Automating with Xiao Mi

So another contract is signed and life goes on much the way it always has.

It strangely feels like I’ve been living in China a lot longer than I actually have, and while last year I lived in such a way that felt like I was only in transit, I’ve decided that this year I’m gonna start living here like I actually live here.

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The first step in my plan was to automate my apartment with the help of Xiao Mi.

Xiao Mi is a prominent Chinese technology company that makes phones, computers, and literally everything else that can hold a current.
Everything from coffee makers to drones can be bought from Xiao Mi in their signature apple-esque white colour scheme and sporting eye-brow raisingly low prices.
The first thing I bought from Xiao Mi was a Roomba style robot vacuum.
I’ve always wanted a robot vacuum but could never afford one and never really lived anywhere that was conducive to owning one. However now I’m the proud owner of a little floor sucking robot pet and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
While it’s quite a lot louder than I expected it would be, and bitches at me in Mandarin whenever I kick it out of a corner that it’s found itself stuck in; this little monster cleans my entire apartment within 20 minutes and does a damn good job.
It even finds a way (with much groaning and scraping) to get itself over the lip separating my bathroom from my living room.
The vacuum scans the room that it’s in before running wall to wall in a criss-cross fashion. I find that while it doesn’t always get everything the first time around, if I run it twice I’m always satisfied.

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The next thing I bought was an air-purifier that’s roughly the size of a tubby 6 year old that sits in my room and churns through the air 24 hours a day.
I feel like this one was also a great investment because I’m forever conscious of the air that I breathe (being asthmatic) and whether it’s placebo or not, I’ve felt better since buying the air-purifier, especially while I sleep.

The best thing about Xiao Mi devices is that they talk to each other and all connect to the Mi Home app. Any interaction you’d like them to have between each other is possible, for example, if I chose for my air-purifier to turn up whenever the vacuum is running I could do that.
Options for how the devices can work together increase dramatically the more I buy.

The next thing I bought was a hub that manages many devices. The hub plugs into my bedroom and links up to a variety of things I bought for it to interact with it.
The first one was a proximity sensor that I placed outside.
One of the biggest problems I have are the quiet-knocking delivery guys bringing my fat ass pizza every day.
I’m busy in bed binging the final (disappointing) season of House of Cards, and I can’t hear the delivery guy knocking over the sound of Netflix or my rage spiraling.
Luckily, the proximity sensor tells my hub that he’s here, which then tells me through a charming ringtone that snaps me back to reality and gets me out of bed and to the door before the poor man is forced to call me.

I’ve also bought smart plugs that go between the air conditioner and the wall so that I can control the air con with my phone, I also bought plugs that can be remotely switched off and on.

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I also got a temperature gauge that can be connected into the network too.
This one is really useful because I’ve programmed it to turn on my air conditioner at night when the room gets too hot or humid, then turn it back off if the room gets too cold.

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Is all of this necessary in keeping me alive? Absolutely not, but the month spent setting all this up and gleefully skipping around my living room had passed the time beautifully.

But I’m kinda done now so..

 

Now what?

 

The Wild West Day’s of New Zealand Property

For those of you who read the blog way waaaay back in the day, and have a robotically good memory, you may recall that in 2014 I bought a house in New Zealand and in 2015 I bought a second one.

I’m not rich by any stretch, I’ve never been given anything and I’m not even a particularly good saver; but there is a story, and this is how it went down.

For an 8 month stretch in 2013 between working for Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line I was working as a salesman for an insurance company.

During this time I lived in a hooker den apartment (no real hookers, but the paint was peeling, tiles were all coming loose and the bathroom lightbulb was pink….)

It’s since been demolished, but while I lived there the rent was super cheap and I was making bank commissions because even though I hate being a salesman, I’m really good at it.

Anyway, I was making lots of money and was depressed because I wasn’t performing; my only happiness was knowing that I was saving as the previous few years I’d been in university and America was dirt poor from both experiences.

So I relished in refreshing my bank account that was healthy for the very first time in my life.

On really sad days I’d open my bank app and just sit there clicking the total sum figure on the app home page and refresh the balance and see it confirmed that yep, I’d saved more than $12.

Anyway, 8 months into the year I was cast by Disney Cruise Line and was back in America but not depressed anymore, so I figured (and rightly) that I would blow any money I earned there.

