Log in

No account? Create an account

exploring the geography of the high tech parks
singapore sunset
Yesterday I was catching up on one of my favorite blogs - Shenzhen Noted. I read an entry posted back in March about the landfill in Shenzhen. There is a fascinating map posted in Cut and Pastiche: Landfilled which shows exactly when each additional stretch of land was reclaimed. The writer also took some photos along the route in 人才公园: the new new coastline.

I realized when i saw the reclamation map exactly why such large swathes of space along Shenzhen Bay are devoid of the urban villages that give this city its soul. 30 years ago all that land was under water!

My new job will be located in a part of the city that was under water just 15 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago i did a "test ride" to that area, trying to stay close to Shahe (Sandy River) all the way down. They are still developing the Shahe greenway, and the coastal greenway is closed to bikes on the weekend, so that was not a particularly successful route.

Today i decided to try again. I wanted to go all the way down Keyuan (Tech Park) Road, which cuts through the heart of the Shenzhen high tech area and ends near Shenzhen Bay Bridge park.

The start of Keyuan Road is about 5km from my house. I followed the road on the west side of Shahe south for a bit, then ducked under the G4 expressway for a few blocks. The south side of the G4 has a wide green buffer, and the street running parallel to it is very quiet. The northern end of Keyuan Road still feels a little gritty and industrial, although there are a couple of new towers going up.

I remember the first time i drove down 101 in Silicon Valley. As a lifelong computer nerd and professional software developer, that place was mythical to me. It was just after the dotcom bust, but even still there were dozens of bigass buildings visible from the road, billboards for Adobe and Cisco and Microsoft and Oracle and Sun... Not some bank or whatever, but companies full of people like me!

It occurred to me today as i passed Tencent and ZTE and Lenovo and Baidu and Alibaba that the 6km stretch of Keyuan Road is like a densely packed version of 101. Right down to the prices. Because that's the downside of Silicon Valley. As a nerd it seems cool and exciting to be there. Then you stop the car and realize everything is hideously expensive and every person walking around is a colossal douchebag.

Not everyone is a colossal douchebag in the Shenzhen Bay area, but it's close. I went to a large indoor/outdoor shopping mall called Coastal City to buy a bag of coffee. (I still haven't found anywhere to buy ground coffee outside of Starbucks.) Starbucks was jam-packed with people dicking around on their Macbooks. I spotted several software development tools open. I tried to find a place to get bubble tea for under 20元 but that was apparently impossible. I wanted small snack, but dishes seemed to start around 30元, which is 2-3 times what i am comfortable paying.

You remember my last entry where i spoke about my mental health issues and how i have learned to steer clear of triggers? Shopping malls full of chain stores and incredibly overpriced food outlets are a trigger for me. I started having an anxiety attack. Everyone around me seemed like an asshole and i felt trapped. I opened up my phone and typed 沙县小吃 - the working class eatery that is the one surefire way to find your way out of Rich China. I made a beeline over there and sat down to eat a small plate of noodles and a slice of stewed tofu for 8元.

I found a little temple.

I am still trying to figure out exactly where the old waterline was, but this was set just a little back from 后海大道 - Houhai Boulevard. I should point out that 后海湾 (Houhai Bay) was the original name of Shenzhen Bay before they renamed it. (Hong Kong still refers to it as Hau Hoi, which is the Cantonese pronunciation.) I suspect Houhai Boulevard is the old waterfront road.

If you search for 沙县小吃, there are none of them located east of Houhai Boulevard.

Walking east, the next big block is all gated communities and the aforementioned hideous shopping mall. You cannot cut through the middle. The gated communities have buzzers to get in and are staffed by security guards with angry frowns and white gloves.

After you pass that big block, then you hit the newest reclamation - all the shining towers of China's richest tech companies. I went up to a rooftop patio to take a look at the area. Several big blocks are still empty. Some have more towers going up. There are no affordable restaurants. There were more security guards than customers.

I was soaking wet from biking and walking round in the rain for a couple hours, so i decided to head home. I biked next to a couple of ZTE employees who had just gotten off work. I bought a bunch of bananas from a cheerful roadside vendor right up the top of Keyuan Road. I thought about Silicon Valley and tech bros and gentrification.

Lordy, when i saw 红花岭 - Honghua (Safflower) Ridge - rising up through the mist my heart leapt. I am not sure it will be realistic to maintain a commute of over an hour each way every day, but man it feels good to come back home to my village by the mountains.

