Fasting in Beijing

Matt | Media fast | Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Yesterday was the first day of the Year of the Ox, so I decided to try something during these days off work and to go on a fast.  I’ve done this before a couple of years ago, but I thought I’d try it again.  It’s now my second day of the fast and I feel uncomfortable.  My body is aching.  My head hurts.  Just the thought of going a whole week without…, is almost too much for my mind to bear.  It’s day 2 and I don’t know if I can make it.  Even after eating my breakfast, I’m now in my weakest state.  All I want to do is pop in a movie and relax the time away, but I can’t.

I’ve decided to go on a fast.

I’ve decided to not watch any TV or DVDs for 7 days.

I’ve decided to go on a media fast

Now, this may seem easy and/or ridiculous to most of you.  For me, living in China, this is a real challenge.  Not watching TV isn’t really the problem.  The issue for me are the DVDs.  Usually if I was bored I’d pop in a movie.  Or when I was eating food, I’d watch the end of “Batman” again.  But I’ve decided to do this, to not watch TV or movies for 7 days, and to see what happens.  As this is a good amount of time to be off from work, 5 days, and since my girlfriend is busy with her family during the holidays, I thought this would be a good time to quietly reflect on my life.  So I thought a media fast would be a good idea.

Day 1 Insights

I have more than enough time to do anything I want.

I remember at many times in my life so far I’ve complained that I just didn’t have enough time, “if only I had more time,”, “I wish, but I’m so busy…”, but in reality that’s a load of crap.  When I woke up on Jan 26, 2009 and didn’t turn on the TV and didn’t put a movie in, my apartment was silent and I was afraid.  I asked myself, “So what do I want to do today?” and I didn’t have an answer.

The silence was deafening.

I went outside to get some groceries to make a bean salad later in the day.  Fortunately, during the trip a friend called asking if I wanted to go out and tour the city.  And I went and had a great time. Turning off the TV gave me more time to do things outside with friends.

Also I called two friends and spoke to them for about an hour each.  That was nice.  I don’t call my friends as often as I’d like to.  So it was great to catch up.  Not wasting time with movies gave me more time to catch up with the exciting stories of my friends’ lives: both of whom are more interesting and more odd than any character in a movie.

So day 1 was a great day.

Day 2 Insights

It’s amazing how uncomfortable I feel. I really am craving to turn on the television and to hear some noise coming out of the “boob tube”.  I truly am addicted to watching TV.  I have developed a bad habit of turning on the TV or putting in a movie when I eat.  So eating in silence or while reading a book is awkward.  I wonder how long it will take to get over this feeling of discomfort.

Like I said before I have done this previously and it was quite difficult.  That time I decided to do a stronger fast by not taking in any outside influences – no TV, no movies, no reading, no Internet (except emailing) – and that was tough.  It was a great feeling though after the week.  So we’ll see if I can do it again.

Decision Making 101

Matt | Decision Making | Saturday, January 17th, 2009

I was cleaning out some drawers and came across a sheet that I had used to help me decide if I should come to China or not back in 2004.  Looking back at this note I learned some interesting things about how I make decisions.

First, here is my original, unedited, 2004 list.


  • Get to live in another country for a year (original plan was to teach in China for one year and to decide on Teachers College after that)
  • Get to experience teaching without paying for Teachers College
  • Opportunity to travel through SE Asia (Thailand) afterwards
  • You are young with no dependents, good time to go
  • You are TESOL certified (I got certified during my not-sure stage to convince myself to do this!)
  • Have resources, friends who are doing this (I had a friend who was teaching English in Japan)
  • Great adventure to experience a new culture – a once in a lifetime experience
  • Take 1 year to step back and evaluate where you want to go in life
  • Get international experience – having China/Mandarin on any resume would look good
  • Make a big decision – a conscious choice – take control of your life


  • Far away from friends and family
  • Have to put career on hold (was working in a good corporate job back in Toronto)
  • Have to put accounting designation on hold
  • Could be dangerous in China
  • Have to store/sell a lot of material possessions
  • Never taught before might not be any good
  • Fear of failing myself, family, friends and co-workers

From dusting-off and rereading this list I was a little surprised to learn that

  1. All of my fears (cons) did not come true. Some of the big cons I solved during my “planning” stage – getting a leave of absence; volunteering to get some teaching experience before I left.  The only thing that came true in a sense was that I did have to spend time away from my friends and family, but that was okay and not as tough as I thought it might be.
  2. All or most of my pros were logical, positive and did come true.

Some other things that I learned were:

  • Writing out your problem in a logical way (pros/cons list) is a good way for me to see most of the big issues at the time.
  • Decisions are always emotional too. Often we try to wrap logic around our true desires so include your “gut feel” somewhere in your decision making process.  I really wanted to come to China at that point in my life even though I was scared.  My “gut” was telling me to go.  I’m glad I did.
  • Just do it.  After you plan it out, think about it once or twice, it’s best to act and to learn from that decision.  This is something I struggle with as I want to always make the right choice, and I will delay acting sometimes for years, to get more sure that I won’t make the wrong choice.
  • Review your list later to learn something about how you make decisions or to simply have a laugh at the things your former self was scared whitless about that now you can hardly remember why it was such a big deal.

Overall, I wish you a much easier time in making your big decisions.

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