Before the Chinese New Year came, I told myself that (1) I would read the books that I bought and borrowed from a friend, and (2) I would stay away from my WeChat and other social media accounts as much as possible. I almost fulfilled the task, but there were things that diverted my focus that now I scramble to find time to finish one of the books I opened before the holiday, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe.
I’d like to reflect first on how I failed my second task: the social media detox… on the eve of Chinese New Year alone, my hands were glued to my phone. Yes, I was one of the 688 million people who religiously combed through all of my WeChat groups in search of a digital hongbao. Tapping to open that valuable loot was akin to playing an addicting mobile game where my character was a commander of the “Red Packet Army.”
A gracious family who invited me over New Year’s Eve dinner was so surprised that I could juggle talking about life, eating a Filipino food fiesta, and of course, tapping my phone endlessly. “My officemates are sending hongbao in our group chat,” I told the dinner host. I admit, I almost lost all the manners I’ve learned over the years because of the craze of getting red packets, especially those with a lot of 8’s. But I said sorry to her (I really did!), detached my hands to the phone, and finally went back to the reality of the silent Chinese New Year.
On the first day of the Year of the Dog, I was feeling completely auspicious: I dressed up in red, I glued an upside-down 福 fú printout on the door, I cleaned up everything in my house, I didn’t wash my hair. Essentially I followed many of the Chinese New Year superstitions except for lighting up some firecrackers. Well, luck was also sent in real time! Yes, through social media greetings from tons of people, and many, including me, were waiting for another red packet!
As the “hongbao revolution” came to a temporary halt, I thought I would be able to begin reading after the inspiring encounters I’ve had in my recent travels. But no — the boy inside me was unleashed by the omnipotent WeChat through the in-app game 跳一跳 (Tiào yī tiào, lit. “Jump and Hop”). If you plan to join the Red Packet Army, this game will your training ground: when you tap, your avatar in a form of a chess pawn piece will hop from across different blocks. The longer you tap, the farther your avatar will hop. If in the Red Packet Army, you’ll receive as low as RMB 0.01 (hope you’ll not get any 4’s), in Tiào yī tiào there’s a need to beat the high score of your WeChat contacts.
I knew I needed to stop playing video games, even though many boys would agree that gaming consoles were our universal form of protection against the joy-breaking demands of our parents and our jobs. Well, in the case of Tiào yī tiào, I needed to stop because I couldn’t get past the levels where blocks were placed tightly to one another that one wrong tap and my pawn would fall down.
Despite those things, I had been trying to stay away from my phone and social media for many health reasons (having “iPosture” and a “Blackberry thumb” is really annoying!). Starting on Day 4 of the holiday, I succeeded in not looking at my phone and just lay on the bed — but didn’t even bother to open the book that I am almost halfway done reading. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the silly story of the novel: a man being trapped in an Ikea wardrobe?! But even if the holiday season afforded me a “me time,” the virtual connections of WeChat and other social media were still prevalent and irresistible.
I just started to check my WeChat on the eve of the back-to-work reality… only to find out that there were hundreds of unopened messages. I just tapped them all and disregarded the blabber.