Monday, March 14, 2011

The Chinese way of doing things

I was offered a slightly out-of-the-ordinary job over this last weekend. Well, the nature of the work was a little different; the manner of the approach was all too depressingly standard. The job was to do a final check on the English sub-titles for a documentary film. It sounded potentially interesting. It sounded worthy. I might even have waived a fee, if the people had struck me as earnest and competent.

Alas, they felt obliged to follow the typical Chinese procedure for taking care of a job like this:

1) Don't do anything until the very last minute.  (Preliminary sub-titling not going to be finished until Sunday. Film supposed to be delivered to producer or distributor on Monday! I am approached about helping out LATE on Friday evening.)

2) Expect people to work at the last minute, over the weekend - as if it's nothing unusual or inconvenient.

3) Offer a ridiculously inadequate fee.  (In this case, only 500 rmb for a piece of work that might have taken up a whole half a day, or longer.)

4) Give a completely unrealistic time estimate for the job.  ("It'll only take 3 hours.  Well, 3 to 4 hours.  Perhaps 5 hours.  It could be a bit longer than that..."  Basically, they had no idea at all: it was a completely open-ended assignment, which might well have taken 10 or 12 hours, or 15 hours, or more... from a Sunday afternoon start.)

5) Thank me and agree when I suggest that an hourly rate of pay would make more sense for a gig like this, and there needs to be some kind of reasonable maximum time allocation.

6)  Give the job to somebody else instead (presumably someone who agreed to work for less money; and someone who expressed a willingness [i.e., lied about their willingness] to work up to and beyond midnight, if necessary?).

7)  Fail to tell me they've given the job to somebody else (until I chase them up about it).

There's almost certainly a generous overlay of dishonesty involved here as well. It seems improbable that they could have got somebody else to do the job at such short notice, so I suspect they just decided they'd do without a final check rather than work with someone as "awkward" as me. And if they did find a replacement for me, I'm damn sure they didn't tell the poor bastard he might be stuck in the editing suite all night and on into the next morning.

Unfortunately, this pattern is all too common here; pretty well ubiquitous, in fact.

Many of my Chinese friends and students are sensitive about the fact that foreigners here almost always seem so critical of the Chinese way of doing business, that we all HATE working for Chinese employers or making deals with Chinese companies. They are aggrieved and baffled by our negativity. Well, people, THIS is why. Incompetence, penny-pinching, lack of foresight, lack of consideration, evasiveness, dishonesty - these are not good things; and they are endemic here. I would like to think that things are slowly changing for the better; but I see very, very little evidence of this. Sometimes, it almost feels as if things are getting worse.

No comments: