No Dragons, No Boats, No Festival
singapore sunset
amw
What shall i be doing this Dragon Boat Festival? I shall be watching NXT Takeover Chicago. And then i might play some computer games or watch a few more episodes of Rap of China. I will also drink pineapple beer and cook spicy spicy noodles. Basically, the usual things i try do to exorcise these Sunday night blues.

But the upside of a three day weekend is getting one day in the week where i am not either recovering from work or dreading going back to work. So, yesterday, i hit the road.

My plan was to check out another patch of green i spied on the map that i didn't know what it was. When you live in city like Shenzhen, these patches of green could be anything - the last one i went to turned out to be a rubbish dump on one side of the gully and a luxury condo development on the other.

I headed off around 1pm, looping north into Longgang District.

On hot summer days the city has its own special stink. City folk often complain about how farmland stinks of cow shit, but the dirty secret is that there are days the sewers back up and the funk of human muck leaves cities smelling just as acrid. I like it, it reminds me that i'm surrounded by millions of other people. Cities shouldn't be sanitized, they shouldn't be all air-conditioned and well-lit and inoffensively fragranced.

As i pedaled north pondering the stank, the greenway abruptly ended. I decided to duck down a side alley to see if i could cut through an urban village. A bunch of kids were chattering and playing in the street as rats darted back and forth. New Shenzhen is a giant shopping mall, so it's actually rare to smell food coming from open storefronts on the side of the road, but here you still could. Sweat and shit and delicious cooking.

I popped out next to the freeway and crossed over past the railway station and an amusingly named greasy spoon - 乡巴佬湘菜馆 (xiāng bā lǎo xiāng cài guǎn), which means something like Redneck Hunan Diner.

In Taiwan there is a very visible movement of country yokel pride - chewing a betel nut, wearing flip-flops, speaking in dialect, tattooed up and slouching on a battered old scooter... But here in mainland (and certainly in Shenzhen) there is a disdain for 乡巴佬, the new migrant hicks who haven't sufficiently "civilized" themselves. It was cool to see the slur reclaimed. I do like Hunan cuisine, so i will have to head back there sometime.

Next little area was a part of town that looked familiar. I realized i have briefly visited it before when i was on a different bike trip heading in the other direction. I think the area is called Buji, and in the old days when Shenzhen was just a little village on the Hong Kong border it was the next town on the route to Guangzhou (Canton). I snapped a photo because it's one of the few parts of town that looks a bit like what people think China looks like if they only watch cyberpunk movies and visit Hong Kong Island.



In reality the only towns i have found so far that really embrace that aesthetic did so due to geography - Chongqing and Guiyang are both built on very steep hills and use vertical space in ways can feel both science-fictional and claustrophobic. But one constant everywhere in China is those plastic stools you can see out front of the 蒸菜 (zhēng cài) joint. To me the number of plastic stools visible on the street is directly proportionate to the friendliness of the locals and the deliciousness of the food. But, then, i'm an uncultured barbarian and not much better than a 乡巴佬. My bourgie colleagues tend to look down their nose at plastic stool joints.

It took a bit longer till i finally hit the green patch. I decided to follow a little side road up one of the hills, BMXing in the mud as construction lorries barreled by kicking up dust and spilling water. I had to rest several times, and near the top ducked into a little convenience store to buy some sweet tea to cool down. I asked the owner if there was a route through to the other side, then headed on...



Unfortunately this hill was not a park or even a place for small-hold agriculture, it was a run-down industrial zone. Welcome to the PRD - all the money is in manufacturing. The workers and security guards were all very laid-back, but they still told me there was no way through. Probably i shouldn't even have bothered asking, because when i got back to the convenience store the owner said there was definitely a route through and i should have just gone.



Instead i zoomed back down the hill and looped around to another community nestled up against the hills which i shall call Chai Town. So named because of the 拆 (chāi) painted on every storefront. This is a symbol that means unravel or destroy. I guess the entire neighborhood has been marked for "urban renewal". Problem is, the demolition hasn't started yet and people are still living there. Strange vibe. It was stupidly hot so i bought another sweet tea and let a local take a selfie with me. Foreigners are rare out there.



Heading on i decided to trust my map and follow a road that was clearly a major thoroughfare that you would not expect to be able to cycle down ordinarily. But Shenzhen is no ordinary town. It was a road to nowhere.



