There are those who purposefully make their life difficult just in order to be special. In contrast, there are those who like to keep things simple, so as not to become too involved. Then too, there are those who have their hands full just to get by from day to day, have little time for thoughtful reflection, and leave it up to others to do their thinking for them. There are also those who specialize in one area and leave the other stuff to others. In contrast to these latter are those who want to know everything and finish by knowing very little of anything. Even there are those who know a lot about one thing, and from this conclude that they know a lot about everything, and do not hesitate to let everyone know how smart they are. Similar, but yet different are those who use multiple standards to judge the world around them: one that puts them in a good light, and any one of the many others to put their adversaries in a bad light. Also, that we not forget those who never take a stance about anything, and those who take a stance about everything just to take a stance. Finally, there are those who spend their entire life sorting out what they know from what they do not know, because knowing the truth about anything is just plain difficult in a world filled with so much deception and false perception. Have I left you out? I surely hope so, because I do not relate to any of the above very well.
The worst, of course, are those who appear to know far less than I about things over which they wield far more power and influence. This bothers me, because I do not like anyone ruling over me. Things get worse when these same people think that they know what is best for me and have the power to make good on their misperception. Of course, in a world of social heirachy it is really difficult to avoid such people, and one must do his or her best just to cope.
By now, you probably believe me to be some sort of ruthless contrarian when it comes to authority and the enforcement of rules. This, though, would be a bad conclusion, for I am not a social anarchist, believe that people need to get along, and encourage good rules, like good habits, to make social intercourse with strangers both fun and interesting. One thing is certain in this regard, submitting oneself voluntarily to a set of rules and habits, because one has discovered them to be generally useful and favorable to the well-being of the individual and his fellow humans, is not the same as having someone else decide and enforce the same. Yes, it is true, I like to select and fight my own battles, but living in society is truly so much easier when we can find a mutually agreed third party who interprets and enforces the mutually agreed rules for us. For, after all, each of us has is own point of view about pretty much everything, and sometimes it truly is difficult to understand someone eles's point of view no matter how hard we try.
There arises in this context an important issue about the nature of human beings. On the one hand, we are quick to let our guard down for we are eager to get along and concede the benefit of doubt when we should be more concerned about cultivating trust and mutual responsibility. For, on the other hand, we are also eager to take advantage when we know that doing so will be easy and no one is likely to object. This is the nature of who we are -- social creatures who depend on one another for our happiness, but in the end must care each unto himself. In effect, there is no easy solution, and there are as many solutions as there are ways of life. We have only to look around the world to see the plethora of cultural differences as we move from society to society. As if things were not bad enough, however, each member of a particular society tends to think that his own society's solution is better than the solutions of all others. This way of thinking is, of course, well justified, because most individuals only know very well the society in which they were raised. This tendency, however, plays well into the hands of those who think they know better than everyone else, and who use members of their own society to exploit those of others. It is for this reason that we should generally resist having others decide for us, and only permit it with the utmost caution.
Yes, I have enemies, and I am not ashamed to admit it, because it means that I stand for something and am prepared to defend my position against those who would denounce my stand. This does not mean, however, that I cultivate antagonistic relationships, as most of my enemies are natural -- people who believe the world to be different than I believe it to be and insist that they know better. In this latter regard I am, of course, flexible, because I do not generally claim to be certain about anything. Surprizingly, though, I do not yield easily about much of anything unless someone is willing to go through the trouble of proving to me that their something is more solid. Perhaps, you have noticed, as I have, that the earth's crust is not entirely stable.
If I have one overriding strength, then it is that I have tested what I know across a large variety of cultures and social settings. This gives me a combination of self-confidence, understanding, and tolerance that few other people have. Then too, it has proven to me how little we all truly know about who we truly are. This sometimes serves to weaken my own ability to act in a way that is very useful to anyone, including myself. This said, I try to maintain a proper balance between self and others, and considering that all of humanity is included in my definition of others, and that we are all pretty ignorant about the world around us, I can make a lot of people angry, while simultaneously making many others laugh.
In order to make this meaningful excursion into my personal history a quick read I have divided my life into several major periods. The first periods cover far more time and substance than the latter, but as the latter are a cumulative aggregate of the former, an aesthetic balance has likely been achieved. There is obviously something to the notion of karma, but in this context less in a spiritual than in a practical sense. We tend to be what we were and what we aspire to be, but since what we were has already been achieved it carries more weight in the determination of who we are. Moreover, this asymmetry in balance between what we were and what we aspire to be can either grow or shrink with time depending on the individual.
