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My boss called me into a meeting today, just me and him. I was expecting it, so it came as no surprise when he rolled into my cubicle, tapped the doorframe, and said “Can I talk to you for a minute?” Even though I was expecting him, I hit him with a “Right now?” to make it look like I possibly had more important things to do than shoot the breeze with him. OH! You may be wondering why I was expecting this seemingly surprise visit.
You see, in my company, there are two technical writers. By the way, that’s my profession. I’m a tech writer, meaning I spend hours a day getting paid for doing things you wouldn’t do at gunpoint, like writing 500 page manuals. Anyway, there are two of us here, and we’re both bored to tears by the work we’ve been commissioned to do for this company. It takes a lot to bore a tech writer, I’ll tell you that. We’re people who read product specifications all day, and UNDERSTAND them. The work we do now could be done by a retarded monkey on meth, balancing the laptop on his lap while riding a unicycle across a live electrical wire. Well, I suppose he’d need an editor. Either way, it’s stupidly easy work, certainly not enough stimulus for two guys with 30 years of experience between them. The other guy, My American Compatriot (MAC), decided he’d had enough, and turned in his notice on Friday. Lucky bastard. All hell then broke loose.
My company is under several illusions: (a) that everyone, everywhere wants to work for them; (b) that they’re the greatest company on this planet called Earth (and #2 on Venus); (c) that no one would ever willingly leave, unless they were evil people or brainwashed; and (d) we’re all fairly incompetant, and should be grateful for the opportunity just to pee 3 times a day in their precious urinals. You see, in China, when someone loses his job (usually by getting canned), there are about 300 people THAT SAME DAY lined up for that very job, due to the high population and relative high unemployment. Because of this, this company is pretty arrogant about its position, and it treats its employees accordingly. “Accordingly” means “like ungrateful, unintelligent urchins”. (Holy hell, I just did alliteration with the letter U. I am incredible.) They don’t understand that Americans have many, many choices, and we don’t have to put up with bullshit just because that’s what’s served. We can simply go to another restaurant.
Well, after MAC put in his 1 week notice, I got nervous. See, I also have a job offer that I’ve accepted (yay me!), but I didn’t yet have a start date. No start date means no resignation, ’cause you don’t know when your 2 weeks is gonna begin. I knew that losing MAC would panic the natives…he’s been here the longest out of the 2 of us, and was spearheading a lot of the crap we were doing. I also knew that they would want to talk to me one on one, so as to make me feel assured about my position and all that. I dreaded this meeting. Ideally, if I had to go talk to them, it would be me doing the talking, and the talk would go like “Well, first of all, y’all can kiss my black ass.” But without that start date, I couldn’t say this with full righteous authority and indignation. What if something falls through? Then, as the kids used to say, I’m ass-out. At the same time, I didn’t wanna LIE to the guy, either. I’d feel bad. Therefore, until I heard from the new place, I had only one strategy: avoid. Call after call after email after email to the new place went unanswered, because apparently, just after formally offering me the job, everyone in the entire 100,000 person company went on vacation. I was freaking…out. I mean, how shitty would be be to go in on Friday, tell my manager that everything’s fine, then give my notice on Monday? And how much would it suck to say “I’m audi” on Friday, only to find out that my drug screen failed (I’m not worried. Really.), and they rescinded the offer on Monday? Then I’m just screwed.
This morning, I got the best phone call I’ve gotten in a long while. My new manager was on the phone, and he gave me my start date. I am SO money now. Not 15 minutes later came that knock, but I was ready. He started off giving me the typical “everything’s OK” speech that I’m sure he’s given a hundred times before, and I was careful to nod in acknowledgment and not in agreement. (That’s a hard distinction, folks. An agreement nod makes your head move up and down repeatedly, as though you’re saying “Yes.” An acknowledgment, or “Yeah, I heard you” nod is a verrrrry slow tipping of your chin, doooooooooooown, then back up again. Once.) Then he told me a story, meant to be a metaphor about work, and it was the funniest shit I’ve heard from a manager ever. So funny, in fact, I’ll share it with you. This is almost VERBATIM what he said to me.
