Escape from America?
I suppose a title like that could be misleading to some; maybe even distressing to others. Why would an American such as myself write about escaping from a country that many people in the world would willingly immigrate to if given the chance?
But as many writers might admit, by leaving certain titles or phrases open to interpretation, it allows for more creative freedom to craft a more compelling story. The result, or so we hope, is a more imaginative work that results in greater reader engagement through analytical thought. Simply put, there is always “more” to the story than what first appears. Therefore, “Escape” from America is not exactly what it seems on the surface.
Escape from America is not an “escape” in the literal sense. I am not fleeing my country in a quest for political asylum, evading the tax authorities, or the like. Rather, it’s a declaration of my own independence; a means to free myself from the sameness of life that I’ve known for many years and rediscover those things that make it more interesting and fulfilling. A pursuit of happiness? Maybe, but more so a pursuit of change and of challenge. I am not unpatriotic. I am proud of my country though I can admit it has weaknesses and an imperfect system of governance.
The idea for creating this book occurred to me back in 2008. At that point, I had made nearly ten trips to China, or roughly half a year altogether. Yet each time was a new and different experience: a first time visit to another city, experiencing an impressive historic site or other special attraction, more new skyscrapers lining the horizon, another Starbucks, McDonald’s, and even a TGIF! It was amazing to witness both the past and present merging within this fascinating land that was completely foreign to me only a few years earlier.
I started thinking about the differences between America and China, but also discovered an increasing number of likenesses. What might it be like to not just visit China but to stay a while? I was becoming disillusioned with my life in America, but China became more intriguing to me. I was also becoming confused. I was comfortable with my life, but not satisfied. And as I began exploring my feelings, as a writer, the best way for me to rationalize my thoughts and come to terms with this seeming change going on inside me was to… write.
It took me a lot of time until I felt I had a sufficient amount of experience, a good enough command of my thoughts, and the patience to place them into words that a book like this could become reality. And even when the first part of it was finished, it was only the start of things.
As I mentioned earlier, the “idea” for writing came to me several years ago, but at the time, I had just a variety of thoughts and opinions more to do with my own self-gratification than anything of intrinsic value that a reader could benefit from. But the impetus for me to finally commit to planting my ass down at my desk for nearly a year and grind out what would ultimately become the theme and framework of this book was mainly due to the American government and those who contributed to our collapse. The truth is, I was disgusted.
Writing this book was a therapeutic experience. It allowed me to distance myself from the ill-fated decisions we Americans had been making and consummate a closeness with the Chinese. It has gone through many twists and turns along the way. In fact so did I—something which ensured that this book would be neither easy to write nor easy to understand. I’ve had a lot of help from Chinese friends along the way.
I didn’t have the advantage like some foreigners who could relocate for work with all expenses paid; or perhaps like the middle-aged fellow with money in the bank who changes careers and comes to China to become an English teacher. For me, I had no such level of security; I wanted to go there for my own personal and professional reasons, which meant I must be financially prepared to leave the States and live in China—with no guarantee of success, nor definition of what that might be.
A large part of my life was already committed to being in China. I regularly followed the news stories and paid attention to the latest events taking place there. I’d known about the rising home prices and the country’s latest “Five-Year Plan”; I was as enthusiastic as anyone that China was chosen for the 2008 Olympic Games. And I was saddened to learn about the Sichuan earthquake several months before. It’s fair to say that at that time of my life, I’d already adopted China as my second home; strange perhaps, for someone that hadn’t lived there yet. But that was the close connection I’d developed over the years.
While this book does have a self-fulfilling purpose where I hope to gain recognition as an author and perhaps win points from the Chinese community who may otherwise question motives of foreigners in China, I believe it can provide readers of all backgrounds with a means of self-discovery, perhaps enlightenment. At the least, it may be viewed as a story of optimism from an author who had something positive to offer; at most, it will boost your morale and heighten your self-awareness of the world around you; maybe it will spur you or others you know to make a change for the better, whatever that may be.
In the end, that’s what matters most to me as a writer.
National events, quarterly statistics, economic growth, outbound tourist numbers, and personal spending habits, as some of the more serious topics discussed within this book, are all subject to change on a frequent basis. What does not change is my own personal journey to find myself, maybe my greater sense of purpose, and to help you take the first step toward where you’re going, even if the destination is not yet clear.
I. Who Am I and Why Should You Care?
Well, first off, I’m a writer from America and also an experienced international traveler, investor, and businessperson. I have enjoyed a successful career in the publishing industry; therefore, I should have enough experience with how to present content to readers in an interesting yet informative way. Oh wow, did I just step in it there? However, as a travel writer, it’s understood that we need to consciously be aware of our surroundings in a new destination and be sure to produce a detailed account of their findings for readers who may also wish to visit. I believe that’s helped me in the creation of this book, which is largely based on my personal observations, as you’ll soon discover, and the fine details that must be drawn out to effectively produce an image in the viewer’s mind, which in our case, should be distinctly different than what is commonly available online or previously published works.
And I am a stickler for details!
