Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Manager from Hell

Thanks to the dot com bust and the outsourcing, the most prevailing type of work in technology industry (not counting layoffs) seems to be contract work nowadays. I believe there are a lot of them in the Bay Area, as it has become the corporate policy to save money on the overhead by hiring as many contractors as possible and keep them as long as possible. I knew someone has been a contractor for ten years before being converted to permanent employee.

It’s not legal or ethical, but that’s another subject.

I have been one of the many contractors since 2001. My last assignment was to work for this mega size high tech company Systkol (not real name), reporting to a manager named MaryJane (not real name). She appeared to be a pleasant person when you talk to her, albeit a little unclear on the descriptions of my soon-to-be work responsibilities or later, giving work instructions. The overall work experience was frustrating to say the best. The team didn’t seem to have an organized onboarding process, and MaryJane herself was seldom seen by the team members, let along providing any directions when needed. For the first three weeks I didn’t have a phone. They moved me three times in the first two weeks. All these made it extremely frustrating for a newcomer.

Within four months they had two re-orgs and, from what I gathered through the grape vine, a budget cut. I received the message one Friday morning that it would be my last day.

The infuriating thing came next. MaryJane told the agency that I was not familiar with Office application, and there were a lot of mistakes in the data I input into their system, just to name a few of the lies she said about me.

I will give you a couple of examples to show why I called those lies.

I have been scheduling meetings for one of her team members several times a day every day because she couldn’t get her application to work. I even helped a consultant on her team to do this because “she’s pretty bad with Office,” according to the consultant herself. MaryJane herself didn’t know how to share her calendar in Outlook with others, because she didn’t do the setup correctly.

Does this sound like I didn’t know Office or they didn’t know Office? The meeting scheduling software, might I add, is the company’s own application.

She also failed to mention to the agency that, in order to enter data into their production environment, I have to be 100% correct in the training environment, which I was. They would never let me touch the production version had I been making any mistakes. I received feedbacks from the trainer numerous times that I did a great job – there’s no mistakes after the audit. It never occurred to me the feedbacks were worth saving because it never occurred to me the manager would lie like that.

The agency of course is on the company’s side, since it’s their major customer. This means I can forget about working for this agency again. The negative feedback I got also made it difficult to get my next assignment.

Is MaryJane lying to cover her end for lack of budget and, therefore, to get out of the contract? There is no way for me to know. I only know that when it comes to lying and lack of leadership, MaryJane is up there in the top three “managers from hell” in my eighteen years of work experience.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Sheep Story

I used to live in the hillside of the Niles area long time ago. If you are familiar with that area you would know how beautiful it is. I had the view of the rolling hills from my kitchen window. There were wild lives roaming in the neighborhood as well. I had dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, chinchilla, and even a coyote as my pets – I love animals.

So naturally I was a little worried when a warming came out from the city’s office about a mountain lion being spotted in the area. A couple of times I saw it resting on my fence – how in the world it could stay there was beyond me. I made sure I lock the chicken coop and the rabbit cage at night, and all the others inside with me before I went to bed. Well, the coyote was on its own, but the dog house in the backyard can serve as a refuge if it really needed.

I got such a shock one morning shortly after I got up and looked out of the kitchen window – all the sheep were dead! They were all over the hills, lying still on the ground. “Oh My God!” I thought, “The mountain lion finally got them.” I was very upset. The sheep made the picture of the rolling hills so much prettier, and not to mention the poor sheep owner – what a big loss for him!

I promptly called the animal control office and demanded them send people over immediately. This was a serious threat to my animals and my kids! (well, maybe not in that order) Judging from the number of the dead sheep, there must have been a whole pack of mountain lions in the area.

There was a knock on the door some time later. A gentleman in uniform greeted me when I opened the door and asked, “Ma’am, where are the dead sheep you reported?”

“They are all over the hills. Can’t you see?” What’s wrong with his eyes, I thought.

“Well, we looked all over the hills by your house, but we couldn’t find any.”

“I’ll show you.” I guess if you want something done right you’d better do it yourself.

I took him around the house to the hillside beyond my fence. There were a couple of sheep grazing here and there, but all the dead ones were gone!

“I don’t understand. There were tons of them lying on the ground half hour ago. What happened?”

