New York, Day 3 – 9/11 Memorial, Friday Night In

October 26, 2012

After visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the day before, on this third day in New York we went to visit the 9/11 Memorial.

We had already secured our free visitor passes for 10:00 AM entry, so all we had to do was show up. Of course, no morning would be complete without another visit to Tim Hortons; I elected to have a hot coffee with my donut this time instead of an Iced Capp, since it was a bit chilly this morning.

After breakfast, we made our way to the subway station and once again took the R line, this time to Cortlandt Street. Prior to the September 11 attacks, this station was connected to the World Trade Center. Afterwards, it was closed for over a year for repairs. Now, ten years later, we were here.

It is difficult to believe that it has been a double-digit number of years since 9/11 happened. On that day I was driving to work, unaware of what had taken place. I was in traffic on the Bayshore Freeway approaching the Bay Bridge when I turned on the radio. The news announcers sounded panicked and nervous. You could tell that something big had happened. They mentioned that the bridge might be closing in case of an attack. I wondered if someone had started a war. Amazingly, “al-Qaeda” flashed through my mind. I still didn’t know that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

My heart started pounding and different scenarios went through my mind. Should I still go to work? What if I got stuck over there? I could always drive down to San Jose and back up the Peninsula. What if they attacked the bridge while I was on it? I didn’t have much time to make a choice because the last San Francisco exit was coming up. I elected to take the exit and head home.

On the way, the announcers finally recapped what had happened. My hands started shaking, imagining what might have happened if planes crashed into the Bay Bridge. I sped home and ran upstairs. My family was watching the TV. I was so scared of what had happened and so relieved that I was home that the second I walked into the room, I cried like a little baby. It was real, irrepressible, uncontrollable sobbing, the first time I had cried in years. All those people, killed! My mother comforted me and that’s the last memory I have of that day.

I imagine that most people would have similar playbacks of their memories when they visit the 9/11 Memorial. It is a poignant reminder of that day, but it is also a sign of hope. What was once a picture of a post-war apocalypse is now a beautiful, quiet, and serene place. We spent some time sitting and reflecting, taking it all in.

I was pretty emotionally-drained afterwards so we decided to just head home. Before getting on the subway, we went looking for a bathroom because there are none at the memorial (remember this if you go!). We walked around the area and found a department store called Century 21 and went inside, knowing that department stores are usually pretty good with public restrooms. Lo and behold, this one was no different, and afterwards we got a chance to walk around the store.

From one department store to another, we stopped by Macy’s after going home. I wanted to lighten our loads a little bit and send home some of the souvenirs we had acquired during Adventure 2012. In hindsight, it was probably a bad idea, because these were priceless treasures and I risked losing them in the mail because I didn’t want to carry them around (I wouldn’t have needed to anyway because the next leg was our road trip). You could probably argue that it was just as much of a risk carrying them around. Anyhow, I forgot to mention that the Macy’s in San Francisco has a post office inside, so I figured the one in NYC did as well.

One cool thing about this Macy’s is that it is also an historical landmark, originally built in 1902. It is hard to forget the 100+ year-old wooden escalators that took us up to the post office level.

Another cool thing about Macy’s is that the basement floor is usually called the Cellar and they usually have some pretty good food down there. In this Macy’s there was a Cucina and Co., a “Gourmet Café & Marketplace”. I’d have to say that I don’t disagree with how they’ve positioned themselves. JC enjoyed her self-constructed salad and I scarfed down my penne pasta with chicken and bacon before drinking a Snapple. I also bought a coffee and a slice of New York cheesecake (I ate New York cheesecake in New York!!!) for dessert. I guess you can say I really liked that place. 🙂

Cucina & Co. Penne with Chicken and Bacon
Penne with chicken and bacon – delicious

I spent the rest of the afternoon inside our apartment reviewing finances, scanning flyers and sorting photos, eating cheesecake, and drinking coffee while JC shopped at Macy’s. It was an extremely pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

For Friday night, our friend came to visit and check out our apartment. After that, we walked over to Penn Station and took the subway to Court Street in Brooklyn (since we were following our friend again, I have no idea what line we took). As it was Friday-evening-commute-time it was pretty busy inside Penn Station, and I was glad I got a chance to experience it. Things got even better when I saw a Tim Hortons. I bought the Iced Capp that I had skipped at breakfast. So good.

Penn Station Signboard Penn Station Friday Evening Commute

Dinner was at a neighborhood bar called Henry Public. It was a cozy little place where I enjoyed my first Scotch since leaving Scotland. My friend kept recommending me the Turkey Leg Sandwich (which they are known for), but I was in the mood for some beef, so I ordered the Hamburger Sandwich. That was the first item on the menu so I figured it must be pretty up there as well. Well, my friend was right, the Turkey Leg Sandwich was pretty awesome, while the burger was just so-so. We also had some beef marrow bones with toast that was very, very rich. Overall, it was a pleasant dinner.

Marrow Bones & Toast at Henry Public
Marrow bones & toast – very rich

We walked around the neighborhood a bit afterwards before going back to my friend’s apartment to watch a movie that we rented from a vending machine at Duane Reade. It was my first time doing all those things. My friend had been trying to get me to visit New York for years, and I finally got to see her place and get an idea of how she lived.