As you get further out of town you find lots of these optimistic engineering projects - gleaming skyscrapers and empty freeways. Sooner or later they will be as busy as the rest of the city, but right now they are a weird silent city where the only people around are construction workers and bored security guards.

Going up that road turned out to be one of the best cycling decisions i ever did. It was a hard pedal to the top of the hill (this was the center of the green patch i had found on my map), but when i crested it - holy hell. Letting your bicycle glide down an elevated freeway with no cars on it is awesome. The view was great, the road was smooth and fast and suddenly i understood why motorcyclists love their hobby so much. Screaming down picturesque roads with the wind in your hair is awesome. Even more awesome was not hearing any engine noise.

I felt like i was flying free for hours... but in reality it must have just been a kilometer or two before i was dumped back into reality.

I decided to visit the Pinghu eco park on the way home, since last time i was there i saw families playing in the water... Well, that's not a thing any more. In the past few months they have fenced off the entire lake with razor wire, just like every other reservoir in town. I get that the government is trying to protect the nature, but it's sad that to protect nature they need to wall it off. Also it's sad that i could not paddle in the lake. So i flopped onto a plastic stool at the shaved ice place i remember from last time to cool off, then jumped on the bus home.

All in all about a 30km ride and a 4 hour adventure. Great way to spend an afternoon.


The Friday Five for June 15, 2018
singapore sunset
amw
1. Do you think you have a health lifestyle?

I guess I'm about average. I walk or bike about 2 hours a day, but it's just getting around, it's not working out. I eat almost completely vegan and rarely to excess. On the other hand, I drink a lot of coffee and alcohol. Also my job involves me sitting at a desk all day, so I don't get much fresh air or exercise.

2. What could you do to improve it?

Drink less alcohol and actually work out for realsies.

3. Are you tempted to eat every time you are hungry or do you wait for the next meal?

I wait. On the weekends, where I might spend a whole day in bed due to laziness, I often deliberately skip lunch to offset the fact I am not burning any calories through movement. Sometimes I have a cup of sweet tea to tide me over.

4. When are you most tempted to snack?

I don't really get tempted to snack, except when I skip a meal. I adore snack food, though, so often I use it as an ingredient to cook with. For example using dried fruit and veg chips instead of fresh veg, using rice crackers instead of steamed rice, popped grains to thicken sauce, that sort of thing. Also if I am out and about, I will often eat 小吃/snacks as my whole meal.

5. Do you agree with the saying: "Eat your breakfast, share your lunch with a friend and give your dinner to your enemy" or do you think it matters?

I have never heard this saying, but I guess it's the theory you should eat more in the morning and less at night. I'm not sure if it makes a difference, but it doesn't really work with my current lifestyle anyway.

In the mornings I am tired and need several coffees to get up, so usually I just have some nuts and a piece of fruit or two 包子 (steamed bun) or a jelly fruit cup and rice crackers with peanut butter. Lunch I eat out, usually some kind of noodles. At dinner I feel I have the time and mental space to cook properly, so then I make a "two dish meal" - one vegetable and one tofu or mushroom. That goes with noodles, rice crackers or sometimes sweet potato if I found a street vendor on the way home.

The weekends are a bit different. Then I like to lay in bed for a while before brewing a pot of coffee and cook a "two dish meal" for brunch. I usually have some fruit too. Dinner is much the same as during the week, though perhaps a bit more lavish because I can use fresh/same-day ingredients like 并 (bread/pastry), water spinach or king oyster mushroom.

Just writing this post is making me hungry.

not staying frosty
singapore sunset
amw
Man, fucking Tony is gone? My LJ interests page probably has more dead people than alive people now. I am too drunk to write a proper entry, i guess that could be seen as some kind of tribute. Definitely this weekend i will eat meat, if i find something worthwhile.

PS i am still a drowned in soup chicken. But the tropical cyclone is heading north of Guangdong so day after tomorrow we might see a bit of sun. I guess i should sit outside and drink 白酒 somewhere. Fuck 😿

bedraggled
singapore sunset
amw
Today i was soaked to the bone, twice. I came into work like looking like a 落汤鸡 (luò tāng jī) - a chicken drowned in soup.

I am not sure when that thing switched in my head that if it's raining i'ma just get wet.

