January 23rd, 2018

singapore sunset

back in china, and starting work

The flight back here was hellish. On my leg from Shanghai to Toronto the lady at the checkin counter must have taken pity on me, because when i got on the plane i discovered i was in an exit row with a ton of leg room. Leaving Toronto i was relegated to a middle seat way at the back of the plane. But, hey, you can't win 'em all - 40% chance you're gonna be the middle guy. Just wish they stacked the deck based on your height a little more often.

Still, middle seat is fine as long as you are surrounded by considerate folks. My neighbors were two older men who kept to themselves. The guy in front was mercifully not one of those assholes who likes to recline their seat. Unfortunately the lady behind me spent the entire flight digging and jabbing the back of my seat. I have no idea how someone who is barely 5 foot manages that. After about 8 hours of keeping a stiff upper lip i finally turned around and asked her if she could try to kick me a little less. I guess she took my polite request literally and just kicked me a little less. For the next 6 hours.

Getting back to Hong Kong was good, though. I headed to the bus and zoomed back to 上水 (Sheung Shui), which is the last stop before the Shenzhen border crossing. Ducked over expecting a song and dance with my work visa, but they just did the usual flip through the pages, stamp and wave me on. Walked for about 20 minutes to my hotel and that was that.

I headed out for dinner that first night and found a guy with a wok and mise en place and asked him to make me 炒河粉 (chǎo hé fěn), which you can probably find in most Chinese malls overseas because it's a Cantonese thing. It's just thick rice noodles fried up with whatever. Chilis, pickled green beans and fresh bean sprouts was this guy's base, plus egg and ham on demand. I decided to spoil myself and go with egg.

Next door was a small convenience store where i ordered a can of Bud (China's favorite beer) then plopped down on a plastic stool and almost started crying i had missed it so much. Of all the things that are frustrating and problematic about China, the one thing that makes up for all of it is being able to sit on a plastic stool on the sidewalk, sip beer and eat noodles. It's my happy place.

The next day i got up at the crack of dawn, skipped breakfast and headed straight to the hospital for my physical. They have it down to a fine art. There was a whole platoon of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed English teachers in the waiting room when i arrived. Couldn't speak a word of Chinese. I exercised my linguistic privilege and snuck through to what turned out to be a fucking production line: draw blood, check blood pressure, listen to breathing, check eyesight, get weighed, chest X-ray, ultrasound, EKG, pee in a cup. Each step was catered by a dedicated person. I was out of there in about half an hour. And, because i hadn't had any coffee in the morning, could barely squeeze out a third of a cup.

I spent the rest of the day getting all the goodies i missed. 肠粉, which is the most popular Cantonese breakfast dish - a big flat rice noodle sheet rolled up into a gooey tube with some (optional) pork, egg, lettuce and bean sprouts. 凉皮, the Xi'an speciality which is some kind of cold white noodle with some spongey seitan chunks plus julienne cucumber, bean sprouts, peanuts and so on. 凉面, the cold noodle where each place makes it a bit different, but it's always fresh and if you order it how i like it's assburningly spicy. 热干面, the hot dry noodle with peanut butter sauce. Steamed buns. I got some with rice vermicelli and pickled cabbage inside. Rice crackers. I guess that's more of a Japanese thing, but whatevs. Tiny little bananas. Jackfruit. 豆干, or tofu jerky. So much awesome.

Wait, i got carried away. I am mixing two days worth of food together.

Today i didn't get up to much besides picking up my health check. As usual i have unusually low blood pressure and heart rate. Apparently i also have a gall bladder polyp and some blood measurements outside the norm but nothing worth worrying about. So, cool. Cool cool cool.

I'm not cool. I have been trying to relax because yesterday i got an email saying "hey why don't you come into work on Wednesday for onboarding".



I haven't been in an office since March last year. I haven't even looked at a single line of code. I feel like an impostor. I know i know my shit and i know that they won't expect anything on the first day anyway, but i'm scared. Maybe i won't wake up on time because of jet lag. Maybe this tickly throat will develop into a full-blown flu. I'm worried about weird stuff like i chucked out all my makeup before i got on the road, and all my clothes are beat-up, and my hair is faded and fraying, and what kind of first impression is all this? What if they invite me out to lunch and feed me a bunch of fucking meat and cheese the whole time? What if i hate my new boss? What if after 5 minutes back at work i immediately remember why i wanted to drop everything and disappear on a boat to China in the first place?

But what else am i going to do? I have basically blown through my life savings learning Chinese. I didn't blow it climbing mountains or scuba diving or partying on the beach. I just sat in a classroom being boring and now i have no money. So now i have to work. But why did i accept a job at the lowest salary i have had in over 15 years?

Oh wait, that's right, because i asked to start at the lowest rung because i think software engineers globally are hideously overpaid and also i didn't want to feel like a neo-colonialist coming in and expecting to be paid more than the locals simply by virtue of the color of my skin. Hooray for my moral fucking backbone. Now i am scared i will hate it and won't even have the salary to justify keeping on.

I know, i know. First day jitters. I'll probably just spend the whole time doing paperwork and setting up my goddamn laptop. Get it together. Maybe they have a coffee machine. Lordy, that would be something. Mmm, coffee.