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U.S. job seeker Samuel Massie’s growth in China: from newbie to professional

美国打工仔在中国.jpg

Like many of my classmates, I wanted to "make a difference" when I graduated from college. Then the Great Recession hit. My idealism turned to panic as interview after interview ended in rejection.

大学毕业时,我和许多同学一样,想“有所作为”。但不久受到了美国经济危机的打击。随着一次又一次的面试以拒信告终,我的理想主义转为恐慌。

Then I read an article that said the Chinese economy had grown 9 percent in 2008. The jobs had all gone to China, apparently, so why not follow them? Over a few months, I saved enough from my part-time catering job to book a flight to Beijing.

后来,我读了一篇文章,说中国经济2008年增长了9%。显然,就业岗位全都去了中国,为什么不跟着去呢?几个月时间里,靠承办聚会、宴会餐饮的兼职工作,我攒够了去往北京的机票钱。

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.

得益于大学中文老师的指引,在广州郊区一家技术公司,我找到了一份商业分析师的工作。广州是中国第三大城市。从外表来看,这个拥有玻璃建筑物并让人快乐的企业园区似乎与加利福尼亚的帕洛阿尔托或山景市毫无差别。里面的小隔间和荧光灯看起来也很熟悉,但是,坐在中国的办公室里工作却一点也没有正常感。

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.

然而,两三个月后,我的生活逐渐步入常规。工作日从8点半开始,我们一直工作到中午,届时,广播中会传出肯尼·基用萨克斯演奏的中国古典名曲《茉莉花》,宣布午餐时间的到来。我们会在食堂排队购买便宜的午饭,比如油腻的藕片和似乎只有骨头块和肥油的“肉”。

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.

午睡时间是下午1点。我所在办工室的所有人都会从桌子下面拉出床垫,盖上被子(一名女员工甚至还抱着了一个毛绒猪)睡到下午1点半,到了时候,理查德·克莱德曼的舒缓钢琴曲《秋日私语》的悲伤琶音会标志着下半个工作日的开始。

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 Nescafé 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.

有时候,在我恢复意识的前几秒钟里,我会忘记我在哪里;我会眼望窗外,看到成排的、一模一样的蓝色玻璃办公大楼,感到一种深深的存在恐慌。但之后,我会打开我的联想ThinkPad笔记本电脑,喝上雀巢速溶咖啡,回到Microsoft Office的麻木工作中来。下午5点半,肯尼·基的《回家》宣布一天工作的结束。

I enjoyed being a professional foreigner on top of my usual responsibilities. Since I was the lone American in the office, some saw in me an opportunity to provide an international flavor. I appeared in a corporate recruitment video shaking hands and conducting fake meetings. At different times, I also served as an M.C., translator and singer. At the peak of my foreigner career, I sang for 2,000 factory workers at a Chinese New Year gala organized by the Communist Party.

我享受将充当职业老外的工作放在所有日常责任之上。由于我是办公室里唯一的美国人,有人在我身上看到了一个给公司添加国际味道的机会。我出现在企业招聘视频里,与人握手、假装开会。有的时候,我还担任过主持人、翻译和歌手。在我职业老外生涯的巅峰,在共产党主办的中国新年晚会上,我给2000名工厂工人唱过歌。

The first friend I made was Jack, a nerdy but self-confident product manager. On Saturdays, he would pick me up in his car, a Chinese-made Chery QQ, and we would drive to the public swimming pool. We would do a few laps, though the pool was so full that we could never swim in a straight line. Afterward we would drive to an outdoor seafood restaurant, order some fish and beer, pull up plastic stools and talk.

我结识的第一个朋友是杰克,他是一个有点书呆子气、但颇为自信的产品经理。到了周六,他会开着中国国产的奇瑞QQ来接我。我们会开到一个公共游泳池去。在那里,我们会游上几个来回,但因为游泳池里人非常多,我们永远无法游出一条直线。之后,我们会开车到一个露天海鲜餐厅,点上一些鱼和啤酒,坐在塑料凳子上聊天。

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.

杰克对中国常有抱怨,但不是关于审查、环境污染和人权问题。令他不满的是住房价格。杰克有一个很好的工作,但要想成功,你需要有个妻子;要想娶妻,你需要先有房子。但是,一套两间卧室的公寓售价可高达30万至200万美元,而且,在房地产投机的煽动下,房价不断上涨。就这样,杰克在办公隔间里长年任劳任怨,为自己的婚姻幸福积累财富,但幸福却仍是遥不可及。

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

我突然意识到,这是控制社会的一个巧妙方法。

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.

我和其他未婚的员工一样,住在公司宿舍里,在名为科学城的、一片半空的“开发区”。那里没有别的事情可做,没有吃饭的地方,除了可怕的食堂和难吃的快餐店。

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.

大部分员工和杰克不同,他们没有自己的车,乘公交去城里要花一个小时的时间,乘公交的人多到让人在车上难以呼吸的程度。所以,我的同事们的大多数空闲时间是在他们房间里独自一人度过的。

Living this way seemed like a slow spiritual death, and it caused me to come up with an anonymous employee satisfaction survey.

