I Give It a Year

i-give-it-a-year-poster09We watched their movie the other night and it reminded me of a few things and started me thinking about relationships and how and why they last (or don’t). In the movie, the couple get married after 6 months and at the wedding, the groom’s sister whispers to her husband, I give it (the marriage) a year. It seems a harsh, hard statement to make and cynical at the time but with a high divorce rate approaching 50% it’s not unreasonable. A greater statistics can be used for non-martial relationships. We’ve all had exs! But the facts are more revealing.

The movie set the couple up to fail. They have different approaches to problems. She sings lyrics and gets them wrong much to his annoyance. He empties the bin when it’s completely full rather when needed. She goes to parties to network. He likes to party. She has limits. He doesn’t know when to stop. He is charming but hopeless at times. She is organised but stuck-up.

It reminded me of when I found myself talking to a Japanese marriage counsellor once. Not for any personal reasons, but we simply found ourselves chatting in a café. She informed me there were two main times in life when people get divorced in Japan; either after a year when they see it isn’t working or once the kids have left home and the wife can finally say she has no use for the husband. In the first instance, the marriage is often forgotten and never mentioned when the members get remarried. Being a divorcee is worse than being unhappily married for some. In the second case, the man receives the shock of finding out his wife simply tolerated him and possibly can’t stand him. In both cases, they can walk away from each other. There main responsibilities, notably the kids have moved on themselves and probably wish to see their parents happy.

In relationships, we are quicker to cut our losses. It’s no shame for a relationship to end especially if it simply isn’t working. There are plenty more fish in the sea. How it ends is the key to moving on easily. Relationships are work and the idea you just get along is bullshit. People have different understanding of the same situation and being flexible and non-judgemental is the key to making it work. Constructive advice when something isn’t to your liking is more effective and efficient than criticism. On most issues there are different ways to look at it. If you want to make it work, you have to understand where each of you is coming from.

divorce460The divorce rate across the world from the West to the Arab world to the Far-East is probably the result of two factors. The pressure from society to gain social or religious consent leads to many forced marriages but in these areas of the world the divorce rate was lower. Marriage was a form of economic security sacrificing happiness.  This is now less the case, raising the divorce rate because of the second factor. The more modern ideal of giving yourself a happy life clashes with the first. We live in an era of individualism driven by economics and liberty where we all have access to information, are informed we have our own power, our opinions are important and must seek utility through wealth and Benthamian happiness. We are utility maximisers and masters of our own domain. Our happiness is paramount.

Now the divorce laws have liberalised, women have their own economic power and together with men, they seek happiness, together or not. This also explains marrying later. Further pressure comes from a selfishness linked to individualism which shortened our tolerance to a temporary compromise to our maximum utility. We want it now, all of it when a little compromise is often all it took. The median age of divorce is in their early 40s for men and women after around a decade of marriage.

I’ve often be accused of moving on too quickly but trying to make it work is sometimes just not compatible with everything else I wish to do. I get frustrated when I am unable to read, exercise, write, slob around, watch football, in essence criticised for being myself. I’ve got to this age fairly smoothly by doing what suits me and making the right compromises at the right time. It’s been bumpy but I’ve enjoyed it. However relationships are perfect for us. They just don’t work perfectly. You’ve just got to give it time. Yet we need and strive for them naturally. The shy and the arrogant are both lonely. You have got to move to the middle, again the compromise.

So here is the spoiler alert for the movie. Of course it was never going to work but unlike American movies and, to ruin the film for you, they happily break up but hugging and thanking each other for ‘agreeing to divorce.’ That’s fine in this instance. It made sense for the film and gave it something unique to tell the audience. However in ‘real life, neither in this film or Friends, let’s just try a little harder. Modern divorce rates are the result of liberty and often that is a very good idea. No one wishes to be stuck in an unhappy marriage. The liberty to be who we want to be can clash with the compromises necessary for a successful relationship. It also lend to arrogance, the idea that we are all so special others are simply a burden. But they don’t have to if we treat it all as a synergetic compromise. Try to allow each of you to be the best you can be and be as happy as you can be.