Borough Hall Station - Brooklyn, NY

After the movie, we took the subway home via Borough Hall station, which is apparently connected to Court Street as part of the same station complex. Our experience with King’s Cross in London taught us that even if stations are in the same complex, they may not be truly connected, so we made sure we entered through a entrance labeled “Borough Hall”. Although it was after 1:00 AM, we never felt like we were in danger of being mugged or anything like that. It makes me think of another thing that I took away from New York: people were really friendly, nothing like the surly city-dwellers that they’re reputed to be. Two stereotypes debunked, which is what traveling and experiencing things is all about.

We got home before 2:00 AM, ending our third day in New York City.

Next: New York, Day 4 – Central Park

Up Late

I’m up late tonight, first time in a while. Unlike most of the other times when I’m up late, tonight it is not by choice, and tonight I’m not enjoying myself too much. This week, I’ve enjoyed a strong coffee every single day, and now I’m paying the price. Well, either that or I have another interview coming, or both.

Earlier today (or yesterday), I mentioned going on an interview, but I didn’t talk about what happened. Well, it was a pretty short interview, less than 20 minutes, and the reason it was short was that I wasn’t that into the job, and it was probably apparent to the interviewer. We had a friendly and honest discussion, I told him I wasn’t feeling it, he thanked me for my candor, and the interview was over.

When I checked in with the recruiter afterwards, she kept asking me what I disliked about the job. I kept trying to tell her that there wasn’t anything that I disliked, that it just didn’t seem like a good fit. It didn’t seem like she understood. This was a different girl than the one I’d been corresponding with; I’d never even met her. I wondered if she understood that it’s already hard to understand a person, period, and that it’s even harder when you’ve never met them, when the longest conversation that you’ve had has been a couple of minutes on the phone. It is difficult to match a person with a job when one does not fully understand all the pieces.

At this point you’re probably asking why the heck I agreed to the interview if the job wasn’t my thing, and I’d tell you that yes, I fucked up, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was on the fence, and I was seeing if anything I learned during the interview would help me decide. But, as I write this now, I also realize that I didn’t get the job description until after we got off the phone and I had agreed to do the interview. I did err, but at the same time maybe I was sold a bit too hard on the job.

Which brings us to tonight. Remember how I said I have another interview coming? Well, the exact same thing happened today. This time, it was the big mama, the supervisor of the other two ladies (she mentioned that one of had them worked under her for a while). You could tell she was the big mama; she was a lot more direct and talked really fast (and I thought recruiter #2 made a hard sell). Because it was our first time talking, she asked me what kind of position I was looking for. I hesitated a bit and told her I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do (I Got Nothin’, remember?). I then mentioned that I disliked wearing a suit and tie. She proceeded to lecture me on the ways of the working world here in Hong Kong, telling me that it is different here than it is in “Cali”. I got a bit defensive after that. When we ended the call, she said she was going to see if she could get me an interview, but in my mind I thought she was just being polite and that my relationship with this firm was over.

A few minutes later, she calls back and says she got me an interview with this big firm. Damn. She tells me to prepare well and to call her on Sunday to practice, and to meet with her before the interview on Monday. By this point, my hands were shaking and my head was aching. I was flustered. Maybe I had been caught off-guard because it was already late-afternoon/early-evening on a Friday, I had been preparing dinner, and I was completely unprepared to answer job-search questions. Either way, I ignored my body’s warning signs and did not reject the interview. Again, I don’t know what I was doing. It was like going to a car dealership: “I’ll see if I can get you an interview” reeked of “let me check with my boss in the back to see if I can knock off $2,000”. At the end, you say to yourself “what the hell just happened?” Once again, I didn’t get the job description until after I had already agreed to the interview.

When I saw it, I immediately knew that I didn’t want the job. I tried calling back, but since it was the end of the workday, I couldn’t get through. I had to wonder whether the timing of the call was carefully designed for such an outcome. It is the end of the month and I know they have quotas to meet. Another funny thing is how recruiter #2 and Big Mama keep saying that I’m a good communicator, and that these positions require more than technical skills. I’m thinking, how could they know whether I’m a good communicator if they’ve never even met me, never even had an extended conversation with me? Hell, Big Mama freely admitted that she hadn’t even looked at my resume. Also, the girl that had worked under her for “a while”? According to her LinkedIn profile, she’s been at the firm less than a year. The whole thing just seems a little fishy.

Admittedly, I could just be paranoid and seeing things that aren’t there or ignoring things that are (i.e. someone taking time out on a Sunday to help me) so I can avoid getting a job where I have to wear a suit and tie. But, it doesn’t matter. One thing I’ve realized working with an agency is that they will find positions based on what they think are good matches. Even with the best of feedback, nobody knows you better than you, so matches will always be lacking when a 3rd party is involved. Secondly, this particular agency works with professional companies, and as big mama kindly pointed out, how you look is a big deal in these industries, especially in Hong Kong. Call me overly idealistic, but I believe that people should be judged on merit, their character, and their ability to do a job, not the clothes that they wear. When people are comfortable, they do a better job. I have never, ever been comfortable in a suit and tie, and at this point in my life I’ve learned that it’s OK to finally say so. I refuse to further perpetuate the notion that clothes somehow make a person. They do not, and although that may not be what most people think, I choose to live the change that I want to see in the world.

Tomorrow (actually, later today), I will call Big Mama to cancel my interview and discontinue further job searches on my behalf. I will thank them for helping me to land two interviews, and I will be grateful to them for helping me to see what truly matters to me.

Update 3/30/14 9:31 PM: I was unable to get in touch with Big Mama until today, and while her slightly-less-than-amicable (I’m being polite here) reaction was understandable, I’m not sure it was warranted given all of the circumstances. I was once again lectured, this time about the pressures of working in Hong Kong, and how Hong Kong might not be the place for me (I know this already, just like I know that “Cali” is not Hong Kong). Although the adrenaline was pumping a bit after the call, it was not as bad as the other day (I was somewhat prepared this time). I’m actually kind of proud of the way I handled it: I kept my cool (remembering what’s important to me) and remembered that the purpose of the call was to communicate my intentions, and not to get into it with her. In the end, my gut instinct was correct; from the way she behaved after I told her of my misgivings during the first call, to the way she attacked me today, this recruiter was not looking out for me.

Random Thoughts, March 2014

March is almost over, which means that we are well into our second year here in Hong Kong. On this Friday, the 28th of March morning, the sky is gray and a cool breeze blows into the office. The temperature is 22˚C (71˚F) and the humidity is at 93%.

Unlike this morning, yesterday was warm, clear, and sunny. Before we went to sleep, we turned on the air conditioner for the first time this year. A lot of memories came back to me when I pressed the buttons on the remote. I’ve never thought about it before, but when you do something for the first time in a while, you’re likely to think back to the last time that you did that thing. I thought back to the summer and fall of 2013 when it was still hot, when we were living upside-down, going to bed at dawn and waking up at dusk. At midnight, we’d have our main meal of the day and watch Iron Chef. Later, we’d play Emperor and Civilization for hours. All the while, the soft hum of our A/C unit would be going on in the background. Man, those were some good times. I wonder if other people in Hong Kong go through the same thing when they do their annual A/C restart?

Dawn on July 7, 2013
Dawn – July 7, 2013

Also happening yesterday was the first job interview scheduled through the recruiting firm that I’ve been working with. I suppose I “officially” started looking for work at the end of February, as I mentioned in the One Year Update. I first met with the recruiter on the 28th of last month, so it’s been about a month. In between I had the interview with the school, and then I got sick for two weeks, so overall I’ve had a couple of interviews without too much hustling on my part. Not too bad.

I touched on my lack of hustle a little bit in the I Got Nothin’ post. Since that post I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m so unmotivated to find work, why I seem to have no ambition. I read some interesting perspectives from different sources on the web. One perspective is that I do have ambition, just not for the typical things associated with that word such as BMWs, a large house, social status, etc. My ambition is to live the life I want, to use my time in the way that I want to, to be content with what I have. If I think about it that way, then it makes sense why I would be unmotivated to find work. I’m very content right now, probably the most content I have ever been in my life. My stress level is at an all-time low. Why would I want to stir the pot now?

The one and only reason, of course, is money. It’s actually quite simple: no one is going to hand you anything if you don’t pull your own weight. In life, nothing is free. Everything has a cost. Download a “free” game from the app store? Nope, sorry, it’s got ads, or worse, it secretly mines Bitcoins. Of course, it goes the other way, too: I understand that the life I’m living now might be costing me some (traditional) career advancement (hello 2-year employment gap!) and my retirement money, but I also believe that the knowledge about myself and the confidence that I’ve gained is worth that cost. But, even more basic than that, my landlady isn’t going to let me live here for free.

I know I need money, which is why I’m now searching for work. The hardest thing is now that I’ve found this place of contentment, I find it very difficult to leave. I’ve thought about looking for a part-time job so that I can still have one foot in it. I know that once I work full time, everything will be different. There’s no escaping it. 50 to 60 hours a week of what used to be my time will be devoted to work. And that’s just the temporal cost. The energy cost will be significant as well.

Perhaps, after two years of break, it will be easier to accept some sacrifices. In Hong Kong, there is a notion that any shit you take at work, whether it be a berating boss or a rude customer, is covered by your salary. I’m not sure I agree with that, and I’m not sure I’m willing to make that particular sacrifice. What I am willing to do is work. I love doing a good job and becoming good at what I do. I want to be interested in what I do. I do not want to wear a suit and tie while I’m doing it. I want to sleep well every night. I want to refill my coffers and then figure out how I can use that capital to sustain the kind of life I am living now. Is that asking too much and sacrificing too little? I don’t know, but again I’m going to keep looking. I know there’s something out there for me. Take it slow.

In the News

I’ve been trying to cut back my intake of news (is there any news that’s not negative?) but I did notice a couple of stories this week. The first was about a pair of construction workers who fell 500 feet to their deaths after their gondola broke apart (HK Standard – Tregunter pair in death fall). My heart goes out to these workers and the people who care about them. Unlike accidental deaths that happen quickly and suddenly, these workers had time to comprehend what was happening to them. I can only imagine what would be going through my mind and how I would feel as I fell, knowing that the end was seconds away, and that there was nothing I could do about it. I’d probably think of JC and tell her that I love her. I’d hope that it would be quick and not too painful. I hope that’s how it was for them.

The other story has to do with a clip of a debate I saw on TV news. Currently there are two free-to-air television stations in Hong Kong, with one of them being completely dominant over the other one. A third player is trying to make its way into the market but the government won’t give it a license, citing market saturation and other specious reasons. It’s been a big deal over here, with people going out on the streets to protest and the chairman of the third station accusing the government of taking sides. Anyhow, in the debate the government representative was saying how the broadcasting laws protect kids and morality. I almost spit out my coffee when I heard that. Every single night for the past few decades, the dominant station has been putting out dramas with recurring themes and stereotypes. Men drink beer, play video games, and place work above all else. Women wear 5-inch heels and skirts with hemlines that’ll make you blush, are drama queens, and get together with their girlfriends to gossip all day long. Extreme black-and-white and irrational behavior is the norm. Dishonesty is a way of life. Watching these dramas day in and day out, decade after decade, fucks people up in the head and affects how they behave. It’s become a part of Hong Kong culture, and culture propaganda affects people, especially when it’s consumed in large amounts.

