sober justice warrior
singapore sunset
Why did i do it again? Did i do it because i'm an alcoholic? Am i that fucking weak?

I went out with the work guys again. And it was predictably awful at first, just talking about work shit, which i would much rather talk about AT WORK where i am actually paid to do it. But oh well because alcohol. Then talking about marriage, and specifically the situation of being in an arranged marriage. That was actually pretty interesting. And an abortion. Yeah, heavy shit.

And then came the "well i told her not to go out wearing that short skirt". Ex-fucking-cuse me? That devolved into an hours-long fruitless (and alcohol-less) debate where i tried to explain why richer, older men telling their poorer, younger wives what to wear in order to avoid getting raped is problematic. I could barely even believe i had to have this discussion in 2018.

Just to put a little icing on the cake, along came the inevitable racism. When these men were confronted with the possibility that they might actually be contributing to rape culture, they instead decided to redirect the blame at the Africans and Muslims who obviously are the real people perpetrating all the sexual violence back in their respective home countries. And - oh - thank God China has solved all those problems.

Seriously, that's literally what these conservative expats think. It's like they haven't even read a single article about the extent of domestic violence and gender inequality in China. Or they have, and they consider themselves as the white (or brown) savior. Nice Guys because they don't hit their Chinese women like those savage Chinese men do. What standards! And gosh, how gentlemanly to "suggest" their wives don't wear a skirt or dress in the perilous cities of Europe. Or India. Or Hong Kong. Or anywhere outside of the this one rich area of this one rich city in mainland China.

So, fucking, canceled. I still have to work with them, so i will remain professional, but i am going to post this entry so i can remember the straw that broke the camel's back. Since it seems the last couple months of douchebaggery didn't get me there yet.

You know, i got no problems drinking once or twice with strangers whose political opinions differ wildly from my own. I can even deal to a certain degree with friends with whom i don't really see eye to eye. But there are some things i just cannot accept, especially when the other party feels the need to endlessly argue the point. People - especially men - thinking it's okay to "suggest" to women what to wear to avoid getting raped? Fucking... Yeah, apparently that's a red line for me.

maybe it's all wrong
singapore sunset
I mean, perhaps it's the industry. Could it be the industry?

I just read this great interview with Jaron Lanier about how the tech industry fucked everyone. Some parts of that article hit so fucking close to home for me...

"And then when you move out of the tech world, everybody’s struggling. It’s a very strange thing. The numbers show an economy that’s doing well, but the reality is that the way it’s doing well doesn’t give many people a feeling of security or confidence in their futures. It’s like everybody’s working for Uber in one way or another. Everything’s become the gig economy. And we routed it that way, that’s our doing. There’s this strange feeling when you just look outside of the tight circle of Silicon Valley, almost like entering another country, where people are less secure. It’s not a good feeling. I don’t think it’s worth it, I think we’re wrong to want that feeling."

Right?! The tragic part is lots and lots of people in this industry don't even realize it. They're so far up their own asses - either thinking they are still downtrodden nerds, or suffering delusions that they will save the world. There is nothing more insufferable than working with people who are rich and don't recognize that or don't care.

Okay, there are probably a lot more insufferable things. That's my own privilege talking. But still.

It seems that whole series on NYMag might be worth a read. I even got through the one with Richard Stallman without rolling my eyes too many times. Who would've thought that this angry little libertarian who thought RMS was a total windbag in the 90s would find themself agreeing with him on so much 20 years later? I mean, he's still an ideologue, but he's not wrong when he points out that the surveillance state is already here. I feel the same way, but i'm just more cynical about it - we all know it's happening, so why even bother trying to hide any more?

Since i'm on a long read posting spree, here is Yanis Varoufakis on Marx.

Speaking of neoliberalism, and tech... I wish I had a good link for you all to read about what America did to ZTE last week. ZTE is a major Shenzhen-based hardware company. It's a poorly-kept secret that the Trump administration has been strong-arming American retailers into keeping Huawei phones off the shelves in the US, but what the Department of Commerce did to ZTE is some next-level Cold War bullshit. Blocking the purchase of American chips to retaliate for selling to Iran and North Korea will kill their whole business. It makes Xi Jinping sound prescient in his speeches of the past few years saying that China needs to develop its own chip industry. When one country has a monopoly on core tech to the point they can tank foreign companies with tens of thousands of employees on a whim... that's problematic.

Of course a red-blooded American would say well tough shit, they shouldn't put Communist Party backdoors into their phones, or sell to rogue states in the first place. Fair enough. Meanwhile Facebook is transferring 1.5 billion user accounts out of Ireland to the US so that they don't have to comply with new EU privacy laws. And people complained when LiveJournal moved their user accounts to Russia. Pff.

In conclusion, fuck tech companies.

my friends went to china and all they got me was this punch in the face
singapore sunset
My face looks like someone came at me with a baseball bat.

This has been a rough week at work. They all are. There is a lot of pressure to deliver, but it's tough due to our "technical debt". That is, years of developers doing quick fixes and dirty hacks to get the job done, and now the system is vast and rickety and sticking together with gum and a prayer. It makes working efficiently very difficult, especially as a newbie who doesn't know enough of the history to understand which mess is business-critical and which is just junk.

But clearly i'm doing something right, because after these first three months i was rewarded with a raise from 17k per month to 22k per month. That's a 30% raise, that's crazy! I guess they weren't joking when they said they started me on the bottom rung. But, fuck, it made me feel guilty.

I left the office around 8:30pm and headed to the local bar. It's an American theme bar - all burgers and steaks and country music. I had a few cans of Bud and some barbeque okra and mushrooms and tofu. Then i opened the drinks menu for the first time and got a fine eyeful of Engrish.

Here in China, you definitely see your fair share of butchered English on clothing, on signs, on menus. But to be honest it's usually not something that is worth remarking on. If it's important you can understand what the point was, otherwise it's probably just a meaningless slogan designed to sound buzzy in the first place so i don't see a point in making a joke out of it.

