Changing Tactics

Storm CloudsMany of my post-employment blog posts have revolved around my Chinese studies and how they have challenged one of my weakest capabilities (language). Today was one my worst days. And the second toughest was on Friday of last week, when I walked out of class an hour early. The last week has not gone well for me.  It briefly passed my mind to consider quitting class today and instead spend my time on another project. But I remembered previous advice I shared here. I think I am now back on track.

I recognized in early June that I would have good and bad days. Our mind tends to project the future based on our most recent experiences. From one catastrophic day we are blinded from seeing two months of success. In trying to see the big picture, I am reminded of a humbling, true and somewhat funny witticism: no matter how amazing or embarrassing you were today approximately one billion Chinese people could not give a damn.  That really puts things in perspective.

My bad day started as others have: I had misunderstood previous instructions and arrived unprepared. While everyone else reviewed their mock final test I sat there on my own. That was today’s first hour. It was not fun to see everyone else getting prepared for Wednesday’s final while I sat on the sidelines. My mind was in a bad place, for sure. One thing that helped me get back on track today was an exercise in positivity I developed with guidance from Mush Panjwani. Specifically Amy Cuddy’s posture advice had a dramatic effect on my mental state when I followed it in our ten minute break. That stuff works.

But today I made another discovery with respect to my Chinese studies. I need to change tactics. And this is fairly easily done.

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Fake It ‘Til You Make It

LantauSaturday at dusk I was enjoying a drink at an outdoor cafe in Hong Kong. This place was on Lantau island, a good distance from the huddled buildings and teeth-rattling trucks on Hong Kong island. It was quiet, mostly, with birds chirping as the sun set. Then I heard my name loudly called across a large granite park. “Scott!” someone was clearly yelling. I craned my neck to see who was calling me. There was no one there.

I asked my girlfriend if she heard my name called. She heard something completely different. What she heard did not resemble my name. We quickly concluded that no one was calling me. I had heard my name among relatively little noise. My mind’s audio pattern recognition had what is called a “false positive”. This is when we wrong identify a pattern that does not exist. In my case I heard my name because the repetition of years has conditioned me to hear it.

It occurred to me in later reflection how our expectations influence our perspective of the world around us. A good mood turns a reckless taxi ride into an amusement park thrill. A bad mood makes the same trip terrifying. In fact fate rarely presents us with events purely good or bad. Life is messy and surprises come in some part sad, some part frustrating, some part uplifting, and often funny. Our attitude at the moment amplifies some of those feelings and causes us to miss others.  The world is painted with our expectations.

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Cultural Awareness (or: How I Learned to Understand Chinese Traffic)

Americans make jokes about Chinese drivers*.  I never knew if an American joking about a Chinese driver was an astute observer or a racist. It can be tough to tell these things apart with racial, national, or cultural generalizations. But I admit in California I surely saw my saw my share of strange behaviors initiated by Chinese drivers: stopping on highway on-ramps, backing up on the highway to turn off an an exit that was accidentally passed, etc.  As a open-minded Californian I resisted the urge to associate these behaviors with any race or culture.  And then I visited China.

Chinese Traffic JamWhen I moved to Singapore I found myself visiting China for business regularly.  As others that have done the same will testify, the roads there are absolutely fucking insane.  In Shanghai I saw a woman slam on her brakes while in the fast lane of a highway. Her tires locked up, smoke billowing out from under the car, the vehicle leaning forward and sliding slightly on the friction of melted rubber, all so she use an exit she was passing. After stopping she gingerly turned the car 90 degrees to the side and idled across the highway through honking 100 KPH traffic.

Taxi drivers entering roads in China usually do not even look to their sides before doing so.  They act on the faith that another driver that might hit them will raise alarm by honking to call attention to the extreme danger they are about to put themselves in.  God knows what happens when horns fail.

But it was in Singapore that I noticed an even stranger phenomenon.  {Read More}


Goodbye EMC (For Now)

GoodbyeLast week to my colleagues and friends at EMC I announced that I resigned.  I did this after obtaining the counsel of my trusted colleagues, many discussions with friends, and a prodigious amount of soul searching. And not without a little anxiety.  But its now done.

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Hong Kong Realtors

I just successfully finished apartment hunting in Hong Kong.  I arrived in town on 6 December.  My company paid for 30 days at a serviced apartment in Wan Chai.  Jonaca and I are taking a short trip through Thailand and Laos on 2 January.  That left me with just a few weeks to find a place and move into it.

Things were a bit challenging.  To explain the avoidable pressures I was under, I have to start with some characteristics of the local real estate market.

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