I am the second son in a family of three brothers. My older brother is deceased, and my younger brother, though likely still alive, has become ever more distant with the passage of time. The last I saw him was at his home just after my mother's funeral in 2005 when I learned that he had no desire to be buried on the same grounds as the rest of the family. I bade him farewell and have not heard from him since.
My father immigrated from Germany to the United States at the age of seven, fought in the Pacific War, and worked his way up the corporate ladder of one of the world's largest automobile manufacturers. In 1967, the year of my graduation from high school, he chaired the Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Automobile Engineers, and I was able to attend the Indianapolis 500 with a front-row seat as a result. A year or so later he was struck with a heart attack that shattered his career. Shortly thereafter my mother suffered a stroke from which she barely recovered, and my German born grandmother, who was the lynchpin of my family's extended relations, passed away. She had lost two husbands due to natural causes and had married two additional times as a means to keep the family together. When my grandfather became very ill, my grandmother was overcome with worry and finished in her own grave two weeks before my grandfather entered his. As if these concurrent family tradgedies were not enough, the US socio-political landscape was in upheaval on account of US military aggression in Southeast Asia, and I became politically active in the anti-war effort. I can still recall the crashing of broken glass and the acrid taste of tear gas, which pervaded Washington, D.C. in the winter of 1969. I was a college sophomore, and Richard M. Nixon was President. One thing led to another and suddenly I found myself in a state of disarray and a broken family to which I hardly wanted to return.
My mother was a first and second generation born US citizen of Dutch and German descent, respectively. She married my father and remained loyal to him until his death in 1995. My mother taught me how to spell and misbehave, and my father taught me ambition and independence of thought. I am deeply grateful to both, for without them I would never have made it as far as I have. Things could have been better, but I was second in line and puberty was rough. Then too, you are only a child once, and there was a lot of trial and error -- good preparation for what was to come.
At the age of twelve I moved with my family from Detroit, Michigan where I was born, to Indiana where I graduated from Lawrence Central High School, Indianapolis, Indiana. I was the only one in my class of over 400 students who was not already on stage when it came time to receive his award for outstanding academic achievement. Well, yes, I had never made it into my school's honor society. Did I even know that it existed? It would be the last graduation ceremony I ever attended, this despite my graduating three times thereafter. Fortunately, my classmates were not as hard on me as some of my teachers who believed my older brother to be the better school role model. I did manage, though, to obtain an internship in the Indiana House of Representatives, as my mother was very active in local politics. I also received an honorary scholarhip from the State of Indiana and numerous other high school awards for musical performance and debate.
While still in high school I journeyed with my family to Washington, D.C. Along the way we visited famous historical places like Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Williamsburg, Virginia, and Stone Mountain, Georgia. The highlight of this tour was a stop at Georgia Tech where my father and I interviewed with a university admission's officer about my future attendance there. So, I was greatly disappointed when I was told by my father that he would not pay for my attendance at one of the oldest and most respected polytechnical universities in the United States and that I should remain in the State of Indiana. I was then given the choice of attending Rose Polytechnic Institute, a small private, all-boys school in Terre Haute, Indiana or Purdue University. I mistakenly chose Purdue University to make my parents happy, for that is where my older brother was attending. In the end I disappointed not only them, but myself for having done so.
I began my college career in Civil Engineering at Purdue University in 1967 and even managed to make it on my school's dean's list once. The highlight of my undergraduate career was probably my having rowed on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia for Purdue's freshman crew team. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Marietta, Ohio and row against our school's arch rival, though. I was called home to be with my mother after her stroke.
During my sophomore year several things happened that would change my life in ways totally unexpected by both my parents and me. As a cadet in the AFROTC program at Purdue I learned that I could not become a pilot due to a weak muscle in my right eye. So, I quit the program as my reason for joining was to become a fighter pilot. When my number came up in the lottery for military service in the Vietnam War I was spared with a medical waiver that attested to childhood allergies likely brought about by my father's chain smoking. Whereupon I joined the anti-war movement, discovered recreational drugs, participated in free-love, and underwent a major political shift that would last for several decades. These matters together with the aforementioned medical crises in my family derailed my college career as a promising engineer destined to follow in his father's footsteps.
