Monday Morning

Castle Road - July 30, 2018
Castle Road – July 30, 2018

I saw a reflection of myself in the MTR door this morning and I thought damn, I sure look like my dad. Growing up, I never thought of my dad as particularly cool, wearing his button-down shirts with khakis, jeans, or slacks, and tennis shoes. I associate the tucked-in, button-down look with him, and now I’m sporting the same look for work.

My dad was not someone I tried to emulate. If anything, there were things he did that I told myself I would never do. The sad thing is, I’ve actually gone on to do pretty much everything I said I wouldn’t do.

The MTR takes me to an office less than a mile away from my birthplace. The hospital is no longer there. Actually, I don’t know what’s there now. Maybe one of these days I’ll stop by during lunch to have a look.

The first place I ever lived is even closer, only half a mile away. My aunt’s house is close as well, in the same neighborhood it’s been for the past 40 years. This is where I come from.

In my angst over rejoining the rat race, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’m now working so near the “home” in my original “hometown”. I wasn’t trying to do it, but it happened. I didn’t want to be like my dad, yet somehow I am. I try not to do the narcissistic things my mom does, but sometimes I do. No matter how hard I’ve tried to be my own person, I am still a product of my upbringing and socioeconomic background.

I’d like to think that I’m in control of my life but it’s kind of crazy how close I am to the beginning. Is it possible that all this happened subconsciously? Maybe I’m not much in control after all.

Just Do It

Des Veoux Road Central & Pedder, Central, Hong Kong
At the corner of Des Veoux Road Central and Pedder Street – July 17, 2018.

Wow, two months of no posts? I’m as disillusioned as ever, the only way I’ll post something here again is if I just do it, no waiting to be “ready”, whatever that means. So, here goes.

Walking around Central, I see people wearing professional attire, men with their button-down shirts, ties, and suits, women with their skirts, blouses, and pant-suits. I feel so out of place. In the morning, I take a look in the mirror as I dress myself, and I feel like a fraud. This isn’t me. But maybe that’s just what I tell myself, because it is.

Every workday I put on one of those button-downs, slacks, and black leather oxfords. I cram into the MTR along with other commuters. I walk on the crowded sidewalk in 100-degree humid heat. I’m the same as everyone else. But do they feel the same way I do? Do they feel like frauds too? Do they wonder why it’s so important to dress a certain way to work in certain environments?

Maybe some do, and they are like me, needing to dress like this in order to earn money to live. No matter how much I question or how much I feel like a fraud, I’m still doing it. I haven’t started a resistance movement where I go to work wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I feel shitty every day, and I keep doing the thing that makes me feel shitty every day. Because this is the world I live in.

Tell Me About Yourself

It was my third week on the job, a Wednesday. Up until this point, I had spent a week in training and two doing simple tasks like swapping keyboards and mice, learning the culture, and meeting various people. But on this day, which also happened to be an anniversary with my wife, I got my first major test, a desk swap.

On the surface, a desk swap sounds simple: unplug a bunch of cables, move the hardware, and connect them again. But these workstations were neither simple nor single; each desk had two machines connected with KVM switches; one had four heavy and thick (for LCDs) 21-inch monitors, the other had six. All the monitors were attached with heavy metal arms to rails on the desk. The traders had his or her preferences for which machine displayed on which monitor. These were also SBFI trading desks, which means that the cables are built into the desk, and that if they’re not properly labeled, it’s a trial-and-error process to figure out which cable is which. At the time I didn’t even know what a trading desk was, and I tried to pull out individual cables, which complicated things.

I was given fifteen minutes to do the job, starting at 18:45, with my scheduled off time at 19:00. Of course, knowing what I know now, fifteen minutes is not a realistic time in which to get the job done. Even at my peak, after I had mastered this job after a year, it would have taken at least thirty minutes, barring any unforeseen issues. This was a test from my manager. How would I handle it?

Of course, my manager did not know that it was my anniversary, and that I was planning to have dinner with my wife. We weren’t supposed to do overtime without pre-approval, either. With these looming over my head, I had extra desire to finish quickly, but it was my first time doing this and I couldn’t rush it. And it was the only window in which to get this done: the voice guys had already come and swapped the dealer boards, so there was no going back.

In my innocence, I thought it would be easiest to physically swap all the monitors. Considering the users’ preferences and that even identical model monitors can have variations in color and viewing angles, it seemed like the right thing to do. After all, in the small office environment where I had last worked, I’d do stuff like this all the time. I quickly learned that things were different in this environment.