I know i don't like to carry around an umbrella all the time. Who does? My philosophy of owning as little stuff as possible goes double when it comes to the road. It's not just "why buy something you don't need?" It's "why schlep something you don't need?" I mean, clothes dry. Hair dries. Even shoes dry, eventually. What are you going to do? In very cold weather getting rained or hailed on can be painful and may get you sick. On a normal day it's just a bit uncomfortable. Whatever.

Surely i wasn't always like this, though. Did something snap when i went through all that mindfulness-based therapy back in Toronto? Was it the more general awakening that i went through a bit later when i realized i didn't need to live up to anyone's expectations any more? I know by the time i arrived in Berlin i refused to buy an umbrella, which i justified by saying it's not like i desperately needed it just to walk from my house to the subway to the office.

But then i started walking the whole damn route. For a year i walked almost 2 hours a day, every day. Hot, cold, rain, shine - it was always just me in sneakers and jeans and a hoodie and a tank. That must have been when the last piece clicked into place. Just heading out the door whatever the weather is freedom.

My commute here is about an hour on foot too. By bike it's 30 minutes. Since the first day i signed up for Mobike, i haven't ridden the subway once. Being outside, connected to the elements, that's important to me somehow.

Perhaps feeling my slick clothes cling and rub helps keep me grounded after my work sucked me so deep into cyberspace.

In China when it's hot everyone carries an umbrella too. I let the sun fry my skin and relish the sensation of actually being... here.

It's not that i particularly enjoy the sun, or the rain. I just like knowing that i'm still alive. I like to feel something.

same desk, new page
singapore sunset
amw
Changing teams at work has made a huge difference to my emotional health. I have been avoiding posting about this because I feel like writing about work is boring, but I need to get it down so I remember the signs for next time.

The team I joined when I started was headed up by a woman, which made me happy because I like to see women succeed in this male-dominated industry. Unfortunately women can still be bad managers.

B has several traits that I strongly disagree with. One of the most egregious is encouraging people to do overtime when it's clear that it will not help us deliver anything sooner. That really upset me when it first happened a couple months ago. I am senior enough to tell her to fuck off so I took the holidays I was due, but the young guys didn't and of course they didn't finish the work she demanded of them because, honestly, there was just too much to get done. When I confronted her about it, she said "well I didn't force them to work, and anyway they get overtime pay so it's in their interests to come in". What? It's 2018, not 1918! These days everybody knows that working more than 30-something hours decreases the quality of the product and costs more in the long run. When managers do not push back on overtime that doesn't bear fruit it's setting a bad example for the whole team. And anyway it should go without saying that if (specifically) the Filipino guys are that desperate for overtime pay, we should be paying them more by default.

Another thing that I really hate is mushroom management, where the boss explicitly tries to keep their guys in the dark about everything else that is going on. B said it was to help us focus, which is a fair point in theory. Managers should avoid sharing high-level political maneuvering and procedural faff that is not relevant to the individual contributors' work. But in this case by keeping us ignorant - even of things happening on our own team - she caused us to waste a lot of time building redundant and/or incorrect solutions that we only realized were useless when we independently went to talk to the people we had been asking to talk to all along.

The cherry on the top was her constant attempts to avoid taking responsibility. Aside from the usual amateur-hour problem of a colleague blaming other people for not being able to manage their own time or personal task backlog, she also refused to take responsibility for her team's output. I mean, that's the whole entire fucking job of a manager! When we failed to deliver, she blamed us and said other people would have done it faster. She didn't take responsibility for not helping us to be faster. She didn't take responsibility for failing to manage the expectations of the stakeholders. No, it was our fault that we didn't work faster. I only discovered she felt this way one day before switching teams, and it was a total gut-punch. What is the point of a manager who doesn't stand behind their guys?

Anyway, none of those reasons were the reason why I switched teams. The reason I switched teams was because B's team was working on pie-in-the-sky features with timelines of 6 months or more. That kind of work is extremely demotivating to me. I have worked long enough to know what I like, and that's not it. I want to deliver quickly. I want our tools to get prettier and faster and more useful every day. So now I have been put on the second-level support team. Part of that is answering customers directly, but a larger part is identifying and fixing all the bugs and quirks that the pie-in-the-sky developers left in their feature because they forgot to think about how real people were going to use it. That is far more rewarding to me. Unlike many developers, I do not consider myself a creative artist. I am a tinkerer, an optimizer, a fixer. Making the customers' lives better is what makes me happy.