The gentleman looked at me, then looked at the hills, then said to me suspiciously, “Could they have been sleeping?”

I realized I didn’t see any blood or torn bodies or carcasses. He was right – the sheep were just sleeping, and walked away when these people got close to check on them.

The above was my favorite story from Jill’s numerous funny experiences.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Women's Best Friend

She sits outside the bathroom door while I go through the pre-bedtime routines. You would think she’s not paying attention. As soon as I start putting lotion on (the last step of all the trouble most of us women have to be bothered by for maintenance sake) though, she walks to me and sits down on the rug looking at me with her best possible demeanor on display, as if asking me with her round brown eyes, “Is it time to brush my teeth?”

How can you say ‘no’ to a Yorkie that’s so cute and well behaved?

Coco was a present from Jill. While I was stressing with a near nervous breakdown (this is my first puppy and I had no idea how to raise a puppy) a couple of weeks before I picked her up, I had no foresight whatsoever what a joy and a passionate companion she turned out to be.

To pacify her while I went to work and left her home all alone, I folded up a worn t-shirt for her to lie on, so she could ‘smell’ my scent and be somewhat comforted—a trick I learned from a ‘doggy’ book. One day I left home practically in tears, because I saw her dragging that t-shirt with all her might (she was so tiny the folded t-shirt looked monumental to her) trying to pull it into her crate. I could just hear her thoughts: this is all I got to protect and comfort me before mommy comes home again.

I have never hated my job more.

Now that she’s almost 2 years old, she is used to be alone in the house. I put in a doggy door for her, but I think she spends most of her day sleeping—when she’s not busy with burying the bones in the backyard. She doesn’t even dash through the doggy door when I come home. Instead, she waits inside of the plastic flap, watching me walk through the tiny backyard, and pushes though the flap to give me my royal welcome as soon as I put the key in the keyhole by standing on her hind legs and waiving her 2 front legs. I call it ‘high 5’ greeting. I have to say that she greets strangers with much more fervor than she greets me. The energy she displays when other people show up at the front door almost makes me jealous, and at times wonder if she’s going to pass out from too much excitement.

She begs when I eat. No, I don’t think it’s annoying. I think dogs are pack animals, and it’s only natural to share my food now that I’m the pack leader. Andrew got a good laugh when he told me I was the alpha dog. I don’t really see the humor in calling your own mother a dog though—giving that I am female. I give her tiny bits so she doesn’t eat too much of human food. Sometimes I give her vegetables and, since she’s not a veggie eater, she would settle down by my feet and consider begging a lost cause. That doesn’t stop her from running with joy every night when dinner is served. She’s an eternal optimist.

I once told her, after yet another let down from a short encounter with a member from the opposite sex, “It’s just you and me, Coco.” She licked my face as if she understood, and told me, “It’s OK.”

You can’t ask for more from your best friend.

Second Chance

I always get a strange stare when I say, “No, I don’t want to date, and I don’t want a man in my life.” One woman looked at me and wondered out loud, “Do we have a man-hater here?”

No, I’m not a hater. I’m just tired and disappointed by the constant let down. Seems like the men I have met in the past have more emotional problems than I do. God knows I don’t need more problems in my life. Plus, I’m not a psychotherapist. I can’t fix their problems originated from their childhood. Whoever did them wrong did it long time ago. If they can’t let it go by now, they probably never will. And never is too long to wait. I don’t want to sound cold, but the pleasure to pain ratio is too low to be bothered by men. Trust me. I tried.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t grow up in a happy home, and I have to deal with my own demon. My father was so disappointed that I wasn’t a boy when I was born, he told my mom she wouldn’t get chicken (considered a must for new moms in those days) to eat everyday, and it would be different had she had a boy. Can you believe it? She cried, but that was the only thing she could do. I didn’t know better, and was always trying, unsuccessfully, to be smarter so my father would love me. He wasn’t shy in reminding me constantly that that’s what I was – stupid, and why I couldn’t be smarter like my sister. It took a lot of work – reading, self reflecting, wondering, crying, hating, and healing. I finally came to understand it wasn’t my fault that he didn’t love me, but it was too late. He had died and I would never have the chance to tell him what he did was unforgivable. Oh well.

