Sunday, September 24, 2006

Unbusinesslike Behaviour

It has been suggested that things shouldn't surprise me after 3 years of living in China. It's true that most questions that begin with 'Why?' are probably best answered with 'Why not?' but some of the things people have done to get my business are simply crazy.

At work, we were looking to buy a new fire evacuation system. We've been using company A for some time and invited their rather effite representative to a meeting with our building manager and, despite being asked not to, proceeded to take 7 incoming calls during a 30 minute meeting - so much so that he wasn't paying any attention to anything that was being said.

At the end of the meeting, I insisted that we should find another company and get a second quote (OK, I know that's a good idea anyway but we were under a lot of time pressure), largely because I was so displeased. A few days later when both quotes came in - for the exact same make and model of equipment, company B had actually quoted a price that was 30% cheaper than company A.

So far so normal. We asked company B to come in and prepare contracts for us to sign but they came not with contracts but with news. Company A had got wind of the fact they'd been outbid, probably from the fire evacuation equipment manufacturer. Company A had asked the manufacturer not to supply to company B at all but they weren't comfortable with that so they agreed to increase the price!

I can't imagine what they were thinking but they actually told all this to Company B who told me. I can only imagine that their thinking was 'If we don't supply it at all we'll lose the sale so we'll just put the price up by 20%' but to tell the person you're ripping off out of spite (and by proxy too) seems too illogical for words.

Needless to say, we didn't buy that manufacturer's produce at all and won't be using their equipment, or the services of company A, ever again. I don't know what the Chinese solution would be, but going elsewhere is certainly a valid British reaction.

On to today.

As I mentioned before, we've been looking round kitchen showrooms for some time. One of the companies we quite liked was called Bloom. We actually sat down with them for a good half an hour a couple of months ago to get their idea of what they could do for us. Apart from the fact that we subsequently came across Wellbom kitchens that we preferred, they might have got our business. However, they've become thoroughly irritating since the day we first met them.

They ring YY up every few days and have tried:
  • Ringing up and being very nice, offering all sorts of discounts that they can't quite quantify on the phone.
  • Saying "We've finished the design you asked for so when are you going to come and order" - odd we thought as we hadn't got the keys so they didn't have the dimensions of the kitchen.
  • Saying "We've been talking to your designer" (who they had actually managed to track down by ringing around!) "and he has told us your requirements and that you'd like to use us". Lies, all lies.
and so on. It's getting quite irritating so last time YY called them and said we'd decided to use Wellbom. They clearly won't give up at that though so today they've sunk to new lows and called saying "We've got two customers who have just 'returned' their Wellbom kitchens and come to buy new ones from us. You really shouldn't buy a Wellbom kitchen. We can get the customers to talk to you to tell you why"

Aside from the fact it's really quite irritating both cases seem to illustrate the fact that their actions, rather than encouraging you to buy their products are actually encouraging you to never buy anything from them ever again. I don't know if that's a British thing?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sudden Realisation

On my drive to work earlier this week I had a particularly bad journey where I nearly ran people over on three separate occasions. Not deliberately, you understand, but three occasions where people {stepped off the kerb without looking/cycled out of a side street without stopping/weaved violently from one lane to the other/watched me approaching at 60kph and decided that I was far enough away that I'd just about be able to stop if they got in front of me/got off a bus and walked in straight line from the door across the road/etc./etc.}* so I had to {brake/swerve/brake & swerve}* to avoid killing them.

This notion that the driver of the car is always at least partly to blame for any accident seems to drive people to the verge of suicide. Some people absolutely have faith in this rule (particularly visible as the older people that flap one of their hands at you as they step into speeding traffic in a "Ha! You've got to stop!" kind of way - regardless if the laws of Physics render that an impossibility.

On this particular morning, it occurred to me as one pedestrian whistled past my wing-mirror, that it doesn't even worry me as much as it did. Driving here one has so many near misses that there comes a point when you concede that having an accident and probably killing someone is, more-or-less, inevitable. In fact rather than worrying about near misses as I did when I started driving here, they now simply tend to annoy me.

