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Adventures in Hong Kong and Shanghai

14 December 2007


I've been interviewing for jobs in London since I finished my Master's degree in July. To date, I've been on 387 separate interviews, with still no job offer in hand.

OK, I might be exaggerating for the sake of humor. How unusual. But still, I've been on a lot of interviews, and it's getting frustrating. In some cases, I've been on six or seven separate rounds of interviews within the same company, for the same position! Outrageous! I really have nothing left to say to these companies. If they pull me in for an eighth round of interviews, I really might just tell them to go jump in a lake. Why are they wasting my time----and theirs? Could companies be any more indecisive?

My Goal in Life is to remain in London and to continue building the life I started here in 2003, but slowly and surely, it's looking as though that's a distant dream. I now have to look outside this green English countryside for the perfect job to fit my skills. After all, a job is key. I'm not married, and so I therefore don't have the luxury of a husband (and his second income). I have to support myself.

So, I really need to focus on getting the best job. I have always felt that if you're going to work, you might as well make money. I don't look for personal fulfillment from my job; I look for money. I am quite motivated that way. Personal fulfillment can be had outside of working hours. A job, for me, provides the means by which I can enjoy life. A job allows me to buy yarn and travel and do all the fun things that I want to do. A job is just a ticket to life.

London headhunters have been quite candid with me recently. Apparently, as I get older and therefore more "senior" (by default), there are fewer and fewer positions open to me. In any given company, there are very few jobs that I can do. Most often, there is only one job for me in the company.

It's different when you're 25 years old and open to trying new jobs, to see what you might like and to discover what you're good at. But by the time you're 42 (like me), you've been there, done that, and you know what you like to do and what you're good at. You have, with time, pigeonholed yourself specialized. You are a specialist, or so headhunters tell me.

At 42, you can't just decide to become a tightrope walker when, for the past twenty years, you've been a trapeze artist. Sure, you've always worked with clowns and you feel right at home at the circus, but hey, you can't be job-hopping at 42. Or at least I can't.

So as my recent job hunt in London has not been fruitful, I must now reluctantly look outside these British shores. To the East. For some reason, this time around, I've had many a people ask if I'd be interested in working in Asia again.

Asia? Me? Again? Oh gosh, no.....that's my initial response. I worked in Tokyo from 1990 to 1994 and hated every minute of it, for a variety of reasons. For me, Tokyo is like a bad dream. Whenever I see sushi, I get flashbacks. It ain't pretty.

But, everyone has a price, and so do I. So yes, the official answer is yes, I would consider working in Asia again. For the right position.

That being said, I lined up a Big Interview Trip. I was scheduled to meet with five different companies in Hong Kong and Shanghai----places I'd never been to before. So, it was exciting, and tiring. It took a lot of planning on my part. Luckily, though, aside from the job interviews, there was a lot of good shopping to be had!

In Hong Kong I finished my traveling knitting project and was desperate for some more yarn, so I found this skein in a little shop in Hong Kong. I knit socks for my sister Cass.

If you're ever in Hong Kong, I suggest you visit the Jade Market. It's kind of a famous place, and it's near the Night Market, so you can kill two birds with one stone. Beware, though: although you're meant to bargain at the Jade Market, you are nothing compared to the jade stall owners. My bargaining skills couldn't hold a candle to theirs, and yours won't either. I guarantee it. Even the jade stall workers who look like they're twelve years old----they were so strong and dicker-free; it was really hard for me to get them to budge. And, they somehow made it hard for me to say No. I was putty in their hands. I was under their spell.

These jade earrings were US$9 per pair. I'm sure I got ripped off, but I don't care. It's a fair price, and I love green. So, I'm not too bothered about not being able to dicker them down more. It's just too much work.

I was only four days in Hong Kong, and for me that was enough. Hong Kong was easy peasy. It's all very Western, as Western as Asia can be. And the weather was balmy. I never not once wore my light jacket, and for me, that's disappointing. I don't like balmy weather; I'm a girl of the mountains.

I flew from Hong Kong to Shanghai for the second leg of my Big Interview Trip. The airplane landed in Shanghai, and we were instructed to walk across the tarmac to the terminal. As soon as the plane doors opened, and I was walking down the stairs to the tarmac, and the frigid air whipped at my face, I thought to myself, "Alrighty then, this is my kind of climate."

I love the cold and the winter and the hope of snow. Shanghai could be the perfect place for me.

Walking around town, along Nanking Road as you're heading toward The Bund, I found this great 100% merino sock yarn for US$1.75 a ball.

I am going to try some sort of new slip-stitch sock pattern with these colors.

The place where I bought the yarn was not a proper yarn shop at all, in fact, it was just a corner of a larger department store-esque place. Almost all the yarns were the same weight, and they were all neatly boxed.

I asked about knitting needles, and they brought out a bag of bamboo needles. Now, I'm not a fan of bamboo. (Bamboo gives me flashbacks to Tokyo.) I prefer ebony wood needles (of the Holz & Stein variety), or Brittany birch, but when bamboo is offered to you at US$2 per needle, you take it. I have to point out that the cable on these needles is great and very flexible. I got both 2.0mm and 2.5mm needles. Small, just like I like it.

