I haven’t been finding as much time to write lately. It’s easy enough to say that I’ve been busy, but there’s more to it than just that. A lot has changed.
A month ago, everything was easy; I was on vacation, and everything was perfect. I had nothing to do but have fun and write little stories about my adventures. I haven’t stopped having those adventures; I just started writing less about them because they’re not as glossy anymore.
A few months before I actually came to China, I was seriously considering coming here to work. Not work like I’m working now, but work work, a proper job with a proper company. All the job advertisements warned that the companies preferred applicants with prior experience working for Chinese companies. I thought it weird that they would need to specifically call this out; how different could it be working in China?
Well, a lot of my “adventures” over the past month have involved the discovery of exactly what makes Chinese companies different. And this, well, it’s a different type of story from what I’ve been sharing with you so far during my travels.
But, it’s time for my storytelling to pivot a bit. Perhaps these stories will be less interesting to read, but I believe these experiences are the real meat of why I came to China. You don’t set out to change the world when you travel; you set out to be changed by the world. And the difficulties I’ve begun to experience here in China are the side effects of me being changed, and that’s why I want to continue to share these stories with you. Perhaps they’ll be less light and fluffy, but this is what really matters to me, and this is real.
I’ve been struggling to convince people at work that we need to create forms like liability releases, allergy disclosures, and medical authorizations; you know, like, the basics for an outdoor adventure company! And there’s a bunch of ancillary tasks I’ve been trying to stay on top of too, like figuring out how to call a helicopter, which hospitals are equipped to do what, etc. And everyone’s attitude at work has been indifference at best. Some people have outright asked me why I’m working so hard, and others are content in knowing that what needs to get done will get done, eventually and by someone else. The lack of drive to get things done and to get them done correctly has been shocking, and I mean truly shocking. I’ve been asking one coworker to make a simple inventory of all our gear, and it’s taken more than two weeks of coaching to get it to be almost done. We still need to figure out contracts, work visas, and more, and our boss left unexpectedly and unannounced for the last ten days.
It’s been driving me crazy that we’re still so far away from being able to entertain our first customer, and no one seems to have even a hint of motivation to get anything done.
My rational brain needed to try to explain all this, so I decided to compare gross domestic product per capita between the two countries. America’s G.D.P. is roughly double that of China, but China’s got about five times as many people. Thus, by this overly simple calculation, one could say that the average American worker is roughly ten times more productive than the average Chinese worker. And this began to put my mind at ease a bit; at least it started to explain why I (and all the other Westerners) were accomplishing so much more than the Chinese. If I’m used to working 20 days per month; I could expect to get about two days’ worth of work out of each of my Chinese peers per month. This sounded about right to me, and so my reality seemed to jive with what statistics predicted.
And then my friend A Gan let me in on a little secret. Chinese companies are not efficiency machines like back in the States. And this difference runs very deep; it’s a symptom of our differing political systems. Capitalism is defined by its ruthless efficiency. Communism, on the other hand, is defined by something else; I’m not quite sure yet what it’s defined by, but it’s something like family. Companies exist in communism as part of the family unit. Your coworkers are part of your family; and you can rely on your company as you would a family member. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you work; you’ll always be family.
This is radically different from any sort of work environment I’ve ever experienced before in my life, and even beginning to understand the differences between Western and Chinese companies is a titanic achievement for me. You see, I crave efficiency. Ever since I was a kid, I was taught its value. And I’ve simply always had a eye for making processes cheaper, faster, and just generally more efficient. It makes me sad (nay, angry!) when I see things being done inefficiently. I can’t help myself; I’ve been living this way for too long; it’s just a part of who I am!
So, needless to say, the inefficiency and lack of motivation at work has been driving me crazy. I mean, simply and purely crazy! It’s driven me to the point of wanting to quit this job, to the point of wanting to leave Yangshuo, and to the thought of even leaving China. I cannot say it enough; working for a Chinese company is radically and dramatically different from working for a company in the West.
But my heart threw my brain a lifesaver a few days ago. My heart reminded my brain that we (OK, I’m definitely going crazy if I’m referring to myself as “we” now!) are here to experience something different, to be changed. And change is never easy; if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that change is never easy. But I like hard stuff; it always feels worth it in the end. So, finalement, I think I’m getting what I came here for. I just forgot that the ride isn’t always pleasant.
A Gan reminded me that there’s a billion and half people here, and everyone needs a job. How many would be out of work if everyone worked to their fullest potential? Mind blowing! Imagine how different the States would be if we operated this way.
For now, it’s time to settle in for the long haul; I do think I’m going to stay in Yangshuo for one year. I want to continue learning Chinese, climb, and be a part of growing this company (as much of a challenge as it may be). Next year I’ll put those Chinese skills and climbing skills to use in going out to find some new crags. I still love that plan, and I’m sticking to it.