Thursday, June 29, 2006

My First Job

Well, I'm at work now.

I interviewed with City Weekend on Monday. It seemed like a really cool job. Basically my immediate responsibility would be to develop a big network of contacts so that I could figure out what was going on in the city. They asked me how I would go about doing this, and I thought of anybody who I could contact, and who they could point me to, and what random social networks I am a part of... They seemed most concerned with the fact that I am more or less new to Beijing, since they were really looking for someone who could bring their own information and contacts into the job with them. But other than that, I think they still seemed interested in me, and I thought the interview went really well.

That evening I was feeling poor as I waited by the bus stop to meet up with Nick for Dairy Queen, when I got a call from Geoff. He checked to make sure that I was okay with the salary terms we had talked about before, and asked me to come in the next day. I felt less poor as I ate my ice cream.

Actually I figured I would just be ironing out the details with the boss when I came in, but she wasn't there, and Geoff started off by loading me down with all sorts of information about what projects I would be working on, and I was like, Woah! I don't remember accepting any job offer. But I spent the morning reading through materials about the company, and finally got to talk to Mou after lunch. Apparently she was confused that I still wanted to discuss specifics with her, since she thought I had come in to work that day. So I brought up insurance and visa renewal with her, both of which she basically said she couldn't help with. She told me what a hassle it is to get a work permit for a foreigner if you're something other than an English training school, and how absurdly high the tax they have to pay on me is. As for insurance, it sounds like I have to wait until the end of my three month trial period before I can get her to provide me with any benefits. Although this isn't exactly ideal, I figure it's acceptible for the time being. I just need to figure out some way to renew my visa at some point before the end of August, and will probably either have to just buy an insurance plan once my current one runs out, or go without it for a while.

I've been doing the best I can to learn about what exactly I'm supposed to be doing at this job, but it's a little hard since Mou is always busy or away. She left for Hunan yesterday on a bid for an advertising case and won't be back until the weekend. This is all complicated by the fact that Geoff and Jasmine are leaving soon, and I think I will more or less have to take over what they're doing. I've been learning about this Jackie Chan and Jet Li movie that we're coproducing, which I've been drooling over. It's also being produced by Bill Badalato, who did Top Gun, and Johnny Lee, who did Rumble in the Bronx. The martial arts director did Crouching Tiger and Fearless. I am apparently responsible for doing various coordination between us and Chinese and American parties who are involved. I have a bunch of casting information, the script, and other random documents and promotional materials for investors and distributors. I also called up the guy who I guess is Jet Li's producer the other day to ask if he had shown this script for another project, Shangri-la, to Jet, and to ask what Jet thought of it. This is all pretty weird. As for something more concrete, I translated an ammendment to a contract the other day, which made me feel useful.

We're in pre-pre-production right now on these two movies, so my work will be limited to the office for the time being. But Mou says that as we move to pre-production and into production, the work becomes more and more on-the-spot and physical.

As for now, I've been at work for an hour and a half this morning and so far I have done little more than write this blog. I hope I get into the swing of things soon.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

My sweet crib

Finally moved into my new place. I spent the last three days pretty solidly looking for housing. The first day I made an appointment with this agent who usually finds housing for ACC alumni. I figured she would be good since Meghan had recommended her, and Jin Laoshi brought her up the other day. She took me to see four places that day, and was very cordial and paid for my water and transportation and all, and offered to take me to a peach orchard sometime, but her houses were dumps. The first place was a joke. She said, "I figure you'll want a cheap place, so let's go see this one first, I'm sure it will be right for you." We took a bus for half an hour to get there, on the north side of Chaoyang Park. We walked off the main street a ways, past one of those big trash piles which naturally accumulate in public spaces, and down this little alley with squat shoddy brick housing. I waited for ten minutes while she fiddled with the door to the courtyard, which we finally had to get some old lady inside to open for us. The courtyard turned out to be less of a courtyard and more of just a corridor between these little houses. The one she showed me was filthy, had two bedrooms with moldy beds, a sink in the bathroom with a single lever which was almost inaccessible because of a pipe which ran across the wall above it, a midget size toilet, and if I remember correctly, no sink in the kitchen. The centerpiece of the house was a big shiny TV in the middle of the living room. She explained that, thanks to falling real estate prices, this place could be mine for only 1,600 RMB, a great deal cheaper than the 4,000 RMB it used to go for. According to my calculations, this means that the foreigners to whom she rents have become only a bit more than 50% less stupid.