A small bird was flying south for winter. He was very, very cold, and didn’t know if he could make it from Canada all the way to Mexico. Somewhere over South Dakota, the cold overtook him, and he fell to the earth. The story doesn’t end there, though – see, his fall was broken by a pile of shit – you know, cow manure. So there he was, trapped in shit. Seems pretty bad. But the shit was warm, and it kept the cold away. And there were grains and grasses in the shit, which kept him nourished. And for a while, he was ok. But then he started thinking about where he was, and said “This isn’t ok, I’m in a pile of shit!”. And he began to chirp loudly. A cold, hungry cat heard the chirping, jumped down from his fence perch, and pulled th bird out of the shit – and then ate him. So the moral of the story is, yeah, it might be shitty, but the person who pulls you out of shit may not be your best friend.
After he gave that speech, I literally had to bite my bottom lip to keep from laughing in his face. That’s when I dropped my bombshell on him. His face fell like Britney Spears did with her baby. He asked where I was going, and I told him, and he said “Oh. Oh. Well. I guess I can’t blame you, then.” (I won’t tell you where I’m going, but it’s a Fortune 500 company. Hell, it’s a Fortune 25 company. Recognize.) By the way, that’s why the Chinese lessons will not continue on my blog anymore – I won’t have anymore material. I’ll be making more money, doing more things, and for a much better company. My last day is June 2. You can bet there’ll be other things to talk about between now and then.
The Chinese Lessons will be discontinued due to outside circumstances that I cannot yet delve into. If this was one of your favorite features, too bad. It’s going away. If you ask nicely, I’ll compile them and add a link on the sidebar. And I might squeeze out 1 more, but it’s unfreakinglikely at this point.
However, stay tuned for a new Diatribe tomorrow. I wouldn’t miss doing that for the world.
Now, get back to reading whatever the hell you were reading before.
Today, my team went out to lunch to say goodbye to a couple of team members who are returning to their country of origin. My first instinct was to immediately decline, slide down the Batman pole I recently installed beneath the unused treadmill in the break room, and then duck down inside my car, listening to Stern as they drove out of the parking lot. I didn’t want to become a Language Victim again. What’s that, you ask?
(I know you asked. You had to. You’ve never heard that before, ’cause I just made it up. Stop googling it.)
When I went to Italy, there were many occasions where I was eating with a group of people who were talking to each other in loud, animated tones, about topics they were intensely knowledgeable about and interested in, and entirely in Italian. It sucked. Every 2 or 3 minutes, someone who could speak English would turn to me and either give me a 10 second synopsis of what the discussion was, or they’d give me a pity question like “So, you doing OK today, Damian?” just to make me feel like I was a vital part of the conversation. After I said “Yeah, I’m fine”, they would give me a thin smile, a curt nod, and they’d return to their discussion about the best place to buy goat milk or the finer points of Moussolini or whatever the hell they were discussing at the time. I was a victim of language. It was incredibly lonely, and I vowed then that from now on, when I want to be alone, I’ll be alone when I do it.
Alas, I discovered that my American partner in crime was going to go to this lunch, so I figured I’d better show up too, ’cause I don’t wanna be seen as a malcontent (or as someone with much better plans). So I went. And these are the rules that I developed while I was there. Some require additional information; some are self-explanatory.
Damian’s Five Unwritten Rules for Company Lunches
- Do not order for the entire group in a language that is not understood by the entire group. My boss decided we would eat ‘family style’, meaning we’d get a bunch of dishes, and all share. Problem was, he ordered in Chinese, and didn’t really tell us non-Chinese speakers what he ordered. Each dish was a surprise. I hate surprises when it comes to my food. Don’t say “Try it, you’ll like it”. I’m not 7. Tell me what the fuck it is I’m about to put in my mouth, and don’t be cute about it. I’ll be less mad if it’s squid and you TELL me it’s squid, than if you tell me it’s special shrimp and I bite into a suction cup. That’s your ass, then.
