Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Do I still work here?" - more blood from a stone

I complained last year (in my now discontinued 'Where in the world am I?' series) that I was constantly irritated by the common local failing of breaking off contact without explanation rather than facing up to delivering 'bad news'.

I concede that this is not uniquely a Chinese or Asian problem, but I think it is much worse here than in the West because of the power of the 'losing face' concept. And I do worry that some of these less worthwhile aspects of the local 'culture' tend to rub off on foreigners who spend too long out here. One of the technical editing companies I had been working for (set up by a Kiwi, run out of Japan) broke off contact with me about 9 or 10 months ago. I have only just found out why. After months and months of intermittent badgering and wheedling (and probably only ultimately successful because the guys who run the Beijing office are kind of friends of mine, and I kept pestering them about it).

I vented my irritation in a comment over on OMG's blog a little while ago - but I'm going to recycle it now, because I'm lazy.

I apparently lost one of my technical editing jobs because the growl of frustration came through a little too strongly sometimes in my comments to the authors (well, one in particular).

I was very tolerant of the fact that they were non-native English speakers and thus mostly wrote gibberish, but..... when they were historians and got dates wrong, or when they were scientists and got chemical formulae wrong, or when they were economists and failed to identify timescales for GDP growth figures.... well, I guess I just got a little bit aggravated sometimes. I got particularly annoyed by people who couldn't even be consistent about whether they used initial capitals or inverted commas or even, dammit, the same spelling for a key concept in their papers - thereby doubling or trebling the amount of the editor's work and multiplying by a factor of 10 or 20 the amount of his tedium and frustration. That kind of thing is just lazy and slapdash and selfish and inconsiderate.

You should not send copy to a language polisher with a plethora of such avoidable errors. You should not send copy to a language polisher with egregious errors of detail. And if the language polisher points out your egregious errors of detail (ever so politely - because, you know, it is part of his job), you shouldn't complain and lobby to get him sacked.

Except in Asia. Where criticism is frowned upon. And mediocrity is a way of life.

I'm sorry. Do I sound bitter?

Actually, I'm not sure that I really believe that explanation. I took a look back over the paper that allegedly caused the problem, and my criticisms were really very mildly worded (although the wretched author may just have been overwhelmed by the volume of them - but if he's writing nonsense or contradicting himself or getting his dates muddled every few sentences, you have to point it out). There was nothing at which the guy could legitimately have taken offence. And it's hard to believe that a junior member of the history faculty (and a patently lousy academic) could - as is being claimed - persuade the entire University to take its business elsewhere.

I gather from other sources that there was big disruption in this editing company around then, with some sort of 'palace coup' where most of the Japanese staff abruptly left to join another company and took many of the clients with them. My problem with the whingeing historian was, I suspect, just a small part of this wider turmoil.

I mean to say, my tetchiness didn't bring the entire company to its knees, did it? Did it?? Oh, how I wish.....

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