So, sorry for ruining it for you. However it’s still very worth watching. It has some seriously funny moments.



2014 Resolutions Revisited

Back in January this year I wrote up these resolutions. Well before I reveal the new set, how have I done with this year’s list.

1. Think better and more patiently – I will finally do this. – I think so, a little

2. Get back to Indonesia for a visit to Raju Ampat and the Banda Islands – slight long shot regarding the islands but Indonesia is very possible. – I’ll get there in 2015 for sure. 

3. Read, read, read – last year was so poor in quantity and quality. – much improved year. 

4. Continue Spanish/Russian- long-term projects but getting there – Spanish has improved. Russian alas no. 

5. Take Japanese government exams – I’ve said it before but this is the year! – ahh damn it. 2015….?

6. Life Mojo – I tend to burn long and bright and then burn out until I can renew myself. 2001, 2005 and 2008 were the last renewals. This run has lasted a long time. It’s been great but I am getting low now. Time for a change 🙂 – yes I have got it back. Been a very good year. 

7. Visit Norway/Iran/Moscow/Switzerland – It’s time! (and Belgrade for the wedding of the year!) – 2/4 isn’t bad (Norway and Moscow) plus a whole host of other places. 

8. Finish 10k in under 50mins – That will be the time – done. 48 minutes to be exact. 

9. Leiden University – time to return to study, specialising in Indonesia. – I was accepted but instead taken my job in Singapore. 

10. Who is ?? – I’ll let you know – Ohh yes, this one…. 😀


Neil Warnock was fired this week, the first Premier League casualty of the season, if you ignore Roy Keane’s departure at Villa. His team’s relegation was assured with him as boss. Warnock has one of the curious records. He is able to galvanise losing teams for a period in the Premier League or for long enough in the championship to achieve promotion but he is never able to sustain or build on it. Either his energy is sapped, his creativity runs out or his words fail to motivate better players or should I say, better paid players. He reminds me of an older Mick McCarthy, a manager I can’t help but respect, no matter what Roy Keane thinks.

So it’s halfway through the season and the table has taken a clear shape. The teams you expect to be at the top are there and those at the bottom are fairly predictable. Mid-table looks like mid-table. Bar Southampton and West Ham’s showings, most is as expected.

I’ll start bottom. What can i say? QPR are improving on the back of Charlie Austin’s form. Crystal Palace are paying for losing Tony Pulis while Burnley have impressed under Dyche, a guy I like but they won’t likely survive. Leicester are keen but done. Hull struggled after their Europa expectations were dashed but will be fine. The same could be said for Villa who have plenty of decent players in Vlaar, Guzman, Beneteke, Agbonlahor and Delph. Lambert has been hobbled by his assistant managers from last season and Keane this season. However despite looking like a highly stressed man, I rate him as a manager. I rate Poyet too but Sunderland are pretty poor and will continue to inhabit the lower reaches of the division. Alan Irvine of West Brom will get fired soon too.

Mid-table extends all the way to about 6th by the end of the season. Spurs are improving but may be have more realistic ideas this season. Swansea, Stoke, Newcastle will remain in the mix for 10th place. Everton ave been erratic but have quality throughout. Europa has done them too. Liverpool’s problems are more complex and varied. Firstly they overachieved last season. Their defence was never strong enough and hasn’t improved this season. But the goals have dried up sapping the confidence in the team. Gerrard is ageing. Henderson is a confidence player. Coutinho needs to start more. Balotelli was always a risk. Just look at how many clubs he has had already. Sturridge’s injuries takes deadly finishing out of the team. But mostly the Rodgers and the board bought too many squad players because they misunderstood their strength. They bought to compete in the Premier League and Europe. But they’ve yet to consolidate their top four status and won’t make it this year.