While still at Purdue I switched from engineering to anthropology, whereupon I transferred to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan at the end of my junior year. There I studied under the world renown anthropologist, Marshall Sahlins, and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1972. Upon graduation I began a career in medicine at Michigan State University in East Lansing only to discover that I was not well-suited for work as a physician. While still enrolled at MSU I started graduate work in German language and literature, as it was by now the sole thread in my tumultuous academic career that remained constant and offered a whisper of professional hope. By then, the slogan "America, love it or leave it!" had already begun to appear on many bumber stickers, and I made good on an invitation from the West German government to participate in a teacher's exchange program offered to graduate students interested in enhancing their second language skills.
While in Germany I taught English as a second language in Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz. Unexcited about returning to the United States I applied for a one year extension of my contract and moved to Germersheim am Rhein where I taught English at still another gymnasium and attended the School of Applied Languages at Johannes Gutenberg -- University of Mainz, Germersheim. I majored in French, German and English translation and interpretation and 19th century German political and religious philosophy. During this same period I also made two trips to West Berlin, where I attended seminars on German reunification sponsored by the Paul Loebe Institute. On both occasions I crossed the iron curtain into East Germany and visited my father's birthplace on one of them. There I met members of my father's family, previously unknown relatives, and an accomplished East German opera singer with whom I engaged in a black market trade while East German guards looked on in complete ignorance. My international career as an "American spy" or "Martian alien" had begun.
In the summer of 1975 I also studied French in the International Institute of French Studies at the University of Tours in France. After completion of my second year as an English language teaching assistant in Germersheim in 1976 I moved to Strasbourg, France where I continued my studies in French literature and society at the University of Strasbourg. While in attendance at the university I received a study grant from the René Cassin Foundation and spent the summer of 1977 at a seminar sponsored by the International Institute of Human Rights. I returned to the United States in the fall of the same year with the intent to complete my Master of Arts degree at Michigan State University.
Upon my return I discovered that the course work which I had finished before my departure was no longer valid towards the completion of a Master's degree. Although the study of German and French languages and literature had provided me with an intellectual and emotional framework with which I could sort out my now very troubled family and personal history, writing literary criticsm was hardly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, having come so close to obtaining my first graduate degree, I was not in a hurry to throw in the towel. Because I was able to transfer a sizeable portion of my graduate credits to Wayne State University in Detroit, and because I was still pretty much unemployed and would be able to live with my parents in a north Detroit suburb, I reenrolled in graduate school at WSU in 1979. Living with my parents and younger brother was not a happy time, and I soon moved to downtown Detroit where I lived alone and sustained myself with part-time work and student loans. I worked as a part-time instructor for the Berlitz International School of Languages where I interpreted in French and English for the Exxon Corporation and did translation work in German and English for the City of Windsor, Canada. In addition, I taught German part-time at Macomb County Community College and English in the English Language Institute at WSU. My most interesting work was as a bartender at the Bloomfield Hills Country Club and Detroit Plaza Hotel that would soon become the site for the 1980 Republican National Convention. This was an important event in my life, because it reawakened my domestic political awareness and caused me to abandon my graduate studies in German language and literature and enter WSU's Graduate School of Economics.
Not only did the study of economics provide me with focus for reentry into the business world, but it combined both the technical and social science aspects of my confused and wayward undergraduate years. After a successful initial year I applied for the Thomas C. Rumble fellowship and became an alternate candidate. Unfortunately, nothing pecuniary materialized of my candidacy, and I was compelled to abandon ship. By this time my father had retired and he permitted me to live with him and my mom in their new home along the western shore of Lake Huron in Oscoda, Michigan. Living with one's parents at the age of 32 in a rustic resort town near a US military base was not exactly the best environment for reentry into the business world, but it did give me the opportunity to reassess my past and finally achieve my independence. In 1983 I reapplied to graduate school in economics, received a teaching assistantship at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and only returned to my parents home to visit my mother after my father's death many years later. My parents had their own struggle for which I was not responsible and did not wish to be a part.
I entered the University of Oklahoma expecting to specialize in food and energy economics. Unfortunately, bad timing and departmental reorganization required that I seek a different field of study upon my arrival. So, I began preparing for my departure. This said, I was poorly positioned to simply pack my bags and go. The University of Oklahoma was the only school that had offered to provide me with a teaching fellowship, and I had little savings. So, I made good on my stay and explored other areas of economics, as well as business administration, mathematics, and statistics. I took courses in corporate finance, statistical and linear modelling, and probability theory. In addition, I learned about the history of economics and the economic history of the United States. I even learned how to program in SAS and received my first exposure to a desktop computer -- an Apple SE-30. I have been wed to Apple, despite important ups and downs, ever since.
