Black Hole for Smart Slackers

Kaiser Kuo posted an article about Beijing last month, entitled Peking Purgatory, Is Beijing a Black Hole For Smart Slackers?

While the article is about Beijing, this paragraph definitely reminded me of some of the things I’ve also felt about Shanghai:

> Beijing, after all, has much going for it in these heady days. Possibilities abound. Opportunity knocks. There’s a buzz here, a palpable energy. It’s a city with edge, full of quirky characters doing interesting things. Change is the one all-pervasive constant. The Beijing zeitgeist is a shape-shifting polymorph, the city a suitable setting for self-reinvention. It’s impossibly big and yet it offers the intimate charms of a small town – that sense of community that many of us found missing back home.

Those that have taken root in Beijing probably might be forgiven for assuming that this feeling is not to be had in Shanghai. I’d say the main difference is that Shanghai is not “impossibly big.” Part of its charm is that the “downtown” city area (obviously, Pudong is not included) is actually relatively small.

But “black hole for smart slackers…” aptly put.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Slacker or no slacker, I still think BOKANE is a national treasure…. Though which Nation I’m not so sure 😛

    A couple weeks back I went to (for work) something called Green Drinks, an event for professionals in Environmental technology, etc. They get together and watch documentaries, drink and hangout (slackers :P).

    That said, it was a room full of very bright, interesting, cool people ( a very even mix of laowai and chinese). I was super impressed with the people there. Maybe the charm of Shanghai, as cheesy as it sounds, is that sometimes, just sometimes, mixing Chinese and Western cultures isn’t a Gongshow, and turns out to be greater than the sum of the parts. The movie wasn’t about pollution in the West, but pollution in China. How refreshing to see a huge group of people genuinely interested in the development and improvement of a nation not of their own. They seemingly had little to benefit from the development of China, or the improvement/preservation of China’s natural resources, but for their own plans to remain in China for a very long time. These aren’t passersby, or ‘tourists’ as is often the label slapped on Foreigners in Shanghai, but future 中国通s who genuinely want to be here for a long time.

    Now that’s refreshing.

    • Heh, reading Kaiser’s article, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of it was Brendan-inspired.

      Not sure if it’s fair to call him a slacker, though… He’s hard-working and dedicated, but he just has “alternative values.”

      (Let’s see what he says!)

  2. If only! Back in the Good Old Days, Beijing was an idler’s paradise — cheap rents, easy visas, streets paved with gold. Not anymore — many have left; many more are thinking about it. There’s still a vibe to the city, but not nearly as much opportunity as there used to be, and not quite so many quirky characters either. Or maybe I just need a vacation to recharge my psychic batteries for a bit.

    Also, I’m insulted. Never, ever, not even in my darkest moments, have I ever considered writing a screenplay or a novel.

  3. Agreed, Bokane is a national treasure, inasmuch as someone can belong to a “nation” when they’re a dual citizen and a resident of a third country 😉

    Now to have someone (not Brendan) write a screenplay so that we can have Nick Cage rushing around Beijing in the latest of the National Treasure series…

  4. It’s such an entertaining and well written article! I’ve read it a bunch of times now. I do kind of think the author might have been suffering from a mild case of Marco Polo Syndrome at the time though (if that’s possible).

    On the language teacher angle, I think almost the entire staff of any Confucius Institute here in Australia (and probably everywhere else) would fit the bill of people “whose only qualification is native fluency in the Language”. The cynical might even say it’s the curse of any humanities major (regardless of nationality)…

  5. 尚德Nathan Says: December 5, 2011 at 2:17 am

    Slackers… way to alienate your target audience. There’s lot’s of bashing on the Beijinger, I don’t see it as constructive criticism. Of course there are slackers, there are slackers everywhere. Obviously I’m missing something. Of course people leave, for multiple reasons, not just because they cannot hack it. They leave because they are sick of prejudice from the Chinese, or they cannot afford the high cost of housing, or are tired of living in a third world country, or tired of being repressed. I can relate to that. I suppose it might be a black hole, because after a while the black hole spits you back out again, and you go somewhere else. It’s a phase. Stop bashing your own people. He talks like people in Beijing are hippies – but everyone in Beijing either works or studies. Foreigners are often misunderstood by Chinese so I think that it’s a shame that they are misunderstood by that guy. You think people working at McDonalds in the US are on the road to success? Obviously not, so I would rather be working some stupid dead-end job in China than in the US. And let’s face it, it takes more to hack it in China than in the US.

Leave a Reply