I bought bubble tea and ducked under the awnings as i walked the home stretch. There are no awnings in Rich China. I guess you are just supposed to take a taxi to the mall. The dumpling lady was outside braving the rain, so i said hello then bought some potstickers and home fries to warm me up. My hair is still wet.


on meth, meds and mental illness
singapore sunset
When I was in that window of not reading or updating LiveJournal very much (aka the black hole of my previous job), there was a nifty feature that said "read one of your posts from 10 years ago".

In my case, that was when I had just arrived in Canada. The post talked about how I had quit drinking after noticing I was only using it to avoid dealing with J's family sober. That was a poor decision. Over the next year I was in and out of the emergency rooms and eventually I ended up as a psychiatric inpatient for 6 weeks.

My mood continued to be a shit-show until I became a meth addict, which was a great period in my life where everything made sense. Weekends were completely amazing. Weekdays were a terrible slog. Any residual emotions or love I had for J evaporated. But my life finally made sense. It was pure and clean.

That drug destroyed the lives of many of the people I was hanging out with. Arguably it destroyed J's life too, by association. But it set me free.

I just read the post on ONTD about how Kanye isn't taking medication for his bipolar and the commentariat were all up in arms about how irresponsible it is to say that, bla bla bla. The idea that the moment anyone exhibits difficulties managing their mental health they should be medicated is so fucking American. Not that psychiatrists don't prescribe meds elsewhere - they certainly do - but medication is not seen as the sole and final solution.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a long time ago. I tried all kinds of different meds - anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-convulsants/mood stabilizers... Some of them kept me reasonably stable for years. Others sent me spiraling off in one direction or another. Still more just made me feel dead inside. I spent a lot of time doing talk therapy too. None of it worked as well as meth.

On meth my moods were entirely predictable. Good felt great. Bad felt terrible. I could deal with the terrible because I knew next time I scored I'd feel great again.

But you know what has worked at least as good as meth, and better than any of the drugs the doctors prescribed? Getting a divorce. Giving up on relationships. Giving up on gender and passing. Giving up on friendships. Giving away all my stuff and packing my entire life into a rucksack.

Now I have true freedom. I am not sure that I "solved" my bipolar disorder, but I don't feel like I suffer from it any more.

So many of the triggers that sent me to very dark places were to do with me trying to please my partners, or trying not to disappoint them, or whatever. Feeling like I had to buy a house, or even just buy stuff to put into a house, it was like falling into a yawning chasm that would swallow me up and trap me forever.

And then the manic moments, those psychotic breaks when all the pressure had gotten too much and real life became like a lucid dream. If I closed my eyes I felt I could fly. The universe sent me messages, or maybe they were for everyone but I was the only one who could see. I was in my own world where I didn't need to bend to other people's will or expectations.

Meth stripped all that away. If you feel good on meth it is thunderingly obvious that it is artificial. Everything you do is a complete waste of time, and you know it's a complete waste of time, and you do it anyway because the drugs make it feel exciting. When you feel bad, you just fucking feel bad because you didn't sleep enough or you didn't eat enough or you are in withdrawal. You feel good because of what you did, you feel bad because of what you did. The end. It's a simple life.

I realized that I could reconstruct my sober life in a similar way. I could remove every external influence from my life that had a negative (or positive) impact and just be me. Obviously work is the one exception to this because fuck capitalism and also fuck nationalism. But as long as I can push myself to work just enough to earn some cash and qualify me for residency in whatever country I am in, then the rest of my life is free. No obligations. No responsibilities. Just me.

So now I can waste my time any way I like. If I spend all weekend lying in bed, that's fine. If I go climb a mountain, that's fine too. I can quit my job, move countries, it's all fine. Depressed? Manic? Fine. I'm just doing what I want to do. When I feel good, I just feel good. When I feel bad, I just feel bad. I roll with the punches. As long as I work enough to pay the bills, nothing else matters. Many people don't realize that when you're an addict you still need to go to work too, otherwise you won't have much success sustaining your addiction. It's just another bill to pay. So, you work. Outside of work, who fucking cares?

I guess you can also look at this as growing up. Part of growing up is realizing that nobody really cares about you, so you can just do whatever you want. Another part is realizing that life is essentially pointless, so you might as well spend the time you have on things that make you feel good. I still have a healthy love for humanity and our universe in general, so I would never take this as a ticket to be an anti-social jackass. But it is a ticket to just be me.

And, I guess, it turns out, just being yourself can do a lot to tame the destructive symptoms of mental illness.

i am worth it
singapore sunset
I just got half of the written offer from the "C" subsidiary headquartered in Edinburgh.