It was quite sobering on that particular day for one of my colleagues to say that she'd seen an accident - as indeed we all have - the day beforehand but this was a 'body trapped under a car in a large pool of blood' type incident. I guess the fact that I'd reconciled myself that I might kill someone crossing the street meant that I'd only reconciled what I'd be destroying (i.e. some person who is unknown to me) not what I'd be creating (i.e. the bloody aftermath).

They did have a road safety campaign that didn't hold back in terms of the message (if you want to see what sort of pics they published they were like this - don't look if you're at all squeamish) but that doesn't deter people from the hand flapping. Personally, I'd rather be alive and wait until it's safe to cross than dead but certain that I had the upper hand legally.

* - Delete as appropriate

Friday, September 15, 2006

Let Him Have It!

There is a famous case in British Legal History of Derek Bentley where a large part of the case effectively hinged on the phrase "Let him have it!" - a rather confusing phrase in English as it could easily have meant "Give him the gun and surrender" or "Kill him!". The interpretation that it was the latter meaning lead to Derek Bentley being hanged in 1953.

It's not particularly comforting to learn that, despite the dissimilarities, Chinese suffers from just the same sort of ambiguity. Should you ever hear someone say "wǒ yào wěn nǐ " you might want to make a quick judgement call as to their intention...

我要吻你 - I'd like to kiss you
我要刎你 - I'd like to slit your throat

Hmm. Given how few different sounds there are in Chinese, there must be plenty more where that came from.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Applying for a Job

I have, for a while now, been contemplating writing a guide for prospective employees about how to get a job with the company I work for (or any western company for that matter). As others have discussed recently on TalkTalkChina, it's clearly apparent that:

a) A lot of people don't know what western employers are looking for in their employees
b) Those that try to research it on the internet aren't using reliable resources from actual Western employers so even they get it wrong
c) Universities clearly abrogate their responsibilities to help people get a good job and don't bother teaching them these skills.

An example of why this is so important for people to get right...

I interviewed a guy recently for a relatively low level Unix developer role - based on his 9 page CV (or Resume for speakers of American) I had to walk through the positions he had had, largely because there were no dates on his career history and no way of distinguising projects from employers. Whilst he was walking me through his career he revealed he was a Certified Oracle DBA (there was no mention of any Oracle skills), then that he had two years Java development experience (again, no mention).

This guy was lucky to have got close to an interview simply because his CV was atrocious.

Before I launch into this, it should be noted that there are dozens of books available on 'writing the perfect CV' or 'getting that job' - applicants could, if they really cared about their application, obtain a copy of one of these. All I'm doing here is listing some points which, to me, are obvious - but to many of our applicants, they're not.

The absolute fundamentals of CV (resume) and Cover Letter Basics:
  • Look at the CV. Does it look good? Is the text all lined up neatly? Is it all in the same font? Headings for individual sections? Is it a sensible length (I would suggest 2 pages if you've got less than 5 years experience and NEVER more than three)? Is it easy to read? Does it have the 'key' information in a place where it's easy to find?
  • Check all spelling and grammar. Ask several people (preferably a native speaker) to read your CV and give you feedback. Don't forget to check that you have spelt the name of the company you are applying for correctly! Poor spelling and grammar make me, as an employer, think that you can't be aren't really interested in working for my company because you don't think it's worth the extra effort.
  • Don't copy draft CVs from the internet. Most of them are flawed. For example - Google for the phrase Have a good command of both spoken and written English. Past CET-6" - the wording is incorrect yet I've seen dozens and Google has hundreds of CVs with the exact same phrase.
  • Does it contain all of the relevant skills for the job you're applying for? You should consider tailoring a CV for every individual job you apply for.
  • Have you written a cover letter (or email) to send in with the application? Have you paid the same amount of attention on the letter as you have on the CV? If you haven't you should rewrite it.
  • Bear in mind that employers often get hundreds of applications for a single position. If your CV is 10 pages long, filled from edge to edge with text in 5 different fonts and I can't understand the first sentence I read, it's not going to get through the initial screen of CVs because lots of the other applicants have made that effort.
  • Print your CV off and look at it (I know this was my first point but it's so important I'm going to mention it again). As a manager, I'll often see your CV only on paper. Does it look good. Are you proud of the way it looks? If not, go back and try again.
CV Content