But the remarkable thing about this move was how it helped me realize how much stress I had been under previously. I didn't notice it until it was gone. I am not lying awake at night trying to figure out ways to get B to do what I need any more. My new manager - D - is far less experienced on paper, but far more professional in reality. Every week he gives us a list of prioritized issues. He gives us the freedom to talk to exactly the people we need to clarify those issues. When we bring him feedback on the scope or give a technical opinion, he trusts us. Even though we have a torrent of work coming in, he never pushes people to do overtime. Of course, he's not from a developer background. And lo - yet again, helpdesk graduates prove to be far better colleagues than ivory tower engineers. I swear, if they forced every software developer to come up through helpdesk instead of university, our whole industry would have far fewer ignorant jackasses with oversized egos.

And I'm not just saying that as someone who came up through helpdesk.

Well, maybe I am. I only did a year of helpdesk before becoming a developer. But that first development job was at a tiny company where the developers also did customer support, so I was still doing semi-helpdesk for 5+ years. I think I'm a much better developer as a result.

All this is to say that the last 2 or 3 weeks have turned out to be the least stressful yet. Of course I am still exhausted. I still have no mental energy to deal with friends or acquaintances. I looked at WeChat the other day and I have messages from 2-3 months ago that I haven't even opened yet. But this is business as usual for me; in Berlin it was the same. Work - regardless of how stressful it is or isn't - takes all of my social spoons. In the evenings and on weekends I just want to have the time for me.

Last weekend I went briefly to a hostess club for after work drinks, but it turns out I was too sick to enjoy myself. I still need to write about that. I think hostess clubs are great. Oh yeah, I've been sick too. I blame the office air conditioning. At least at home it's as sticky and hot inside as it is outside. I've been playing computer games. Top game of the past two weeks has been Milkmaid of the Milky Way, which is about a Norwegian milkmaid in the 1920s whose cows get abducted by aliens. It was delightful.

Today I either plan to get out of the house and explore a bit, or get stuck into The Last Wind Monk, which is a German game about a guy with a nose flute in a land ruled by fascists who want to hunt down and kill the last of the nose flute guys. I figured it might be worth playing in German to keep my language skills honed. I am not sure if practicing foreign language A helps you with with foreign language B, but my Chinese is plateauing because of my lack of social spoons. I have some Chinese games like Flood of Light and OPUS: The Day We Found Earth, plus a small stash of sexy visual novels, but they are all text-driven and I haven't broken through to reading quickly yet. Maybe I need a Chinese game with voice acting to help me along.

I dunno. It's Sunday morning. I'm tired. I am going to make a coffee and then figure out what next.

do i look russian to you?
singapore sunset
amw
I had a really shit week at work. I will never understand people who have no interest in improving either the efficiency or the quality of their output. Like, why even bother working in the first place if you're just going to do a shit job? I'd rather have a dozen motivated staff with no technical background at all than a handful of so-called professionals who are happy producing subpar. Of course i'm not a manager here, so there is nothing i can do.

The past couple of weeks i have been going out solo for after work drinks. Last week when all the skimpy-dressed young girls starting playing darts and Connect Four and card games with the men sitting around the place it suddenly clicked that it was a hostess club. I never pictured myself going to a hostess club, but apparently i did by accident and liked it. I have more to write on that topic later. This Friday i skipped the bar to drink at home, so for a change i woke up without a blistering weekend hangover.

Saturday i cleaned the joint, did the laundry, did groceries, and laid out some roach bait. I swear, it just makes more of the fucking things appear. I know it's probably just the weather, but ugh. I hate killing animals unnecessarily, but i guess if i moved out and let them to it, they'd just cannibalize each other because there'd be no food any more, so it's not like these are animals with a lot of morals themselves.

Speaking of food, i can't get over how amazing the Columbian Exchange has been for global cuisine. This morning i cooked up what i guess is a fairly typical Chinese dish - dry fried potato with chili, Sichuan pepper and peanut. (I also cooked up napa cabbage, dry tofu, garlic, ginger and chili in rice wine and vinegar.) It's so fascinating to me that without America, there would be no potato, no chili, no peanuts. Sichuan cuisine would be nothing like it is today. Then for lunch i ate a big wedge of Chinese cornbread with peanut butter and some red and white dragonfruit. Without America, there would be no corn, (still) no peanuts and definitely no dragonfruit. And yet cornbread is a hugely popular snack from the steam carts here, and dragonfruit is sold everywhere year-round.