Three years later, toward the end of the summer in 1987, I made my first overland journey across the Great Southwest on my way to Seattle. Exhausted by what seemed to be an endless, lonely trek across a vast desert terrain I stood before Grand Canyon with tears in my eyes. In the back of my pick-up truck were my life's belongings, and I was headed West. It was as if my junior high school history lessons and hundreds of hours of Wild-West TV shows were coming to life before my eyes. I had begun the next step in my long road to recovery, and I was determined. In just a few weeks I would be entering the University of Washington's graduate program in economics, and I was very excited.
Although my self-inspired technical preparation at OU had prepared me somewhat for the mathematical rigor that awaited me at UW, I was ill-prepared for the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the university's economic department. What is worse, I thought I was entering into a Ph.D. program, when, in fact, I had merely made it into the university's graduate school. This meant that I had to start all over again! Clearly, turning the graphs that I had assiduously learned to draw for the past three years into mathematical formulas was an interesting revelation about the nature of modern economic thought. This, however, was not enough to compensate for the redundancy and associated boredom with having to learn the same economic principles for a third time. Moreover, I was competing with students whose GRE scores were nearly all above my own and just about everyone was ten to fifteen years younger and was seeing this stuff for the first time with far more excitement and interest. Still again, my expectations were checked, but I pushed forward.
I managed to pass the macroeconomic pre-lim twice, a truly challenging exercise in the calculus of variation. Indeed, the many hours that I had spent in the university's mathematics library in preparation were not wasted. It was the microeconomic pre-lim that became my stumbling block, however, and to this day I do not understand why. It was not like there was ever anything on the examination that I did not know. After failing it for a third time I was compelled to leave the department with a second Master's degree in economics. My formal petition to the graduate school to take the examination until I passed had been declined. Accordingly, the stiff criticism that the department received from the Pacific coast academic community that year for its less than ethical admission practices was consoling, but hardly a remedy for my failed attempt at obtaining a Ph.D.
Well aware that the name of the game was publishing I did not leave the University of Washington without first getting my name in print; I wrote a paper, presented it at the Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference in Bellingham, Washington in April 1990 and secured a temporary full-time post at Western Washington University as a reward for my effort. This made it easy for me to enter Vanderbilt University's Ph.D. program several months later.
As I entered the graduate program at Vanderbilt in mid-year, I was among the first to be sacrificed when across-the-board cuts were announced by the university's president. Being a private university with an excellent reputation it was simply impossible for me to remain without financial support. Already in substantial debt from the University of Washington and still recovering from my last academic set-back, I set out into the job market. By the summer of 1991 I had obtained an overseas assignment in Tokyo with the University of Maryland and was sent to Japan to teach economic principles to the US military. After four brief months as a salaried G-12 on the US government payroll I was asked to transfer to the Philippines or Germany. Unwilling to become a vagabond professor in the Western Pacific and having been promised a one-year stint in Japan with possible extension I requested that my contract be terminated and received three months severance pay. The offer to transfer to Germany, although attractive, suffered from one very important drawback, the need to purchase an automobile. The idea was financial recovery, not to go further into debt! Moreover, I had become a prisoner of my own curiosity about Japanese society, and truly wanted to stay.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find employment in one of the many multinational financial houses in Tokyo. I was told either to return to the United States or learn Japanese.
With little money left in my pocket I was unable to return to the United States. So, I sought employment in that one industry in Japan where non-Japanese speaking, Western foreign nationals are most likely to succeed -- the English language industry. Having already acquired good fluency in German and French, as well as teaching experience in English I eventually found part-time employment at one of Japan's prominent national universities. Unfortunately, my enrollment at the Asuka Gakuin language school was not honored by my creditors in the United States as continued schooling, and I was forced into loan default. This had a devastating impact on my family relationships back home, as the US collection agencies would not leave my family alone, and they were compelled to take the brunt of the collection harassment. I insisted that my family take the agencies to court for unlawful harassment, and my family and the collection agents insisted that I return home and pay back my debt. Already, I thought myself very lucky to have found my job with the University of Maryland and even luckier to be working part-time at a prestigious Japanese institution. Simply, I was in no position to make good on my debt, and it would surely be several more years before I could acquire sufficient Japanese to find employment in a Tokyo financial house. As a result, my family stopped communicating with me, and I became a kind of financial refugee in Japan.