A few years earlier, I created a combined travel guide and research report entitled Discover China. It was more than a hundred pages detailing conditions for living and working in China, starting a business, buying real estate, and highlighting select cities as appealing tourist destinations. It was written specifically for fellow foreigners with an interest to learn more about China. The report was published in digital format and sold online. It was a massive piece of work that took me well over a year to complete. Though the report suffered from limited exposure, and thus sales, from the couple of online vendors I’d contracted—and I’ll be honest, I was extremely distraught by this at the time—but all of the grunt work involved, and time spent in and out of China, conferring with various people and gathering important first-hand data was a very rewarding experience that greatly influenced my future decisions. Equally as important, if not for the findings documented therein, this book, and maybe my entire journey, would not be possible.
Now, with Escape from America, the idea was to build on my experiences in both countries and to share them specifically with Chinese people who have interest in an “outsider’s” perspective, but also Americans and other, well, foreigners with an interest to get the “inside” track of what these two countries are truly like regardless if your purpose is to pursue future opportunities or simply to satisfy basic curiosity of these two world powers commonly dominating the news.
The latter part of this statement was added in later as a sort of buffer for fear that the boldness of implying that I am so heightened that I could attempt to write a book only for Chinese people would be a bit presumptuous of me and likely regarded as ridiculous. Sure, yeah, I know what Chinese people want to read… I’ll first ease in with a few sincere yet subtle points of praise, comment on China’s marvelous history, perhaps sneak in a barb or two about driver etiquette, then return with a charming description of so and so…
To be honest, I don’t know exactly what the Chinese reader wants, but on a broader scale, we have one nation, a developed nation, in “1st Place” so to speak, and another developing nation, a highly competitive one, wishing to gain on the frontrunners. So we begin there and deep dive into subject matter that serves to define, and perhaps divide, both parties who should only naturally seek greater knowledge of the other. Curiosity makes for a great catalyst.
The fact is, I’d conceived of this book’s contents long before I ever polled Chinese friends, and many of the ideas emerged from simple observations during visits, dinner conversations, straddling between standing-room only railway cars, CCTV variety shows, American pop culture, Chinese subculture…
I already knew there were profound changes taking place in China on a regular basis. A country that was previously very private was opening and emerging as a world leader, and whether or not you agree with the term, “Westernization” was also having a major effect. I could see people were hungry for something more; something they’d never experienced before, perhaps a sample of some place they may never visit in their lifetime. So for me, as a Westerner visiting China, it was evident things were changing and people were excited.
But for all the positive reactions about starting this book project, I also knew that this shouldn’t just be some sensationalized work from a foreigner who thinks he knows China so well; or who thinks he’s got some great strategy for saving the world. My goal was to create something to set myself apart from those who’ve already lived, worked, and enjoyed China longer than me.
Still don’t care? Feel free to jump ahead to Chapter 3, that’s when things really get good!
But in all seriousness, this book is meant to provide insider/outsider views about various subjects to give you the good and the bad as I’ve seen and experienced. I wanted to be candid with my thoughts on the U.S. and China while also sharing life lessons with all of you that I think many can appreciate and hopefully benefit from.
“EFA” is the result of personal observation, research, analysis, supposition, critical thought and creative prose that will at times sing the praises of these two countries, and at times admonish them. The positives and the negatives must be drawn out and disseminated for maximum impact, or as the author of this work, I’d be rightfully dismissed by you as fake.
There’s enough superficiality present in our lives, so I’d like to set the records straight.
II. EFA… an Explanation, of Sorts
» Comments, criticism, and general opinions
I am a U.S. citizen and not a Chinese national—perhaps my name gave it away! What I have learned throughout life, both culturally and professionally, allows me to speak matter-of-factly about America and our people, and form educated viewpoints about China. I do not profess to be an expert on any topics produced herein and much of the material contained in this book should be viewed as the individual thoughts and opinions of the author, plus those participants who’ve offered to share their insights, and taken at face value. EFA does feature some political discourse but is not politically motivated; I am neither qualified nor interested in drudging up issues of politics, although I’ll admit it is quite an entertaining topic when you get right down to it, I mean, let’s face it, there’s plenty of folly taking place behind the scenes in both countries to produce a good laugh when we’re not frowning and rolling our eyes!
But overall, this is a work rooted in cultural exchange, and one where both countries may be compared, contrasted, and presented mainly for educational purposes with an underlying premise to enrich and inspire you when all is said and done.
I often follow global news coverage. Being an international traveler not only allows me to learn more about the countries I visit, but also how they compare with my own. So in this way, I am able to view America more objectively than if I never traveled outside its borders. A different perspective such as this allows us to view our “home” like an outsider would, and take that view to a broader level. Does that matter? I think having a global view ultimately helps us further develop our communities and also enriches our personal lives—we can absolutely learn from others in a way that either improves our conditions or validates we’ve been on the right path all along.
In addition to this, the U.S. is always in the news and always seems to be front and center on the world stage. And so too is China. But whether to do with political issues, fashion trends, or entertainment, we Americans are under the microscope. So as a foreign traveler, when I’m visiting another location, there is no shortage of news coverage or purposeful discussion about America’s state of affairs. Through experience, I’ve learned that sometimes, when these discussions involve me, I’m better served to nod my head, bite my tongue, or feign ignorance rather than speak my mind for fear of igniting an inconclusive debate and trying to rationalize the decisions of 300 million people as singularly orchestrated by our governing body.
