Sunday, November 13, 2011

Employment. Or Something Along Those Lines

So maybe Paulo Coelho was right in his brilliant novel The Alchemist. Therein, he puts an interesting twist on the old phrase "the night is darkest just before the sun rises" (or something similar. Incidentally, he quotes that phrase at one point). But anyway, the idea is as follows--the protagonist, a shepherd named Santiago, is following his "personal legend", that is, his destiny, more or less. All people apparently have a destiny that they are meant to follow, and most never reach it, because before reaching our destiny, we are so tested and pushed back as to give up on chasing this destiny alltogether. The idea is that just before we reach this destiny, or at least, come close to fulfilling it, we are tested most strenuously, so as to prove our mettle, I guess. In the instance of our hero Santiago, he is robbed in Tangier, Morocco, forced to cross the Sahara desert, is kidnapped by bedouins, and is then asked to basically create a windstorm so great that it destroys their entire encampment. Then he is robbed again.

Do I think that my ultimate destiny is to work for a manufacturing firm in South China? Most likely not. But do I think that my future will be inevitably and irreversibly intertwined with the economic path of the People's Republic of China? Well that's a bit more realistic, really.

So why do I mention all this? Well, just one week ago today I was posting from this very same Starbucks, looking at potential routes home to take a job with an insurance company, selling my soul due to a devastating series of events which involved me losing my sight for a period of 3 days, spending ~40% of my money that I'd saved for this employment search on a new laptop, and having a generally shockingly difficult time of landing on my feet in Asia. And of course, my last trip to Asia, i.e. my last attempt to follow what one could call a destiny, also ended terribly. What a difference a week makes.

Last Wednesday I traveled to Shenzhen, the border town of 14 million that I was initially supposed to teach English in, for two job interviews. One of which was for an AP Econ teacher position. The pay was very good. The benefits were there. It would have been a sweet gig. But I just don't care about teaching kids to better themselves (why then, do you ask, was I going to teach in China in the first place? Well, I suppose it was sort of a way to justify going to China for a year). Anyway, the 2nd interview I had that day was much, much more intriguing. I met with a fairly new (founded in 2000) company that manufactures outdoor heating equipment and barbecue grills. I'd met with their US representatives back in July for a potential part-time job in SZ whilst teaching, but when I left China due to that devastating injury, employment talks petered out. Until September, at which time I met with this company's main buyer, a close friend of my Dad's, at a hardware show in Philadelphia. He informed me that he'd try to get me a job with this company, if I could commit to him that I would indeed, with 100% certainty, be flying back to China. 3 days later I booked my airfare.

The interview with this company was incredibly encouraging. The company owner, a middle-aged Chinese man by the name of Richard Jin, is one of only three people I have ever met who I can honestly say possesses what I would call an "aura" (incidentally, the other two are also Asian, and two of the maddest mad-dogs I've ever seen). I don't know what that means at all, but in short, you can just kind of tell when this type of person walks into a room that they're just going to absolutely dominate everything and everyone in the place. That is, he's an absolute legend.

It should also be noted at this point the significance of his last name. The character "jin", in Mandarin Chinese, when pronounced in a certain tone, is written as such-- "". As it turns out, Mr. Jin's last name is pronounced in such a tone. When I first arrived in Hong Kong on exchange about 22 months ago, my favorite character was always the first character of the neighborhood "Admiralty". This character was, of course, "" (pronounced "Kam" in Cantonese, Admiralty being named "Golden Bell" (kam chung) in local language, as there used to be a golden bell at the dock there, but that's not important). I had no idea why I liked this character so much, it just looked really cool. I later found out that this character means "gold" (both jin in Mandarin and kam in Cantonese). I found this very interesting, given my immense motivation to earn money, and the fact that, again, I had absolutely no reason to like this character but for the fact that it looked cool. I guess it came full circle, as, again, my new boss's last name is indeed this very same character, . Makes one believe that maybe, just maybe, I'm on the right track here.

Anyway, after that tangent... we were discussing the job, which is incredibly appealing for a number of reasons--

1) I'd be working in the same industry as my Dad, which means that he can A) give me advice if needed, and B) perhaps do some work with this company at some point.

2) I will be flown to the US 2-3 times per year for trade shows. This gives me lots of frequent flier miles, and lets me see friends/family on occasion if the trade show happens to take place in a city near friends (which is likely, as I guess I know people in a lot of cities)

3) I will be flown to Cologne, Germany, once per year, for a trade show

4) The salary is about 4 times the per capita GDP of China, with reevaluation after 6 months of work based on my performance (i.e. I am intending on absolutely going to town in terms of motivation/performance. Monetary incentives motivate me more than like anyone else I know)

So anyway, they made an offer. Let's call this offer amount x yuan per month. I informed them that I had an interview in Hong Kong that Friday, and that I'd get back to them. I came back with 50% more than what they offered, and we met somewhere in the middle. Long story short, I'll be making a very, very comfortable living in China, while also being forced to learn Mandarin Chinese very, very quickly (my job quite literally depends on it. That's a huge part of the deal, is that I learn good Mandarin, and fast. Kill or be killed!)

