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birthday adventure
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After birthday breakfast (nothing special) and coffee, i decided to head over to Xili area to check out the vibe.

When i popped out of the subway i was surprised to see a reasonably bustling corner. It was still Spring Festival in Shenzhen so most of the shops and restaurants were closed, but unlike the area where i live there were actually people milling about. Some oldies playing chess. Street hustlers hawking USB cables and key chains. The stinky tofu and bubble tea vendors were doing brisk business. It was nice to not feel so lonely during the new year break.

I'd previously visited a quieter side of Xili, but i had never seen the commercial center. It exceeded my expectations. They have a department store, a movie theater, a late night BBQ street, western fast food places, plastic stool restaurants and a wide pedestrian arcade with all the usual high street outlets. It reminds me of the area that i lived when i was studying Chinese, before i got a job and had to move - a place where people actually get out and live, not just a place where they sleep and work.

I only found one real estate open, so i ducked in and swapped WeChat details. I know i could find a place on my own and save the commission - the agents just look on the same websites i do - but work leaves me so exhausted i'd rather be able to queue up some inspections and get it all done on one weekend. That will probably be next weekend, once everyone gets back from their hometown.

After checking out the community, i wanted to check out the hiking and biking opportunities. I didn't notice any obvious foot trails, but i decided to take a bike around the reservoir to see what i could see.

There were several stretches of proper greenway, but most of the way i took the road. The whole expressway was deserted. I suspect that might be more because of Spring Festival than anything else, but here's hoping that particular route to Dongguan is a lightly trafficked one all year round because it was a nice ride.

I ducked into a side street and headed into a village. There were a couple of laneways on the map that seemed to head into the green, so i just followed them up.

At a certain point the lane turned to gravel. There were a couple of off-leash dogs but they were quiet and didn't seem bothered. At one point a forest fire crew zoomed by in a pickup truck and waved, so i figured i could press on. The road got very steep and narrow. I hopped off to push. I was loathe to lock him up because what if i came out the other end and then i'm stuck in the middle of nowhere with no steed?

The top of the hill was pretty great. There was a granite half-dome. Who needs Yosemite? Hilariously, at this point i fat-fingered my phone camera and somehow it ended up taking a sepia photo. Looking back for something to post i feel like the ghost of Ansel Adams conspired to mess up my shot. Whatever. There was peach blossom. I was happy.

Down the other side of the hill you could see across to Yangtai mountain, which is one i've seen from Tanglang mountain and always wanted to climb. Of course, it wouldn't be China without a factory in front, but there you go. Pearl River Delta realness.

I decided to walk my bike down the hill too, since the road was incredibly steep and i didn't want to break my neck on my birthday. And - lo - at the end of the hill was the Chinesest fucking thing ever. A padlocked gate and 6-foot fence to stop people from the roadside coming up the hill. Which, of fucking course there was. On the village side of the hill there had also been a couple of gates saying "private property", but they were wide open and locals were obviously using the hill as a place to hike in spite of the signs. But on the side that is exposed to random passers by? Verboten!

I cannot count the number of times in China i have walked into nature on the secret/village side of a mountain and then gotten stuck trying to get back out of it on the tourist/public side. Usually i just jump the fence.

Except this time i had a bike. Technically i was still in a valid drop-off zone so could lock the bike on the wrong side of the gate, but yeah. Middle of nowhere. So i fucking hulked up and lifted the bike over my head, then tossed it over. I grabbed my hoodie out of my backpack and wrapped it around the wire like they do in heist movies, and climbed out. I did end up tearing open a bit of my arm, but that just made me feel like even more of a badass.

That immediately switched to sheepishness when i heroically swooshed out of the grass and a public bus pulled up. Guess i could've left the bike, eh.

Instead i followed the bus east and visited two more villages on the way back to Xili central. The two villages up there seem to be "company villages", just factories and the people who work there. Their lives probably aren't much fun, but at least they have a good view. I stopped in for some sweet tea and spied a fashion school. Artists and proles. Seems like it might be worth heading up there again when everyone is back.