Cruise ship employees that work Disney Cruise Line hours lose their minds and blow their money like crazy.

So before I could do anything with it I used all of it as a deposit in a house in Wairoa, a small town in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

I’m an Australian citizen born and raised, so why did I buy in New Zealand?

In those days, New Zealand was sizzling hot for investors. Back in what I like to call the “Wild West” days, New Zealand had curiously lax investment laws which had fostered a free for all bananza.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand had no stamp duty (an enormous tax) and at the time had no capital gains tax.

It was tax heaven, and even without a New Zealand tax number (an IRD number) someone like me could swoop in and pick up one of the extremely reasonably priced properties that were ripe for the plucking.

Those were the days..

So even though I was a cast member on a cruise ship in Canada, buying a property in a country I’d only holidayed in felt like a smart idea and something that wouldn’t be hard.

Well I was wrong about the hard part, but it was possible.

Without so much as a New Zealand bank account, tax number, nothing; I put an offer on and bought a falling down 2 bedroom house in some of New Zealand’s most beautiful countryside.

The process was very long.

I included a 12 week settlement as a condition of the sale because I was on a ship and in Canada, and thank God I did. In those days most forms needed to be physically signed, so I was back and forth to the post office physically mailing forms I had printed off my ship computer, signed and put into a first class envelope.

Several forms had to be witnessed by someone from a very short list of trusted officials, only one of which lived in Canada.

Originally I had printed the list of trusted people which mentioned ‘lawyers’ as people who were trusted by the New Zealand Government. So I had my law trained friend on the ship sign my form and sent it in.

It was after sending that form that I was informed that a lawyer could only be trusted if they were certified by the New Zealand Government and living in New Zealand.

So it was back to the list.

The only person on the list I could conceivably get was the Consulate General in Vancouver.

So out of necessity I was also back and forth between the ship and the New Zealand Consulate in Vancouver where I’d visit the Consulate General who’d sign and stamp all my forms.

She did all of them for $20 which at the time felt fair, only years later did I learn while applying for my Chinese visa that this price is insanely low and she was probably just being a super nice person.

I only just made my 12 week settlement and within 16 or 20 weeks it was all over.

I was now broke but owned my first property; a property quite far away from anywhere I’d ever been in New Zealand.

I had emails that confirmed that I owned it, the woman who sold me the property had signed on to manage it, and I had a fresh, never been touched bank account that was hitched up to my sparkly new mortgage.

I had about a week of bliss before the shit met the kiwi flavoured fan..

Guy Raz is Ruining my Life

The trouble with life is that too often things aren’t black and white enough. Nothing is ever just fantastic or terrible, it’s a sickening combination of both and the combination of the two just add up to life feeling… meh.

The easiest example that comes to mind of something good being mixed with something bad is the podcast “How I Build This with Guy Raz.”

The podcast itself is fantastic because it’s a podcast that talks with some of the best entrepreneurs and innovators in the world.

Who wouldn’t want to hear Sara Blakey talk about what she went through to invent Spanx? The story of her journey selling fax machines door to door at age 27; before using her innovative spirit to transform her life is so inspiring. Her rags to riches story is heart warming and the perfect way to spend my morning on the train.

Then it’s all ruined by Guy Raz.

Guy is a radio host for NPR and is often referenced in very high regards by his peers.

Unfortunately for me I find the high pitched, patronising and twinky porn voice he interviews his guests with makes the podcast almost unbearable.

The worst part is that when you listen to live episodes where he’s unable to lean into the microphone and really work to squeeze out his crackly teen wheeze, his voice is actually normal and completely bearable.

Why he thinks we want to hear this artificial and insufferable version of his voice is beyond me and ruins the experience. Not to mention his questions that amount to not much more than “what?! What?!!! How is that possible??!! Just 20 years old??!!! How did you do it??!! How??? How is it??? How is it possible?!!

Life in China is almost like this podcast. I love the content so much, I love the culture and the food and I have so many fantastic experiences everyday.

Unfortunately for some of us foreigners, the experience is delivered by shady employers that don’t tell the whole truth, food poisoning and power outages.

Well these are my experiences anyway, and they’re weighing on me as contract re-negotiation season is upon me.

Do I listen to the podcast and learn to live with the interviewer? Do I adapt?

Or do I switch podcast and hope that it’s better over on Radiotopia?

