The Passing Away of a One Year Old Girl

This evening, I received news that Jenny has passed away. Since my previous post, I had been sketching out plans to help her, and planned on visiting her once a month with provisions and to check in on her. Questions run across my mind when I heard of her demise—would things have been different if I visited her upon my arrival in Beijing? Why didn’t I respond to get my own tourist visa to come to China while my work visa was held up? Why did God let her go at such an age? It probably wouldn’t have taken much to save her. I’m guessing she died because of neglect. As far as I know, she never had a proper name.

I’m not sure what else to say.

Homecoming

After months of struggling and wandering, I finally got my first opportunity to settle down in China. While others around me see it as a bold step out into a new world, I see it as my homecoming, albeit it’s not to my eternal home. God has granted me not just a place in China, but a place in the country’s administrative capital—Beijing. Beijing is far more attractive to me than Shanghai, because of it has a much thicker cultural atmosphere and is not as business oriented as Shanghai, at least in Haidian District.

Six months ago I stood in front of Google Beijing’s office, and pondered about what went on in there. Yet two nights ago, in an unexpected series of events intricately orchestrated, I could stand in front of the building as an employee-to-be.

What does the future behold? How long will I be in Beijing for? I don’t know, but I know that the future will be good.

The Search for a Host Family

Update 10 Nov: All my visa pre-approval documents have been approved, and will be in Beijing before the end of the month.

Update 30 Oct: I expect to be in Beijing late November and am now actively seeking a host family.

In a few weeks time, I expect to start work in Beijing. While my natural tendency was to rent an apartment by myself, my brother suggested that I look for a host family to live with instead. The rationale for this is twofold—it will give me more exposure to building trans-generational relationships, and give me an idea of what to look for in my future family.

This blog post serves two purposes: The primary purpose is for me to sort out my thoughts on what I’m looking for in a host family, and the secondary purpose is for potential host families to find out about me. If you’re a family in Beijing looking to host someone, I would like to invite you to find out more about me here and on the rest of my blog. The company that I will be working for is a tech company located in Tsinghua Science Park (清华科技园), and in case you’re wondering, I turn 26 at the end of this year. Please note that such an arrangement is subject to my work visa being approved, of which the result should be out in about two weeks (Sep 19).

Before I continue, I would like to stress that I’m not looking for a pure room and board, but a family that I can be a part of for at least one year. I hope that I’ll be able to join in with family breakfasts and dinners (pending my work schedule), and perhaps chill out together about two Saturdays a month. I am considering traveling to neighboring provinces once a month. With English as my first language, I am happy to give you English classes once or twice a week. Apart from technology, I am also interested in how people learn language and use it as a tool for communication. Whenever I have the chance, I also enjoy a game of archery and tennis, though I must admit that my swing isn’t fantastic. I neither smoke nor drink, and do not expect that you do.

Ideally, you are a couple in your forties or fifties, and have at least one child born before 2006. You’re looking for someone to be a part of your household, to make your home a livelier place, to be a friend to your child(ren), and are not financially driven to rent a room out. It is not important that you have a very strong command of English, as my Chinese standard is sufficient for most purposes. Though not a necessity, it would be awesome if you live within 15 minutes of Tsinghua Science Park, my future workplace.

If you’re open to this idea and think we’re a suitable match, please email me. We can then arrange to meet on Skype to get to know one another better, and meet in person when I get to Beijing, before making final decisions.

Possibly My Last Mac

A few weeks ago, my shiny new MacBook Air arrived at my home, and I opened it with anticipation. I was very happy with my previous white MacBook that I bought in 2008, and decided to take a step forward with Mac OS. At the same time, I jumped from Mac OS 10.5 to 10.8. I maxed out my CPU with an i7 processor, and apart from occasionally getting a little warm, I’m pretty satisfied with the hardware. However, it’s software and interface differences that really irk me:

  • There is now an inconsistency between various pieces of software, some allowing Cmd-D to not save a document, while some don’t. It is a keyboard shortcut that others in the Mac OS ecosystem have grown used to, as they were others who complained about it online too.
  • There are now superfluous interface changes making the calendar look like a paper calendar, and the address book look like an actual book. However, functionality has dropped.
  • When I select a day in Calendar, it is no longer highlighted. This might be more of a bug, albeit a simple thing.
  • In Contacts, I used to easily do a search for “+84″ to find all my contacts who have a Vietnam contact number. Sadly, the search feature doesn’t take into account the ‘+’ sign anymore.
  • Mail has become more sophisticated, IMHO. I hope the new features will prove useful over time.
  • Having to be identified when wanting to update core software, and with an increasing number of apps only being delivered through the App Store, it is really quite annoying.