Yeah, but then Friday night i saw "lead a gay ones fing". How can you not order a drink called "lead a gay ones fing"? The Chinese characters are 花天酒地 (huā tiān jiǔ dì) which literally means "flower sky alcohol ground". Or, perhaps more poetically, "flowers in heaven, booze on earth". Turns out it's a phrase that means living a life of debauchery. "Lead a gay ones fing"! Ha!

It tasted pretty much like a mai tai.

That was enough. The floodgates were open. I texted A (one of the expat crew) who was at V's house. I bought a bunch of dumplings as a gift and then headed up there. They were drinking with a couple of digital nomads who were temporarily in Hong Kong and had decided to duck over to the Shenzhen border zone to drink with their mainland-living buddy. Their opinion of mainland was predictably dismissive. Bla bla food is terrible, bla bla Great Firewall, bla bla oppressive regime, bla bla they're all racist, bla bla everything is fake, bla bla. Well, what can you do with those kind of guys other than show them Rich China? If you're too scared to eat anything here besides KFC, you might as well spend your 72 hours of visa-free debauchery visiting the parts of Shenzhen that look exactly like everywhere else in the world.

So we headed out to a whiskey bar. Now, whiskey is definitely not my thing and good whiskey is totally wasted on me. But Rich China likes whiskey. So there we were, sitting in a swanky, candle-lit joint with walls of bottles in the four and five digit range. Glasses of booze came with those ridiculous ice spheres. They had jazz music. Cigars. Fuck yeah, Rich China. I bought the first round. It was something like us$100 for the five of us. Ain't no thing. I got a raise, y'all.

After that bar shut down, we took a cab to one of the more popular nightclub areas, where there are a lot of rooftop bars and patios. We ordered a bottle of vodka and some mixers and the waiters brought us fruit and we listened to EDM and played dice in the glittering lights of downtown Futian.

At some point i woke up with my face in the pavement. It's all a bit of a blur, but i think i decided to leave and refused to take a taxi out of principle and tried to take a bike instead but passed out while i was riding it. I have epic bruises up and down the right side of my body, my cheek is swollen and my chin is busted open. My phone is smashed up too. Good times.

I got home around 6am i guess - i reluctantly hailed a cab when i realized i really was much too drunk to make it on my own.

Yesterday was abysmal. My hangover was spectacular. I ordered in. Yep, yesterday was my first time ordering in Chinese in China. It was... okay. Cost me 3 times what i'd pay in-person and it wasn't as fresh, plus it was clear they had destroyed the greens by boiling them in meat and fish stock. I guess that's what you get when you order from a middle class restaurant. They toss meat and fish in everything, like it's salt and pepper. Gotta show off that bling, right? Can't serve up vegetables that are just plain vegetables, we're not peasants any more!

Whatevs. Today i am feeling better but still hungover and tomorrow i will go to work looking like i got hit by a train. This happened to me a few times in Germany too. Usually my colleagues are too polite to ask, but sometimes they will and then i just say "well, i got drunk". People don't really know how to respond to that. Sorry i don't have any elaborate stories, guys. I left work, i got drunk, the end. Yeah, that's my entire life outside of the office, you want me to feel ashamed?

I think binge drinking - or just hard partying in general - is my self-loathing coming out. I don't do it very much when i am not working, but when i am working, watch out! I hate the fact that i am earning so much money compared to the average person here. Now i got a raise i hate it even more. I hate that my drinking buddies are snobs who sip whiskey in glasses with giant fucking balls of ice in them. I hate hearing digital nomads compare notes about co-working spaces in Chiang Mai. I hate that my language learning has hit a wall because the office expats barely speak a word of Chinese. I hate that i have to go to work in the first place. I hate that even if i didn't hang out with expats the story would be the same because middle class China is so superficial and consumerist. I hate that profligacy is a lifestyle people all over the world see as aspirational. Yeah i hate the rich, but really what i hate the most is that no matter where i go in the world, thanks to my career, i fucking am one.

Maybe i should just embrace it. Rent an apartment with a balcony and a doorman. Take cabs everywhere. Buy Apple products. Drink cognac. Fly to Dubai. Go to glitzy nightclubs where i can order an entire bottle of liquor and smoke hookah.

Ugh that sounds awful.

I dunno, maybe i need to take a weekend or two for me again. I'll probably still drink too much but at least it'll be on my terms, sitting on a plastic stool in dirty alley or just lazing about in my bedroom NOT surrounded by people who annoy me. I hate the fact i have to work enough without adding to the hate by hanging out with work people.

Maybe this is why i stopped hanging out with people in the first place. Life is much simpler on your own. I know i'm a slave to the drink but i don't need to be a slave to other people's idea of what a good time should be.

heading out to a factory
singapore sunset
When i first started at this job i wasn't anticipating anything exciting or interesting. The technology is same old same old. The organizational problems are same old same old. I knew that going in. But one thing i hoped was that i could get a bit of exposure to the "heart" of the PRD in a way that working at one of the Chinese unicorns or at a multinational tech firm wouldn't grant me. Thursday i finally got that opportunity. Thursday i headed into a factory to spend a day on-site.

My company helps retailers manage early parts of their supply chain. Our clients include some well-known discount stores in the west, and they source vast amounts of their wares from factories dotted all around the PRD. On Wednesday night i got the call that i should report in to an electronics factory in Longgang District. Yep, this is the just-in-time nature of the modern supply chain - you get the call the night before and then you go.

I met up with a colleague at a subway station about 20 minutes from my place. The station was actually further from my house than our destination was, but he figured it would be easier for me if we traveled together. He used a car pool app to hitch a ride with a woman who was heading in the same direction. The nice thing about this app is as a rider you can select whether you want a ride from a full-time driver or simply someone heading to work anyway - the price for the latter is much lower; comparable to public transport. Knowing that made me feel slightly less guilty about sitting in a giant gas guzzler for another 20 minutes just to get to a location an hour's bike (or bus) ride from my house.