For some reason (it must have been the heat) I didn't thank her for her time right then and go home, and followed her to three other places. The next one was the only one worth considering, a comfy flat on the south side of Worker's Stadium for 2,000. It was old, though, with the screwed up Chinese kind of plumbing where you have to adjust the water for your shower in the kitchen before you get in, among other backwards features, including a fridge in the foyer, a washing machine in the hallway, and again, a midget size toilet. The next was "convieniently located" on Sanlitun bar street, so that I could be jeered at every time I came home. The last was just unremarkable, crappy, and over 2,000 RMB. The lady loaded me up with water and iced tea and sent me on my way, where I would consider in what kind of poverty-stricken housing I would like to spend my next six months.

My intention was to spend the next day looking for individual posts by landlords on some online housing classifieds, but the site which I had found before had mysteriously disappeared, and the rest of the sites seemed to be either filled with posts from middlemen, or not have anything that I was looking for. I got fed up with this fairly quickly and went over to a 我爱我家, "I Love My Home," which I figured must be good since you see at least two on every block, and told them what I was looking for, including my price range. Somehow everything they were suggesting to me was either just at my price limit or higher, and they were very pushy. Anyway I figured I would just humor them and go see a place for 2,000. They asked me if I wanted to bike or take a cab over. I opted for a cab. When we got to the apartment, the lady turns around and says, "That's ten kuai for the cab." I expressed my incredulity, and we went up to see the place. It was much nicer than anything the lady had shown me the day before, in that it was clean, all of its appliances were in sensible locations, and it felt spacious. I said I liked it and would consider it, to which the agent told me that I had better make my decision before somebody else took the place. We took the bus back, and I decided I would probably not see this agent again.

That night I met up with Nick for dinner, started feeling antsy, and ran over to the agency to tell them that if they could talk the landlord down to 1,800, I would take it and pay all six months up front. They called him up and talked him down to 1,900. I tried to get them to point out to him that the refridgerator was a piece of crap, and that I wouldn't pay more than 1,800, but they blew me off, and, like a foreigner bargaining in China, I accepted their price.

The next day I paid the agency fee of a month's rent, biked over to the apartment and signed the lease. Actually I read the lease over carefully first, and made them change a clause which was blatantly not in my favor. It initially said, "If the apartment or something in it is broken or needs repair because of use, the lessee will be responsible." I had them change it to "because of improper use." Thank you, Sun Laoshi, for your tedious Civil and Commercial Law class, now I may avoid being completely screwed in this deal.

Yesterday I toted an envelope with 14,100 RMB to the agency to pay for the lease and pick up my keys. It was a wonderful bonding moment where the landlord and landlady told me I should find a Chinese wife, promised to treat me as their own son, and said that I should address them as Uncle and Auntie (which I suppose is less silly in Chinese than it sounds.) I brought my small luggage over to the apartment, where I discovered that cockroaches were also thrown in for free.

I spent the entire afternoon wandering through the Liulitun area looking for the police station where I was supposed to register my residence, and by the time my feet were completely brown from the dust, I discovered that the Liulitun police station was in fact not in Liulitun, but on the other side of the fourth ring road, closer to my place. It was getting late and I needed bedsheets, so I took a bus over to the closest Carrefour, where I spent a blissful few hours buying slippers, soap, and sheets. My bed is now a plush paradise, patterned with big pink and purple flowers.