Overall, I’m still satisfied with it, though it didn’t meet my expectations. Let’s continue to watch where this ship goes without Jobs at its helm.

If I had to choose again at that point in time with the additional information that I have now, I would still choose a MacBook Air. But it’s unlikely that I will request for a MacBook Air for my work machine.

Lessons Learned From Having a Phone Stolen

Today, my phone was stolen out of my hand by someone on a motorbike while I was walking along a small lane in Ho Chi Minh City. It was definitely painful on multiple levels—self esteem, data theft, financial loss. I also pondered about what may be running through that young lad’s mind, and what drives him to engage in such an activity? Was he financially motivated, or driven by the adrenaline rush?

While I’m thankful that the financial loss is the least of them all, I realized that having a battle plan would make such events easier to deal with.

Pre-theft:

  • Set up (automated) backups, whether in the cloud, on your computer, or in your brain. For me, I sync my contacts and calendar with my computer.
  • Register the phone number. This will ensure that you can obtain back the same phone number you used to have, saving you from having to update all your contacts of your new number.
  • Take an inventory of what’s on the phone, know what you’ve got.
  • To take it further, there are “find my phone” apps and full disk encryption that I could have employed. I would have considered looking into one of those solutions with which I could brick my phone by sending it a specially crafted SMS.

Post-theft:

  • Step one: stay calm. No matter what the impact of the loss, stay calm. It is not the end of the world.
  • If you have a “find my phone” app installed, try to see if you can access your phone and brick it.
  • Inform your service provider of the loss, and request for a replacement SIM card.
  • Once an alternative line of communication has been set up, inform key people about the loss.
  • Reset passwords for apps that you have on the phone. For me, this included terminating my Gmail sessions too.

When done, go out, buy yourself a new phone, restore your data, and pick up the pieces where you left off. The world has not stopped, and neither should you let such an event devastate you.

Engineering Life for Success

Support systems and structures are vital to the survival of any living organism. Beyond keeping the organism alive, they protect the organism from attacks and other forms of stress. Likewise, it is important for us as people (distinct from the physiological parts of us) and organizations to have strong and robust support systems.

Since I left Vietnam in Apr 2011 with the intention of finding work back in Singapore, life threw its curves and I ended up staying in 23 different places in 15 different cities. While I’m grateful that I didn’t have to worry too much for the most part of it, I do wish that I had more robust support systems in place. The purpose of this blog post is to document lessons learned in these 16 months, and to consider what I would have done differently. I will focus on two key support systems today: Health, and social life.

There is a Chinese saying that highlights the importance of health in a revolution (身体是革命的本钱). This of course doesn’t necessarily just refer to revolutions, but can be used in the context of any endeavor. The first thing I noticed on my travels is that it’s extra tempting to sleep in. Bad move. This immediately starts the day off on the wrong foot and increases the likelihood of sleeping late, entering into a vicious cycle.

The other aspect is the lack of a social structure for me in every city that I visit. Going for dinner alone, visiting tourist spots alone can be fairly emotionally draining too.

I’ve found planning to be very effective at mitigating against such issues, and am writing this down as an SOP for future reference when I travel. Simply by planning activities with other people, I immediately sign myself into social contracts that make sure that I am not stuck in the hotel room. The below are some preparatory steps for a one month travel cum leisure trip.

  • Two weeks before the trip: Make contacts at destination. Not everyone checks their email every five minutes, and getting to know another person takes some time. These can be done on the basis of interests (e.g. language exchange), professional activities, or on very practical needs (e.g. Couch Surfing). In my last trip to Beijing, I met up with about four people whom I knew via Couch Surfing, after glancing through over 230 profiles and sending out about 30-40 messages.
  • One week before the trip: Schedule appointments to meet up with people. Look up places of interest in the city and keep the list for reference if you run out of ideas. I’m not a big fan of tourist spots, but it’s something to do together with a local. If you ask, many locals tend to be happy to bring you around a bit if they have the time. I love breakfast meetings as they help me start my day on the right note.
  • Two days before the trip: Confirm appointments, ensure contact information is exchanged. If you’ve already got to know who you’re meeting to some degree, then prepare some conversation topics and do some research! This doesn’t need to stifle the conversation, but is a backup plan to avoid awkward silences.
  • First day/night: scout acceptable restaurants near your hotel that look acceptable. These will come in handy when it’s 7pm and the last thing you want is to wander around looking for a decent place to eat. Take a few minutes out of your tired first day to mentally mark fruit stalls and other necessities, and the following days will be a lot easier. Identify suitable places to exercise. They will decrease the barriers to exercise when the time comes.