I guess the drivers see the opportunity to network as a perk for sharing their car, and our driver mentioned she worked at a logistics company that shipped stuff via Hong Kong out to the rest of the world. In lieu of a business card, we exchanged WeChat details. It reminds me of F, and T, and several other people i have met here whose jobs are things like writing Amazon descriptions, responding to emails from buyers in the US, etc. All those cheap products that appear as if by magic in stores in the west? This is how the sausage is made.

It surprised me when we passed by a familiar 沙县小吃 (shā xiàn xiǎo chī) - a cheap eats franchise with a recognizable Pacman logo. They're dotted all over the poorer parts of town. This one was familiar to me, because i sat down there a few weeks ago to eat 拌面 (bàn miàn). Turned out our destination was pretty much next door to it.

We jumped out and got to work. The place makes all sorts of chargers and hubs and dongles, but we were there to inspect a USB cable. I shit you not. We spent a whole day running quality assurance on a USB cable. Measuring the length, checking for any chips or flaws in the silk screen, frayed cords, a good fit in 5 different phones... Does it charge? Can you drop it from waist height a dozen times? What happens when it's been in the stress testing machine that bends and rocks it back and forth? Does it still charge? Are the colors right? Is the printing sharp? Is the box the right size? Is it the right weight? One micrometer off - that's a defect. We tested hundreds of cables plucked randomly out of a one-pallet shipment headed for a retailer in the EU.

Dude, i will never, ever complain about the price of a USB cable again.

On the factory floor, people (mostly women) were soldering and folding and wrapping and checking injection mold machines and whatnot. The men were taping up boxes and loading pallets. Everyone was dressed casually. There were no Communist propaganda posters. There was no stereotypical evil Taiwanese boss. Although, the boss was definitely a character.

He took us out to lunch at the kind of Chinese restaurant i am used to visiting outside of China but have never visited inside China. Big menu. Lazy susan. Lots of waiters. Free tea. No dishes under 20元. If i went to a place like this in Europe or Canada i'd be thrilled to find such an "authentic" Chinese restaurant. Here in China i just felt like a pretentious jackass. Especially after we had just been driven there in a Mercedes.

Our company is very fucking strict about avoiding bribery, which is challenging in China where it is a tradition to treat your (business) partners with lavish meals and gifts. So i felt kind of awkward on two levels - one because i would never go to a restaurant like that on my own here, and two because going there felt like it was breaking the ethics contract i had to sign on my first day. I was relieved at the end of the meal when - after letting the boss pick up the bill inside the restaurant - my colleague hit me up for some cash and we paid it back to him inside the elevator, profusely apologizing and explaining it was our company policy and we had no choice. Fucking. Awkward. I would have been much happier just walking down to the 沙县小吃 round the corner from the factory. But i guess that wouldn't have made the boss feel like he was treating us with the right level of respect, or something?

Sigh. So, yeah, perhaps that's an interesting cultural quirk. Friday night at after-work drinks a similar thing happened. It was around midnight at an outdoor 烧烤 (shāo kǎo) joint, and one of the guys at the next table over decided to come and make friends with us. Even though we had already eaten, our new friend followed up several rounds of beers with a round of imported oysters, then fucking foie gras. Like, seriously. This is, i think, the first time in my life i have ever eaten either oysters or foie gras. I associate both with rich people. They were both fine, i guess. I don't care to eat them again. But it's like... Dude, you don't need to show off to the white man how rich and cultured you are by spending ridiculous amounts of money on food for snobs. His girlfriend ended up dragging him away with a sour look, presumably unhappy at his drunken profligacy. That upset one of my other colleagues who had just ducked back to his apartment to fetch a stupendously expensive bottle of cognac to share with his new-found buddy.

The hilarious thing about that night was around 4am one of my colleagues ended up vomiting a few times and blaming the oyster, when in reality he almost certainly just drank too much. Just a reminder that it's not only Chinese who go to great lengths to try prove their worthiness to strangers. Probably it's just a young man thing. I cycled home when the lot of 'em flagged and briefly wished i still lived in Berlin around unpretentious people who know how to party for longer than 8 hours.

Anywho, back to Thursday and the factory. My colleague was a Zhuang from Guangxi province. His English was good - better than my Chinese - but he proudly told me he also speaks 5 other languages, including Zhuang, Cantonese, Putonghua and Hakka. He counted to 10 in Cantonese, much to the bemusement of the factory boss from Hunan province. He has a (Hakka) wife and kids here in Shenzhen - he was living over in Bao'an District and keen to get home as soon as possible because his daughter was sick. He said he likes to try get the work done quickly so he can get home in time to cook a proper dinner for his family. What a catch, eh?

It was the best day i have had at work since i started. For the first time, i got to speak Chinese pretty much all day. For the first time, i was actually working side-by-side with Chinese people. (Although my current office is mostly Chinese, i have frustratingly been teamed up with an Indian boss and Filipino colleagues, none of whom live in Shenzhen or speak a single word of Chinese.) For the first time, i actually felt like i was in the motherfucking Pearl River Delta. It was great.

Friday was back to the grind. After putting up with a frustrating drive-by from the CTO, the day descended into the aforementioned drinks with the expat crew. Yesterday was a write-off. Today i was going to head out on an adventure, but the skies opened up in the first big storm of the rainy season. I went out to pick up groceries and shared the elevator back up with three dudes from competing food delivery companies. The newspaper likes to pretend these guys are locked in some kind of epic war to own the streets of urban China, but really that's only the execs. The front-line troops were all dripping wet and made smalltalk about how much it sucks to work in the rain. One of them had a nifty waterproof bag thing to hold his smartphone, and it was the envy of the group. I stepped off and made soggy footprints back to my place where i cooked up my own lunch. After i post this i will eat some Hami melon and write my family. I guess the rain is forcing me to stop procrastinating on that. My oma is dying, i think, and i haven't been in touch with mom since i heard a couple months ago. Meh, family.