You guys. They are offering me twice what I was earning at the job I just left. It's four times the Shenzhen median salary. I could live comfortably in the west on just the base pay.

21 days annual leave. If that does not include public holidays i will cry tears of joy, but since China has 11 public holidays it sounds suspiciously like only 2 weeks. Still, 3 weeks a year you can work from any of the other offices around the world. They support work from home. Basic health and dental. 10% annual bonus. A stupidly high company bonus, if we hit some ambitious revenue thresholds.

I have my pick of two departments in Shenzhen. I spoke to the head of one today. He wants me to be a team lead.

I am currently one day into a trial work/take home project for the "N" subsidiary whose engineers are all located in Seattle and Atlanta. I can't see myself giving it too much thought.

Even if this place is mediocre, the pay should make the pill easier to swallow.

The skies just opened up in the first big thunderstorm of the year. The streets are washed clean.

I am watching Jesus: His Life and just got to the part where John baptizes Jesus.

It's time for a (nother) new start.

the other narcissist at work
singapore sunset
Something that never ceases to amaze me about narcissists is how deluded they are. It's astonishingly pathetic.

Yesterday the CEO took me out to lunch to try get me to stay. The conversation started by saying "well if you don't have anything new lined up, it doesn't hurt to stay on". When i explained that for normal people spending a few weeks off work is preferable to spending a few weeks working, he changed tack to "but we can make it worth your while".

I am being paid 18000元 per month here, which is 20-30% less than what i was making at my previous job in Shenzhen. I have mentioned several times to HR and management that i am being underpaid for my skillset and the answer has always been "well we can't afford any more than that". Meanwhile they have been advertizing exactly the same job i am doing for up to 30000元 per month. But, you know, i don't care enough about money to make a fuss. I live extremely cheaply. I have plenty of cash left over at the end of each month. I think software developers are grossly overpaid and i don't want to be a part of that racket.

However! If you are working people over the government-mandated 44 hour maximum with no overtime pay, and you are expecting them to be available till midnight on-call, and you are denying them vacation time, and you are banning office naps/siesta, and you are only paying 75% of the advertized salary with expense claims expected to fill up the other 25%... If you are providing people with all of these un-perks, then yeah you better pump up the base.

I pointed out that at my last company i was not only being paid more money, but also there was a hard 40 hour week - the managers strongly encouraged you to go home if you were working over. People could work from home. There was more annual leave. And - here's the kicker - the work was more interesting too. Not because working on robots isn't interesting. Working on robots is super interesting. But this company isn't working on robots. That's the bait and switch.

This company is doing a shady, shady fucking rebrand of a Chinese company's robots. My job has been to build a replacement front end so that we can sneakily resell to foreign customers and hide the fact that they can get the same thing much cheaper and with a more reliable line of support from the original vendor. Component-for-component cloning the other company's systems? Decompiling their software so we can copy it? Willfully infringing Amazon patents? Yeah, that's all part of the business plan. It's the most stereotypical Chinese tech company bullshit you can imagine, except it's the brainchild of an American who justifies it by saying stealing IP is legal in China. (This is false.)

So, there is no exciting work happening here. In fact, there is a lot of ethically questionable work being done here.

"But it will be different now that all the poor performers are gone, we can finally start building our own system!" This was the next angle of attack. Never mind the fact that for the last few weeks the CEO has been frantically hiring new poor performers - against my direct advice.

When i raised the point that back in December the CTO tasked me with building a factory robotics system from scratch and it was specifically the CEO who brought on two junior guys and told us all to build a front end instead, the CEO said "well that factory system was a worthless idea anyway, we don't have any factory customers bla bla bla". I explained that the reason we needed to build a factory system first is because technically it is a much easier system than the one we actually want to build, so it would be a first step and proof of concept that would be immediately saleable while we built on top of that to make the more complex thing...

Aaand then it was back to how we had no choice in the matter because our sole customer is complaining that a feature doesn't work in the front end. That feature is something the Chinese system does not support, never did support and never will support. The CEO sold "our" system to this customer by saying it could do a thing that it straight-up does not do. So, to cover up the fact, he wants some snazzy user interface and database hacks that make it look like we are solving the problem (even though we aren't) as some kind of stop-gap measure. I suspect it is just some dirty sales trick so he can get the final invoice paid out before the customer realizes we don't have the feature.