So now I'll be going to Shenzhen to find an apartment this week. There will be a housewarming party on Friday, November 25th, so if anyone reading this post will be in South China at that time, stop on by, it's going to be shocking!

So at the end of the day, was any of this actually destined to occur, or was I just by sheer coincidence at the right place at the right time and got lucky to find such a position? Probably more the latter, as I tend to believe we have a certain level of control over what goes on in our lives. As much Kurt Vonnegut as I read in High School/University, the idea of us having no control over what happens is something that I just can't quite endorse.

But in any case, I think it's very interesting how closely this whole situation mirrored that of our protagonist Santiago in Coelho's novel. Incidentally, I had my grandmother read The Alchemist before her recent trip to Southern Spain. When asked what she thought of the book, she simply replied "well, it's about you"

How correct she was, I suppose.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Starting a New Life?

So I was having a discussion today with Douglon, my incredibly generous host here in Hong Kong. He was asking if I felt like I was starting a new life by coming here and trying to find work. It was an interesting question, and after a bit of thought, I replied that no, I don't think so. Furthermore, I don't think it's possible to "start a new life" in this day and age.

To clarify--the idea of a person leaving his/her home country and "starting a new life" elsewhere generally brings to mind images of immigrants coming to the United States through Ellis Island or elsewhere during the 19th-early 20th centuries. This generally meant that the people really were leaving everything behind in their home countries--maybe they were bringing some family members, but their friends, extended family, etc., were all left behind. They were completely leaving behind their "old lives", something I feel is essential in order to "start a new life". This is no longer possible. With Facebook, Skype, and all sorts of other modern inventions and applications, we can't really leave everything behind. Furthermore, 100 years ago if you left your home country, you left your home country. That is to say, you took a boat across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, or made a journey across a continent. It would take days, weeks, or even months to return home, if you wanted to. Realistically, if I wanted to spend a good deal of money, I could catch a flight and be home tomorrow. Again, this makes it difficult to "start a new life" in the traditional sense of the phrase.

In short, I think that today it's not really possible to start a new life, that is, to break away from everything that you had back home and begin something totally new. Now mind you, if you decided to A) delete your Facebook/Twitter/Myspace (yes, I know, there are fewer Myspace users than readers of this blog, but it does still exist), B) not utilize Skype at all, and C) just decide to completely cut off all communication with your previous life (this is starting to sound kind of like something a serial killer might do), you could, in theory, "start a new life". But even so, this requires intentional ignorance of everything you came from.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make (and it's a damned obvious point), is that the world is getting much, much smaller, to the extent that, no matter where in the world we are, we can always bring our friends/family/old way of lives with us via technology. So for those of you who are maybe thinking about taking some huge step and moving abroad, remember--people have been doing such things for hundreds (thousands) of years, and it's become infinitely easier and more convenient in the last 20. So if they could do it, so can you! It should be interesting to see the way that this affects large-scale immigration from various countries to various other countries, but one thing is for sure...

...I may be living in a new city, trying to find a new job, meeting new people, and doing new things. But I certainly have not left my old life behind to start a new one.

Updates on the job front--2 interviews in Shenzhen tomorrow, 1 hugely important interview for a Portfolio Manager job on Friday in Hong Kong, 1 phone interview tonight with Allstate back in the states, and overall a lot more leads than I had in several months of job searching in the US. Updates to come as they develop.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rough Week, Eh?

So imagine this situation--

You're sitting in a cafe with a wonderful breeze coming off the South China Sea, getting a 30% discount on all food/drinks because they think you're a student here, typing on a brand new laptop that works fantastically, and not needing to worry about cumbersome glasses being worn. Sounds wonderful, no?

Well that's about where I am right no. But rather than having it be a grand time, it's a pretty questionable situation. The brand new laptop is being used because my old laptop (5 years old, mind you) decided to pick an inconvenient time to die on me, so I had to spend ~$1,000US on a new one. The lack of glasses comes from the fact that the other day, while swimming in the South China Sea off the beach of Tai Long Wan, my glasses fell off and were lost forever to the sea. For those who don't know me well, I am blind without my glasses. Absolutely blind. As in, right now, my laptop is about 1 foot from my face, and this page is magnified to 144%, and I still find it very, very blurry. Fortunately, I know Hong Kong better than I know Normal, Illinois (the town in which I went to University), so getting around hasn't been that hard, but my God is it devastating just not being able to see anything. Apparently, given my experiences in Asia last time with the whole injury situation, it turns out that Asia might actually hate me. Yet to be seen, I think, but that's certainly what appears to be the case. So anyway, let's recap the last week...

