No Internet, Part II

This post originally completed on May 21, 2017 at 1:23 AM

Another post to explain why many posts are being uploaded on the same day – I’m once again back at that previous location.

In a nutshell, we tried to switch internet providers but the timing was a little off. Now, it has been almost 30 days without wired internet. It hasn’t been terribly bad since most of us have mobile internet, but for me personally, this location happens to be a T-Mobile dead zone (AT&T can at least make calls, but isn’t much better). At this very moment, my phone reports that it’s connecting through EDGE, but if I actually try to load any sites, nothing happens. In 2017, I am dealing with the exact problem that I dealt with back in 2004.

Thirteen years is a long time, and I am no longer the person I was. I’m not going to spend my precious time chasing support representatives trying to solve a telecom issue. I can simply scan my magazines and post them at a later time. But although I’ve changed, it seems that telecommunications companies in America (well, the SF Bay Area at least) still suck. It’s been about 16 days since I put in an order for new internet. Yesterday, two techs from AT&T finally came out to install, but due to a labor strike (I’m not kidding), they had to drop everything and leave immediately. They didn’t bother to reconnect the landline, so now even the phone is dead. No ETA in sight. Looking back at my HK records, when we first got our place there, we stopped by a PCCW store and ordered our 300M fibre connection on March 4. On March 8, a PCCW tech spent less than an hour setting everything up, and that was it. I know that the grass isn’t greener on the other side, but damn. That’s a big difference, isn’t it?

None of this surprises me anymore, because I have experience working with various telecom providers throughout the years. I would guess that anyone who’s had experience wouldn’t be too surprised, either. Slow, shitty service, ancient tech, it’s like these things are normal here. And that’s the part that gets to me a little, the part that’s sad. We treat this as our standard, as normal. Things going wrong, not getting what you paid for, wasting extra time trying to set up what is now considered a basic necessity, these are all normal. Going from sign-up to IP address in 4 days? That would be considered a ridiculous expectation.

Which got me thinking about the whole “make America great again” movement. If you replace “telecom providers” in the preceding paragraph with a multitude of other goods and services (public and private) in this country, it would still be true. It has always been true. In my nearly 30 years in this country, there have often been these types of head-scratching moments when I’m asking myself, “Huh? This happened? In America?”, whether I’m experiencing it myself or reading about it in the paper or a history book. We’re actually not that great, if at all, and we’re mostly just like everyone else: average (I’ve actually brought this up before). As I type this, I am wondering if it would be a good idea to post it. In the land of the free, I am considering self-censorship (it wouldn’t be the first time). Wouldn’t want to be called unpatriotic or to be told to go back to where I came from. It’s not too different than criticizing the Chinese Communist Party in China and being called a subversive element. If we have more in common with authoritarian China than we would care to admit, then perhaps we’re not that great after all.

But, I digress. The point of this post was to once again explain the reason behind having so many posts with “originally completed on” posted on the same day. Now you know.

A Welcome to USA Citizenship

Here’s another scan of something I found in my room while going through all my things. At this point I don’t even remember where it was, nor do I remember receiving it, but it had to be in the mid 1990s when I became a citizen of this great country. Posting it now, when the country is under attack from within, seems appropriate.

Although I usually say “enjoy” for museum posts, tonight I instead urge all to stay vigilant in the face of tyranny. Even small actions of kindness during our everyday lives can add up to more positivity in society, whether it’s Hong Kong, the USA, or anywhere else in the world. Treat all people the way you would like to be treated and the world will be a happier place. It is sad that politicians and bureaucrats do not understand this basic tenet of humanity.

The PDF can be downloaded or viewed here:
A Welcome to USA Citizenship.pdf (15.5MB)

27 Weeks

Last night I read a journal entry for July 5, 2014, the last day that anyone in my family set foot in my Granny’s flat in Hong Kong. The place had been in our family for 40 years, give or take a few. The rent always stayed below market rate due to rent control, but even so it started making less and less financial sense to pay rent for a place that nobody was living in. On occasion, my mother or other relatives would stay there while visiting Hong Kong, but otherwise since 2010 when Granny moved into a home the place was uninhabited. It was kept in the hopes that perhaps one day Granny would return, or maybe for nostalgic purposes.

My mother and aunt had cleaned out the place, with JC and I tagging along but mostly staying out of it (save for keeping old newspapers and other historical items). They (especially my aunt) took a more practical approach to cleaning house. For example, old newspapers and other decades-old trinkets were considered trash. The antique furniture was sold to a dealer, and everything else was left to be kept or taken away as the landlord saw fit. I went there to retrieve a camera that my aunt had accidentally left there, and also to take my time and comb through the place for anything else worth keeping. Being the sentimental person that I am, I also took it as a chance to say goodbye properly to the closest thing I ever had to an ancestral home.

Goodbye to Granny's House
July 5, 2014 – Goodbye to Granny’s house

I’m reading the journal entry when I remember that the landlord’s representative, Mr. Lam, showed up near the end of my visit. He said that it was fortunate that I had gone there when I did, because he was planning to change the lock. I asked him if I could keep the lock for sentimental purposes, but he refused because he couldn’t make the call. He said that they would probably move that ancient lock to another property (lol). At that time I was just starting out at my job in Hong Kong, and I hadn’t learned the intricacies of CYA (covering-your-ass) yet, but now with my experience of working in HK I realize in retrospect that he was probably just afraid of doing something out of the norm. When I was explaining to him my sentimental reasons for keeping it, all he could think about was following the rules and toeing the line. Nothing I said registered.

This got me thinking about bureaucracy in Hong Kong and how deeply entrenched it is in HK society. Employee empowerment? Forget about it, they’re scared too shitless to make any decisions, call the manager. Remember when I complained about ticky-tack fouls? Bureaucracy in action. The players have been taught (or punitively programmed) to follow all rules to the letter in life and in basketball, so one little touch is a foul. What about when I tried to stick up for my coworker, or when I tried to order a battery for a user? Sadly, I did end up alienating some people at work due to the way I got things done, and I wish I would have gone about it in a smarter way where I could have had both my cake and to eat it too.

With my mind on Hong Kong, I went back and looked at all the updates I’ve made about living there, including some in my own private journal. I was reminded of how I felt when I was trying to find a job, how I felt my first month into the job, and how I felt about my career overall. There is some symmetry between what was happening then and what is happening now. I compare what I’ve been doing in the six months since returning from Hong Kong with what I was doing in the first six months of living in Hong Kong, and I find that I’m going through something very similar. And yet, in the 27 weeks I have been back in San Francisco, there have hardly been any updates on this site. I’ve posted a bunch of museum posts and VH posts, but nothing like those HK updates. So, here’s a quick recap.

In July, the first month of coming back, I had the momentum of moving from HK and being fresh from leaving a job. The first job application I sent out resulted in an interview. In my hubris, I did not prepare for the interview thinking it would be just like a meeting at work, which resulted in a poor performance and my candidacy being passed over. I continued applying for jobs with no results. On the recreational side, it was nice being back in America and going to BBQs, Costco, VH, and Sizzler. There was a learning curve to playing physical basketball again.

In August, same thing. Applied to a few more jobs, heard back from none of them. There was a family wedding which took up an entire week. JC landed a job. I continued playing basketball.

September, more of the same. I continued to mark off every Thursday: 10 weeks, 11 weeks, 12 weeks, etc. Our stuff from Hong Kong finally arrived. Since I didn’t have to work, I was tasked with waiting for the delivery.

In October, I enlisted the help of a staffing firm to assist with my job search, but nothing really happened on that front. I started having difficulty with waking up and not knowing what to do, which drove me to start planning my days ahead of time so that I could simply follow my calendar without thinking, similar to when I had a job and a routine.

November, I started ramping up the search again with the new system. I got my first interview arranged through the staffing firm. Everything went great, they told the agency that I was great, but sadly I lacked iPad experience whereas my competition did not. It was nice to spend the first Thanksgiving in three years with family and have multiple grand feasts. At 21 weeks, I stopped keeping track of how many weeks we’ve been back.

Last month, I started truly getting depressed. Maybe it was the holidays, maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was my career, or lack thereof. Remembering how I felt about my career while I was in Hong Kong, I wondered if I wanted to keep doing what I was doing, applying for jobs that I knew I could do but not really interested in. Did I really want a repeat of my HK job? If not, what would I do? Start my own business? Again, what would I do? I had and continue to have no idea. I went back and read about the tyranny of the shoulds. I’m back to the situation I was in when I wrote those posts, except I don’t really have any money now. Is there room for idealism when one doesn’t even have enough money for his own place to live? I’ve done IT support on and off for 20 years, should I not just hunker down and make some money via this field first? Or, have I forgotten the lessons I’ve learned during these past 3 years?

It’s been 27 weeks, and I’m still trying to figure it out. Happy New Year!

Prejudice

When I was in line to buy an Airport Express ticket today, there was a tourist in front of me doing the same thing, except this tourist spoke Mandarin and was obviously from the mainland. The clerk wasn’t particularly enthusiastic towards her. When it was my turn, I spoke in local HK-style Cantonese to him and there was a marked change in his attitude and behavior. It was almost like relief on his end, glad to finally be interacting with his own kind, and he was much more friendly towards me. To be completely honest, I was glad that he treated me this way. I experienced no majority guilt. I think I’ve mentioned it before; it’s nice to be part of the majority after being a minority for over two decades. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.

The fact of the matter is, prejudice is everywhere and cannot be avoided. We may dance around the issue with political correctness, something that is superficial and invented by politicians in an effort to gain more votes, and we may think that prejudice in society is gone, but if we truly do think that then we are fooling ourselves. It is animal nature to be prejudiced. Lab mice who got electrocuted when they go after a certain food will start avoiding that food even when the electricity is turned off. When the news reports police discrimination time and time again, people learn to be wary around them. When a big percentage of crime is committed by a certain demographic, our awareness level increases whenever a member of that demographic enters our vicinity, even though rationally we know that not all of them are like that. This is millions of years of evolution, of learning how to survive. Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.

As humans, we are (theoretically) able to suppress our animal urges to behave in a civilized manner. I do try to live my life in this way, treating all people, regardless of their race or class, in the same way. Sadly, many people think differently than I do. My problem with people has always been, what the fuck did I do to you for you to treat me in this manner? Every new face to me is a clean slate. I will give you the benefit of the doubt until you show me otherwise. Why can’t everybody be like this? I guess the answer is, see the paragraph above.

Why u mad?

Been having a lot of beers lately so I thought I’d go do some exercise at Victoria Park tonight. And by some, I really mean some. Gone are the days when it seems like I can stay there forever. I go maybe once every couple of weeks now, if that, and when I do my body can no longer perform as it did before. That’s the reality of having a day job.

Speaking of day jobs, I’ve always thought that basketball is a microcosm of life, and more specifically tonight, of work. You encounter a bunch of different characters. You encounter cronyism. You get people of different abilities. You all (at least on the surface) are trying to achieve the same goal. Unlike work, however, basketball is a game, and it’s supposed to be fun. So why did I feel annoyance at the end of the game? Despite losing, I did fairly well, shot over 50%, and scored a few buckets, and I was fine with that. I guess I’ll explain it from the beginning.

I touched upon this a long time ago, about race on the basketball court. Being in Hong Kong, I’ve been a part of the ethnic-majority for over two years now. I rarely experience racial discrimination like I occasionally did back in the U.S. Well, the first thing that happens when I step on the court is that the 4 non-Chinese guys don’t really want me on their team. They want one of their own. They start speaking in their language. Nice. This by itself doesn’t really bother me, I’ve encountered plenty of people of this ethnicity and I’m no longer surprised when they behave this way, but it did get the ball rolling towards annoyance.

Once the game starts, everybody’s getting a feel for each other, and if I recall correctly I actually make the first bucket. OK, great, seems like maybe we’ll get along fine. Of course, once the game gets going, things start exposing themselves to you, just like how it is at work. There seems to always be that guy who never runs back on defense, waiting for the cherry pick. It seems like none of the guys on my team are interested in defense. It also just happens that there’s a couple of guys on the other team who are over 6 feet tall, one of them with handles who can get to the rim at will (he was wearing an NYK Sprewell jersey, lol), and another, even bigger guy who is pretty much unstoppable in the paint. So, 5-on-4 (and that’s a very shaky 4) with two of the five being the aforementioned six-plus-footers.

I’m not too averse to playing harder on defense because my main goal tonight is to get in some exercise. That rolling ball of annoyance is just creeping along at a snail’s pace at this point. But then, some inexplicable shit starts happening. I finally get the ball from a teammate (as opposed to grabbing a loose ball or a rebound) and the first thing my teammates tell me to do is to pass it. Four guys on my team are yelling at me to give them the ball. I’m like “WTF?” but I continue to play within the flow of the game, trying to make the proper basketball decision. It continues to get more and more inexplicable. I have guys not playing any defense, period, demanding the ball from me as I’m bringing it down. I’m like fuck that shit, I’m taking it myself. I have some fun with my man before moving the ball (i.e. when I get tired from too much dribbling, haha), and then one of my teammates again comes up to me and says I need to move the ball. I wonder if he realizes that I’m running around on offense getting open only to watch him or his pals take shitty shots.

At work and in basketball, there sometimes comes a moment when you realize that nothing you do is going to change the situation, that it might be better to just stay in the corner and be quiet. I literally did this a few possessions later: I stopped running around and just parked myself in the corner, wide open. I then proceeded to watch the guy who just told me to move the ball get double-teamed on my side of the court, then lose the ball out of bounds. The next few offensive sequences consist of me running to the corner and standing there wide-open while my teammates proceed to turn the ball over.

One of my biggest beefs with basketball, work, and life, is hypocrisy. I can’t stand it. If you can’t do an equal or better job, or worse, you’re not even aware that you can’t do an equal or better job, don’t go around telling people what to do. It’s amazing how one guy can completely ignore the laziness and incompetence of his buddy (and himself) while criticizing the guy who hasn’t done anything wrong. All I saw was a bunch of guys jacking up shots and not playing defense, and they’re getting on my case for wanting to hold the ball longer when I finally get it? Fuck that, man. I’m perfectly fine with admitting when I play shitty and don’t deserve the ball but tonight was not one of those nights.

So this whole episode got me thinking about my annoyance (and sometimes anger) at stuff like this. My goal was to get some exercise. Did I really have to be annoyed by it? I don’t know the answer to that. Why do I get so annoyed by it? Is it because I get treated unfairly? But being treated unfairly happens all the time, it’s life not just for me, but for everyone. If the standard in life really is cronyism and nepotism (and one must really question whether this is not the case, seriously), why do I get angry at something that’s natural? Do I get angry when it rains, or when the sun comes out? Do I get angry because plants grow? I don’t like myself succumbing to this pet peeve.

Maybe one day I’ll analyze how I got to be this way. For now, it’s back to the grind, tomorrow. Good night. 🙂

Blowing Whistles

I wrote the following (redacted) letter a couple of weeks ago after seeing something happen to my coworker. In the beginning, I was specific with my complaints and signed the letter with my own name. Later, I chose to anonymize the letter in order to protect certain people on the team (recall that I am a lowly associate who should not be embarrassing people higher up than me). In the end, after discussing the issue with those people higher up than me and out of respect for them, I elected not to send the letter. For the version below, I chose to sign it with my own name after all. It would seem that sometimes, things aren’t that black or white…

April 16, 2015

Dear Mr. Regional Head of IT,

I am a contingent employee currently working on one of the IT teams here in the Hong Kong office. I am writing to ask for your help.

