When I was a kid, my mum always said to me, “Study hard! If not, look at that garbageman, if you don’t study hard, you would be like him one day”. I was scared. I do not want to collect rubbish on the street, so I studied hard and entered the university.
About 10 years ago, I graduated with a bachelor degree in chemistry. But Hong Kong was an international finance center. It means, there are no jobs for science graduates.
My first job has nothing to do with chemistry. I was working in uniqlo, the Japanese clothing shop. It was an entry level job as a sales associate with long work hours. The job was like a punishment by God, in Greek mythology, every time Sisyphus pushes the rock near the top of the hill, it rolls back and falls back to the beginning, and over, and over again. Similarly, every time I fold all the clothes nearly perfectly, some customers would come in and mess it up like the beginning. Repeating this action for eternity. It was a job that made me question myself “why did I study hard, but end up with this job?”
Later on, I quit. I went to Australia for a working holiday. Since I don’t have money, I had to do everything in this new environment. I got a job in Brisbane to work in a bar. It was new year eve with an event for celebration. My task was cleaning up the rubbish bin. Yes, I became the garbage man that I mum told me not to! It was very smelly, with a mix of alcohol and human vomit. I quit drinking from that moment as it smells so bad. I said to myself “I should have listened to my mum. Otherwise, I won’t be the garbageman here today!”
After a year of working holiday, I went back from Australia to Hong Kong. And once again, I could not find a job, so I had to study harder for a career transition. I learned programming and became a software engineer. Then, I suffered from imposter syndrome. The feeling of self-doubt. I felt like a fraud, working in the most reputable consulting firm. I felt like I had to study harder.
So I did a part time master degree in computer science. The more I learnt, the more I realised so much I don’t know. And my study for border gateway protocol, machine learning algorithm and quantum computing… has nothing to do with my daytime job.
In 2017, I decided to study for another degree, which is a part time degree in MBA. Because I want to get a better career and I don’t want to be the garbageman anymore. MBA, stands for Master of Business Administration. But it also stands for Married But Available. That’s what I learned from my classmate, Jonathan, who is a perfect example.
Jonathan, is the senior sales director of a software company. He is a married man with 2 kids. I was just a junior software engineer and the youngest in the MBA class. But luckily he asked me, “do you want to change your job? We got a new opening?”. “Yes”, my MBA tuition paid off, he referred me to his team, with a higher salary, and I became the technical sales consultant.
The job requires me to meet clients and build connections, it involves drinking—a lot of drinking. But the problem is, I have told myself to quit drinking before.
One night, Jonathan brought me to meet with the biggest client, a well-known insurance company. It was an expensive dinner. He gave the client “this is the first red wine, with ten years old, from a famous French vineyard.” I don’t want to drink, but I can’t really say no. I have no choice.
Then after another red wine, followed by another white wine, and followed by another sweet wine as a dessert. For me, that was too much. I feel like throwing up. It would be really embarrassing to puke in front of my clients. So I held my breath, and I said, “excuse me for a second”, then rushed to the toilet to vomit. The vomit mixed with alcohol, it was the same smell as when I was working as a garbageman in Australia. It was a job that made me question myself “why did I study hard, but end up entertaining the client like a monkey?”
My work requires me to travel. I started to travel to different areas of China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Meeting clients involved a lot of drinking as usual, except this time, it was not just in a restaurant, but also in KTV.
That was my first time at a KTV in China, but Jonathan is an expert. It was eye-opening as I was naive to think it’s just singing karaoke. For those of you who have never been to KTV in China, here is how it works:
First, I sit down with Jonathan and the clients on a sofa. Then the waiter would come in, get our order of alcohol. More importantly, he would bring in a group of 10 ladies, dressing up seductively. Once the girls got in the room, they started yelling their area of origin, one by one. “I’m from Sichuan”. “I’m from Wuhan”, “I’m from Shenzhen”, and so on. The gentlemen would be able to pick one lady he likes. But since Johnathan is an expert, he would say: “no, they are not my type”. Then the ladies were dismissed, but then the waiter would bring in another ten ladies. And this time, with a better quality and more attractive. But Johnathan is an expert, he simply said: “no, these are not my type”. The ladies were dismissed, but you won’t be disappointed. The waiter brought in another ten ladies. And this time, they are the best quality.
Eventually, I had a fantastic night. And the best part is I didn’t need to pay, as my boss paid for it and reimbursed it as a company expense. I felt lucky as a happy man, but I felt sorry for the girls work in KTV.
Now looking back, I think my mum was right. I should have studied hard, as learning is a journey, not a destination. But still, I became a garbageman. And for the girl who worked in ktv, they didn’t even have the luxury to study hard while living in poverty. The KTV girl was drinking to entertain her customers, similarly, I was no different in my job drinking to entertain my clients. We should have sympathy for the girls instead of judging them. Until you know the full unfortunate stories of the unprivileged, hold on to your thoughts. We should pay respect to others no matter their job title. Thank you.