Coffee, Boredom & Not Much in Between

AN ESSAY BY HWA YANG JERNG

August 27, 2013. My current role is helping to set up a third-wave coffee company in Malaysia. Now, the seventh month of my assignment is ending. And it continues, by the way…

How Long. . . oi?

The first three months were filled with fairly reasonable activities: the formalisation of intuited business plans (“writing things down, for communication to third-parties”), the raising of capital (“asking third-parties for money”), and the initiation of partnerships (“choosing strategic allies”). This is stuff that makes sense, the sort of thing one can forget about when one goes home from the office daily, even if one’s temporary office is a hipster coffee shop a city away. During the first three months of this project, to kill time, I had the headspace to read a dozen books and some three thousand blog posts on the global coffee industry—and started writing a web-development framework for the Haskell programming language, unrelated to coffee.

The four months since then have been filled with non-terminated transactions, unguaranteed investments, dangling deals, and management by artists who have no concern for timelines—fortunately, investors around here are not particularly concerned about rates of return on their investment. It seems like everyone is having a good old time—except me, I’m bored.

Boredom, science says, has a tendency to lead to a higher appetite for risk. Which helps to explain why just after the three-month mark, after a late night’s haggling over legal wording, I rushed an amber light on a wet street, briefly lost control of my car, and almost rammed into six workers replacing a truck battery at a junction.

The broad swath between courage and stupidity

I signed up for this project mainly because it contributes information to my plan-Z, of someday being able to pay the bills by running a quiet coffee shop of my own. Running a coffee shop is something that I should be able to do with minimal overlap with my nerdier research interests, ad infinitum. It’s a retirement plan, sort of.

At the current rate of cost, I’m beginning to ponder the efficiency of this time investment. The saving grace of this period is being delegated certain quanta of manual labour—which I prefer infinitely over desk work. Moving stuff about, sweeping a construction site, cleaning drains, scooping cat-shit out of rain gutters – ever so redundantly – remain the most entertaining bits of the last four months.

The coffee bits of this story end here. Only boredom remains. Boredom has no plot, or plan, or character. Boredom is a she-cat’s moans while lodged on the spines of the he-cat’s cock. There is nowhere to run. One could wax lyrical over the varied experiences of human intercourse. Speech is an infinite combination of infinite symbols. Touches and timbres of voice are analogous and never reliably represented. Yet to a patterner, humans, like places, are simply the same (or dasein; sorry, bad pun). I indulge in relationships when work is boring. But these days I’ve taken to writing ‘emo’ stories, seemingly relevant to the quarter-life-in-crisis crowd who we serve in the coffee shop. I often find myself lacking in material—so I farm for it. The obvious places for inspiration seem to be online dating services, and talks with people about their sex lives. I’ve spoken to individuals and groups at supper-clubs, with cute baristas, old acquaintances, etc. Perhaps, beyond my mere exercising of these social tropes, I might actually become a normal person. Don’t harbour much hope, though, that I will become less boring.

The game(s) of life

Can you see things in your head? I can flip through entire buildings in mine—through layers of floors, from any perspective—between the colours of paint (not so good at that), and the spacing of objects (better). Of course, I can see people in pornos too—just another droning infinity. Some may have considered the connection between memory, creativity, and sensations from the eyes, and the mind’s selective recognition of what it is that is being looked at. If one gets into the basic facts of what thoughts and emotions are, they may eventually become as clear as the marks of a pen on paper. The mystery of souls becomes transparent. The apprehension of such is a curse. So seeing, I seek to reproduce minds in machines, and I’ve studied their related languages over the past few years. On this particular project, frustrated by the lack of concrete drafts in our internal communications on design, I started looking into the use of 3D visualisation software, the more scriptable, highly adopted, and functional out-of-the-box, the better (I settled on Blender). Boredom is the beginning and the end. The reason we search for answers, and the stock of the answers themselves. It’s a plight that many deny, which others are oblivious to, and which one cannot escape.

And what of war? Despite platitudes regarding the fight for peace, the paradox remains that activism in any form is war in some form.  In the absence of opportunity, often, I worry that my intuitions for warfare will entirely fade away, and so I study a game. You must have heard of DoTA. Be warned that it’s like studying for the Pendidikan Moral exam—one memorises lots of recipes, which combine to form various tactics, and specific counter-tactics. As the only complex non-commercial game that I’ve studied the past few years, I’ve learned its nuances through minimal effort and maximum exposure. Games are inherently boring. As models of unreflective natural conflict, they give us a realm to play at war. It is a horrible thing to watch—civil people playing games, when they don’t realise where games come from, or where they lead. To fights and flights, to foods and fucks… ultimately, boring.

Life as I know it, though called real, is as much a game as the games that I play are really life itself. I’ve been to many job interviews over the past few years, and rejection due to misaligned interests has become quite the norm. Now that game is one where one’s chances are typically slim. One’s chance of a job is much higher with a personal recommendation, but I’ve generally avoided those—I simply prefer the harder game. In love, life, and jobs, I’ve never made it a point to get what I want, because wanting is not a very important category to me—rather, I focus on discovering what it is I can get, within specific parameters. I find that my application of scientific methods to most aspects of my consciousness is a good way to go about understanding the world I live in. I suppose.

Boredom is the relevant point between my story and what the reader wants. I chose to lead with my dominant emotion, instead of coffee. Boredom always wins.

Editor’s Note: This article was commissioned and submitted in September 2013. Jerng has posted another version of this essay with infographics on his blog here.


Jerng makes coffee, at a coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur. TMI: about.me/jerng

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