This evening as I was preparing to close up shop, I received a phone call from one of the newer members of our team. When I heard him on the phone, I immediately knew that something was wrong. Normally a cheerful guy, his voice was now quiet and shaking. I asked him what was wrong, and he asked me to join him on the 41st floor (even though he was actually on the 42nd; it was obvious he was shaken up).

When I went up and met him in the lobby, his lower jaw was shaking and his eyes were watery. He explained to me that he had been interacting with the impacted user and then another user stepped in. When he mentioned the name of this second user, I immediately knew what had happened.

I first encountered this user last year, also when I was relatively new. The thing I remember most from the encounter is that she threatened me with the loss of my job. Afterwards, when I told my teammates what had happened, they nodded with affirmation after I revealed the user’s name. It would seem that this user was already known for being difficult as well as verbally abusive.

At the X’mas Luncheon last year, I remember you saying that all employees, whether full time or contingent, deserve to be treated professionally, and that if we ever had any problems we could come to you for help. I hope I didn’t take you too literally, because I am asking for your help now. I have no problem with and am understanding of one-time, irregular outbursts from users who can be under a lot of stress, but this woman has shown a consistent pattern of berating and verbally abusing IT staff, and it has to stop.

When I told my colleagues that I planned to write you, they pleaded with me not to. They even said that I could lose my job for breaching protocol. And actually, if I had not remembered what you said in your speech, I probably would not be writing you now. But as a man of my word, I believe you to be the same. I believe that even if you don’t handle this matter personally, if you make the request, something effective will be done. Nobody should have to go through at work what my teammate went through tonight or what I went through 7 months ago.

Because I am acting of my own accord, and due to the sensitive nature of this issue, I have not named names and have written you anonymously. Nevertheless, it would not be difficult to identify who I am and I am prepared to accept any and all consequences of writing you this letter. I have already informed my managers and they are aware of what’s happened, so all you have to do is make the call. Thank you very much for your valuable time.

Best regards,
Jonathan Young

Rules and Procedures

For tonight’s bus ride home I decided to sit in the front instead of the back, and one of the interesting things I saw was a couple of ladies running and waving towards the bus as it was about to pull away from the stop. The bus slowed down and stopped, and for a second it seemed like the driver would let them on. All he had to do was open the doors. It didn’t happen, and I realized he stopped only because he was trying to merge into through traffic. In the end, all the ladies could do was throw their hands up in the air and look exasperated.

This got me thinking about why the bus driver would do something like that. I know I would have pulled over to let the ladies on as a matter of course. I would have to fight a bunch of instincts in order to completely disregard someone actively seeking help that I can easily give.

The first thing that comes to mind is that the driver has a schedule to keep. If (and that’s a very hypothetical if) the driver stopped for every straggling passenger, it would be unfair to the passengers further down the line who would now suffer a delay. But, how much of a delay would there be? And, compared with the realities of bus schedules, would the delay even be significant? After all, the driver could have opened the door while waiting for the break in traffic. He could have killed three birds with one stone: the passengers getting to ride the bus, the bus company getting to make extra money, and he himself getting to feel good for being nice. So, why didn’t he do it?

In a recent post about work, I wrote about how rules and procedures (or maybe I should say broken ones) prevented me from solving problems quickly and efficiently. Since that time, I’ve seen a few more situations where insistence on following rules and procedures hinders a process instead of benefits it. I have noticed that blindly following rules and procedures is a big thing in Hong Kong, and tonight it occurred to me that the same thing could be happening in the case of the bus driver.