It’s been rough lately because I’ve been sick. My work contract doesn’t include sick days so my days in hospital weren’t paid.

This was a hot topic during the first meeting regarding my future contract. I’m lining up options elsewhere just in case this contract renewal doesn’t pan out.

I’m curious whether anyone else drags their employer through a lengthy and demanding contract renewal process or whether it’s just me…. No it’s not just me, it’s lots of people. Luckily for these people though, many of them have way more skills than me.

I’ve learned that to survive here you have to be clear and concise about what you want, and that you always get everything that’s said to you in writing. Nothing is a fact that isn’t in writing. I learned the lesson eventually, but later than I wish I had.

Lately my employers have been giving me the business, but mistreatment isn’t enough to make me leave any job. I stayed at Disney for 4 years after all and Disney are the best employee abusers ever.

Thats because if you pay me enough I’ll take any amount of punishment.

So I say bring it on! I’m in the Chinese Wild West after all; shooting at me might be legal, but I’m gonna to take your horses and all your booty.

When they hear the figure it’s gonna take to keep me here their eyes are gonna water, but between that day and this one; I’m gonna be the best damn employee they’ve got.

Time will tell how his plan pans out.

Contract Re-Negotation

It’s that time of the year again; for many of us educators, tutors, teachers and mentors; the end is nigh.

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The end that I’m talking about is the end of the Chinese school year, which like the American school year ends in June rather than November (Aussie Aussie Aussie)

So now that it’s April, some among us (including me) have begun casual conversations about contract re-negotiation that will happen around May/June.

 

Some of us have beautiful contracts that include weeks of no work through the summer (but still getting paid) beautiful high paychecks every month; sick pay, vacation pay, all the pay’s.

My pay isn’t like that, mine is a little on the cheaper side, includes no paid off-days in the year and no vacation time.

This is a bit of an unusual deal for foreign teachers these days, as English becomes more in demand, competition for good teachers increases, companies and individuals get richer so pay for teachers goes up. This describes the golden world of English teaching.

However I’m not here as an English teacher, I’m here teaching drama.

And drama isn’t nearly as golden and shiny in the view of many, and for good reason.

Last semester I taught weekend drama classes every week, my pay was fantastic and I had a ball doing it. Unfortunately (like I’ve mentioned in previous posts) students here study 7 days a week, and courses (such as English, Math, Science, Chinese) are all fighting for their attention.

On top of that, students are all fiercely competing for spots at good schools, the enormous child population outweighs the spots there are in reputable schools.

Someone currently in kindergarten moves to primary, someone else moves from primary to middle school etc, they must fight for a good school. Because of this, schools have exams that students must take in order to prove themselves for entry, the more prestigious the school, the more intense the exam.

My subject (yay drama!) Is not part of anyone’s exam, therefore my class took up 90 minutes each Sunday that could have been otherwise spent studying a subject that would have given the student an edge on these exams and pushed them ahead.

What I’m teaching is a little bit of a glamour subject, fashionable and trendy, but not necessary.

My big advantage over local drama teachers is that I speak English natively, so schools can at least justify my training to concerned parents that just allowing their students to speak with me will give them invaluable education, especially if their school offers only Chinese English teachers (there are many).

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So knowing all this I too am going into contract re-negotiation soon, but as my utility diminishes over time, I (like all of us) am going to ask for more.

I’m going to ask for more money and more benefits, and I’m absolutely losing sleep over it.

I know for a fact that the company is hoping I sign the same contract again, but after a meeting yesterday they now know I have no intention of doing that. The key will be lining up a good backup plan if all my hopes go down the swamp and I become unemployed.

I know this is a bit extreme for some people, and they would definitely advise my backing down if the company doesn’t accept my terms.

But I’ve never been very rational, and what I want is what I want. If I get what I want, I’ll spend all of next year far more positive. When bad things happen I’ll be thinking “Meh! Dollar dollar billzzzzzz” but if I don’t I’ll fall to pieces everytime things go wrong and I’ll shout “I don’t make enough to deal with this!”

So perhaps I’ll return to cruise ships? Or maybe street begging? At least I’m Australian and the streets back home are warm.

Exotic dancing? … perhaps?

