Saturday, June 27, 2009


I have been in China about two and a half months and starting to dig a little deeper into how things work---or don't. In terms of human resources, there are a number of similarities to India, but I have drawn the tentative conclusion that these are more due to the dynamic nature of these markets and the immaturity of the respective workforces, than to purely cultural similarities. Yesterday I had lunch with another HR person whose company has significant operations in Beijing, and she told me it is not uncommon for young people in the capital to suddenly quit a job even with no alternative lined up--similar to what you find in the BPO industry in India. Usually these employees live with Mom and Dad and work is more like a pastime than a necessity, so their attitude toward it is casual. Not to mention that they can easily go out and get another position--maybe one where the cafeteria food is better. If China and India are similar in this respect, it's probably more due to a shared problem of over-indulgent parenting.

One thing I have noticed that has a definite cultural backdrop is a striking lack of persistence. In China, people try things once (and sometimes not at all), and if it doesn't work the first time, they tend to give up rather than try again or use a different approach. For example, they will look for what is wrong in a piece of machinery (or a toilet), but rather than try to understand the root cause, they simply patch it over or respond "huai le" (it's broken). If logistics don't appear to be working out or someone says "no" , they take this as the end of the story, and it's "mei banfa" (there's no way, it can't be helped). Needless to say, this drives a lot of Westerners bonkers. We're all about "ownership" of problems even if we didn't create them, and "drive for results."

I have not been here long enough to get below the surface to understand the mentality that produces this behavior, but I suspect it is combination of education (emphasis on rote learning rather than problem solving) and differing assumptions about the value and/or risk of associating oneself with a problem or a solution.

Problem solving, when it does happen, can be eclectic, and not necessarily logical. This morning I was fascinated to watch an employee in the dining room of my hotel spend several minutes trying to adjust the milk dispenser so that it would let out the last cup of milk, rather than simply go back to the kitchen and get more. Which, of course, he had to do less than five minutes later when someone came along and drained the dispenser which did not contain even a full glass...... .

Monday, June 22, 2009

"We take what's dished out"

"We take what's dished out."  This is a phrase my dad started saying fairly late in life.  He used it to describe what was happening to him, to my mother and to their health, and the slow but inexorable closing in of life as they both became less able to control the events swirling around them: his first surgery for an aortic aneurysm in his 80s, my mother's decline and admission to a nursing home, his own bodily and mental malfunctions.  He didn't mean it to sound passive.  Rather, he meant that we must find ways to cope with the things life throws at us. 

Three  things juxtaposed themselves oddly this weekend in a way that brought this phrase back to me.   Father's Day, of course---my first without Dad, and Marty far away in America.  A note back from an old friend, who I'd written to congratulate on his 75th birthday, sharing the news that his wife was undergoing the final in a series of chemo treatments for a particularly difficult form of cancer--- "and now we see."    And finally, the discovery that a small jewelry box, containing some  necklaces and a ring that I had given my mother for gifts including  her own 75th birthday, has evidently been stolen sometime in the last couple of weeks.  It might have happened in any of  a number of places--from the airport or airlines to one of the hotels I've stayed in here or in Korea.  Impossible to say.  

Of course my first reaction was a sense of violation, anger at myself for being careless perhaps---and dismay.  Some of the pieces were valuable, but more in the sentimental sense than what it would cost to replace them.  The ring, in particular, I wore often and it gave me a sense of closeness to my mother.  Then I thought of my friend, struggling with the life threatening illness of his spouse, and it put things in more perspective.  After all, it was a ring, not a life.  

In Vipassana, you hear over and over again---and try to absorb--that all things are impermanent. Over a few hours, I began to tell myself a story of the ring and the other jewelry--whether true or not, it really doesn't matter.  These things had a value to me that was mostly sentimental, fending off the sense of impermanence that ultimately dooms us all.  I don't know anything about the person or persons who took the box, or their motives.  I can only hope they really needed the money that these pieces brought them.  I hope that the jewelry paid a doctor for the care of an elderly parent, or tuition for a student, or rent for a down and out relative.  In any event, I must face that they have now passed from my possession as surely as they did from my mother's when she died.  It helps to think they are doing some worldly good.   But even if not--there is the odd comfort of hearing my father's voice:  "we take what's  dished out." 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shanghai Museum

Marty was here for about ten days.  We didn't go far from Shanghai, but did take in Hangzhou and Suzhou, and while I was working during the day he did some Shanghai tours.  Thanks to him, I now know some new places in this highly charged city.  

One of Marty's tours included a short stop at the Shanghai Museum.  There was no way he could do the place justice in 45 minutes, so last weekend we went back.  The ceramics exhibit was astounding.  I've seen Chinese ceramics before, but not this  number and variety.