Sour Apples – Part VI
With the project finally up and running, I felt a small sense of relief. My supervisor was still riding on me pretty hard about everything in general, but I hoped that with the project underway, I could simply focus on that until January. I knew I was not going to renew my contract, but I hoped I could hold out in the job until then. I wasn’t really in a good position to quit, and 2 years at a job on a resume would look a lot better than a year and a half.
More than that though, financially I couldn’t afford to quit. My wedding ceremony was just two short months away – through careful budgeting and planning I figured I would barely be able to save up for the wedding. But things were very tight, and they would remain so even after the ceremony wrapped up. That’s if things had gone as planned. By now, I’m sure you all realize that’s never the case.
One day in mid-July, the president called me out for another private talk. There, he informed me that he would be cutting my salary for July, August, and September, because I “didn’t work hard enough” for the months of February, March, and April. I tried to protest the “didn’t work hard” claim again, but much like the last time, this wasn’t so much open for discussion as it was an official announcement. Although the portion of my check he was cutting was supposed to be $350 per month, my paycheck was ultimately $500 lighter. To date, I’m not sure how the numbers worked out – I think resident taxes may have kicked in at really bad timing, or perhaps I was getting taxed on my whole paycheck first and then the $350 was getting taken out afterwards. I’m not sure, but either way, my take-home pay was ultimately cut by $500.
When explaining the pay -cut, the president tried to blame it on our parent company. Though we weren’t directly a subsidiary per-se, this bigger company supplied us with the majority of our products, and as such they a measure of pull and influence. He tried saying that this is something that had been decided by the parent company. I figured he was full of shit – but I had no way of calling him on it, and even if I did it wouldn’t have really changed anything.
It’s hard to explain how I felt at this point. Anger would be expected, but more than that I just found the whole thing laughably pathetic. More than anything, I was amused by the timing of it all. The president knew I was getting married in September, he’d known for quite some time now. During the whole pay-cut talk he even asked me about how plans for the wedding ceremony were coming. I looked him in the eye and said that money was extremely tight and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to afford it anymore. He didn’t flinch. I think cutting an employee’s salary because you don’t think they’re working hard enough is plenty shitty as is, but if you’re going to do it, common decency might say to not do it in the months leading up to an expensive wedding he can barely afford.
I’d just like to re-state, for the record, that during the three month period in which I “didn’t work hard enough”, the English Division missed no deadlines, our quality improved, and if one were to ask my co-workers Curly and Ms. Shocker, I don’t think they’d say I was dumping off my entire workload on them.
The situation was made even more frustrating at home. My wife was infuriated to hear the news – angry at the president of course, but also angry at me for not fighting back. I tried to explain to her that fighting would have done no good. Other people had tried to challenge the president on various issues before – he simply doesn’t listen, and then if you’ve rubbed him the wrong way he makes it a point to make your life more miserable. Even if I were to quit then and there, getting all angry and violent wouldn’t help my case – it’d only serve to justify his actions. I tried explaining that, but my wife saw it as weakness on my end and was annoyed with me. She took the whole incident almost personally, noting that we would be losing $1500 over the course of 3 months.
Unfortunately, there really was nothing I could do. My paycheck was getting cut, and that was the end of the story. The president had made up his mind, and nothing was going to convince him otherwise. And I was in no position to quit – even a reduced paycheck was better than none at all.
But when all was said and done, my paycheck was only marginally bigger than my wife’s, who is on an OL-salary (for those unfamiliar with Japanese office lingo, an “OL” is short for “Office Lady”, which is more or less a glorified secretary). Any motivation I might have had left for the job instantly flat-lined. I was miserable and being paid a basic clerical-work salary. Despite being in no position to quit, I dreamed of the day when I no longer had to work there, and resolved that the next incident to really tick me off would be the one to send me over the edge.
In the grand scheme of things, the incident that made me snap wasn’t that major at all. Certainly, there’d been worse up to that point, but it was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It was the first week of August. Aside from the project from hell, I was still the English Division Director which meant I had plenty of other jobs to take care of. One such job was managing our outsource translators. When translation projects came down, first the supervisor and Small Wonder would discuss between the two of them how much we would do in-house and how much we would send out (in theory, I should have been able to input how much we could do in-house, but in reality this was decided for me). After the outsource translations were decided, they would inform me, and then I had to consult with the supervisor about which translators I wanted to do which work (which was pointless, seeing as how she knew little to nothing about our translators, and their abilities…). Once she signed off on my choices, I’d send an official translation request to them. To help our translators we send them free of charge copies of the catalogs where the actual items are listed – so they can see what they are translating. Once the translator has been decided, I notified the supervisor, who would then send out the appropriate catalogs to the translators.
