Monday, January 30, 2012

Chinese New Year, and Updates from the Special Economic Zone

So last week was Chinese New Year. Most companies give their employees 1+ weeks off for the holiday, here at Shinerich we got a full week off, but were required to work the Saturday before and the Sunday after, which meant really, we were only getting 3 days off. Fair enough, but still kind of a bummer.

Interesting point on perspective--unsurprisingly, I observed the following in regard to having 2 6-day work weeks surrounding the Chinese New Year holiday: the week before New Year felt like the longest and most devastating work week ever, because we had to work that Saturday. However, I am currently (almost) halfway through this 6-day work week, and I must say, it's not nearly as bad. Now obviously that could have to do with the fact that I've just returned from holiday, and therefore should be "rejuvenated" or whatever word you want to use, but I think it's more likely to be because of working Sunday, i.e. the day before the week, as opposed to Saturday. In this sense, it's quite nice knowing that this week, at the end of Monday, my work week was 33% over (2 days worked out of 6), whereas the week before last, it was only 16.67% (1 day out of 6). Obviously, this continues today (50% done, as opposed to only 33% done week before break after Tuesday, etc.), and will continue throughout the week. Fairly interesting, the effect that perspective can have on things which are essentially completely equal.

Anyway, so Chinese New Year. Originally the plan was to just sort of bum around Shenzhen for a week and relax. Anyone that knows me at all will realize what a foolish and unrealistic plan that is for me. Consequently, I woke up Sunday (the first day of holiday) and was already quite bored by like 2:00pm. John was going to be in HK a fair bit throughout the week, so I decided to just look around at airfare throughout the afternoon, seeing if I could snag reasonably priced airfare to anywhere decent. The options were:

Manila: $247 R/T
Taipei: $260 R/T
Singapore: $350 R/T

And a few others. But those were the 3 that I was really considering. Now in a vacuum with all else equal, Taipei would probably win out that fight pretty easily. I've been to the Philippines and Singapore, and really would enjoy going to Taiwan, as I've heard it's very interesting. However, that afternoon, by sheer happenstance, I had a very pleasant trip down memory lane through a group Skype session with friends from all over the world with Lexx (Gold Coast, AU), Elliott (Brisbane, AU), AlanKey (Adelaide, AU), and Sabutai (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). While speaking with these 4 heroes, I was told by Sabutai that he's currently also on Chinese New Year holiday in KL, and that I should come over there. As I said, I'd flown into Singapore once before, and that time I'd taken a bus up to KL from there (about 4 hours). After a bit of thought, I decided what the hell, and booked the airfare. At 5:15pm. In my apartment in Shenzhen. For a flight that was leaving at 9:20pm. From Hong Kong. Anyone with any familiarity with South China will say, well, that's a bit of a trip, Shenzhen to HK Airport. Fortunately, I live very, very nearby the border (10 minute walk), but still cutting it quite close, even given my enormous tolerance for all things ambiguous.

So I was off. Booked airfare at 5:15pm, threw some clothes into a backpack, and raced off to HKIA. Ended up getting there with a bit of time to spare before hopping onto a Tiger Airways flight to Singapore. Spent the night in Singapore Changi Airport (not for the first or last time), before heading to KL on the first bus the next morning.

Had an excellent few days with Sabutai, I met a decent number of his friends, many of whom are from the small island nation of Mauritius, noteworthy for being the most developed "Sub-Saharan African" country (I put SSA in quotes because geographically it's really not Sub-Saharan Africa, it's an island in the Indian Ocean, but eh). Having already been to KL and seen a good bit of the touristy stuff, this time around had a more local feel to it, with Sabutai showing me some of the localish restaurants/bars/etc. around the university there. Was very interesting stuff.

I headed back to Shenzhen on Friday late afternoon (via another overnight in Singapore Changi Airport) and had about a day and a half before the end of Chinese New Year holiday, which was spent basically just doing laundry and catching up on things. Overall, a very solid holiday.

At this point, I'm back in the office, though a decent percentage of the employees are either 1) still on holiday, or 2) have quit because of the New Year. Interesting to note--apparently in China, they take new year's resolutions quite seriously. That is, rarely do they just say "Oh I'm going to give up soda" or "try to lose weight", they really do resolve to improve their lives in a number of ways in each coming year. Consequently, many people quit their jobs at the New Year to try to, I guess, "start over" for the New Year (for any Chinese reading this, if I've stated that completely incorrectly, and am consequently being a cultural Philistine, I apologize. Feel free to set me straight via email, comment, or burning my house down. Either way).

But anyway! So yes, back at work, it's been slow so far this week. It seems that I'll be heading back stateside at the end of February for a trade show in Atlanta, sort of yet-to-be-seen how long I'm there for (probably about 7-10 days). After that, things will get busy here around late March/early April for the Canton Fair. The Canton Fair. The biggest convention ever. Basically, in the US, companies like True Value, Ace Hardware, and I'm sure bigger companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have conventions where their store owners come buy products at promotional prices. The two of these shows that I worked with my dad this past fall were both some of the bigger shows of their kind in the US, with a few thousand booths at each. The Canton Fair had nearly 57,000 booths last year. Fifty. Seven. THOUSAND?!? Completely incomprehensible (though I will comprehend it come April when I'm there, I suppose).

