Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part II: Asia

This post is about The Making of an International Woman of Mystery.

Making an International Woman of Mystery is not an easy job. And it's a long process. Therefore, this is a long story. To read Part I: The Early years, click here.

Despite my tough experience in Costa Rica, when it came time to find a job, I couldn't get the international thing out of my head. I wanted to work for an international company. Despite my small town upbringing and my unhealthy attachement to my parents and the fact that I had hardly traveled anywhere, I had always kind of imagined myself as an International Business Woman.

My first job was with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston as an Executive Assistant which was crazy boring (I just wasn't cut out for being a glorified secretary). While working for PWC, I did what I should have done the first time around and had a look at which companies others graduates in my major were working for. And that is how I found The Company - the one that I still work for today.

The Company seemed international to the extreme. But to be honest, I was just hoping to get to work in an  in an international environment, maybe get to use my Spanish skills, and perhaps get to go on a cool business trip. I had no idea what I was getting myself into!

First of all, I will state for the record that I initially hated The Company. They made me work very long hours and they did not pay me very much (I should have ran far far away then).* They also challenged me to the extreme. I was hired to work as a customer service representative for our Spanish markets and before I knew it I was managing massive projects, writing technical specs and designing online systems (none of which my awesome Spanish/International Affair major in anyway qualified me to do, but The Company likes you to learn on the job).

Meanwhile, this was right around the time of September 11th and The Company was hit hard by the recession. There was lots of tension and insecurity in the office especially when they laid off a lot of people in the other products. I decided it was time to leave and become a Spanish Teacher -something I'd been thinking about for awhile. I was dating a boy from my hometown and I thought that fate was calling. It was time to accept my destiny and move back home to my small town, marry the small town boy and become a Spanish teacher at the high school I went to. Just maybe the whisperers were right. I was meant to be a small town girl.

I went as far as applying for Grad School and taking the Mass State Teacher Exams (which I passed with amazingly high marks -proud moment). But on the day I walked into my office to quit my job, my boss - the one I hated and the one I was sure hated me. The one who tore apart my projects, criticized everything I did and told me to only enter his office if I was in possession of a flow chart or spreadsheet as these were the only things that mattered to him (for a language major, this was rather difficult).** That very same boss told me that I should not quit. That I should wait for a forthcoming big "announcement" and that I should come speak with him after that.

Well... the announcement came and it was shocking: The section of The Company that I worked for was moving to China. And we were all losing our jobs in Boston but welcome to work in Shanghai (for a considerable pay cut). So, I walked into my boss' office and never one to mince words, I told him bluntly "I'm not moving to China. I'm never moving to China. Do not ask me to move to China. I'm going to move back home to my parent's town, probably marry my boyfriend and become a Spanish Teacher." Take that.

And what did the guy do? Well, he laughed at me! He said that it was great that I had my whole life figured out, but he reminded me that I was only 23 and that just maybe there was an alternative life for me that would be better than the one I was thinking about. He said something along the lines of not letting the small town boy hold me back (the nerve this guy had)! That there was a big world out there that I could learn from. And no, he did not want me to move to China actually. In fact, he wanted me to move to Bali, Indonesia and help with a project there that actually involved teaching.

He sold it to me to me like - well, if you want to teach, you can teach in Bali. And if you still want to teach after that, well you can still continue with your plan. And then he said something that I will always remember: "You will be a great teacher if that's what you want to do. But, I have a feeling that you will be even more great at doing something else."***

WTF? I could have easily turned down China and never looked back. Asia in general was not on my map of places I wanted to go and China was not at all on my radar. Well, neither was Bali, but Bali is a different story! Bali is supposed to be paradise on earth. A beautiful place. A dream world. The only problem was.... Bali is also on the OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD.****

My initial reaction was "no f'ing way." But my boss would not take my initial gut reaction "no" as an answer. He told me to go home and seriously consider the offer. He advised me to talk to my parents (although possibly not to my boyfriend).

And think about it I did. A LOT. And I talked about it with others A LOT. And I surprisingly ffound that their general consensus was that this was an amazing opportunity and I should really consider accepting (even my parents grudgingly admitted it might be a good idea). And although I was still reeling from the sudden proposal and not feeling at all ready to change my plans of marriage and becoming a school teacher, slowly but surely that little voice in the back of my head became louder and louder until I could just not ignore it anymore.