Outside of the top two, Southampton and West Ham could hang on for a Europa spot, crippling them next season. I rate Koeman and a lot of his buys especially Pelle. The other two teams to talk about are Arsenal and Manchester United. In truth, there is little to say about Arsenal that hasn’t been stated before. The same weaknesses exist at centre back and central midfield and Wenger seems incapable of spotting it. What Steve Bould adds to the defence is beyond me. Manchester United have such firepower they will always score. Add some steel in the middle and at the back, and they aren’t far from a class outfit.

At the top, it’s a battle between Chelsea and Manchester City. City have done well considering their injuries to key players in Kompany who for me isn’t as great as rated (similar to Hart) but then its difficult to look secure when you have Demichelas or Mangala alongside you. Aguero is the best centre forward in the world and they have no chance in Europe without him. The league is still Mourinho’s to lose. They have the best squad. They look the most ready. Costa was an excellent buy. Hazard is playing well and Terry is a rock. It’s Chelsea’s to win.


Order: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs and Southampton
Relegated: Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leicester (in no order)


It’s another year I am struggling to recall in all detail, not due to blurred memories but simply the volume of them. The year started in Qatar enjoying my last few months, taking a trip down memory lane to Japan and Korea, leaving Qatar to Russia, Serbia and the Balkans, back to England with a 10 day trip to Holland and Germany to finally see some cities like Dresden I’ve always wanted to see. I spent 10 weeks at Oxford over the summer and the autumn in Romania with side trips to Copenhagen and Oslo Florence and Pisa. Not bad.

I had my place at Leiden University but had to turn it down for Singapore. I feel I’ve achieved much this year. Relationships have solidified. I met some faces I haven’t seen for a decade or more. I ran courses at Oxford and I even started driving again. It’s been a contenting year.

Next year will begin in Singapore for work with wedding trips planned to Chiang Mai, Jakarta and Bangkok. And if you don’t know, we’re doing it together. Let’s see how much we can do 🙂

Newcomer of the Year – Katya, Dave Kennedy, Jerome

My Christ Its Been a Long Time – Marsha in Haarlem (since 2008). Jen in Florence (since 2005), Liz (2003), Scott, Yumi and Ponchan (2002) in Japan, Dan (2008) and Nev (2005) in Korea, Trish (2007)

Meal of the Year – Russian Borsch in St Petersburg

What the hell happened last night – Oli coming to visit Oxford, drinking in Seoul with Nev and Dan again

Sights of the Year – St Peterburg, Nuremburg, being back in Kyoto

Random Moment Award – watching Germany vs Ghana in Dresden with three Canadians who didn’t understand anything, a drunk German football team and a Japanese guy.

Cultural Event of the Year – Jan and Jelena’s wedding, Edward Scissorhands ballet

Sports event of the Year – Netherlands 5 Spain 1 at Jeroen’s BBQ in Holland. Germany beating Brazil

Film of the Year – Nightcrawler, Her

Musical moment of the Year – Jazz singers in Kyoto

Album of the Year – Spoon, Ex Hex, Todd Terje

Book of the Year – Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Bar of the Year –  That bar I met Jan in in Belgrade

Scariest moment of the Year – driving a speedboat at ridiculous speeds in Qatar

Big Balls Moment – immigration in Japan. I had no idea if they would let me in.

Person of the Year

Honourable Mentions- Alex in Olso, Liz and Mayu in Japan, Dan in Seoul, my sister for Christmas

Would I do it all again? – of course

Korean Nuts

rs_560x415-141216122505-1024.Korean-Air-Macadamia-Nuts-121614You’ve all heard the story. The executive head of Korean Air service quality Cho Hyun-Ah was on a jet flying back from the US to Korea when she became upset at how the nuts were served in First Class where she was seated. No only upset, but she forced the chief flight attendant to bow down on the floor in apology and the captain to turn the jet around while it was taxi-ing for take-off to turf the flight attendant off the plane. His crime was to serve the nuts in the packet rather than in a dish.