Anyway, after it became clear that i wasn't going to come crawling back, the CEO started shouting at me. Literally. Over lunch. In a public restaurant. He shouted at me about how he is going to own the whole industry. How he has all of these patents, how all he does is write patents, how he has hundreds of customers lined up, how everyone says his idea is revolutionary. He is going to be "the biggest fucking robotics company" in the world! Like, this guy is yelling at me about how much of a privilege it is to be working with him and how he hand-picked me for the honor. I mean...

Before i left the office yesterday he sent me an email hitting all the same points. Since he had to leave on a business trip in the evening i thought it was over.

But no, it wasn't. Because his wife also works at the company. And in the past two months they have started this weird good cop/bad cop thing, where he yells and screams and acts like the asshole that he is, then she buys treats for everybody and talks softly to them and tries to make them feel like this isn't a toxic workplace. Then she takes stuff said to her in confidence and feeds it straight back to him.

So she called me in for a one-on-one, where she started to give me the same spiel he did. How i am special and the best person they ever hired. Even if i didn't know for a fact that they gave the exact same talk to C when he quit, it rang hollow because they don't back up these words with actions that show they care about their employees (e.g. more cash, no overtime, better tools, work from home). I said no.

And then she tried an even more desperate tack. She decided to try play on my resentment of S (the incompetent "architect" who they foolishly hired back in November) and said that C is now working at the same company S is working at. She said that the only reason C quit is because S poached him away to get back at me. Apparently S has had it out for this company for months. You see, S got fired in early January, then spent the next 3 months evilly plotting how to fuck the company over. His diabolical coup de grace was - wait for it - to poach the most junior developer.

I could have pointed out how utterly insane this conspiracy theory was, and how there are far better ways to fuck the company - starting by reporting to the authorities the various labor and IP laws that are being violated... but instead i told her "people don't leave a company that they like".

I said, look, you guys are paying less than other companies, you are making us work longer hours than other companies, you are far less flexible on holidays and work from home than other companies, then - to top it off - the work you are having us do is far from interesting.

I didn't say that also her husband is an abusive fuckwit who treats everyone around him like garbage, to the point that an anxious, closeted kid like C literally had a nervous breakdown and was advised by his doctor to quit for health reasons.

So she came back saying "but software developers always work long hours, that's normal in this industry". Yeah. It's normal. AND WE FUCKING HATE IT. Jesus, just one week ago there was a huge online protest by Chinese developers over this nonsense. See https://github.com/996icu/996.ICU - 200,000 developers have "starred" the repo, showing their support. Come on. If someone offers you the exact same job you are already doing for the same pay but less hours, who wouldn't take that offer?

I don't think i changed her mind. Because if she acknowledged the fact that people do not want to work at this company, she might have to consider that the sole constant through all of these resignations is the CEO himself. And God forbid he would ever take responsibility for anything.

You see, both the CEO and his wife independently tried to tell me "i didn't know anything about how little you were being paid, i had no idea". Which is 100% bullshit.

The CTO had a budget of zero. He was told he could not hire a team in the US because it was too expensive. The Chinese staff all had to pay for their own illegal VPNs to get over the Great Firewall because the company would not pay for a registered corporate VPN. I had to pay for my own IDE (a basic tool developers need to code). We spent a month cobbling together free software for our development workflow because the CEO did not want to fork out the cost of a cup of coffee a day for a turnkey solution.

And i know HR also had no power over salaries. On my first day i was asked to sign a contract for 15000元 with a verbal agreement that they would cover 5000元 of my expense claims each month. I told them that was total fucking bullshit because my offer letter said 20000元. So who did HR have to contact to cut a special deal for me? Oh that's right, the fucking CEO and his wife. They explicitly approved my 18000元 a month because i point blank refused to expense my personal life against a company account.

So who the fuck set my salary? These same motherfuckers who are claiming that they had no idea about my salary. Their lying is so blatant, it's so transparent. I can't even believe they think they're getting away with it.

And then i realize, perhaps they don't even realize they're lying any more. The CEO is so wound up in thinking he is the greatest technical visionary in the world, he can't take responsibility for any failures. It would burst his whole bubble. So he just keeps constructing ever more ridiculous realities where he can keep on being the center of the universe.

It's pitiful.

Okay, fuck. I needed to get all of that out. This has been the last 6-8 weeks of my life.

Today i clocked out for the last time.
Tags: ,

morning zhou
singapore sunset
One of the small treats i have granted myself since mom passed away is ordering in breakfast on the weekend. Living in an urban village as i do now, i could grab food faster and cheaper in person, but that would require getting dressed. Ordering in breakfast is peak lazy.