Goodbye

Well, it’s no longer morning now, but there’s still a nice breeze going. Apparently, in some places in Hong Kong it’s now 29˚C (84˚F), but luckily it’s still pretty cool over here. Good night, good afternoon, good morning, wherever you are!

New York, Day 2 – Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Chinatown

October 25, 2012 – Thursday

One of the few good things about jet lag is that we invariably end up waking in the wee hours of the morning and it seems like we have the whole day ahead of us to do stuff. Tourist destinations are also usually less crowded earlier in the day, and on this second full day of our NYC visit, we went to two such destinations: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

First, we started off with breakfast from the Tim Hortons that we had discovered the day before:

Tim Hortons, Herald Square, NYC
Breakfast at Tim Hortons (The KFC would come in handy later on)

Next, we went to take the R line from 34th Street-Herald Square to South Ferry-Whitehall Street. We had been on the subway when we went to Brooklyn the night before, but at that time we were chatting with our friend and exhausted from the jet lag and didn’t really pay attention. Plus, it’s a lot different figuring things out on your own versus relying and focusing on a guide (as opposed to your surroundings). On this morning, we did it ourselves and got a much better impression of the world famous New York City Subway.

I believe the train we were on was an R46. Interestingly, the linked Wikipedia page does not include the R in its list of assigned services, but a quick Google search will reveal that there are indeed R46 Rs. These cars were built in the 1970s and definitely had that feel to them. I wanted to take more photos but remembered reading about NYC subway etiquette somewhere, about not making eye contact with anyone (let alone photographing them), so I made do with the surreptitious shot below:

NYC Subway R Line
Be careful who you make eye contact with

We disembarked at South Ferry and said goodbye to the R46. It feels strange looking at the photo now knowing that only a few days later, the entire station would be underwater due to Hurricane Sandy.

Whitehall St-South Ferry Platform
In just a few days time, all of this would be submerged

From the station we walked through Battery Park in order to get to the ferry. After we emerged from the trees and walked over to the harbor, I saw the Statue of Liberty in person for the first time. I felt pretty neutral when I saw it, even though I understood its significance. Maybe it was because it was too early in the morning, maybe it was because we’d seen so many tourist attractions already, or maybe it was because unlike those immigrants who came to America of their own accord to seek a better life and escape persecution back home, I arrived as an oblivious child, brought by my parents. Like going to Brooklyn the night before, my path to becoming an American was laid out for me, and all I did was follow. It’s human nature to appreciate less the things that are simply handed to you. Compared to the people who had to and wanted to make their own path, my first impression of the statue could never match theirs, and I can only imagine what it must have been like.

Statue of Liberty from Battery Park
Looks so tiny from here

We walked along the waterfront to the pier and waited in line to go through security and board the ferry. Our check-in time was 0900 (we purchased our tickets ahead of time online), and we cast off at about 0930. Seeing the wide open water and feeling the wind in my face, I was reminded of our cruise in Tokyo just a little over a month ago. Like Tokyo, New York is built along a river (more than one, even). We had noticed during the trip how so many major cities in the world are built along life-sustaining rivers: Tokyo with the Sumida, Paris with the Seine, and London the Thames. Now, we were sailing on New York Harbor, at the mouth of the Hudson.

For a New Yorker, the Hudson River probably conjures up certain images, maybe of home or something modern like driving across it (perhaps similar to what I would envision if someone mentioned “San Francisco Bay”). For me, hearing “Hudson River” conjures up images of Henry Hudson, early American settlers, and Indians. Of course, these are all images from history books, where I first learned of the existence of a Hudson River. Even now, if I don’t remind myself that I’ve actually been there, I still think of the history book Hudson River instead of the one I crossed on a ferry. First impressions can be pretty powerful.

Speaking of ferries, we saw a whole lot of them in the approximately 20 minutes it took to get to Liberty Island:

Finally, there it was, up close and personal. Regardless of one’s immigration background, standing under this towering statue brings a sense of awe and amazement. It’s already pretty impressive by itself if you think only about the workmanship, how humans shaped copper and iron into this sculpture and then moved it all the way from France. When you add in what the statue represents, these notions of freedom and liberty, that people are all created equal, that just takes it to another level. I can only stand and look at it with my mouth agape.

As much as I want to post all the photos I took of the Statue of Liberty, I am aware that photos of it are all the same. Therefore, I will post only one, taken at an atypical angle:

The Statue of Liberty
Welcome to America

Liberty Island itself was a pleasant experience, literally a walk in the park (it’s managed by the National Park Service, and if you like, you can take a tour with a park ranger). It’s not very crowded due to the way they stagger the ferry schedule, a great example of efficient crowd control. You can walk as slow or as fast as you want, check out the statue from different angles, check out the Manhattan skyline, watch the birds, enjoy the grass, the trees, the water, grab a bite to eat. We were leaning over the railing and enjoying the view when we noticed a seagull with its catch (looked like a rockfish). It swallowed the entire fish with a single gulp! Another cool thing we saw along the shore were some old bricks, marked “S&F. Co”. Googling around, it seems that the Sayre & Fisher Brick Company was once the largest in the United States. I wonder where and how these particular bricks were used?

