Saturday, September 27, 2008

Out of touch - but still busy

Last weekend was my coworker/roommate's last weekend. She had just wrapped up a year-long internship and was heading back to University. As a going away party/get together she had invited everyone in the office to go to Ocean Park, which is a theme park/aquarium on the West end of Hong Kong Island. The views from the roller coasters are stunning. When Saturday morning rolled around, I was the only one who was not still sleeping or at work, so she and I went to OP together. We had planned to meet some coworkers there, but they never showed. It was a perfect day for the park – plenty hot but nearly empty. Aside from the half-hour wait for the bus back to Cantral, the longest line was probably 15 minutes. And the aquarium was pretty interesting, with sharks, stingrays, dolphins, sea lions and seals, and a kajillion kinds of fish. After that we went to Wan Chai – easily the seediest part of Hong Kong - and met some coworkers and former coworkers for Mexican food. It was quite good but too expensive. Wan Chai seems very Las Vegas, but on a smaller, less convincing scale. From there we went to Lan Kwai Fong, which is where all the bars and clubs are, and where all the westerners and foreigners go for a party that doesn’t stop. It was a little much for me but a great experience nonetheless. Just as loud and wild as Wan Chai without all the grunge and sketchiness.

There was a typhoon between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning. (fortuitous timing considering that my roommate left just before it began, and the new hire showed up just after it trailed off) That’s a hurricane for all you English speakers. Of course, I managed to scare my mother by confusing "tsunami" (tidal wave) with "typhoon", before I found out which was which but that’s another story.

We were instructed to leave work early on Tuesday because of a typhoon signal (basically means that the weather is bad enough that employers don't want to be held liable for employees who feel that they ought to stay in the office...) but it came at 5:30ish meaning that I saved myself about 15 minutes total, after packing up and shutting down the workstation. The protocol here is: if the typhoon warning is lifted before work, you go in in the morning, and if it's lifted before noon, go in later, and so on. The typhoon was pretty crazy - ridiculous wind and rain that went from off to full-on in seconds, and back to nothing again a couple of minutes later. And apparently this wasn't even a very big one. I saw the clouds whipping up and over the peaks of the surrounding mountains. It was eerie and quite surreal. I hear I’ve missed the peak of the season, but I’d really like to see a serious storm from someplace safe.

Although the former roommate’s room is open, my other roommate and I can't move "up the ladder" until about three weeks from now. Other guests are moving into the apartment for a few days at a time, and HR thinks this is a reason not to hand over the keys. So people who are just visiting get the master suite, and the actual residents have to make do with the shared bathroom and smaller rooms. I’ll live.

I received an email through the grapevine from an old family friend who is on a trip to Tokyo. A paraphrase of my reply follows – sorry if some of the concepts or names are a little obscure…

I know you're a little surprised to be one of the few competitors actually taking time to enjoy everything that Tokyo and Japan have to offer, but isn't that the only way to do it? What's the point of being on the other side of the world, if you operate in the same way you do at home? I've seen the nightlife here already, and while it is not necessarily my scene, it is still something that I am glad to have experienced. Hong Kong, like New York, is a city that never, ever sleeps. I can relate to most of your story either directly or indirectly. A lot of your experiences translate directly to life here in Hong Kong. (If you aren't aware, I'm here wrapping up the first month of a six-month internship in a telephone design office). I also had a coworker/roommate who I only got to know over a few weeks who went to Tokyo for a week at the end of her employment. She said that although it is like Hong Kong in a few ways, it is "nothing like Hong Kong". I'd love to get a chance to hop over there, especially since I don't see myself on this side of the world for some time (although I didn't exactly see myself here before I got the internship either - so who knows). My father forwarded me the email you sent home, and a lot of it rang true with me. I've already had my prerequisite meal at Freshness Burger too. I've been here for three or four weeks already and I've already had more absurd, exciting, and assumption-shattering experiences than I could have expected. Last time I was here on a school trip (vying with classmates for one of two internship positions)that lasted a week and a half, but was spent in Downtown Hong Kong, where everyone speaks English, is used to seeing westerners, and everything seems very busy. Now I'm living in Tai Po, which is technically part of Hong Kong, but might as well be part of the PRC(it is in the New Territories. The closest approximation of the situation, I imagine would be Jersey to NYC. Close in terms of geography but the similarities end there). I've already had little kids stare at me and tug their mommies' shirts (They were speaking Cantonese but I assume they said something to the effect of "wow, he's a different color, and tall, and funny looking") And people around here assume that caucasian equals fork and knife - I have to ask for chopsticks nearly every time I go out to eat. But I kind of enjoy being the minority - It's certainly something that many people I know will never experience.