I have tried a bunch of different places. Breakfast joints tend to focus in one of three areas: noodles, bread or congee. I still love 凉皮 (cold noodle bands), especially now i found a place that opens at 9am and does a vege 肉夹馍 (pita-like sandwich) to go with it. For bread you can either go in the steam bun direction, with all the stuff you know from dim sum in the west, or you can go in the pancake and flaky pastries direction, which has more of a Middle East/Central Asia vibe. But the zhou, the zhou.

Zhou (粥) is the Chinese word for congee. I have never liked congee when i tried it in the west. It always seemed watery and insipid, and usually had all kinds of weird offal or seafood in it. As it turns out, that's just one of the variants.

When i was in the night market in Kaifeng, i ate what is now one of my favorite variants - 八宝粥 or 8-treasure congee. Each treasure is another grain or legume or fruit. So it has several different grains and peanuts and red beans and goji berries and i don't even know what in there. It's sweet. It's heavy. It's comforting. So, exactly like porridge should be.

I spend a lot of time talking to myself and tend to develop my own private names for things. In my world 八宝粥 (bā bǎo zhōu) is pronounced "bubble joe". The best days start with a bowl of bubble joe and and a mug of morning joe.

I don't even care that it's 30 degrees and humid outside.

It makes me happy.

Yesterday was Tomb-Sweeping Day, which is a Chinese festival similar to Day of the Dead. You are supposed to visit your ancestors' tombs, clean them up and leave some offerings. Also, eat bright green dumplings that taste of grass. I casually entertained the idea of flying to Australia to see where mom's ashes were buried.

Work had other plans. My boss is milking my contract to the limit and making me stay on till next Tuesday, even though he won't even be in the country on my last day, and he knows full well that i would have resigned 3 days earlier if he hadn't preempted it with his emergency "happy" hour. I signalled my availability to one of the future employer potentials for interviewing on Friday, so i spent 3 hours on video chats discussing distributed system architecture while my neighbors swept tombs.

In reality, they probably just played computer games, watched short videos and ordered in. Public holidays in Shenzhen mean a day off work and little else.

Whatever. I interviewed on my holiday so this morning i ordered in. I decided to go full-blown Hong Kong comfort food. I rarely eat Cantonese because it is relatively bland and has lots of meat in it, but today i wanted to spoil myself. I got those little deep fried spring rolls that people in the west consider a Chinese staple but hardly anybody in mainland China actually eats. I got some little baozi with shiitake and bok choy. I got a char siu (pork) bun. And i got a big bowl of bubble joe.

It was delicious.

I am downloading NXT Takeover New York and will watch that tonight. I will cook my own vegan dinner and drink ice honey oolong.

On Wednesday i will be a free agent.

I hope that next week i will get a job offer from the place i had the second round of interviews with yesterday. If i don't, i will take a week break. If i do, i will still take a week break.

Eat zhou. Climb mountain. Grieve.

And then decide what's next.
Tags: ,

I was roofied
singapore sunset
Hello LJ friends. Some asshole roofied me last night.

Trust me when I say I am a very experienced drunk. I know the difference between spectacularly drunk and being caught in a maelstrom of vomit and hallucinations that lasted for eternity.

I think it was ketamine.

It was not not not cool.

In another context it might have been fun, but it was a Sunday afternoon sess, in a classic rock bar, in a shopping mall.

I feel violated.

I have been in the rave/drug scene for literally decades and this is the first time I remember where I was straight up caught in a time loop vomiting, miserable and alone.

Fuck people who roofie people.

And also fuck shitty bar patrons who don't look after people who got roofied.

This is why I am a raver. It might be largely middle class escapism but at least people give a shit.

I have to go to work.


Posted via m.livejournal.com.

It's 5 o'clock somewhere
singapore sunset
Hello LJ friends. I am durnk.

This Sunday instead of escaping up a mountain or out to the blue collar suburbs, I decided to trial run a bicycle commute to Shenzhen Bay area, which is where three of the four companies on my shortlist are located.

It is also a part of town where there are like, McLaren dealerships. And, obviously, where a huge number of foreigners congregate.

I biked to the seaside and then walked to the area where my new work might be. It's very generic and expensive but whatever. It's just work. I can bring a packed lunch.

Then I continued on to Shekou, which is the historical foreign enclave of Shenzhen.

There are a lot of white people here. It's very disconcerting.