After two years at Saitama University as an English language instructor and many long hours of independent Japanese language studies I requested to teach economics in Saitama's Economics Department. As a result, I was offered an English-language reading course in economics that I taught for 5 consecutive years before my post was dissolved, moved to another department, and handed over to a Japanese national. Was it because I was now teaching comparative economics, trade theory, and industrial organization in Japanese? Or, was it because my job as an English vocabulary teacher had developed into something much more theoretical and challenging to my host? Or, was I simply the victim of someone else's bad communication? My job as an English language instructor in the General Studies deparment had also developed into something more interesting and challenging -- cross-cultural communication in English in Japan. I even developed my own course book. Despite these, what I believed to be, remarkable achievements and an ever-increasing hourly wage, full-time employment was not forthcoming. So, I renewed my effort to find employment as an industry analyst in the Tokyo financial community, but was turned away for a second time -- this time, because of my age and apparent lack of business experience. My Japanese language ability was no longer an issue. In 1998 I was invited to attend Professor Ikeo Kazuhito's lectures and seminars at Keio University and started preparation for a Ph.D. thesis on Japan's financial industry. It was then that my economic life-line in Saitama's economics department was cut due to "departmental reorganization". Just how many major set-backs does one have to take in life before one finally succeeds, I had begun to wonder.
Along time ago I learned that bitterness and retribution are a dead end and that survival is a matter of attitude and hope. Living in a society which goes out of its way to let you know that you can never really belong is a singular challenge that few Americans, or even Europeans, can readily comprehend. Before coming to Japan in the summer of 1991, I thought I knew what internationalism was all about; moreover, I believed that I had already discovered that one universal system of thought that had the power to overcome the vast social, cultural and linguistic differences that constitute our modern world -- the neo-classical school of economic thought. I no longer suffered from this illusion, as I had come to realize that the privileged position that the marginal school of economics enjoys among the social sciences in the United States is a uniquely Western phenomenon. This is not to say that the fundamental laws of supply and demand, scarcity and want are not universal; rather, that the marginalist school of thought that I had striven so hard to make my own is by no means a sufficient body of analysis for describing culture-specific market phenomena. If there is one thing I had to offer the world, then it was this important insight. I had still yet to discover the Austrian School of Economics. This would come much later.
Just before my departure from Tokyo in 2000 I secured a three-year work visa with multiple reentry.
No one drove me out of Japan; I left voluntarily. Simply there was little there to prevent me from leaving. Nine years is a long time to live alone in a society that generally prefers you remain alien. I was in need of a well-deserved break.
When I arrived in Hong Kong, it was mid-August. The first year of the new millennium was not yet over, and there were still a few months left to secure firm roots in what seemed to be fertile community soil. Unfortunately, appearances are often deceiving. Maybe I should have taken even greater note than I did, when the immigration officer responsible for the photograph on my newly issued alien registration card insisted that my head be tilted in a direction different from the one that seemed more natural to me. Then too, there was the shoe salesman in Ma On Shan that sold me a faulty pair of sandals and refused to replace them when I returned them on the following day. I had never worn sandals in Japan, but inside a building. Hong Kongers appeared to wear them everywhere, and I was now living in Hong Kong.
Within the first month of my new employment I found myself in the midst of a major departmental battle with angry graduate students and a faculty majority that appeared to be more concerned about graduate student sentiment than undergraduate education and new faculty adjustment. I had never been fond of teachers' pets, but suddenly I was surrounded by them, and they were not mine. Things did not let up until well into 2001, but by then it was much too late, for the soil around me had been poisoned and my fate sealed.
I can hardly claim innocence in any of what transpired, and in the end the employee must bend more than the employer. Nevertheless, there are physical and mental limits to just how much one can and should allow oneself to be bent, before one begins bending back. Large universities are bureaucratic beasts with enormous kinetic strength and vast untapped community resources concealed behind veil upon veil of social propriety, carefully wrought bureaucratic cloaks of often undeserved prestige, and well-rehearsed pantomime and verbal clichés employed to shield personal quests for wealth, social status, and a comfortable work environment. These sorts of concealment are especially effective when the most important source of funding is more bureaucracy -- namely the Hong Kong government.
