Anthony Bourdain in Sarawak, and then some thoughts on work

It’s Friday night and my roommate is out of town so I have the TV to myself. I was scrolling through Netflix for something to watch and after giving up on a crappy Jennifer Aniston, I found Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series. I initially was looking for the episode on Tehran because I was told by people at work that it’s really good. Then, I saw there was an episode about Borneo… so like, there was no competition. I had to watch that one. I thought it was going to be something about the Indonesia part of it but was so pleasantly surprised that it was actually about the Malaysian side of Borneo. Sarawak in particular. He even started out the episode in KL… with a plate of char kuey teow! And then he went off to Kuching, for some Laksa Sarawak, which just left me in fetal position on the couch.

IT WAS TORTUROUS. I did not expect that at all, but man, I was writhing in pain. I don’t think about home that much anymore… I don’t spend a lot of time fantasizing about the food or places as much. I wasn’t sure if I just loved it less or if I just got better at being present wherever I was. I guess it’s really hard to tease those two apart. But I really felt it in my gut when I saw vignettes of home: everything from the penambangs to the twin towers. It’s like the US is on my skin, but home is deep in my bones.

But umm, since I’ve started writing this… Bourdain has gone to visit his orang asli friends deep in the Sarawak forests and they’re now celebrating Gawai with pork and tattoos and alcohol and I can’t relate to it anymore HAHA so let’s change the subject!

Work was good this week. Another featurette squared away in 4 days! Monday was off and honestly, I’m not such a fan of public holidays anymore just ’cause no matter how many days we work, an episode comes out every Monday morning so a day off doesn’t mean less work, it just means less time.

Ok now here’s the thing about me and working on these featurettes. I thought I’d feel a bit better at it because it’s my second time helping to produce a segment of the show but the story was a little different this week and I quickly realized that even though to a listener, most of the How I Built This stories sound the same… to a producer, especially a severely inexperienced one, it’s a slightly different challenge everytime. So it wasn’t a lot easier. It actually wasn’t any easier at all. And I think that’s annoying just because I desperately want to get better… of course, part of it was wanting to get better for myself, but a huge part of it, I’m not gonna lie, was just about wanting to get better so that I can stop taking so much of other people’s time!

I know everyone says it’s not a burden when I ask for help… and I believe them. Truly, I do. But the objective fact is also that I’m doing something they could do in half the time—maybe even less than that. And I just, ugh, that just annoys me y’know? Working with my editor is getting a bit more painful not because she’s gotten more strict or garang or whatever… she’s as nice as ever but I think in my head it’s like “ok, it’s been a month and I still haven’t totally got this.” So, every criticism is a bit more annoying not because it’s harsher, but rather, because I have quickly-rising expectations for myself.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that my high expectations for myself have always both been a hindrance and a propeller. I don’t like doing things I don’t do well. That sometimes means I go all out with the things I do. But that also sometimes means I don’t try. My editor told me to take a stab at the first draft of our featurette this past week and my first impulse was to shy away from the chance. I agreed to do it of course, because I hate being a coward and because I knew it was good for me… but I have to acknowledge that I felt a strong urge to decline responsibility. I think she noticed my reluctance and she was very understanding. She gave a nod to how intimidating the task seems but encouraged me to try. At that very moment, I almost laughed out loud, because I remembered the time I got into the car for a driving lesson and the instructor told me to switch seats with him and drive the car and I was like “no, thanks”—because everyone knows the best way to learn to drive is by watching from a passenger seat, right? LOL.

This week, only 1 or 2 lines of the draft I wrote actually made it into the final edit. Only a few of the clips I chose survived my editor’s scrutiny. I don’t take it personally and I respect her every decision and I see her reasoning. But when I continue to miss the mark, it can feel like I’m not learning. I know the truth is that I’m probably just not learning as fast as I want to, but that I am still learning. I guess sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.

I want to be good, you know? I want to be really good. I know these things don’t come quickly. I know I should be patient but the fast pace at which things move at makes it difficult to tolerate inefficiency. I find myself wishing I could learn new things now the way I learned new things back in school. And I don’t mean Penn school. I mean like… Form 1 school. You learned everything part by part. I remember being asked to do countless fraction problems, and on a separate part of the exercise book, there were just factorisation problems or whatever. And then on yet another part of the exercise book, they’d give me a word problem and in trying to solve it I’d realise, OH, the solution involves both factorisation and fractions, that’s why they drilled us on the basics first. It’s kind of like how in Karate Kid, Jackie Chan made Jaden Smith take his jacket off and on constantly. It felt so pointless, and then when he got into a fight, he realised he had really gotten down all the tools he needed.

I guess in an exercise-book version of learning to do my job, I’d be asked to first do nothing but practice cutting tape in a way that “preserves natural breaths” for a whole day. Then the next day, I’d spend the whole day learning how to balance sound levels. Then the next day, aligning music. The next day, adjusting the gaps between sound bites/making sure the pace sounds right. And the next day another thing, and so on. I think I grew up learning by drilling in the basics until it became so painfully tedious, and now part of me still clings on to that system. Maybe because when I was a kid, I tended to be a bit “ahead” in my classes; I got so used to not moving on from one concept until I got totally bored of it. So in college, and now at work, being thrown into new things at such a rapid pace and expecting to learn and improvise on the go kinda puts me out of my comfort zone. It’s a little embarrassing that I’ve been out of school—high school—for years now and I still get so insecure about trying new things and not being perfect… but there’s no point denying it.

But here’s what I know I have picked up from my schooling years (all my life, basically). I know I have a feel for how to work with people: update the people I’m accountable to on where I am with my work, give them a sense of what to expect from me in the coming days or weeks or whatever so we’re on the same page, make sure I’m clear about what I can and can’t do. I also know I’m able to plan ahead and manage my timelines. I always ask myself “have I taken the fish out of the freezer?” and I don’t mean it literally. When I first started learning how to cook, I kept making the mistake of forgetting to defrost my fish and come home excited to cook/eat dinner… only to remember my salmon is still frozen. It’s such a good metaphor I think, for how sometimes you have to do something now so that you can do the thing you have to do next week. And I’m definitely not great at that, but at least it’s something I’m quite aware of. So far, at work, there have been a couple of times at least where I’ve been glad I was looking ahead and avoided getting stuck.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense, honestly haha. It makes sense in my head, I swear. So yeah. That’s my thoughts on the week. I don’t know how long I can keep this up honestly, because the things I’m doing are quite repetitive and this first month, I’ve always had new things to say about the job because of this steep learning curve but as things progress, I’m curious to see what I’ll have to say (or if I’ll still have things to say).

Ok, I was planning to write more about some stuff I did outside of work this past week but this is getting a bit lengthy as it is so I’ll get to that next time. Until then, thanks for reading!

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