My first job in a Chinese company – how it doesn’t work

Once, I’ve heard somebody working in the European parliament saying that it’s the most inefficient place he has ever seen. Well I’m quite sure he has never worked in any Chinese company or institution. Even though I have never worked in the European Parliament can already tell that compared to some Chinese companies it’s (or must be) an example of efficiency and orderliness.

Getting recruited

So in 2014 I landed in China thinking that getting a decent white collar job here will be much easier but I ended up being offered shitty jobs for 2 months in a row. Trying to change my ways, I started using Chinese job websites to find a job in a REAL Chinese company. I was invited to a few interviews and from this time another pool of crap I chose the least crappy one. So okay, I go for the interview but the first thing that raised my concerns was that in the instruction how to get there – after getting off the subway I was supposed to take a fake cab which was explicitly stated in the e-mail. (The company was in the suburbs of Beijing what meant more than 1.5 hours by metro.) In spite of doubts, I went there and at first sight it seemed quite legit. The interview was conducted by two people of which one spoke some English and the other none. Moreover it seemed that the one who spoke no English was a superior – she was older and the other was looking up to her. It was all clear to me that none of them had any idea of what to do and it was mainly me did the talking. They had some useless questions written on a piece of paper and after 15 minutes it was all over. A week later I was invited for a “second interview” which was accompanied by a “company tour”. A flat, free food and 3000 Yuan(500USD) per month for the first three months was offered. Funnily low salary but if you are desperate not to teach English and really want to improve Chinese language skills anything is good enough. The trouble started already before I actually began to work – they wanted me to provide some medical examinations that I had no idea how to get and I was convinced I don’t really need. They ended up sending a company car and the girl whom I met during the first interview. (Chinese hospitals could be another article actually 😀 – no they are not so bad but very peculiar)

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Company life

When I started, for the first few days I genuinely thought I had real tasks to do. There was some translations and I made a project of the new website and was supposed to learn things about company products. I did all of this with relative enthusiasm since being cut-off from everything else there was just no other options than to do my best. There was even a work diary that I filled up everyday even though I saw little sense in doing it. Only after a while I realized that none of those translations had been really used, the website’s project and my ideas ignored and everyday and my “work diary” ended up being copy pasting the same thing all over again with small variations.

So…everyday work starts at 9, the lunch break is at 12 lasting until 1 p.m. (It took me like 2 years in China to learn to eat lunch at 12) and then you work until 6. Seems normal in theory and in my case that’s how it really was (there was no real work therefore nobody needed me to do any overtime) but some other guys lived in the office. There was a 20 yuan penalty for every time you come late so that 9:00:01 was already 20 yuan. That’s an interesting fact since there was a fingerprint scanner (!) at the entrance and somehow it didn’t like my fingers refusing to scan them every second day. Multiple times I needed to pay the “penalty” because of this, even if my supervisor saw me in the office on time. When I communicated her that it’s kind of ridiculous, she just asked me to “try to understand”. They must be giving out these fingerprint systems for free since literally every Chinese company uses them.(Like literally every company

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The demon fingerprint machine (photo from the internet)

As most of you may realize, pretending that you do nothing for 8 hours per day, sitting at the desk in the state of constant alert is a hard nut to crack. But It gave me the whole range of possibilities of doing the self-study things that I’d always wanted to do. Within the three months I finished reading a few novels, improved my knowledge of English grammar, read a lot about business, marketing, biology and got really good at a few computer games etc.

The company however needed me in a way that I wasn’t aware of while working there. They needed a foreigner to show at meetings, my picture for their social media thingies and probably just to call the company “international” and have something to back it up. Once during a meeting with another Chinese company, not knowing why, I was invited to sit next to our company CEO and when the representatives of the other company came, I was introduced as a “consultant”. Furthermore after their presentation I was asked what do I think about everything what had been said – unfortunately I did understand maybe 15% of what they said and just mumbled something back. There was another funny task that I got, ie. recruiting other foreigners to join the company. (Since except for ads on Chinese websites there was nothing else they could do) Thus after getting some 100+ CVs. I had fun on the phone with people looking for job since until now I was in their shoes. I did my best not to hide the fact that the company is crap. It was in the middle of nowhere, nobody speak English and the money wasn’t good so people hearing the honest details would usually give up. As a consequence only one person came to the interview – she was a desperately looking for a job Italian girl who was probably duped by my honesty (having her CV in my hand I told her on the phone that she could do better than that). When I showed the girl “our” big and actually empty building, the apartment which company was offering her and the company campus telling a few amusing anecdotes about the company life, she just said: “Man! How did you end up here??!” . She didn’t choose to work there of course.