I decided to head to the laowai bar which was my home when I first got to this city. The location has moved into a shopping mall because fuuuuck rich China. But it's basically the same. They play the same godawful classic rock. The punters are the same bunch of Brexit/Trump supporting douche canoes that make me weep for the future of the west.

But. Apparently the last time I was here I drunkenly recharged my membership card with a spectacular amount of money. So I am currently drinking for free and it's great.

I have not had a proper Sunday afternoon session since Berlin. Obviously the music here is much, much worse. But getting very fucking drunk on Sunday afternoon is a great antidote to the typical Sunday blues. I know I have to go to work tomorrow but I don't care. At all.

I miss this feeling.

[Berlin is the only place in the world that has real fucking proper rave parties on Sunday afternoon. Bars are okay, but I wish I could dance a bit to burn off all the carbs.]

It's a little embarrassing that the more you drink, the more classic rock and country sounds... well, no, it's still terrible. Tolerable. I feel like I am at a dive bar in America.

Phil Collins remains the best classic rock. I want to hit the drums. I want to hit ALL THE DRUMS.

And drive a Ferrari at night.

It's still day.

There's time.

i googled blessing
singapore sunset
I am fairly interested in theology. I even considered doing a masters in it, briefly. I find the history and sociology of religion fascinating. I have been to church a few times and know plenty of Bible stories. At some point in my life i used to recite the Lord's Prayer before bed each night, though i can't remember who told me to do it or why. I like visiting churches when i am on holiday. My mother went New Age in the 80s, and several of my friends and partners were into Wicca and other new religious movements, plus of course the psytrance scene is full of hippies... So i consider myself fairly well-read when it comes to a variety of spiritual stuff. But this morning i had to ask Bing, "what is a blessing?"

You see, i know blessing in the context of a parent giving a kid their blessing with regard to marriage or another big life decision. I also know blessing in the context of something a priest does to water to make it holy. But i had no idea how to respond to "do you want to send a blessing [...] which we will write on the urn". I am not a priest. I can't bless objects. How do you write a blessing anyway? I thought it was some kind of mysterious incantation that people mutter while waving around incense. I found the email from my aunt very confusing.

After looking the term up i still don't really get it. I guess a blessing is a bit like the message you write in a get well soon card? But mom is dead, she was cremated and put in a biodegradable urn. She will live on in my memories and in all of her stories and wisdom that i share with the people i know. Writing her a blessing now feels morbid and weird.

I am going to guess it's something that brings people a sense of closure, but to me it feels... dismissive. Like the email i got from my aunt R after mom passed away and it is all about spirits watching over her or whatever. Dude. Shut the fuck up about angels, my mom just died. I guess she thought it would bring me comfort - or perhaps it was bringing her comfort - but i felt it was playing down the reality.

I have been through phases in my life where i was somewhat spiritual. I mean, i wanted to believe. But i was always more or less agnostic. Like "hey, wouldn't it be nice if..." Somehow in the past few years, though, i think i have turned solidly atheist. Maybe living in mainland China has brainwashed me. I just find superstition and faith tiresome. Life is complex enough without adding more rules on top of it.

Anyway, i did not send a blessing, but of course i have been thinking about mom all day. They are burying her urn in Belair National Park, which is a place i have never been and will probably never go, but there are koalas and kangaroos and stuff. Mom loved hiking and she loved the Australian outback, so i think it's a fitting spot.

Here's a photo of her back in 2012.


a break from our regularly scheduled grieving
singapore sunset
Losing mom has been strange. I knew it was going to happen, and it's not like we were speaking so regularly that she was a major part of my adult life, but there is still a sad little hole when i think about that we won't be able to speak any more. I would like to write an entry about the weird parts of losing a parent, stuff like picking an urn or (avoiding) talking about the estate... but there is a more pressing thing that has been going on in my life that i need to write about. Work.

Since Chinese New Year, 5 people have resigned. The CEO frames everything as a firing even when it's a resignation. It took him all of 2 hours from the announcement on the team meeting before he was yelling at me one-on-one about performance and accusing the outgoing CTO of being incompetent. Newsflash: I joined the company because of that "incompetent" Stanford grad and Silicon Valley softie. I believed in the engineering team the CTO wanted to build. I do not believe in whatever company it is the CEO wants to build. There were things i could overlook before - bait-and-switch contracts, low salary, unpaid overtime, no budget for tools, endlessly changing priorities, abuse over not hitting arbitrary deadlines pulled from a non-engineer's ass... Now i can't overlook them. I resigned very bluntly, echoing the CEO's favorite line right back to him: "it's not personal, it's just business".