We got back on the ferry and headed for Ellis Island. There, we spent about an hour walking through the museum, trying to imagine what it was like for those early immigrants. There was a sign that said over 100 million Americans today could trace their ancestry to people who had been processed at the island. That’s a third of all the people in the U.S. Crazy.

From one immigrant center to another, we made our way back to Manhattan and New York Chinatown. I thought it was very similar to San Francisco’s Chinatown, except Canal Street is a lot wider than Stockton Street. We stumbled upon a restaurant called Hong Kong Station and poked around outside looking at the menu. Some random guy came up to us and told us to give it a try. He seemed enthusiastic so we did. Turned out he was the owner! Later on, after sitting inside for a while, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I was like “man, this place feels familiar.” I did a search and realized that they had shown this restaurant on TV during the Linsanity craze earlier in the year. You gotta love mainstream media sometimes: an ethnic-Chinese guy tears up the NBA and they set up a camera in Chinatown to show Chinese people watching the games and cheering. All you can do is shake your head and laugh.

New York Chinatown
Almost looks like SF

After a long morning and afternoon of sightseeing, it was time to retire to our apartment. We made sure we were fully rested before going downstairs for a late dinner. We had Korean again, this time at a place called Gahm Mi Oak, famous for its Korean beef soup. They bring you kimchi in a stone pot, cut it up in front of you, and then take the pot away. I thought they could have been more generous with the kimchi. Anyhow, the beef soup arrived and it didn’t really taste like anything (you’re supposed to add your own salt). At first, I added the salt sparingly, but I still couldn’t taste the soup. I figured since they give you so much salt you can’t be too stingy when adding it, so I dumped a whole mess of it in at once. Oops. Now the soup tasted like seawater. Well, chalk up this experience to customer ignorance.

We went home slightly thirsty, but happy after having had such a great day.

Next: New York, Day 3 – 9/11 Memorial, Friday Night In

I Got Nothin’

I got nothin’. No motivation to work. No hunger for money. No plans for the future. No focus. If you’ve followed along at all these past 12 months, you’ve probably made the same conclusion about me. Being incapacitated with the flu this past week has given me a chance to think about why I’ve become like this. My answer is that I’ve already done everything I’ve wanted to do, and I don’t know what the next thing will be, or if there will ever be one.

Previously the biggest thing for me was moving to Hong Kong. Well, I’m here now. Been here for over a year. Before that, I had wanted to travel and see the world. Well, we took the vacation of a lifetime, traveling for nearly three months straight and improvising an itinerary westward until we were back where we started. I said I wanted to exercise nonstop. I did that. I said I wanted to finally beat StarCraft. I did that. I’ve done just about all the things that I’ve really wanted to do. I got nothin’ left.

Well, maybe that’s not true. There are still some games that I’d like to beat. I still have Adventure 2012 entries to write. One day, I’d like to go on another cross-country road trip, this time in my own car, and this time actually stopping and touring our stops instead of just passing through. Maybe we’ll live out of our car for a few months. After living in a tiny apartment in Hong Kong for over a year, I think I can live out of anything.

I’ve lamented before about being a jack of all trades, master of none. But now that I’ve restarted my job search, I realize that I’m glad this is me. I like experiencing life. I like finding out the answer to “what’s it like?” Until you actually go and experience something, you’ll have no idea what it’s really like. It’s kind of given me the answer that I’ve been looking for, as far as what type of job to look for. What’s it like to be the little man here in Hong Kong? Why is there so much negativity in this city? I kind of want to find out. I kind of want to give the middle finger to all those who ever told me what they thought I should do without understanding who or what I am.

And Then I Got Sick

I had already felt a little achy and sleepy on Thursday, and after posting about declining a job offer, my condition deteriorated rapidly. I spent the rest of Friday afternoon on the couch alternately feeling hot, then cold, then tired, then hot again. I’d put on a jacket and it’d get too hot. I’d take it off and it’d be too cold. Then my muscles and joints started aching. I couldn’t play Sega even if I wanted to. All I could do was lay on the couch.

When I’m sick I completely let myself go when it comes to sleep. By that, I mean that I just allow myself to sleep into a daze. Normally, the more I sleep the more sleepy I get (which is undesirable). Or, if I have a schedule and need to get up at a certain time, that time is more or less on my mind while I’m sleeping so that I tend to get up before my alarm even goes off. When I’m sick, I turn off all of these concerns. Just sleep and let my body heal itself. The sleep that results is deep and intense, if sleep can be described that way. I’ve had some crazy dreams sleeping like this, too. Last night I saw my father. I asked him if he bought that umbrella hanging on the chair. I don’t remember if he responded, but the answer I got was that my mother bought the umbrella, not my dad.

Even with all that sleep, this flu was too powerful to kill with a single night’s worth. On Saturday morning I got out of bed only to get right back on the couch, wrapping myself up in our blanket. Sometimes there is a cough, a dry cough, and it’s like something smacking you in the lung. In between the chills and aches, I tried to find a position that was relatively comfortable. I finally did, laying on my right side, using our Doraemon as a pillow. Luckily the PS3 uses Bluetooth, so you don’t have to aim the remote at it to control it. I went through all our photos from 2011 to the present. I can’t believe how big the dining table we had in Oakland was compared to the one we have here.