Coasting down the hill to central Xili i passed the part of town i had visited before - the cleaner and quieter area right next to the universities. There are more cops and less shops, but likely i couldn't afford a condo there anyway. I ducked into another real estate to swap WeChat details before grabbing a shaobing and a bubble tea. My last test was to bike back to my office to gauge the commute.

It's greenway all the way. 20 minutes by bike would be a damn sight better than my current 35 minutes on the train plus 10 minutes of walking on both ends.

So, in all, looks like a good bet. Food is better than here. Shops are better than here. Commute is better than here. The nature is probably equivalent, but much less developed. I will probably do more bike rides because there aren't any public parks, and may find myself jumping another fence or two... but at least there is some green.

After i got home i bought some prosecco and then enjoyed a Skype date and drinks with R till 4 in the morning. So, yeah, not a bad birthday.

I don't want to go to work tomorrow.

又没电了 - no power again
singapore sunset
One of the reasons i had a bit of an LJ hiatus - aside from work - is my home electric.

A few weeks ago, the main circuit breaker started tripping. At first it just tripped every few hours so whatever. Then it progressed to tripping every few minutes, so i started unplugging all the appliances to try figure out what the cause was. Eventually everything i could unplug was unplugged, and still it tripped.

Since everyone is cataloging their belongings lately, let me catalog my things that are powered by electricity:

1x fridge
1x washing machine
1x hot water heater (gas with electric igniter)
1x air conditioning unit (permanently unplugged)
1x electric kettle
1x phone
1x tablet
1x e-reader
1x bedside lamp

Yes, readers, that is the sum total of everything electric in my house. (Well, aside from the three overhead lights.) So going through everything was not a big deal.

Except it didn't help, because once i realized that when nothing was plugged in, the main breaker still tripped - it even tripped if i turned off all the circuits to the different "rooms" - it became clear i was powerless to fix it.

I spoke to the super, but every time they sent an electrician nothing went wrong. That was the most infuriating thing. It would mysteriously work for a few hours when i didn't need it, then trip and trip and trip when i did.

I knocked on my new neighbors' door, convinced that their moving in had broken my electric. (The smoking gun was them coming home one day and turning on their lights - my breaker immediately tripped.) So they jiggled switches in their house and nothing changed on my end.

I spent several days stir-frying dinner in the dark and boiling water episodically, flipping the switch back on and on until the kettle finally finished. I took cold navy showers. I bought one of those power banks for my phone. I felt thankful for my dietary choices, since most everything vegan does not need refrigeration.

Eventually one day it point blank refused to switch back on, so i pinged my landlord. He brought an electrician in and replaced the main breaker switch, which solved the problem.

Now you'd think that would be the end of the story, but it isn't. Because twice since then the electric has gone out, and the new breaker switch stayed up. Both times i spoke to the super, and he was able to re-enable my electric by flicking some switch in the hallway. I guess there's a breaker in there too. It lends credence to my theory that there is something external causing a power surge. I mean, i have fuck all appliances. I even trashed my bedside lamp and solitary power strip on the advice of the electrician. I am practically a caveman.

Well, a caveman with cold beer, hot water and 4G internet.

Anyway, this birthday morning i woke up to no electricity, which sucked. It's back now. I cooked. But moving to a new place sounds okay.

mission complete
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Boy do i hate buying clothes. It took me about 3 hours of psyching myself up just to leave the house today. Then... well then i left the house and biked to the closest department store, beelined it to the Levi's section and immediately bought a pair of 34/34 511s.

For some reason, Levi's is the only brand in China that stocks tall sizes. Well, tall by Chinese standards. If i was in the west i may look at a 36 leg but, eh. Why 511s? Because they stretch. I belatedly discovered this a couple years back. Since stretch fabric became a thing, skinny jeans are actually more comfortable than regular or relaxed cut. Go figure. Also, skinny jeans don't look as stupid when they are slightly too short.

So, i now have a pair of pants that does not expose my crotch. That's good. Because i found a pair so quickly, i figured it might be worth capitalizing on the moment and trying to find a second pair. That failed. Literally every other brand in three different department stores did not come in my size. I am an ogre.