Unfortunately i still have to sit out 30 days as per my contract. Fortunately, my mother passed away, which landed me 3 extra days of bereavement leave that i otherwise would not have had.

This week i have been grieving in the small gaps between interviews.

I have four irons in the fire right now. There isn't much point trying to be coy, since three of these are very large, internationally-renowned companies.

I am in the pipeline with Chinese e-commerce behemoth "A". I went through one technical interview ~6 months ago and did the second one last Saturday. I think it went well, and the things they are working on are potentially interesting, but their recruiting process is some kind of automated mystery box so now i am just waiting for someone to get back in touch me. Who? I don't know who. Someone.

I had over 5 hours of in-person interviews with American online travel agency "E". This is following a 2.5 hour technical test where i had to write code to solve several algorithmic problems (not really my area of expertise) and several shorter calls and emails with the Hong Kong-based HR. I suspect i may receive an offer soon.

I have been through 3 video interviews with a Scottish company who are a subsidiary of China's biggest online travel agency "C". They are extremely serious about culture fit. There are at least 2 more interviews ahead if i pass this round.

I have been on one in-person interview and had one video interview with an American-based ed-tech company that is a subsidiary of a larger Chinese ed-tech and gaming company "N". If i move ahead with them, a 2-day coding project is the next stage.

Oh, i also did the phone screen with Google, whose recruiter said in no uncertain terms that i should spend a few months studying algorithms before i call back to schedule a first-round technical interview. The only reason i was contacted was because several of my former colleagues work at Google in senior positions and personally recommended me. Recommendations just get you a screening call.

Here is the issue. There are very few companies in Shenzhen that are hiring foreigners. The famous Chinese companies headquartered here - Tencent, Huawei, ZTE etc - only hire foreigners into high level research positions. The "smaller" (still thousands of people) Chinese companies do not hire foreigners. Then there are a lot of options to work for banks, because Shenzhen gets the overflow of the Hong Kong economy which is basically 99% money laundering and 1% pork buns. Moody's, Morningstar, whatever, fuck all of them. I will never work for finance.

So what's left are outsourcing companies - who pretend to have clean hands but primarily serve financial institutions - and a handful of other companies, which are the ones i already applied for. Actually, i also applied for a job in Zhuhai with a subsidiary of a Macau bank because i am a hypocrite. But i thought it sounded kind of interesting.

Anyway, there is not much here. And, of that, very little seems to follow the more collaborative, grassroots culture that i would hope to find in a modern tech company. Which is why i am mostly interested in the position at the Scottish "C" subsidiary. They follow the Spotify organizational model and seem influenced by other "cool" European tech companies like Soundcloud. I know from experience that these companies still have plenty of problems. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter if you call a team a squad or a pod or a rødgrød med fløde... But i do appreciate places that at least attempt to make the workplace into something more than the drudgery we all know it is. Fake it till you make it, bla bla.

Of course the place i work at right now said the right things on the interview but the reality was very different because the CEO trumped the CTO. So that's something i need to be mindful of.

The thing about "E" is that they were disorganized (showing up to interview late, not having a clearly defined structure), but at least they were honest about being a big company with big company bullshit. They know they're disorganized. They know they're not agile. I think i am closest to getting an offer there, but i also thought that back in 2017 and waited almost a month for an offer before accepting a different job. I don't know how quickly they will move this time, but if they move quickly i will have to think a lot about whether i want to get into that kind of self-consciously inefficient corporate blob. The work will be steady, i know. It will be interesting, within the realm of cloud-based distributed systems bla bla whatever. I will be a small cog.

"A" would be interesting - especially because it's a full-blown Chinese company and one of the major domestic success stories. But i am not holding out a lot of hope for follow-up interviews. There is no recruiter, there is just "the pipeline" which apparently triggers interviews... at intervals... somehow. I suspect their whole HR department is an AI.

The "N" subsidiary is also interesting, in that they have hired an open source guy to head up their technical stuff. He is a typical scruffy open source chap who works from his home in the mountains somewhere. I have worked with guys like that before. They are smart and opinionated and not really into "hip" management paradigms, they just want to write good code. But i can't shake the feeling it might end up like my current job - stuck in Shenzhen in a tiny stub of a team with all the senior staff in precisely the worst possible timezone for collaboration. I didn't get a sense from either of the interviews that there is a clear strategy to build a world-class engineering team in Shenzhen.

