Morally confounded, and pressured both by time and the Chinese around me, I consented, feeling like Ariel after she traded her soul to Ursula in exchange for a pair of legs. As the man predicted, out went all of the data on my hard drive, and—to my great surprise—in went a steady stream of internet, but not before he booted up a new operating system. Within a matter of minutes, I became the proud new owner of a Chinese version of Windows XP, which (given that I'm living in China) I soon learned was also pirated. It was little consolation that a man I had befriended in the store (who was also getting his computer fixed by the same guy) told me that nearly every copy of Windows XP in China is illegal. I felt like a man who spends his whole life playing by the rules only to be swindled on his death bed. Though I'd used Windows all my life, I even considered switching operating systems to Linux, first, because it would be a legitimate copy, and second, because it would be in English. But according to most language experts, one of the best ways to improve your fluency in a language is to be constantly exposed to it. My cellphone is already in Chinese, and considering that I use my computer more than any other machine in Taigu, it made sense for it to be in Chinese too.
In fact, by the time I got back home, and went about the lengthy process of copying all of the old files from my external hard drive back on to my computer, I realized that some benefits came with the process. My computer was running two and three times faster than it used to, given that much less of the memory was being used, and I got to selectively decide exactly what to install this second time around instead of hanging on to programs I no longer use. Another plus was that included with the pirated copy came a couple of Chinese programs that allow me to watch and download tons of free music and movies online. But the inevitable downside was that I had to make some changes to my choice of software—eventually seated with using OpenOffice.org and Foxit Reader over their more famous counterparts (Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader) because of copyright restrictions. For more elusive reasons, I can also no longer use my computer to write in Japanese, and navigating error messages in a foreign language has been exhausting to say the least. However, I began to realize just how useful some free knock-off software is—as I type this using Open Office Writer, there are very few (if any) sacrifices I've made in functionality since making the switch. In some cases, these versions are even lighter and more stream-lined than their bulky equivalents.
The disappointment came when just a few weeks after I finished installing and updating everything on my computer and finally felt happy with the shift, the same problem happened again. Once again, I was forced to back-up my data and contemplated making the long, roundabout journey back to Sai Ge to have it checked out. However, on a complete whim, I decided to first run over to the local electronics store near my house. Once inside, I was greeted by a couple of students who were in the business of selling computers, speakers, and other accessories, but I asked if they could first take a look at my computer just to see if they could diagnose anything that was wrong. Within minutes, a young man had booted up my computer and located the problem—something faulty with my network connections—and after two more restarts, my computer was connecting to the internet perfectly with all of my data still intact. I was appalled to think that with such a simple fix I could have spared myself the weeks-long ordeal of completely reconfiguring my computer had I just been able to find an English-speaking repairman at the onset. However, given that it is now in Chinese, it will do me well to know that in the next year-and-a-half, I will have no trouble finding people to assist me with troubleshooting new problems as they come up. That presumes, of course, that my computer will make it through its sixth and seventh years first—fingers crossed.
I never believed I had a great deal of luck. Granted, I have been fortunate to have taken advantage of many opportunities in life, but I feel that few (if any) of them—aside from my birth—were due solely to pure dumb circumstance or chance. But that's not to say I have never been graced by a stroke of good fortune. My big break came in 4th grade. My family and I went to Burger King for lunch, and I caught myself flipping through one of those colorful brochures they used to advertise to kids full of games and facts using mascots from the restaurant. The particular one I was reading was Pocahontas-themed in conjunction with the recent release of the Disney film. A contest on the back urged participants to correctly count the number of Meekos (the raccoon in the movie) on the page, and submit an answer for the chance to win the grand prize—a huge crate full of Pocahontas toys and memorabilia! By the time we got home, I had already mailed in my answer to Burger King corporate headquarters. It wasn't until months later—long after I had forgotten about the contest—that a knock on our door late one evening was greeted by a delivery man struggling to heave a giant box up three flights of stairs to our apartment. Inside was just as the contest had advertised—enough Pocahontas action figures, stuffed animals, and play bow-and-arrows to last an entire childhood. Miraculously, and against all expectations, I had won the contest. And up until a few weeks ago, despite countless attempts since, it remained the only thing I had ever won my whole life.
