Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Office Portraits

Marketing department decided that I would be part of the "Leadership Profile" portion of our company website (still under construction). Of course, I'm her boss, so maybe that's a factor. Definitely one of the funnest part of my job since the promotion four months ago. 

As it turned out, I had a terrible time working the professional look. It's supposedly some sort of serene Mona Lisa smile, mixed in with "I'm such a bomb manager" eyes. 

And, you know your eyes must be really small when other Chinese people told you to keep your eyes open while you were already doing your best to stretch those taunt eyelids beyond their God-given max. 

Caught mid-walk. 

Apparently too much attitude for clients.

I wanted to wear my boots at first. Vetoed by everybody.
Luckily, I keep a healthy shoe storage under my desk.

Flowy dresses are so distracting on a gorgeous windy day.

"Finally!" The photographer says. "One that works."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oh The Places You Will Go!

Recently, I've had a quite a few people who I look up to look at me in the eye and tell me that I'm going places.

They seem so excited about all the good I'm supposedly going to do with my life.

The thing is, while I smile and thank them, I can't help but wonder - is it going to be a good place or a bad place?

I try. Because that's what the scriptures say. Pray. Work hard. Step into the dark. The light will follow. Listen to the spirit. When you don't get an answer, just do it. Did it and everything was telling me to stop doing it. So back to square negative one. Shake off emotional paralysis.  Start from scratch.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The parents are calling. The boyfriend is wondering.

The deciding-your-whole-life-course crisis that seems to hit me once a year is so draining.

What are they seeing in me that I'm not?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Patriotic Mobsters

On Friday, QQ was buzzing with posters that called for mass protests against the Japanese government's purchase of the disputed Diaoyu/ Senkaku Islands.

National fever burned hot. People were urged to bring their own banners and show their love for China. Most of the posters cautioned the masses to "demonstrate logically" - in small print. Instead, the mobs directed their pent up anger at Japanese stores, smashing and looting in many major cities. Rumor has it that many arrested looters sported ostentatious tattoos - signs that local gangsters infiltrated peaceful demonstrations to cause chaos. J bristled when he heard that his dream Lexus, probably a parked car belonging to one of the demonstrators, took literal beatings from incensed crowds. Apparently even some Japanese branded police cars got flipped and destroyed.

Face to face. Police and demonstrators.
On the main street where I typically go for my hot pot fixes.

Stores hung up the proverbial white flag, professing patriotism, or boarding up window displays to plead for clemency from angry mobs.

Jody's favorite Japanese noodle shop, Ajisan, strung up a desperate banner:
 "100% funded by Hong Kong. Same race. Same patriotism."

"Stopped selling Japanese goods. Please forgive us for any inconvenience caused."
- Suning, an electronics store

Yes. This is a tank. Made up of toothpaste boxes. 
The cutout boldly proclaimed that "Diaoyu Islands Belong to China!"
Oh and the box of patriotism that conveniently cleans your teeth
 as well is only sold for 2.8 RMB.
What a steal.

Tomorrow is 918. I expect even more scaled up demonstrations. Over lunch today, I casually mentioned to a colleague that I wanted to observe the protests and take photos. I had missed out last weekend because of girls' camp. He put his chopsticks down and solemnly warned me not to go. Apparently I looked Japanese. And that's not the most popular look right now.

. . . we'll see if I could get work off tomorrow.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

When Girls Grow Up

Just came back from girls' camp where I played camp leader to 60 girls. Jody was there for her first time. I tried not to hover too much, backing off my instinctive older sister slash mother hen role. I cried when she stood up, so confident and strong, sharing her beliefs with the others in front of the glowing camp fire and underneath the sheet of stars. After I had done the same, she reached back, hand seeking mine in the dark, as a show of support, love, and strength. I think that was the first time we've held hands in a long time. 

I went through old files on my hard drive today and was amazed at how much she had grown. Her spirit that shined through each photo hadn't changed a bit though.

(Cody was super cute too. And according to the late night girls' camp gossip, he still is.)