I mean - aside from Google - the "C" guys were the only ones who really did professional interviews. Starting on-schedule, keeping on-schedule, 100% behavioral questions, very on-topic, very friendly, very respectful. Honest answers to my questions on how the Shenzhen team operates. I know that how a company interviews doesn't always match how it operates internally, but it is nice to get a sense there are clear standards and guidelines in at least one part of the company. I am just worried that they won't want to follow up with me. Maybe i came across as too blasé, or maybe i rambled too much. Maybe they will follow up and make me do a math-heavy technical challenge where i flame out? Maybe maybe, i don't know.

After a week of constantly interviewing and scouring the local job boards to see if there are any companies i missed, i am exhausted. Plus, my mom died. On Monday i need to go back and work for this boss who i think is an asshat, and put in two weeks skilling up a new hire who deserves a far better opportunity than the one she will be getting.

I am kind of at the point where if i don't find work in the next month or so, i will just give up. Theoretically i am able to stay in China on my resident permit even after my work permit is canceled, but that is contingent on my current company not also canceling my resident permit, which is something i can't be sure about. Maybe i could look into doing a semester or year of university? Change my visa, or get a new visa for Taiwan, or just head out of Greater China altogether? I dunno. I don't really want to work, i would love to bum around for a while again. But also i feel like after 18 months of mediocre jobs i need just one good job, if only to rehabilitate this flop section of my résumé.

God it sucks defining your whole life by your job. I really need to spend more time on my hobbies.

On Tuesday i climbed to the top of Yangtai mountain.


thank you for your emails
singapore sunset
I am annoyed at the hair salon.

Going to the salon is one of the ways i try to make myself happy when i am sad. I've only been twice since i got to China because i don't particularly trust local colorists to get it right. I am worried they will overestimate how much lift my hair needs and fry my hair.

That didn't happen the first two times. It did happen this time.

But, you know i don't mind fried orange hair. It's been ages since i had that weird orange color that people go through when they are trying to strip out red, and i actually kinda like it.

So the guys fried the top half of my head, but the bottom was still kinda orangey brown. I can live with that.

Unfortunately the stylist was upset and i think embarrassed that it didn't come out how he wanted, so he recommended we do a second pass of color. Which, fine, whatever, worst case it goes full Leeloo Dallas Multipass, right?

Wrong. Worst case he puts some kind of cherry bomb plum red thing on the bottom, which now looks really fucking weird with orange on the top. I hope he knows that i wasn't happy with this second round "fix". He probably does because he said to give it a few days and come back for a free touch-up if it doesn't wash out.

Fucking. That's not the point. I've had awful hair before. I can live with awful hair. It washes out, it grows out, of course it does. But what bums me out is that i didn't specifically go to the salon for good hair this time round, i just went for comfort. And that tension of having someone trying to fix your hair and then still feeling like they messed it up kills the relaxing mood.


Yesterday i decided to bike around Yangtai mountain. I headed along the main roads, no side roads or adventure, because the map said it'd already be 1.5 hours to get halfway. The map was right. I got about half way round, and still couldn't get on the fucking mountain.

There were lots of factories up there. Typical urban China, for the urban parts of China that aren't shined and buffed for the tourists and snobs. The roads are all busted up. There's lots of half built shit. Beeping horns. Motorcycles. Dogs. Plastic stools. It feels lively, but it's probably not a comfortable life.

I kept going round the mountain till i found an entrance on the east side, where thousands of people were hanging out enjoying Sunday afternoon/evening. I strolled around a couple of reservoirs and did a very quick and sweaty stair climb to one of the lower lookout points before it got dark.

I popped out in an epic factory complex, like several blocks of just one big factory. Once i got through the factory i found myself in an urban village, where i got some 葱油饼 (spring onion pancake) and drank in the usual sights and sounds. It was a scruffy area, but full of 热闹. And then, closer to the subway, suddenly, it was middle class.

Dinner was dumplings and home fries from the cart out front of my house. I was out for about 5 hours all up.

I love these little urban jaunts. Chinese cities are the best.

My original plan had been to get to a quiet spot in nature as sort of a goodbye to mom, but i hadn't left enough time. Yangtai mountain looks like it needs an hour to hike away from the throngs of people on the greenway into the real trails, then it's probably another couple hours to do a trail from one end to the other. I wasn't emotionally ready to charge deep into a new mountain after dark.

Perhaps i will try get up early tomorrow morning and go. The trails will be better anyway during the week with less people.

I keep almost crying, tearing up and then not. The last email i got from mom came on Tuesday:

"Thank you for your emails. I like readingthem

Love A"

It might have been one of the last things she wrote.

I will miss our emails.