Random Sunday Thoughts

I’ve pictured it in my mind countless times. JC and I in our cozy little flat, in our little tiny living room, sitting together and watching TV after dinner. It is summer time and the weather is hot, humid, and miserable, but inside my Hong Kong home I have air conditioning. The next morning we’ll go to work and look forward to doing it all over again.

I posted the above back in September. Before that, the text had been in my notebook for months, something that I had thought about for a long time. When I used to be unhappy at work, I’d daydream about it.

In daydreaming about the watching TV part, it seems that I forgot to daydream about the going to work part. Yes, I knew (and know) that I’d have to find a job, but I never thought about what I would do.

So, what would I want to do? I want to read books, play video games, and drink Scotch. Know anyone who’s hiring for that role? Taking a look back at my history, I find that career has never been a high priority for me. I never planned a career path. Before my previous job, I didn’t work for three years. And now, it has almost been a year since I’ve been away from work. In total, since graduating from college, I have spent 5 out of 13 years not working.

My view of work now is that it is a necessary evil in order to survive in society. You give something to society, and you get something back, as it should be. The problem is when work consumes your life, as it does for many people. We already spend the majority of our waking hours at work; to make work an even bigger part of your life such that it consumes the majority of your thoughts, that’s too much. No, I don’t want to be like that. I have seen people spend countless hours at work and minimal time with their spouse, only for their spouse to contract a terminal disease and die. I have seen people give countless hours during the best years of their lives to work, only to come out with no family at the end. Now that I’m in Hong Kong, I see parents letting their domestic helper raise their child. Fuck that, man. That is not going to be me.

And so, therein lies the problem. It seems like every employer wants the perfect employee, one who is “passionate” and “enthusiastic” about work. Use whatever other buzzwords you see in job ads. What if that’s not me? I’m reasonably intelligent and I can and will do a good job, but I don’t want to make you my number one priority. Do you think I’d get hired if I flat out told someone that during an interview? In the job search space, I see a lot of people seeking and posing as perfection. Ask anyone who has any work experience at all and they’d tell you that there’s no such thing. So why is perfection expected during the job search?

In society, a lot of people are defined by their work. A lot of times, when people first meet, one of the first questions asked is “what do you do?” How do you answer this question? If I work at McDonald’s, do I say “I’m a food preparer at McDonald’s?” Or, how about dropping an ultra-elaborate job title without really explaining what it is that I do, like some posers do? I don’t see myself doing either of those. Actually, at my previous job, I always had a hard time answering that question.

Unlike my esteemed former colleagues, my work did not focus on one thing like financial planning or investment management. I had a title, but I would always be embarrassed to tell it to people. In my heart, I knew that I basically did a little bit of everything, and that I was an expert in none of those things. A jack of all trades, master of none. I would look at my colleagues with envy, because they were the true professionals, really good at what they do. They had an identity. I didn’t, and still don’t. I don’t know how I’m going to get a job like this.

I want to confess that it has been over a week since I’ve done anything related to finding a job. I just don’t know what I want to do (other than reading, playing games, and drinking Scotch), and so I’m not motivated to start. I know how to say the right things and what employers are looking for, and I know that if I played the game right I’d land a job quickly, but as I said those would not be my true feelings. I am growing pretty tired of saying the right things and telling people what they want to hear. I just want to be myself for a change.

I continue to struggle between being who I am and being a socially accepted person. Take this blog, for example. I’ve limited myself to posting mostly positive things, trying to come off as someone who has nothing bad to say about anything, when nothing could be further from the truth. I have opinions on many things, but because I don’t want to be labelled a “hater”, I mostly keep my thoughts to myself and those closest to me. Recently, in another post, I said that I had written something “whiny” and didn’t want to post it. I worry that I have or will become a caricature of myself, a person who is so polite and PC that he ends up being and saying nothing, having no substance.

Just the other day, I started ranting about people who smoke, and then stopped short of what I really wanted to say because I was afraid of what the consequences might be. It just seems like no one should truly speak their mind these days lest they be labelled a bigot, a racist, a sexist, a foot-in-mouth-ist, or whatever other -ist is en vogue at the moment. Well, with this post comes (hopefully) a new chapter for me and this website. As you’ve seen, I’ve been quite candid with my thoughts, and they’re not just the positive or popular ones. I’m going to be braver and try to say the things I truly feel, regardless of how they might be taken. I want to see the value in me, not what I think people want out of me.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things, he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels

When all is said and done, I want to be able to say that I did it my way.

