New life in Japan

I apologise again for the past few months of silence. I figured now would be a good time to add an update on my recent life.

Since my last post in May 2019, I received and accepted an offer from a company in Japan. I didn’t want to talk about it until everything was set in stone, i.e. not counting my chickens before they hatch. Now that I am in Japan for almost a month, I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve successfully passed a milestone in my life.

I remember 3 years ago when I knew almost nothing about the Japanese language. I decided I would pick it up with the intention of being able to converse with Japanese people, consume their media, and ultimately work/live in Japan. I assumed there was a Catch-22 though; I couldn’t find a job in Japan unless I could speak Japanese. And I couldn’t improve my Japanese unless I immerse myself by being in Japan. But my assumption was wrong. It is entirely possible to learn Japanese without ever being in Japan. With the wonders of internet, you can find study material and Japanese language buddies online for free, anytime. The fact that today I have a regular job as a web developer (not an English teacher!), shows that it’s possible to “git gud”.

Now that I’m in Japan, I find myself having less time than I used to have in my previous company. Previously, I worked from home 99% of the time. I lived with my mom, who does all the cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, … literally everything else. I was just coding all day and studying Japanese off-work. Now, since I am alone, I have to do everything by myself now — Registering at the ward office, opening bank accounts, buying Japanese phone and SIM cards, doing the laundry, buying my own groceries/kitchenware/tools, cooking my own food, walking to work, finding a new room…

Many of you may think, it is “common sense” or “natural part of life” to be doing all of the above, but having grown up in a typical Asian family where our parents dote on us (or rather, shield us away from the harsh realities of life), I discovered I am almost unable to function independently of my mom, even though I am already in my 30’s. I can imagine the look of some of you anonymous readers’ faces, thinking “I can’t believe a guy in his 30’s can’t even buy a SIM card by himself!”, but I managed to do everything, through overcoming anxiety, and with the help of clumsy NihonGo. At least I try to comfort myself with the thought that I’ve at least learned something today, “better late than never”.

I think it’s going to take me a few weeks or even months to finally settle down with a routine and improve in both work and art. I haven’t drawn much lately. I promised to some people that I would collaborate with them to draw stuff, but I have just been so exhausted. I also wanted to work on my own programming pet projects, which I don’t have time for either. I couldn’t get in the “zone” at all.

Heck, with a new lifestyle in Tokyo (i.e. triple the cost of living compared to Malaysia), I am saving less money from now on. This means, the only way for me to increase my wealth is to generate more income, rather than save more money. And to generate income, I need time to create.

Some people ask themselves, “how much money is enough?”, and at this point, I can only say “enough to pay for my mom’s welfare, to have my own kids and put them through school”. But that’s quite a short-sighted and simplistic way to put it. I don’t even know if I truly want kids, or whether I’ll ever live long enough with good health. Ultimately I don’t want a stressful life, but I don’t want a leisurely life either. I want a meaningful life — doing something that is worth living for. Right now, I’m (still) lost.

Anyway, I’m alone in a foreign country, barely able to speak Japanese with natives, and have little time and money. We’ll see how things turn out next year. I’m going to focus more on my language first, so I can communicate with natives without feeling confused and anxious every time. Until then, take care, everyone.

One Lone Coder

Through the magic of Youtube’s recommendation algorithm, I was shown Javidx9’s youtube channel, and his videos on developing a 3d graphics engine from scratch, with C++.

This is exactly the kind of video I wish I watched 15 years ago. Perhaps then, I would have stayed in C++ and dived further into desktop programming, instead of deviating into web development, which seems like an ever-expanding void of disciplines.