  • Opinions do vary as to what should go into the introduction but think about your audience.
  • If you're applying for a job as a Java developer, why would I care about your weight, height, political party affiliation and what message are you trying to send me with your photograph?
  • Make sure you provide all your up-to-date contact details, and that the cellphone number you supply is correct!
  • Think about your email address. If you use your personal address and it's 'tequila_tony@...' am I going to think 'Software developer' or 'wannabe party animal'?
  • Personal summary - You should include a section at the beginning. Don't copy one from the internet (e.g. one that says you're Aggressive - that's just wrong). You need to try and sell yourself to me (and this is where a native speaker will help) . Be relevant to the position you're applying for. Enthusiatic but not annoying. Believable but not uninteresting. Write in the first person.
  • Keep this section simple:
    What dates did you attend University. What qualification did you get? Only go into much more detail if its relevant (e.g. if you have an IT degree and are applying for an IT job, then you might want to list relevant course modules you did as part of that degree but if you've got a mechanical engineering degree I probably don't care)
  • Don't go into too much detail on projects. I don't want to know what you did in great detail. I want to know what you achieved and what skills you gained
  • Do you have any relevant industry certifications or awards?
  • This is the most important section (certainly for an IT employer). What I want to know is: What can you do? How well can you do it?
    If the only mention of Unix is somewhere in your three pages of 'projects I have done' later on, I might miss it completely. If you've got 3 years Unix experience, 5 years Java, 12 months C#.Net, tell me!
  • Keep it simple - a table is best - Skill - length of time working with this skill - experience level (familiar/knowledgeable/proficient/expert).
  • Management skills/project management - put them down here and back them up in the next section.
Career History
  • Where have you worked? What have you learned? How much experience have you gained? What have you achieved?
  • Make sure you include dates so I can follow the timeline.
  • Include information that shows you have initiative (project you proposed to your manager), flexibility (volunteered for role in Ulaan Bataar for three months), intelligence (had your proposed solution adopted), enthusiasm (a desire to do more than you've been asked to do)
  • DO NOT include details of every aspect of a project, where you just did the work people asked you to do, without any details of what you actually achieved (worked on the XYZ project - a 10 man project to implement Zebra functionality in the Kazoo system) as that doesn't tell me anything. Are you telling me you were in a 10 man team in the hope that I'll think you managed it? If so you're wrong. I'll assume you're trying to make me think that.
  • I want to know what you did, not what your team did.

Don't waste my time and yours by lying:
1) Language skills - if I'm looking for someone that can speak English, and you really can't speak English, don't waste time getting your friends to write a really good English language CV and tell me you're fluent.
2) Certifications - yes, we do check to make sure you've got them. In the worst example I've seen someone claimed both Microsoft and Cisco certifications and in interview was forced to reveal that he didn't actually have either and hadn't got any skills in either area.

Do you really want to get an interview with my company only to have to reveal that you don't have the skills you say you've got? Thought not...

Other Information

Include any other information you think is relevant and will make me want to hire you. If you like going to KTV and watching TV - think 'what would this potential employer think of that?' (Answer - you would be better off not telling me). If you like mountaineering, scuba diving and are involved with a local charity, tell me because that's interesting.

I'm sure there are plenty of other opinions out there and advice I can add but I guarantee you, if you are a good candidate for the jobs you are applying for an heed the advice above, you'll be more likely to get through to interview than a lot of the other applicants.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Killing with Kindness

As you, dear reader, will know I'm going to be (hoping all goes well) a father for the first time in December.