AOL is not America Online

We received our first electric bill today, and of course one of the first things I want to do is to sign up for electronic billing. When I get to the website to do this, I see a strange link to “Logon your existing AOL account and opt for receiving e-bills” and wonder why HK Electric would be so backwards as to use AOL accounts for their e-billing service.

Well, shit, turns out I’m the one who’s backwards. AOL stands for Account-On-Line, not America Online!

A Walk in the Park

I woke up with a crick in my neck this morning so I thought I’d go for a walk, warm up my body and walk it off. Ever since I’d walked up to Choi Sai Woo park back in August, I’d been curious about the wooded area that I had turned back from. On a day like this (19C/66F 84% RH) I can walk as much as I want without fear of dehydration or heatstroke.

Behind our place in Hong Kong are various stairways leading up to Braemar Hill. I took one of these staircases up to Tin Hau Temple Road, and then proceeded towards Braemar Hill Road. I followed the perimeter of Choi Sai Woo park until I reached the path that I had turned back from, only this time I kept going. Soon, I was deep inside the park and it was hard to believe that civilization was just 15 minutes away.

A Walk in the Park

There were some forks in the path so I just took the ones that looked like they were ascending. I was trying to get a workout, after all. I made my way up one of these paths and reached a clearing at the top of the hill. I could see Eastern Hong Kong as well as the old Kai Tak Airport across the harbour. There was a also a man who looked liked he lived there. He was barefoot and very much well-tanned. Plastic bags and basins hung from tree branches. Around the corner was some kind of encampment. I didn’t want to intrude on this man’s domain (plus I wasn’t sure if he was mentally stable) so I got my ass out of there.

Since the clearing was a dead-end, I backed my way down and continued down the other side of the fork. I reached a little rest area that had a map of where I was, and three possible paths. I took the one that led to a really steep staircase leading up to a vista point (there was a sign). Once I reached the top, the view was ordinary so I was a bit disappointed. I could have kept going but I decided I’d leave before I actually got tired. You don’t want to wait until you’re tired in the middle of a subtropical forest before you decide to make your way back. I went back down the staircase and went on the path heading west.

On Google Maps there is actually a path mapped out, and I had been following it roughly up until that point. Once I took the path to the west, I was no longer on any mapped path. I knew that if I kept going, I would eventually reach civilization again, but to be completely honest I have to admit that I was nervous during certain moments. You’re walking down a path not knowing where it leads, not knowing where the next turn will take you. The sky is overcast and rain is a possibility. Parts of the path are still damp and mushy from the previous days’ rain. Other than the sound of some birds calling, you’re all alone. My mind started wandering a bit, thinking what would happen if I slipped and fell or if I got mugged or something. I had my umbrella with me so I could use it as a club. If I fell down the side of the mountain, I’d be all scratched up. I imagined myself walking out of the woods and people staring at the disoriented scratched-up man from the forest.

Of course, the map doesn’t lie and soon I was right at the edge of the park:

Tai Tam Country Park

I made my way out and back down, stopping by a supermarket to buy some coffee. As I walked home, I thought wow, I’m in Hong Kong, a major metropolis with all the comforts and conveniences that modern civilization can bring, yet nature is just a short walk away. Pretty darn cool.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department website has more information on various hiking routes in Hong Kong.

Right Now

I’m in bed early tonight after walking up and down the stairs and doing push ups the past couple of days. My legs are tired and sore, along with my triceps and pecs. From my vantage point, I can see many floors in the building across the street at the same time. Four floors in a row have their TV in the same place in the living room. Two are watching the same channel. I’ve got my tablet on the left and my Lagavulin on the right. I take a bite and savor it, tasting the burnt grass and peat smoke. Someone slams the door outside and I remember that the water supply to our toilet has been shut off. Maybe they’re doing construction or something. In the distance, the sound of a jack hammer striking the pavement can be heard. It’s 9:07 PM.

It’s now 9:36 PM. I just got off the phone with my mother. Like any other parent, she is concerned with the well-being of her children, myself included. For the first time in 20 years, we are separated by thousands of miles on a permanent basis. Though she visits Hong Kong regularly, it is not the same as living 30 minutes away. And, when she does visit, my sister will be home alone back in the Bay Area.