It smells clean out there. I hate rain in cold weather. In hot weather it's grand. I kinda want to go out there now and slide around in the mud and watch the sunset. Last night the sky was green and shone and i felt like a dying android.

on your bike
singapore sunset
Sometimes my work can be so infuriating. I cannot believe that my manager asked the Filipino guys to come into the office today, despite it being a holiday in Philippines, to try push out the release tomorrow. Friday we already had 10+ complex bugs open and it was clear that regardless of whether people pulled OT we weren't going to hit the release date. I told her this on Friday morning. I told her again this morning. And at lunch time. Then at 5pm she acted all surprised that there were still 10+ bugs open. Software engineering isn't rocket science, sure, but it's still more complicated than just "press a button, fix the bug". For someone who has worked in the industry as long as she has, she should know better. I am so upset she forced those kids to work on a holiday for nothing. Plus, i'm fucking sick too and should have spent the day at home in bed.

Whatever, i don't want to waste energy worrying about it. It will still be shit tomorrow. Instead i will write about bikes.

Sunday i was sick as a dog, but i made myself go outside for a bit. I decided to take a bike and head up to a mysterious large green patch on my map that i know is a mountain because i have been in the area before, but i could never find an access road or path. According to my map, there is a solitary road heading into a place called 银湖山郊野公园 (hú shān jiāo yě gōng yuán) - Silver Lake Mountain Countryside Park. Sounds good, right? I went to explore.

That part of town is close to the railway lines and the "border" between Luohu District and Longgang District. It's actually fairly close to my house too, but because of the freeway and railway lines and old industrial areas, it's a bit tricky to get to. I zigged and zagged and slipped between two buildings to coast into a tunnel below the railway lines. There was a hidden wet market down there, so i cycled through the slop and the gore, hauled ass the wrong way up an off-ramp, then popped out in a Tokyo-looking multi-layered intersection with greenways and pedestrian bridges and the works.

Then my sidewalk suddenly ended. Ah, China. I hauled the bike up a steep set of stairs and then followed the road my map showed winding up into the mountain toward the park. There were no cars, no bikes, no pedestrians, no nothing. It was very weird. It was a tough cycle, too. I pushed hard and - covered in sweat - paused at a weird industrial compound with a security guard out front. He looked me and yelled "not far!" I asked him if there was a park up there and he said no. He tried to explain what was there and the main word i got was 垃圾 (lā jī), which means trash. I said "no park, really?" and frowned. He shrugged and told me again it wasn't far so i might as well head up there. I got his point and left him saying at least i'll enjoy zooming back down.

The next few hundred meters the air was thick with construction muck and mist. A whole army of guys was hanging off the side of the cliff putting in landslide protection and cutting waterways.

Just then a garbage truck rolled past.

Up near the top of the hill was another security checkpoint, and this time the guards were less cheerful. They told me i couldn't go through. The garbage truck and some guy with his girlfriend and a pickup full of trash were lined up. I guess it's a landfill. Unmarked on the map. No road signs. You just have to know.

So i quaffed some water and zipped back down the hill, waving hi to the bemused construction workers and friendly security guard as i passed.

Then i decided to peel off to the left. There was a steep dirt road going down into a gully, and i had just seen a guy come up it on his electric trike. On my map in the middle of the green i could also see a slice of blue pie - a very small reservoir. Halfway down the dirt road, i realized i was heading into a hole that looked like it wasn't going to be easy to bike out of. I looped around and pushed my trusty steed back up the hill then hair-pinned it onto an even smaller and steeper path - just about a foot wide - and literally slid down to the edge of the freeway where there was a sidewalk connected to nothing except for the dirt path i just came from.

I cycled over the bridge and paused in the middle. Down in the valley was a dam and some people tilling crops in the flood plain. The sun shone right in my eyes. A cock crowed.

On the other side of the bridge, the sidewalk ended again. I BMXed onto another dirt track that led through some trees to the next proper road turn-off.

Well. A "proper" road that was not marked on my map at all. I decided to follow it. At some point i found one of those temporary villages that pop up in construction areas here - lots of prefab homes and bright orange jumpsuits hanging up out front. I asked a woman who was chilling in a bizarrely-located children's playground where i could go to climb the mountain. She pointed back at a fork i had passed earlier. Since it was a decent-sized concrete road, i figured it would lead up to an official park entrance where i could leave my bike and proceed on foot.

That didn't happen. I pedaled up that mountain like it was the motherfucking Tour de France. At a certain point i rounded a turn and spyed a whole goddamn sky village being constructed on top of the mountain. Like a fucking major resort or something. This was slap-bang in the middle of the blank green expanse on my map. No roads, no landmarks, no nothing. I guess the development is so brand new that it hasn't even hit the local online maps yet. The only people i saw were construction workers heading up to the site, and one or two older locals walking up as part of their workout.

This site was far enough out of the way they didn't have a security guard. I've been to a few smaller mountain-top construction sites where there are lots of signs telling you not to go, but the construction workers don't give a shit as long as you stay out of their way. If i didn't have the bike with me or if i was a little less sick i might have tried my luck here to see if there was a hidden hiking trail, but once i got to an area where a couple of concrete mixers were dumping their slurry by the side of the road i decided to head back to somewhere i wouldn't be breathing in construction dust for the rest of the evening.

The best thing about these share bikes is how much they capture the sense of being a child again. A lot of them are pretty busted up, sometimes you gotta brake with your feet, and all of them are designed for people well under 6 foot. They have no gears. They have solid (puncture-proof) tires, so it's a very bumpy ride. "Serious" cyclists complain that they are too heavy and poorly maintained. Serious cyclists totally miss the point. Because the bikes are so tough, people take them everywhere. They're a big hit with construction workers and other poor people who otherwise would have to walk. It might sound odd that i am BMXing around in the middle of a city of 10 million people, but that's what the city is like when you get outside the glitz and glamor of the middle class areas. In the industrial areas and the rural/developing areas, the sidewalks are bumpy, there are random holes in the ground... it's a shit-show. Sometimes you're going to have to take a dirt path or climb over a fence to get to where you're going. Hey, it's no biggie, the cops do it too.