There are a number of concerns I have about having a child in China (for example the hospitals, the education system and the absence of a safety culture) but even the basics are a bit of a concern.

One of the problems I had hoped had been fixed was the issue of fake baby milk. This issue reared its head in 2004 when 10 brands of fake and counterfeit baby milk powders were found to be on sale - but not found until an estimated 200 babies had died horribly of malnutrition and many others had swollen heads.

Some of the other notable scandals since I've been living in China (note: that's not an admission of guilt...)
  • Tofu made from "gypsum, paint and starch, then fried in oil made from kitchen waste and swill"
  • Rabies vaccine that was actually just salt water
  • Fake alcoholic drinks made with methanol
Now faking products has a fairly long history is nothing new in China, but whatever Louis Vuitton, Philip Morris and Rolex think of their products being copied and sold at low, low prices, it's a lot more understandable than things like these.

One of the biggest worries for me has always been counterfeits rather than fakes. I recall during the baby milk scare that some of the fake milk had been packaged as premium brand milk and was for sale in reputable supermarkets who had been hoodwinked by someone in their supply chain to accepting the counterfeits.

It's astounding that a group of people (and there must be a number of people knowingly involved to produce the 'product' and packaging, and infiltrate the supply chain) could be sufficiently cold-hearted to sell fake baby milk, knowing it had no nutritional value and that babies would inevitably die as a result. It's quite sickening to see the level of brutality and pain that these reprehensible people would be prepared to inflict on others for their own personal gain. So it was quite a relief when the whole thing was cleared up.

Or so I thought.

So, it's almost two years since that scandal and what's the latest scandal?
30% of Infant Milk Formula Does not Meet Quality Standard

So, two companies have been blacklisted but 30% failed to meet quality standards?

I know there are many arguments about breastfeeding being vastly superior than using Formula but for many reasons there will surely be times it is inevitable.

In a country where even foreign giants like Nestle (admittedly with a fairly controversial history itself with regard to Infant Formula) have admitted that "some non-Nestle products had been repackaged using Nestle packaging and labelling" my problem is who or what do I trust? I would very happily by the best brands from the best stores if that meant giving my child a guarantee of high quality nutrition but I'm not sure how I can believe that even these products are of the same quality that I would expect in the UK. Perhaps its time to order a crate from home now...

Monday, September 11, 2006

'Cute' Chinese

I was warned it would happen.

Before I even really started to learn Chinese I was warned by a couple of old hands that most foreign guys sound like women when they speak Chinese.

Really, there's not a lot you can do about it. Most Chinese teachers are seemingly female. Most straight guys will spend more time talking to Chinese girls/girlfriends/wives then they will talking to guys and, for some reason, it is typically not that easy to make male Chinese friends.

It's hard enough speaking Mandarin Chinese at the best of times (the fact that it's tonal, uses characters instead of letters, is full of cultural references that foreigners typically don't understand, has so few distinct sounds and particularly the fact that lots of Chinese people don't speak it very well either) so to cap that off there are a few things that make it much harder.

1. People "listening with their eyes" - particularly true of older people. You'll speak - they'll look at you as if you're an alien but not actually respond. You'll repeat yourself - same response. Eventually, you'll just walk away but probably not before you've got rather annoyed. Occasionally you'll speak Chinese to someone younger and they will respond with "I'm sorry... I don't.... speak English" which is also irritating.

2. People laughing at you. The first few times I speak Chinese in front of someone that I don't know I can speak vaguely passable Chinese (particularly my Chinese colleagues) they laugh. As I speak. The more I speak the more they laugh. Once they've got over the 'the laowai can speak Chinese' phase and move on, it's not too bad but it's really quite offputting.

3. People that have, a couple of times said "你说的好可爱!" - you said that very cutely - this typically happens if I'm trying to be 凶 fierce because I'm annoyed about something. It's not the words per se that sound cute but the intonation and the other noises that you make for emphasis (啊,呀,哎,嗯, 哇) etc. around them.

The best way to learn a language is to imitate a native speaker but, unfortunately, in this respect women don't speak in quite the same way as men so angry foreigners end up sounding like angry women. Which makes people laugh.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tigers and Sheep Joined Together

You can be a funny lot, my transient readers. A large number you have come via pure happenstance - and strange people some of you must be judging by some of the bizarre terms that you've used in your search engine (and you thought the internet was anonymous). It's fair to say that some of you are clearly rather strange.
  • tigers and sheep joined together
  • photo of a tiger having paintbrush
  • what is the suitable gesture
  • social stigmata
  • motorway bridges peas
  • if you have married and have take along with she or he?
  • gay lanzhou
  • gym ningbo monthly
  • meaning of ambling
  • "distorting mirrors" marks and spencers
  • m6 nomad jacket
  • "more magazine" hangzhou
  • "british people" cliche
  • cycling by night
  • bike horn tiger sound
  • "bus behaviour" load flow
  • filipino tv dramas
  • shuddering on left turn volkswagen bora
  • the joys of golf
  • linying temple
  • elephant ambling
  • august burns red lyrics
  • guangzhou--starbucks
  • "the best environmental think tank in the country?
  • "home truths" radio stafford
  • sainsburys barilla
  • cartoon dalmation standing on a shelf
  • temporary dvla driving licences
  • grandma's kitchen hangzhou
Actually the most popular search terms all relate to the word "PEAS" which is written on a bridge over the M25 motorway in the UK - it's time the person responsible blogged about it so we'd all get a better understanding (or at least they could admit that they can't spell PEACE, which seems quite likely...)

What Price Face?

One of the aspects of modern life in China is the confusion between modern and traditional thinking. My cleaner, XH, has demonstrated a great example of this.

XH was divorced, after her husband ran off with someone else, leaving her alone with her daughter. After the divorce she left her native Sichuan province (and left her 12 year old daughter with relatives) to come to Hangzhou in a bid for a new life - I'm not entirely sure how, but after arriving in Hangzhou my wife found her and recruited her as our cleaner...

So much, so ordinary. Apart from leaving your daughter behind, which people seem to be more accustomed to here, this story could easily have been the same in the UK.

What isn't the same is what follows.

Last year, XH was very excited about the fact that she'd saved up and bought her very own stealth scooter, but after a few days she stopped coming to our house on her new bike and seemed very down. As it turns out, her ex-husband had been to her apartment and, being very fatherly, had said unless she gave him money and the scooter, he would kill their daughter. Not surprisingly she conceded.

What surprised me was that a couple of months later he appeared at our house to look for XH. XH admitted to YY that she was now living again with her ex-husband.

She admits that she hates him with a passion, won't share a bedroom with him or cook him meals. She's even 'lent' him all of her savings (about 15 months of her current pay) even though she knows she'll never see it again. We've learnt of at least one use for the money as he was kind enough to tell her he'd been to see a prostitute only last week.

Yet, despite the fact the relationship has completely broken down, she won't leave him or kick him out. The reason for this, apparently, is purely to preserve her 'face' with her neighbours as they would, apparently, think she was a 'bad' woman for leaving her husband.

I'm aware of mad situations in the UK where people, for a variety of reasons, stay with people who abuse them, but to be at the point of genuinely violently hating someone and staying with them solely because the neighbours would talk about you behind your back seems very peculiar to me.

There's no love, there's no loyalty, there's only face.

To me it seems that even the face problem could be so easily solved by simply moving somewhere else - given that she's done that before you'd think it would make sense but before it wasn't her 'fault' as he left her but it would be if she now left him but, apparently, I simply don't understand. Which is true.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

One Rule for All

It's nice to see that the government in Beijing recognises that there are problems on the roads and that these are, at least in part, caused by the army.

The root cause of this particular problem are the white number plates with red lettering issued to the army, armed police and so on, that are immediately distinguishable to the outside world as 'someone you don't want to mess with'. So much so, that people can break whatever traffic laws they feel like and pretty much expect to get away with it. That's not to say the laws don't apply to them already - they do. What's lacking is the ability to effectively police violators who might be sufficiently powerful and well connected to end a policeman's career there and then.