On the tablet are several PDFs: my resume, a couple of job descriptions, and the mission statement of a firm that might be interested in me. A few days ago I said I would talk about work in a future post. So, this is it. Here goes.

I’ve been reluctant to put myself out there. I’m anxious. I know I’ll have to put on a suit and talk to people, and I’m afraid of getting embarrassed and turning red. It seems like everyone else is so mature and professional and serious while I still act like a kid and mess around and take things too lightly. Everyone else is perfect and can do no wrong while I’m the complete opposite. They all have so many LinkedIn connections while I only have a few.

The water is so cold. I can exercise tomorrow. I don’t want to shower afterwards. I’m not really a good swimmer. I swam yesterday. There are too many people in the pool. I have an irregular stroke that will make me look stupid.

These are some of the thoughts that I’ve been having. They’re not unlike the thoughts I might have before jumping into a swimming pool. I already said last time that taking that leap into the water would bring nothing but good results, but I guess I must not have internalized that lesson yet.

Just like shooting a basketball, if I just do it without thinking about it, the chance of success is high. Just as I’ve gotten pretty good at shooting, I’ve also gotten pretty good at being a professional. I know that no matter where I go I have skills and experience that will enable me to do a good job. And yet, I’m still so anxious about putting myself out there. I know that no matter how much I practice, I will always be anxious around people. I can only hope to minimize my anxiety. Perhaps my anxiety level is high right now because I have been away from the workplace for almost a year. I’m rusty.

When I don’t play basketball for a long time and I start again, I always get anxious before a game. Once the game starts, I get overly excited and I end up playing not as well as I’d like to. Afterwards, I replay what happened in my head and think that if I had just stayed calm, I might have played the way I want to play. I have to remind myself to prevent this from happening when I’m interviewing for a job. Stay positive and avoid generalizations and assumptions. Be more assertive. Remember that it is an interview going both ways, that you’re evaluating them as well. Think win-win.

Now, it is 11:32 AM. I’ve had a night to mull over whether I want to put myself out there and post this entry, and I think I will. The point of this website is reinforcing things that I learn, whether those things be about computers, or about myself. And, if I can help others who might be in the same situation, why not? Sometimes you just need to know that you’re not alone. Things aren’t as bad as you might imagine them to be.

Adventures with Prepaid One2Free Voice Mail

I’ve been pretty happy with my prepaid One2Free phone service. For HKD$88 (USD$11.34) I can get a 1 GB monthly data pass and cheap phone calls. Since I don’t use the phone often, prepaid works for me.

Now that I’m ramping up the job hunt, I figure I should set up voice mail, which the prepaid plan does not include. It’s an additional feature that costs HKD$5 for 30 days of service. OK, no problem. I key in the USSD code and everything looks good.

After I set it up, I proceed to test it. It doesn’t work (see table below). Reading up on the instructions, it seems that the only way voice mail works is if you set up call forwarding to forward all calls to voice mail. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but it does seem to be the case. The instructions don’t expressly state it, but if step 1 doesn’t work and step 2 is “forward all calls”, then perhaps it is logical to conclude that One2Free’s prepaid voice mail works differently than the voice mail I’m used to, which is answering the phone for me and taking a message when I’m unable to do so.

I’ve been unable to find any other answers online, although there are some indications that conditional call forwarding needs to be set up for each possible situation, for example when the phone is busy, when you don’t pick up, etc., and yet these instructions do not appear on the prepaid instructions page. It appears that conditional forwarding may only apply to post-paid plans, not prepaid ones.

The next thing to do is to stop by a One2Free store. I’ll update this post with answers after that happens.

Update: I went to a One2Free store and the associate told me that prepaid service does not have voice mail. I told him that I paid $5 to set up voice mail for 30 days. He spent a few minutes looking at his screen and then gave me the number to customer service, 25123123. I already know that this number won’t help because the second you key in your phone number, the system will tell you that prepaid customers must call a different number for service.

Conclusion: When I was on T-Mobile I hardly ever used voice mail. I think I can do without it here in Hong Kong. If a potential employer is interested enough in me, I’m sure they’d be able to reach me somehow.

Action Result
Letting the phone ring Caller hears a “number cannot be connected” message after a while
Reject the call Caller hears ringing tone until the call is rejected, then hears busy signal
Set up call forwarding Phone doesn’t ring at all, all calls immediately go to voice mail, text message is received indicating new voice mail

The more things change…

Despite moving to a completely different continent, things are slowly moving back to normal, or our definition of it anyway. I still have my computer with dual monitors sitting on a 4-foot wide IKEA table. I still have my video games and my Scotch whisky. I still like staying up late at night typing shit on my website while JC sleeps quietly in our bedroom.