I was lucky that it was the weekend and JC could be with me. After she got off work on Saturday afternoon she brought back some food and OJ, and then she spent the rest of the afternoon with me on the couch. I hope she doesn’t get sick after being in such close proximity these past few days. If she does, it will be my turn to take care of her. I feel very happy and lucky to have a girl like her.

Yesterday the new thing was soreness in my buttocks and my mid-back. It must have been all that sleeping, on top of the aches and pains that already come with the flu. Can’t even sit without pain. Can’t lie down without pain. Luckily, JC had some Tylenol samples saved up and it worked wonders. I don’t want to take too much and become resistant to it, but I had the sitting pain again this morning and took a couple. That’s why I’m able to sit here and type this now.

Makes me think of all the people who suffer like this long term, the ones for which there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The human body’s capacity for suffering is incredibly high. Unless we get shot or squashed by a subway car, we can take our sweet time to get to the end. It really makes me wonder what goes on in the minds of the anti-suicide crowd. Do they not have any empathy? Is their need to control so strong that they’re completely unaware of the victim’s suffering? Or maybe they ignore it? Or maybe they don’t even go that deep into the reasons for why they take that position in the first place. Just plain old dogma. Ignorant fools.

“Why?”

With all the job stuff happening last week, I got stressed out. After the interview on Monday, I had another coffee after dinner. That night I slept only about 4 hours. I went to shoot around a bit, and afterwards I went inside the wet market to buy some groceries, passing by the live chicken stall. I thought that maybe I caught bird flu. Stayed up later than I should have trying to beat a boss in Resident Evil that night. Got a load of calls from the recruiter on Wednesday. Fatigue and stress weakens the immune system and allows germs to get in.

“Truth”

At the lowest point, I’m just laying there, my eyes barely open, I’m shivering, and I can’t find a comfortable position. I know I’m not dying any time soon, but it feels like it. At that lowest point, truth has a tendency to make itself appear to you. All the stuff I did during the past week about finding a job is close and far away from my mind at the same time. Close in that I was actually thinking about it, and far away in that I couldn’t actually care less about it at that point. It goes back to that same old question, “what’s important to you?” The past week I put on some “nice” clothes and went looking for a job, despite having always been uncomfortable wearing a suit and tie. How did I feel when I did it? Felt like I was wearing a mask, putting up a front. That wasn’t me. When I was down at that lowest point, I knew that I would be fine if I never had to put on a suit and tie ever again.

I declined a job offer, and then I got sick.

I Declined a Job Offer

I’ve been keeping myself awake at night these past few days thinking about a job offer that I declined earlier in the week. After not working for almost two years (and not interviewing in nine), I got my first offer here in Hong Kong and I declined it. I’ve had some feelings of guilt and remorse, but ultimately I know it’s the right decision, so I’m writing this down as a reminder to myself that I did the right thing (because I’m so prone to forgetting and then getting depressed again).

As I said in the one year update, I’m not going to game the system, i.e. I’m not going to say the right or politically-correct things nor am I going to send out five million resumes just so I can get a job. I’m going to be myself (as much as possible, because I admit I sometimes still fall into the “say the right thing” trap), and I’m going to only apply for jobs where I mostly meet the requirements and where I think I’ll fit in. This one was an IT support job at a primary school. I’ve always been fond of the school environment (sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid; JC would probably say that I am still a kid), I’ve enjoyed working around kids, and it would be a nice change of pace from my last job, so I went for it.

This was one of those applications where you fill out a form instead of sending in your resume. So, you have to re-type information that’s already on your resume into a web form. I spent a weekend doing that, pouring out my life story and explaining how I’ve spent the last two years going on Adventure 2012 and moving to Hong Kong. I realize that because I haven’t worked in almost two years, I have to try extra hard to convince an employer that I won’t be a risky hire.

A few days later I receive a call from the HR manager asking to set up an interview. Awesome. He says that the compensation would be relatively low (75% less than my previous job, 50% less than my market value). I’ve already said that money isn’t super important to me, plus I always knew that in absolute terms I would never make as much in Hong Kong, so I told him I was fine with it (I really was fine with it).

The next day I decide to actually go to the school and check it out (it’s usually a good idea to scope out the location of your interview so that at least one thing feels familiar on the day of). From where I live, it’s a single-transfer trip on public transportation and takes an hour without traffic. Ouch. Still, I thought it didn’t seem so bad because on the second leg I’d always get a seat and it’d be a single-seater so I could use my laptop or tablet during the commute (or that’s what I thought). Was I rationalizing already?

On Monday morning I take the same route to the school. It was a pretty bumpy ride (forget about using a laptop), and I felt relieved once I got off. I was glad that I had already done the commute once so I didn’t have another thing to worry about. Good thing too because it was a 3-on-1 interview! One little chair right in the middle with my name on it, and three interviewers getting ready to grill me.

It actually wasn’t bad because they were some pretty cool guys that I could see myself working with. We talked about teamwork, a difficult task that I have faced at work, prioritizing service requests, and even Star Trek (because Captain Picard runs a tight ship and everybody is happy to work under him). The only obvious blunder I remember is asking about holidays for my first question. I was only curious because it was a school (you know, with summer vacation and all), but it could have come off as I hadn’t even gotten the job yet and I was already concerned about holidays. It was a relatively short interview; I got the feeling that I was asking too many questions at the end, so I finished up quickly. When I walked back outside, it had only been 45 minutes. All the thinking about it over the weekend, the preparation, the commute, and just like that it was over. I was expecting more and wasn’t sure what to do. When I realized there was nothing left to do but to go home, I crossed the street to the mini-bus stop.