But all of that makes me feel like a youngster again. I don't know if this was the experience of every kid in the world, but in my generation and in the places where i lived, we would get on our bikes and tear off down the sidewalk - no helmets - ride up hills and into parks and find abandoned construction sites where we could pretend we were motocross heroes or just jump around in the dirt. We never had a destination in mind, we'd just hide and trespass and climb trees and imagine far more exciting lives for ourselves than being average kids going to an average school in an average town.

Getting on my share bike in Shenzhen and heading away from the greenways and shopping malls, that's when i really feel like a kid again.

After my little adventure in developing Shenzhen, i headed back down to 洪湖公园 (hóng hú gōng yuán) or Flood Lake Park. That's the park close to my apartment that first time i visited made me feel like this area would be a good place to rent. Funnily, since i moved in i've never been there. I guess it's not really on the way to anywhere. There were people singing karaoke and people fishing and people taking photos of birds and all the fabulous 热闹 (rè nao) that makes urban parks in China great. I took some photos of graffiti, since this is one of the very few parts of town where they don't paint over it immediately. And then i sat down under some palm trees to watch the sunset.

Side note: palm trees are the most useless fucking trees in the world when you live in a hot place. They don't provide any shade at all. The Shenzhen city planners know this and have instead lined most of the streets with some kind of umbrella-like tree that has very thick coverage and is a blessing in the summer. But - not gonna lie - there's something magical about palm trees that instantly makes you feel like you're on holiday.

For a moment, this Sunday night, i felt like i was on holiday again.

spring ghosts and money talk
singapore sunset
Thursday this week it was Tomb Sweeping Day, which a lot of people stretch out over Friday and into the weekend. I guess it's similar to Mexico's Day of the Dead - a day of honoring dead family members and ancestors. As i've seen during Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival, Shenzhen basically empties out during these sorts of holidays. Although my favorite little mom'n'pop joints close up shop, i do quite enjoy the relative peace and quiet.

Summer arrived. Or "hot spring". The weather got sultry and the sky has been thick with pregnant clouds. The street-side fruit vendors are selling small yellow mangos whose sweetness fills the air. On the advice of a worker at one of my lunch spots i also tried a Hami melon. I've never been a big fan of cantaloupe, but holy heck these giant, wrinkly capsules from Xinjiang province pack a sweet, crisp punch.

Yesterday it turned. The ghosts of a billion swept tombs came out to play. For a moment i thought the clouds would finally break - that i'd be caught in an ankle-deep torrent, raindrops beating on my lips... but it never happened. The wind howled and howled and i buttoned my shirt to the collar and hurried home.

We were denied the explosive release, but the temperature did drop from 30 degrees to about 15 degrees in the space of a few hours. Predictably, now i am sick.

The other thing that happened this week is i got my second paycheck.

You know, i had a whole list of stuff that i was going to buy with my first paycheck, but i never did because i was too busy working. Meanwhile, i got an email from a former colleague who quit his job in Berlin to become a digital nomad.

R is currently somewhere in Bali, presumably slinging code while sitting under a palm tree. He has to leave Indonesia every 30 days to renew his entry stamp - similar to the process i had to go through every 30 days when i was still here on a tourist visa. Since Bali is an island, for him that means having to fly to Malaysia or Philippines or even further afield every month.

A part of me is jealous. I also have a First World passport and i am white and a raver and a software developer. That checks a lot of digital nomad boxes. It would be awesome to only work a couple days a week and go to festivals and live wherever i pleased. But i think i would feel guilty on every visa run.

Living in Shenzhen to study Chinese i didn't feel too guilty hopping over to Hong Kong every 30 days, because i was not earning an income, i was injecting large amounts of cash into the local economy, and my travel was all-electric. If i was working, i would be contributing much less to the local economy while simultaneously collecting a paycheck taxed elsewhere. Let's not even get into flying internationally every month or using your status to duck out of paying duty on electronics and alcohol and other luxuries. It would make me really uncomfortable.

Anywho, R suggested we should meet up on one of his visa runs and asked me how much my monthly costs ran here in China. He shared his own: 300€ room rental, 35€ motorbike rental, 1-4€ per meal. I don't know what he charges as a contractor, but 100€ and up isn't unusual. He could literally pay his whole month's costs in a few hours' work. Now i've gotten my second paycheck, i can see exactly how much my moral high ground is costing me.

My monthly salary here is 17000元 - about 2200€. This is double the average salary in urbanized China, which estimates put around 9000元. For reference, job ads pinned up for servers and clerks in the city list around 3500元.

I calculated my after-tax monthly income to be around 13500元, but it seems that my employer has calculated it to 15000元, since that's what appeared in my account this month. I need to talk to HR about that, because 2000元 tax on 17000元 seems shamefully low, and i fear they have decided to not pay my social insurance contribution. I know some of my colleagues request to be paid in Hong Kong to avoid being taxed altogether, so it wouldn't surprise me if HR think they're doing me a favor by pulling some bullshit expat deduction scam.

Whatever. Here i am with 15000元 coming in every month. My rent is 2500元. Gas bill was around 20元, electricity/water/garbage/etc is a combined fee around 100元. I am spending about 35元 on 4G data, plus 50元 on public transport and share bikes. And, according to my bank statement, i withdrew 1000元 twice last month. So that covers groceries, coffee, eating out, after-work drinks (likely my biggest expense) and other cash incidentals. Let's say my costs are 5000元 a month. That's 650€ - more than R's Bali costs, but less than my Berlin lifestyle, which was about double.

Let's summarize. From my paycheck, 2000元 goes to my community via taxes. 5000元 comfortably covers all of my living expenses. 10000元 is gravy. My disposable income is more than what the average person in this city earns in total.

I know this is no different to how things were for me in Germany, but it's still obscene. Imagine if i was living here and still earning my German paycheck. Or contractor rates! I don't know how people can live with themselves earning like that, especially when so many in their community are getting by with orders of magnitude less.

