tomorrow I drive and/or fly all day again. And then I am home. I can’t wait to be home. I hope the pets are fine. Those are the things that stick with me right now.
© Aron Hsiao / 2017
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Yes, I was on the road for Chinese New Year this year, so the kids and I will celebrate it when I get back. And then we’ll replace the images in the “season window” on the wall (the digital picture frame) to have something to do with whatever is coming up.
It’s supposed to be Valentine’s day, but I’m not incredibly eager to walk through that minefield with kids in the house first year post-divorce. So instead, I’ll probably just say that they’ll be doing the Valentine’s day stuff at school and we’ll jump straight to spring.
Love is overrated anyway. Not love between parents and children or love between friends, those are some of the best things humanity has to offer. But love between breeding partners, or romantic love between “mates?”
This stuff is just no damned good. At the very least, it’s in serious disrepair in our culture, and does not generally offer a good user experience. I’ve got a quarter century of personal stories on that front that tell me that “love” of the Valentine’s day variety is bad juju all around, and that the holiday is probably just making things worse.