Now i am home and still stressed out about the whole experience. I've wasted a whole day just buying this one pair of pants.

Last night the anxiety about buying clothes already started, so i started looking at apartments to take my mind off it.

I kind of like the symmetry of moving out near Xili, which is the subway station on the west side (Nanshan) where lines 5 (north of the mountains) and 7 (south of the mountains) cross. I currently live near Tai'an, which is the subway station on the east side (Luohu) where the same two lines cross.

Nanshan doesn't really have a downtown like Luohu does, but it has several big malls and upscale commercial areas, and they are all further away from Xili than downtown Luohu is from Tai'an, so i really would be getting out to the sticks. It's got a reservoir and some greenery, but i don't think you can hike round any of it like you can over here. At least there are lots of universities. If the weather holds up tomorrow, maybe i'll go check it out.

Anyway, a perk of living further out in the burbs is that a "nice" studio over there goes for around 2000元 (260€) a month vs around 3000元 (400€) over here. My current place is 2500, which is the cheap end of "nice". The downside is that none of them have a view. I don't know if i will be happy looking out at another apartment... even though that's exactly how i lived for 4 years in Berlin. Also, sub-2000元 you don't get a kitchen. They are essentially like dorm rooms, with a shared kitchen space. That sounds like a good idea against bugs, but ... fuck if i'm going to come downstairs in my jammies to cook breakfast on the weekend.

It might feel nice to live in a place with more students around, though. This area is plenty mixed in age, but i feel like everyone here is boring because there are not really any bars, mahjong parlors or late night BBQ joints. It's really dead after dark.

I dunno. Moving will suck, but perhaps - after the usual stress and lost weekends - it will give me a bit of that "new place excitement". You know, where mundane things feel thrilling, for a while. Some sense that everything old is new again. Since i don't get much vacation time, perhaps that's just the ticket to perk me up.

Because, you know, i think i am a bit down. Not depressed. Just bummed that my life right now is little more than work, chores and sleep.

new year, work and cancer
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It's the second day of the new year.

I just paid rent and have now lived in my apartment for almost exactly 365 days. That was my lease period, so from now i can move if i want. I might do that soon, since my new job is over 20km away.

The job is exhausting. Now that S is gone, it is back to regularly scheduled work stress. The stress is partly caused by our major customer being in Europe, so most support problems pop up in the evening our time. And because my boss/the CTO lives in Colorado, we have meetings lined up from 8:30am each day. Some days i literally work from the moment i wake up till the moment i fall asleep.

I do feel more comfortable than when S was here and he was ordering around the juniors to pull overtime to cover for his lazy ass (I believe seniors should shoulder the biggest responsibility), but it's wearing me down for real. I knew what i was getting into joining a seed stage start-up, but i expected to have at least one other senior person on the ground in Shenzhen to share the weight.

Hiring isn't going well. As i already discovered in my last job, there are very few people in Shenzhen with the trifecta of speaking good English, being high quality coders and wanting to work for peanuts. The best English speakers in the PRD are working in Hong Kong for three times the salary they pay here. Many English speakers in Shenzhen are either mediocre laowai with Chinese wives or fast-talking grifters who are all hat and no cattle.

We had similar problem at the startup i worked at in Berlin, although in Berlin the English speaking talent pool was much, much deeper. I think it's just hard to hire when you are a small company. You can't offer the prestige or the perks that big companies do, so people have to really want to work there.

I still don't know if i really want to work here.

It's the second day of the new year. I am almost 39 and i have nothing to my name. A little pool of cash in the bank that i cannot use because i work all the time. No investments. No belongings worth more than a couple hundred dollars. A bad back. Two pairs of jeans whose crotches have ripped open so wide i am trying to walk cross-legged so i don't flash the whole city.

I need to buy pants, which i am going to hate. I am putting it off till tomorrow.

It's the second day of the new year. I just heard that my mom might not be here for the next one.