In work news, I was assigned two projects within my first few days. Project 1 was to take technology and components from existing products and apply them to an untapped market for a product aimed at parents of babies. Project 2 involved taking an existing product from the American Market and repackaging or “re-skinning” it to keep the same functionality and internal components – thus creating a new product in terms of looks and avoiding any trademark infringement, since it is going to be sold in a new market. I really enjoyed the work and was getting it done quickly enough. I had just put in a really strong final push to get half of the product completed for the re-skin, and as soon as I was done, my boss came back and said that the trademark holder gave them the go-ahead to simply re-brand the current product. Long story short, I went from product design and 3D modeling to changing colors on an existing product. The end of the day has been spent getting organized, cleaning up my files and desk, and not working too hard. I jokingly asked my boss, "So if I come in tomorrow, then I've passed the test right?" Apparently, this is - to some degree - standard operating procedure for my team. I had thought for a while that it was going too smoothly. I'm 0 for 2 on projects getting completed. But now, Project 1 (shelved so that I could dedicate more time and energy to finishing the re-skin) which is much more open-ended and conceptual, is going to become a priority again - but not as much of a priority as it was before, I feel.

My friend from college arrived a couple of days ago as a new hire at work, and he’s done really well with the jetlag.

We went out with the coworkers for a drink last night, and had a great time. The bar is literally a couple hundred feet away from the apartment, which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. He and I woke up relatively early today and went apartment hunting around the New Territories. They come in all shapes, sizes(mostly in the small to extra-small range), colors, and locations. But they all have about the same price – expensive. Some, which looked like glorified closets, leased for more than I’m being paid as an intern. I am seriously glad that I am not expected to pay rent here.

Tomorrow might turn out to be a good beach day, which I will take full advantage of. I haven’t been to the beach yet, and I am ready to go after last week. I need to not think for a little while - Just stare or pass out – with sunscreen on of course. I showed

In the following days I will try to think of a couple of good ideas for things to show everyone at home, because there are two holidays in two weeks. Wednesday and the following Tuesday. I may just wander the streets of Hong Kong proper and snap photos. We’ll see. It might – hopefully not – end up being a good opportunity for a nap.

Sorry to be so vague and confusing with names and project descriptions. I’m not yet sure where the line lays in terms of privacy and legality.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My first week at work

Sorry to have been inactive (at least in the blog...)for so long. Settling into the working environment for the first week was second only to jet lag in terms of wiping me out.

The first week of work went very, very well. I found out how well college has prepared me for the "real world", and I also found out just how much stuff I am completely clueless about. It was great to be able to speak face to face with the engineers and understand their terminology (even through the accents and broken English). I'm working on two projects. First is a concept that is a complete diversion for me and the company's tendencies. The second is much more traditional, and is simply a freshening up of a current product(which is a lot more involved than it sounds) which is due last week (if you catch my drift). It is sort of tough keeping pace but at least I am comfortable both with the pressure and with the technology and terminology. I can thank my college for that. It seems I came at the busiest time as my coworkers are all swamped and I am one of the first interns to be knee deep in two projects within the first week.

While the work is hard and the days are long, there is a lot to love about being here. First is the fact that I'm up on the 22nd floor. This means that anything that happens outside (thunder, rain, fog, clouds) seem a lot closer and more threatening than they appear from the ground. I can't wait until a typhoon rolls in while I'm at work. The incredible height leads to incredible views. I can literally "see my house from here" when I'm in the office - if I press my face against the window...and I can see the track where I run after work. Hong Kong is the only place I have seen that seems so very urban in the midst of such unforgiving terrain. the mountains are so absurdly steep that I wonder who thought it was a good idea to build anything around here at all.

This is not the view from the office - but rather from the street in front of the apartment. This is the apartment (the white building in the center of the frame)- I think mine is somewhere to the lower left - on the fourth floor. The lower floor is nice for the short elevator ride (balanced by the 22 story jaunt on the way into the office).

There's a track near the apartment...

From one end of the track, I can see this:

umpteen cookie cutter apartment buildings all interconnected and enormous.

And from the other end:A beautiful mountainside covered in forest and undergrowth.

In one day I have seen from the office windows, at least a little bit of each of the following: Mountains, Tai Po, water, clouds, fog, rain, sunlight, and pitch darkness, the track near the apartment, and the apartment building itself, and some spectacular scenery. (the boss-men don't seem to understand why i keep looking into their offices - but I can't keep my eyes off of the views)
The building is seriously big and it looms large on the horizon. I work about 50 feet behind the giant "G" in "TAI PING" and the bathroom is somewhere around that string of windows at the back of the tall section(by the T).

This really is something else for a guy who has spent most of his time in the suburbs of DC or in Savannah...