Monthly Archives: November 2008

Giving thanks

Growing up, Christmas was always my favorite holiday because it meant candy canes, Christmas lights, presents, the general good-Holiday cheer feeling, the whole shibang. As I’ve grown older, however, Thanksgiving has slowly become the occassion I look forward to most, especially as I realize how incredibly lucky I am, and how much there really is that I have to be grateful for — opportunities, good health, security, and most importantly, people.

Over the years, one of the people I’ve come to appreciate and respect the most is my mother, whom I don’t ever really give enough thanks to. She has been the constant rock for not only me, but our family. She reminds me of who I was, and who I can/should become, and has been so incredibly selfless in all her actions that I can only grow to appreciate and admire them more and more as I grow older.

And for that, I give especial thanks this Thanksgiving to all the unsung heroes and heroines, the ones who quietly inspire us with their actions, lend us strength when we need it — whether they know it or not. To those who have sacrificed their own happiness in hopes of creating the best possible future they know how for us. To those who stand unwavering in their values and ideals, who may often be overlooked or misunderstood. To the heroes whose personal stories, experiences, and tribulations make “historic” years like this possible. To those who have found courage in ways they best know how, and love so selflessly. To those who swallow their own pride and dreams to protect the ones they love. To the blossoms that bloom in winter, against all odds.

To you, you have my undying gratitude, admiration, love, and respect. Thank you so much for all that you do … ❤


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corporate china

jing an temple-> the bund (10.05.08 through 10.17.08)

i showed up to work the first day of work at 8:00 a.m., only to find out the business day didn’t actually start until 8:30 a.m. so i sat in the lobby and looking out the window, saw the developments of the past ten years before my eyes.

my office building is right across from pudong, once the ugly duckling of shanghai. it was now transforming into a beautiful swan, home to many of the world’s largest financial institutions and has started to develop a culture quite its own. like the little community many of my relatives had decided to move to, it would have been unthinkable a few decades ago for many shanghai-nese to live in pudong. and now, it was to be the darling of the 2010 shanghai expo.

while i work in a large office in san francisco too, the team here was so much bigger than the 10-person team we had back in sf.  as one of the partners showed me around, i was amazed at how many people there were in the shanghai version of my group — 50+.

the first few days were spent adjusting to the routine there. my morning commute was as chinese as it could get, although i was fortunate enough to not have to be subjected to overly crowded buses on my short route to the office. making the ten minute walk from the bus stop to work, however, was a completely different story. streets filled with bikes, the sound of tinkering nails and hammers at work, the dusty air, spit left and right on the floor, a block with new buildings being constructed, another with the old bamboo laundry lines hanging out, and of course, the street vendors selling their dumplings, jian bing, and the like — yes, china and change. getting all the administrative tasks taken care of at work was a bit of a hassle; first, there was entering the building everyday and having to show them my passport. since the access key to the building is separate from the one to different floors, i couldn’t get to my work area for awhile unless someone just happened to be there. getting an access key took a lot of persuasion and assurance that i wouldn’t just run off and the lady at the help desk grudgingly agreed as i handed over my security badge in sf in exchange.

that was one difference i noticed between the large corporations and the home-grown chinese companies — while both are largely bureaucratic (overly in many instances in my opinion), foreign companies are more hesitant to change than their chinese counterparts. for example, chinese companies would be more receptive to trying out new IT security systems, for better or worse. on the other hand, foreign companies would undertake longer and more rigorous testing and analysis before choosing to do so. i think what partly contributes to this is that chinese companies, while they are terrified of losing face in the long run, are more bold and apt to take risks in the short term.

at work, i was lucky enough to have three great cubemates. i really liked the layout where there were no cubicles and high walls, just desks you shared which made it really easy to talk. reminded me of school again. life in the office was fast-paced, although i wonder if it’s really that much more work, or a different mentality. everyone was always running and seemingly on the go. despite this, i was able to make a few new friends. not the type of friends that you leave and will soon become mere acquaintances, but the type that you may meet many years down the road and there will feel like there was no gap, and conversation will just … flow.

there were two a-yis (kind of like hospitality staff) who took care of our floor — soo nice and always made sure the bathroom was clean, every light was on and working, etc. very much appreciated that!

the two weeks went by in a blink of an eye, and before i knew it, i was already saying my good-byes. while i don’t know when/if i will ever go back to the shanghai office, i know for certain that i would love to work there at some point in my life.  even our office reflected what shanghai represented and the type of people the city attracted — globally minded, diverse, inquisitive, well-traveled, and insightful individuals from all over the world. from new zealand to milwaukee, london and paris, the stories that everyone brought with them were so unique and different. and while everyone’s experiences in china varied, there was always that love-hate relationship, and the attraction to the change, uncertainty and excitement that the country represented. as one senior manager commented:

if you want to build a company and be part of the change, come to china. come to shanghai.