That little voice was telling me: "You are not meant to be in a small town (at least not right now). And that boy you think you are "in love" with - ha ha ha.... that will end in divorce in a few years if you even make it to the alter. Do not give up your dreams for him. He is not worth it. You always wanted to become an International Woman of Mystery. This is your chance! This is a clear sign. This is your destiny. It's all there just waiting for you. Just accept the offer. You only regret the things you didn't do. And BALI is paradise. Who can say no to Bali? You are 23 years old and this is the time of your life to do such things. Just do it!

That damn voice could not be ignored, so I decided to follow that voice to just about as far away in the world as you could get from the East Coast of the US. I jumped on a plane for the third time in my life and flew to the eastern southern hemisphere!

And I lived in Bali for 8 months. Of course, my small town boyfriend promptly broke up with me (the first of many boyfriends to ditch me because of my globetrotting). But I met a hot tall German boy who drove me around Indonesia on his motorbike. I worked some as a teacher. I partied a lot. I danced at nightclubs often. I ate great Indonesian food like Gado Gado and Mei Goreng. I ran on the beach every morning at sunrise. I lived on $500 dollars a month (well, not entirely true - my parents kind of paid my credit card bills - love you Mom and Dad), I met great people. I lived with wonderful women who I still keep in touch with. I was fascinated by the beautiful Balinese Hindu culture. I lived a simple life with no air conditioning (it's hot in Bali), no hot water (but not hot enough that you don't miss hot water), no mobile phone, no television. I traveled throughout Bali and to some other lovely islands nearby. I saw the most amazing sunsets of my life. I ate delicious seafood at Jimbaran on small candlelit tables as the sun set and the surf slowly edged its way up the shore and lapped at our feet. I learned to surf. I read lots of books. I got very tan. I did a lot of nothing. I took long naps during the day. I worked at night. I learned a lot from the Germany boy who taught me to live in the moment and not worry so much about the past and future. I learned a lot about the rest of the world through the other international people I met. I loved my simple Bali life...

But I realized that even paradise is not sustainable forever. And while I didn't love the long hours The Company put me through in Boston, the kind of teaching I was doing in Bali wasn't stimulating me enough intellectually (damn my boss for being right). I decided it was time for a change, so I said goodbye to beautiful Bali and headed back to the US.

Luckily, it seems that I left just in time. Sady, just two weeks after I returned to the US, terrorists blew up the nightclubs in Bali. The very same nightclubs that I partied and danced at most nights. It was surreal. This scared me and my family. And once again, I decided that maybe it was best to stick closer to home.

And stick closer to home I did - much to the dismay of my parents. I had now given up on my dreams of becoming a teacher and I was wallowing around my parent's house in the woods unemployed, directionless and only half-heartily trying to figure out what to do next with my life. To be honest, I kind of missed The Company. And after a couple months, my Mother issued me an ultimatum: Get a job or we are kicking you out. She was unimpressed with my unemployed lazy self and she knew me well enough to know that I was just milking unemployment and not even searching for a new job.

Ironically, on that very same day, The Boss called me out of the blue. When I left Bali, he tried to recruit me to move to Shanghai, China - an offer I kindly declined as truth be told, I was homesick and wanted to go home to my parents. But after living with my parents for a couple months, the China offer was starting to look pretty darn attractive. So, what the hell? In a moment of insanity I accepted. To this day, I swear the driving force in me accepting that offer was so that I could call my Mother at work and have the satisfaction of this conversation:

Me: So Mom, I got a job today!
Mom: (Sounding happy). Oh really! Good for you? How did that happen? Tell me about it.
Me: Well, I'm moving to China with The Company in 2 weeks.
Mom: You are joking right?
Me: I'm dead serious. You told me to get a job and get out of the house. I would say that China is getting out of the house.
Mom: Oh honey... that's not what I meant (sounding sad).

So, two weeks later, off to China I went. And it is with this move that the International Woman of Mystery matured beyond a concept and became a reality. It is with this move that the International Woman of Mystery was born.

I have to admit that despite Bali being amazing in many ways, I was still desperately homesick the entire time. I missed my parents and my ex-boyfriend and my friends. But in Shanghai, The Company kept me way too busy to even think about being homesick. I worked ALL THE TIME. And I loved it! I felt that I had so much to contribute. I was satisfied in my job. I loved going to work every day (I practically lived at the office).