Left off around Halloween. Since then, there's been a good bit of applying for jobs in Hong Kong and China. I emailed the CFO of BMW Beijing at the request of the lovely Miss Madlien Schenker, who was kind enough to get me the contact information of this powerful and, incidentally, US-ian (again, hate the phrase "American") individual, who informed me that he'd be happy to pass my CV onto their hiring people, who will see if they have a position open for me. Not exactly a job offer, but I felt pretty good about going straight to the top (given that I'm looking for a job in Finance, the CFO is pretty much the top guy to talk to, I guess), and so we'll see how that goes. Interestingly, while Mercedes is tearing up Hong Kong with unbelievable growth and huge popularity among the wealthy elites, BMW is doing much, much better than them in the Mainland, so it would be a good company to work for, and Madlien has told me that she doesn't use Mandarin at all in the workplace, so my lack of Mandarin skills would not be a huge handicap. Additionally, I really like Beijing, having spent about 2 weeks there in August, so it would be a pretty great job I think, should I be fortunate enough to get my foot in the door.

I crossed the border into Shenzhen last week on Friday for an interview with Wagner Spraytech, a German company with an office in Shenzhen and factories in Ningbo and Dongguan. It was a rather interesting interview, as Wagner doesn't currently have any positions available in Shenzhen--rather it was something of a favor done by their Chinese representatives on behalf of their VP of Human Resources in the United States, who is a co-worker of a very close friend of my Dad's (is THAT all?!) Anyway, it was still definitely a worthwhile excursion, their Chinese Ops Manager was a very interesting guy, and was able to give me some useful pieces of advice on how to find a job in China, what sort of jobs I should be looking for, what sort of salary to expect, etc. So overall a pretty good day.

Douglon's Dad came to Hong Kong this past weekend, and I finally got to meet the legendary Mr. Tse himself. He took us out to a couple of meals, both of which were positively magnificent (interestingly enough, despite being a fairly unassumingly small Chinese man, Mr. Tse was able to out-eat both Douglon and I at the breakfast buffet we went to at the Shangri-La... certainly not unimpressive!) He also had some interesting insights about business in China, and was able to provide some good words of wisdom from the standpoint of a very successful Chinese businessman.

A brief and random sidenote--as mentioned, I'm currently in a cafe at HKU sitting at a small table. There are no longer any tables available, so a rather unassuming Chinese student came up and asked if she could sit at the other seat at this table. I don't think that this sort of thing would occur in the United States, rather I feel like if there are no tables available, then you simply leave the place after ordering your drink. Interesting stuff.

Anyway, now that that random tangent is done with, I have a lunch scheduled today with Loic, one of my Uncle Fred's associates here in Hong Kong. I'm hoping he will also have some insights as to how to find a job in Hong Kong/China, so we'll see how that goes. Tomorrow should be a rather deciding day, I have an interview in the morning with an English-language school in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, and a phone interview in the evening with Allstate Insurance for a position back home as a Financial Analyst. Had you asked me prior to my departure to China if I'd've taken that job were it offered, I'd've likely said "no" rather emphatically. However, given the devastation that has occurred to my bank account, and consequently my confidence, since arriving here, it is now a possibility. We'll have to see how the interview goes. It certainly does sound like a really awesome job, anyway.

Looks like I'll be making another trip across the border to Shenzhen in the next few days to meet with an English language school, as well as with a company that I met with in Birmingham, Alabama, in late July. Could be promising, I suppose.

And now for sort of a random thought of the day regarding false advertising--I was recently looking into possibly buying an Amazon Kindle. I was absolutely flabbergasted when I saw that it had a battery life of...2 MONTHS?!? My God, that's just amazing! However, immediately after that, I noticed there was an asterisk next to this claim. The asterisk corresponded to fine print which said "Based on 30 minutes use per day". Well what the hell is that? That's like saying "Oh, this iPod will NEVER RUN OUT OF BATTERY AT ALL, as long as you don't use it ever!" I really can't understand the benefit of doing that. Frankly, people should react in a few ways-

1) They're really unintelligent, and just don't notice the fine print. They get their Kindle, and due to their unintelligence, they probably never use it. They never realize the battery doesn't actually last 2 months. Or maybe they do, in which case they're rather upset because the battery obviously doesn't last 2 months, it lasts like 30 hours.

2) They notice the fine print, and don't really think anything of it. They think "well that's fair enough, I guess"

3) Or they're like me, and notice the fine print, get pissed off at their insulting your intelligence, and simply say "well if I was going to buy a Kindle, now there's no way I'm going to, out of pure spite".

I just don't see how saying "OH 2 MONTH BATTERY LIFE GUYS!!! (contingent on using it for 2% of your day, every day)" can be any better at making sales than just saying "yeah, the battery lasts 30 hours". It's certainly not false, or even deceptive advertising, but it's just dumb, as far as I'm concerned. Maybe I'm just too picky about things like this, who knows. Moral of the story is... READ THE FINE PRINT!!!

Anyway, that's enough ranting for now. I'll be posting sometime tomorrow or Wednesday with updates on the 2 interviews tomorrow, so until then, remember, only use your Kindle 30 minutes per day if you want the battery to last 2 MONTHS!!!!