Archive for the ‘residency’ Category

Every so often when I glance at my Facebook feed, I’m reminded at how many of my childhood friends have stayed put in the place where they’ve grown up.  And it’s not hard to see why, since the private Christian school we attended runs all the way from preschool to postgraduate. Whereas I parted ways after twelve years to go to a secular university somewhere else, most of my class–and all of my friends–opted to rollover into what I called the 13th grade. There’s a whole host of reasons why staying for college made sense for them, however, and so it’s only been after graduation where location decisions were less obvious that I’ve been surprised. Forget going ye therefore to different nations, or even states; Greenville County is home. To a lesser extent (and yes, I am just speaking in anecdotes based on my FB friends), many of my USC acquaintances have stayed in South Carolina and (perhaps most perplexingly) in Columbia, even if they’re not from the area.

A typical suburban household.

What to make of all this? At first, my quick-draw explanation was to throw in some combination of status-quo bias and path dependence. Applying the status-quo bias I imagine is straightforward enough, but path dependence less so: here I’m using it to mean that the longer one stays in one place, the more geographically-bound his social network becomes, thus also binding his options to wherever he happens to be. Plainly put, people stay in a rut because there’s nothing strong enough to pull them out, and the longer they stay in, the deeper the rut becomes.

As I was googling around on this topic, however, I also came across two related psychological effects which might also apply. The first is the appealingly-named propinquity effect, which says that closeness (in one way or another) matters a lot for attraction. Similarly, the exposure effect holds that “people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.” Perhaps then the status-quo bias is powerful because people like where they because that’s where they are.  Ain’t nothing like social science to make intuition sound complicated, is there?

How then have I managed to overcome the mighty propensities of my brethren? My city of residence has, after all, changed once every six months on average since graduating from college.  There are the Adamsian reasons, yes, but those are probably just cover for the real–but less noble and wise–motivations to signal how cool and cosmopolitan I am.  Something about this story is awry, however, because every time I move (Happy New Year!) I still feel a need to explain that I’m not cuckoo bananas.

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A House, not a Hut

I’ve been meaning to do this for months, but am just now getting around to it. Beneath see a slapdash video tour of the house in which I’ve lived for most of my near year-long Kigali stay.

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Every so often, usually after the house’s water tank has been dry for a few hours/days, the first flow from the faucet fills my bathroom sink with muddy water. The other day the mud was especially thick and of such a hue that for a moment I was sure the first of ten plagues had been visited upon my house:

Exodus 7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

The water soon cleared, thankfully, and as of yet no scores of frogs are hippity-hopping into mine bedchamber or kneading troughs.

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As far as I can tell, the standard lodging for an expat of any financial means in Kigali is much the same as mine: a room rented in a 3-4 bedroom house on a gated property with a couple housestaff. For most the living arrangement is a sharp departure from home, and ironically, it is in particular ways posher.

My living situation is a bit peculiar because I rent a room from American couple who live several hours away in southwest Rwanda where they are country directors for an NGO. The Kigali house serves, inter alia, as a traveler’s rest for any of the NGO staff who are in town. Thus, even when I’m the only tenant (as was the case for the past few weeks), the house is often not mine alone.

Much like a good conversationalist, every house in Rwanda has its idiosyncrasies, and it takes some time to figure out what they are. Overnight guests by their nature don’t know about nor have the incentive to deal with the house’s vagaries, which can be frustrating for longer lodgers like me. In an attempt to correct this problem, I blew the dust off my copy of The Transient Bible and posted a few relevant passages around the house. The text is an amalgam of the King James, Spurgeon, and a touch of The Music Man:

Insodus 4:12-14

In this house are many rooms: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a bathroom for you, at the other end of the hall.

And if I go and prepare a bathroom for you, I will use mine, and thou thine; that where I am, ye are not there.

Man’s law thou mayest break, and bear the penalty; but if thou breakest this the penalty is too heavy for thy soul to endure; it will sink thee like a mill-stone lower than the lowest hell. Take heed of this command above every other, to tremble at it and obey it, for it is “the first commandment.”