First, as mentioned before, these motherfuckers were heavy. The monitors were 21-inch professional-grade NEC LCDs, three inches thick. The metal arms, then, had to be just as heavy duty in order to hold up these monitors to the rails. Second, the rails are situated at the back of the desk, furthest away from you. You have to lean forward and extend your arms while holding something that weighs like a couple of bowling balls, and you have to precisely guide the metal arms into the rails, then hold up the weight while you lock them down. And sometimes the locking levers were stripped so you had to manually position them a certain way or the whole thing would come crashing down, or you’d fuck up your fingers getting them caught in the rail. Seriously, I don’t think it was even physically possible for some of my skinnier coworkers to do this.

Third, on some monitors, the cable screws would be frozen in the holes, and no amount of twisting or even using a screwdriver could unfreeze them. This was a blessing in disguise for me though because this is how I learned that moving all the monitors didn’t make sense. In the end, I just moved the two over to the other desk and arranged both to match their originals.

Must have been the Hong Kong humidity
Must have been the Hong Kong humidity

All this time, I’m sweating profusely in my wool slacks, cotton undershirt, and button-down dress shirt, the standard uniform for this company’s IT staff, regardless of the physical demands of the job. On the third day of this job, three weeks prior, my 15-year-old pair of dress shoes gave out right in the middle of training, and I had to run down to the mall to get a new pair. Unfortunately for me, this was a luxury mall, and even the cheapest pair of shoes ran several hundred US dollars. If I was going to spend hundreds of dollars on shoes, I figured I’d at least get a pair that I thought looked good. Somehow, in the end, the shoes I bought cost nine hundred dollars, and I walked out of the store in a daze.

So here I am in my nine-hundred-dollar shoes, crawling and squatting underneath desks, pulling out wheeled trays with sharp metal edges on which 50-pound metal computer towers sat. These shoes were meant for going to a wedding, or a ball, or perhaps wearing to work by those whom I was moving these workstations for, not for physical activity. But I needed to bend my feet to get under the desk, and the leather was hard. Well, I had to do it, and when I finally sold the shoes on eBay last year the crease was still there.

Crease
See the crease? Sold for $170.

Now, it was 20:30, and with the workstations physically configured, it was time to test and make sure everything was where they were supposed to be. Fire up each workstation, confirm they are displaying on the correct monitors, confirm the KVM number matches, and confirm they can ping the Exchange server. Yes! Time to go, time to have a nice dinner with my wife, and time to worry about the true test tomorrow morning when the traders come in to work. Welcome to life in frontline IT support, investment-bank style.

Still Smiling
Still smiling after a hard day. Bon appetit!

An Explanation

I actually haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth – I’ve just moved to the other side of it, again. It’s a journey that probably started back in September of 2016, when JC and I decided to come back here. At that time we had been staying with our parents for over a year, and things actually weren’t so great. You can see it in my posts from the time, from hinting that I was realizing how much our parents fucked us up to how I tried to convince myself that things were good. There was even a list of things that I missed from Hong Kong.

The first time around in Hong Kong we still thought of our parents’ places as home, and kept things there. But this time would be different. Having been at home for a year, I realized how tethered we still were to our parents, how we weren’t really as independent as we thought. No, if we were to leave this time, I would not use my mom’s house as a storage unit. I would take care of all my shit, whether that meant taking it with me or getting rid of it. From the past year of museum posts and magazine scans, you can see what I decided.

If I had the money, and the means to make that money, I would stay in the Bay Area. Even as we were selling our things and packing our suitcases I told JC that Hong Kong actually isn’t so great, we already gave it a go, and we came back to the USA. But where would we stay in the Bay Area? We tried looking for a place to live in early 2016. I actually had a job with decent hours and pay. But it was a shit life, a draining life. Work all day doing something you don’t like, ride in a stinky train before and after, and repeat daily. Hong Kong would be the same, but at least the train wouldn’t be stinky. I wouldn’t have to worry about my surroundings all the time. But I’d still have to deal with the shitty parts of living here. In the end, given a bunch of shitty choices, we picked the least stinky one.

So this is where we are now, more than 6 months back in Hong Kong. Despite now being independent, we’re still not as happy as we’d like to be. Adulting is fucking hard, and the more you live and experience, the more it seems like it’s all bullshit. JC is working and dealing with office politics, and I am not, a repeat of early 2014. As I posted back then, I still got nothin’, no motivation to work, no hunger for money, no plans for the future. I still just want to play basketball and video games, read books, and drink Scotch. We can’t exclusively do those things because we don’t have money, but if we commit ourselves to earning money, then we won’t have time to do those things. What a vicious turn of events.

