Yes, I’m still working through the i-phone photos. By tonight though, my real camera will have had the opportunity to once again commune with the Sichuan wilderness and all will be right with the world.
Until then though, I’ve been thinking a little bit about the way people do business here.
Not the big multi-million dollar apartment development guys with their Bentley’s and poodles and 1,000RMB baijiu.
I’m talking about the normal, everyday people. The people who run restaurants or repair shops. The people who work in small office buildings or for real estate companies.
I’m no anthropologist or China business maven so I’m just going to put these things in bullet points with which you are free to agree or disagree-though I have a feeling a lot of these are very particular to Chengdu. We are, after all, kind of out in the China boondocks here.
-Shopkeepers, restauranteurs here are not afraid to tell you what they can and can’t do. This goes for everything from not fixing an appliance they don’t feel comfortable with, to not serving you if it will interrupt their mid-afternoon nap/game of mahjong, to not serving you certain dishes off the menu if it’s not within their set off-the-menu repertoire.
I still remember our first time at our (now) favorite Sichuan Cai place. We made the mistake of inquiring as to whether they served a certain noodle dish and were rewarded with an earful. “This is a rice place!” The (very sweet) proprietor shouted incredulously, “Why would we have noodles?!?”
-All this being said, many people here are also so desperately afraid of disappointing the people they feel they shouldn’t disappoint (foreigners, rich people, government people, good customers, family relations, cute children, etc) that the resulting service is often hit or miss. Sometimes, for instance, good people trying to fix a sewage system may well spray poo all over your laundry room, rather than disappoint the rich neighbor upstairs by not being able to fix the problem.
Other times, the desire to please works out for you in more inspiring ways. That same restaurant that wouldn’t feed us noodles the first night would now rather do anything than tell us they are out of our favorite dishes. The other night after waiting an unusually long time for our mapo doufu, we watched a teenager rush through the door with a plastic bag of containing one portion of doufu. 5 minutes later our dish was on the table. They never even told us that they didn’t have the dish available.
-Just because the computer fix-it guy appears to have an Apple computer doesn’t mean he actually knows how to fix an Apple machine. Most likely what he owns is really “jia de” or fake-a bootleg PC with a fake Apple cover. He will most likely admit this freely if you ask him.
-Store owners know that Chinese like to feel like they are getting a bargain, no matter how wealthy they are. On large ticket items like rugs or televisions, the ticket price may be twice what the proprietor will actually accept for the item. Of course for little things like vegetables, the price the vendor gives is the price you pay. On fruit, because it’s more expensive, you have a little bit more leeway but you still can’t expect for than a 5 kuai discount.
-When it comes to cleaning routines, very few Chinese like to use bleach, they prefer vinegar. Even if you ask someone to use bleach, chances are they will just ignore your request and use vinegar instead. For a girl who was raised to use Clorox early and often, this is sometimes a bit bewildering, especially when there is mold involved.
-Is it 5pm and do you hear singing and chanting? Do you see a bunch of young women wearing matching white shirts and bad blue pants doing a song and dance routine? That’s because it’s time for the company loyalty song! To be preformed out on the street, practiced till nearly 7pm in front of everyone, preferably with ear-shattering shouting!
-Are you standing in front of a fancy restaurant around 11am? Do you see young men in Chef hats being screamed at by the Chinese restauranteur version of a drill sergeant? Do you see chefs and waitresses and bus boys prancing in circles and flapping their arms?
It’s time not just for the company loyalty song but also the daily ritualistic abuse of the staff. As in bootcamp, I believe the purpose of this public humiliation is motivation and toughness. You must need it to cook in a tiny, poorly-ventilated kitchen while sweating over an open fire and a wok full of deadly smoking peppers.
I’ve got lots more where those came from but I’m sure other people probably have a lot more. What are your experiences? What would you add to a Part 2 of this post?