Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
I’ve always said that New Zealand is the place you’d want to be in the event of the zombie apocalypse. I just never thought I’d actually test the proposition.
I was in Belgrade when COVID-19 went global, and I had thought I’d ride out the storm there. To go anywhere else, particularly going home to distant New Zealand, seemed to present significant risk of catching the virus. In contrast, if I simply stayed in my apartment except for grocery shopping, I would have almost no exposure to anyone.
But with each passing day, more and more COVID-19 cases turned up in Serbia. The writing on the wall was fairly legible that the kind of exponential growth seen in Italy might repeat itself in the Balkans. President Vučić of Serbia seemed to agree: he declared a state of emergency last Sunday and closed the country’s borders to all non-citizens. But my landlord, affable Aleksandar, remained optimistic. A man in his forties who watched NATO fighters shoot down Serbian ones in the 1999 Kosovo War, he felt that his country was too familiar with trauma not to handle the situation with aplomb.
I had to learn how to play “chess” twice: once from my grandfather, and once from my aunt.
And the reason I had to learn it twice is that I was learning two kinds of chess: Chinese chess and Western chess. The two share a common origin, and in considering them side by side, one can glean a hint of a history of the world.
(I’ve barely started writing and have already tied myself in linguistic knots. In Eurocentric English, “Western” chess is simply “chess,” while Chinese chess must be distinguished by that ethnic descriptor. In Chinese, “Chinese chess” is called xiang qi, which can be translated as either “elephant chess” or something like “symbolic chess.” The elephant connection will become important below. Chess of the European variety is instead called “xiyang qi,” meaning “Western chess,” or “guo ji xiang qi”: “international elephant/symbolic chess.”)
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."