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.

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