On the trip back a smelly lady got on and sat behind me. Actually, I don’t know if she was smelly or if her breath was smelly. Either way, I was the subject of an offensive-smell bombardment for 45 minutes, and I couldn’t open the window (sealed for the A/C). I was tired from the interview and had barely eaten anything for breakfast (my fault, of course). I was crashing from the caffeine I had earlier. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I had to wonder, would it be better or worse after a long day of work?

When I got back to the transfer point, I took the bus instead of the tram so I could get home faster. On the bus, one of the interviewers called me with some follow-up questions. He asked me the dreaded “where do you see yourself in 3 years?” question. I said that I wanted to live a happy and stable life. I also got into how I hadn’t worked in two years and that I’d be grateful to whoever hired me and wouldn’t jump ship, because he mentioned that one of their concerns was long-term retention. I think at that point I did say some things that I thought he wanted to hear. It was definitely different from when I was alert and ready during the interview.

Once I finally got home, I was glad to put on my normal clothes and re-energize with a nice lunch.

A couple of hours later, I received a call from the same interviewer. I got the job! Wow, that was quick. They wanted me to start in a week, and come in for a short orientation a couple of days before that. Damn. At that moment, I wanted to say yes, but I knew that it was a good idea to see the offer in writing first, so I asked for it to be emailed to me. I got the email a short while after.

Strangely, the only detail the email had in it was the monthly salary. No contract, no agreement, no work hours, no attachment. They wanted me to reply by 1600 hours the next day, less than 24 hours later. The lack of a detailed offer combined with the rush got my alarm bells going. I mean, I understood that someone had resigned and they needed someone, but at the same time the interview had been pretty quick. I had neglected to ask some important questions, such as what my specific work hours would be, who my direct supervisor would be, and whether I could look around the campus. I didn’t have enough information to make a decision, and I wondered how they could expect me to make one.

I thought about emailing them and asking them those questions, and asking for a tour of the school prior to my final decision, but it was already the end of the work day. I would have to write the email quickly. I kept composing, deleting, and composing a draft email trying to squeeze it in, but it just didn’t come out right. Being the end of the day, even if they had received my email, they probably wouldn’t respond immediately, so I decided to sleep on it.

That night, I tried to tell myself that no job is perfect and that this was a great opportunity. I could be working in a week’s time, not worrying about having to eat away at my savings anymore, not be in a single-income family anymore. That part of it was definitely appealing. But that could be said of any job. I tried to tell myself that this was a school job, that it would be less stressful and less political. But would that really be the case? From what I’ve seen of school jobs, they can be just as stressful and political as jobs in non-educational sectors. By themselves, the commute and the pay were fine. You have good commute days and bad commute days, and even on that salary we would still be earning more than what we’d spend. Together, though, the commute and the pay became a negative. I’ve talked a lot here about how time is my most important asset. Even under ideal conditions, I’d be going through two hours of travel time each day. If the pay was higher, it would have made the commute easier to swallow. If there were other parts of the job that were really appealing, it would have made the commute and the pay easier to swallow. But I didn’t have all the information, and I had to respond, fast. The question was whether I thought there was any hope of me taking that job, based on what I had seen in the interview, the commute, and the pay. If there was, then I could ask the questions and do the tour, and then decide. If there was nothing that could overcome those factors, however, then it would be best to save everyone’s time and decline.

For me the experience was like seeing a car on a website, really liking it, then going to the dealership to find out that it has an old-man style foot-activated parking brake (vs. a handbrake). You want to justify taking the car, but every time you set the parking brake, you’d be reminded that you’re driving an old-man car. You keep clicking and clicking around the website, hoping that somehow the foot-brake will magically disappear, but it doesn’t. In your heart, you know you can’t do it. It sounds kind of silly, but we all have our baselines, of what we can and cannot tolerate. You have to know what these are and be honest to yourself, and then do what you have to do.

I did what I had to do and declined the offer, thanking them for the opportunity and the learning experience.

Looking for a job can be tiring and stressful. This week I’ve been talking to my recruiter (the one I stood up back in September), and she’s been sending me job descriptions from various financial firms, and I’ve been wondering whether I did the right thing. I could have had a job in a school, helping kids, being next to kids. They really do say the funniest things and it’d probably be a blast working with them. Instead, I might be going back down the path I was on before, doing a job in a company that helps rich people get richer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but obviously it’s not the same as working in a school. Not so obviously, is that really me and what I want to do? I wonder if I’m being overly idealistic and naive, again. This past year I’ve peeled off so many layers of my old self, getting closer to what I think is the real me. Would I be taking a step back? Is it really possible to do what you want to do in life? Or are we all doomed to a life of wage-slavery? The answer is somewhere in between, or completely outside. I’m going to keep looking for it while I do my own thing. Thank you for reading.

Batch File Renaming – One Method

Like a dummy, I recently accidentally deleted all my DuckTales episodes (photo of my collection so that the FBI doesn’t get on my case) from both my desktop and my portable backup drive (be careful when using robocopy with and without the /mir switch). Fortunately, I still had a backup on my computer at home back in the Bay Area, so I have been transferring these files back onto my desktop. Because I’ve been using IRC to send the files, one side effect is that spaces in the filename turn into underscores, like this:

DuckTales_#67_-_The_Duck_Who_Would_Be_King.mkv

I could go in and manually remove all of these underscores (on occasion I have, sometimes it’s just easier and quicker to do it that way), but with 75 files overall it’s worth it to create a system for quickly renaming the files.