But it was not all work. Oh no! There was a lot of play as well (ah to be young again and not need to sleep). Despite arriving in the middle of the SARS crises***** (oh how my parents hated this one and begged me to return home immediately), I truly believe there was no better place for a 24 year old to live but in Shanghai, China. What a vibrant ever-changing city. There is no place like it on earth. And unfortunately, while to this day Shanghai is still an amazing and vibrant city (and I totally recommend that you all get yourselves on a plane to go there ASAP), it is now nothing like it was in 2003 when I first lived there. Back then, there were no big nightclubs. It was the bars on mao ming lu or bust. And there were very few western restaurants and almost no western style services (like the nice spas you see today). It was all brilliantly uncivilized and very very raw. There were no rules and therefore there were no consequences. It truly felt like we could do anything we wanted (and we sure pushed it to the limits).  Every day was an adventure and the crazy city of Shanghai was our playground.

I had a blast in China. I met great people like M and T. I dated the Scottish boy. I learned how to speak enough Chinese to communicate with taxi drivers, order food in restaurants and make myself understood when necessary. I learned how to use chopsticks (remember I was a small town girl and I had never ever used chopsticks until the day I arrived). I drank bi jiao (a terrible Chinese rice wine - try it sometime and you will see what I mean). I developed a love of sushi (yes, I know this is Japanese but for some reason I never ate it until I arrived in China and then I swear I ate it every day). I worked hard and developed a good reputation in the office. I survived SARS. We tore up Mao Ming Lu. I partied all night and went to work still drunk.  I marveled at Chinese culture and their sometimes crazy logic. I learned to pee in squat toilets (something I struggled with in Bali). I ran several 5K races and did the Shanghai half marathon. I had a crazy time in China. I kind of grew up in China. In China, I definitely became a more mature, confident and independent international woman of mystery.

Shanghai is a city that is awesome and terrible all at once. It's a city that you both love and hate. It's a city that's so vibrant and alive full of sounds and smells and lots and lots of people! It's like sensory overload all the time. And it's lovely in it's own crazy way, yet lonely in its vastness, and irritating in its overcrowded, polluted, hyperactivity and lack of logic.

But China is not always an easy place to live (especially then). And as with any love hate relationship, at  some point, the hate won out over the love (this was mainly motivated by an injury sustained on a business trip to India - another story in itself - that I was not able to get proper treatment for in China) and I decided I was ready to move back to the US.

Luckily The Company was nice enough to offer me a job back in Boston which I readily accepted and was truly excited and ready to move back home...

Stay Tuned for final installment of The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part III: Europe

*Just kidding. I obviously love my job and my company - I've worked for The Company for almost 10 years - but the hours and the pay thing never really have been resolved nor will they ever be although I'm kinda over it

**This boss became a great mentor to me and I now make my staff present me with data rather than feelings. He also said "Don't ask me questions, rather tell me the solution and if I don't agree I will let you know" - very good advice for managing junior staff.

***Note: I have nothing against teachers and still do not rule out becoming one myself one day. But I'm so glad that he gave me this piece of advice because he was so right.

****I'm not going to lie. I had no idea where Bali was. It could have been in the Caribbean for all I knew. So, I did whatever you did in 2001 instead of Google something (as oddly Google didn't exist -seems like one of those things that's always been around doesn't it)? But my research which I'm pretty sure even involved going to a bookstore and looking at travel books, told me that Bali was a pretty amazing place by all accounts.

*****The week I arrived, SARS hit the news. It was crazy. Everyone was wearing masks. Your temperature was taken about 10 times a day whether entering your work building, a restaurant or a nightclub. If someone sneezed or coughed, everyone would panic. The Chinese government went crazy with signs telling people to wash their hands and stop spitting. I was highly amused and not threatened by the whole thing and didn't feel threatened by SARS at all.. My family on the other hand was not so amused - especially after the close call in Bali. They didn't quite believe me when I told them I was totally safe as I had been telling that the whole time in Bali as well.


Sara Louise said...

Life is exciting. We never know where it will lead us we when say 'yes' and step out of our comfort zones. Can't wait to hear about Europe :-)

The Many Colours of Happiness said...

It sounds like you've led an exciting life!!

Matt79 said...

Wow, so many adventures already and still more to come!

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