Wednesday, May 28, 2008

yellow-tinted glasses

OK, so I know that I complained that Switzerland (and Europe in general) weren't diverse enough, after living in New York and going to school in Cambridge, but San Francisco is at the other extreme. I find myself staring at all of the Asian people as if I had never seen an Asian person before (except for in the mirror every morning). At work, most of my group is Asian, which would seem more normal if we were programmers, but we're all lawyers! I guess there are just so many Asian people in the area, and they have to work somewhere, so why not with me?

The other weird thing is that there are Asian people doing things that I'm not used to seeing Asian people do. I grew up in Delaware, where the Asian population is a small minority, but they are all there for highly skilled professional positions - they are engineers at DuPont or researchers at one of the pharmaceutical companies. Their kids all get straight A's and want to go to Harvard or Yale. Then at Harvard, well, all of the Asian people go to Harvard. Duh. In New York, the Asian people I met were my classmates at Columbia, or lawyers at my firm, or they were the doctor or banker colleagues of my doctor and banker friends.

Zurich was a big shift in perspective - instead of seeing only highly educated, successful Asians, I saw mostly souvenir brides - underprivileged, undereducated women who married Swiss guys who for some reason or other weren't able to get the domestic product. Oh, and then there were the restaurant workers (every place needs random Asian people working in random quasi-Chinese restaurants) and the "exotic dancers."

So I'm used to seeing Asian people at the top and bottom of the ladder, but in San Francisco, there are just so many of them (us?) that they (we?) take up space on the entire ladder. There are Asians who drive buses and deliver the mail. There are Asian receptionists and cafeteria workers. There are Asian policemen and security guards. It's so odd. I mean, obviously in Asia, Asians do those things, because otherwise there would be countries made up of nothing but doctors, lawyers, waiters, and prostitutes, but I'm just not used to Asians who have emigrated and end up doing really mundane things.

And they're doing them everywhere. All over the place. Where are all the white people hiding??

P.S. I bought pants and found my way to the office. So not only did I make it to work the first day, I even did so while wearing pants. Woot!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

pants crisis vs. driving crisis

It has come to this. Which is more important - my need for pants, or my general aversion to driving? I think I'm going to drive to the mall to look for pants. (Yes, shopping! On a Sunday!! Take that, Switzerland!!!) I haven't driven to a mall in at least five, if not ten years.

It's not just my rusty driving skills that makes me hesitant to drive to the mall. It is also my COMPLETE LACK OF A SENSE OF DIRECTION. Seriously. I can get lost going to the bathroom. In fact, I have gotten lost going to the bathroom. The rental car has GPS, but I am not sure that even that can rescue me from my own inability to navigate anywhere I haven't been to at least five or fifty times.

Speaking of which, I think that tomorrow, I will probably drive to work a few times so that I won't get lost on my first day Tuesday.

How embarrassing would that be, to have to call your office on the first day of work and tell them, "I know my temp housing is only ten miles away, but I'm hopelessly lost. And, um, I'm not wearing any pants."

next stop, new life

New life, new blog - I've just moved to San Francisco from Zurich, and figured that it wouldn't make sense to post on my Zurich page anymore. So here we are.

I'd forgotten how overwhelming the States can be. Moving from New York to Switzerland, I was a bit stunned at how few choices there were and how the system quickly funneled you into your little niche. I was never afraid of slipping between the cracks, because there weren't any cracks to slip through. Coming to the States is a much bigger and more chaotic process. Cracks abound. I'm not sure yet if I'm in a crack or on safe ground, but will just hope everything works out.

After living in Cambridge for five years, New York for four years, and Zurich for four years (all are cities with good public transportation), I had mostly forgotten how to drive a car. In the last five years, I had driven a car once. For about eight minutes. My driving skills were even rustier than my Chinese-speaking skills. And then I moved here, and although San Francisco itself is do-able using public transportation, my office is about an hour from San Francisco. I can either live near work, in which case I'd definitely need a car, or I can live in the city, but spend two or three hours every day on the shuttle bus to work. I can't decide which is more frightening - sitting on a bus for three hours a day, or terrorizing unsuspecting Californians from behind the wheel of a car.

In any case, my temporary housing is near work, so I have to rent a car, at least for the time being. With that in mind, my mom and I did some practice driving yesterday, and I don't think anyone was hurt. It's just like I remembered it - a big video game, but without any instructions on how to get points, level up, or find the big boss.

I spent the last four years in Zurich missing American grocery stores. The size. The selection. The price. The layout. The produce quality. In the meantime, I got used to Swiss grocery stores, which are small and offer about two choices for each product that they actually decide to carry. So when I went to the grocery store yesterday, I was completely overwhelmed, flabbergasted, stumped, and confounded. How many different types of laundry detergent can there possibly be? There are like ten brands, and each of them has so many options - organic, hypoallergenic, natural, dye-free, scent-free, extra-strong, color guard, black. And each option has three sizes! Don't even get me started on the confusion that ensued when I entered the cereal aisle and the shampoo aisle. I'm still recovering.

Moving was a bit of a hectic process. I gave up my apartment before actually moving, so I boxed up and labeled all of my things and left them in a friend's basement storage area until the movers came. They showed up and started opening boxes and asking what was in them - for insurance and customs purposes, they need to be able to say that they saw and packaged the goods themselves. They were Serbian, and I'm me, and the language we had most in common was German, which resulted in interesting exchanges. "What here?" "Um... neoprene suit for dive. Automatic lung. Little things for dive." Pause. Then he would write the German word for linens or laundry on the box. Dive gear, clothes, shoes, bags, knickknacks, they all became linens or laundry. At the end of the session, they gave me a "detailed, itemized inventory" of my goods, automatically translated into English, and of the 34 items on the list, half of them were simply labeled "Linens." And then there is the mysterious "Bucket," which was apparently "Packed by owner." I don't own a bucket, so I'm looking forward to receiving my bucket and finding out why it was worthy of being called something other than linens.

After my goods were boxed up and taken away, I got an email from a woman at the moving company asking me to pick a box or two to switch from the air shipment to the surface shipment, due to weight restrictions. She sent me a copy of the inventory to help me pick which things to switch from air to surface. Um... linens, linens, linens, linens, or bucket? I have no idea what's in those boxes, and which ones are more essential than others.

Speaking of essential, I seem to be missing a rather essential item. Pants. Yes, pants. Work starts Tuesday. I will be able to wear jeans to work, but I don't want to show up in jeans on the first day. First impressions, you know the deal. So I have jeans (nope), shorts (nope), a miniskirt (definitely not), a few low-cut dresses (uh, no), and several skirts (which would be great, except that the shoes I could wear with them are in a box labeled linens somewhere between here and Zurich). I do have one pair of pants with me, but they're a little loose and tend to fall down, which I don't think is any better than wearing jeans, first impression-wise.

Do you think they'll notice if I don't wear pants? Maybe that's one crack I don't want to slip through.