I love reading about the history/anthropology of food. There's got to be some great tales about how the Chinese picked up indigenous American ingredients and applied them to their own cuisine. Unfortunately the big Columbian Exchange dish every Chinese tries to tell me about is tomato and egg noodles, which is the blandest fucking thing in the whole Chinese kitchen. But they love it, it's like their mac'n'cheese. Without America, there would be no tomatoes, and Chinese bachelors wouldn't have a favorite comfort food that even they can cook. I wonder who was the first Chinese guy to take tomatoes and then make something so utterly white out of them. I mean, versus something like ketchup, which feels far more aligned with Chinese tastes and cookery to me. Though i guess ketchup did come from the Chinese kitchen originally, albeit via Malaysia and the UK...

Ah, i could nerd out on this forever.

After my lunch i decided to go for an adventure. I decided to bike out to 梅林水库 (méi lín shuǐ kù) which is about an hour away. It's the reservoir at the east side of the mountain park i used to hike when i lived over in Nanshan, and i don't think i've been there since moving over here to Luohu. I arrived hot and sweaty and already a little sunburnt, but that's exactly what i needed. It's been too long since i got out of my rut and zoomed down some new roads and greenways.

When i got to the trailhead, a street sweeper called out to me and asked me if i was Russian. What's with that? It didn't used to happen when i first arrived here. Or perhaps it did happen, but my Chinese wasn't good enough to understand what they were saying. These days at least once a week a random person asks me if i'm Russian. Is it because i speak Chinese better than most European and American expats? Is it because i wear beat-up old clothes and don't look rich? Is it because i am towering pasty barbarian, and the only towering pasty barbarians they know about come from the great white north? None of those explanations make any sense. Perhaps i remind them of a Russian celebrity or something, but since i am still procrastinating on the watching Chinese TV thing, i will never know.

Maybe i should just ask them next time.

I started up the trail and pretty much fucking died. Several times. Either i am totally out-of-shape again - despite biking to work and back every day - or the weather was really far too hot and humid to do anything as stupid as climb a mountain. It might have been a combination, because hardly anyone was on the trail. But, i made it to the various lookout points, and was gifted with one of the clearest days i have ever seen in Shenzhen. I felt like i could almost make out people climbing Tai Mo Shan over the bay in the New Territories. I really love the 梅林 (méi lín)/塘朗山 (táng lǎng shān) area, because it's smack-bang in the middle of all the boroughs. People refer to 梧桐山 (wú tóng shān) as the lungs of the city - it's the largest national park with the highest peak - but i think this area is the heart.

At one point i sat down and started snacking on a huge bag of lychee i had bought at the wet market in 梅林. And lo, i had a flashback. I don't remember much of visiting Hong Kong as a child - just tiny fragments of memories here and there. But sitting on a stoop in the sun, looking down on jagged hills and gleaming skyscrapers, the taste brought something back. Perhaps that trip to Hong Kong was the first time in my life i snacked on lychee the way people in Europe snack on grapes or something. Lychee is too expensive in most countries to gorge yourself on, but here i bought over a jin (500g) for about 2.5€. Since tangerines aren't in season yet, they're a perfect summer hiking snack.

I really need to visit that wet market more often. It's massive, and the fruit there is so much better than what Walmart gets in.

After my lychee break, i looped back round the reservoir - which by the way is totally dry now, i don't know what they're planning there, but they better fucking not develop the land - and then walked down the cobblestone road past the cemetery to that new area with the L-train and wild new cyberpunk buildings. The neat thing about where i live now is that it is right on that train line, so i just crowded in and did my daily flashcards and then rolled back into my house about 6 hours after i left it.

Awesome day.