I guess that's why a lot of rich people build their own communities, so they don't have to face it. A lot of expats i meet here live in bubbles, linguistically separated from the people around them. Perhaps digital nomads are even less connected? Perhaps they don't care about the inequality because they don't see themselves as part of the communities they live in anyway?

Sometimes i wish my granddad was still alive so i could ask him, having spent much of his life in poor countries working for the Foreign Office. I don't know how he lived after he left Hong Kong. If i find out where he's buried, next year i could fly to the Philippines to sweep his tomb. Perhaps his ghost could give me some insight.

It's Spring Again
singapore sunset
I finally got out of the house this weekend. I decided to bike up to Dawang village at the north end of the reservoir and then turn left (instead of turning right and looping back around). It turns out there is a little cultural village up there with artisans and painters and farmers and whatnot. I saw a couple of folks on horseback too, which seemed very odd in Southern China.

A peculiar offramp beckoned. The expressway loomed overhead, but the offramps were standing alone. I BMXed up a dirt track and then lifted my bike over the barrier to get onto the road. It was connected to nothing in particular. Really weird, to be on a 3-lane road that went for all of one kilometer to nowhere. There were lines painted and traffic lights and everything. No people, no cars.

I guess this is one of those things you see when you get outside of Luohu, Futian, Nanshan and (to a lesser degree) Bao'an. Up north in Longgang and Longhua districts you really know you are in the PRD. Between the hills there are vast compounds of low-rise factories and dorms. There must be thousands of people living in each compound. Outside of the compounds there are the usual back alley food vendors, but the customers are all gaunt kids, squatting and smoking. The creeks that wind between the compounds are full of trash and have freakish colored water. People walk along the freeway. People walk a lot, because there aren't many bus connections. And the roads are either dusty and torn up or gleaming and leading nowhere. Yet.

That's actually the China i was looking for when i moved here. This pace of urbanization is such a wild sight to behold. It's hard to gain a personal insight from the people on the ground, though. This is the first day i was repeatedly referred to as 鬼佬 (gwái lóu), which here in Shenzhen is heard far less frequently than the Putonghua equivalent 老外 (lǎo wài) or the more politically correct 外国人 (wài guó rén). My Chinese is not bad these days, but cracking the nut of working class Cantonese or extremely poorly-accented Putonghua is tough.

I did agree to a few selfies with people very excited to see a real-life gwailou, though. Also, i encountered a water buffalo on a mountain path. That was very weird. I edged past his giant horns with his nostrils flaring just a few feet away. I did not snap a photo because i was scared. After an hour or two wandering about on foot in the hills and back down to the streets, i sat down for 凉皮 in a small industrial community not far from my home.

It's a little bit sad looking at the closed-down factories and warehouses right on that border zone between middle class Shenzhen and working class Shenzhen. In a western city, these would be prime venues for artists to move in and create a scene. I know there are several squatted buildings and art communes in Shenzhen - and in fact all around China - but because of the blistering pace of development they either go legit or get knocked down quicksmart. The gentrification here skips the bohemian phase. There are no lofts. The developers just dynamite entire city blocks and start fresh.

Then again, that's also what makes it so fascinating.

Man, it's still a thrill to be here.

When i got home i bought 7 mangos for 10 kuai from the fruit vendor out front of my building. Now i am drinking a beer and enjoying clean sheets and silky smooth legs. Time to watch Supernatural.

This morning i shaved my legs.
singapore sunset
Pithy thought of the day: is it a sign you are working too much when you type your work password into your home computer?

Long thought of the day: this morning i saw a post from my oldest friend, jenndolari, saying that today is (or possibly yesterday was?) Trans Visibility Day. I'm not entirely sure what that entails because i have next to no interaction with the trans activist community, but i figured it might be a good kick-off point for a post that isn't just complaining about work.

This morning i shaved my legs.

As is my wont these days, i ruminated for a while. Is it reinforcing patriarchal beauty standards for women to shave their bodies? Is it cultural imperialism to support a market for things like razor blades and deodorant in a country that historically considered them neither a luxury nor a necessity? Am i turning into Chidi from The Good Place?

Eventually i just fucking shaved my legs. I only do it once every couple months anyway, so it's not like i'm making a huge impact on society either way. I am not sure if it's because i'm an alcoholic, or if it's because i'm getting older, or if it's because my mattress is literally a one-inch thick mat laid out on a wooden plank, but my legs are covered in bruises. Even if they weren't, i can count the number of days i wear shorts each year on one hand. Nobody ever sees my legs. But sometimes i just like the feeling when they are smooth.

I remember the first day i shaved my legs. It was the late 90s. I was living in an old stilt house in Brisbane, Australia. The bathroom was outside and full of nightmarishly huge insects. The inside was not much better. I lived with a gay man who did little to hide his adoration for me. I didn't have a job. We helped organize raves. We did drugs. There was a lot of drama.

J came out to me as trans back then, so i started reading more about it. I thought back on how uncomfortable my teenage years had been: guilt over my libido, embarrassment at every unwanted erection, awkwardness every time someone wanted to be intimate with me... And then i thought about the tacit assumption of everyone in my local community - including my roommate - that i was a repressed gay man... And i decided that i, too, must be trans. And that i specifically very, very much wanted to get surgery to remove my (male) genitalia.

That road is long. Even today i believe you are forced to go through a couple years of "transition" to be cleared for surgery. Lots of trans people never get surgery at all, because it's so expensive and difficult to arrange. But i knew i definitely wanted it. And one of the first steps along that path is trying on your new gender and seeing how it feels in real life. So, one of the first things i did was shave my legs.

I remember being surprised at how much hair was coming off. I never thought myself particularly hairy, but i guess if you have never shaved at all before it seems like a lot. It took me twenty or thirty minutes. I might have cried a little bit, but i was in the shower so who knows? I definitely remember my ever-creepy roommate knocking on the bathroom door asking if i was okay because i was taking so long.

