Friday, March 26, 2010

The week at work

I was contacted late last week about the possibility of doing some oral English assessments. The work might have been starting over last weekend - barely 36 hours away. Luckily, the organiser decided not to schedule me for the weekend - though not until after much dithering and chopping and changing of plans. And he did suffer a moment of panic when one of his foreign examiners cried off from the programme on Saturday evening, and tried ringing me - repeatedly - at around 6am on Sunday. I suppose I missed out on the possibility of one or two extra sessions as a result of having turned my phone off overnight. On the other hand, if it had been on and I'd answered it, my likely torrent of abuse down the line would probably have cost me all the work, so I suppose I should count myself lucky.

I did have to do a session on Monday morning, which required a ridiculously early start (from which I have still not entirely recovered). It was never explained to me why we needed to start examining at 8am, and to be on site by 7.30am, and keep working through till 5.30 or 6pm, but..... have a two-and-a-half hour lunch break. That's just 'Chinese culture', I suppose - they love their food! Me, I'd rather start later, finish earlier, make do with half an hour for a sandwich.

Although I arrived on site with nearly half an hour in hand, I ended up being a few minutes late making it to my exam room because..... well, my liaison contact at the test centre wasn't answering his phone, then proved to be unable to speak much English, and then, having agreed to meet me outside and escort me in (this was a bank headquarters, so I couldn't get past security on my own), repeatedly failed to do so. When we finally managed to locate each other, he proceeded to take me to the wrong test room because he thought I was someone else; and when he found out who I was, he didn't think I should be there at all, because he was still working from the last-but-one version of the oft-reworked schedule. A vexing start to the day.

Today went much the same. I at least managed to blag my way past the guards on my own this time by telling them I was "on the list". I discovered I wasn't in fact "on the list", because they too had been given an inaccurate version of the exam schedule. So, I had to write myself on to it; but they didn't seem to mind (so much for bank security!). I should at least be grateful I'd talked the organiser out of sending me to a test centre in Fengtai, which would probably have required me to get up at 4.30 in the morning instead of 6 (it scarcely even qualifies as a 'suburb' of Beijing, since there's about 15 miles of open countryside between it and the city proper).

At my new one-morning-a-week university job, I was presented with a contract this week. It was entirely in Chinese, because they "couldn't afford" a translation. However, I recognised the payment details - which seemed to specify a rate of 240 rmb per hour, rather than the 260 we'd been promised. And I rather think that was 240 before tax (rather than after), and for hours of actual teaching (rather than hours on site, including the mid-morning break). So, it might have meant that we were going to be working for about 550 rmb per session rather than 780. Even if it had been 720 rather than 780, that apparently trivial reduction soon adds up to something significant: it would have been 200-300 rmb each month, and that still buys you a pretty decent night out in this town. Our teaching assistant um-ed and er-ed and muttered something about going away to check with his boss and maybe letting us know if there had been a mistake next week. My American colleague and I took a similar robust stance on the issue: "Let us know today - because if you're trying to pay us less than you promised us, we won't be coming back next week." By mid-morning break, the poor assistant had come back with his tail between his legs and a redrafted contract (still in Chinese, but at least the figures look right now; I need to get a friend to check it over for me); but his boss, the guy who hired us, was cravenly avoiding any contact with us by telephone or SMS. Ah, that old Chinese 'loss of face' thing again - endlessly irritating to us foreigners. And the chiselling, money-grubbing thing again as well; I am 95% convinced that the guy who hired us was trying to skim off some of our pay for himself, and was surprised that we resisted the attempt so trenchantly.

And then yesterday I was offered some editing work. Well, I was asked to quote my rate. I gave them a range, based on my assessment of the degree of difficulty; it was a reasonable quote, and I was very nice in promising to give them my best price, to consider an additional discount if it was a big job. I don't know why they wasted my time asking for a per word/per page quote when they already had a maximum flat fee in mind that they felt they could afford to pay. And that amount was a paltry 1,200 rmb. For an entire goddamn book!

However, I asked to see a sample. And what do you know? It's not really a full book, just a very extended academic paper. And it's written by a native English speaker, rather than being a turgid swamp of Chinglish like I was expecting. And it appears to have been already proof-read quite well, so I'll have little or nothing to do to it (though I'll still have to read over 30,000 words, which, even without needing to make any corrections, will probably take me 5 or 6 hours; so, not really worth the bother). Anyway, money has been tight recently; and it's a new educational publishing contact that might prove useful for other things, so..... I agreed to do it for 1,200 rmb.

Then they told me they'd "made a mistake" and they could only pay 1,000 rmb for this job. I told them I was very unhappy about this strange oversight/inconsistency on their part. They told me they could make it 1,100! I joshed that if they could make it 1,100, they could probably make it 1,200 - like they'd originally promised me. I rather suspect this is just another case of someone creaming off a little of the budget for themselves. I can't really begrudge them their pilfering, as people in jobs like these are miserably poorly paid. I just wish they weren't so bloody inept and obvious about it.

Ah, China...

No comments: