Two Years in Hong Kong

Today marks the beginning of our third year in Hong Kong. It also happens to be the second day of Chinese New Year, so before anything else, here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous Year of the Ram.

Just like that (and I know I always say “just like that”), it’s been two years since we’ve arrived in Hong Kong. I already talked about what we did two years ago today last year, so I’ll skip straight ahead to what’s been going on since the last update.

The biggest thing of course is that I now have a job. Been at it since June 2014. As it is with most people in most places around the world, a major (if not the major) component of life is work, so now that I’ve held a job in Hong Kong for over 8 months, I can finally and truly say that I’ve experienced life in Hong Kong.

Every day, I take the MTR to work, I brave the crowds and encounter many times more people than I even did in a week back when I was working in the U.S. At first, it was scary and stressful. Walking through the tunnel from Central Station to Hong Kong Station and seeing all those people rushing at me was overwhelming. When I got packed into a train like a sardine, I felt belligerent and wanted to beat up the politician who said that Hong Kong’s subway is still under-capacity. But now, eight months later, the crowds no longer bother me. At times, I’m even able to crack a smile when I see something amusing. I’ve acclimated.

Between Central and Hong Kong Stations
Between Central and Hong Kong stations during rush hour

Job-wise, I’m probably still getting acclimated to some aspects. The company where I’m working now is the largest one that I’ve ever worked in, a public company with tens of thousands of employees all over the world. Contrast this with my previous employment in a small business with less than a dozen staff and it becomes obvious that I’ve had, and continue to have, a lot to learn.

The first thing that comes to mind (probably because it happened this past week) is learning how to manage the status quo. Up until recently, I mostly kept my head down and did my own thing. As an IT support person, my priority was and is to resolve user problems in an expeditious manner. To me, the user always comes first. On occasion, because I deemed it to be too slow and inefficient, I would skirt the established protocol, instead going under the radar and dealing directly with the user (as opposed to escalating or handing off to another team). For someone used to solving problems in a small firm, this is normal and has worked well for me in the new job. I even ended up winning the semi-annual award (and cash prize) back in December for receiving the most commendations from users.

Somehow, I got it into my head that I should become more of a team player and stop doing things under the radar. I started including other teams in my communications with users. I started calling out issues that I thought impacted everyone. Because of the increased communications, it also became more obvious that I worked even during non-business hours (another normal thing at my old job).

A couple of weeks ago, my direct manager came to me and said that people were starting to talk. Their concern was that I was giving users an unrealistic expectation of IT. They didn’t want users to think that IT works 24/7. Then this past week, the service manager for all the outsourced IT staff at the firm (I’m not actually an employee of the company where I work) came to me with some concerns from the in-house team leads, wondering if we were changing procedures on the fly (I had emailed a user directly instead of going through the escalation team).

I was pretty angry at both of these incidents. The first time around, my manager didn’t even bother to tell me his concerns face-to-face, instead opting to email them. I’ve worked with the guy for eight months and I know he didn’t do it on purpose (it’s the HK way to avoid confrontation), but it’s still infuriating when it first happens. The second time around, it had actually been someone from the in-house team who had instructed me to contact the user directly. His manager did not have the facts straight and came at me, and over what? It was over ordering a battery for a laptop. The protocol is for users to go through that team to order new hardware, and I had told the user to directly order the battery.

Even as I write this days later, I am appalled that this is even an issue and that I am now somehow developing a reputation. It seems so odd that someone would criticize me for offering a way to a user to resolve her problem quickly. To waste time meeting with the service manager, then having the service manager meet me, all over who’s actually ordering a laptop battery? I realize that protocol is important, but at the same time if something can be done quickly with little or no tangible detriment to anyone, I would choose to do it and treat the user the way I’d like to be treated. I would not want the user to wait 8 days on something that should take only 2 at the most (an actual case I saw this past week). The fact that such a fuss was made over such a small issue also makes me wonder whether it really was about a breach of protocol…

After ruminating about this the past few days, the conclusion and simple solution I’ve come to is just to go back to the way I was doing things before. I can’t deny the person that I am and the way of doing things that has brought me success in the past. I tried to do it here and the result is something I’m not too happy about. Granted, there are still things from that post that I would like to do (like complaining less and enjoying more), but perhaps there are some things in that list that I like about myself that I don’t want to change. Luckily, the good thing about working in a large organization is that you can pretty much stay anonymous if you really want to. I’ll just keep doing my own thing as I have always tried to, without infringing on others. Amazingly, in this case, the only thing I have to do to not infringe on others is to keep my mouth shut. I have no idea if this is typical of a large organization, typical of an HK organization, or typical of a large organization in HK, but it’s good training for dealing with any shit that comes my way in the future, wherever that may be.

In the past, we’ve always stayed in places for less than 3 years. Will this apply to Hong Kong as well? My dream before was to live and work here, and I’ve done that now. As it’s almost an hour past the anniversary I think I’ll call it a night, and try to answer that question in the future.

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