Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Archive for March 2020

Life Before Work

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Do you remember the time when you were a student? I don’t mean a university student. I mean A-levels — for Americans, it would be high school. Or even earlier, when you were a pupil. Or do you remember when you’d just finished all that, when you had a bit of work, but was waiting around for the next big stage of life?

I remember lying crossways on a leather chair I had in my bedroom, my legs hanging over one side, and in this position, propped against the other side, I’d read Bill Bryson’s travel books. I’d spend what felt like hours in this position, happily entranced by Bryson’s pleasantly amusing narratives.

Or else I’d listen to music on my bed, lying there trapped between my Sennheiser headphones, getting high on the drums of John Bonham or the wild solos of Hendrix.

The iPhone had yet to be released and there were no phone notifications to take you away from these things. If you wanted to check in on Facebook you had to open up your computer and log on to see what people might have posted on your Wall.

Reading those books on my leather chair was an undisturbed experience. It felt like there was so much time. That time was irrelevant really. Because it was endless.


As a professional writer and journalist my work involves lots of reading. Research. Finding people. Tracking them down. Getting in touch. Interviewing. And writing it all up, sometimes late into the evening.

It resembles actually the work we did at university. It resembles homework.

Because school isn’t just about creating better, more rounded, cleverer human beings. It is also, actually, about preparing a generation of young people for the demands and rigours of work. It steadily introduces more and more work into your life: at school, we might write a two-page essay; A-levels, it’s three to four pages; university, 10,000 words.

By then, we’re used to it. We’ve gotten used to the fact life must be equivalent to work. School says to us we cannot always play. We must work.


Work can sometimes feel like play. If you are lucky enough.

I am lucky in that I like my job. I like working (although, obviously, not all of the time).

Right now, literally millions of people are working under different circumstances. For office workers, it means working from home.

Working from home. It’s what we did as kids, doing our homework at home. Afterwards, we might turn on our PlayStation. Or log on to MSN Messenger. And we’d relax. We would play. Our thoughts did not focus on the work we had just done. That was behind us.

It’s something we did, but we didn’t do it thinking that the homework was us. That the History essay we had to finish was who you were. That finishing up maths equations defined your identity.

But when you’re an adult, your work becomes you. You are a marketing expert. You are an accountant. You are a legal professional. You are a journalist.

We feel like it never leaves us behind. It’s attached to you, even when you are on holiday. Even when you are picking up rocks on a largely sandy beach, it never quite leaves you. Because you know, deep down, you will have to get back to work eventually.


But what if you could return to that state? The one of play. But not just play. That feeling that now is forever and forever is now. Getting lost in a book, feeling like there’s nothing else needed to be done.

It’s about time really. Maybe we’ve forgotten, in the endless stream of connectivity and notifications, that time is not in service to that. Social media has trained us — like school did for work — that we should always be “connected”.

But maybe we can use the time to be properly connected: to our closest people, to our community. And also just get lost in solitude. Or to play. Or to just look out the window and think that time should not be spent in thinking that we need to be using it for something.

Because time


is endless

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

March 27, 2020 at 5:28 am