Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What it's like to work for a Chinese company

Thanks to a lead from my college Chinese teacher, I found a job as a business analyst at a technology company in a suburb of Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city. From the outside, the cheery corporate campus with glass buildings seemed straight out of Palo Alto or Mountain View, Calif. Inside, the cubicles and fluorescent lights were familiar, but it never felt normal to work in a Chinese office.

After two or three months, though, my life settled into a routine. The day started at 8:30, and we all worked until noon, when Kenny G’s saxophone cover of the Chinese classic “Jasmine Flower” over the intercom announced lunch. We would line up at the canteen to buy a cheap plate of oily lotus root and “meat” that appeared to be just chunks of bone and fat.

Nap time was at 1. My whole team would pull cots out from under their desks, tuck in their blankets (one woman even brought a stuffed pig) and sleep until 1:30, when the mournful arpeggios of Richard Clayderman’s easy-listening piano masterpiece “A Comme Amour” signaled the start of the second work period.

Sometimes, in the seconds before I regained consciousness, I would forget where I was; I would look out my window, see the rows of identical blue glass office buildings and feel a deep, existential panic. But then I’d open my Lenovo ThinkPad laptop and drink a NescafĂ© instant coffee, and I’d be back in the anesthetic glow of Microsoft Office, where everything had a purpose. At 5:30, Kenny G’s “Going Home” announced the end of the day. ...

[My coworker] Jack complained about China, but not about censorship, pollution or human rights. What bothered him were housing prices. Jack had a good job, but to be successful you needed a wife, and to get a wife you needed a house. But a two-bedroom condominium cost $300,000 to $2 million, and prices kept rising, fueled by real estate speculation. So Jack simmered in his cubicle for years, saving for his ticket to marital happiness that remained just out of reach.

It occurred to me that this was an ingenious method of social control.

I lived in the company dormitory, along with the other unmarried workers, in a half-empty “development zone” called Science City. There was nothing to do there and nowhere to eat except the dreaded canteen and an unappetizing fast-food restaurant.

Unlike Jack, most of the workers didn’t own cars, and to reach the city took an hour on the bus, which became so full that it was harder to breathe on board. So my co-workers spent most of their free time alone in their rooms.

Living this way seemed like a slow spiritual death...
--Samuel Massie, NYT, on corporate purgatory