In other news, the company had a New Year's gala sort of thing a couple of weeks ago. They were giving away door prizes which, on the low-end, constituted home appliances such as toasters, blenders, and other assorted crap. On the high-end, 2 people won 6,000RMB (~$1,000US) each. Big range, there. Incidentally, I ended up on the very, very high end, winning a brand-new laptop. It's a good thing I didn't buy a brand new laptop like 3 months ago, otherwise this other new one would be completely useless! Also a good thing that the Windows 7 on there isn't in Chinese....also might render it somewhat less than useful. So long story short, I'm trying to sell it on a couple of different HK/SZ websites. Will hopefully keep all 3 of you readers informed on that one.

Apart from that, things continue to move along as per usual in Shenzhen. Weather has been very nice, with temperatures not dropping below 60 (but for the 5 days that I was in KL, at which time it dropped to about 45 degrees. Mind you, it was 90 in KL :-D ) At the moment the whole work visa situation still seems a bit iffy, though we'll see how that progresses as the weeks go on. Frankly, at this point I don't really care, the way I view the whole situation is as follows--either the company I'm working for is able to get me a work visa. If so, great. I will work for them for awhile. If they're so incompetent so as to not be able to arrange a work visa for me, then odds are they're simply not worth working for, due to said incompetence. So basically, I will either get a work visa and work for a company that knows what they're doing, or I don't get a work visa, and can't work for a company that I otherwise would not want to work for anyway. I think the logic is correct, so we'll see.

Some other assorted thoughts--

I recently read that the largest known star in the universe, VY Canis Majoris, has a circumference that is approximately the orbit of Saturn. To put that in perspective, it takes light about 8.5 hours to travel across this star, whereas it takes light 8 minutes to reach Earth from our sun. Mind-boggling.

I was very enamored with Singapore and (to a lesser extent in this context) Kuala Lumpur due to their diversity. To clarify--I love Hong Kong because it's diverse. But really, it's diverse to a certain point; about 90% or so of the population is Chinese, and the other 10% is EVERYTHING. However, in Singapore, it seemed about 40% Chinese, 40% Malay, 10% Indian, and 10% everything else. So rather than being dominated by one ethnicity and having a very diverse subset of their population, the entire population is quite a bit more diverse. Really cool to see, and something that I'd really failed somewhat to notice my last time there.

A sign that my lifestyle in Shenzhen is starting to become somewhat problematic in terms of mine and Scutt's tendency to shop every day: in KL, one of the noteworthy sights that Sabutai went to go look at was the Uni Qlo store in KL. In short, Uni Qlo is a Japanese department store that has a few locations in SZ, and is one of the few stores in the city that makes clothes in western sizes. Consequently, about 40% of Scutt's wardrobe, and about 25% of mine, are made up of Uni Qlo products, because we simply go there like 2-3 days a week and shop around (not always buying something, of course, but when a city is basically one big shopping mall, you're going to do a lot of shopping). Bit sad, really.

Watched a phenomenally interesting speech by Robert Sapolsky about human nature the other day (incidentally, I had one of his books as required reading for Psychology 110 my freshman year at University). Would highly recommend, the man is a brilliant scholar and an equally brilliant speaker.

Other than that, no real further musings. More to come in the next few weeks, particularly regarding the whole visa situation...that's quite important!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some Thoughts On The Age In Which We Live

Disclaimer: this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with my life, the events surrounding my job in Shenzhen, or anything else that this blog was originally intended to be about. It is, however, about something far more important than any of that.

For the approximately 31 people on the planet that haven't yet heard about the PIPA/SOPA legislation currently being considered in the US, please get out from under a rock and watch this video, then come back and read this blog.

I've written before about my love of Wikipedia and everything it stands for. The idea of an open, free, collaborative source of all human knowledge, which is (generally) neutral and balanced, is something that is absolutely fascinating, brilliant, and earth-shattering. It symbolizes the transfer of power and influence from media outlets to the everyday person, and allows people anywhere in the world with an internet browser and a command of any of the dozens (hundreds?) of languages in which Wikipedia is published to get more information than they would otherwise have, free of charge. Truly a staggeringly ambitious, and up to this point, stratospherically successful project...

...But I've already written about my love of Wikipedia. So now let's talk about something that would affect not only Wikipedia, but basically every single website on the internet: SOPA/PIPA. I first heard about this proposed legislation from my good friend John on Saturday night. Saturday, as in 5 days ago. He just mentioned that Wikipedia would be blacking out for 24 hours in protest of this new legislation which would be very damaging to the freedom and neutrality of the internet. Yesterday (Wednesday here in China), I posted a Facebook status with a link to Wikipedia's page which outlined their decision to black out for 24 hours, and explained their rationale and methodology of making this decision. At the time, I'd seen a bit more about this on various Facebook statuses, but (and I really don't mean to sound arrogant at all here, just making an observation) I was one of the first people I know of to put anything up about it. Oh boy how that changed. As of last night, I had seen dozens of statuses and photos and rants on Facebook about the proposed legislation. All, obviously, were overwhelmingly against it. This morning, no fewer than 7 of my friends on Facebook had even gone so far as to change their profile pictures to anti-SOPA/PIPA pictures.