I often think of things to post here, about life and our current situation, and the future. And yet, when the time comes, it seems difficult to organize all my thoughts. We’re not quite 40 yet, but life seems tiring. Is this all there is? What’s the meaning? Is there even supposed to be a meaning? Why does it seem like most people are deceiving themselves? Or are we the ones deceiving ourselves?

I’m looking for a job now, so I won’t post this just yet, because despite my angst, I understand how the world works. Just more bullshit, right? For the record, I started this entry in January, and today is April 11. Let’s see what the actual date will be when I finally post…

Hot Pot Flyers

Walking around in Hong Kong, you’re liable to run into someone passing out flyers. There is a standard size for flyers, and they always come in color.

If you walk around the same areas, you might start to recognize the people passing them out. There’s one guy in the Fortress Hill area who’s been doing it for at least four years. He has long hair and wears a hat. Browsing the HK job websites, I’ll occasionally see openings for this type of job. You could argue that it’s easy money, but at the same time doing it in the Hong Kong heat perhaps it’s not.

These two happen to be hot pot places. I do enjoy the food ones the most. Hope you will enjoy these too.

U-Pot Flyer

U-Pot Flyer

Zeui Yung Ting Flyer

Zeui Yung Ting Flyer

Right Now, #2

I couldn’t sleep tonight so I came outside to type some stuff on my laptop. Earlier, when I was waiting outside for the dog to finish his business, I looked up at the moon hanging low near the southern horizon. In the distance, I could hear a bird doing a whistling routine, a mix of chirps and whistles. For a moment, it seemed like I was in a jungle. Now, a few hours later, I can still hear the bird occasionally, but the moon is up much higher in the sky, and further west.

It’s been a while since I’ve been up at this hour. Ever since we attended a wedding in January, our sleeping schedules have reverted back to a more normal time. Prior to that, we would still be up at this time, playing Skyrim, surfing the internet, or enjoying a late meal. I haven’t thought about it, but it’s been two months since then.

When I was in bed earlier, I thought about the Right Now post from when we first started living in Hong Kong. Being outside with the moon and the chirping bird, it felt like another “right now” moment, so I got out of bed to type this. I wondered if it would be like the Coincidence post, but it’s actually a couple of weeks away before it will be exactly four years. Close enough.

When I was in bed, I listened to the bird and thought of the moon, and thought about how different the world is here compared to Hong Kong. Here, it’s actually quiet enough to hear a bird that’s chirping a couple of blocks away. The light pollution is low enough that you can look up in the sky and not only see the moon and its craters clearly, but also see the surrounding stars and planets. On many nights I’ve looked up at Orion’s Belt, amazed that I can actually see it, that the sky is so dark. Before moving to Hong Kong, I used to look up and see it too, but I never appreciated it as much as I do now.

Another thing that I appreciate more now is mortality. Tomorrow (or today), we are taking our niece to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It is one of many activities that we have been doing with our niece since moving back to America. Being around her, I am ever more aware of life being a queue: that those who come first, go first.

When I was in bed, I thought about the trip tomorrow. I thought about the car booster seat, and how to install it in my car, which led to my thinking of what I would do if the worst should occur. In a situation where I could choose between losing my own life or hers, I would choose to lose mine, because as I said above, life is a queue. I’ve lived nearly 40 years and had a pretty good life up to this point; she’s barely had 4 and still has so much to experience. As I’ve probably mentioned on here before, everyone gets a turn.

I also thought about what I would say to JC if the worst should occur and I had a last chance to say something to her. I would tell her that she is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, that I became a different person because I met her. I would thank her for being my JC, and my partner in life. As I’ve said so many times before, life is fragile and can end at any moment. Being around my niece has only reinforced this notion. We would be wise, while we can, to tell our loved ones how we feel about them if we have not yet done so.

I’ve talked about life being a cruel joke before. Our parents dote on us, we fly away only to realize how much they mean to us, they die, and the same thing happens with our children. Yes, it seems cruel and unfair, but that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. That is life, the nature of our existence. It would be better to embrace this fact, our mortality, so that we don’t take life for granted.

Tomorrow, I will forward this post to JC and let her know (again) how I feel about her. I hope you will do the same with your loved ones. Four years ago, I sat on my bed in our little flat in Hong Kong, looking out the window, sipping a Laguvulin, contemplating life. Right now, I sit at the dining table of the inlaws, savoring a Laphroaig, our family dog sleeping on a cushion with a blanket over his head, the clock ticking loudly with each passing second, the moon shining outside. Life has gone on for four years, and will keep on going. Time to go to bed. Good night.