After a weekend to adapt, I had my first day at work this Monday. I didn’t really do a good job at adapting to my surroundings, so Monday morning, when my alarm went on at 5:45am, I was still jet lagged, and had developed a cold because of the extremely dry air. Maybe the air condition that I wasn’t used to added to the dry air – or the smog. Still I tried to shape up, on my first working day in a suit!
A Japanese colleague who lives across the floor from me picked me up and showed me to the VIP bus that shuttles the experts to the office in the morning. In the office, my translator ‘Jim’ met me in the lobby to show me the office. My desk is in a big room of around 80 people – all arranged neatly in cubicles.
I was a bit surprised to realize that my translator did not clock in with his ID card, as I was used to. He held his face in front of a camera at the office entrance to have his face scanned. I am undecided between seeing this as innovative, or strangely restrictive. Since it was my first day, I did not have to check in like everyone else. But Jim already told me, he would ask someone to store my face in the system, so I could also ‘benefit’ from it.
Let me take that chance to introduce you to Jim. He is 29 years old and just graduated from the local university. His major was English and he just started to work 3 months ago. He graduated late because he started late. He first went to school at age 9, because his village is in the mountains and it wasn’t easy to go to school. He is a good guy, but he is very new to working with foreigners. When he translates, sometimes he burps a little and sometimes he speaks while eating. Not that his English would be easy to understand without the eating. But the real challenge is that he has no clue about IT or marketing. That makes it a bit difficult to communicate. Let’s see if it gets better in the next few days.
Another highlight of my Monday was the elevator rule. So I work in the office building at floor 11. However, there is an elevator rule saying that you are only allowed to use the elevator on floors 8 or 13. So we go to the elevator, get out at 13, and walk down 2 flights. When leaving the office, we walk down to 8th floor, and take the elevator to the 1st floor (which in China is ground floor).
This company has many surprises in stock. When I asked for Internet and email to be set up, I got Internet access quite easily. Email however is a concept of communication that is not very widely spread here. There is one email adress for the entire department. Everyone uses a chat programme called ‘feiqiu’ to communicate and send files around. Okay, messengers aren’t bad – I was quite happy to have that tool in my last job, but no email? I asked Jim to request a personal email for me. When he filled out the form, he asked me what to write as the “reason” for this request. This took me by surprise and I was at a lack of words. We put in “communicate” as a reason. Let’s hope that request goes through.
Going to lunch, Jim let me in on the ‘single file regulation’ as well – if the colleagues go to the big mess hall, they need to go in a single file. At first, this sounded very crazy to me, but remembering how Chinese queue at ticket counters it might not be a bad idea to regulate how hundreds of people enter the mess hall. I am not unhappy to have dinner in the quiet reception area with some other foreigners (98% Koreans and Japanese) and some senior management.
I don’t have a heavy workload these first days, as I am getting to know everything. And as everything is in Chinese, it all has to go through Jim, who by the way also is responsible for translating the little paper cards with the food description for the foreigners’ dining hall. So Jim is busy with translating and I am idling around trying out what websites are not blocked by either the Great firewall of China or company policy. Once in a while, I tell Jim to add another question to his list. Sometimes I need to explain to him what certain things are. Brand guidelines, or content editing system did not mean much to him.
I was quite overwhelmed, when I had my welcome dinner with the head of IT and human resources. There was simply too much to process on Day 1, so I was quite happy to finally reach home. My first day was packed with surprises, both good and strange ones. It certainly feels like an adventure is beginning.