Pop Ups for Grown Ups

My computer was supplied by my company and it seems to have been used by people doing similar jobs since the middle ages because it has aged beyond horribly.
My favorite aspect of this pile of junk is the pop-ups.
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Every morning after I turn on my computer and wait roughly six weeks for it to finish booting up, I am greeted by many pop-up ads.
I know the first thing that comes to the mind of many busy professionals is the thought to leave the computer on or in sleep mode overnight, but no, I’m at a company that checks and sends passive aggressive messages late at night so I cannot get away with power wastage here.
Anyway, there are many pop-ups, some for weather and most for news, and always really shocking news at that.
When you’re a pop-up maker in China you need to be the most shocking in the country because pop-ups are plentiful and you need yours to be the most intense to be clicked. Today’s news ad was for a husband waking up next to his dead wife who had died in her sleep. Of course, I don’t know that from reading the ad but somehow there was a large, high quality and well lit photo. I shudder to wonder whether it’s staged with the actual person and his dead wife or whether production companies exist to reenact these things.
Pop-ups are so plentiful here because Chinese companies are encouraged to use Chinese software, which is almost always free, and is written in the Chinese language so what’s the drawback? This software in my experience seems to be completely covered in adware, malware, and all the wares, which results –always –in giving me the slow and mundane task of uninstalling it all.
My favorite pop-ups, however, that I would never get rid of in a million years are the porn ones. Now hold your horses – I’m not a scumbag checking out porn at work. Remember that this is China and porn is illegal.
Because of this, I have porn equivalent pop-ups that want me to click them and they’re seriously hilarious.
In one of these ads the very physically blessed woman in the ad is feeling very cold.
She’s holding her stomach trying to warm herself (never covering the . . . selling points. Although let me remind you that she isn’t actually naked, just very attractive).
After a few seconds of watching her suffer, you, the viewer, are offered a cape that you can click and drag over to drape on her. The video even shows you a scenario of what were to happen if you did.
She becomes extremely happy and wraps (almost) everything up and becomes warm. Suddenly the ad fills with other cold women and you’re swimming in women that need your help . . . if only you would click the ad.
The selection is not limited to only that one. There are many others and although they’re not naked and there’s no sexual act taking place, it’s definitely in my opinion a porn substitute. It makes me feel some level of admiration for whoever could dream these fantasies up.
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In my mind I see porn everywhere here, the clothed kind displayed right out in the open. It’s a whole country of people being protected from actual porn by the Government, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want it.
Instead we get a lot of advertisements, popups and anime that is just so so close, but not quite all the way there.
To me this is actually hotter than real porn that shows you everything, this pseudo porn keeps you wondering about whats hidden and that keeps you thinking about it longer.
I’m sure if they legalised it people would care far less about it.
Although no one would turn up to work for a week.

The Fiverr Life

I’ve been having a blast lately, and making bank doing it. (By bank, I mean enough to sponsor my morning coffee each day).

And I’ve been doing it all on Fiverr.

Fiverr is place I’ve been turning to since 2010 for all my online needs.

I go there to edit my self published writing (not this content though, for my blog you get to suffer through my self editing).

I also go for any sound editing I can’t manage myself, any picture or video editing (I loathe doing that) or anything else that can be achieved online. I once paid a guy in Hawaii through Fiverr to go to a beach and record a birthday song for my friend with his ukulele and it made a great gift.

Unlike that guy, I don’t sing so good so I do voice acting work.

It’s turned out to be a lot of fun, but a lot more time consuming than I was anticipating.

I think the image I had in my mind was of me coming home some days to a conveniently timed Fiverr order offering me tons of money to record a quick and simple character for an indie animated film that I would nail the first take, polish up on my editing program then minutes later be sending to the client as I skipped to the car yard and bought a Lexus.

Ok obviously I wasn’t expecting that.. within the first 30 days, but I also didn’t anticipate reality.

Several days of nothing, bookended with several orders at once, all with urgent messages about their priority, ordered at rock bottom prices, with scripts the length of a Stephen King book written with the smallest possible grasp of the English language.

So I find myself staying up late into the night recording God-awful writing (that for some people is precious and must be recorded word for bloody awful word) to be sent back because the ‘flow’ wasn’t right and maybe some words could be swapped out after all.

So there’s been some stressful nights to say the least, not to mention the clients who swear an order is a mere 15 minutes away, who just need a second with the script, to then have you wait up all night only to send nothing.. without a word of explanation.