I can't remember when she told me she had cancer. Some time last year. She went through chemo a while back and sent out emails saying that went pretty well. Then she started radiotherapy. Anyway, i haven't sent her an email since i started my new job, so i wrote up a long email yesterday, mostly complaining about said new job. I got reply this morning saying she's back in the hospital and they found new growths that put her life expectancy at a year or two, maybe less.

So that's something. She was going to move back to Holland in April to be with her family. I was looking forward to that because fuck Australia. But now i dunno, i wonder if she'll stay in Australia to make the most of the Medicare she paid into for 20+ years? She doesn't have any support there, though, since my sister has apparently disappeared up her own ass. And at least Holland has decent assisted suicide laws.

Oh, funny thing about my sister, a few weeks ago i got an email from her. I haven't heard from her in... God i don't even know how long. Over a decade. And her email literally just says: "The tax office seems to think mom's dead. Is she?" I didn't bother replying because, seriously, what the fuck? Mom was on vacation in Norfolk Island at the time, enjoying what might be one of her last chances to be somewhere quiet and beautiful.

Anyway, i feel like i should feel more upset about possibly losing my mom, but even though i love her, it's not like she has been a very big part of my life since i left home, so it's kinda like... whatever. I do feel bad for her, though. She spent almost her whole life slaving away in a job that destroyed her and the moment she retired she immediately got cancer. Like, what's the fucking point if you spend 40 years trying to scratch together enough cash to enjoy your last 40 years and then you die 2 years into it? That's some fucking bullshit. Capitalism is garbage. I really hope she can recover to the point where she is able enough to blow the rest of her savings traveling around the world and enjoying every last minute. She deserves it.

On that note, I feel like i should do something this break, not just sleep and watch TV and buy new pants.

I will start by reading through about a month of your journals. Hopefully your lives are more interesting than mine.

cold war evacuation plans
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Dear everyone, i am durnk.

I am also exhausted. Because this week is the week preceding Spring Festival, i have pulled 7 days in a row. Now i get 7 days off, of which at least the next two i will just spend sleeping. I hope to catch up on LiveJournal and also let my family know i am alive on the remaining days. It's been months for them.

Anyway, i just logged on to say that everything about Brexit makes me really fucking angry. It still makes me angry. A big part of the reason why i left Europe is because Brexit made me so upset. I am so ashamed of my British heritage that i present full-time as Canadian now, despite having only lived there long enough to hoover up a passport.

Canadians don't say "hoover".

Most Chinese don't know that, so here i can pretend.

he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him out and cut him till he cried out
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"I realize outside of gay songs gnr is by far the only band I know well"

Dear friends, this was the drunken message i sent my friend R after karaoke-ing for the first time ever.

This week the CTO was in town, and since we're only a few weeks shy of Spring Festival the CEO decided to move up the annual party to Friday. Although we had a small Christmas party on December 24, the real "work Christmas party" equivalent in China is the annual party just before everyone breaks for Spring Festival. We all piled into two cars and headed over to a huge KTV in Luohu District.

I've probably mentioned KTV a few times before because they are all over mainland China and (to a lesser degree) Taiwan. They are large karaoke places where people rent out private rooms and sing with their friends. Some of them are thinly disguised fronts for prostitution. Others target corporate execs and party bigwigs who splash out on spectacularly expensive booze and try to drink one another under the table while cutting shady deals. But probably most of them are just places where people go to have birthday parties.

Anyway this KTV was multiple stories of private rooms, plus a sushi and seafood buffet. We all got some trays of goodies and settled into our room in big couches with the lights turned low. The CEO kicked things off with his Shatner-esque takes on the Rolling Stones and Elton John. We have a Korean colleague who sung the obligatory Gangnam Style and several other idol hits. All the Chinese sentimental faves went through too. Westlife. (Apparently big in China!?) Lady Gaga. Celine Dion. Adele. I sat by the screen looking and not picking anything.

An amusing moment happened when the CTO tried to drunkenly explain Stairway to the kids who knew absolutely nothing about Led Zeppelin. Without context i think there's pretty much no way you could capture how iconic that song was across two or three generations of (white) western youth. To be honest, i suspect modern kids in the west probably don't get it either any more.

