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My aimless life, McDonald’s, and the law of scarcity

August 24, 2010

Economists talk about scarcity a lot: if something is scarce and desirable, like a diamond, it is worth much more than something abundant, like milk. It makes sense. Granted, it way oversimplifies the way people actually behave and value things, but sometimes it explains phenomenon very well, like the current state of my confusing life when everything once stable is in flux.

Free time is something that has, for the past 8 years, been very scarce in my life. I kept very busy. Two week breaks were exquisite havens of nothing, time to relax, clear my mind, enjoy some good entertainment.

But, after a week and a half in Shanghai with an almost empty schedule, free time is no longer precious to me. In fact, I am so not used to it that it’s causing me stress. I’m stressed out because I’m so unproductive.

I can’t take it! I need an aim! I need a goal! I’m so damn goal-oriented.

There are certainly things I could be doing to feel productive. I could clean the apartment. I could buy supplies so that I can cook. I could be more actively job searching. I could try joining some online communities or organizations in Shanghai to try to make friends.

So far I’ve chosen laziness, TV, video games, and strolling around my neighborhood.

What about a job, or school? you may be thinking. Well, for the past week, I’ve been trying to make up mind about whether to take my scholarship at Jiaotong University to study Mandarin (and a one year student visa – so nice and easy), or to try to find a job. I think I’ve finally decided to find a job.

Probably the biggest reason for this decision is the aimlessness I feel. Studying Chinese full-throttle for one summer was certainly engaging and gave me a clear goal: get comfortable with the language everyone speaks in the country where you’ll be living. I’m pretty functional now. Head and shoulders above most expats here.

But another year? What’s the point? It would be so easy, yes, but I think I would get bored. Restless. I hate feeling aimless. It eats away at me. Plus, I’m so eager to get out of the classroom and into the work world. I can always go back to school later, when I miss it. When time for learning becomes scarce again in my life.

So I’m going for the job. I have an interview tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted, of course.

But free time isn’t the only thing making me reflect about scarcity. So are many emblems of American life, once abundant in my life, now scarce, that have taken on new value for me.

McDonald’s, with it’s golden arches, reliable burgers, delicious french fries (best ever, I still maintain) and refreshing McFlurries is a symbol of America, whether you like it or not. As a propenent of healthy eating, I used to detest McDonalds and curse it’s perfect fries. But now? Walking into a McDonalds is like going home.

It’s tough to find affordable, well-made American staples like pizza and sandwiches. Not too tough of course – this is Shanghai, you can find anything here – but when you’ve eaten at noodle bar after noodle bar and had your fill of rice, it’s amazing to find even a decent panini and salad at a cafe. Ah, home!

Also, the supermarket: trips to the supermarket are ridiculous. I laugh at myself, but the sight of a wheel of Brie cheese gives me goosebumps. Breakfast cereal, frozen enchiladas, and Rice-a-Roni cause me to jump up and down with excitment. Kraft macaroni and cheese? Yes please! I don’t care if it costs 60 kuai because it’s imported!

…Well, that’s not true. I do care. Money is also scarce now for me, as I have no job at the moment, and so 60 yuan is a lot. I can’t fling money around at all. No more Visa from my parent’s bank account for “necessary expenses” (partially because I lost that visa with my backpack…), and no more impulse purchases. Rick and I are saving every receipt, and I fear what the month’s tally will be.

But, you know, as I sacrifice these American comforts, it makes them all the more special when I finally do indulge.

I need to get a damn job so my free time and laziness doesn’t make me go crazy. Until then… I can always practice my Chinese, right? Need to get a routine going, now that I won’t be going to school… wow. Crazy.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 8:19 am

    Good choice on opting for the job. You ARE in China after all. You can learn as you go along. Find a language partner or something along those lines and you’ll be learning Chinese pretty quick, without University.
    Get some flashcards, like Anki (google it) too.

    Good luck on the interview!

  2. August 24, 2010 6:11 pm

    You may not be able to fling money around anymore, but you can always fling around poop. Never forget that.
    You can also skype with your sister, who is equally bored in her week of “silencio por favor”.

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