When they were angels

When they were Indians

Those curls kill me

And that smile has killed many mothers at the park.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Raising My Eyebrows, I Will Draw My Sword

One of the guys on my team, Sam, is a Communist Party member in excellent standing. So excellent that we've already had to give him three days off this month to receive an award for being an outstanding Communist youth and to attend a rally. He had apparently joined the Party back in college because it aligned with his "search for the moral, respect for the scientific, and love for the people."He even saved two separate strangers from drowning in a nearby lake on the same night, within 30 feet of each other. Of course, it also helps that he often pays more Party dues than required.

So today is the rally. We haven't heard from him what the distinguished Party has instructed yet, but we have received an enlightening "hand out."

Here's a closer look. I'll try to make it poetic.

Car is made in Japan;
Heart is made in China.
Support the Party;
Recover the Diaoyu Islands;
Rather be a headless ghost,
Than be a spineless man;
If war comes for China and Japan,
I will give up my own life;
My drops of blood will honor the martyrs;
Raising my eyebrows, I will draw the sword.

In case you are not aware, the Diaoyu Islands (or Senkaku Islands in Japanese) are two square miles of land that China and Japan both claim and dispute over. Patriots from both countries periodically sail near the islands and try to challenge the other's presence. The Japanese government has recently agreed to buy three small islands in the Diaoyu Island group from their Japanese owners in an attempt to block the Tokyo governor from buying them to expand nationalistic claims. So while the Japanese gov probably has good intentions, the Chinese objects furiously, saying that Japan has no right to transfer property rights on Chinese soil. The Chinese normally like the Japanese fine, but they are very sensitive to what they imagine to be slights that the Japanese "purposely commit". 

Right after our company got the photo of the handout, the discount development guy muttered three little condemning numbers: jiu yao ba, or 918.

It turned into a low rumble across the office, 9 - 1- 8!  9 - 1 - 8 ! How dare they do this right before September 18th - the shameful day in 1931 when the Japanese military occupied one of their first cities in China with the excuse that the Chinese bombed their railway?

All of a sudden, we're reliving the Japanese occupation of China and gnashing our teeth for the pain our grandparents went through. 

By the end of the working day, my colleagues are calling out for a boycott against Japanese goods. Some wonder out loud if China can single handedly collapse the Japanese economy by not buying any Honda or Sony. Another customer service rep whimpers that she will try not to get any more Hello Kitty in the next month.

I will try to demonstrate sympathetic solidarity and sneakily eat my favorite Hi Chew Japanese candy in the hallway.

Gosh, we should all get awards for being good Chinese at least.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blue Collar Blues

Back at BYU, when I decided to pack up and move to China to work at an American startup that provided micro credit to low income Chinese factory workers, I had a certain image in my head. I was finally going to live the principles I learned in international development class. I was making a difference among the working poor, giving them increased opportunities to build rainy-day safety nets. I was saving the world, sans government job.

For the large part, I felt that way. I had wandered around migrant neighborhoods, winding down the mazes of poorly thatched doors, calendar-papered windows, and tired pipes spouting murky water. I had stumbled upon dimly lit alley kitchens, seeing only the hunched backs of the weathered women and the long, sad shadows they cast on the bundles of vegetables that they had to chop. I had talked to young factory workers who sat in the shade, waiting for an interview at yet another electronics factory while wondering if their lives were meant only for this constant repeat. I often sat at my desk long after work ended, doodling question marks and exclamation marks to see if there was something more we could do.

And yet there were other sides to the sweat shop stereotype.

China's factories stood in shiny industrial parks, with manicured greenery lining concrete roads. Factories were sprawling complexes, rare for a densely packed country, and workers filed through the gates wearing issued uniforms. Workers were keenly aware of their rights and industry standards, annoyingly so even, when they rushed up to the HR to complain about a one cent difference in their paycheck or turned their noses at cafeteria food. They switched their jobs more frequently than girl friends, averaging an average of 4-5 months at a job. They changed phone numbers even more often, dumping one digit for another if there's a 20 RMB discount for a different phone plan (3 USD). Workers made very conscious decisions whether to join an American company (better working conditions but lower pay because of "fair labor practice" that restrict overtime) or a Taiwanese company (crappy environment but you are free to work yourself to death if the money is good). And they were the most reliable and current almanacs on 'confidential' salary and benefits info of different factories. XXX didn't provide moon cakes for Mid-Autmn festival? Boycott! (even though nobody eats them anyways)

But yesterday challenged my perceptions of the blue collar workers even further.