I think the way I dug myself into this charming business model is by charging the lowest prices in town, boasting about my low prices among the community of people that shop for voice actors, then including lil perks like free re-recordings for people who change their mind.

This attracts an absent minded and frugal clientele who think the shillings they’re flicking your way are more than reasonable for the hours and hours you give to them in return.

The positive side of all this is that it’s working and I’m attracting any clientele at all. With my lack of super relevant voice training and, much more importantly, my very basic and self built sound recording space, I wouldn’t be getting much of any work at all elsewhere.

Yet through this site I’ve developed friendships and partnerships with businesses all over Asia and the Middle East who need voice talent, and who need to be free to change their mind, but also need to pay on the floor prices.

This gives me a chance to get in some much needed practice, make money while doing it, and most of all distracts heavily from my day job which is growing increasingly lame as I’ve been doing it for more than 6 months which is an eternity in my mind.

I strongly recommend other freelancers to checkout Fiverr.com and see where you fit.

You can also check out my gigs by clicking this link and see how I roll. (It goes to my profile on Fiverr, which is Fiverr.com/misici

Send me a message once your rolling on the site, it’s a pretty fun community and you’ll need the support when the customers come into your lil digital shop and demand the world. I’ll be your shoulder to cry on, before I tell you to get back to work. *cracks whip*

One Sick Bastard

To those who noticed, I’m very sorry for my tardiness. I’ve been unwell and when I’m unwell I’m too moody and divaish to write. I only have time to prop myself up in bed and speak fake Spanish through a raspy sickness tone of voice.

I caught a stomach bug that went a bit viral and threw a party in my lower quadrant, so once again I was back to the Chinese hospital to enjoy another uniquely Chinese medical experience. This time I went to a hospital on South Shanxxi road (a swanky part of town) so it was pretty nice, made nicer by some English words that were peppered into the nurse’s conversations with me, an enjoyable touch.

I arrived at the hospital and lined up at the front counter as usual, and using beautiful Google Translate communicated my wish to see a General Practitioner about my stomach. She gave me a charge card, I paid, then went upstairs and waited in line at my doctors cubicle.

General Practitioners (GP’s) do not have offices outside of hospitals, but in this Hospital they have an enormous room which had been divided up into many little cubicles, each cubicle sporting its own little queue line. My doctor’s number was 5, so I showed a nurse my number and she led me through the weaving and winding cubicle rows and put me in my line at number 5 behind three other people. My turn came and it was pretty straight forward. The doctor pushed my stomach around, prescribed some antibiotics and swiped my hospital charge card. I then went down to the pharmacy on the ground floor, grabbed my medicine and settled my bill.

The next morning I woke up in the worst pain I’d ever experienced in my entire life, I felt like I was in labour. I couldn’t even walk, so my close friend came over and carried me into a cab and held me up as I threw up all over the upholstery. One seriously large cab bill later I was back in the hospital and seeing another doctor. This doctor prescribed a drip treatment for me and ordered me to go to the pharmacy before going to the injection ward. Well of course I knew best and thought I’d just go to the pharmacy and pick up my drugs on the way out once my treatment was over. I went to the injection ward first despite my instructions not to, and the nurses there waved me away with frustrated confusion.

Not knowing why, I decided to follow my instructions and went to the pharmacy. Once I arrived it was painfully clear why this had been the doctors order.

The pharmacy concierge handed me 9 bags of antibiotic liquid and dozens of tiny jars of white powder in boxes to haul in my arms up to the injection ward.

Once there the nurses hooked three of the bags up to a drip stand and fed them intravenously into my hand.

I only needed three of the bags so I was expected to take the rest of the haul home, and bring them over the next two days so that the remaining 6 bags and jars of powder could be fed into my bloodstream.

Why we, the general public, are in charge of buying and storing our hospital administered medication is very foreign to me, but I’m adaptable. I used the private time alone with my meds to take photos and Google how appropriate they are to my symptoms. I’m feeling much better now, hence my willingness to write, but I’m not 100% back to normal.

So I may be buying up more of the pharmacy and bringing another armful of medicated liquid into an injection ward again sometime soon. If this is the case, I’m buying a fashionable medicine shoulder bag to better carry my drugs. I need to have something clever written on the front of it though, something like “Sick Bastard” or equivalently lame. Suggestions always appreciated.