After that it became a regular thing. Once i came out and it became socially acceptable for me to do girly things, i bought an epilator. That hurt like a bitch, but i was convinced it would make my hair "softer".

I mean, i should clarify. Many trans people become hyper-sensitive of sex and gender identifiers. Things that cis men and women rarely even think about, they take note of and obsess over. Things like the "softness" of body hair. I remember being in that phase. Even though objectively i knew that women came in all shapes and sizes - that there were women with "hard" body hair and even facial hair too - i didn't care because i believed that my built-in disadvantage of starting with a post-pubescent male body was so crippling i would need to work twice as hard at feminizing it.

The irony of course is that by trying so hard to become the "ideal" woman i was just reinforcing the patriarchal framework that made me feel so uncomfortable being a man in the first place. But that's the really odd thing about being trans. On one hand it feels subversive, but on the other hand it's deeply conservative.

Of course nowadays it's more accepted for trans people to not go all-in as trans men or trans women. Claiming a non-binary gender identity is a no longer seen as weird or freakish, it just is. Several countries allow you to choose "X" for your passport gender. That's progress. I hope in my lifetime we will see the end of the traditional concept of being trans meaning moving from one clearly defined gender to "the" other. But, you know, we're not there yet.

I've spent almost 19 years living as a woman now. That's just as long as i spent living as a man. Hormonally, i am post-menopausal. Or perhaps neuter would be more accurate. Quitting hormone replacement therapy was hands-down the best medical decision i ever made. Aside from turning me asexual, it has also done more to tame my bipolar disorder than any cocktail of other drugs ever did. Now i believe i might have been misdiagnosed in the first place - perhaps my various psychological issues were just how my brain reacted to "normal" amounts of testosterone and estrogen? With those hormones gone, i am at peace.

Whatever. To be honest i am not sure what i am any more. I don't think it matters very much. Society sees me as a woman, so i am paid as a woman and pandered to as a woman and degraded as a woman and that's one side of the coin. Other side i don't give a fuck about sex or gender and sometimes in the privacy of my own home i like to shave my legs.

And then i brew coffee in the nude and dance around to sentimental Chinese pop ballads. Go ahead, shrink me! Happy Easter!

does work make me boring, or does being introverted make me boring?
singapore sunset
My mind is in a strange state lately. I am in a limbo. Work continues to be high stress and challenging in certain ways and entirely unremarkable in others. Unremarkable in the aspects of it that are stressful and challenging, i guess. Work is boring.

A French colleague returned from the Philippines this Friday and coaxed a few of us out for drinks. I assume that my Chinese colleagues also go out for drinks, but up until now all after-work socializing i have been exposed to has been segregated. I don't mind going out drinking with the expat crew, but i sometimes find myself isolated in the conversations, because although i am quite plainly an expat too, my experience is different.

I think the aspect in which we most differ is that i don't seek out the company of fellow expats.

At some point the guys started talking about some discussion "on the groups", and i just looked baffled. Turns out they were talking about WeChat groups. Then it was their turn to look baffled. How can you survive here in China without being "on the groups"?

Aside: One of the biggest apps here is WeChat. It's what WhatsApp might have evolved into if it hadn't been bought by Facebook. WeChat is essentially a lean text messaging app that has been jury-rigged into also supporting mobile payments, photo/story sharing, group buying, direct marketing, government services and more. It's owned by Tencent, one of the biggest software companies in the world, and is used by almost every netizen in China.

WeChat is also where expats host "groups" to shoot the shit and plan get-togethers. Apparently there are several in Shenzhen. I know about one of them, because i was added to it by a (Chinese) bartender at the expat bar i frequented in Shekou. I guess you can join more through word-of-mouth and personal connections, but i left the group after about a week because i was not interested in the drivel. I follow a few special interest communities here on LJ and occasionally comment elsewhere too, but i don't participate in any location-based social media. If i want to meet people in my neighborhood, i will just go outside and meet them. But probably i won't, because i already spend my work life interacting with people.

Let's not get into the fact that i also like to keep a wall between my personal life and my work life, and in a city with so few foreigners any expat i meet is liable to swiftly connect back to someone i know from work.

But, because i was drunk, i didn't explain my reasoning like that. I just said "i don't want to make Pony Ma even richer than he already is". Which appears to have become my fallback excuse for anything and everything i don't want to do.

I mean, it's no secret that i almost exclusively eat at street vendors and greasy spoons because i think chain restaurants undermine local business and casual dining restaurants in general are agents of gentrification. I tend to say no when invited to any location whose price marks it as a pursuit of the privileged class - which in China consists of every single foreigner in the whole country, plus the couple hundred million urbanized Chinese who have "made it". I do occasionally splurge (for example: buying coffee imported from Yunnan province by way of America, which makes it a tremendous luxury) but i don't drink pricy liquor or wear pricy clothes or drive a private vehicle or own property...

...and i barely use the app that a billion people use every day because me lurking on a group full of expats is going to generate some kind of advertising coin for Tencent. And of course that's morally worse than having Mobike selling my movement data or Alibaba selling my payment history or fucking Facebook and Google still tracking my ass all over the internet in spite of the Great Firewall. I mean, this is some grade A nonsense. I could sit on a WeChat group all fucking year and it would still make Pony Ma less money than buying a single bag of coffee makes Howard Schultz.

So really it's all a front. I do care about social justice, and i do consider it with almost everything i choose to consume. But let's not pretend i'm some paragon of virtue. I choose to make compromises for convenience just like everyone else. Getting on a high horse about capitalism is a laughably poor excuse for avoiding the barest minimum of social networking. In reality i avoid social networking because i am an introvert.

Something that people who aren't introverts don't really understand is that for some of us, socializing is extremely exhausting. This is the reason it takes me days or weeks to answer people's text messages or emails. This is why i never, ever pick up the phone. Ever. It's why i rarely meet up with friends. Not because i dislike their company or conversation, but because it costs me so much energy that it leaves me with nothing left.

