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Friday, January 7, 2011

The Benefits of a Normal Job

I've been working at the new job for the last couple of weeks now, & I'm discovering tons of things I never knew about working in an office.

I've never had a job with normal hours before. I've always had jobs working nights & weekends. First, I waited tables on the night shift to help get me through school, then I started teaching at adult schools, where the classes are offered when people with normal jobs are available - nights & weekends. I've been lazily rolling out of bed at 9:00 or 10:00 every morning for the past twenty years. It's been really nice.

Now that I have a job with normal working hours, I'm finding the time adjustment difficult. I feel like I'm suffering from jet lag because I have to reset my body clock three hours earlier.

Every morning I am jolted awake at 6:30 - I hit snooze a couple of times before I drag myself out of bed. I step into the shower, eyes still half closed, & try to rinse off the film of sleep. I stand in front of my closet staring at the choices for longer than I should. Somehow I manage to put on clothes that match reasonably well. I trudge to the subway station, steeling myself against the cold morning wind, & squeeze onto the subway car with 20 million other Shanghai inhabitants, all on our way to our normal jobs. I wonder if I can handle doing this every day.

But once I get to the office, I start to realize why people subject themselves to the morning jostle day in & day out. The job certainly comes with benefits. A typical day at the office starts with social hour. My co-workers & I hang around drinking coffee, talking about what we did the night before, & telling jokes.

Gradually we start turning toward our computers, checking emails, talking about our projects for the day, & one by one, we detach from the morning revelrie & get down to work.

Once we're all in work mode, everyone seems to be focused on whatever project they're working on. For a good couple of hours, I go into my own work bubble & forget about the rest of the office for a while.

Around noon, people start popping up on Skype (we use Skype to communicate within the office) with lunch invitations. We bat around ideas for a few minutes before deciding where to go & who's going - & then we gather up in search of sustenance. After lunch we head back to the office - bathroom break, refill on tea or coffee, chatting about what everyone else did for lunch, general comradery all around.

Then there's another intense work session in the afternoons when everyone once again goes into their work trance, getting things done. Then around 5:00 people start coming out of their offices & cubicles to chat again - problems of the day, plans for tomorrow's work day, what happened in the news today, what's for dinner.

At 6:00 when I leave the office to stuff myself back into the subway car along with the rest of Shanghai, I look back at my work day. I hung out in a comfortable office, laughing & joking around with my co-workers, all of whom are language geeks just like me. I did roughly five hours of productive work, & no one hassled me about it. I was able to focus on my work without interruptions for extended periods of time - no one was looking over my shoulder or demanding immediate results. I left work at a decent hour, with plenty of time to have dinner with friends or maybe go to a Chinese class. All this & a decent wage. It's surprisingly gratifying.

That's much different from teaching, & certainly different from waiting tables. In those jobs, every minute that you're at work, you're working. "If you have time to lean, you have time to clean." Now that I have a normal job I'm realizing that if I have time to lean, I can just lean. That 45 minutes of being crushed between briefcases on the subway doesn't seem so bad right now.

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