Shopping bargains abound in Shanghai----much more so than in Hong Kong. Shanghai is cheap cheap cheap, and since a lot of manufacturing is centered around Shanghai, you get all sorts of great products of sweat shops the nearby manufacturing sites. Case in point, the great green silk Hermes scarf, which I'm sure is probably a knock-off, but how would anyone know?

Below is a 100% cashmere scarf I got, which I thought was somewhat retro in design, what with the green and brown plaid.

Just for future reference, if you're into cashmere (who isn't?) then Shanghai is the place to go. It's everywhere, and it's inexpensive. But you have to be strong and dicker. If you're good, you can pay US$8 for a cashmere scarf. If you're bad, you can pay up to US$20.

The holy grail of cashmere scarves is the Burberry scarf. Notice the label says "Made in England" which leads me to ponder the validity of clothing labels in Asia. I do love the green, eh!

And here's more green. This is 100% green knit fabric, which just means it's a stretch fabric, not woven. This is slated for a dress which I will sew.

Do you understand how excited I am about this fabric? It's 100% silk, which is so very hard to find in a stretch weave. And in green. This is the kind of fabric that the great Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses are made of.

If you look at two dresses side by side, one 100% silk knit and the other your standard rayon or poly knit, well, there's no comparison. Not that I have a silk knit dress in my closet. I don't. I only wish. And I have coveted the DVF wrap dresses forever, but I just can't bring myself to drop the cash. Now, though, I will make my own, in this great green.

I could have had a custom-made dress sewn for me, including material and labor, for about US$28 but I just couldn't decide on styles or anything. I was quite overwhelmed by the entire process----there were so many decisions to be made.

If ever there was a time when I needed my big sister Cass, it was now. She would've been able to decide on things in a split second; that's what she does for a living----she tells people what to wear and she really knows what works and what doesn't. She's got the clothing design eye that I just don't.

On one of my job interviews in Shanghai, I was taken out to lunch. Luckily, they ordered for me, and luckily, I was able to eat everything. I didn't want to come across as a picky eater. The food was great. There was great variety, and everything was hot and fresh.

Over lunch, the conversation turned to sewing. I don't know how this happened, but it did. One woman mentioned that she had things made by a tailor in town, and that it was reasonable and fast. Of course, I pumped her for information, which was difficult because I really wanted to know more about this whole underground tailoring extravaganza but, at the same time, I needed to keep the conversation somewhat focused on the job interview.

I got the location of her "tailor", and so the next morning, I ventured forth and found this: A huge building with long halls off of which were little tailors' stalls. Clothes were hanging hither and thither, as samples of what could be made to measure.

Here you can see people mulling about, looking at the clothing samples, trying to make decisions, bargaining galore. I was in heaven.

Here you can see how clothing samples are just hung up. It was so interesting to see these stalls, and to see the wide variety of clothes available. Inside each stall, there were bolts of fabric, from which you could choose. How fun is that?

I made a beeline for the green. It's 100% cashmere, coat weight! Do you have any idea how much that costs in the States?! Here, in Shanghai, they took all my measurements, they wrote down exactly what I wanted, and they charged me a total US$60. For a custom-made cashmere jacket.

And get this: when I went back to the stall 48 hours later to pick it up (48 hours to make a jacket?!?!), I asked them for an additional button at the bottom of the jacket----and the tailor sits right down there and then and MAKES A BUTTONHOLE BY HAND in ten minutes flat. It was a thing of beauty.

This is the gal in the shirt stall. Now you must understand, this is one of perhaps thirty different shirt stalls. I just went to this gal because I happened to like her shirt styles. You can see her shirt samples hanging from the top of her stall. There were all sort of collars to choose from, and different sleeves and cuffs and button plackets. Every stall was different.

Anyway, for a custom-made shirt, with material and labor included of course, it runs about US$11.50. I however did not want a shirt. I wanted a shirt dress. So, she took all my measurements and charged me US$19.50 per dress. I ordered two shirt dresses. I was in heaven.

Can you see all the fabric in this photo? It's all shirt weight and of very high quality. This place was a dream. The shirts hanging from the top are just samples. You can choose a certain collar from this shirt, and different cuff from that other shirt, and a unique button placket from a third shirt. Or whatever. You can get whatever you like, however you want.

And here we are walking around the night lights of Shanghai.

Here you can see the "new" part of Shanghai, as you walk along the part of the river bank known as The Bund.

On the left side, as you walk along The Bund, is the new part of Shanghai, and on the right side is the old part, with all the great 1930s buildings.

The green-topped building is the famous Peace Hotel, which was unfortunately closed for refurbishment.

But a worker let me get a sneak peek inside. This place must've really been something in its heyday. I love old hotels like this.

I loved Shanghai. I could totally see myself living and working there. It wouldn't be the "easy" place to work (like Hong Kong) but it would be interesting. And I love the cold weather and the four seasons and textile bargains.