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I can't believe this blog is 20 years old

Posted on Oct 26, 2021 by Chung-hong Chan

On Friday 26-10-2001 1, a young man posted his first “diary entry” on his diaryland site. It was even before the word “blog” was entered into the popular language. It was the time when this young man was still at the university. The 9-11 was just months ago. The 156-year British rule of Hong Kong was ended a few years ago. This young man found that the ICQ status box was too short to fill in his emotions. So he registered a diaryland, put in his gibberish, and the rest is history.

You may know that this blog is the third generation: the first generation is the diaryland, the second generation is a self-hosted Wordpress, and this generation is a self-hosted Jekyll blog. Surprisingly, my diaryland site still exists after 20 years! But many of the contemporary diaryland sites and blog sites are no longer there. The rare exceptions that I can find are Jacky’s and Gabriel’s.

The first 10th anniversary of this blog in 2011 was in the Wordpress era. At that point, the popularity of blogging in Hong Kong had already been fading due to the flourishing Facebook. For me at that point in 2011, I recently got married, still worked at the hospital, and confused a lot about what I should do after two PhD application rejections. A month later I was surprised that I won a prize for my detective novel. That kicked start my secret writing career. That was my so-called “first life”.

The idea of “first life”, I have written twice in this blog in Chinese. This is the first time for me to write in English. The idea is from the novel “Wasted Land” (不毛地帶) by Toyoko Yamasaki (山崎 豊子, 1924-2013), one of my favorite authors. The main character of the novel, Iki, is a Japanese imperial army officer. He was in Manchuria when the Emperor declared Japan’s unconditional surrender after Hiroshima and Kawasaki. He was captured by the Red Army and became PoW. He was detained in Siberia for 11 years (primarily as forced labor) before returning to Japan.

Back in Japan, Iki felt that his whole “first life” was in the army, and the army was decommissioned in post-war Japan. A business conglomerate took the chance and hired him, seeing his decision-making and organization skills during the war. At that point, Iki embarked on his “second life”.

Back to me, I gambled my life and started my “second life” in 2012: First I joined the econometric research team of a very famous Uni. That proved to be a failure and I quit after only a few weeks. Then I joined the Journalism center of the HKU. And the rest, again, is history.

I won’t say my current life is my “third life” because what I am doing right now is the logical continuation of the communication research path I chose in 2012. But comparing my life in 2012 and my life right now, that’s drastically different.

Historians, in general, don’t believe in the cliodynamics’ notion of Human Cycles. Having said so, 20 years are usually enough to see the significant changes in the world. The Interwar Period (Interbellum) was quite famous for being 20 years. 20 years after the Prague Spring came the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 20-year Global War on Terror ended this year with chaos in Afghanistan. For the place I used to live, 20 odds years later I can’t even recognize it. In 2001, Coronavirus was a word existing only in advanced microbiology textbooks. After SARS, MERS, and COVID-19, the word is properly more likely to be in the news than in textbooks. In 2001, global temperate was 0.5 agree above the long-term average. Now is 1.4 and trending towards the point of no return.

I was 20 years old when this blog was started. This July I turned 40. I have “Dr” attached before my name. I can barely type Chinese now; so long for my not-so-successful writing career. The language of this blog transits from broken Chinese to ungrammatical English and sometimes worse-than-babies’ German as well. The content of this blog is changing. I was naive when I was 20. Now I have no hope in humanity whatsoever. Social media services come and go, be it Jaiku, delicious, Myspace, Google Reader, Google \/\/ave, Google Buzz, Google+, or whatever Google failed social media attempts. So do many blogging platforms. Many contemporaries of this blog vanished due to the shutdowns of Yahoo! Blog, Xanga, Hompy, and MySinaBlog.

I have said it many times: The reason for this blog staying online is due to the fact that this blog is self-host. However, putting 20 years of writing online is now a risky business. One’s old writing can also be one’s worst enemy, not least because one’s old writing can be easily weaponized. Where I used to live, social media posts or even confiscated private communication are used as evidence to prove one to be a “national security” threat. Applying the Chinese writer Lu Xun (魯迅, 1881-1936)’s satirical Bed Bug Argument (臭蟲論Tu quoque): “Westerners say there are a lot of bed bugs in China. But there are also bed bugs in the West.” (外國人說中國多臭蟲,但西洋也有臭蟲。) Sure enough, bed bugs also exist in the West: ask Lindsay Ellis in the U.S. or Sarah-Lee Heinrich in Germany. It is probably not wise to host 20 years of writing anywhere in the world. This hostile, increasingly authoritarian world encourages amnesia. It is better no to leave any trace. Instead of the 2014-esque “let’s hold the umbrella together” (一起舉傘), the frequent things to do now are “let’s disband together” (一起解散).

But still, I decided to keep running this risky business. I don’t know how many other 20 year anniversaries this blog could have. I also don’t know when the content of this blog would be weaponized against me. But I read of the old entries sometimes and I can feel how much I have changed. At the same time, I can also feel there are some values that persist inside me. Reflection is painful. We can see how the world is getting better or getting worse. As many of the people in my home country said, having good memory in such a place is a curse. Reflection is not what an amnestic world wanted. The amnestic world would be like Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)’s description of the dystopic world in 2540 AD: peaceful, soothing, feeling good but numbing. BTW, have you watched your daily dose of Insta or TikTok videos yet? They are your daily dose of Soma.

Writing more than 100 words these days is not fashionable. Keeping a blog is severely outdated. But just as old people enjoy doing things of the long-bygone era, I still believe keeping this blog is the right thing to do for myself and for the world. My wife said I show signs of getting old because I am talking like old people now. But talking about what I can do is anachronistic for a person in his 40s. That is usually reserved for young people.

If we are lucky, maybe I will see you on the 30th anniversary or whatever anniversaries of this blog in the future. On any anniversary, people usually take the chance to say thank you. That’s also an old-fashioned thing, but that’s the most meaningful thing to end this already very long article.

First and foremost, I would like to thank my mother, my father, and my four siblings for their unconditioned love; also for forgiving me for not being with them when they faced their crises. I miss all of them very much!

I would like to thank the employers who have taken a chance on me: Dr. Daniel Ng, Dr. King-wa Fu and Professor Dr. Hartmut Wessler. I would like to thank Dr Daniel Ng for believing in a fresh graduate as well as not giving me up; Dr King-wa Fu for guiding me on how to be a proper communication researcher; and Professor Dr. Hartmut Wessler for giving me a chance to work in his team in Mannheim.

I also would like to thank many of the friends either I met through this blog or other special occasions in my life:

If I have forgotten anyone, please accept my apology. I leave the last spot for the most important person in my life: my wife. I don’t think I will need to write anything here to express my gratitude to her. I am being who I am today mostly because of her. Without her I am nothing.

  1. It is perhaps interesting to note that Windows XP was released on 25-Oct-2001. It was just one day earlier than this blog. On exactly 26-Oct-2001, the US passed the USA Patriot Act. 

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