Before the official process starts, I liked to keep in contact with the outsource staff just to get a feel for what they could do and when. Many of our outsource staff only did translation as a side-job, or they also took on other projects which made them temporarily unavailable. When translation projects were about to drop, I’d contact them and ask about their status, and how much they could do. They’d answer, and from there I’d look at who was available, the projects on the table, and try to think up a good match. When the projects actually dropped, I’d contact them again and tell them that, while not official, this particular project was on the table, would they be interested. If they were, I’d take that information to the supervisor to get her to sign off on that choice.
While I felt this method made things go more smoothly, I was often criticized for it, mainly because Small Wonder did things differently on the Chinese side. Rather than feel things out beforehand, she’d wait until everything was decided on our end, and then just contact the translators out of the blue and say “Here’s this project. Do it.” Much like every other time, I couldn’t quite explain to them that Chinese and English aren’t the same and what works for one language/division may not work for another.
So in this particular incident, I’d proceeded in my usual manner. The translators had expressed their desire to do the projects I’d offered, so I went to the supervisor and got her to sign off on those choices. I wrote an email to her asking her to please send the catalogs to the translators, knowing that she keeps busy and wanting to get the catalogs out to the translators as soon as possible. I then drafted up the official translation request and sent it out. I have to CC the supervisor and Small Wonder to the official mail, which I did. When the outsource translators reply to the official mail, they don’t always hit “Reply All” so usually the reply only comes to my mailbox.
I did this around Thursday. Monday was a national holiday, so when I came into work on Tuesday, I found several mails in my inbox from the outsource translators, wondering where the catalogs were. As most of them are based in Japan, had the catalogs been mailed by Thursday they certainly should have reached their destinations by now. But it was possible that the supervisor was just busy and didn’t have a chance to mail the catalogs, that has happened before. So I sent a mail to her simply stating that the outsource translators hadn’t gotten their catalogs yet and were asking about them.
A few minutes after I sent the mail, my supervisor came up to my desk. “Why are they asking about catalogs?” she asked. Turns out that she hadn’t sent them out yet. I referred to the email I sent her where I clearly asked her to send these catalogs to these translators. “But, that mail went out before the official mail did. And I haven’t seen any replies to the official mail, so I don’t know if they’ve even accepted the assignment or not.” I’d like to stress again here that my mail to her wasn’t “I think they might” or “in the case of acceptance” or anything like that, it was “please send the catalogs”, period. I pointed out to her that not all the translators think to hit “Reply All” when sending answers, so I had their confirmations in my inbox – but regardless, I’d asked her to send the catalogs back on Thursday. In a highly indignant tone, she again stresses that she doesn’t know anything – all she’s seen is me sending out the official requests and no replies. She asks me to forward everything I’ve gotten from the translators to her – again, a laughable request considering that the mail exchanges are mostly in English. But, I do so anyway. I’m highly annoyed at this point, so I merely open the mails and hit the forward button. Big mistake, because she took offense to that as well. “You just forwarded the mails with no translation or explanation of what they are and no greeting or anything? That’s pretty rude, don’t you think? That’s basic office etiquette, and you should know better than that. What are you doing anyway? Get your act together and do your job properly!” This nice little exchange took place right in the middle of the office, with everyone else present.
And that was the breaking point. Before this little spat, I’d been typing up an email to the president and supervisor noting that, because of my wedding ceremony and parents coming in September, I’d need to take a lot of time off. It wasn’t very hard to change that mail to “I plan to quit at the end of August.” I finished the mail, stored it in my drafts folder, and then at the end of the day, I sent it with no regrets. If anything, the feeling that washed over me was “why the hell didn’t you do this sooner?”
Now, I know I keep ending these entries with “the worst was yet to come”. You all probably figure that at this point, especially with me turning in my notice of resignation, that we’d finally come to the top of the mountain. Nope. As unbelievable as it is to say…well…you know the rest.