Now i need to try keep this feeling through the rest of the week. I have to stop letting work get to me so much.
Tags: ,

oldskool air conditioning
singapore sunset
amw
Oh, i should also add that it's not like i have just been sitting here ascetically stewing in a sealed box. I have been following the habits of other neighbors on my floor who leave their front doors and kitchen windows wide open. I've never lived anywhere else where apartment dwellers do this, but it seems to be standard in pretty much every Chinese apartment building i have visited that isn't one of those high-class gated community joints. Saves on the electric bill, and gives your neighbors the chance to enjoy the sound of your TV shows and the smell of your cooking. Also lets them share the pain when you toss a handful of fresh chopped chili into the wok. When all 4 of us down this corner of the building are home and the wind gusts up it's better than any air conditioning unit.

Unfortunately it doesn't work so well if you like to walk around pantsless or topless. So i give myself about an hour each evening before i close up shop and strip down.

a post of creepy crawlies
singapore sunset
amw
Okay, i turned on the air conditioning. The weather here has hit proper tropical nonsense over the past week. It's not particularly hot - maybe 30 degrees or so, but it's humid out the ass.

The last time i lived in a climate like this it was Brisbane, probably back in 2006ish? If you're a pasty European like me you will spend these ~6 months of the year with stringy hair, flushed cheeks and a permanent sheen. What i forgot was the insects. Living in Brisbane it was particularly bad because Australians have a tendency to build single-storey detached homes, so you get a full assortment of garden creepy crawlies too. Also spiders. Very fucking large spiders.

Up here on the 13th floor in a city that - while having lots of greenspace - is extremely dense, i figured i'd be safe from the worst of it. The other day i left my kitchen window open while i mucked around online, then when i went back to cook there was a giant fucking cicada buzzing and humming in between my condiments. Like, the size of my thumb fucking cicada. I eventually managed to coax him back out the window. My heart was beating out of my chest. I felt almost relieved when dusk welcomed back my cockroach buddies.

You see, although my house is furnished extremely minimally and i keep it reasonably clean, cockroaches are fact of life here. The only blessing is that so far i haven't seen one longer than about an inch. When i do see one, i try to pick it up on a piece of paper and chuck it out the window. Not that it matters, since for every one i see there are a hundred i don't. I figure as long as they keep their walking around out of my sight, we can share the space. I mean, i know for sure every chopstick, every mug, my wok, my toothbrush, my underwear... It's all been scouted and nibbled and shat upon. But what are you going to do? Can't live in a bubble.

And then you're just lying back minding your own business and one fucking crawls up from under the mattress into your bed and it's like... are you lost? What the fuck, dude, that's crossing the line! And yet... It appears i've hit the point of exasperated nonchalance. I pick it up, i take it to the window. Again. Or maybe i try to pick it up, but it escapes down a crack. Again. You shrug, you move on. Now i remember how i lived in Brisbane. Cocky? Oh, for fuck's sake, not another one. Long as he didn't crawl into my beer, eh?

I should probably buy some traps, though, since this is only the beginning and God knows it's going to get a lot more humid when the rains hit for real. I don't mind them taking over the place while i'm asleep, but i'd at least like to have my bed for myself.

Anywho, despite its anti-bug perks, i have up until now refused to turn on the air conditioning unit. I know most of my neighbors have kicked theirs off because i hear a near-constant drip-drop from the upper floor condensation pipes. But my bloody-mindedness has been winning out. It's similar reasoning to why i hardly ever turned on my heating when i lived in Berlin. Don't want to waste energy. Don't want to unnecessarily add to my carbon output. Don't want to be a pansy. People survived for millennia without. If it's cold, i'm cold. If it's raining, i'm wet. If it's hot, i'm hot. The end.

Yeah, except it's not the end because today i stupidly forgot my water bottle in the office and my whole bed is damp like it's been rained on and i had a shitty day at work anyways and i just want to have a brief moment of not feeling like i'm simmering in a custard of dust and poo and fumes.

Okay, it's not quite that bad. But a half hour of air conditioning while i typed this out has set me up comfy enough i might be able to drop off quickly tonight. Here's hoping.

three months in
singapore sunset
amw
When i noticed it was May Day last entry, it suddenly clicked that May Day was around the time i left Europe. I think this time last year i was floating in the middle of the Med in a container ship, or possibly passing through the Suez Canal. That's still one of the most remarkable things i have done in my life and i hope to be able to do it again some day.

That means in a couple of weeks it will be one year for me in Greater China. One of my colleagues asked me if i was going to be doing something to celebrate. I hadn't even thought about it.

