Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When they don't understand credit

We offer micro-credit to China's front line workers through an employee benefits program that includes a payroll advance and discount card. Because of the workers' lack of collateral, banks will never give them a loan otherwise.

But somehow many of them don't see the entrepreneurial opportunities inherent in a loan like this. They also don't understand how building up a good credit history can open up future possibilities. Instead, they focus on the fact that our discounts aren't attractive enough. One girl asked me what a credit card was. Another group of four shook their heads and told me that they wouldn't be able to use their cards because the supermarkets near them didn't have POS machines. When I told them that they could swipe their cards at any store with a POS machine, they were shocked.

Over the last two months, I've talked to many blue collar workers and realized that many of them didn't even understand the concept of credit. After I explained it to one of the girls at the massage parlor, who had quit a factory down south several years ago, she looked at me and told me that if we offered her credit now, she would definitely take it. But back then, back when she was a factory girl? She wouldn't dare to want it. Because something like that didn't happen to people like her.

We've brought the horse to the water, but how do you make the horse drink?


p. s. A colleague told me that I looked like a really cute head of lettuce today (I was wearing a flowy green dress). He also told me that he really liked lettuce. I think he might have been hitting on me.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Chinese people care a lot about face and they bend over backwards not to embarrass you. Somehow that doesn’t cover comments about your weight, your pimples, or your looks.
Case in point: Two of my colleagues are a little bit on the bigger end. Or maybe they just have bigger bones. The others openly refer to them as the fat guys. Of course, it doesn’t help that one of them recently broke two office chairs when he sat down. I blame the sketchy manufacturer but two in a row really is something.
Anyhow, today was a slow day at the office and the boys upstairs were playing around. For some reason, they engineered this online showdown between those two. Kinda smacks of facemash.com for the gravity challenged.
There were several rounds of vicious voting to see who would win the fight (adding in the factors of side kicks and weight training). This was the result.

Poor hippo.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Finding a name

I really need to work on my poker face, especially when people tell me their names. But today, I just lost it.

Our new discount manager smiled and told me that his English name was Nemo. Then he asked me if I liked his name.

After a while, I figured out who's been responsible for the crop of wild names among our new staff. It turns out that Megan, a cute girl from the HR department, has been naming them because none of them came with English names. Apparently she gave Nemo three choices. The first was David, but both of them thought it was too plain. Then, she offered him a girl's name. After that, of course, his round features reminded her of the fish movie that she just watched, and so that's how Nemo happened.

p.s. Somebody told me that I was tall today. Just thought I would document that for posterity.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


The thing about TGIF is that it is often preceded by a OCIT (Oh Crap It's Thursday).

Thursdays at the company are unusually hectic because it's report day. That is the blessed day when you get to tally up the numbers by 5 p.m. and send them to the boss' mean assistant, a.k.a me.

If the saying is that the devil wears Prada, then she must wear the softest ballet flats ever. Because then the upstairs staff won't be alerted to the determined tap-tap-tap that her heels make before entering the office, giving them no time to look appropriately busy crunching the numbers.

I apparently need to step up the mean act because the numbers still don't come in by 5 pm. Or by 7:30 pm. Or by 9:59 pm. This all adds up to me hanging out at the office till midnight to pull the report together.

But I'm being too cranky about it. This needs some positive uplifting. Ok. Fine. I'll rename OCIT to "Oh Christmas It's Thursday!" And yes, Christmas, simply because it starts with C. And no, it doesn't make sense. Let me know if you can come up with a better alternative.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Chinese way of choking on a fish bone

I choked on a 2 1/2 inch fish bone last night.

My friends made me drink a whole bowl of vinegar because apparently that would soften the bones. Some even tried shoving rice into my mouth to make me swallow it. But it was still there, burning my throat. I alternated between gagging and gasping for air. Eventually, one friend insisted on taking me to the ER to pull it out.

The doctor at the ER was not thrilled that we came in because he was going to get off work in 20 minutes. He checked and told me that there was hope because he could see the bone. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "It will be 31 RMB ($5 USD) and you'll have to pay up first."

I gasped some more. As I was about to hold out the money, he stopped me and said that he was sorry because the IT system just crashed, which meant that he couldn't print out the pay slip. Without the pay slip, I couldn't pay downstairs. Without a payment receipt, I could not receive treatment.

I offered give him a deposit. I offered to give him a little extra. But I still had to keep choking for forty minutes while he hung out with the IT guy. He even told me not to worry about it because I wouldn't die. After the IT system was up and running, he seemed to remember me and then pulled the bone out in two minutes. Perhaps because of the delay, the lady downstairs gave me a 1 RMB discount. Great.

That said, I was lucky. While I was sitting there, another lady hurried in because she swallowed a fish bone too. But apparently she tried to eat too much rice and did too great of a job pushing it down -- now she had to get a tube stuck down her throat. Or do a mini operation.


p.s. I went on my first work trip to Shanghai today. So interesting!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kindergarten Love

I first fell in love in kindergarten.
He was dark, with really nice teeth. He always handed me the coloring pencils. I told my mom that I was going to marry him.

Then she transferred to our class. And she liked sitting next to him too.

I tattle taled and got her into trouble. She missed the school picnic and stood in the corner for the rest of the day. (Don't worry, I later met the same fate.)

Twelve years later, I sat in my Math class telling one of my best friends about my kindergarten fling. Her eyes opened wide and we realized that she was that girl. The girl in the corner. She went home and brought our kindergarten school photo and we pointed to the same set of teeth at the same time.

He was cute, I tell you.


I think that is why I can absolutely empathize with my boss's daughter. She likes me, but she thinks I'm stealing her boyfriend. She's six. And she's telling her mom that there are "too many girls around the house" whenever I come.

Well, at least she's playing fair.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Sexy Interview

The boys at the office noticed her tight dress.

I noticed her tooth. A singular jagged canine that hangs out when her lips are pursed.

I never thought I would say this, but we were actually interviewing a sexy Nanny McPhee.

She was a salesperson who wants to be our COO assistant. But it's a pity because she's obviously very good at her sales job.

She bragged about her tactics. Since most of her work involved cold calling clients, she would often "accidentally" mention her QQ number (China's MSN equivalent) so that the clients could chat with her online. Where, of course, they would see her picture. And then talk some more.

At around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m., she would switch her computer's time clock to 10:30 p.m. and then email her clients. And casually drop in a post script about how she's so lonely at the office because she's slaving away on client X's project. But she didn't mind because she would be going back to an empty apartment anyways.

At the end of the interview (I was translating), she looked at me and asked me to flatter my boss for her.

I was shocked. She even outsourced her sucking up.

And yet, I liked her. Those sales people are dangerous.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I never thought this day would come. I actually want to get my driver's license.

Perhaps it's because I have absolutely no need for it right now. Or that my parents think it's impossibly dangerous since most people often casually drive on the wrong side on the road and try to edge you out on the highway.

Either way, I finally got over my fear of driving and asked around about driving courses in Suzhou.

Instead, I was given tips on finding the right guys to take the test for me. And their prices.

Apparently, a friend spent RMB 5500 (roughly $780) in Shanghai and still didn't get her license. Another bargained hard and only spent RMB 1800 in Suzhou. The third just laughed and boasted that he went on a trip to Xinjiang (Western province in China) and got his license while driving around blindly in the desert.

Maybe I'll stick to my driving practice at the arcade.*

* To be honest, I did try driving once, two years ago. I got pulled over.