Work already leaves me with nothing left. My colleagues think i'm crazy when i say i'm an introvert because i am always "on" in the office - chatting, debating, mentoring, dancing about, joking around... And they know that in my personal life i like to explore new places and chat to strangers... What introvert could be like that? I guess their image of an introvert is someone terrified of social interaction. That's not me. I can do it. I just don't find it rewarding, if it's an obligation. I know it's my obligation to my colleagues to socialize with them, so i do it. I know it's also an obligation to friends and family that i socialize with them, so if i have enough spoons left then i will do that too. But it sucks me dry. I am only truly free when i am left to my own devices.

I mentioned this to R the other day, and i realized we are good friends because neither of us has any expectation of the other. When we send messages, there is no expectation of an immediate response, or even a response at all. I currently have several text messages sitting there from other friends that i haven't replied to for 10+ days because i know the moment i reply they will take it as an invitation to a real-time conversation that i will feel guilted into taking part in. I don't like that pressure, i don't like that stress. So i just don't reply at all.

I won't join an expat social networking group. Not because i am antisocial. Or even because i think a lot of expats are douchebags. And, let's be honest, it's definitely not because i am taking some kind of bullshit stand against "the man". It's simply because i don't have the energy to be involved with it.

I went out Friday night. I got drunk. I met the obligatory Chinese wife. I heard all the hot takes about Trump's proposed tariffs package from people who do not follow the news like i do and who definitely do not understand macroeconomics. I heard the usual lamentations about how Africans and Muslims are destroying Europe's culture. Ah, China, haven of conservative expats. But we drank together and they marveled that i had never gone to the apparently famous shopping malls of Shenzhen and i shook my head wondering how they had lived in China for years and never come across 热干面. I swear sometimes it feels like there's more cultural exchange that goes on between me and fellow expats than me and Chinese migrant workers.

Anywho, it was fine. I had a blistering hangover yesterday. Went out to buy groceries. Looked at the local food delivery apps for the first time and was shocked to find that the prices are 1.5x what the same places charge to eat in. So i decided that ordering delivery would also be bourgeois. Then i cooked water spinach and my new favorite specialty of dry tofu with peanuts and Sichuan peppercorns and doubanjiang and i drank my very expensive coffee and watched NXT and gave no shits.

And now it's Sunday and i am still done. I am emotionally drained. I am socially exhausted. I don't want to leave the house, even though i know if i headed up to a mountain it would clear my head. I feel like getting from here to there would already have too much social interaction, just giving a wave or nod to people on the streets. I know tomorrow morning i'll be back at the office and will have to do it all over again. I just want to hide in my bed and play video games and eat tiny bananas and pickled bamboo.

I am in the limbo. The Looming Tower kept reminding me of my life in 99/2000. That's exactly when i started full-time work. I mindlessly slogged through it then too, just trying to earn enough cash to pay for surgery, to get out of Australia, whatever. I gave up on my teenage dreams of writing music. I've tried to escape the drudgery and follow a different path a few times since then, but it never pans out. I think this ennui is just what being a grown-up is all about. I've had several good jobs in my life - good pay, good colleagues, good learning experiences... but they're all still work and work is fundamentally boring.

And, if you're as exhausted by social interaction as i am, work is also going to make the rest of your life boring too.

I guess this is when other introverts would spend their spare cash on home entertainment. Maybe i should get a drone. Or a domestic robot. A subscription to WWE Network or Marvel Unlimited. I should probably just get the internet connected as a first step. Except, you know, that would require me to chat with a rep and set up an appointment. Sigh.

I'll just update LJ instead.

autotune the news
singapore sunset
I am a nut for spy shows. I am not entirely sure why. I enjoy all that politics and propaganda and travel and conspiracy and betrayal. I guess it helps there is some overlap with my real-world interests. Recently i've been watching The Americans, Berlin Station, Counterpart, Mr Robot, Travelers... All reasonably entertaining. I am particularly loving Counterpart for its gimmick that lets it tell a Cold War spy story in the present day. Today i started to watch The Looming Tower, and man it's kicking up the feels.

The Looming Tower so far feels a bit like a Generation Kill take on the 9/11 Report. Or, at least, the comic book adaptation i read of it. It's set in the late 90s and follows the grand clusterfuck that was American intelligence during the peak of Al Qaeda. It sort of hits interesting pangs of nostalgia for me because not only were those years turbulent "coming of age" years in my personal life, but it's also covering political events that were among the first that i followed independently.

Certainly i have memories of other major events of my childhood. Chernobyl in particular was the first time i remember something in the news really terrifying our whole community. After that i have vivid memories of a couple of other things that happened close to home like the Townsend ferry disaster and the Lockerbie bombing. Then the 90s brought us the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which might be the only current event i ever wrote a report about for school. But, yeah, once i moved out of home the embassy bombings dropped, then the Cole, then 9/11 - those felt like i had hit a critical point of awareness. I remember back in 1993 my mother trying to explain to me why the Oslo Accords were important because i didn't have enough background to understand it myself. I might be putting a greater significance on it now in retrospect, but i think 9/11 might have been the first major current event where i didn't need someone to explain it to me; 9/11 felt more like a development in a story i had been following for a while.

And that story is what this show is about. I'm curious to see how they depict the whole thing, given it's an American show. I seem to recall the 9/11 Report comic book was fairly scathing, though admittedly it's been a very long time since i read that. I guess at the end of the day it's just a TV show so the most important thing is that it's enough of a distraction to let me relax for a bit.

Yes, work is still killing me. I have no energy. Last weekend i spent the entire weekend at home. The weekend before that i did bike a decent way into Longgang District, the day after my reservoir jaunt. I found a neat spot where i could snap a pic showing all three eras of Shenzhen in one frame - small-hold agriculture, factory and high-tech park.

That was a good weekend. Last weekend was not. I am spent. I bought new socks. Apparently that is how i spoil myself now. I am too tired to even set up an appointment to get the internet hooked up. Thank God for my friendly neighbors and my daily gigabyte of 4G data.

Maybe this weekend i'll feel awake enough to do something interesting. To write something worth reading.


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