Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Another trip

I definitely hope to return to China, but I am not overly wild about the BS involving the visa. With the combination of Tibet, and the US way over-charging for visas, the Chinese would only issue me a single-entry visa, at a cost nearly as much as my plane ticket (and this is one of the few things in China you can't bargain). Needless to say, my love for some of the policies of the Chinese government has not increased in the last month.

Monday, April 28, 2008

One more leaves

Unfortunately one more of my friends from here left. Thomas, who was a colleague in the group, and also a client for a project on the mobile phone. We had a going away party for him, which was great to see a few folks (and get a beer after work!) Had some great discussions, including an interesting one about Korea's socialist past.

In Korea the point is to not get left behind and it throws the idea of meritocracy into the wind. If one of your colleagues has advanced faster than you, it means something is wrong. In the US, you work harder to catch up, but here it is expected that people of the same age have the same rank, and the main way to move up past people is to be extremely autocratic. (Note: there are generalizations here, but there is some truth to this). It does explain why parents will force their kids to go to cram school for most of their waking time (their kids are not allowed to fall behind other children). Whatever concerns I have about kids in the US working too hard (my nephew was worried about grades and complicated math theorems long before I was!), it is much scarier here. Kid has a week of vacation? Send them to cram school for 10 hours a day. Yikes!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A new saying

We heard a new saying. "Riches are heaven sent." This apparently is a popular saying in Korea, but it does make one wonder. There are a lot of very wealthy people at the top of corporations, who don't appear very saintly. (Too many heads of these corporations have been indicted in some sort of corruption or scandal.) And if it is heaven sent, shouldn't it be right to share the wealth a little more? Perhaps the saying is more for the poorer classes who hope that heaven will send them riches (but more likely will send them to work for these corporations until the wee hours of every day).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Monday elevators

You show up to work by 9. That is the rule. And one that I have been pretty good about, except Mondays. Mondays most of us have problems. And today I ran out of the apartment, knowing I would cut it close. And wouldn't you know it, I see the elevator doors closing...

We have two elevators in our building, one of the even floors, and one for the odd floors. The other elevator is going down as well, so I am stuck waiting. I realize I will save 15 seconds if I take the elevator from the 13th floor and I walk down a flight. Wouldn't you know it, someone has called it up to 15th. Frustrated at having to wait longer, I hop in the elevator and pace. And as I watch the elevator go past the 1st floor, I realize I forgot to press my floor, and proceed down to the bottom basement level, B5.

I sigh (and inwardly punch myself), and hit the 1st floor button. I gotta get a zip line to work...

No exceptions, except for when it benefits us

I love hearing about things in the land of exceptions. There are more exceptions in the Korean language, and also in general in society. Today in the restaurant there was a discount sign, but that didn't apply to the meals we were ordering (apparently already discounted). Want to buy a plane ticket? Good luck changing it. (I can speak personally that my travel agent seems to buy tickets that are not changeable). But when you look at so many of the little things, there are tons of exceptions. In some ways, our group is an exception to the rule. But ask to change certain points (like flying on a saturday instead of a sunday for a business trip), and you run up against the no exceptions rule. It seems unfair, but then again, it is all about knowing the system right? You know your own country's system, but that doesn't always translate...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My first trip to China

For my second straight trip, I have been picked up at the airport (a very nice change!) Shaun, a friend from high school picked up Michelle and I from the airport and we relaxed back at his place until close to midnight. It had been a busy day of high school friends, as I had lunch with Dodd, another friend who was performing a show called Malibu Mines Dollhouse in Seoul (unfortunately during the exact days I was either at a client dinner or in Shanghai!) Needless to say I found out over the week about friends I had not heard from in years, learned that one of my classmates had been on the Bachelorette (won the first year). Craziness.

The second day was a whirl, managing to circle the block for about 30 minutes (the streets in Shanghai were difficult even for our friend who lived there). But it all ended well with an amazing brunch, picked out by Ellon's friend Paddy (not sure how to spell that, you can blame computer-generated names at a big corporation I won't name). The most amazing shrimp in a wasabi cream sauce!

Afterwards was off to the antiques road, where Michelle put on her bargaining pants. Anything they said, take off 50%. We walked off with 2 mah jong sets, a mandolin, and a wooden carving for my wall. All beautiful stuff, and amazingly cheap. The bargaining didn't stop there though, we went to a different market at night and bought clothes and random household goods. The classic moment was seeing a beautiful shirt which we wanted to get as a present, but deciding we would buy it later. We went to another store and tried on about 10 different shirts and jackets. Michelle wasn't wild about most of them, but finally settled on one shirt. Wouldn't you know it, when we went back to the first store, the shirt we had our eyes on before was the same one we had just purchased (for less money of course).

The food in Shanghai was fantastic, we made multiple stops for things like Bubble tea, and a dinner Saturday that was made with very natural and healthy ingredients. Funny enough, our dim sum on Sunday was across the street from our dinner the night before. An excellent choice as tens of plates came out with various favorites of both Michelle and I. The afternoon was spent wandering around, and a massage at a place called Dragonfly. This was an upscale place in Shanghai, and it only cost about $25!!

Unfortunately I lost all of the relaxation later in the afternoon when I was military-time challenged. Oh, 16:00 means 4 pm. Sh*t. Ran out to the street to catch a cab (I was supposed to be on the way to the airport at 4 pm, and we had to get across the city to Shaun's place to get my stuff. Needless to say, my taxi cab driver was amazing, and I made it to the airport with at least 10 minutes to spare.

We had some interesting cultural moments in Shanghai. On the way to Dim Sum we passed a Korean tour bus that was stopping at an alley where the Korean Communist party held their first meeting. Shaun said "Excuse me" and everyone got out of the way. He said, "They have to be Koreans, the Chinese wouldn't move." Wow. The Koreans are not easy to work with in a crowded space (see other posts about the Korean subway), and that was nearly a full-damnation on Chinese people.

The other interesting point involved the air and pollution. I am heading to the Olympics in August, and I have heard that the Chinese have shut down factories to improve the air quality. I asked Shaun, "doesn't that just mean that things will get worse right after the Olympics?" He brought up an interesting point, the Olympics in 1988 were a bit of a coming out party for Seoul, and there are similarities in China. 10 years ago Chinese were scraping to make enough money, now there are more thoughts about health and quality of life. The pollution should only get better. Or so one hopes, since Michelle's description of the "fog" in Beijing was not very good.

Tough work at a Korean company

A bunch of us read an article in Business Week about Hyundai/Kia's management style.
Needless to say, it is fascinating to read, the head of the company deciding to fire its US president and VP of Marketing, and the top-down approach of management. In some ways you can't argue with the results of the company, but it shows a fascinating view of some cultural differences between Korea and the US. It just doesn't make me want to work for the company ;)