Not surprisingly there are a number of black saloon cars with blacked out windows and fake army licence plates out on the roads - after all, if the army guys can break traffic laws and face little chance of being stopped, what are the chances of a police officer stopping you to check the validity of those plates.

Whilst it's good to see the 2008 Olympics having a positive effect, the Beijing announcement doesn't look like a particularly serious attempt to clear up abusers - for one thing, they've only targeted the announcement on the Beijing area.

One could suggest a simpler solution - replace all of the white army plates with the standard blue ones then we're all on an equal footing. Then again, there are so many things about traffic laws that have been implemented so that they don't make sense:

- Purpose-built trucks and vans aren't allowed in city centres so all parcel delivery companies, etc. have to use passenger minibuses to deliver packages. Surely less efficient meaning more trucks on the road.
- Until recently (sensibly now repealed) vehicles with an engine capacity below 1300cc were banned from Shanghai's elevated roads as part of a pollution control measure.
- People can turn right on a red light (as per the USA) with the notable difference that in the US a red must be treated the same as a STOP sign - here people just fly round corners - often whilst pedestrians also have a green light
- The rule still stands that if you're in front, you've got the right of way. This means that all drivers blatantly ignore everything that is behind the drivers seat or could be seen in mirrors and leads to some horrific crashes.
- The worst polluters on the roads in city centres - buses - seem to have little if any control on emissions but motorbikes have been banned - again, citing pollution.
- Hangzhou, and other Chinese cities, have recently banned bicycle rickshaws - a pollution free form of transport that has only recently been introduced in modern cities like London

Time for an integrated transport policy rather than a series of seemingly individual and in many cases, knee-jerk policies?

Monday, September 04, 2006

It's a boy!

Apparently they're much more certain this time (it was a result of Ultrasound rather than brief prodding) but wouldn't say 100%...

This time wasn't overseas so got to listen to my unborn son's heartbeat (either that or they were playing a tape recording of a horse galloping). I've also, for the first time felt him kicking this week - YY has felt it for a couple of weeks but he kept stopping as soon as I tried to feel it.

Truly amazing.

Commentating on China

It's bound to be a dodgy thing this commentating on China malarkey.

Clearly I've yet to incur a burst of wrath such as that witnessed last night on talktalkchina but it's obviously not that hard to attract someone's ire.

In many ways, my blog is, effectively self-censored because:
a) My family read it, so it tends not to be as 'raw' as it might be
b) Some of my colleagues read it - so I can't really talk much about the company I work for
c) I don't want to come across, as some people clearly do in their blogs, as anti-China - because I'm not.

But, as I've said before on this blog, it's easy enough for people to make accusations of racism against anyone who makes any reference to the Chinese in any slightly negative context and it's always a worry that you'll end up getting into a slanging match with someone over your opinions.

Injustice and intolerance is everywhere, and in every direction in China. Some examples:

1) There seems to be much in the UK news about things that are bad in China, very little about things that are good thus giving the impression of deliberate "China bashing"
2) To reciprocate, Chinese TV presents the truth rather selectively about the rest of the world
3) Chinese law is, in some cases, quite mad.
4) Many Chinese people genuinely do try to rip foreigners off - I could cite many blog pages but for example, I've walked into shops in Shanghai and demanded the price of something (in English) only for the shopkeeper to turn to my wife and say "If you persuade him it's 80 RMB we'll cut you in on the deal" - 10 times the price.
5) Chinese discriminate against Chinese and in favour of 'foreign guests' on a regular basis
6) Chinese discriminate against foreigners and in favour of Chinese on a regular basis
7) Westerners generally think the Chinese educational system and values, greatly prizing examination marks above actual ability, is flawed and failing the Chinese students.
8) Chinese studying abroad generally think their western counterparts are lazy and stupid for not studying all the time to achieve the highest possible grades
9) There genuinely seems to be an idea that the rest of the world has a bias against Chinese people generally. I'd guess if you look at the US, the issues that won't go away between white, black and Hispanic populations massively dwarfs any issues with the Chinese. Generally I would suggest that this a general arrogance on behalf of the Chinese people who think this because on average, most westerners probably don't have a stand on how they feel about Chinese people one way or the other, regardless of how they feel about China (see below).