- Do not attempt to discuss religion at a table full of people with varied backgrounds. Need I even say more?
- Do not attempt to discuss politics at all. Especially when the discussion begins with the words “Your government”. Hey buddy, last time I checked, you lived here too, unless you’re commuting from Beijing everyday.
- Do not make loud jokes about how hot Korean women are, or how docile Japanese women are. Yeah. Seems reasonable, seeing as how there were women in attendence. And yet, it occurred. I just put my head down and ate.
- Do not invite people to lunch, as a group, under the guise of a company-sponsored outing, and then tell them AFTER they’ve eaten that “It comes out to $8.50 each” while you hold your hand out. When they said “company lunch”, I naturally (and mentally) slid the word “-sponsored” between “company” and “lunch”, and was prepared to get my eat on for free. However, knowing what I know about where I work, I also mentally prepared myself for the likelihood that I’d be coming out of pocket – kinda like when your broke-ass friend says “Hey, let’s go to the movies”, and you know good and damn well he hasn’t had money since “Friends” was on the air. So I was ready for it. And disappointed that I was yet again proven right by these guys.
Each day brings a bounty of knowledge to those who seek it.
Now, this story actually has nothing to do with Chinese people, per se, but since all my other work posts are in this major, I have to include this other related course work, too. Consider this post an elective. Take it if you want – the grade counts if you do, though. And for God’s sake, check your syllabus. I’m not the type of professor that tells you up front when the tests are. It’s on your shoulders.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting my cubicle, minding my own business, listening to Ludacris or Busta Rhymes or some other rap music, because this is what motivates me. And by “motivate” I mean “calm me down”, because usually I’m in a state of high tension due to rampant silliness here. Anyway, as I was sitting there trying to write this 250 page manual, the HR chick dropped by. She’s a nice woman, cute, but she’s a little…slow. I’ve actually asked someone here if she’s got a mental defect, or if she’s just stupid, or if she’s just very very clever and is hiding her real intelligence for fear they’ll make her do more work if it’s ever found out. I was assured that she’s just stupid. She popped in and said “Damian, can you follow me, please?” Normally someone would ask what’s up when HR asks them to follow them somewhere, but I’m jaded now, and I don’t really care what’s up. I prescribe to the IAPTS philosophy of professional behavior. What’s IAPTS, you ask? Allow me to enlighten:
It All Pays The Same
I’m salaried. I don’t get paid overtime. My rate of pay never wavers. IAPTS dictates that I say to myself, “Whatever they want you to do, do it. It pays the same rate no matter what. You get paid no less for sweeping the breakroom than you do for writing a technical manual.” This philosophy will get you by in times of strife and turmoil, and will truly make your day zoom by faster than a Canadian sprinter on steroids running the 100M high on meth and being chased by 15 imaginary Rottweilers. It really works.
So, I hopped up and followed her, whistling all the way. The last time I followed HR somewhere, I got laid off. I was ready for it then, and I was more than ready for it now. I was trying to decide exactly how black to get when we suddenly stopped in front of a cubicle on the other side of the floor. She turned and said “This is going to be your new cube.” Whatever. It’s not like the other one had running water or satellite TV or anything. The only problem was that this new cubicle was already occupied. When I pointed that out, she said “Oh, don’t worry – Lei Me here is moving down to another floor, so you can move in later today.” (Lei Me obviously isn’t her real name, but it sounds funny, so that’s what we’re going with, OK? OK.)
Lei Me: “But I’m not moving to another floor.”
HR: “Yes you are. Your whole group is moving.”
Lei Me: “Not me. I’m moving to California.”
HR (flustered): “Um, OK. Well, Damian, you move in when she moves to California. Lei, when’s that?”
Lei Me: “May.”
HR (really flustered): “Well, that won’t work. We need to move Damian today.”
Lei Me: “Why can’t he sit in that empty cube right there?”
At this point, my supervisor walked into the conversation, and he chimed in with:
Super: “Or why can’t he move into THAT cube right there? It’s empty, too.”