If there’s one thing I learned while we traveled the world, it’s that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Seriously, people all over the world, they’re all the same. They wake up in the morning, go to work, eat dinner, watch TV, and then go to sleep. They care about their loved ones and worry about the future. They have a place they call home that they’re always glad to go back to. Maybe in Hong Kong, the pace is a little faster. Maybe in Paris, it’s a little slower. And maybe in Scotland, it’s a little colder.

We’re still conditioned to think certain things. For example, both JC and I might think that a loud bang (there are lots of loud bangs here due to constant construction) is a gunshot, and then realize that there aren’t any guns here. For me personally, when I feel a vibration from a truck or the neighbor upstairs, I brace myself for a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. Sometimes I’ll accidentally refer to the MTR as BART.

Overall, I think we did it. We had this vision almost a year and a half ago, and now it’s reality. There are still things to learn and get used to, but on the most part we have our home here now. When I think about all the things we’ve done in the span of 11 months, I find it hard to believe. Last year at this time, I was looking forward to one more month of work, and then being free. Now, I have to look forward to starting work, which I admit I’m reluctant to do after taking so much time off.

I think I’ll save my thoughts on work for a future post. Good night.

Remember to read the fine print…

Just before we moved to Hong Kong I received an offer from one of my credit cards for one year’s worth of interest-free purchases:

0% Promo APR

I figured I’d take advantage of this offer since I’d probably be buying a bunch of stuff for the new place. Today, the first statement arrived, and being the paranoid person that I am, I thought I’d take another look at the offer:

Oops, U.S. only

Man. It never even occurred to me that where a purchase was made would even factor into the offer. Luckily, we didn’t go overboard with buying new things so I’ll be able to pay it all off.

I’m not a big fan of carrying balances on my cards, but on occasion a company will offer me 0% interest and I might take advantage of it. In this situation, it’s probably a blessing in disguise because I had just paid off an interest-free balance that I had carried for nearly a year. On the surface it seems like a good deal because you’re getting free money, but in the end you still have to pay for it. I ended up spending more money than I would have had I not had an interest-free loan.

Remember, spend less than you earn, and all those pennies will add up!

Day 11

It is day 11 since we have moved into our new place, and I’m sitting on our IKEA couch eating a slice of Sara Lee coffee-flavored (or should I say flavoured?) pound cake while drinking Rickshaw black tea out of my Guinness Foreign Extra mug. I had bought the box of Rickshaw tea bags on the first day that we were in Hong Kong. The Guinness mug was a promotional gift that came with the 4-pack that I bought on the first day that we moved in. The IKEA couch arrived exactly one week ago, and the Sara Lee was an impulse buy a couple of days ago when we were at the supermarket right before dinner time.

From the Rickshaw to the Guinness to the Sara Lee, we have covered a period of just over 3 weeks. It is hard to believe that it has only been that short an amount of time when I think of all the things that we have done, like buying furniture and daily necessities and doing other typical move-in things. One fun project was going to the computer mall to buy parts so that I could put my desktop back together. Some not-so-fun activities involved fixing several material issues with the apartment. Tonight is actually the first time I’ve been able to sit down on the couch and relax, a sign that things are finally slowing down and that we’re finally settling in. I like it.

I finally opened the bottle of Lagavulin that I had pledged not to until we had our own place in Hong Kong. I originally bought it from Costco on November 29, 2011. We moved in on March 6, 2013. Not bad at all, not bad at all. In the end, I decided not to open it with too much fanfare. I didn’t even video or photograph it. I just opened it like any other bottle of Scotch, poured it into my Glencairn glass, sniffed it, and then enjoyed it. It was immensely gratifying, especially considering all the occasions when I wanted to cheat and open the bottle before we were in Hong Kong.

Now, the next task will be to find myself a job. It’s a scary thought, since I haven’t worked in nearly a year. If I had to give advice to myself, I would remind myself that 3 weeks ago things looked scary as well. We didn’t know what the future would hold, where we would live, how we would cope. But now, we’re doing just fine. And, who knows? Three weeks from now I might already be slaving away at my new job, waking up at 6 in the morning, squeezing onto a bus during the morning commute. Sounds like fun. Bring it on.