And so on.

There are clearly a number of different entities in play:

a) China - for this read 'The Chinese diplomatic machine' - cryptic and serving its own interests. This is the only thing that politicians in the west are ever referring to when they say anything about China. This is synonymous, in the minds of people like Bush, with communism, repression, dumping, lack of human rights, etc., etc. It doesn't represent their impression of Chinese people at all.
b) The China 'establishment' - for most commentators, this doesn't mean the Beijing level government because we don't operate at that level. It's the sort of thing that Sinosceptic was referring to in his blog post yesterday. It's the sort of self-serving 'you can't do anything about it, that's just the way it is' crap that anyone who comes here any operates a business has to deal with.
c) Chinese people - I don't wish to oversimplify here as there are enormous differences here between various groups within China - not surprising when there are 1.3 billion people of over 50 different races. Clearly there's quite a gradient of people from party officials and businesspeople, 'regular' middle-class professional people, traders, merchants, restauranteurs and farmers.

By and large, and there are exceptions, most Westerners I know (mostly here in a professional capacity, rather than avoiding getting a life back home) are here because on balance, they like it – not because they are doing very well out of it. I have a feeling that the similar but different issues will be had for westerners in Japan, Korea, etc. - anywhere where the local culture is significantly dissimilar, where locals vastly outnumber foreigners and foreigners are easily identified.

Westerners are, whatever Chinese people might think, are both discriminated in favour, and against. We are honoured and used. Stared at and ignored. Shoved out of the way and watched in awe.

Most of the other people's blogs that I read seem to fall into the category of finding China (at various times)

Interesting (often in the pseudo-Chinese sense)

And so forth.

It's easy for people who are that way inclined to pick a hole in the point that my blog, and most of the other people who live in China’s blogs do, from time to time, say negative things about China. That’s because my blog is largely about China because that's where I live. I try to present some sort of balance, I don't try to pretend to be a China expert, it's about me and my life. The same is true of other people's blogs.

With few exceptions, I don't actually know any of these people personally (well, I might do, but it's all pseudonyms to me) but I understand all right. Reading about a guy who is venting some steam because some pointless government regulation is insisting on some random people getting access to his company's design information seems perfectly reasonable because I understand it the pain entirely. There is a whole load of crap running a company here that you wouldn't have to put up with at home and, worse, your headquarters neither knows or cares about - it's the sort of thing they expect you, their “China” person, to sort out.

The fact that anyone, Chinese or not, would comment almost immediately with the tired line of racists everywhere 'If you don't like China, you should go back to where you come from' is missing the point. We don't dislike China, the people. We sometimes dislike China - the establishment - when it's being brutally unreasonable. (To get a better idea of the hypocrisy and what’s inspired this post, the poster of that “go home” comment has (apparently) just advertised for English teachers who must be "Western-looking" – Chinese people don’t want to pay for their kids to be taught by people that look Chinese, apparently – just another example of the multi-layered and conflicting standards here). Whether these problems are the same for Chinese companies or not, whether their bosses can make them go away with a night on the bai jiu in a KTV or not still doesn’t make this one of the Frustrating things about being in China – OK, it has to be dealt with but it’s still stupid and vexing and having a cathartic release of some tension by blogging about it is one of the best things about blogging!

Long live blogging! 万岁 to China and the Chinese people! And if you don’t like someone’s blog don’t read it!

Animal Wrongs

Whilst I come from the UK, I've often disagreed with people there over animal rights issues. OK, since moving to China I'm no longer vegetarian so my perch isn't as lofty as it once was, but I still find fox-hunting to be unnecessary, breeding and shooting slow-moving birds to be unpleasantly unsporting and fishing from a pond or canal to be one of the dullest 'sports' known to mankind. And this in spite of the fact we are "A nation of animal lovers" (TM)

When it comes to China there are obviously greater extremes - many of which are way outside of average British sensibilities.