Me: “Yeah, actually, I’d rather move over there than into Lei Me’s cube, anyway.”
Super: “Yeah, ’cause that cube is bigger, and he needs the space for his manuals.”
Lei Me: “Plus he could move in today, and not wait.”
Me: “Yeah, that makes sense to me, too.”
HR (losing her shit): “I DON’T KNOW, OK? I JUST DO WHAT THEY TELL ME!”
HR (recovering): “Well…Damian, you move into Lei Me’s cube whenever she moves, OK?”
Me: “Whatever. Keep it clean for me, Lei.”
And I walked back to my cube, whistling, completely unable to recover that lost 5 minutes of my life. The end result was…nothing. I’m still in the same cube.
I love this place.
EDIT: OK, I’m grossed out. I just went to the breakroom, and I saw this in the hallway:
Yep. It’s a roach. I think he’s our tech support roach. I let him go on his way. Maybe the servers were down or something. Unreal.
According to Wikipedia, a “Chinese fire drill” is defined as:
“a prank that was popular in the United States during the 1960s. It is performed when a car is stopped at a red traffic light, at which point all of the car’s occupants get out, run around the car, and return to their own (or other) seats. “The term is also used as a figure of speech to mean any large, ineffective, and chaotic exercise. It is alleged to have originated in the early 1900s, during an naval incident wherein a ship manned by British officers and a Chinese crew set up a fire drill for fighting a fire in the engine room. In the event of a fire the crew was to form a bucket brigade, drawing water from the starboard side, taking it to the engine room and throwing it on the ‘fire’. Because water would accumulate in the engine room, another crew was to take the excess thrown water and haul it back up to the main deck, and then heave it over the port side (in order to bail it out).When the drill was called the first moments went according to plan, but then orders became confused in translation. The crew for the bucket brigade began drawing the water from the starboard side, running over to the port side, and then throwing the water over, and so by-passing the engine room completely. Thus the expression “Chinese Fire Drill” entered our lexicon as meaning a large confused action by individuals accomplishing nothing.”
I bet you’re wondering why I mentioned all this, making you read stuff all early in the morning. It’s because I had an interesting Friday morning at work. As I’ve mentioned in Chinese 101 and Chinese 102, I work for a Chinese company with many native Chinese employees, which means that even eating lunch in the breakroom is a cultural event. Well, on Friday, the fire alarm went off in the building. I’m on the 5th floor, and I immediately began grabbing my shit, ’cause fire or no fire, I’m not leaving my iPod in here to die. I’d pay ransom money for my iPod. I love it that much. Our receptionist was walking nearby, and I asked her if this was a drill, ’cause at Cisco, they ran fire drills pretty often, but they’d let you know it was a drill so that you wouldn’t trample people as you ran screaming for the nearest exit. She told me that we don’t do drills here, so I began double-timing my packing efforts.
As I finally scooped up my backpack and rounded the corner of my office, aiming for the stairwell, I saw the unexplainable – a large group of my coworkers, milling about, not moving, not heading for the stairwell, not doing ANYTHING except making small talk in the hallway, all while an inferno was surely blazing somewhere on a floor below. I was actually stunned -if this was anywhere else, there’d be at least 3 people with Florsheim footprints on the backs of their necks from people stepping on them to get at the stairs. I made up my mind right there that somebody was about to get run smooth the hell over, and just as I started my Bataan Death March toward the crowd, the alarm shut off. Crisis averted. Turns out they were just testing the system. But as I watched everyone shuffle off to their desks, a thought occurred to me. It was an evil thought. I didn’t ask for it; it approached me from behind, offering me Tang and oatmeal pies and Playstation Portables. It invited itself into my brain, put its feet on my coffee table, and bought $100 worth of adult channels. It called my mama a bitch and ran up my light bill.
And do you wanna know what that thought was, that evil, evil thought?
“Holy shit. This is a REAL LIVE Chinese fire drill!”
I am so going to hell.