As it turned out, it was the executive who had committed the crime. By returning the plane to the terminal, Korean Air had broken aviation law and were duly fined. The captain also seemed to forget he was in charge of the plane and not a passenger. The flight attendant seemed to forget where his dignity was and mostly the executive forgot where her humanity and considered behaviour was located. But that is hardly surprising once you learn a bit more about her.

For she was the daughter of the head of Korean Air which of course tells you how she got such a job. Korean Air is also owned by a huge conglomerate owned and run by one of the prominent families in Korea, known as the chaebols. It is these elite families who control much of Korean industry and wealth and usually benefitted from very cosy relationships with the former dictator Park Chun-Hee. He protected these companies economically and they became entrenched in the country running everything from industry to services. The famous Korean companies you know, Samsung, Hyundai and Kia etc were all granted privileged positions in return for kick backs.

Cho Yang-ho, chairman of Korean Air Lines speaks to the media at company's headquarter in SeoulKoreans have reacted two ways to this story. They have either laughed at the ridiculousness and with embarrassment or they have sought to think deeper about the role of privilege in Korea and the deference granted to such families. These positions are not in line with Korea’s modern, democratic outlook but with older, deeper cultural values.

The other part of the story I was to highlight is apology made by the President and his daughter after the event. These took place separately, a day apart. Firstly the father and President of the company came out in front of dozens of cameramen and journalist and made a short, prepared apology saying he had failed to raise his daughter correctly. His apology was to the nation, for Koreans traditionally believe in a form of brotherhood. This again is a throw back to the past. Present Korean are very individualistic and somewhat selfish.

Cho-Hyun-ah_3136202bThe next day the daughter mumbled an apology, with hair across her ashen faced, bowed and then quickly retreated. The idea of shame is very powerful in Korea and Koreans are quite emotional people. It is common to see Koreans crying in the street or girlfriends wailing after boyfriends or boyfriends stood there in stunned silence when they get dropped. Cho was deemed to have shamed the company, family and country with her outburst. She lost her job and was removed from all posts within the company.

The contriteness of the apology is what is most important. Making a comeback from such an apology is unthinkable right now especially within a high-profile company.  The ritualised public, performance of apology is deeply-humiliating and psychologically lasting. But she will be never thrown out the set. This familial connection and closeness is why in North Korea, when one member of the family is sent to prison camp, they send three generations too. Whole families are raised in these camps.

Korean media like a bit of gossip but it is mostly aimed at music and movie stars. It is usually trivial involving an affair or a bit of plastic surgery here and there. The elite families generally have their own way. It helps when you control some of the media of course but maybe not deeper questions can be publicly asked. Why did the spoilt brat of a chaebol family think she could get away with such petulant (and unprofessional) behaviour? Why did she take the nut insult with such insolence? How did she even have the role at her age? Why did the captain whither in the face of this woman and not understand his primary role?

Check Mate?

A friend recently said ‘despite having amazing chess players, Russia seldom can think more than a moves ahead.’

280x425Nice sounding analogy but in reality very few long-term geo-political policies work out. There are simply too many variables (actors, lack of information, random events). No one predicted the Wall would fall when it did. Many (including me) have predicted north Korea will collapse and it hasn’t. No one saw IS arriving and no one foresaw 9/11 and the consequences of that. Fukuyama’s repeat of Hegel’s End of History thesis proved equally myopic.

The idea of control is elusive and explains why Iraq fucked up because not only did the US not really a plan, it didn’t understand the region. This critique also extends to journalist who admire power (mostly right wingers or capitalist for obvious reasons). Forbes named Putin the most powerful man in the world in only May 2014.

However Russia is complex, far more so than the US in terms of the opaque nature of power, the coalitions that have to be made, the fact that almost no serious business makes an official profit but still makes an unofficial profit, the sheer breadth of the nation and the organisation it takes to run a country which is inefficient and constantly relies on soft and hard power inside the country to get anything done. Only China and India have greater complexity.