This all occurred in a matter of like 24 hours. Despite living in China, I like to think I'm fairly well-informed about things going on in the US, and I found out about this 5 days ago. Let's go by the assumption that I was in the first 20-25% of people to find out about this legislation (maybe a terrible assumption, I don't know). The insane spread of this news in the last 5 days is simply incomprehensible. According to Wikipedia, 150 million people viewed their message during the 24 hour blackout. One hundred and fifty million. 1/2 the population of the United States. That's almost 1/40 people IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. In 24 HOURS! Imagine 100 years ago (hell, 20 years ago) spreading a message to ONE IN FORTY PEOPLE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD in a 24 hour period. Barring some sort of device that would allow you to illuminate the entire night sky throughout the world for an entire day with whatever your message was, you would be hard pressed to get any message out to 1% of that number. And furthermore, one can assume that these 150 million people were probably located in no less than 100-150 countries, worldwide. I would venture that never before has a message proliferated so vastly, so quickly. Ever. This is human history being made, in my approximation. (Update--Wikipedia now says 162 million. Christ)

One person who really came to mind during this whole SOPA/PIPA uproar was Julian Assange, the founder/spokesperson/everything else of WikiLeaks, an interesting yet controversial website which attempts to
"leak" documents that would otherwise not be shown by the media due to either secrecy or general bias (mainly secrecy--i.e. secret government/corporate documents). Assange, or more specifically his portrayal the media, is fascinating. My personal favorite example of the idiotic way that he is portrayed is shown at left (for those who can't read it due to the type being too small, Assange is saying "I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I'm a villain", Zuckerberg "I give your private information to corporations for money, and I'm Man of the Year"):

As the creator of this brilliant cartoon notes, Assange is basically viewed as a villain by a large percentage of society. Those who do support Assange still have the rather annoying tendency of viewing him as something of an outlaw, an anti-authority figure that's as much an oddity as he is a revolutionary. He is, in short, considered a rogue curiosity, someone that people may look up to, but would never want to emulate. This is wrong. I saw an interesting piece of writing by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia yesterday which was talking about this quasi-battle between the powers-at-be and the majority, and it sort of reminded me of a really bizarre technological war, a war obviously not being fought with guns and explosives, but one being fought with idea proliferation, with the majority sending barrages of emails and letters to their representatives, and the representatives replying by attempting to press through our lines with legislation which empowers media companies with horrible tools to restrict a free and neutral internet. Is it possible that this is what the wars of the future will be fought with? Going back to Assange's public perception as a rogue voice against authority--we all have the capabilities of doing what Assange has done at Wikileaks. Maybe not the financial resources, the technical skills, or the network of global connections that Assange has used to push Wikileaks up the Alexa Rankings, but we all have the right, need, and dare I say the duty, to encourage internet and political transparency, freedom, and equality. How can we do this? Well, I think a good example would have been basically destroying a piece of Congressional legislation within a few days. We should not be so complacent as to only do this type of thing when a really, really grievous bill passes through--we should be more actively involved in the political process, all of us (myself included--this has been a wakeup call to the fact that I truly have not given a damn about political involvement, ever. This will change now). Furthermore, continue to spread ideas, upload ideas, make the world a more open and free place!

The last 5 days have been incredibly inspirational in that regard--Congress was (is) attempting to pass legislation which will infringe our rights to a free and open internet, and people overwhelmingly slammed the door with an emphatic ambush of "no" in a flurry of Facebook statuses, Tweets, Emails, Google+ updates, and every other tool that the everyman has at their disposal due to the wonderful powers of the internet.

The importance of these actions cannot possibly be understated if we are to continue to live in a world with free and open internet.

And on a lighter note, a brilliant project that anyone interested in science and good music should check out--a huge thanks to my friend Angelo for introducing me to this project about a month ago, I have been enamored ever since (in addition to the above link to the actual website, the wiki is here). Best quote throughout the entire series of songs, as far as I'm concerned (Full quote taken from a TedTalk c. 2005, paraphrased in song)--" Are there things about the universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, but not beyond the grasp of some superior intelligence? Are there things about the universe that are, in principle, ungraspable by any mind, however superior?"--Richard Dawkins...something to think about!

Hopefully a blog post about the ongoings in Shenzhen to come soon--not a whole lot of updates from here apart from lots of work and an impromptu trip to the US back around Thanksgiving, but I guess any day living in a place like Shenzhen is an event within itself, so again, coming soon.

In the meantime, the internet is an amazingly powerful tool. Don't let others control it, keep it in the possession of the people. A completely abstract and physically nonexistent tool made by the people, for the people.