Monday, September 10, 2007

The "Chinese way of doing things" (another 'I HATE my job' moment)

In general, I have a very high regard for my Chinese colleagues in my new job. They're a very bright, hard-working and personable bunch.

But - at times - they do drive me absolutely bonkers.

There's one woman with whom I have a huge falling out practically every day. (I make up with her 3 or 4 or 5 times a day, so I think we're still doing OK over all; but I wish we didn't have to have these occasional volcanic tiffs over nothing.) She seems especially (more than the others, though none of them is immune) locked in to the classic Chinese idea that the only way you can maintain a relationship with a business client is to be grovellingly deferential at all times.

The bigwigs at one of the colleges I'm visiting this week apparently felt they should be given 'special treatment'. It wasn't enough that I was giving them 1.5 days of my valuable time, all of our usual high-quality presentations. No, they wanted their egos massaging by being promised something 'more unique'. And they wanted more time. My colleague, it appeared, was not fighting them on this. She was just passing it all on to me, and needling me to make some kind of concession. What kind of concession? Well, they weren't really sure, of course. Something of the arse-licking variety, I imagine; or at least a bit of whimpering and grovelling to make them feel important.

Now, this is a place that is so remote from an airport, and with such a limited number of flights to it, that it's a huge bleedin' effort to get there at all (my colleague tells me she often takes the train down there - oh yes, 14-hour overnight journey with no sleep, for a business trip: absolutely!). And I am combining it with another trip in the area, so timings are very tight. And I'm already working one extra day in the week (above the 3 for which I am actually contracted and paid) to accommodate all of this. So it is really not at all reasonable that my colleague should be blithely trying to insist that I fly down a day earlier so that I can give them 2 days instead of the usual 1 or 1.5 of seminars and glad-handing.

Then, to add insult to injury, our contact there phoned me repeatedly over the weekend to try to suggest small, pointless variations to the schedule. Gosh, I was nice to him about it. It's going to be a strain to keep that up if he tries it on again when I'm down there, though.

At the other place I'm visiting, I had suggested staying in a hotel in the nearest major city. Better hotel, nearer the airport. And my colleague had said it was only an hour or so from the campus. However, she told me she had concerns that the people there were mildly aggrieved that I was "spurning their hospitality", so I agreed to spend the first night at a country hotel near the campus (sound logic anyway, since I was planning on having evening meetings, and maybe making a presentation to students on the first night). Would that be conciliatory enough? Would it be OK to stay in the city hotel on my last night? Oh, yes, fine. I had a couple of e-mail exchanges with our liaison there about this at the end of last week. Another one today. I asked for confirmation that all the suggested arrangements were OK, that the city hotel wasn't too far away. Oh yes, fine, she said. Not a problem at all, she said.

Then she griped to my Chinese colleague about it behind my back. And my colleague got on my case about it. At 6pm. On a day when I was not even supposed to be working. On the day before I fly. When I had about a million and one other more important things to worry about, and was already late for dinner. I didn't lose my temper. I got very damn close, but I didn't actually lose my temper.

Apparently, these dipshits have belatedly decided that what was supposed to be a 1-hr drive to the campus might take 2 or even 2.5 hrs in the rush hour. I suspect they're exaggerating horribly, but..... I am prepared to re-jig the timetable; I am prepared to get up really early so that I can still give them a full morning on Friday; I am prepared to do just about anything to be sweet and nice and reasonable. But I am not prepared to change my hotel booking at the very last minute. My colleague says they feel they I am going "just to have fun". This is quite clearly her own interpretation of the situation rather than theirs, but..... YES!!! I'd rather stay in a comfortable hotel. Yes, I'd like to visit the Hankou waterfront for an hour or two on my last evening. Yes, I'd like to try to catch up with an old colleague who's working down there now. And it's really none of her business. Or theirs either. They've got me for at least 14 or 16 hours, spread over three days. The evenings are supposed to be my own.

And yes, of course, if my hotel's really in such an inconvenient location (I doubt it is; I think they're just lying their arses off to try to pressure me into staying a second night out in the sticks), well, I would of course have been willing to reconsider my arrangements..... if they'd asked me about it directly..... at any time when I gave them the opportunity to do so over the past week.

The "Chinese way of doing things" so often, alas, seems to mean nothing more than cowardice, evasion, and duplicity. I am sick to death of it. (And I've only been in this job 3 months.)

And my colleague, I fear, only tends to exacerbate these tendencies, to encourage her clients to become even more demanding and unreasonable by her own over-anxiousness and excessive compliance. I am going to have to try to break her of that.

Well, one of us is going to break.....


花崗齋之愚公 said...

I've been reading your posts this week, and I COMPLETELY hear you. YJ occasionally gets on me for becoming too cynical, but when some jackass feels the need to overcome his feelings of inferiority with his bicycle or when a simple job becomes a complex ordeal because a key staff member won't/can't convey accurate information...well, then we have what some people call "an expat moment" and others call "pulling a nutty."

Comedy=tragedy+time. I know it must have sucked to go through, but you wrote about it so well, I had more than one sympathy chuckle.

Good luck, man. I'll have to buy you a beer and hear the rest of the stories.

Froog said...

Hey, J, good to hear from you again after so long.

Congratulations on tying the knot with YJ. I hope H passed on my best wishes to you in TJ the other week.

Are you going to have time to start "reading the newspaper" again soon?