Anyway, the CEO was trying hard to get me to sing, so he kept pouring me full of beer and declaring "gan bei", i.e. bottoms up. And finally, finally, i caved.

The first song i ever sung in front of people was Simon & Garfunkel's The Boxer. It's not my favorite of theirs, but it was one of the few in there where i really knew all the words and knew i could hit the notes. Plus it wasn't a fucking love song. Dear lord, i never hated love songs as much as i did spending a whole evening listening to them belted out in four different languages.

The second song i ever sung in front of people was Pet Shop Boys' West End Girls. Again. Not my favorite, but one of the few they had where i knew the words.

There was no Soft Cell. No NIN. No Suzanne Vega. No Tracy Chapman. There was very little Bowie. Not much Cat Stevens. There was only one Dead or Alive song and you can imagine which one that was. Ditto for Neil Young. I never really listened to music with words in it, so the pool of options is pretty shallow anyway, but it seems what little i did listen to also isn't popular in China. Fucking love songs.

But then somehow the floodgates opened. The CTO picked a few G'n'R tracks for himself but i drunkenly ended up grabbing the mic and singing them instead. Like with full-on screaming falsetto. Paradise City and Welcome to the Jungle. Granted one of those is amongst their most tedious tracks but eh. The point is. I sang them. In front of people. Eagerly. And probably very badly.

I am not sure why i know all the words of all the songs on Appetite and Lies, backwards and forwards. I don't think i was ever a G'n'R superfan, but ... perhaps i was.

Our time ran out after we had the room for about 5 hours so everyone headed out their own ways, and my drunken ass decided to keep drinking. On the way to whatever next bar i went to, i wiped out really hard again on a share bike. I really need to learn not to get on a bike when i am trashed. I have two massively cut up skin wounds on my left arm, and my whole left side is so bruised and battered i can barely move. Like... it really, really fucking hurts a lot. I don't usually wish i had painkillers but lordy i wish i had painkillers.

Still, i went to another bar anyway and got drunk with some randoms and stumbled home where i was so wrecked i couldn't even open my front door and had to get the security guard to come up and let me in. Oops.

Yeah yesterday i lay in bed, eyes watering with pain from my side and a headache and a huge cloud of shame and self-loathing. Today the pain is the same but the headache is gone and the shame is less. I am still terribly embarrassed that i sang in front of people. And i will feel like an idiot next time i see that security guard. But... life goes on.

I sang in front of people you guys.

i am fat and sick
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Today, inspired by loveshanny, i decided to clean for serious. The post i am referring to was a month ago, so clearly i have not gotten very far out of my usual habit of cleaning once every few months.

Don't get me wrong - i always wipe down, wash dishes and dispose of food scraps immediately after every meal. I sweep the floors and take out the trash several times a week. And obviously i wash my clothes once a week, because i only own 2 (now-crotchless) pants, 5 tops and 6 pairs of underwear. Since i don't own anything, my house is never a pigsty. But when it comes to scrubbing surfaces, toilets, floors and so on... yeah that's some once in a blue moon event.

Guess what, kids? Coming into this evening i have spotless floors in the dry room and a largely grease- and mold-free wet room. There's still a lot to do before i would consider it "moving out clean", but it feels nice.

I also organized my paperwork, since i had it all out on the desk after the work permit and residence permit renewal.

That's when i took a wrong turn. I decided to actually look at the results of my January 2018 and December 2018 physicals. Before today i didn't really take a deep look at the results because all i cared about was the same thing the government cares about - a red stamp at the bottom saying i am not about to drop dead. But, as it turns out, i am well on my way.

In January i had elevated bilirubin. I have always had that, and the doctors always say it's nothing. Or, if i push them to name it, they call it Gilbert's syndrome, which i am pretty sure is just doctor-speak for "nothing". I also had abnormally low blood pressure and low blood sugar. Whatevs.

But, apparently, i was also "HBsAb positive", whatever that means. Which sucks because i refreshed all my vaccinations before i left Germany in 2017. I googled it and now i am worried i have hepatitis.