Now I have much less money than I did before. I am still keeping my fingers crossed on this job with Vertex. Geoff pretty much told me that he wished he could get me the job, but I have to wait until bosslady gets back from Shanghai to hear anything more. Well, either I'll get it or I don't. I've been waking up at 7:30 every morning, either because my habits are becoming healthy in my old age, or I'm going mad with anxiety. On the other hand, beer is one kuai cheaper in Beijing than it is in Nanjing. I took a walk outside my place last night once I had finished decorating my bed, and found a little alley just around the corner with a long row of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, with noodles, baozi, jiaozi and your standard fare of stirfry. I stepped into the first and grimiest, had a jiachang doufu and a beer, and decided that for 1,900 RMB and cockroaches I still couldn't have been ripped off that badly.

Today I will move the rest of my things over from Wang Jiangbo's place. I'd kind of like to be at frisbee in an hour, but I guess that might be a bit impractical today. Tomorrow I am scheduled for an interview with City Weekend, where I am supposed to present them with printed copies of my writing samples, which still haven't materialized...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Back Again

It always feel so bizarre to come back to Beijing. The city has changed so much since when I was in school here, but it still feels like I just left yesterday. I met up with my old teacher Wang Jiangbo when I got in on Sunday morning, and he was kind enough to let me drop my tons of luggage off in his kitchen, which he apparently doesn't use anyway. We had brunch, wasted a bit of time scouting out housing around his block, and I bought toothpaste. He is always busy with work though, so after we got back and took naps, I packed up a day bag and went to meet up with my friend from Nanjing, Fred, and his friend from Beijing, Nick. We met up with some more friends who had also just come up from Nanjing and had dinner and drinks, and I managed to weasel my way into crashing on Nick's floor that night. And the next.

Yesterday I came back to my old school to see if they could get me a cheap dorm room for the week while I figure out something more permanent. I happened to run into a service lady who recognized me from four years ago, and told me that my old program director and head Chinese teacher happened to be there. I ran upstairs and had a little reunion with the director, Jin Laoshi, who was surprised and delighted to see me. She told me to come in the next day, and promised she would help me meet up with her real estate agent, and also get me in touch with some other alumni who were working in Beijing. She also hooked me up with a really cheap room in the ghetto foreign students' dorm on the other side of campus, where I seem to have a super-single for the moment, since my Mongolian roommate of one day has apparently gone back to Mongolia.

Today I bid Fred goodbye, took a shower and got down to business with my email and phone. I'm scheduled for an interview with a Beijing magazine, City Weekend, next Monday, although they asked me to bring printed copies of my writing samples, which I am not sure actually exist at this moment. I also got in touch with this guy Geoff, with whom I had had a nice phone interview two weeks ago, who works for Vertex, a film and media production company. He asked me to come in to the office on the spot. The office was in a fancy building, with an impressive modern looking reception area. I was greeted by one of their Chinese staff, who gave me a brief screening interview just to make sure that I was not completely turned off by the idea of a 9-6 job. Then I met Geoff, who led me into the boss lady's office. She was introduced to me as Mou Dong, which I suppose would be President Mou in English. It was fairly evident from her demeanor that she wasn't strictly a mainlander, and she soon told me that she was originally from Taiwan, and had lived for ten years in the States. The interview started off in Chinese, but she kept breaking into English, and I followed suit. She seems like an interesting lady. A bit of an intimidating presence, but then again there probably isn't much that isn't intimidating to an interviewee fresh out of school. She didn't seem particularly concerned with my qualifications and experience. The questions she asked me included: Why was I interested in the job? What area was I interested in most? (Uh, I dunno, says I.) What is my sign? (Ahh, Pisces, You like to do a little bit of everything, hmm? Answers she.) Do I like physical or mental work? Other than this, she spent most of the time telling me that the film business is hell. She compared joining her company to signing up for the army. There are three stages of work in this line, pre-pre-production, pre-production and production. The first two are somewhat safer, a good learning environment, where there are no bullets flying by your head, and if you make a mistake, at least you don't die. But once you get into production, you have to do it right. It would start off with lots of desk work, but as I learned, and was allowed to work on production, I would have more and more direct and physical interaction with the filming and producing process.