Most people probably want to be helpful in their jobs, no matter what their job is. In my previous case at work, I wanted to solve the IT problem in the shortest amount of time so that the user could get back to work. If I were a bus driver, I’d imagine that I’d probably want to take as many passengers from point A to point B as I could, because that’s my job. But then, imagine that each time you stop to pick up an extra passenger, your supervisor reprimands you for no reason other than skirting the established behavior. You’re encouraged to take a longer and more convoluted path to a solution, or worse, to not come to a solution at all. Perhaps, to add another layer of complexity to this, your livelihood depends on following the longer path. Would you still take the shorter one?

It occurred to me that Hong Kong bus drivers might be encouraged to never stop for people running after the bus. I’ve seen it happen a disproportionate amount, to the point where I would say that the majority of bus drivers do it. On more than one occasion JC or I have gone up to the glass door, knocked on it, and then watched the driver look at us before pulling away. It doesn’t make sense that there would be so many asshole bus drivers, so the only conclusion I can come to is that it’s systemic. There is something in place that causes drivers to behave like assholes, and I would venture to guess that it’s monetary. There is no better motivator (especially when it comes to Chinese people, but that’s another story).

Today at work, I overheard our team manager calling a former teammate about a job he did last year. I will be doing the same job this weekend, and the manager was asking the old teammate if he could send us the email that he used last year as a template. I asked the manager if it was really necessary to have a template for saying “hello everyone, the job is done”. He told me that it’s the established procedure, and that if we didn’t send out that email, we’d be attracting negative attention to ourselves. It’s exactly like the case with the battery: some people care more about procedure than they do results. All I could do was shake my head.

In another case, I accidentally processed an order and set it to “received” instead of “pending” while doing a training run. All it is is a switch to set it back to “pending”, but it took over a week, at least a dozen emails back and forth, and an entire new ticket before it finally switched back. I won’t be making that mistake again, but did it really have to be that hard? Nobody could make the decision to just flip the switch?

I could go on but if I did I won’t be going to sleep tonight. I’m not saying that rules and procedures are bad in and of themselves; you definitely need rules and procedures for predictability and consistency. There is also an original reason, or spirit, behind every rule or procedure. They are supposed to be a means to an end, and not the end itself. Sadly, many people in Hong Kong seem to have forgotten this little detail, focusing only on the how and not the why.

Here’s to reducing bureaucracy and procedure, and to going back to just plain old helping each other out. Good night!

View of Hong Kong from the 1960s

View of Hong Kong in the 60s
View of Hong Kong in the 60s – half of this picture is land now

I scanned this photo from my grandma’s albums back in 2004 when I visited my grandparents for the first time after many years. I had sort of frozen them out of my life, and 2004 was when I started to warm back up to them. From that point on I would visit them regularly until 2009 when my grandpa died.

Fast forward to now, and all of a sudden it’s been 6 years. Due to some issues with my dad’s side of the family, I haven’t seen my grandmother in over 4 years. Another freeze, I suppose. I’ve kind of convinced myself that she’s lost her marbles already anyway, that it doesn’t make a difference if she doesn’t see me. She’s well into her 90s now, and chances are I’ll probably never see her again.

Life sure can be complicated sometimes… or, perhaps, maybe it’s just we stupid humans who make it complicated.

Violence, Stupidity

Those less evolved are less able to control their violent impulses, eventually succumbing and learning how to justify them. This applies to violence as well as other impulsive behaviors. Despite knowing that someday this admission may be to my detriment, I admit that I have these violent impulses as well, but I try very hard to redirect them. And why would I admit such a thing? Because I believe that keeping darkness in the dark prevents me from facing and dealing with it, giving it a chance to silently grow until it escapes, having grown into an unstoppable force.

I was walking up the stairs behind a man on his phone, playing some card game. I wanted to shove him aside or throw him down the stairs. When I’m walking on the street and the guy in front blows cigarette smoke in my face, I want to wind up and do a football tackle on him. Why do I have such impulses? It would seem that I am not the only one judging by the amount of violence in society. Is violent impulse a natural reaction to stupidity, and is stupidity the primary factor in succumbing to violent impulse?

Like the number of licks to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop, I guess the world may never know.