Well, not really all that worried. The one good thing between January and December is that my bilirubin is uncharacteristically back to normal and my HbA1c blood sugar is back to normal too. Low blood pressure will never go away. So, i'm healthier, right?

Wrong. I don't know how much i weigh. I don't have a scales. Never weigh myself. Don't care. Except now i fucking do care because in January i was 192cm and 78.5kg and now i am 190cm and 88.8kg. I actually got shorter and fatter. I will give them that their machine might be off by a bit, and maybe i was wearing heavier clothes or whatever, but clearly i have gained.

Now i am annoyed. Because i have been biking daily for 11 months and i thought i was keeping reasonably active. But i'm not because work exhausts me so much that my hikes are only once every couple months instead of every week, and i am eating 3 meals a day instead of 2 like i do when i'm not working. Work sucks.

So, i have hepatitis, and i am turning into a potato.

I don't make new year's resolutions but now i want to try to get back under 80kg by the next time i have to do a physical. I need to get back to hiking again. And cut out my after-lunch 王老吉. Sigh. I liked it better when i didn't know. Staying alive is such a pain in the ass.

this mad first month
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This first month of work has been emotionally exhausting.

On Thursday, S - our "senior software architect" - got fired. Not only did he get fired, but the junior who he had groomed into a groveling minion also got fired. That left the other two juniors pretty shook, but i think after a night to sleep on it and a pep talk from our CTO back in the US they kinda settled. Me? I am just tired. I was very close to quitting from the stress of having to deal with him every day.

Here's the plot twist.

You know how when i started work i assumed that it had been the CEO who had brought in S? Yeah, turns out it's actually the CEO who was my biggest ally in getting him booted. My direct boss, the CTO, pulled the whole Silicon Valley touchy-feely thing that i liked about him when i interviewed. CTO was like well we need to give him time to prove himself, maybe he's just insecure, we need to give him something to own, let him grow into the role. HR is like, we need to have harmony in the company, we need to try and see past our differences and get along. Meanwhile this toxic douche canoe had pushed me to my last nerve from my very first day.

Oh, did i mention that a couple weeks ago i got called into an HR disciplinary meeting slash conflict resolution session? It happened because i flipped my lid and sent an email saying i refuse to work in a sweat shop and if the Chinese staff is being treated like slaves while foreigners only work half days then i am point blank out the fucking door. The CEO took personal offense to it because he thought i was accusing him of being a slave driver or a racist, but actually i had been talking about S. Once that very uncomfortable meeting was over, the CEO and i had a private lunch where it turned out we both had exactly the same opinion of S - that he was shyster through and through, a master of bamboozling who was taking full advantage of softer folks like the CTO and head of HR.

It got to the point that even the soft folks couldn't deny it any more. He was out the door Thursday. Friday i took my first look at the code he had spent the last 2 months writing that was supposed to have been delivered to the customer 6 weeks ago.

It was a fucking shit show. It did not even run. All the times he said in meetings that it was running, he was lying. It never ran anywhere except on his own laptop. Even several weeks ago when the CTO specifically said that all code must be reviewed, no exceptions, S just sent his stuff to J to review who gave the thumbs up like the bootlicker he was. Meanwhile this software does not work. It is full of bugs. Everything is hard-coded, even down to the date of the supposed "daily" report. I thought it would take me a couple hours to get it up and running on the customer site, but so much stuff was broken or not actually implemented... it's like... fuuuuuck. This fucker didn't know the first thing about coding.

The CEO is really fucking pissed. To be honest, i am pretty pissed too, because literally since day one i have been telling my boss: you must fire this guy immediately. It wasn't just his arrogance and aggressive behavior toward other people in the office - he was also clearly not capable of doing the job of an architect, i could see that within 5 minutes of trying (and failing) to talk to him about even the most basic technical topics. He flagrantly ignored processes laid down by the CTO. When i called him on it, he had the nerve to say "well in the real world we don't follow process like that, it just gets in the way"... Which, okay, apparently the "real world" that i have been earning my paycheck in for the past 19 years is a mirage. I mean, i just can't.