On the other hand, life isn’t that bad. We all have primal hurt – what I call the hurt incurred by our parents or caregivers while we were kids. They leave profound effects in our lives, but everybody has it. It’s a big deal when you are growing up, but by trying to overcome the hurt we could be a better person, and this is the lesson of our lives. I think God designed it that way so we can have real emotional growth. It’s not a big deal after we realized our parents are humans too--some are worse than others. Is it a long process? Yes. Is it avoidable? No.

So if those men wanted to dwell in the past and refuse to grow up, I can’t do a thing. Second chance with your parents does not exist unless you can go back in time.

Or does it? My mom is getting old and I find myself thinking about living with her so I can take care of her last years. I couldn’t bring myself to think so a couple of years ago. She drives me crazy. I always thought if I had to live with her – since senior housing is not that easy to come by and she’s not communicating with her two other children, this could be our only choice – I would either go nuts or we would kill each other. She didn’t have a formal education, nor did she ever work. However, these never stop her from critiquing every single thing I do, commenting on every single thing going on in my life, the way I keep the house, raise my kids, my career, my friends... everything! She is also a compulsive talker, meaning she has to talk all the time. In the rare occasions that she runs out of things to criticize, she would talk about her friends, their families and relatives who I don’t know and never met and don’t really care. The first hour of her visit is generally tolerable, then it starts to wear me down. A few times I wanted to pull my hair and shout, “Stop! Stop talking! You will not die if you don’t talk!” But, of course, being a Chinese kid means you NEVER talk back, that your parents are ALWAYS right. And to add to that, I’m ALWAYS wrong in everything I do in her eyes.

Last time she visited with me though, I sensed something was different. She still talked non stop, but in lower volume. She still ridicules, but not as harsh. She climbed the stairs with slower speed and more caution, and her leg bothers her everyday. I suddenly realized: she’s getting old and losing her “fervor,” if you will. I cried when I realized that. No matter how incapable of showing her love to me, she did what she could to help me when I needed. That’s a definition of being supportive, I guess. So I can and should be supportive to her. After all, she’s my mother. I wonder what kind of lesson there is for me to learn should we decide to live together.

In the meanwhile, I’m praying very hard to God that she would live to 100.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Shelly Called

Shelly called the other day.

It was a call with no particular purpose (so it seemed), so I wasn’t prepared to hear what she was about to tell me.

She went on a business trip to Singapore recently (that was great! I said) and, since she only had one day stay there, she got hold of a phone book and called everybody there with the same last name as my ex’s.

“Why?” I was a little alarmed.
“To tell him how the kids are doing.”
“Why do you want to do that? Don’t you remember what happened last time he tried to get in touch with us?”
“No. What happened?” It didn’t affect her family so I guess it didn’t make an impression with her, even thought she knew because I had to change my phone number.
“He wanted Andy to go down there to help him!” This is a father who didn’t pay any attention to the kids while they were growing up, but now that my son was old enough to be of any use, he wanted him back with him. There was no mentioning or care about me or my daughter. I cried for a few days before I changed my phone number.

“How old was Andy when this happened?” She asked.
“About 20.” Why does it matter? I thought to myself.
“Well, it’s not up to you then—he was over 18 and an adult. He can make his own decisions. Kids are not your properties, you know.”

No. Obviously they are her properties, and she has the right to meddle. I don’t know what kind of rights she thinks she has with my kids, or what kind of relationship she had (or has) with my ex, but she obviously knows no boundary when it comes to other people’s family affair. I know a couple of marriages were ruined because of her. I know she has no sympathy to anybody’s misfortune (they deserved it, she said), and the kids and I put up with her mockery and put downs for years. “Don’t grow up like Andy’” is one of her favorite things to “teach” her kids, and she proudly told me so. I don’t even want to imagine what she said about me to her kids.

I used to “make” the kids to go with me to visit her because, even though with the lack of our pictures in her living room, we are families. These couple of years I stopped doing that. Life is too short for people lacking compassion and having warped sense of superiority. This call was the last straw. I haven’t talked to her since. She will no doubt turn things around and tell our mother how hard she’s trying and I am just too cold to get close to. Frankly I don’t care anymore. She was never of any help, emotional or otherwise. I see no point of keeping in touch with her, except adding misery to my life. I’m not sad over what she did. I’m just mad.

