“This Reminds Me of My First Marriage.”

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back on October 2, 2020 and contribute ~1,000 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Eight – Passage Five

Jack feels like someone who might be able to give some insight on our predicament in Xinjiang so during lunch, I ask him about his opinion on the region.  You might think that Jack, someone who the CCP has taken so much from, would be incredibly hostile towards the communist party and it’s treated the Uyghurs in the region.  But Jack’s response surprises me.

We’re sitting in a noodle shop and just about the only ones there.  It’s hot and there’s a fan blowing.  Jack swirls his tumbler of gin around pauses a moment; a crease appears between his eyebrows and then disappears.

“So what this reminds me of,” he says slowly, “is the story of my first two marriages.”

Kristen cups her chin with hers hands and leans forward.  “Oh, this sounds like it’s going to be good.”

Even Li’s appeared to have perked up a bit.

“So honestly, one of the many mistakes that I made at least in my first marriage was that eventually –and if you’ve ever been married long enough, you’ll totally understand this– but eventually, you’ll get into fights that actually have nothing whatsoever to do with what you’re fighting about.  Every fight is simply a proxy for a deeper issue.  In my first marriage that went off the rails, it was all about control.  She resented that I expected her to maintain a certain image and pretense.  And I resented that she didn’t understand how business worked.”

“Where was Wife #1 falling short?” Deepak asks delicately.  For whatever reason, Deepak’s apparently taken a sudden interest in the subject.

Jack waves his hand dismissively, “Ah, the details don’t really matter.  I don’t even remember them much now anyways.  But it eventually became a battle for territory.  Every bickering and conflict stemmed from a fundamental difference in values.  I was a high-ranking executive at Weibook then and we’d attend ceremonies and such.  I expected her to be there.  And so she was always deliberately absent.  I expected her to stay at home to raise our children.  And so she was always gallivanting around to pursue her own career or interests.”

I manage to keep my face neutral but I do feel like that there’s more to the story that we’re not getting.  But I don’t press.

“Being married,” Jack says contemplatively, “is not like running a company.  When you run a company, especially one your family has founded, you possess the authority to simply fire people.  Terminated, executed, goodbye.  And then you can always hire someone new for the role.  But in a marriage, you really can’t do that.  Well, not without getting divorced–“

“–which you did,” Li contributes.

“Yeah.  But that took forfeiting a third of my net worth at the time,” Jack says.  “Among other things.  Look, it’s different.  The dynamics and stakes are wholly different.  You’re talking about family– the threat and incentive model needs to be entirely different.  You can’t bully or threaten your spouse into a position.  This isn’t corporate warfare. It’s a million times harder played on a different field altogether.”

“So you’re saying no amount of hard or soft power that the Xi regime uses will persuade Urumqi?” I ask. Inside, I feel like a deflating balloon.

Jack scoffs.  “I’m saying the greater the force that Beijing exerts, the harder that Urumqi will resist.  At this point, no one cares about additional crops, new schools and libraries, renovated infrastructure, or any of the carrots that you guys have been trying to dangle in from of the Uyghurs so far.  At this point, it’s solely about pride.  The Uyghurs will die, to every last man, woman, and child, before they submit to Chinese rule.  You’re wanting to destroy their culture, after all. Their entire history as an autonomous people.”

“We’re trying to help them,” Shu says, annoyed.  I don’t often see her worked up but it’s clear that she’s grown angry.  Her normally soft features have hardened in frustration.  “They’re starving in poverty and entirely deficient in education.  Is that the world that they wish for their children?  Destitute?  Ignorant?

Jack looks at Alan and speaks something in rapid fire Chinese.  I’m clearly lost but Alan replies.  This goes on for a bit.  Throughout the entire exchange, Li’s face hardens and Shu also looks increasingly distraught.  This is one of the parts about working in a foreign country that no one ever bothers to tell you about.  That as an outsider, there are just going to be giant swathes of critical conversation you simply miss wholesale.  But you’re still expected, somehow, to deliver results.

Finally, Alan deigns to fill the rest of us in.

“Jack’s wondering if we have current fatality and mortality rates in Xinjiang– from disease, starvation, crime, accidents, etc.”

“Of course we do,” Coleman says.  “That’s all part of the standard corpus.”

“So here’s Jack’s thinking on the matter,” Alan says.  “What are the current KPIs of this project?”


NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back at the beginning of October 2020 and contribute ~500 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Five – Passage Three

“Jesus, calm down,” says Deepak, “no one here’s even remotely considering anything like that.  Besides, like Van said earlier, that sort of ‘hard-power’ move only works initially.  It only gets you so far.  Eventually, the poor slaves in the galleys will all kinda look at each other and realize that they’re being trampled upon by artificially-imposed scarcity.  And once that happens, you’re gonna get Spartacus on your hands, which ends exactly how you’d imagine.”

“What we need to watch out for,” says Katherine, “is the ten percent.”  She says this while staring intently at a donut which she’s speared with a fork off the breakfast spread.  The intensity of her gaze seems to suggest that she’s about the untangle some grand mystery of the universe.

“The ten percent?”  Coleman looks perplexed.  “Ten percent of what exactly?”

“In any given population,” Kat continues, “ninety percent of your people will be followers.  Maybe not always happy.  But they’ll be obedient.  As long as they’re ensured safety, food, and shelter, they’ll fall in line and do as they’re told.  The mass of men are not leaders.  Leading is difficult.  And annoying.  It’s a burdensome and thankless job.”

Van nods.  It’s the nod of a kindred soul whose been in the trenches.  Beside her, Coleman swivels around in his office chair, looking clueless.

“Ah.  And the other ten percent?” I ask.

“The other ten is the potential for trouble.  These are your aspiring revolutionaries, your dreamers, the wide-eyed and the eager.  People who’ll harp on about the grandeur of democracy and equality.  Young folk who grew up having never worked a single day of their lives and instead read James Baldwin and Malcolm X on Mommy and Daddy’s dime.”

Deepak nods.  “Your Gandhis and your Kings.  The Jeffersons and Adams of the world.”

“Exactly,” Van agrees.  “Without leaders, people degenerate to their native and primordial form– the common sheep.”

“Alright,” I say, “some gross and sweepingly broad generalizations notwithstanding, let’s say we run with Kat’s idea.  So what exactly?  You’re not thinking of more starvation and disappearance campaigns, I hope.”

“Tsk, tsk,” Van shakes her head.  “Honestly, you think such awful things about my nature.  On the contrary, it’s in fact the exact opposite.  We devise a system to reward the outliers and would-be changemakers.  Scholarships and job opportunities abroad.  We export them out of China.”

The moment Van describes her idea, I immediately realize there is merit in her thinking.  By appealing to the self-interest of the excellent and ambitious, it’s possible to use a carrot and simply lure them away.  No sticks necessary. It’s promising and the idea I like best so far, as it doesn’t require forced starvation or genocide.

“But how do we do that, exactly?” asks Katherine.  “Academic decathlons?  National competitions?”

“No, rewarding scholastic aptitude won’t work,” says Alan.  “In fact, many of the best test-takers and highest scorers, our data has repeatedly shown, are in fact the least capable of independent thought.  They are beneficiaries of China’s rigorous standardized testing system and destined for government sinecures and riches.  Many are from wealthy families as well who obviously possess a healthy interest in maintaining the status quo.  Almost entirely across the board, they’re the least likely to shake the boat.”

“So basically,” Coleman summarizes, “the valedictorians are sheeple and non-threats.  It’s the rebels and dropouts that we need to watch out for.”

“In a nutshell, yes.”

Jinshui Technology Park’s Cafeteria

Jinshui Technology Park’s cafeteria is a buffet-style feast for the eyes and stomach.  But first– here’s one interesting sidenote observation that I found fascinating:  When I arrived at Jinshui, I didn’t receive a visitor’s pass.  I half-expected one to be zapped to my phone just like everything else has been electronically delivered.  But nope.  Instead, I was required to swipe into the cafeteria with my American passport (which was also on my phone).  Apparently, there are only two ways to swipe into all CCP properties (universities, laboratories, government offices, hospitals, etc):  If you’re a foreigner– with your passport that’s on your phone.  If you’re a Chinese citizen:  With either your Chinese passport or Chinese National Identification Card– both of course, on your phone.  The entire system is apparently unified that way– it’s like Single Sign-On, but for real-life.  I’m probably the only person who finds this nerdy detail amazing but it genuinely impresses me.  The Chinese had finally, at long last, done it:  Achieve the dream of unified identity across all platforms and properties, both virtual and material.  Hallelujah.

