May 29th, 2020

mom walk

setting up some plans

The last few weeks my mental health has been deteriorating. I thought going down to 4 days a week would make me less stressed out, but it's only served to make things worse. I have called in "sick" twice. This week it seems i've started getting sick for real. Blocked nose. Sore throat. I have been drinking heavily on work nights. I have basically started smoking again, daily. I am on my last thread.

The now-ubiquitous barricades and checkpoints in Shenzhen make me feel more than ever like i am living in a police state. The words and actions of the Chinese government are increasingly xenophobic and aggressive toward dissidents. I don't feel welcome here. There is no real freedom of movement, i feel trapped. It disgusts me that people in my income bracket are spouting propaganda and acting like everything is just fine. I have moments of joy when i am chilling in my village, eating at a local plastic stool restaurant, but then it all comes crushing back, not just the shit here in China but the police brutality in America, the restrictions on movement all over the world, the global retreat into nationalism, i am devastated at how many of my friends and family have embraced authoritarianism, for the first time in my life my bank account has hit six figures and i feel dirty, utterly sickened at that level of wealth when so many are in poverty. Everything sucks. I am on my last fucking thread.

Not that i would ever let these emotions show anywhere outside of LiveJournal.

My work is busy but it's fine. I mean, i've been doing this for 20 years and this is about as good as you could hope for in the tech industry. The problem is i have lost any interest in trying to build a longer career at this company. I have taken over technical product management of an engineering enablement team, which is a neat opportunity, and i'm supposed to be helping set objectives and plan projects for Q3 and beyond, but i don't care because i can't see a future for me here any more.

I'm starting to think more seriously about next steps.

I think there are three possible paths forward for me, career-wise.

One is to try stay at this company but transfer to one of the European offices. That would probably be the best move for my career over the longer term. If i could wangle a transfer to the Barcelona office, i could even see it as a stepping stone to learning Spanish and perhaps opening up future opportunities for travel in Latin America. The downside is that i would almost certainly have to stay in Shenzhen through Q3, and even after the transfer i would still be at a company that is owned by a Chinese conglomerate that gets bullied around by the Chinese government. Also, whatever holiday i get in 2020 will be eaten up by relocation.

The second option is to look for a job at another tech company. Since almost all countries are not processing new working visas right now, that basically means i could only look in my passport countries of Canada and the UK. The EU is a very slim possibility during the Brexit transition period, but I could understand companies being reluctant to bother with the paperwork given the double-whammy of Brexit and corona. Since i don't have a British bank account or National Insurance number, the lowest hanging fruit would be to find work in Canada, stay there till the borders are reopened, then try again.

Finally, i could just quit and go on sabbatical. I have the money. I have the itchy feet. I would love to travel some more, bum around some different countries, try figure out my next move without the pressure of work hanging over my head. Maybe i could go back to school. Maybe think about a career change. It would be ideal... except worldwide travel bans have basically ruined this as an option in 2020. So far the only places that have made noises about opening up are a few of the Schengen countries. I could see some tourist-starved Asian countries coming back in July, but there's nothing definite yet. Canada is absolutely out because it is far too expensive unless you are working.

The thing is, if i want to travel, i would be best positioned to do it if i have no job. If a country opens up, i want to be able to get on a flight that same day. I don't want to wait out 30 days notice and then potentially see the country close back up before i can get there. I have to take a gamble and resign in anticipation.

I suppose when i say "the country", the only country i am really waiting for is Taiwan. It's affordable, they have good food, they speak Chinese, and it's close enough that i wouldn't feel like a total heel for shitting out a bunch of carbon to briefly quell my wanderlust.

Unfortunately i'm gonna have to suck it up on the carbon emissions front because the virus has also made traveling by land or sea pretty much a non-starter.

I don't think it's worth trying to hang on in my current company. I know that's the "safe" option. Keep working at a relatively stable job. I am highly-valued in the China office because i am one of the few fluent English speakers, and i think if i play the game and scratch the right backs people would be happy to help me transfer to Europe in Q4. But that means at least 4 more months of exactly the same emotions i am feeling right now. The Chinese government is definitely not going to ease up, they are full steam ahead with their human rights crackdown, and the American election is only going to make it worse for foreigners here. By the time i am able to travel freely in China again, it'll probably be the same time i can travel freely around rest of Asia too, so what difference would it make to try hold out here vs just quit now and take my chances on sabbatical?

What is sort of appealing in a responsible, adult way is taking a "working holiday" in Canada. If i can pull my shit together enough to make it through 12 more months of work, i could fly back to a country where i have citizenship and a bank account. It's full of coronavirus but whatever, if i resign myself to the fact that the next fucking year is a write-off anyway, then let's just roll up my sleeves, head down, earn enough money to break even, then go back out there after the Olympics when the rest of the world has gotten over their paranoia. It'd be like hitting the pause button, except instead of hitting the pause button right here where i am falling apart, it'd be hitting the pause button and switching the game over to easy mode. Speak English everywhere. Freedom of the press. Burgers that don't fucking suck. Work from home until the lockdown is lifted, whatever, that's even better. If i could find a job in Vancouver i wouldn't even have to give up my favorite Chinese food. Live in some shamefully overpriced furnished apartment like a jackass, knowing it's only temporary.

I mean, i guess that could be the smart move. It'd only be a year, right?

But, just, i am so fucking done. The idea of taking a break right now sounds amazing. A few months off from everything, no work, no rent, no pressures, just go wherever i please... except... fucking fucking fucking travel bans. There's no guarantee of freedom, is there? Like, could i do that Med coastline trip anyway? Go back to Athens, say hello to the anarchists, drink coffee, lament the lack of good food, take a boat to Italy, drink coffee, lament even more the lack of good food, island-hop over to Spain, revisit my beloved Andalucía, drink coffee, pretend i'm a cowboy, eat toast... I mean, bread, fuck. I do miss European bread. And fresh hummus. I suppose Europe would be okay if i could actually travel. But could i? Will the buses and trains and ferries be running? Will the small hotels be open? Will i catch the fucking coronavirus and get stuck in some shitty hospital somewhere not able to speak the language? I guess that could be an adventure.

On Monday it will mark 4 months since the government erected "temporary" barricades around all the urban villages in Shenzhen. All the shops that didn't go out of business for good have reopened again, the sidewalks are bustling and the checkpoints are much less stringent than they were in February. But i am exhausted. I know that moving to a new job - and moving to a new country - always gives me a burst of hypomanic energy and excitement, the honeymoon period... but it's been almost 3 years now since my last sabbatical. I'm scared of what will happen if i just try to keep working through it. I feel like if i keep pressuring myself to live a normal life i will just kill myself because, seriously, fuck that shit.

Sigh.