This SOP is certainly no magic bullet, but I’ve seen how the presence of people around made a huge difference to what I got out of the trip.

An Interview Experience at Google

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to go for a series of interviews at the Google Singapore office. Based on what I understand online, most positions involve at least a few rounds of interviews, usually conducted in one day. Mine had three rounds, and all of them were done over video conference.

As a company that hires for culture, there was only so much reading that I could do. I had applied to be a Field Technician at Beijing and knew that I would be tested more on my problem solving skills than on what I know. As such I decided to spend the night before the interview scanning through my RSS feeds to warm up the neurons in different parts of my brain. Ok, I don’t have any scientific basis for whether that actually fires up neurons in different parts of the brain, but since my RSS feeds covers a broad spectrum of topics from tech to current affairs, it should be a good range.

I started the morning of the interview day with breakfast at McDonalds near a subway station that my dad dropped me off at. This gave me plenty of time to be mentally prepared and get into the zone. Upon arriving at the lobby, I was directed by the receptionist to get myself registered at a computer terminal. The Google lobby was a little quiet, but I assume that was because it was around 11am and most people were probably in their offices. My host came along shortly and ushered me into one of many meeting rooms set up with video conferencing facilities.

The system was probably running a custom Linux distro, and my host set up the VC system which interfaced with Google Plus. This was my first experience of a Hangout, and it was quite a positive experience! While I couldn’t make out the video resolution, the audio and video was definitely smooth for all three interviews. The whole setup definitely had an engineering edge with custom software and commodity hardware (logitech webcam, Audio-Technica mics). I was thankful that none of my interviewers gave me any nasty questions, a la the blender question.

Here are some rough recalls of the questions I got. Definitely a lot more interesting than some other interviews I’ve had!

  • Given the scenario that Google has just acquired a small tech company of about 25 staff running a platform, e.g. Novell, on a network protocol, e.g. IPX, with a directory service, e.g. NDS that you are completely unfamiliar with, how would you get this team integrated with the rest of the company’s infrastructure while allowing them to stay on their platform?
  • Let’s say that Larry wants to make a company-wide live video broadcast in about a month on every employee’s computer (~20k). How would you set this up?
  • Imagine that you get an email from an employee from Thailand, in Thai, and upon putting the email through Google Translate, you understand that the user speaks no English, and that the message reads “wireless broken”. How would you support this user?
  • How would you respond to an employee who insists that he wants an upgrade to the new Macbook Air even though he just got a Macbook Pro and company policy states that each machine is to be used for x years?
  • How would you design a fire escape plan to ensure that everyone is out of a burning building?

Putting Our Burdens Down

There is a story told about a farmer in rural China who would harvest his vegetables, put them on a pole, and carry them into the city to sell. There was a beautiful valley between the village and the city that the farmer would cross everyday.

One night, there was a heavy downpour and the valley was flooded. When the farmer reached the valley, he realized that it had turned into a river! Anxious, he started pacing up and down along the banks of the river to figure out what to do. He noticed a boat cruising through the water. He shouted out to the boatman: “Hello sir! I need to cross to the other side of the valley to sell my vegetables, otherwise they will go bad. Would you be able to give me a lift across this river please?”

The boatman agreed as he was headed that way too, and steered the boat towards the farmer. Thanking the boatman, the farmer got onto the boat, and the boatman started crossing to the other side of the river. Halfway to the other side of the river, the boatman suddenly turned around, and shocked, he asked the farmer: “Mister farmer, the sun is shining brightly down, and you are carrying such a heavy load and sweating so much, why don’t you put your goods down instead of standing and carrying them?”

The farmer profusely replied: “Mister boatman, I am already so thankful that you are bringing me across the river, I don’t want to put more load on your boat by putting my goods down!”

Most of us would accuse the farmer in the story of being thickheaded. However, how often do we as believers continue to hoard our cares, even after coming to Christ? How many of us do not put our burdens down even after stepping onto the boat? Is that why the Bible needs to tell us (1 Pet 5:7) to cast our cares on him? What are you holding on to that is taking its toll on you?

Accidents of Creation?

A friend recently shared with me the plight of a little girl, who I shall call Jenny. Without searching online or asking around, I am sure that her story is not unique, and that there are very possibly thousands or even tens of thousands of girls like her all across China.

Jenny was born about 8 months ago to parents who didn’t plan for her. In fact, her parents weren’t even committed to each other and her mother has left, leaving her father to fend for the family. As they come from the countryside, her father is frequently away from home, leaving his mother to take care of his child. When he returns home, he doesn’t take care of Jenny, but instead smokes, drinks, and gambles.