It's hard, for example, to imagine how in any modern city, that people could respond to a crazy local government announcement that dogs should be culled by going out with their whacking sticks and doing just that. Even worse, that vigilantes would, allegedly, stop people out walking their dogs and beat the dogs to death in front of them. Clearly, if the response of a former colleague of mine to witnessing this sort of behaviour is accurate, the Chinese need to accept that whatever they think is right and wrong, this sort of behaviour creates a negative assessment of the Chinese as a whole and adds to the list of things that makes 'China bashing' easy for people with a political agenda.

Chinese cuisine is always a challenge for the British business person. I've never given into this crazy idea of giving face to people by eating the horrors placed in front of me - I'm still not going to eat a hairy crab, or a turtle. I understand what's going on (unlike a client of one of my family members who complained that the Chinese always 'have a joke at their expense by serving all this horrible stuff') and the problem with food is that it's at it's very worst and most inedible when the Chinese are trying to be really, really nice to you. It's not just the British but that find Chinese banquet cuisine more than a little inedible but Chinese attitutes to food seem to be one of the most unbending on the planet - particularly amongst the older generations (if you haven't read this account of an American guy's Chinese in-laws visiting the states you should, then you'll know what I mean).

There is a not unreasonable argument that attitudes to food, animal welfare, etc. can all be forgiven when you consider that within the lifetimes of many of the older Chinese there have been (whatever the history books say) periods of tremendous famine and hardship but part of becoming a great civilisation is, er, civilisation. Clearly anyone who has seen a period in their life when they've eaten tree bark and grass to survive would be less likely to have any problem eating a dog then someone who's had several meals a day prepared with no risk that those meals will stop coming. But that still doesn't really explain the barbarism with which people would go order a massacre of dogs (many of which had been vaccinated against Rabies - the reason for the cull) or people would go out of their way to track down dogs now and beat them to death or hang them.

Clearly many children are hardened up by watching their parents commit these barbaric acts so continue to think it's reasonable, but it seems likely that a lot of city dwellers don't do these things themselves so their children will become more squeamish over time. I'm told the Hangzhou safari park has stopped feeding live animals to the larger animals over public pressure to stop (presumably from parents of shocked and distressed children) - I can say that just from watching the TV last night, when they were showing tigers in a safari park chasing after a landrover, I was shocked (and YY was nearly sick) when instead of a chunk of meat being thrown out of the back of the truck, a chicken fluttered out to be instantly pounced upon by a tiger.

I can't imagine what the defining moment was in British culture when we generally decided that chicken heads and feet weren't food and I don't think we've every been desperate enough to eat dogs and cats so its hard to work out if these things will ever disappear from Chinese culture.

My own, personal point of view isn't to suggest that it's 'wrong' for people to eat these animals but in many cases the treatment is truly reprehensible. Hopefully people will at least start to imagine that, yes, animals can suffer. Once that leap is made, even if people still continue to eat them, I can only hope they will stop to treat them like inanimate objects. The reports of animals being skinned for their fur and the bodies discarded - still breathing and blinking are truly abhorrent and worthy of the world's scorn.

Before any of this could happen, though, the first leap that needs to be made first is for the Chinese to treat the Chinese with more respect. The culture book I read before I ever set foot in China mentioned that Chinese people are all about guanxi and what matters is whether you are inside or outside of someone's 'circle'. The truth of this, in its implementation, is that many people (again, typically true of the older generations, less so of the younger) genuinely wouldn't be moved if the person crossing the street 5 feet away was run over and killed - except that they would stop to gawk at the carnage. In the UK, I would expect the initial reaction to be screaming, panic, people calling the police and ambulance service. Here, ambulances get abused on the roads by buses and taxis just like any other vehicle does!