Here’s a quick rundown of the tools used:

  • Windows 7 Command Line
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Notepad++ (get it here)

Ultimately, we want an Excel spreadsheet that will generate the ren commands. It will have 3 columns: one for the source filename, one for the destination, and one for the command.

We start by generating a list of the files in the folder/directory. This can be done with the classic dir command, with the /b switch (/b for “bare”, resulting in filenames only; otherwise you’ll get dates, times, and filesizes). In Windows 7 (and Vista and 8, I believe), if you hold SHIFT and right-click the Explorer window, you can open up a command window that already has the proper path. In XP, you can download a PowerToy that does the same thing. Otherwise, you’ll have to navigate to the path using the CD command.

Once you’ve opened up a command window with the proper path, input this command:

dir /b *.mkv > list.txt

The command above lists all the MKVs in this folder in bare format, then redirects (the > sign) the output to a new file called list.txt (as opposed to the screen; if list.txt already exists, it will be overwritten). Without the *.MKV, dir will recursively list list.txt inside list.txt. You could manually remove it from the list, but I like to keep it clean so I use the wildcard.

Now we open up list.txt with Notepad++. You can use any text editor you like, maybe even Microsoft Word (though over the years I’ve found its spell-check and auto-correct features can sometimes cause issues), as long as it has a search/replace function. Before we do the search/replace, however, we want to copy this list of files into column A (our source filename column) of our spreadsheet. Use Ctrl-A to quickly select the entire list and then Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V it into Excel (obviously I like keyboard shortcuts, but you can copy/paste using whatever method you prefer).

Column A

Back in Notepad++, do a search/replace for the underscore, replacing it with a space. Once again, select-all and then copy/paste. Now you should have a list of original filenames in column A, and a list of desired filenames in column B.

Column B

Column C is where you will input the formula for creating the ren command. Here is the command that we want:

ren "DuckTales_#67_-_The_Duck_Who_Would_Be_King.mkv" "DuckTales #67 - The Duck Who Would Be King.mkv"

Notice how the filenames are inside quotation marks. When a filename has spaces, it’s best to use quotation marks to avoid ambiguity. I know that on occasion I haven’t used them and commands completed successfully, but there have also been times when they haven’t. So, quotation marks.

The formula for creating this command is:

="ren """&A1&""" """&B1&""""

In Excel, if you want to represent a quotation mark as text, you need to escape it using another quotation mark. That’s why there are 14 of them in the formula above. You have 6 for the formula itself, and 2×4=8 for the filenames (and if you look at the example above, you’ll see 4 quotation marks total in the command). The ampersand is used to concatenate text, so basically we’re concatenating a bunch of text to create the command.

Review the command to make sure it’s correct, and then copy/paste the formula to the rest of the column. In Excel, there’s a convenient way to do this. Select the cell with the formula, then double-click the little black square on the bottom right. I don’t know what the square is called, but it will autofill the rest of the column for you.

Excel Autofill

A convenient side-effect of the autofill is that the entire column will already be selected afterwards. Now you can quickly copy this text back to Notepad++. If you had left it open after the search/replace function previously, all you’d have to do is paste over, since the text would already be selected. Ctrl-S to save, then quit Notepad++.

Back in the Explorer window, you can now rename list.txt to list.bat*. Confirm that you want to change the file extension, then double-click or hit enter to run the commands. Wow! The files are now properly renamed!

*This assumes that your system is configured to display file extensions, which IMHO is something that should be enabled by default. To enable it, type ALT-T-O in any Explorer window, then uncheck Hide extensions for known file types under Advanced Settings in the View tab.

At this point you can delete list.bat or rename it back to list.txt for later use. I usually just delete it. I do save the Excel spreadsheet since I now have the formula in there. I suppose I could save it permanently since it’s a generic formula for renaming any two files, but it’s so easy to re-create it that once I’m done renaming all my DuckTales episodes, I’ll probably just delete it along with the temp folder I’m using to hold the episodes.

So, there you have it. Though it may seem like a long procedure (this is a pretty long post, and I tried to explain everything thoroughly), it’s actually quite a time-saver once you’ve set it up and get used to all the keyboard shortcuts. I’ll summarize the steps below:

  1. SHIFT-right-click to open command window
  2. dir /b *.mkv > list.txt
  3. Open list.txt, copy/paste filenames to column A of new spreadsheet
  4. Search/replace list.txt, replace underscores with spaces
  5. Copy/paste new filenames to column B
  6. In column C, enter formula ="ren """&A1&""" """&B1&""""
  7. Autofill formula
  8. Copy column C back to list.txt
  9. Save and close list.txt, rename to list.bat
  10. Run list.bat

Not too bad!

I first used this method back at work, when we sometimes had to rename hundreds of files at a a time. There are probably utilities and/or creative ways of using wildcards to make this happen, but when I tinkered around and looked online, I couldn’t find anything that didn’t require buying something or learning something new and esoteric. These are the tools that I had and knew at the time so I made do. The cool thing is that most people already have them on their PCs, so anyone can do it.

Sometimes, you never know what you might come up with when the need arises. I hope you found this post useful!