Tuesday, March 27, 2012

China Lab: Creative Minds and Inquisitive Spirits

There were at least 40 people. I couldn’t see how big the crowd was as we were at least 50 feet away when we turned back. The protesters had multiple signs and were blocking a big intersection in Xi’an. Still in the car, I asked our iMBA partner if this was a common event in Xi’an. He told me if it were common, he wouldn’t know as news channels were not allowed to report on protesters. End of the conversation about this event. We were too far away to even know what the fuzz was about. No more questions were asked.
Experiencing the richness of a millenary culture has been a humbling experience for me. The food, the music, the architecture, the language and more importantly: the spirit and the resilience of people who are more than just past and present—they are future. There are over 1.3 billion people in China and among them—I believe—thousands and thousands of poets, writers, painters, thinkers, journalists, musicians: artists and intellectuals who live and act with no regard of conventional rules of behaviors. As we took a turn in our way to meet our client that morning, I couldn’t keep from wondering—Where are they? How long could this last? How long can these creative minds and inquisitive spirits be contained?

We arrived to our client and as we were presenting the initial data from our employee’s survey, something started bothering me. When we confidently said that 80% of the people agree or strongly agree with the statement “I feel comfortable approaching my direct supervisor when something is bothering me” as a highlight, I couldn’t keep but questioning our own data. Was this true? Were people comfortable expressing their opinions? We made sure the surveys were distributed and answered anonymously. There was no way to keep track of the answers to specific individuals. I had zero evidence to think otherwise. I decided not to bring the topic to the conversation and we kept the flow. The presentation ended and we started drafting our next set of goals for the project. No more questions were asked.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

China Lab: Showing Face vs Saving Face

After our 30-hours long journey, the rough but promising sound of the baggage carousel at the Xi’an International Airport stopped along with our hopes of seeing our luggage. Being the only people left waiting, two concerned but helpful ladies approached to us. “Before arriving to Beijing, we flew from from Newark”—we told them. After a short but vivid discussion in Mandarin, they started walking away with our tickets: we decided to follow.

They entered a small room behind a lackluster customer service stand. We couldn’t see anything happening: no computers, no phones, no smiley faces---just a tall counter and some papers floating. I’m a very relaxed and patient person, but I started to doubt something was going to happen. The ladies were outside of my sight and no one was telling me “We’re working on this”, “Everything is going to be all right” or at least an acknowledgement that “We deal with these situations all the time”.

Ten minutes later, they came out of the small room: “We couldn’t communicate with Beijing”—they said. We filled out a complicated paper form and were told: “We will contact you later with more information”. We asked for estimated contact time, probabilities that the luggage was going to arrive the next day, or next steps. We received a blank stare and a simple but concise “We will contact you later with more information”.

That night, we reached our host in Xi’an and told her about our incident—as we provided her phone number as our contact number. We asked her to keep us updated as soon as she knew something. No answer for the next 10 hours. We asked the reception at the hotel to check with the airport if there were news about our luggage. No answer. Sigh.

When we saw our host for lunch, she calmly told us after some minutes of small talk: "Everything is fixed. Your luggage will arrive tonight. We already arranged the transportation to the hotel". This is when I remember our coach explaining to us the differences between “showing face” and “saving face”. I get it now.

We are used to be told what exactly is happening behind the curtains, to have the ability to track the status of every process we enter, and to have a smiley face holding our hands while we impatiently wait. Things may not work out at the end, but seeing the hard work during the process is very comforting and I like it, at least, I think I like it. I wonder now—wouldn’t be more comforting to know that things will work out at the end with no idea of what’s happening in between? I’m still trying to decide.

I am in China now.