Anyway, the cafeteria is an eccentric bazaar of food offerings.  While the bus ride over had been predominately dominated by a monolithically Chinese ridership, the folks in the cafeteria are considerably more diverse.  I spy white people, black people, middle eastern folk, and even a sprinkling of Japanese which surprises me.  Historically, Japan and China have had their fair share of, uh, differences.  I guess I can’t generalize when it comes to populations of entire nation states but it honestly just surprises me a bit.

After some indecision I decide to try the station that serves South Korean hotpot and eventually make my way back to Erin who waves at me from the seating area.  By the time I get to her table, I see that she’s settled on a Philly cheesesteak sub that’s oozing with melted provolone over pastrami and salami.  It’s a monster sub but she’s already halfway through it.

“If there’s one thing you Americans get right,” she says through a mouthful of submarine sandwich, “it’s sandwiches.  Bless your little American hearts and stomachs.”

“Uh huh,” I say.  “They don’t have American cheesesteaks back across the pond?”

“Oh please.  Of course we do.  But this is such an American food.  I wouldn’t be caught dead eating it back home.”

“But you seem to be enjoying it so much.”

Erin licks her fingers, finishing her sub.  “Appearances, dear, appearances.  Gotta look the part of prim and proper; can’t be eating like a barbarian from the land of the Americas.”

As I watched Erin stuff her face with Philly cheesesteak sandwich, a simple but undeniable truth finally clicks in my brain.

Journaling Every Single Day

Journaling publicly on this blog every day has been one of my favorite new habits that I’ve developed this year.  It’s truly become one of the joys of my day.  Undeniably, a big part of why I enjoy journaling so much is simply because it’s just so easy. Cranking out 400 words only takes 10-15 minutes and has the added benefit of being fun. I also usually learn or clarify something about myself that I hadn’t previously unpacked as thoroughly.

This day and age, it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling to be able to score quick and easy wins.  Knocking out low-hanging fruit on a daily basis is a real ego-booster.  And at the end of every month, I can easily pull up a “monthly summary” and see all of the thousands of words I’ve written in the past thirty days.  (Eventually, I need to code some kinda tool that’ll aggregate all of it automatically but right now it remains a manual task, alas.)

While I journaled privately for many years (in both longhand in spiralbound notebooks and also locally on my computer), one aspect of publicly journaling that I’ve really come to appreciate is that although I blog anonymously, just by virtue of the entire endeavor being public it forces on me a personal desire to ensure that my entries actually comprehensively represent what I in fact believe.

What this means, practically, is that I’ll often finish an entry, be satisfied with it in that moment, post it, but then in the back of my brain somewhere, some cognitive threads (that I don’t consciously control) will continue processing in the background and be subconsciously reviewing whatever opinion I just expressed publicly out into the world. Sure, only a few people follow this blog but I personally feel responsible to myself. So I’ll occasionally revisit an entry, usually days later, sometimes longer, and revise the piece to more accurately reflect my mental model. This’ll mean deleting content that I might have been hyperbolic about or adding material that adds additional nuance to a subject that I feel necessary. It’s fun! I think it’s good that we revise our mental models and feel a semblance of responsibility for what thoughts and views we pour out into the public sphere. To me, that’s just part and parcel to being a good citizen of humanity.

Finally, once you generate a corpus of original material that represents you, then you can start second-order analysis and organizational activities like mind maps.  From the always-excellent Paul Ford at the Postlight Podcast, I recently learned about Whimsical, a really neat diagramming tool.  Using the tool, I’ve been building an ontology of my mental space.  While some of my daily entries categorize neatly, other entries have been more challenging to organize and I’m still working through on how best to create my own personal taxonomy and schema.  One conundrum I’ve currently encountered is that there are multiple ways to slice and dice the data.  In Excel, it’s easy to build a data cube and then pivot on whatever axes you care about because the data is all clearly columned and labeled.  But since I still don’t know how best to label my own data, I haven’t figured out a good way on how best to tag my mental space and create different “custom views” for it.  Ah, understanding thyself– truly a never-ending project!