Hong Kong Update – Day 12 of 15

It has been over a week since the last Hong Kong update, and what a week it has been. I started writing something on Monday and worked on it through Wednesday and then decided it was too whiny to post, so I didn’t do it (if I ever decide to write an autobiography, I’ll share it in detail then). We viewed almost a dozen apartments in a matter of hours and picked one, we learned a quick-and-dirty way to transfer money from the U.S. to Hong Kong, and now we have started picking out appliances and furniture.

For the first (whiny) part, I basically wanted to say that I needed to stay true to myself and not try to suddenly become a Hong Konger. I noticed I was trying too hard to blend in (and actually, I’m still working on it). For example, I would try to speak Cantonese in a situation where I could have expressed myself better in English. I have to remember that our being different is and is going to be a fact of life. The truth is we grew up in the United States; our behaviors, perspectives, and mindsets are different, and people can see that. Of course, we are still going to try to put people at ease, if we can. We just won’t do it at our own expense.

So, it was one week ago that we went to a real estate agent and gave him our housing requirements. We immediately went on a whirlwind tour of flats. The first one was a rude awakening, grotesquely small. There were “rooms” that in reality were closets. Ouch. We were wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. Luckily, that unit was an aberration. I think the one we finally picked was number 6 or number 7, a cozy little place that’s close enough to the main boulevard to be convenient but still far enough away to be quiet. We signed the lease on Thursday and will be getting the keys tomorrow, which is probably why I can’t sleep right now.

After we picked the place it was time to put down a deposit. I had barely enough in my HKD account to cover the initial payment, with the balance due on signing. I had to move money from the U.S., and quickly. But how? I was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough time for a wire transfer. We eventually figured out that the best way to do it was the ATM. The bank security guard probably thought we were up to something, because on the first day while we were still figuring out the daily maximum, we made several back-and-forth trips. In Hong Kong there are different ATMs for deposits and withdrawals, so I’d withdraw a stack of cash and then slide over to the adjacent machine. Then we’d leave so I could get money from an ATM at a different bank, only to return a few minutes later. It was like musical ATMs. The hilarity was definitely ensuing. After a couple of days, we had transferred enough to cover everything.

Finally, we have spent the past couple of days shopping around for furniture. Today I looked at TVs and yesterday we picked out a mattress and a rice cooker. The process is pretty much the same as it is back home, except the showroom spaces (as well as the mattresses) are smaller. There is also a lot more staff on hand, too many if you ask me. Nothing like having a used-car-salesman (or Best Buy) type follow you around while you try things out. Online shopping is almost nonexistent here, and paying for things in cash (even big ticket items) is much more common and expected.

Can’t believe it’s only been a week. Guess we’re moving fast and doing a lot. We’re looking forward to finally be able to slow down and settle into our new place. Next up: bedding and internet (the classic combo, right?). Good night!

Day 4 of 15

Today is day 4 of 15 that we’re staying in a hotel. I’m looking forward to finding a place of our own so we can settle in and start looking for work. At first we thought about getting a month-to-month serviced apartment, but upon further consideration we decided that it would be easier to get long-term housing.

First, regardless of how adaptable we might think we are, in reality we are averse to uncertain living arrangements. Peace of mind matters. Knowing where we’ll be settled means one less thing to worry about. We want to start building our new home.

Second, we don’t want to move twice, with the second move being potentially larger. In the Bay Area we’ve done a lot of DIY moving, but here the logistics are a little bit different. We don’t have our own car and it’s more difficult to move things back and forth. If we needed to buy supplies or equipment such as a computer printer, we’d have to move those things to the new place. Better to do it all at once instead.

Third, we really would like to procure supplies and equipment. For example, having a second computer monitor and having a printer would be tremendously helpful with the job search. Being able to do everything at home instead of having to prep everything and bring it to a printing store would be much more convenient and efficient. Without our own place, it is simply not feasible to buy anything more than small items, and even then we are trying to keep from acquiring anything right now per the second point above.

The drawback of finding a place now is that we don’t know where we’re going to be working, which might mean a commute. Even so, it would be a public transportation commute that would be an hour long at most. We could use the time to read or catch up on email. We’re also going to try to find place in a relatively central location so that it’s not too far from everything. We’d rather deal with a potential commute for a year than to have to find a job under uncertain conditions.

The adventure is well under way!