Now, if only I have a Windows machine…

Baseball

I had a discussion last week with my SO regarding Japanese and their interest in baseball. Baseball isn’t something that you can play alone. There is no one-single-person who will ultimately win you a game. Every player is expected to at least be well-rounded, before they excel in something (pitching, batting, etc). This can be seen outside of baseball, in the way they interact with one another; In a way, being quirky is frowned upon. Even my SO has the tendency to discourage me from doing something outside of the norm when I’m in Japan. The good thing is, I’ve learned a lot of “good manners”. The bad thing is, I’ve started overthinking everything I do, because I worry whether I’m committing any faux pas.

Our discussion moved a little to the Japanese working culture, and how it differs from other countries (or in my context, I was comparing it with western culture). In Japan, everyone starts off with almost the same salary, the same qualifications, and the same skillset. They eventually branch out a little, but in most cases, if you are X age and doing Y work, your salary will usually be Y range. There are no star players. Your worth increases with your experience, but capped by your number of years in the workforce.

In the western culture (from my observation of my company’s mostly caucasian-dominated upper-management colleagues), everyone’s worth is unique to their experience. My manager is younger than me, but he’s moving forward really fast (being promoted from contractor to in-house developer to manager level within 6 months). Another has gone from being my ex-manager to being full-time VP, or perhaps, he’s already, the president of engineering. Ever since he went on to picking up more higher-level tasks, I have not spoken with him at all.

The developers in my current company are expected to excel on their own; teamwork is a minimum expectation. Being Asian (and influenced by my SO’s Japanese way of doing things), I expected teamwork (or as Japanese put it, the Wa (harmony)) to be higher priority, but instead, I have really talented colleagues who are independent and almost always doing things on their own first and discussing the effect of their actions during feedback sessions. In the Japanese working environment, making mistakes is generally a bad thing, so they’re really, really slow at making decisions. On the bright side, at least everyone on the team unanimously agrees to something before moving forward (even if it’s painfully slow).

Anyway, my point of today’s monologue is that I have realised, I appreciate teamwork and communication more than talented colleagues. I mean, yes, clever colleagues are valuable to writing good software, which ultimately impacts your products, but if they’re not good at teamwork, I think there’s little motivation for other colleagues to be emotionally invested in the company. Personally, I love that I have full freedom in the work I am doing now, but the lack of communication and teamwork from my colleagues makes me feel lonely sometimes. I asked myself, “If I left the company today, would I miss anyone in the company? And, would anyone miss me?” I think, sadly, the answer to both questions are “No”.

However, do I like my work? Am I learning a lot? The answer to both is “Yes”, so I think my sentiment sort of balances out.

Daily art

New Year Resolution

I decided that beginning this year, I would challenge myself to doodle something every day. I don’t have a perfect streak, but I’ve been able to draw something almost everyday since January 1st, and I’m pretty happy with myself.

If there’s one thing I’m really proud of (which I’ve mentioned numerous times before), it’s my discipline to push through things even when I don’t feel like it. I’m not saying I’m more disciplined than other people, but I’m definitely a whole lot more disciplined than I was 3 years ago.

Before I forget: If you’re interested, my art page (along with links to my other pages) is here: http://wyleong.tumblr.com.

Online Identity

After thinking for a long time, I have decided to go back to anonymity. I have removed all traces of my real face in my active accounts. Previously, I had wanted to present myself online as a professional programmer, since most programmers do that. But I realised, what’s the point? Putting my face out there online doesn’t really add value to my identity.

From now on, I’m going to draw seriously in my free time. I’m at my second freelance gig now, and I have a third one in queue.

Programming is fun and all, but that’s my day job. In my spare time, I’m going to do what I enjoy most — illustrating, and most importantly, making extra income out of it.

I will update this blog from time to time, so no worries about me disappearing! In fact, if my schedule eases up a little later this year, I might even start programming for fun again. Ah, it’s pretty nice to have something positive to look forward to.