I have still been thinking about my first three months on the job and that embarrassing raise.

This is one of the few companies where i haven't really had much guidance from management as to what exactly they see as my role and responsibilities. They hired me as a basic developer, but i keep getting pushed into doing stuff that would be more efficiently handled by the people who were hired to do that sort of stuff in the first place. I think the problem is that everyone here agrees to every project that comes down the line and then nothing really gets done because no one has the balls to stand up and slash the scope and prioritize and drive a single task all the way to completion. This sort of thing is typical of larger companies, but it's a bit frustrating when it's happening inside a dev team of only around 25 guys.

My strategy for dealing with the inertia is to try to lead from the bottom. I am pushing small, achievable side-projects that i have the power to affect myself, and i am saying no to larger side-projects that i am being volunteered for. Because our company has tons of shit on the backlog, saying no isn't me ducking out of doing the work - it's just me being a fucking professional. If i don't take on too much stuff, i can really focus on getting one thing out the door and then moving on to the next thing. This, in contrast to some of my overwhelmed colleagues who mill around not really delivering anything at all. I figure setting a good example is the best i can do.

Well, that was the case until my manager decided to dictate exactly where i should be spending my time. And where she has wanted me spending time over the past few weeks is researching a huge set of unspecced features that she has (foolishly) decided to promise to the CEO by July. There are 5 or 6 major components to this project, each of which i know will be at least a month's work. Meanwhile, the two features i worked on before still aren't released due to various fuckups, most egregious of which has been yanking me into this new project and forbidding me from helping my colleagues knock the last few bugs on the head.

I made it very clear in my interview that this sort of ivory tower work was exactly the sort of thing that i do not want to do. I did not sign up for doing months-long research projects, and i most definitely did not sign up to do somebody else's job for them. Basically the past two weeks have consisted of me reading through hundreds of thousands of lines of messy source code to try and understand the basic features of our software, then explaining to the product manager what i think the current behaviors are. Instead of, you know, the product manager doing what a product manager is paid to do, which is interview users and observe them interacting with the tool and learn how it actually fucking works so they can explain to the developer why the current implementation is not solving the users' problems.

Anywho, on Thursday evening i had a one-on-one with the CTO. Ostensibly to touch base at the end of my probationary period, but in reality it was because my manager (who incidentally is also the problematic product manager) suggested i speak to him to get a bit more clarity on what exactly was expected of me. I mean, it's already a red flag if your own manager can't tell you what is expected of you in the role you were hired for, but whatevs. In 20 minutes i just echoed my initial interview and brought up the feelings i have been communicating to my manager every week in our one-on-ones. The CTO immediately pointed out that i was on the wrong team for the kind of work i like to do. As it turns out, my manager has not been relaying any of our discussions upstairs. Like, for fuck's sake!

So the CTO proposed i move to a different team. Specifically a team who is responsible for what in software engineering we call triage and escalations. Basically it is the front line after tech support. Like, the customer has a bug, and it's blocking them from working, and they need a fix right the fuck now. Not some hypothetical bullshit feature 6 months down the track that probably won't even solve their problem because product management can't get their heads out of their asses. No. Real customers with real problems who are really using the tools and understand exactly what it is they need to do. Not only are these front line guys delivering those fixes several times a week, but they are also all Chinese guys too. I mean, that is exactly the kind of feedback loop that motivates me, and exactly the environment i wanted to be working in from the start.

Next two weeks i will be transitioning onto that team. I know it will be higher stress work, and i know i will be stuck cleaning up all the mess of the ivory tower developers, and i might have to do some awful jury-rigged hacks just to save the day, but at least i will have the chance to actually fucking save the day. Lordy, how fabulous would it be if i finally got to deliver something to a customer?

Do i feel guilty for leaving my old team in the lurch? Well, not really, not after finding out that my manager has been lying to me about the information she was passing on to the CTO. And especially not after yesterday morning where she blamed me and R (one of my fellow devs) for taking too much time trying to clean up the code and that's why the last feature still isn't released. Like, what!? Any time a manager blames the team reporting to them for not delivering a feature that the manager was responsible for delivering, they utterly failed as a leader. I do feel bad i will be leaving R and D (another fellow dev) behind, but what can you do? I hope their job motivation lies elsewhere, so continuing on that team won't bother them as much.