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Luxury company limousine that took you to the metro that was a few kilometers away

By my Chinese colleagues I was invited to some events like playing voleyball, biliards, cetc. and even to one company dinner what was all really nice. The atmosphere at the first company dinner I attended seemed to be really warm and my presence as the only foreigner was even celebrated. At the same time however It was all quite strange because of the cultural difference since I simply didn’t know how to behave at the table. There was a lot of talking, introducing and even some silly games so that after 2 hours or so, everybody pretty much thought that I’m an idiot. In general Most people however tended to avoid me a little bit, some other rightfully treated me as a tourist attraction but everybody was asking silly questions and talking to me as if I was completely retarded. Myself I was mostly trying to be nice but at the same time it took some much effort to communicate with most people there effectively that sometimes I had lunch before everybody else just to not to be forced to talk to them.

One could actually write an ethnographic study about that place. The apartment building also belonged to the company and was hierarchically arranged First floor for the canteen and quarters for the cooks and cleaning staff. Second floor was for technical employees with lower level management on 3rd with senior level on 4th and CEO having the entire 5th floor for himself. The same thing was pretty much with the office building.

Termination

When my three-month contract was about to expire I was trying to start the topic of a new one with my manager. To talk about it was complicated for the reason of them being out of touch with the reality. After my repeated remarks about it and 10 emails sent to the interested parties, the thing finally started moving but nobody seemed to grasp the important fact that I actually don’t really do anything there, I’m bored to death, my salary expectations(which weren’t very high) are higher than my boss’s salary and I have no interest in showing up in the office. Only when I said exactly the same thing for 5 times somebody started listening. My boss then called me to the office and said straight to my face that as a Polish national (no matter what other advantages or qualifications I may have) I cannot earn that much(which was very little). I took the offence looking at her from my comfortable chair placed on the moral high-ground without changing my face mimics or saying anything. Yes – racism in China is way more common than political correctness or even tolerance. She also seemingly wanted to make herself feel better. On my last day, as always, I went to the office and read a bit of a book suddenly realizing that there is nothing else I could do so I just collected my stuff, went to pick up the rest of my salary from the “finance department” and went to my boss to tell her that I’m leaving. An approximate week later I got an e mail from my already former boss telling me to translate some stuff. As you can imagine – answering such email was a pure pleasure, so I went on saying that unfortunately I’m not contracted by the company anymore and thus I am not going to do it

It lasted more than 3 weeks and some more senseless emailing until my second contract was finally signed and what is interesting – the starting date was actually from 3 weeks before and I was supposed to get my first salary in a few days without even having to work! That was too good to be true but happened. IT wasn’t much – 5000RMB a month – but enough for subsistence. The most important point of the new arrangement was the fact that I could work from home so given that there was no real work to do it meant free monies. There was some very little work actually but to be honest, I was already so demotivated that even those things (which were actually only some translations) I didn’t really do. Shortly before the end of my contract I’ve got a message stating that I should look for another job and that our company doesn’t need any “foreign stuff” anymore – I didn’t imagine that my contract will be extended anyway.:O

I talked to a few friends who worked in Chinese companies and actually without any surprises it came out that my experience wasn’t entirely unique and that other people encountered similar phenomena. It comes out that there is more and more of even Chinese who start finding these things stupid, strange and foremost – unnecessary. It seems like a pattern that people in management positions aren’t qualified – (my boss was an opera singer). The people employed by the company seemed to be doing what they were doing for totally random reasons. Work is not supposed to be efficient but is just supposed to be. I’ve been actually told before that I’m not really able to work in a Chinese company. It took me a while and a few similar experiences but now I understand that it’s true.

The company’s name is Uniwilltech Beijing (华鑫志和)- the website: http://www.uniwilltech.com/

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