Anyway. This flim flam artist has cost the company BIG. The CEO shared with me that his salary was by far the highest in the China office. For the two months he has been "working" here he has not only generated complete garbage output that will need to be thrown away and rebuilt from scratch, he has sucked up hours of his colleagues' time derailing meetings and having pointless arguments, he has undermined every process and quality gate that is supposed to encourage accountability and level up the junior guys, our customers are withholding payment because the solution they were promised weeks ago still isn't done... I mean, for fuck's sake.

My boss - the CTO - is almost certainly going to get a fucking reaming from the CEO when he comes into Shenzhen on Monday. And, honestly, rightfully so. Perhaps he didn't see how bad it was because he was in the US and his guys were here in China... but that's no excuse when at least one person has been reporting almost daily all the bullshit that has been going on. I mean, i like having a California boss who is all squishy and nice and shit. But dear lord, never thought i'd be grateful for also having Philly boss who is coarse and demanding and a bit of an asshole.

I guess all CEOs need to be a bit of an asshole. I do appreciate that he takes no shit, though.

I was talking about all this with my friend R on Skype drinks over Christmas, and we are still baffled by how these sorts of con men succeed in hoodwinking even smart people. I mean, we are living in an era where 100 million adults honestly think a two-bit grifter is enough of a stand-up guy to be president of their country. It's insane. How is it possible people can't see though the act?

And then i wonder, i mean, i must have been hoodwinked too before. Surely we all have at some point or another? Did then the people around who weren't suckered feel as baffled as i do now? Were they all thinking to themselves: how could you have fallen for such nonsense?

Man, i dunno.

So the next few weeks are going to be tough because we need to un-fuck the mess that was left behind. And it may take a while to smooth things over with the young guys because it's only their first or second job and they probably never saw someone get fired before, especially not two on the same day, and one who was their lunch buddy.

I took them out for lunch yesterday. If they pull through they'll be tougher and better developers for it.

Not sure if i will be. Just another scar on my battered work sleeve.

Speaking of sleeves, in the past month both my work jeans and my home jeans have split at the crotch so now i have no pants at all. And i am too fucking tired to go shopping in a country where the largest size available is usually two sizes below anything that could fit me.

I am going to hide under the covers and drink banana rum.

Christmas at work in Shenzhen, China - 2018-12-25
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(This is my draft post for glimpseatmyday.)

Christmas is not a holiday in China. There are Christmas trees in public squares and coffee shops serve seasonal drinks, but everyone goes to work as per normal.

My day starts just after 6:30am.

Read more...Collapse )

It was a long day.

one week in
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Hello and welcome to another boring weekly update about my job. It's only been a week and i am straight back in the shackles. Work just completely saps all of my energy and motivation to do anything. It's the weekend, and this weekend it's a little sunnier than last weekend - adventure weather! - but i can't be fucked.

Last week's arrogant coworker problem might be on the path to improvement. It turns out i am not the only one who has found S's behavior concerning and reported it up the chain. On Wednesday morning my boss had a one-on-one with him and Thursday he seemed to have adjusted his attitude somewhat. He's still an arrogant jackass - that won't change overnight - but he seems to at least be trying to soften his abrasiveness. We'll see if it holds.

Here's the issue, though. We are a startup. But we are a startup where the CEO has set a goal to hire a fucking Cecil B. DeMille army of 码农 (code peasants) by Spring Festival. What that means is we need a senior team to set up some structure so that new guys can onboard and get up to speed quickly. Unfortunately S is absolutely not the right person to do that job. So on Monday two junior guys turned up for their first day and there was no one around to support them.

Don't get me wrong, S thought he had an idea of how to onboard. That is, install all their software up-front so they do not have to do anything themselves, rock up to work at 11am (they were in at 9), draw some diagrams on the whiteboard, send them off to implement a fix, then 4 hours later come back to tell them he had already solved the problem so they should just throw away what they did and look at his code instead.

So, basically, the exact opposite of how in my opinion you should onboard new guys.