这种生活看似慢性精神死亡,这促使我做了一件事:搞一次员工满意程度的匿名调查。

It contained 15 multiple-choice questions about food, housing, salary, benefits and company culture. I found a website to host it, posted the URL on the company bulletin board and drafted a mass email to workers. I took a deep breath and clicked “Send.”

这份调查包括15道多选题,内容涉及食物,住房,薪水,福利和公司文化。我把问卷放在了一个自己创建的网站上,然后把网址贴在了公司布告栏,并起草了一封群邮。我深呼吸了一口气,然后点下了“发送”键。

Within 10 minutes, a man from human resources arrived at my desk. He showed me to an empty conference room and asked me to delete the message and shut down the website.

不到十分钟,一个人力资源部的男士就来到了我桌前。他把我带到了一间没人的会议室里,要求我把邮件信息删掉,并且把网站关掉。

But I was determined to use my status as a professional foreigner to make a difference, and I kept the survey up. I received around 300 responses. One employee wrote:

但是我下定了决心,要用自己职业老外的身份来改变现状,所以就继续做我的调查。我收到了大概300份回复。其中一个员工写到:

“Too many men, not enough women, not enough basketball courts!”

“男人太多,女人不够,篮球场不够!”

Another wrote:

另一个员工则写到:

“1. On the surface, overtime is voluntary, but in fact there are implied standards for overtime. If you do less overtime one month, then the next month your boss will have a talk with you, your overtime stats in hand.

“1. 表面上加班是自愿的,但事实上存在一些隐性标准。如果这个月班加少了,那么老板下个月就会手持你的加班数据,找你谈话。”

“2. The canteen food is dreadful, severely impacting employee health.

“2. 食堂的食物太糟糕,严重影响员工的健康。”

“3. The salary isn’t especially high, and they decrease our benefits year to year.”

“3. 薪水不是特别高,而且还逐年减少我们的福利。”

It seemed as if I would get away with my survey until my boss called me into his office. “Look, people will always be unhappy,” he said. “We can’t serve them foie gras every day. It looks like you’re putting a wedge between the employees and the company. They want to preserve harmony.”

一度看起来,我不会因为这次调查遭受不良影响。不过后来老板把我叫到了他的办公室。“听着,人们总是会有不满意的地方,”他说道,“但是我们没法每天都给他们提供鹅肝酱。你这样看起来好像是在挑拨公司和员工的关系。他们想要的是维护融洽的氛围。”

He said he would vouch for me if I wrote a letter of apology to management. I agreed, but attached my survey results as “compensation for the trouble I had caused.” I signed a meaningless admission of wrongdoing and took down my survey. I continued working at the company for another year.

他说如果我给管理部门写一封道歉信,就会保我没事。我同意了,不过把我的调查结果也附带着给交了,就当是给我闯的“祸”做个“补偿”。我为自己的过错写下了一份没有意义的检讨书,然后终止了我的调查。之后我又继续在公司里工作了一年。

Looking back, I can see that I was imagining myself as the hero — I would sweep in, challenge authority and rescue the workers.

回首过往,我看得出以前我把自己当成了一个英雄。想象着自己横空出世,挑战权威,拯救员工。

But to change anything in a new cultural context, and doubly so in China, you need to understand the people involved, their motivations and the reasons things got the way they are. That takes time and patience.

但是要在新的文化环境下改变任何事物,特别是在中国,你需要了解所牵涉到的人,他们的动机,以及事情的由来。这是需要花费时间和耐性的。

An American company, too, would object if a worker distributed a survey to the whole company without permission, and in the end, my company was quite forgiving. And management did eventually overhaul the cafeteria and introduce an employee bonus plan, though I don’t know whether my survey was the cause.

如果一个员工在没有得到允许的情况下,在全公司发放调查问卷,那么即使是美国公司也会不同意。最后,我的公司还是很宽宏大量。管理部门最后确实也整改了食堂,并且引入了员工奖金计划。不过我不知道这是不是我的问卷起了作用。

Nevertheless, the survey episode taught me that I could use data and a few good questions to tackle problems, and I’ve been an analyst even since, working in Hong Kong; Boston; Jakarta, Indonesia; and now Shanghai to help global companies solve problems.

尽管如此,问卷的事件让我明白,数据和一些好的问题可以用来解决难题。自此以后,我成为了一名分析师,在香港,波士顿,雅加达和印度尼西亚都工作过,目前则在上海帮助一些国际公司解决难题。

More important, it taught me that the most critical step isn’t to “make a difference,” but to understand. It’s a principle I’ve tried to apply ever since — in China, in global business and in life in general.

更重要的是,这件事让我明白,最重要的方法不是“改变现状”,而是要去了解。自此以后,不管是在中国,还是在国际业务中,亦或是在生活里,这成了我一直都在奉行的一条原则。

2016-06-24

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