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Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's Made Out of People

I’m on the phone with my boss, trying to remain calm. He is agitated. Speaking quickly and using intense directive managerial tones. He asks the impossible, with painful consequences for failure. I cannot return to meiguo (US) unless I have hired my team, 24 people, in the next five days. An ultimatum. I say “No problem, I’m on it.” – trying to match his action tone. Not a chance in hell can I hire 24 people in five days, it’s impossible, I think as I put the phone down.

But I’m forgetting we are in China. Things are different here. If there exists a single source, one causal reason from which other vast differences flow, it’s the people. Sheer quantity of people. The ‘parks’ here brim with crowds. The metro jammed with bodies. Competition boils fiercely. I used to wonder at my Chinese collogues in the US, sitting close together speaking loudly at lunch…maybe to recreate the feeling of the crowds at home? It’s hard to keep western style personal space here sometimes. But with so many people, vast resources can be mobilized quickly.

I go to HR, there are 300 (yes, three hundred!!) new chemists starting this summer, but tamen mei yong, They are useless to me. My project is special. Critical. A new paradigm so only experienced people will be hired. In the US, I would contact friends, read recommendation letters, get personal referrals. LORs are not done here. If the new hire does not work out, just pluck a new one from the vast sea of raw talent. Easy peasy.

I meet with other department leaders, they give me some experienced people. I have no way of knowing whether they are the wheat or the chaff. I hire some from the ready pool HR has on file. Things move quickly. 24 hours after being directed to begin hiring, I have 12 people.

I may get to go to a little girl’s birthday party after all.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Snap Crackle Pop

It happened for the first time today and I’m shaken. Standing in the small American grocery store, I look at a familiar label of microwave popcorn, it costs $10. I snap. Instantly the thought flashes momentarily through my consciousness, undeniable and frightening. I think… "I want to go home, I’m not going to make it."

A tough week, with the newness loosing it’s edge a bit and the difficulties not receding as quickly as anticipated. All the challenges suddenly seemed much larger, and my capacity for dealing shrinking. Eating expensive middle quality western style food, and haphazard Chinese food affetcts my mood. Getting around, knowing where to buy things, basic communication on top of regular adjustments begins to wear on the soul. Am I going to learn enough of the language to be independent? Am I going to adjust enough to the new work culture?

I knew this was coming, a nice american expat descibed the highs and lows that new arrivals typically go through. The first flush of excitement at the unknown, the slow drain of constant incompentence at basic sustainence, and finally the equilibrium. I knew it was coming and it still felt achy.

The next day I figure out that the text message from China Mobile tells me that my pre-paid minutes are disappearing with alacrity. Weekend calls await and I will have to purchase time without the aid of the helpful company bilingual admin. I go to the convenience store and say something equivalent to “do you or don’t you have sell hand phone money?” After a few rounds of confused looks, I get the China mobile minute coupon and call in to activate. It worked. It worked!!! I did it! Another baby step closer to being independent. I txt the company admin on the weekend, a tinge of guilt for bothering her but feeling like a kid that just tied his own shoes, I have to share it with someone who really knows how helpless I have been. She responds immediately, graciously acknowledging my mini-feat. I needed that metaphorical pat on the back.

Maybe I will make it a little bit longer.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pictures - 70kuai shopping trip and the Apt


Rock Star for the Morning

I’m sitting in a comfortable high back leather chair. Two beautiful women stand to either side of me, attentive, and intervene on my behalf with the helpful man on the other side of the counter, I don’t even have to talk. They carry all my paperwork. The driver waits for us behind me. The room sparkles with newness, no lines, no impatient chatter, there is no airport style security to go through. My forms are stamped, my picture taken, my passport held temporarily. In five days I’ll have my Chinese business visa. I wish this encounter had lasted longer. It’s a pleasant, quick experience and I’m back at my desk in under 30min. This was much easier than getting a notary at the US Consulate.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Patent Protection

Many large guards in smart uniforms direct people….and me. They are well cut men and women with proficient, but accented business English. They speak as if they are used to dealing with foreigners. Their blazers sport official looking government seals upon the lapel. Some operate behind thick glass. I show my documents and am allowed into the security screening queue. I have an appointment, but that fails to save me from more bureaucracy, more standing in line as many people chatter impatiently in Chinese around me. I’m here on official business. I need an official seal of approval. I need a notary. I’m in the citizens section of the American Consulate. And at the end of the encounter, I will realize the danger I’m in.

A notary officially witnesses a signing of a document – like patents. Drug discovery centers on intellectual property and patents protect those ideas developed by pharma firms. Patent applications take time to generate and employees move. I’ve signed dozens of rights over to my former employers, common practice. Usually, however, I’ve had access to a notary with my current company. In China, the only US Notary stands behind thick glass walls, and layers of bilingual Chinese office workers at the US Consulate. I pay first, $30. The Chinese office workers efficiently fill out everything but the signature and seal. I wait.

The notary comes. He is young. A foreign service worker, and seems to be unfamiliar with patent applications. He looks at me and makes me swear an oath that the affirmation in the document is true. “I do” I say….odd, never have done that before. The notary should only witness the person signing, not the content.

I had visions of an American Citizens section of the consulate on par with First Class airport lounges. A Ritz-Carlton-like ambiance in which Americans working there bond and share stories with those of us ex-pats working around the city. I worry my expectations are the first symptom of an ex-pat syndrome. We can be spoiled here, and get used to spoiling quickly. I would never have expected first class treatment at a US government office in the US, but do expect that here. I expected special treatment just because I’m an American in China. I’m in danger of becoming a jerk.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Free Money

*note this is a call for grants, not the usual blog fare*
The Chinese government is handing out fistfulls of cash for research to be done in China. If you have a small molecule hit, or target concept and are willing to trade free research (and I can help set that up) in China for a portion of the Chinese (only) rights, please drop me a note. The further along the concept is, the more likely to get funding. ie lead opt > hit id.
Items of particular interest are third world diseases like TB, malaria etc...