I arrived at the plant of a Fortune 500 client that I had closed recently (yes, I somehow do sales now as well). We were rolling out the micro credit/ blue collar-oriented discounts program and wanted to do some pep talks with the assembly line managers. The early twenty-somethings were fidgeting in their seats, antsy from the previous hour long lecture about retirement savings, by the time we got on stage. They probably only stayed because at a factory with 70% men, those boys were probably starved of a little dressed up female attention. Either way, they were fascinated about our kits and wanted to learn more about our products and services.

My colleague started talking about a mobile app that we were about to launch (contrary to popular belief and according to our market research, around 60% of factory workers have smart phones). She asked how many in the audience had a smart phone.

General smirks.

We all have iPhones. 

Fake ones?

Who buys fake ones anymore, lady?

One factory worker happened to glance in my direction and saw the bubble gum pink second-hand mini-screen phone that I had in my hand. I slid it in my purse self-consciously.

Later, we found out that some of these factory workers also had cars. And apartments. Oh. And iPhones, of course.

The factory had average salary levels. The probable cause for the blue collar 'affluence' was that they were local, so apartments and cars came from their families.

But as I left those heavy gates that day, teetering on my lapis heels, I wondered why somebody else on the other side of the world didn't move over here to try to offer me life-enhancing financial products. I sure could use an iPhone. Good thing the iPhone 5 is being unveiled tomorrow.

Walking advertisements 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Repentant Dater

When the bishop gives me an assignment to read church talks about the joys of marriage every single night,

I'm like:

And then, after the 85th talk about how "those who are single should desire a temple marriage and exert priority efforts to obtain it," I'm like

Fine, fine! Being single isn't that much fun.

Please forgive me, for I know not I have sinned.

I will repent . . . and smile at the next Young Single Adult church activity.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Coke Folks

Several summers, and several cities, ago, I was sitting at a rowdy farewell lunch with some colleagues, who were toasting everything from the least expected work hook ups to the completion of the most mundane projects. Beer, tears, conversation were flowing. As somebody reached to pour some coke into my empty glass, another hand reached over to stop him. "No, Sisi is Mormon. No coke for her."

I didn't bother explaining the complicated situation of how coke was actually not officially outlawed, but instead it straddled a hazy line in the church between being explicitly forbidden and unambiguously accepted.

And I admit. I was looking forward to the icy cold coke alternative instead of the usual boiling hot water they served you in China. But rather than confuse them on the Mormon image, I just smiled, wiped the sweat off my forehead, and asked for the water instead.

I grew up in a household where drinking coke was a minor sin. It was somewhere up there with doing homework on Sundays, wearing skirts that were too high above your knees, and dating non-church boys in high school. Ginger Ale was on the black list too, since my mom concluded that it must contain alcohol somehow.

So as a teenager, I satisfied myself with coke-flavored gummies and flirtatious looks in the school hall ways.

It was a college boyfriend who first introduced me to the sensational experience of combining barbecue chicken pizza and a coke. While I limited my coke intake to the occasional California Pizza Kitchen, it felt deliciously rebellious, and yet satisfyingly safe in this good Mormon girl's fight against the imagined system kind of way.

At the recent family reunion, when my mom casually asked me what I was drinking, J cheerfully replied "Cherry Cola Slurpee." I squeezed his hand so hard. He thought I was being romantic. Jody's eyes and mouth widened, "Sisi, you drink coke now?!"

Silence. I slurped some more.


So today, when I saw that most of the Mormons on facebook were buzzing with the news that the Church had finally made a statement saying that it "[did] not prohibit the use of caffeine," I felt an irrational sense of disappointment. Bummed that the statement did not also pardon my favorite Tiramisu dessert as well (one I'd long given up long ago out of overwhelming guilt). And also a little miffed that my status as the only kid in the Messick household who dared to secretly sip coke once every quarter in a quiet personal rebellion had now been rendered . . . boringly mainstream.