As I suggested to the Director of Personnel after successful completion of my contract and subsequent departure from the university, the important changes that few seem able to accomplish from within the university might very well be achieved from without. From this experience and what followed the Hong Kong Language Needs Assessment (HKLNA) Project was born. It was my first major attempt to change the world in a way that no one had ever attempted before. It would endure until I was forced to flee Hong Kong for the US as a financial refugee -- this time for real!
It had never been paradise, but it was a workable past and present with a promising future -- not only for me, but many East Asian youth who could have benefitted from the HKLNA project's success. It suffered from one important flaw: misplaced trust in friends and family weakened by time and distance.
Although I had spent most of my adult life living on a shoestring budget, it was the first time that I had undertaken a project of such magnitude, and neither my Japanese friends, nor my family who had once helped sustain me through difficult times were close at hand. Moreover, those who remained at a distance failed to demonstrate the same confidence in me that I had in myself, and I gradually found myself in greater desperation than I had ever found myself before.
It was clear that friendship alone would not be enough to get the HKLNA Project off the ground. Moreover, several, very costly attempts to obtain funding from both private and government sources yielded nothing in the way of pecuniary support -- this, despite the incredible insight into the world of private and public research grants and the bureaucracies that provide them that I gained along the way. My company EARTH (East Asian Research and Translation in Hongkong) that I had founded in order to maintain my residency in Hong Kong would no longer suffice as a mere legal artifice while I developed the HKLNA Project, but would have to be developed into a viable profit-making enterprise that depended not on private and public grants, but privately created service contracts. The transition would not be automatic, and I was compelled to work in the service of others as a part-time employee in the meantime. It was Japan all over again, but this time without the support of a major national university as the backbone of my revenue stream. I simply could not break through the credentials barrier of Hong Kong universities despite repeated attempts at the same and new institutions. Had my failed attempt to secure long-term employment at the Chinese University of Hong Kong during my first year of residency been a fluke, or had my falling out with the school had social ramifications that remained hidden to me and were standing in my way as I sought employment elsewhere in Hong Kong's society of higher education. Indeed, all I could find was sporadic part-time employment with less than reputable private schools and education employment agencies. The writing was on the wall.
A more than two-year legal battle with a less than scrupulous employment agency that sought to sully my professional reputation in an effort not to pay me what everyone thought was due me ensued and finally did me in. Unable to sustain myself I was forced to withdraw my legal suit and abandon permanently the HKLNA Project, EARTH, and Hong Kong. I arrived in Seattle penniless and spent my first night in a facility for the homeless arranged for me by a State of Washington welfare agency. Within weeks I found residency in public housing in Seattle's International District where I lived off of a loan from the US government until the sale of my parents' house was consummated, and I received my inheritance. This money was used to pay off my debts to my friends and sustain me until I could find employment in Jubail, Saudi Arabia many months later. Luckily I was able to salvage my Hong Kong belongings.
During my stay in public housing I awoke every morning to pigeons that would gather in front of my window and drank bubble tea at a nearby café every evening where I taught myself how to program in Adobe's Action Script. I spent my days in the University of Washington library -- my graduate alma mater --, and various coffee shops. On the weekends I would dive in a local public pool where I obtained certification as a lifeguard. Focusing on saving the lives of others was a way for me to prevent the taking of my own.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a very long period of transition.
When I escaped Hong Kong to the US my existing passport was revoked and I was issued a new passport that would be valid for only three days -- just enough time to allow me legal entry into the United States. As I had lived overseas for nearly 17 years this new passport was my only official piece of identity that was not of foreign origin. My social security number that I had retained in my head over the years and a wallet-size birth certificate were not considered valid pieces of identity at the federal government building in Seattle where new passports were issued. As a result, I had to wait six months until I could obtain the sufficient six physical pieces of US identity, a brand new State of Washington I.D. card, and, as a result, permission to enter the building and obtain a new passport. This delay cost me dearly, as I had a job offer in Saudi Arabia that I accepted shortly after my arrival in Seattle, but could not make good on until a new passport were issued.
It was the fall of 2007, and my first visit to the Middle East. I was in for another cultural shock, but this time very different from the ones that greeted me in Japan and Hong Kong. My desire to go to Saudi Arabia was not entirely by choice, as it was the only full-time job offer that I was able to secure during the more than six months that I was put on hold by the US government in Seattle. This said, I had never lived in a Muslim country before, and my curiosity in the human condition seems indefatigable.
