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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.


  1. you must be in a newly founded totally fucked-up company, man. not every company in China is as crazy as this. you may completely mislead your peer in US..
    and oh oh, both my chinese and european friends told me that they can easily figure out who is from US instead of other countries basically by just see how loud they speak in public here :P

  2. this recruitment a last min instruction from your boss or is that you that have been informed much earlier but failed to get any until you knew you wouldn't allow to go back unless you had it done? it seems to me more likely the latter case since your boss was so enraged, dude

  3. you are not in the position to judge. you come to China to find your refuge and China for sure topped off your career - the career oppotunity you might never achieve in your own country. So why not you just learn to appreciate your savior more?!

  4. Anonymous, I think you are too harsh. I am very humble in the face of all I don't know. I just do the best I can, I can't do better than that.

  5. hahahaha!LMAO!!!!!!!!
    that's what i like!go on,come on!

  6. The Chinese get just as flustered by business practices in the United States. They usually take very long Post-Docs and get laid off more because of the difficulty of connecting with the business culture here. Different cultures are hard to understand.

    Keep working at it, or you could end up in the same boat as the Chinese here.

  7. long post-docs are those who have problem finding a proper job usually and they use it as a strategy to stay in US if they don't want to go back their country yet.

  8. to China-bonding: yup, i was not just being "harsh", i was being rude, impolite, unacceptant and snobbish, and i did it on purpose, just to show you what you will get by being rude, impolite, unacceptant and snobbish to ppl and the environment you are surrounded by. and sorry i can't see how humble you are.
    I myself had spent 10 years in US and 3 years in Germany, though in different industry. But the simple fact is that if you are unfriendly and unacceptant to your environment, you will for sure lose. psychological maturity is the key no matter where you are. YOU NEED TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE!

  9. My point about the long post-docs stands. Businesses here will and often do sponsor work visas, but only if they think that person will fit well within the company. If not, they have to stay in the post-doc trap in order to stay away from their home country.

    China-bonding is just commenting on a different nature of hiring. Typically, we want face time in the U.S. to judge if we are going to like working with a person, so we don't have to pick another later, which wastes a lot of money.

    Huge rosters of people we've never met would not work well here. Unless the jobs were highly specialized, with no need for much training, there are areas for that. Also, hiring is more competitive in the U.S. due to the fact there are less people.

  10. Wow. Such hostility in the comments.

    Funny, as an American, I see nothing rude, or harsh, or "unacceptant" in this blog. I see wonder, and enchantment, and anticipation of life in a different culture. If there is any offense, it is certainly not intended.

    But the comments. Yikes. Not very accepting of the point of view of one from another background/culture. Almost scared. Certainly not cool.

  11. ha, i wasn't mean to be hostile. instead, i thought i was helping:) just in the less protective and defensive way. and i suppose you and this guy have both never been living aboard before;) only if you come to work in china and see the ex-pat communities here, you'd understand what i mean.

    but anyway i was not just in response to this one blog post. things like what he complained about lacking western food sustainance is definitely a funny sign of being narrow-minded. and this reminds me how mad one of the american co-worker of mine was when his chinese housekeeper told him that american has no real good food:) this is another example of being narrow-minded, too - obviously this chinese housekeeper has never been in america:)

    as for his working capability, both you and me probably are not in the position to judge as we probably both never see this person in real life.

  12. the last two comments were written by china-bonding,he wants to cover his face by pretending someone passby!!!!
    i am sure!

  13. No offence but the black background really hurts my eyes.

  14. black background is fine with me, lol.

    but if none of the above "anonymous" is china bonding himself, he might be the biggest winner in this debate, only by playing the nice card, leaving space for someone else to defend him.a smart kid like this should have no problem to adjust in chinese culture. so everyone, stop worries.

  15. should get an IT talent to decode the IP addresses.