She explained that her intention was to scare me away from the job, but of course I didn't flinch. I told her that I like feeling useful, and would rather have a job that includes the possible extra shift now and then, than a stable and lucrative 40 hour-a-week job at Netscape where I basically don't do anything stimulating. The way we left it was this: I was to talk to Geoff some more, and discuss pay with him. I'm not quite sure how to take this, but I am getting the idea that the decision is more or less in my hands. Anyway, I left her office, and chatted with Geoff. He said that I would probably make what he is making, 6000RMB during a 3 month trial period, but that I should feel free to express my needs to Ms. Mou. This sounds maybe a bit low, but acceptable. I don't think I am likely to find a more interesting entry level job with such huge potential for development, so I plan to email her expressing my interest as soon as I am feeling more coherent.

I'm meeting with Jin Laoshi's real estate agent at 10am tomorrow to look at apartments. I think she has two single bedroom places for under 2000RMB in the area. I told her that I could probably sign a six-month lease.

Well, this has been a pretty exciting day. Oh yeah, and I had a bowl of zhajiangmian for dinner, in the old food court where I used to eat every day. It was completely rennovated, and the noodles were not as good. I ate them while I installed a new Beijing number in my cell phone. When I was in a cab this afternoon, I added an "r" sound onto the end of "lukou." And so it begins!

Testing the listserve

Just set up this listserve for my blog... testing to see if this gets sent automatically.

Friday, June 16, 2006

To Beijing

I took a trip out to Shanghai on Wednesday to interview with Pacific Epoch. They do technology and media research, and needed an editor. It sounded like it might be an interesting job, and a good way to learn about an industry while getting some experience under my belt, but it looks like it's just going to be mostly tedious proofreading. They had me edit some sample articles, and the way it worked was, they had their Chinese staff pick out some news items from Chinese sites, and write brief English summaries. I was to fix the English, and make sure that the summary contained all the important information and no irrelevant information. The problem was, their English was so atrocious that in some cases they actually conveyed the exact opposite meaning of that intended, so for every article I had to go back and read the original Chinese in its entirety and write my own summary. That in itself is fine, and I'm glad for the opportunity to use my language ability, but for them to give me this broken English is just a waste of my and the Chinese staff's time.

Anyway, when I came back to Nanjing, I just booked myself a ticket up to Beijing. I'll see if this place makes me an offer, but if they don't, I don't think I will be too sad.

I bought a big peasant suitcase with the red white and blue to dump all of my bulky clothes in. I always like to travel in style.

Graduation now, more later.

Monday, June 12, 2006


A couple months after deciding not to renew my domain name this year and letting my website die, I decided I actually kind of like having a blog. Also, I apparently had registered an account with this site in 2002, and I guess it didn't work at the time, since my posts were all something to the effect of "GRAHHH! WORK GODDAMN YOU!" Anyway, I just dusted off my old username, and here we go.

This is my last week at the Hopkins Center in Nanjing. My plan right now is to catch a train up to Beijing before they start demolishing my room, stay with a friend for a few days while I look at apartments, get a place, and look for a job. I'm sort of waiting to hear on a job or two right now, but I probably shouldn't hold my breath.

Hopefully this blog will be less stupid than my previous websites. In addition to brief updates on what odd corner of the third-world I am lurking in, I'm planning to post pictures that my digital camera wielding friends pass on to me, like this one, which was taken two nights ago at our favorite all-you-can-eat-and-drink Japanese restaurant:

This may or may not be better than Yahoo! Photos, which Sucks! Dick.

Well, good luck to me!