I lasted long enough in Jubail -- an industrial city situated along the Persian Gulf somewhat north of Damam and Al Khobar on the eastern side of the Arabian penisula -- to accumulate a little savings, learn what it meant to be outside in 110º degree heat without a breeze, and return to the United States where I renewed my effort to obtain work in the US as an economics instructor at a reputable university. The American Economics Association (AEA) would be meeting in San Francisco in January of 2009. Fourteen highly targeted applications well in advance of the meeting could not secure me a single interview, so I did not bother to attend. Rather, I flew to Denver in March where I attended my second TESOL Conference. The first had been in Seattle upon my arrival from Hong Kong. The several interviews that I was granted did not result in a job offer, but my attendance apparently sparked the interest of a private language school in Korea, and by mid-summer I was off to Seoul with almost nothing in my pocket. Living in Berkeley, California was very expensive, and my employment there had only been for the summer of my return in 2008.
It was my first journey to Korea, and I was very eager. Having lived in Japan as long as I had, and having chosen Japan over Korea on my first journey to East Asia with the University of Maryland many years before, I was very curious to see what I had forgone. I did not last a year. A serious run-in with the Korean Immigration Office on account of my employer's misdirection, a victory at Korea's Labor Tribunal to recover unpaid salary from my new employer, and two private court cases: one as the plaintiff and one as a defendant, and both related to the same nefarious employer were enough to make me feel very unwelcome. Nevertheless, I persisted. Although I was finally able to find new employment, the Korean Immigration Office insisted that I return to the US in order to achieve a new work visa. It was a journey that I simply could not make and still secure the job in time. In April of 2010 I paid my first return visit to Japan in a decade. Though no employment would be forthcoming, I was amazed by how much knowledge of the Japanese language I had retained, and was very happy to have made the journey. A visit to the Korean Consulate in Fukuoka confirmed Seoul's insistence that I return to the US. It was my first journey on a hydroplane. On the return trip the sea was too high, and I sailed on a normal ferry. This too, was an unforgettable first, and not one that I wish to repeat. It did, however, set the stage for what would come next.
I left Korea in May. Two SKYPE calls and a recommendation from a former Jubail colleague were enough to secure me a post at a junior college in Udon Thani in the North of Thailand near the Laotian border. I had just enough money to pay for my plane flight and would not be reimbursed. It was at tremendous risk that I made the journey, but I was well-received and very thankful when presented with my first Thai work visa. I had now taught the English language in Germany, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and Korea in nearly every educational setting you can imagine. Never before had I experienced such abysmal competence at the post-secondary level. Neither was my pay very attractive. Although it was more than sufficient to get by in Thailand, all that I could save during the several months that I was employed would not have been enough to pay for a month's rent in Berkeley, California. Fortunately, there was another job awaiting me in Saudi Arabia that fall. Unfortunately, I was not able to secure it until April of the following year. The intervening months were exhausting, and if it were not for new friends that I had made since my departure from Hong Kong in 2007, I would not have survived. Nevertheless, with so much spare time on my hands I began teaching myself PHP. In addition, I traveled to Chiang Mai in North Central where I attended a Thai TESOL conference and presented a paper on the abominable state of the English language industry. This presentation led to an employment interview at an outstanding private university in Bangkok. An interview that would yield nothing, as it was determined by the university's personnel office that my formal certification would not be sufficient to obtain the post. Work experience appears to mean very little in academia. Two weeks later I returned to Bangkok where I picked up my long awaited work visa at the Saudi consulate, and departed for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in April.
My return to Saudi Arabia has been both eventful and productive. Above all, it has provided me with the financial wherewithal to rebuild my difficult past. Simply, it remains a puzzle what my next step will be. I have learned over the years that money is simply a means to an end, and should never be an end in and of itself. Moreover, one should be careful how one obtains it, for the means should, but rarely, justify the end, and only then with very careful forethought.
Serving the Saudi King has not been a difficult task, and his subjects have been mostly very good to me. Further, the Saudi people are a warm and friendly people, who are sometimes vengeful, but mostly humorous. Simply it is difficult to learn their language in the absence of their religion, and my belief in God is very different. For rather than being the result of God's creation, I believe we, humans, are the creator of our own God or gods. This puts me at odds with a very important part of Saudi society -- the world of the imam. In the end, without mastery of the Arabic language I am not entirely comfortable living in Saudi society, because it greatly inhibits my ability to interact when I need to most. Further, I have never enjoyed being a colonialist, and do not feel that others should do the same. Globalism is a kind of hyper-colonialism that has created far more harm than good in the world, and I do not want to contribute to its propagation.