I hope it gets better. I am resigned to the fact that work is going to suck. It is work, after all. But it would be nice if each week i could at least go home feeling like i achieved something for the customers. If i can just make one person's life a bit easier, then there was purpose.
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全世界无产者联合起来!
singapore sunset
amw
全世界无产者联合起来 (quán shì jiè wú chǎn zhě lián hé qǐ lai)! Or, as my Chinese/English dictionary translates it: Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!

This is one of my favorite Chinese phrases, not just because of the meaning, but also because it has a good rhythm and sounds nice. 全世界 means "whole world". 无产者 means "ones without property". 联合 means "unite". 起来 is one of those great little Chinese constructs you can tack onto the end of another verb to make it more active. It literally means "get up", but attached to another verb it means to kick off the process, or to get it moving. This is where the phrase loses something in back-translation - in China it's not just about uniting the proletariat of the world, it's about kickstarting the revolution!

全世界无产者联合起来! Happy Labor Day.

Something my Chinese teachers tried to explain to me last year was that Chinese people like to make every word into two syllables/characters, even when it's not strictly necessary. I didn't really understand it at the time. I guess I just assumed it was some kind of poetic thing, like trying to make your sentence always have nice symmetrical groups of syllables. While there is some truth to that - the Chinese do really get a kick out of expressing things with a nice meter - coming up on 11 months in Greater China, I am realizing it's also critical in verbal communication.

See, when you are first taught Chinese you just learn one of the characters and assume that's the only way to say the thing. Then you get frustrated people can't understand you. But what you don't realize at that point is that even if you perfectly nailed the tone and pronunciation (which you almost certainly didn't) there are a half-dozen more characters that have exactly the same tone and pronunciation, so how is the listener to know? In written Chinese that doesn't matter too much because you can just read it, but in spoken Putonghua adding a second character with a related meaning is a great way to give a bit more of a hint as to what you're actually trying to convey.

Just to make things confusing, that also works in reverse. When you have a 4-character word, it's not uncommon to abbreviate it by removing one "unnecessary" character from each 2-character word to create a new 2-character word. One of the first ones you have to deal with when you arrive in the country is 体格检查 (tǐ gé jiǎn chá). It loosely means "body frame check". So, your physical. But no local ever actually says 体格检查. They say 体检, which also means "body check". As a foreigner, though, if you just say 体检 without any context, no one will know what you're talking about. But when you say 体格检查, there are twice as many hints, so they might get an inkling of your intent.

Given all of this, it feels like a goddamn miracle when you use an abbreviation and somebody actually understands what you said. That happened to me this week. I can't even remember the abbreviation I used any more, but I felt grand. Briefly. Because a beat later, I said something else and received that bemused look again.

Chinese is a pain in the ass. But it's nice to get even a speck of a reminder that despite the fact I haven't been to a proper lesson in months, and at work I don't speak a word, I am still progressing little by little. Every day I do about 300 flash cards, I talk to myself a lot, and I try to eavesdrop on strangers. It ain't much, but it's something.

Occasionally I watch a show.

I still haven't finished 中国有嘻哈 (zhōng guó yǒu xī hā), a surprise hit reality show from last year to find China's next top rapper. Hip-hop started trending nationwide for a few months until the Party put the kibosh on it because youngsters rapping about thug life isn't promoting core socialist values. This year iQiyi (Chinese Netflix) is trying to reproduce that success with a possibly-less-controversial street dance reality show called 热血街舞团 (rè xuè jiē wǔ tuán). This weekend I watched half an episode then got bamboozled when it suddenly turned into some kind of giant robot live action Transformers thing right in the middle of the dance-off. Fucking Chinese television, man.

Admittedly i would probably find a scripted show that exclusively focused on giant robots more compelling, but thanks to the Party's efforts at trying to get everyone in the country to speak the same language, it appears most scripted shows have this wack Beijing accent that - although technically correct - sounds douchey as fuck when you live down here in the south. Nobody talks that way. I think even the yankee migrants lose their most rhotic affectations quicksmart because they don't want to sound like prats. At least reality TV showcases a mix of terrible southern accents, which is far more useful for me.

Though, I gotta tell ya. Most days I am so done after work, television in another language is too much. It's all I can do just to read the subtitles in The Americans, fer chrissakes.

Anywho, that was my language ramble for the day.
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