International travel has certainly helped educate me over the years. In many countries, the people are much more socially and politically conscious than we from the States. I discuss this in more detail in later chapters. But what I find is that in places such as Europe or Asia, people take an interest in what’s going on within their government and oftentimes seem to be equally as informed about America’s! They’re certainly inquisitive enough, that’s for sure. But learning experiences aside, I’ve become adept to know when to sidestep a particular topic, usually to do with politically sensitive stuff, that I’ve either no detailed knowledge of or burning desire to stoke the fires of patriotism that might quickly unravel our otherwise personal exchange (see above paragraph for further reference).
In China, my experience has been no different. I have found Chinese people to be well-informed and hungry for news. I’d always know in advance during my visits that I needed to be on my toes, staying on top of anything happening in the U.S., from the latest steps taken to curb our economic woes to how the American team placed in the FIFA soccer finals. Do we even have a team in FIFA, by the way? Let me point out, I’m not a big soccer fan and rarely even know when finals matches or the World Cup is taking place, but until other popular North American sports brands like the MLB or NHL make headway into China—neither of which is pending at this time—I’ll suffer through the compulsory data compilation just to keep up appearances!
So again, let me point out that what I write is based strictly from my experience, which itself is influenced by a variety of factors, many previously mentioned, and all culminating with personal encounters.
Like-mindedness can be a wonderful thing when it comes to foreign affairs, advancing society, raising kids, etc. but for author and reader, there will always be, and always should be, some degree of dissension. A marriage where two people enjoy all the same things is boring; the classroom where a student never questions the teacher inhibits learning. Our relationship should be no different. You will appreciate the subject matter where we come together and think alike; but you will most likely gain a greater appreciation for that which we don’t.
And I believe that significantly enhances the value in this book.
III. Who Benefits?
As the author, I’m driven by a love of writing and sharing my thoughts. Certainly I want this book to sell and boost my profile as a serious writer. But that’s never been my driving purpose for doing this. My goal is to stimulate readers; to intrigue and try to enrich by satisfying their curiosity about America and China, and their oft-misunderstood customs, and then ultimately, how does this correlate with their experience and their place in the world? If I’ve held strong to my purpose, then reading this book should be like a look into a double-sided mirror where at once, we see someone different staring back at us… yet we also see ourselves.
In following my typical writing style, EFA is a mix of concrete and color; in other words, I want to touch on topics serious enough to stimulate dialogue among readers and provoke further thought, but also keep things “light” enough so as to make the content more appealing and easier to process. It’s meant to span a variety of generations where schoolchildren and stuffed shirts alike can grab on to something and go “Hey, yeah he’s really struck a chord” or “It’s so simple I can’t believe we haven’t thought of it…” I don’t know, something like that, but you get my point! My favorite books, whether to do with rigid subjects such as stock investing or a how-to book for computer coding, gives the reader a chance to process and absorb the material, providing plenty of illustrative concepts and examples. And I love illustrative concepts and examples, if you couldn’t tell from our section headings by now. But fear not, you’ll still find plenty of plain text amongst my plain talk to help offset my overuse of imagery.
I tried to be cautious in presenting my ideas and to be clear in their context; this often resulted in constant rewriting and editing to make sure I maintained the points of my passages but in a way that makes sense to everyone. Writer becomes reader and vice versa. Placing oneself in the role of another provides further objectivity—this is also a relevant point to a later chapter.
So how might someone benefit from this book? It really depends on what one hopes to receive from it. Some people may feel there’s rational input about the United States and its function; some may enjoy the drawn out comparisons between America and China, how they’re alike and different; some may be delighted to discover a new character trait about themselves, or welcome a pat on the back or kick in the butt; they may even uncover a personal prejudice or question their own moral convictions; or perhaps they may adopt a new approach toward business or reveal a new found appreciation for their homeland.
I’ve thought a lot about what the true value is in producing Escape from America. I believe the vast majority of readers can benefit in one way or another from the material presented here. They may not find value in each and every chapter; they may vehemently disagree on one or several topics that I’ve chosen to editorialize. And that’s perfectly fine.
Any reaction is better than none at all.
The fact that someone can be brought to form an opinion, voice displeasure or smile in agreement, these all are good things that indicate you as a reader care, and that I’ve had something to say that at least inspires an emotional reaction from you. Also be on the alert to expect the unexpected. No, there’s nothing to do with sci-fi thriller, hide in the dark corridor jump out and scream type of stuff, but I do pride myself on an unpredictability that’s both puzzled people and persuaded them to wonder if I was “playing with a full deck.”
So then, what might you think when you arrive at a sensitive chapter topic that calls for a common response but instead is met with… something else entirely? That’s good. That’s what I want, for you to think, and think critically when the situation calls for.
And now, for these next few chapters, let’s take a journey back in time beginning in 2008 and ending… sometime during the next decade.