With a sister like her, who needs enemy?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two Teachers

Many years ago when I was in either first or second grade, we had a young teacher joined our school. He was very pleasant and friendly to us, and we all liked to surround his desk during recess just to chat and laugh with him. He would let us touch the paper, pens on his desk without yelling at us, and he always had a smile on his face.

For some unknown reason to me at the time, he was particularly close to me. While other kids got to stand around his desk, I was the one he would pick up and sat upon his lap most of the time. He would ask me questions about my family and parents, and squeeze my calves when it was time for me to get up and go back to my desk. While I was basking in this special attention, I didn’t realize I was also the envy (and resentment) of other kids.

I vaguely remember fragments of conversation between my mother and him. I think my mother relayed part of it to me later. He was from a town far away from ours, and couldn’t go home as often as he liked. I reminded him his kid sister at home, so he took a special liking in me. It was probably his first teaching job, and first time being away from home. He didn’t stay with us too long and soon he left the school.

We had a different, older, and much colder teacher as his replacement. The first day he took over, some of the kids complained to him how I was the favorite kid and how I always got special treatments (although I really don’t remember what they were). I do remember, however, the new teacher looked at me and spoke coldly to me, “It’s not going to be that comfortable for you from now on.” I felt very sad and humiliated while other kids snickered at this comment.

Now that I think back, the first teacher probably left due to the complaints of parents. The thought never crossed my mind because he never did anything inappropriate to me or other kids as far as I could tell. I stopped myself from asking my mother, “Did you have anything to do with the departure of that teacher?” As it turned out, he was the only male figure who showed me some kindness and affection while growing up. For that I am forever grateful; and for that, I don’t want this nice memory tarnished by the tainted eyes of other grown ups. I sincerely hope wherever he is and whatever he's doing, he has all the happiness surround him.

As for the second teacher, I do have a question for him, “Being an elementary school teach, why would you think it was a good idea to be cruel to a little kid who did nothing to offend you?”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Not Yet Crazy

Sometimes I get the urge to write a book. The name of the book? How Not to Drive Your Daughter Crazy. My source of inspiration? My mom.

Easy target, you say. Everybody tries to blame his/her problems on the parents. Big deal. Well, it is a big deal because I became self conscious since my daughter once said to me, “That’s just like grandma!” In our household that’s not a compliment, and oh, what a shocker!

One of mom's favorite things to say is, “You should start using face cream. You are not young anymore, and really should pay attention to your skin. You get more wrinkles now that you’re older, you know.” It’s like a direct copy from a “Friends” episode when Monica Gellar’s mom asked her, “What’s with your hair?” and, when she replied, “Nothing,” her mom said, “Hmm…maybe that’s why.”

It’s funnier when it happens to other people.

Being raised by very old fashion parents, I could never talk back or tell them how they hurt my feelings. Never mind that my skin, among a couple of other things about me, is often the envy of my friends (unless they lied to me just to be polite). To be fair though, she does this to everybody, albeit not in those exact words.

Our conversation can go like this –
“Did you have your garage door fixed?”
“Yes, ma.”
“Make sure you don’t stay in the house when they fix it.”
“It’s already fixed.”
“You never know what kind of weirdo they might be. It’s safer for you to stay outside of the house when they are there. Do you hear me?”
“It’s already fixed, ma.”
“You can’t be too careful being a woman…do you hear me?”

Listening skills are not her strong suit, especially when she feels a lecture is in order-- which is most of the time.

So now I look at my daughter’s face (which is a very cute one) and dare not to suggest a scar cream to her. She has some signs of pimples left from her earlier years. I’m afraid even the slightest hint will result in her self doubt or resentment to me. I don’t want to be my mother. I’m trying very hard and don’t know how good or bad of a job I’m doing. I guess one good way is to avoid doing things she did that really bothered me. The difference between my daughter and me is: she can (I hope that’s how she feels) tell me if I said or did anything to hurt her feelings. Like the above example. I was offended at first (I am nothing like my mother! I thought), but then I tried to look at it this way: I strive to be not like my mother, but without a daughter I would probably never know how I am doing.

Although I do hope she will call her mother more often.


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