Saturday, March 14, 2015

Grass Eating (啃老族)

Shawn Chuang’s name was Shawn Chuang, but everyone called him Steve Chuang. He lived with his mother in a large flat above a bowling alley in the Shih Lin district of Taipei. The flat was large and the sofa in the flat was large and Shawn Chuang spent a lot of time on the sofa.

Though Shawn had been out of university for two years, he still hadn’t found gainful employment.

Shawn’s mother nagged him daily to find a job, any job. It wasn’t that Shawn hadn’t tried. In the two years since graduating, he had applied at three different companies for jobs. But finding work was basically impossible.

It hadn’t always been like this. As a kid Shawn had shown great signs of intelligence. Sooner than other kids, he yawned, he ate, he daydreamed. He could turn on devices with his fingers.

And Shawn was braver than other kids. He launched a rocket under his bed. He fired a cannonball at his navel. He swallowed gum--at a time when other kids still believed their mothers who said gum must be spat out. He combed a stray dog’s fur with his own comb. He put a cockroach in his shirt in math class. And left it there.

The girls admired Shawn for this bravery, showing their admiration by saying “Gross!”

In all these ways Shawn showed great promise as a child. It looked as if he would have a brilliant future. But now what?

Shawn lay on the large sofa in the large flat and considered his prospects. His major had been chemical engineering, but what could one do with that?

Just the day before Shawn had seen a TV show about Taipei young people who had learned to turn their hobbies into small businesses. The lesson of the show was “Do what you love, and you will be successful!” The host suggested the first thing for a young person to do was make a list of things they loved doing, then consider which one might be turned to profit.

Shawn took a piece of scrap paper from the coffee table and started to write his list. After fifteen minutes he had a handful of items to consider. He went through the list one by one.

Item 1: “Getting up after 11.”

It would be great, Shawn thought, but I don’t see a way to make money from getting up after 11:00 a.m. Too bad.

He crossed out item 1 on his list.

Item 2: “Putting feet up on the coffee table.”

It was true Shawn loved doing this, and he could get away with it when his mother was out, but he couldn’t see any way to make money from it. Could he maybe charge old people to help them put their feet up on their coffee tables?

He didn’t cross out number 2, but kept it open for further thought.

Item 3: “Scratch back on door frame.”

After graduating from university, Shawn discovered a great way to scratch his back on the door frame between his bedroom and the hallway. Could he maybe teach other people to scratch their backs this way? He could go to houses and say: “Hey, I know a secret way to scratch your back that is awesome, and if you pay me 250NT I will teach you.”

At first Shawn liked the idea. But then: Not everybody has itchy backs, he thought. And what if their door frames aren’t good for scratching?

He scratched out item 3.

Item 4: “Computer games.”

He crossed out item 4. If you want to make money from games, you have to be a game designer, and he didn’t know how to use the software.

Without even thinking about items 5 and 6, Shawn tossed his list on the floor.

If I could only make money somehow without leaving the house, that would be the best, he thought. Or if I could make money by staying in the neighborhood. I have to think of something I can do right near here.

Shawn considered it a great rule of life not to leave the house if he could avoid it and not to use any kind of transportation to go to other parts of the city. It had already been three months since he’d left the city block where his mother’s flat was.

Hm. There was that one time Mom bent that fork and I used my teeth to bend it back. Maybe I could open a small silverware repair shop and do pretty well for myself. Shawn’s Silverware Rebend. Maybe I could start to put some money aside.

Or how about hide and seek? Everyone likes hide and seek. If people gave me their things before they went to work I could hide the stuff in the neighborhood during the day and when they came home they could try to find it. I could charge 50NT for every fifteen minutes of seeking, which would be fun for the people after a boring day at the office and would besides encourage them to move faster, getting some exercise, because they'd know the longer it took to find their stuff the more expensive the game would be. I bet I could turn a pretty penny with the city’s first Hide and Seek company.

Or I could help the police with crime investigation by working with hair evidence. Whenever there's a bunch of hair on the ground or the stairs I can always tell which hairs come from which persons. Just by holding them up in the light. The police could call me in to help solve crimes.

Shawn imagined a scene in a crime documentary where the police detective is carefully examining the surface of a sofa. “Get Shawn here,” the detective says gravely to his assistant.

Shawn was imagining more scenes from the same documentary when his mother entered the living room.

“Hey, I told you to bring in the laundry!” she snapped. “Get off that sofa already! It’s almost 2:00 p.m.”

“I’m thinking about possible jobs,” Shawn said.

And he explained to his mother his idea for the Hide and Seek company, and after he was done explaining it the strangest thing happened: his mother removed the slipper from her left foot and came over to the sofa and started beating Shawn's head with it.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Shawn protested as the dusty slipper whacked repeatedly against his head and other parts of his body.

“If you don’t get off your ass and find a job this summer, I’m going to throw away your iPad!” his mother yelled. “I’ve already thought about doing it. I’ve had it in my hand and was this far from junking it. I swear I’ll do it next time too if you don’t get out and find a goddamn job!”

Shawn felt a wave of nervousness wash over him. Throw away his iPad? Things were getting serious.

After his mother had stormed back into the kitchen, Shawn reached down and picked his list up off the floor. He wrote down a number 7 for item 7. He set himself to thinking.

by Eric, Ryan, Claire (范姜詠欣) and Anthony (黃聖翔) at ZEI

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