Meanwhile S has not documented any of the tools he mandated, has not set up any kind of structure for task management, did not implement a formal workflow for committing code [sharing changes back with the rest of the team], and does not have a guideline for code review or testing or anything. My strong suspicion is that this is because S has never worked at a company that follows software engineering best practices. His last job was CTO of some software outsourcing company, where he likely just tended to a box of mushrooms.

Mushroom management is exactly the wrong way to build a culture of innovation. And it most assuredly does not engage your guys or make them loyal, high-output workers.

In short, what this company needed was someone with real management experience to set up an onboarding plan ahead of hiring any juniors. I.e. they needed me or the CTO to set this up. But it turns out the juniors were snap hired after only interviewing with S (not the CTO) and - hilariously - one of them cannot even speak English. Since S does not speak any Chinese (despite living here for 7 years) i have absolutely no idea what they "discussed" on the interview. I think S just wanted some guys to boss around to make himself feel more important.

But, you know, it's a startup. Everything is a chaos at the beginning, right? There is too much work to do and not enough guys to do it. People need to wear many hats, including hats that don't fit. So maybe you get a self-important nong hiring juniors too early. Unfortunately juniors do not have enough workplace experience to understand which processes still need to be established, so that has fallen on me.

This week, instead of working on technical stuff, i have been helping the CTO set up a development workflow, i have created some new readme documents, i have set up pages with English and Chinese translations of common technical terms... And i have been trying to sneak some mentoring in between S's ham-fisted attempts. His training philosophy appears to be: tell the guys to solve a problem that is totally out of their depth, then come back later with a solution and explain why everything they did was wrong. Facepalm.

It's challenging, because i am mentoring three juniors (something i am good at and enjoy), and i am setting up onboarding docs and workflows for software teams in general (something i am also good at and enjoy), but meanwhile i have ceded the technical direction to S... And because of his lack of deep technical knowledge, i know that's going to hobble our velocity in the long run. Fine - that would be part of the learning experience if i had set a junior or mid-level guy to do this, but he's supposed to be a senior! Sigh. I need to try to softly guide him in the right direction while still allowing him to believe that he is the grand architect of all architects, God's gift to programming, bla bla bla. Which is painful when even some fundamentals i am teaching the new guys are beyond him.

So, you know. I thought the challenges of a startup were going to be specifically technical challenges. How do we get all the infrastructure set up to compete with the (very) big players in this industry when we only have a small team? But it seems before we can even get to that stage of technical innovation, there's going to be a lot of education around basic workflow stuff that wouldn't have been necessary if we had just started with 2 or 3 senior team players in the first place.

Good news is - again - the CTO recognizes this. All this stuff i am spewing in my journal is a more raw version of the things he has also shared with me (unprompted) on our one-on-ones. So i know he has his head screwed on and that he understands my frustration. It seems like this is a problem of unfortunate timing. If i had started 2 weeks earlier and the other guys 2 weeks later, then a lot of stuff would have already been sorted out up-front. Even if S came on as a so-called "senior architect" at least i would have established the workflows to guide him in direction that would be more aligned with what the CTO wants.

But, you know. Such is life. The CTO already rolled back the idea of having a dedicated architect and made it very clear to the guys that he's the boss and it's a flat hierarchy until we establish more formal roles. I suspect if he grows the team over here i will be tapped as a team lead or engineering manager, which is fine with me. I just hope that the team growth happens in a more sensible way going forward. We really need to beef out the senior layer to try help level up S and get him actually performing the way he thinks he is performing in his head. And we need more people on the ground who can reinforce the CTO's vision and communicate it well in Chinese.

Fuck, okay, so i applied for a job of architect, got bumped down to developer on my contract, but really i am now doing the job of a manager. Good times.

It's frustrating. It's challenging. But i'm new, so i'm up for it. I still want to make this company kick ass. I want to make little robots that zoom around doing stuff, damnit.

Meanwhile, my work permit is renewed and on Monday i have the appointment to file my resident permit renewal. Comfortably ahead of December 31, so even if i am missing some paperwork on Monday 还来得及 - i've still got time. That's the real good news of the week. Immigration pressure decreases, work pressure increases.

I need a vacation!