Phileakians 3:4

Thy curtain thou shalt use, lest thy tub runneth over.

Phileakians 9:12

I the LORD thy God didst cleave the fountain and the flood: I driedst up mighty rivers. Thou wilt do the same, if thou dost not take care tightly to turn off the kitchen faucet’s flow.

Loomentations 8:7

My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and have forsaken to jiggle the toilet handle, leaving the cleansing waters ceaselessly to drain and the cistern empty on a Saturday night.

Ephreesians 18:11

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert hot.

The same goeth for thy bath water: if thou desireth that thy water warmeth thy soul, as is my command, then thou shalt plug in the pump underneath the water tank outside.

If my commandment thou dost not obey, and becometh lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Many of these passages do lose their relevance if your water goes out for the weekend, he added grumpily.

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Optical Illumination

One thing I missed in Germany was my desk and comfy office chair, which served me well during the last bit of college. Now that I have them back, I am reminded of the accompanying All-Seeing Eye that shines above as I labor beneath its watchful gaze:

It never blinks...

It never blinks...

How often when writing a blog post have I slumped in my chair and lowered my lids only to be confronted by the Dijon cyclops, urging me to productivity…

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Best Analogy I Read Today

Not far from where I live, a concrete village attracts suburbanites to its trendy eateries and fine clothiers.   It is in many respects no different from the ubiquitous outdoor malls of America, though slightly more upscale and coherent. What sets it apart, however, is the attempt to make the mall a community by stacking condos on top of stores, evidently an increasingly popular ploy.

As a big fan of the mixed-use density that is a hallmark of urbanity, I’m puzzled to find myself resistant and even haughtily condescending of this American attempt. The reason why, I think, is that these “metroburbia” have the ethos of a cruise ship. There’s much to do, sure, but ultimately it is all commercial, contrived, and contained within a tiny speck surrounded by a vast expanse of nothingness.

Felix Salmon, market mover, draws a more neutral comparison:

The history of the wine market in America (bear with me here) has a central role for merlot: a relatively sweet and easily-drinkable varietal which got Americans — who had been more accustomed to beer and sweet white wine — comfortable with the idea of red wine. Nowadays, merlot has something of a bad name, but it’s still hugely popular.

I think of these mall condos as the urbanist equivalent of merlot: a gateway, if you will, to the urban lifestyle, without the tannic downside. I’m not sure they’ll ever become quite as ubiquitous as merlot. But they’re clearly part of America’s real-estate future.

Clearly part of America’s real estate future, eh? Well, a condo in a mall may be quite continental, but a loft downtown is a guy’s best friend.

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Wherever He Prospers

As I peruse the Bed Bath & Beyond catalog that appears unsolicited in my mailbox periodically, I am filled with conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, I have since my first days in a freshman dorm placed a high priority on creating a gemütlich living space, and stores like Bed Bath & Beyond are valuable resources toward that end. On the other hand, I place a high priority on mobility, and accumulating lots of stuff does not auger well with this second sensibility, especially when some of the stuff is heavy or nailed to the wall.

This conflict casts my thoughts back to Germany, where I was temporarily relieved of my desire to decorate for several reasons. First, I was on a limited income that was much better spent on other things. Second, I lived in three different places in the course of the year, so settling in seemed silly. Third, two of the three places I lived were already pretty well appointed. Fourth, I entertained few guests, so I worried little about how the condition of my various abodes reflected on me to others. And perhaps most importantly, knowing that anything I bought would either have to be sold or binned at the end of year (and carried from place to place in the interim) plucked the last petal from the decorative floral wreath of my desire.

Living for a year out of two suitcases has its limitations, but I find myself missing more and more the ability to steal quickly into the night without a trace. There is also an increasing disdain and distrust of the clutter with which I am surrounded and continue to buy. I can almost perceive roots sprouting from my desk and from my bed, digging deep, anchoring me in time and place, keeping me from making further steps.

Young people aren’t supposed to have a lot of stuff. They should be able to flow like oil to the places where they are most valued. Bed Bath & Beyond shouldn’t be able to send them marketing materials and gum everything up, keeping them from their homeland. There ought to be a law.

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