Getting used to the job

Beijing, 11th of October

Two of my colleagues at the             office.I have now settled into my new job routine, which is either ridiculously busy (mang2) – or extremely slow (man4). I guess this is what life is like in an executive search company. Working for a successful Chinese company is certainly an enlightening experience and so far most surprising things I have found regard holidays, overtime (jia1 ban1) and the role of the management.

In regards to holiday time, I have found to my dismay that although in China there are three public holidays – which are five days each (Spring Festival, May Holiday and the National Holiday), we only have ten days a year of flexible annual leave (nian2 du4 jia4) - which cannot be taken all at once. This is much more restrictive than the 20 days annual leave, plus public holidays, in the UK. In China the public holidays are usually really busy and there is a mad rush for train/air tickets as they are frequently sold out days before the holidays begin. Travelling during public holidays can be more stressful than working!

Speed boating             on our team building away day.Having worked in a college here in Beijing and now in an office environment, I have noticed that management decisions are rarely if ever challenged by staff – even if a member of staff disagrees he/she will never express this to the manager (jing1 li3). This usually means that overtime is common and accepted without question. Again this is very different from my experience of working in London. It means managers have far more power over their staff than I am used to. It also means good management is vitally important here.Recently, I went on a team building away day to a park in a Beijing suburb – this really helped me get to know my co-workers a little better and involved speed boats, mountain hiking and temples. Apparently we will do this every three to four months.

A strange change of perspective

I’ve now been in Asia for 18 months straight without going home and I have noticed some serious changes in the way I view things. And I mean this on a superficial level as well as a mental one. In fact sometimes when I come across westerners, I’m taken aback at how unfamiliar they have slowly begun to appear to me. Their noses (bi2 zi) and eyes (yan3 jing) seem really big and they are either, usually tall (gao1) and built like an ox or incredibly overweight! For me being a tall, big nosed, westerner myself, this is as freaky as it sounds.In fact some friends from London recently came to visit me and I was surprised at how “strange” (qi2 guai4) their facial features looked! Not like I remembered at all. What was happening to me? Despite the fact that I look in the mirror every morning and have found no change, I have still managed to find western faces a little unfamiliar at times. Of course, this is because for the last 18 months most of the people I am surrounded by are Asian and this includes subconscious influences such as TV (dian4 shi4) and advertising billboards. But it is a strange and interesting phenomenon, more so because I’m a 6ft 4 black man (hei1 ren2) and don't look remotely Asian!

Two kinds of people

Everybody having a good             time at the away day.I was recently given an interesting insight into Chinese perception of foreigners by one of my colleagues last week. She jokingly told me that in Chinese eyes there are only two kinds of people, Chinese and foreigners. To which we both laughed. Of course this is something I had already grown to suspect but also made me wonder; how will I be perceived in my new company? Will there be a constant barrier between me and my colleagues? I guess I will just have to wait and see.

Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.

Sent by: Chris


Tony 2006-11-27

I am Chinese. I think working in China is too hard for foreign people.But this is a good experience.

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Stewart Anderson 2006-11-16

I am 20 and love Chinese, the music and food.

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Maggie Li 2006-11-11

I find your experiences in China really interesting as my daughter is thinking of studying Mandarin in Beijing next year (2007). She will just have turned 19. This is the first time she will be away from home on her own for such a long period. I'm both apprehensive about this and at the same time wishing her to have this experience. Keep on writing in your diary.

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