On this issue, the lack of diversity in the economy, the lack of bankable profit, the inefficiency of the state and its people, coupled with the difficulty getting standard investment due to instability, US & EU sanctions and a basic lack of trust of the state coupled with the crippling drop in oil prices by Saudi to primarily cripple Iran is royally fucking the state and as the state is the economy, the people.

Putin is in a tough position. He controls the media and it’s been very light on the crisis so far. However, news is out and it’s not long until panic begins to creep in. A run on the banks would be disastrous. Usually the West would be blamed and Putin is still popular enough to get away with it. But in the depths of winter, Russians are cynical enough. Right now the rouble will continue to sink. No traders are touching the rouble and Russians are hoarding dollars and trying to shift their money out of the country. In a country where serious wealth is controlled by only a few hundred people, this is ruinous for the rest.

What happens next? 1. Putin negotiates. 2. gets aggressive or 3. the state, meaning Putin, collapses. If its option 1, he will be playing for time. If its option 2, it gets scary but the West will have to face him down. If its option 3, in the long-term, that the best option but in reality, with the oligarchic power and so little political, civil society, it may simply be a shuffling of power rather than any fundamental changes.

Black Hearted Friday

Last week was St Nicholas’ Day here in Romania where you wake up to find chocolate and fruit in your shoes. It was cute. It turns out in my shoes St Nicholas knows what chocolates Olivia enjoys! It’s a tradition for kids but charming for all.

black-friday-2In the shops alongside the chocolates were signs for Black Friday, the horrible American sales day. America produces plenty of great products and ideas. Its scientific research is so far ahead of the rest of the world as a collective. It invests money and education which while often the basis of the capitalist creative destruction is also the driving force of our human survival, curing disease and furthering modernity.

Black Friday comes the day after Thanksgiving, the American tradition of family gathering to be thankful for what they have, originally to the Native Indians who helped the first immigrants survive the early winters. Later of course as noted in the Trail of Tears by Gloria Jahoda, the new immigrants would use God and greed to turn on the Indians, cordoning off land, pushing them further West and starving them of their foods. Yet Thanksgiving continues ironically, just without the Indians.  Families gather, eat copious amounts of food and hand over gifts.

Black Friday shows a return to that greed and similarly it’s fundamental to the nation and economy. The images on the news focus on the stampede at opening time, the wrestling for electronics, (you don’t see many fights in the book department) or the stubborn refusal for some to give up on a good claimed by someone else.  It’s seen as a bit of fun by many (we all like fun wrestling) but often tempers get frayed as people aggressively grab at what they think they need. Customers forget what Thanksgiving is about, being thankful for what you have, as quickly as they forgot the Indians.

Thanksgiving sounds pretty similar to Christmas doesn’t it? Well it is except for the traditions behind it have a European source. Similarly after Christmas come the sales where shops reveal how they make real money. Profit margins are reduced as prices are cut but shops make money on volume, selling far more than usual. This reveals how cheaper supermarkets survive and eventually do well. It explains the size of product bundles in Wal-Mart and that stores’ success. It also explains why Tesco is struggling and Aldi is prospering. It explains why Japanese firms previously succeeded by focusing on market size and stability over short-term raider shareholders. If you provide a decent product for a cheap price, people will buy. Once you start forgetting your basics and the dynamism needed to create, destruction is the end result.

This greed fermented by consumerism and materialism is manifest in our culture these days. This short-termism can be seen in the banking crisis, the vulture capital funds that seek to asset strip or create short term profitability, taking no responsibility for the lives of others. Selfishness is a human characteristic but community is a natural state. The problem is we often believe in our community over others. Selfishness leads to societies battling depression, abuse and greed. It strips us of our stability and humanity. Black Friday is a horrible example of community being hijacked by retailing, downgrading our humanity. Thanksgiving and Christmas might be flawed but they are looking in the right direction.