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china chronicles 2008: part i

Looking back …

Since I didn’t have access to WordPress in China, I will be updating about my travels and experiences in installments. The reason for these entries are two-fold. One, I would love to share with you the events that have happened in the past five weeks that I’ve been gone from the Bay Area. Secondly, in a time as volatile as now, and where the word China conjures up so many mixed feelings, I feel that this is something that is more important than ever.

Of course, these entries will be interlaced with personal feelings and issues, but I hope that these stories may also reflect the pulse of a nation undergoing not only economic change, but a social and cultural one as well. Too often, I think we think of things — not only China — in black and white, when there are in reality, shades of gray near and far between.

Hello, Shanghai. Hello, home. (10.04)

I always love the feeling of arriving in any city, the excitement, the anticipation. But perhaps moreso, I love arriving in Shanghai most. The vast PuDong airport, as impersonal as it can be, also brings with it the first air of the construction work taking place in the city, the breath of change. Since my relatives actually live about two hours from the airport, I hopped on an airporter bus to make the trip across Shanghai.  Since my first visit back home in 1995, it seems as if there’s been endless construction. One skyscraper on top of the next, one apartment building after the other, each taller than the last.

Our “xiao qu” (little community) was a little less rural than the last time, with new roads and infrastructure clearly built within the last three years. Another Carrefour (kind of like a Costco + Target) had popped up a mere couple kilometers away. Perhaps what was most interesting was that ten years ago, none of my many relatives who lived there now would dream of living in the “xiang xia” (the “rural lands”). That would not have been considered Shanghai, but now everyone is clamoring to move there, in part for the relatively cleaner air, and also because Shanghai real estate has skyrocketed so much that it would be near impossible for most Shanghai-nese to buy anything anymore in the city’s downtown areas.
Home, however, was the same. It was so good to see my grandmother again.  She is turning 94 in a couple months but her mind is as lucid as ever.  I am amazed at what clarity and simple insight she has into situations. That and her genuine affection, care, and love she has for all of us.

Then came the fun part of convincing my relatives that I would be fine living on my own for a couple weeks in downtown Shanghai. And that I was perfectly capable of renting a room/apartment if I should so choose, instead of going to a hotel. I was met with a lot more resistance than I had expected as I listened to unending horror stories of the anarchic state of Shanghai. Which promptly turned into praise of how Shanghai was still one of the less chaotic cities … I guess generational and cultural gaps are only accentuated in times and situations like this, as one of my aunts proceeded to tell me “if only I were a guy …”

I concluded they had watched too much “Dong Fang 110” (basically like a 911 show), and assured them that I would be fine, and would take all necessary precautions to minimize risk as much as possible. It was, however, pretty touching to see how much they cared.

And so with these assurances, got ready to move to the heart of Shanghai for the next two weeks …

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a lifetime away

today is my first full day back in the u.s., back to work, back to the “familiar.” although i’ve only been gone for a month, everything that’s transpired in the past month has left me feeling surreal to be back in a place that is supposed to be “home.”

it’s an odd sensation to get on a plane, and leave everything that’s happened and everyone you’ve met half a world away. literally. i know that i wanted this trip to be more than just an experience, to be a journey of “soul searching,” and while i’m not quite sure that that has really been accomplished, i feel like i’ve come back with something else. something undescriable. in that respect, i’ve realized that soul searching isn’t any singular event or set of actions, it’s a process and a continual state of mind.

“yuan feng” is a concept that’s come up frequently during my trip. a combination of fate, destiny, and serendipity — there is truly no english equivalent. and what “yuan feng” i’ve had in the mere five weeks away. finding friendships in unexpected places, hope in simple actions, and courage in places unknown. from the busmate from yixing who visited shanghai for the first time in 20 years, the young woman who left to make a solo journey before getting married to her high school sweetheart, the hundreds of eager students looking to better position themselves in a tough economy, xiao hong ayi in xidi who wants so desparately to share her village’s story and values with the rest of the world, to the hopes of a father for a young boy to see a world beyond his town through the eyes of travelers, i have been constantly reminded that if you let them, people will always surprise you in the end. pleasantly.


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