Career

As for my job hunt? I’m still casually looking! The last interview I had was very positive (or so I thought), but the interviewer rejected me with a reason along the lines of “we’re looking for a manager-type person, and we don’t think you’re ready for the role”. I was a little taken aback because I (and even my recruiter) thought the role was for a regular web developer. It was the first time I got a job application rejection with the response that I’m “not ready for a managerial role”, and it made me think that I should put my head down for now, and work hard to be worthy of being manager.

Well anyway, there’s the saying, “when one door closes, another opens”. Perhaps it was an indication that there are better things in store for me, so I just need to improve my portfolio in the meantime.

Jobhunt

I haven’t been job hunting as actively as I did before I got my new job last year, although I admit, I was still casually looking. I am happy with my current job though. So why, you might be thinking, am I still looking for a job? Partly because I’ve been living in Malaysia for all my life, and I would like to at least work abroad once in my life before I am too old to move about.

But wait, some of my friends might ask; Isn’t my current job a remote job? Well, yes! And doesn’t that mean I can literally work out of anywhere in the world, because I am officially a digital nomad now? True. Unfortunately, my salary is still paid at a Malaysian rate. That means, unless I am a single adult with no commitments (house/car/student loans, family responsibilities), then yes, I can get by in most parts of South-East Asia if I live like a minimum-wage earner. Emphasis on “no commitments”.

So I’ve been casually looking for jobs recently, especially ones in Japan, but as you may have guessed from this post, I have been unsuccessful. Partly because my skin isn’t white (so I couldn’t find an English-teaching job), and partly because South-East Asians are generally regarded as cheap labour (so I couldn’t find a decent programming job that doesn’t pay a junior rate despite my experience and age).

That leads me to my next thought; I’ve attended over a few dozen interviews by now, that I’ve come to realise that I either have to be Really Damn Good, or I’m just no good at all. I managed to secure my current job because my employer tested me on my skills to build an app with React from ground up, and I delivered well. However, of the companies I have interviewed from Japan so far, mostly test my ability to devise algorithms or abuse Javascript’s quirks to perform something unusual (usually involving scoping and rendering flow), which I personally think is Nice To Have but not Necessary To Get The Job Done.

And predictably, I have failed all my interviews because I have been unable to solve problems within the 15-minute window I was allotted to think on my feet. Coupled with my current colleagues’ critiques of my inefficient code (I really appreciate their valuable critique and have slowly learned from), it has made me appreciate that I had been really fortunate to have even gotten my current job. And with the regular critique I received from my smarter colleagues, I tend to second-guess my skills, which makes things worse because I never had much self-confidence in the first place, whether my skills reflect it or not.

I do however, have a positive mindset about myself. Sure, I’m not smart like my colleagues, and I’m quite forgetful, but I have long accepted those as my innate traits. I realised that I learned best when I have a mentor to guide me, and I have not had a mentor since 2009 — because from 2010 onward, I had been working completely self-taught. So I thought, hey, I’m Pretty Damn Good because I’m mostly self-taught and have come pretty far in my career. To top it off, I can read some Chinese and speak Japanese now, and my painting skills have somewhat improved (despite my lack of practice) over the years. How many programmers out there have a skill set like I do?

And I still think that when it comes to professional ethics, I am still the best (self-proclaimed) in terms of proactivity and thoroughness of my code. I’m sure that despite my not-so-clever approach to writing efficient code, I still Ask The Right Questions, and have so far written code that have (I dare say) almost no bugs — compared to my colleagues, who may be smarter, but regularly write code that needs to be fixed again and again because they overlooked some edge cases or forgot to handle exceptions.

Yet, despite such a mentality I developed and carry with me, it is not considered a valuable trait during interviews, and as such, I have been unsuccessful in impressing any of my would-be employers up until now. Nevertheless, I do my best to convince myself that I am worth something, at least to the right people.

In the meantime, I can only hope that my secondary skill (drawing) is valuable enough to generate some decent side-income. Perhaps in my future posts, I will talk more about art and less about programming. Not that it makes much difference, though; This blog has become more of a diary than a technical blog.