Though she is born into a bleak situation, her eyes tell of the hope that is within her. Her eyes are bright and radiate all that is in her heart. She can’t wait to grow up and explore the world.

According to Wikipedia, there were 58 million children in villages across China in 2008 who were not under the care of both parents. They are either raised by one parent, grandparent(s), or even sometimes a relative or family friend. They are so many of them that there is even a specific term coined to describe them—”留守儿童”, the “left-behind” children. Here is an article by the LA Times.

As my friend tells me about Jenny’s story, there is this desire in my heart to visit her. Perhaps she won’t understand a word I say. I’m not even sure that her father would let me see her, but the words of Brooke Fraser’s song Albertine keep ringing in my mind: now that I have seen, I am responsible; faith without deeds is dead; now that I have held you in my own arms, I cannot let go till you are.

58 million children, nearly a quarter of the nation’s children. Children who will never know what it means to have a complete family. So many that it may be easy to think that they are accidents of creation. Children born without hope. In a country without God, in a country where you need to fight or get left behind, it is so easy to shrug the problem away. If you are a Chinese and you are reading this, you are blessed.

I do not believe that these 58 million children are accidents. And the same goes for the many millions more who were born into broken families in cities all across China. Every child is a miracle conceived against the odds when a sperm successfully fertilizes an egg. It is also very likely that many mothers of these children contemplated abortion when they found out that they were pregnant, but the fight for life won over in the end, and a child was ushered into this turbulent world.

What can I do for all these children? That’s probably too ridiculous a question to ask. Perhaps I should start with, what can I do for Jenny? Or rather, what can I do for Jenny that is within my means? The first thing that I want to do is to give her hope. Oh how I wish to tell her that there is hope is a hopeless world, that she is not an accident from an unplanned pregnancy. How God has a plan and a future for her life though her parents may have forsaken her. How I wish I could cradle her in my arms and tell her that Jesus loves her and that he formed every fiber of her being.

How I wish I can give her a name that means hope, so that every time she goes to school, every time her teachers talk with her, they talk about hope. Every time she looks at her bleak condition, she can be reminded that she has hope of a bright future. Or what about love, that she may come to know God’s love for her one day? That though her father may not care about her, she has a father in heaven who loves her with an everlasting love and gives her the breath of life every day?

Without God in the picture, these 58 million children are nothing more than a number, a statistic, an accident of nature. I don’t have an answer for what God’s plan and design is. But perhaps I can end off with the chorus of a song I wrote back in 2008:

You’re not just a name
You’re not just another
Person on this planet
Hidden in the billions

You’re not just a name
You’re not just another
Person on this planet
Hidden in the billions
But the apple of God’s eye

杂谈(北京)

这次来了北京,以不同的目标过来。上次,09年,是过来玩的,可以随心所欲。而,这次,是想找份工作的。星期二00:35,飞机抵达了首都国际机场。离开了飞机场,我直接打车到我的酒店去。

星期二走了两万两千步,星期三走了两万步。今天,星期四,也该休息休息,没走那么多。今天去了海淀区人事局,才发现招聘会今天没开。我在展厅看了一些公司的广告,就看了周围的地方。即使人不算很多,但我感受到什么是"北漂"了。

星期二,去了北理工,北航和北交大,星期三,去了北大和清华。我真喜欢中国大学的气氛。又漂亮又有文化氛围。华师大的丽娃河、厦大的芙蓉湖、厦大的情人谷、北航的绿园、北大的未名湖,都给我留下了很多美好的回忆。在这些地方,我可以掏出我的日记本,享受充满意境的环境,录下我脑海中的想法。

即使我在09年在上海生活过一年,这次来了北京还是感觉有点难适应。连简单问路都会听不懂对方说的话。或许因为没有归属,没有朋友,心里有点陌生、孤独。走了那么多的地方,交过那么多的朋友,期盼着我梦想的开端,那为什么我来到我最喜欢的国家的首都,我真没料到会这么不自在。但说句实话,我这次来中国,从签证申请处,到这次在北京所遇见的人,自己感觉他们都挺亲切,挺友好。

这几天都没到海淀外面,觉得这里的人没我想象中多。可能我逛大学的时候学生们都在教室里?

我发一些照片前,对于各个多多少少帮助过我的朋友,我想表示感谢。无论是新加坡的或者中国的,谢谢你们提我一把。在我天黑暗的时刻,给我点了一盏灯。

Chronicles of life in Asia, where all the action is!