This said, no one else seems to want me badly enough to pay me what I need to recover. So, I am sort of stuck. My greatest challenge in the near future is to become unstuck and hold on until I am able.
In some ways this phase of my life is simply a continuation of the previous phase. In short, the reconstruction continues.
What makes this phase different are the conditions under which the reconstruction is taking place. Where before I saw myself building a financial and intellectual base with a general idea of what I wanted to do with it, I am now bereft of all financial capital, but with a far better idea of where I want to go with the intellectual capital that remains.
I returned to the United States in the spring of 2015 with net monetary worth greater than the 40th percentile of all USAmerican society -- hardly, something about which a person with my education and experience should brag. Then too, in light of the fact that I had past nearly all of 2009 and 2010 with zero or negative net worth, notable progress had been achieved. By the end of 2015, however, it was clear that my plans to find employment in the United States and continue the building of my financial base were ill-conceived; American academia was simply not interested. Apparently, it perceived my age and certification as obsolete or unworthy. Or, alternatively, it viewed my online presence as challenging and dangerous. Whereas I had come to understand the short-comings of my own formal education, American academia was still pursuing knowledge in the social sciences, as if it were some sort of fashion industry whose outcomes depended only on the most advanced stages of mathematical modelling. No matter that the assumptions used to produce their models have zero bearing on the reality of the human condition that they purport to describe!
No, I had erred grievously in my belief that I could fight the Empire while still in its employ. So, in a final gasp of exasperation I protested in the form of a hunger strike and was tossed into the street as a homeless vagrant, when Judge Henry H. Judson III stated, "I cannot grant reasonable allowance based on humanitarian grounds". Thus, ended my gambit between America's allegiance to the principles upon which it was founded and my own existence.
Truly I had lost the gambit, but the reconstruction moves forward. Simply everything is now more difficult, and America appears to be no wiser for it. Certainly, no one of any influence acknowledged my effort as worth even a retweet on Twitter, let alone a donation to my cause.
I am thankful that I have the wisdom not to let the molders of American public opinion mold my own.
The hunger strike of the previous period has long since past; the devastation of its failed aftermath remains with me. Briefly I even thought about combining this period of my life with the one before. Perhaps I will someday, if the period that I am currently in does not resolve itself in the manner that I hope.
This period, although unique for a variety of reasons, forms a part of my return to the United States after having spent twenty-seven of the now past 33 (previously 30) years overseas. It is an important hiccup in my dedicated effort to establish a firm beachhead on the Anglo-American imperial soil that was once my home.
Now, one could say that this beachhead has been established, but I am hardly in control of it. In fact, I feel more insecure in my government provided security than I ever felt during the last three years of homelessness vagrancy that make this period of my life unique. No, I have yet to feel the need to exercise my freedom of last resort as I surely did while I was still homeless, but the stretch ahead can well be expected to be difficult. For, now I must either free myself from the clutches of the empire as I rise through its ranks, or I must find a way to exit it altogether.
The America that I once knew is no longer, if it ever was, and I am either going to set it back on course, die in the effort, or escape entirely. No, it is not my desire to run from it, for this would be unpatriotic and cowardly, but I cannot set it back on course alone, and will abandon the effort, if I am unable to achieve a substantial following.
No, I do not suffer from the illusion that America will change any time soon. It is a mammoth juggernaut, and the wheel in the wheelhouse must be spun many times in the same direction in order to move the rudder only a few degrees. My goal is to move it several. With such a victory I may perish knowing that I have accomplished something beyond my otherwise mere existence as just another human entity in a cycle of seemingly endless futility.
There appear to be two paths for humanity: the free market with numerous and varietal centers of authority and persuasion; or a single world order similar to what India once was, but on a global scale, in which a superior caste of elite managers harvests the fruit of the inferior laboring castes. We are currently moving in this latter direction.
In contrast, the not so ancient Anglo-American tradition that culminated in our proud constitutional republic called the United States of America provides for, if only we would maintain the tradition, the sovereignty of the people. Our constitutional republic must be revived, or the state planners of our proud planet will have their way, their new world order will be realized, and we will have revived a modern form of the ancient agrarian states of long ago, but on a global scale.
Perhaps this latter is your desire; it is not mine.