Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lately, something has been bothering me. I recently received some unfortunate news...

My boss wants to extend my training in China.

It's been a few days since I've blogged because I needed some time off. There were some feelings/emotions to process through. I'm finally ready to talk about it.

Originally, the plan was 6 months abroad in China. Now, my training has been extended indefinitely. I've always known that it was possible for them to extend my training; I just hoped it wouldn't happen. Ultimately, my contract agreement says that the training is "anticipated to a last up to one-year." It's not a guarantee, but hopefully one year is the maximum amount of time I'll be abroad.

At this point, my boss feels that I'm not ready. And as much as I hate to admit it, he's right. You see, I'm going to be the first person from my business unit to work in the US. Since I'm going to be flying solo, I need to be really well prepared. Mostly, that means I need to be able to communicate in Mandarin. And honestly, there's no better place to learn Chinese than in China. The whole total language immersion thing has been doing wonders.

At this point, I've come to terms with my extended tour of duty. I'm not upset; I understand why I need to be here longer. I'm feeling more motivated at work because now I actually have goals to work towards. But obviously, I'm still a sad because I was really looking forward to coming home. Working abroad for so long is really draining, physically and emotionally.

The bright spot in all this is that I'll be coming home for Christmas and New Years. (Well, that's still pending human resources and finance department approval. But my boss said it would be fine with him!) So in about 7 weeks I'll on an transcontinental flight headed for LAX!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's been less than a week, but I'm moving...again. Just like that, my 5 weeks of training in Foshan became 5 days of training. On one hand, I'm super annoyed; I just unpacked all the stuff from my luggage. And I was getting settled into my dormitory too. On the other hand, I'm excited because my real training is about to begin.

My work is something that I never really addressed in these 100+ blog entries. Frankly, I haven't because I'm not sure what I'm allowed to talk about. Well today I'll give you the basic run down.  These are the things I'm sure I'll allowed to mention:

I work for a company called Foxconn. For people in the United States, it's probably the biggest company you've never heard of. Foxconn is the largest manufacturer of electronics and computer components worldwide. We mostly manufacture products which are ultimately branded and sold by another company. This includes products such as the PlayStation 3, iPods, Kindle, Intel motherboards, MacBooks, etc. Do you remember that iPhone girl? That happened at my factory. (And no I've never met her. Have you know everyone at your work?)

Anyway, my business group works with optical mechanical components. Things like projectors, camera lenses, digital cameras, cell phone cameras, etc. With my love of photography, it definitely my kind of thing. I can't tell you how many times already understanding optics saved my butt...especially with the language barrier. Understanding MTF charts and optical distortion is hard enough in English!

The point of my training here in China and Taiwan is to get me up to speed with the company and then send me back to the US. That's why I've been moving to different factories and observing different production lines. My boss wants to make sure I'm adequately trained and vetted in the company before I start work in the US. Ultimately, I'll be working as a PM (project manager). I'm the middle-man: I work with the customers in the US and relay information to the factories in China, and vice-versa.

I'm excited about moving because I've been kind of drifting along during these past three months. The training thus far hasn't been super relevant to my future work in the US. However, the other day, my boss requested that I leave Foshan and move to Shenzhen for the rest of my training. He told me we need to start concentrating on getting me ready for my work in the US. Sounds good to me as long as he doesn't extend my stay here.  ~shudder~

Monday, October 27, 2008

Before I left for China, I set a number of goals for myself. You know, things I wanted to accomplish before I came back to US. At the top of my list was Mandarin language fluency. Heck, with over a billion Chinese people on this planet, being able to understand Mandarin might become useful in the future. Now I wasn't exactly a newbie at it; I did study the stuff in high school. But after four years of college, I had forgotten most of what I had learned back then. Hopefully, by the end of my trip, I'd be able to reconnect with the language and become fluent.

Fluency. Hmm, that's an interesting concept. It's something that I've been thinking about more and more as my Mandarin speaking ability has flourished. This improvement shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone; I have been living in China/Taiwan for over three months now. Slowly but surely, I can tell that I'm becoming more fluent in the language. But this question still lingers in the back of my mind:

"How will I know when I'm fluent? And what does fluency even mean?"

I've decided that fluency is really about being able to communicate. There's no quantitative point or level at which you achieve fluency. It's not an RPG game with experience points and levels. (Although it'd be really sweet if that were the case.) When it comes down to it, fluency is about communication. Can someone understand the words coming out of your mouth? I don't care how terrible your grammar or pronunciation is. If you can get your point across and you can understand what the other person is saying, then you're fluent. Obviously, there are different degrees of fluency, but it still comes down to communication.

This concept is best summed up by the phrase "差不多" (Pronounced: cha boo dwou). Literally, this phrase translates to something like "differs not much." In essence, it means something like "more or less," "approximately," or "not far off." It was one of the first phrases I learned here in China. The person that was training me couldn't speak a word of English. He would always use "差不多" when I pretty much got the gist of the idea.

Really, fluency is about having to skill to communicate more or less. Doesn't have to be perfect as long as it gets the job done.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Alrighty then, it's time to start working my way through these posts from Taiwan.  First up, surfing in Yilan City.  Yeah, that's right: surfing.  It's funny thatI was born in raised in sunny Southern California, but this was my first time surfing.  And I live literally 15 minutes from the beach.  

Usually, I don't even like going to the beach: 
You get sand all over the place.
Only God knows how clean that water is.  (You know people pee.)
Swallowing salt water leaves you with the most disgusting feeling. get the idea.

I figured I'd tag along with my coworkers though.  It beat sitting in my room all day.  Thankfully, I brought my camera along because the skies were beautiful that day.  It turns out I wasn't the only one who thought so.  There were about 20+ photographers out there with their tripods:

I decided to join the crowd and take some pictures before we started surfing.  Just look at the sky and the reflection off the water!:

But I wasn't satisfied with just walking along the shore, so I decided make my way out into the water.  I'd hold my camera up every time I saw a big wave coming at me.  I took this picture as a wave passed right by me:

And since I was in the water anyway, I figured I'd take picture of people surfing.  Go telephoto lens!  加油!(It's been collecting dust; I can't remember the last time I used it before this time):

Here are my coworkers posing for a picture.  Look at those surfing pros:

Here's a picture of some random old guy surfing.  I like this picture because the background is really clean.  Plus he actually caught a decent wave:

By the end of the day, it started raining hard.  It was the most surreal feeling to be surfing during a rainstorm.  You're already wet, so a little rain isn't a big deal.  Anyway, I really wanted to take a picture during the rainstorm.  So equipped with the latest waterproofing equipment (i.e. a plastic bag), I made my way out into the water.  (It's been converted to B&W because there wasn't much color in the image anyway. Plus it just looks more epic!)

By the end of the day, I got the hang of it.  It took a lot of tumbling early on, but I finally was able to ride some small waves along the shore.  I must say, I had a lot of fun surfing.

But I definitely paid the price for it.  I didn't wear any sunscreen.  That's right: 7 hours of direct sunlight without any suncreen.  Talk about looking like a lobster.  My entire body from the waist up was sunburnt.  I spent the following two weeks peeling.  We're talking about my face, shoulders, chest, back, and stomach.  It's was painful and digusting.  (I felt really bad for the poor maid who was cleaning up skin flakes that were all over the place.)

Alan says: Always wear sunscreen.

Anyway, here are more pictures.