Joker was one my favorite films in 2019.  My first thought after finishing the movie was I couldn’t believe that it was directed by Todd Philips, the same guy who brought you The Hangover Trilogy and Road Trip (2000).  Actually, come to think of it, the first Hangover movie is actually an impressive work of staggering genius.  I learned from one of the Bill Simmons Rewatchables podcasts that Philips famously chose to take a smaller advance on the movie in return for a larger cut of royalties for each subsequent unit (DVDs, streaming sales) sold on the backend.  That business decision has most definitely yielded bank; Philips really hit the jackpot with that one!

Last October, I saw Joker with Talia at the theater downtown, nearly a year ago now.  It’s strange to think of last year– it just feels so long ago.  After we finished the movie, we walked around downtown for a bit and talked.  It was super nice out with orange leaves everywhere and autumn in full ascent.  Good times.  Talia felt the movie irresponsible; to her it felt like Joker was celebrating anarchy.  Gotham had degenerated into such disrepair that the rich (like Thomas and Martha Wayne) had everything while the poor and impoverished Author Flecks of the world were left with scraps.  The system had failed and the situation on the ground increasingly ominous and portentous.  Whiffs of French Revolution were in the air; no one was in the mood to eat cake.

I agreed with Talia’s read on the movie but I felt Philips was actually being responsible.  By showing us, in a fictional movie, a possible timeline of where extreme wealth inequality could lead, my take was that Philips was trying to give the world’s elite and ultrarich a “shot across the bow.”  (Conveniently packaged in an entertaining two-hour parcel, steeped in comicdom’s most iconic lore, even.)  To me though, Joker was a warning that if the wealth gap continued to widen, a bourgeois overthrow was not out of the question and not farfetched at all.

America currently finds itself in late-stage capitalism.  It’s anyone’s guess where the country goes from here but I do think this year, 2020, we’ve seen some other canaries dying in the coalmine.  Between BLM, Portland, and Seattle, take your pick.  Maybe this cries of the proletariat have always existed but I can’t help but feel they’re a tad louder this year.  Just in 2016, we were celebrating Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton— evidence, at the time, we’d finally put racism behind us!  Good lord, that feels like eons ago.

Memories – Part I

Have never seen this version but its poster is so awesome I couldn’t resist.

Jane Austen (1775–1817) is responsible for two of my fondest memories in this long life I’ve led so far. The first memory, over a decade-old at this point, is when I lived in New York. Back then, I was in my twenties, single, making good money, and didn’t have a care in the world. Life was good. When I reflect on those years, that version of me definitely feels foreign, as if he was a completely different Wobble who I wouldn’t recognize today. Heck, I don’t even know if I’d befriend that person nowadays. That Wobble was conceited as hell and had enough confidence to power a medium-sized rocket ship. 🚀🚀🚀

Anyway, I was twenty-something and totally free on the weekends with no obligations whatsoever. No girlfriend (or even friends, really), no family, nothing. So I often spent my free time on weekends just wandering alone around New York City, roaming the streets. It was a blast and totally deserves its own post that I’ll probably write one day.

That particular weekend, I found my way to the The Morgan Library Museum on Madison Ave between East 36th and 37th St. There was a collection of Jane Austen’s letters that was on special exhibit which I wanted to check out! Since I worked at the bank back then, all employees got free passes to all of the major museums in the city. So entry was free, though I do remember getting the ol’ stink eye from the woman behind the counter when I presented my bank badge for my free ticket– we were then in the throes of the financial crisis and had just gotten bailed out by American taxpayers while everyone else on Main Street was losing their homes. Zuccotti Park had become ground zero for civil unrest. Ah, the memories…

Anyhow, I happily spent that entire afternoon reading Austen’s old letters. I honestly don’t remember much about the letters now, thinking back on the memory. But in my mind’s eye, when I think back on that afternoon (and maybe I’m inventing this, I have no way of knowing) but I remember some of the letters possessing a constant undercurrent of anxiety. Austen wrote about feeling alone and uncertain if her stories were any good. And wandered aloud if anyone else would ever think anything of them. Many of the letters, especially those to her sister, Cassandra, were just pedestrian though. Mundane, everyday affairs.

I wonder if one day archaeologists/anthropologists from the future will find this blog buried on some USB stick or server rack somewhere in a mountainside. Ha, that’s funny to think about. I was about to cue up Memory #2 but see that I’ve actually reached my word count for the day! So Memory #2 will need to wait for another 26 days. Tune in next time! That one’s definitely one of my favorites. 🙂