Being fully aware of my track record when it came to winning contests, I hardly thought twice when I entered my name into an alumni raffle for two tickets to see Stevie Wonder perform at Oberlin. It was almost like an instinctual reflex, as if my brain were telling me: you may win something for free, therefore you must apply. It hardly mattered that the concert would be held thousands of miles away or that it happened to fall smack in the middle of teaching obligations at my university. I had heard about the whole celebration last May from VP of Communications at Oberlin and my former boss Ben Jones. Even then, I was lamenting the fact that there was no way I could possibly have been able to attend. It was a concert over a year in the making, as a grand opening and dedication to Oberlin's Litoff Building. Not only will it be the new home for the Conservatory's Department of Jazz Studies, but it also intends to be the first music facility in the world to attain a gold LEED rating. In addition to a concert performed by Stevie Wonder (along with members of the Oberlin faculty and student body), Bill Cosby and his wife would also be on campus to give a talk the day before. Never before had I more strongly wished that I was still a student at Oberlin and had the opportunity to attend the ceremony.
But just like my 4th grade-self, after a few weeks the contest had all but slipped my mind. So you can imagine my surprise when I received this message in my inbox:
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have won two tickets to "An Evening with Bill Cosby" at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, April 30 and two tickets to the Litoff Building Celebration Jazz Concert featuring Oberlin's alumni, faculty, students and Stevie Wonder on Saturday, May 1. Both events will take place in Finney Chapel in Oberlin, OH.
Please acknowledge receipt of this message and confirm your availability to attend the events in Oberlin on April 30 and May 1 by sending an email message to email@example.com with “Litoff Tickets” in the subject line by midnight PDT on Sunday, April 4. Tickets are non-transferable and will be distributed on campus prior to the events that weekend. Tickets for both events are in high demand; if you will not be able to attend the events, let us know so we can offer the tickets to another alumnus/a.
I look forward to welcoming you back for this exciting celebration!
The initial rush of excitement was soon followed up with feelings of regret. By the time I started realistically thinking about the trip and charting out logistics, in the end, I decided I couldn't go. It was a combination of a few factors. The first was the cost—over $1200 round-trip, not including all of my expenses once in Oberlin, including lodging and food (though I'm pretty sure I could have managed to stay with someone or another and mooched food from my dear old co-op). The second was that since I'm planning to return to the states this summer for a couple of weeks in July, it didn't make sense to fly all the way to America, just to finish my semester in China, and then fly back to America a month-and-a-half later. The third was the potential backlash from family and friends in New York. Here, I am, gone for nine months already in a foreign country, and the first time I make a trip back to America, it's not to see them, but to see Stevie Wonder. I felt that there was little I could have done to cover my tracks on that one. Lastly, was the prospect of reverse culture shock once I returned to Oberlin that would have made it difficult to go back to China. Being in Oberlin in the spring would have been magical—perhaps, too much so—such that I may have regretted not spending another year there with underclassmen friends (including my then-girlfriend) and putting my life on a completely different trajectory.
Back before I even left Oberlin, I had promised the class of 2010 that I would come back for their Commencement in May. That was of course before I discovered that the school year here in Taigu doesn't end until June 30th, making that something of an impossibility. Thus, an excuse to go to Oberlin in May (though admittedly not for Commencement) would have been the perfect alibi for canceling a week's worth of classes, as well as a great opportunity to have seen old friends and familiar places again, at a time when spirits were high and the pressure of finals had not fully sunk in. Needless to say, I'm extremely disappointed that I won't have another chance to see those friends before they, like my own class almost one year ago now, inevitably disperse to places of residence all over the country and the globe. Of course, I also regret not being able to attend what is sure to be an amazing concert with a larger-than-life celebrity too. For those who are curious, here is some information from the Oberlin website on the week's events and how the whole ceremony turned out. And for the lucky alum who got the tickets I couldn't use: you're welcome.