Monday, 26 August 2013

Changing the channel

It's not just because of the exotic surroundings that my life now is a big departure from prior experience. Before we moved out here, I worked in TV. A lot of people seem to think this must have been interesting or glamourous. Hunter S. Thompson, a man who was right about a lot of things, saw it a little differently -
"The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.
Which is more or less true. For the most part, they are dirty little animals with huge brains and no pulse."
Personally, I think he was exaggerating. But only a little. It's hard to spend a decade in an industry like that without becoming a little jaded. In recent years it had certainly become less rewarding. I was an editor. One of the people who take everything that has been filmed and attempt to piece it together into a coherent and entertaining whole. I was pretty good at it, and reasonably successful. At some point, my name has probably scrolled up your TV screen whilst you ate dinner or held a conversation, happily oblivious to the hours of toil in stuffy rooms behind the scenes. But who really cares? It's only TV, the background noise of modern life. If people knew how much money and time actually went into assembling those flickering images they pay scant attention to, they'd probably conclude it was barely worth it. Lately, this had felt more and more the case to me. Sadly, as in many other parts of life, money and expertise seem to be in much shorter supply these days, which means the quality of the raw materials I was supplied with had declined, and the time available to attempt to make something from them dwindled. A little like being asked to build a house in a hurry from substandard bricks. You can cobble them together into something, but who would want to live in it?

So when the opportunity to move abroad came along, I was happy to grasp it with both hands, despite knowing that it would mean a fundamental change in how I filled my days. My passport is currently stamped with the words 'Employment Prohibited', but even if it were not, I lack the necessary language skills and cultural background to fulfill my old role in what is a very different business here.

My wife and I knew this would be the case, and so the bargain on which our life is currently based was made. She would be the one earning the money - for her professional situation has improved greatly by coming here - whilst I would take care of everything else. Once she comes home, she should not have to lift a finger. I'll admit, this seemed like a good deal from my point of view. I'd pictured an idyllic life in which I spent a minimal amount of time doing some gentle household duties, and the rest as a kind of long-term tourist. The reality has been surprisingly hard work. There's always something else that needs doing. I have admittedly made things somewhat more difficult for myself - whilst I'm not earning, it seems only fair that I spend as little as possible, which means doing a lot of things the hard way.

I'm happy with this, though. It seems that for many expats, the shift in economic situation places them in a comfortable bubble, where others fetch everything they need and take care of the dirty jobs. As comparatively wealthy westerners, they're now above that sort of thing. That's not how I want to live. I might get a little hot and sweaty lugging the groceries home from Big C, but I enjoy being out there on the streets of my new home. I might have to get my hands dirty cleaning the apartment, but it still feels somehow less grubby than when I used them to press buttons, achieving little more than to distract people whilst they were sold things they didn't really need.

Will this be the case indefinitely? I don't know. I may return to something like my old role at some point. I may do something entirely different. Stepping into the unknown is part of the appeal. But for now, I'm content to lead a simpler life, and enjoy a period of detox from my previous existence.

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