This is Not a Joke

Man, if I’d known you could get paid $1,000 a week to play Big Foreign Boss I wouldn’t have done it for free! From The Atlantic:

Rent a White Guy

Confessions of a fake businessman from Beijing


NOT LONG AGO I was offered work as a quality-control expert with an American company in China I’d never heard of. No experience necessary—which was good, because I had none. I’d be paid $1,000 for a week, put up in a fancy hotel, and wined and dined in Dongying, an industrial city in Shandong province I’d also never heard of. The only requirements were a fair complexion and a suit.

“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”

I was.

And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”

Read the full piece here.

This Year I’m Springing for Wellingtons

A peaceful weekend.

The rainy season is in full force here, but that didn’t stop me and RP from taking a much needed break from work and our little city to spend the weekend hanging out in the hot springs of nearby Anning – I challenge you to name a better way to relax than sitting in an overly hot pool of lime green water vaguely scented with mint. We get the stupidly cheap package that allows you to sit in the springs all day, get your feet massaged and then get a VERY vigorous scrub down in the changing rooms by a kindly woman wearing exfoliating gloves. (You will be all red, but very soft, at the end.)

A quick detour here to discuss nakedness in China (I’m sure you’re curious!): As modest as the sexes are around one another in public, when things are gender segregated in a locker room people let it all hang out. I actually find it very comforting; people stand around naked, a little towel thrown over their shoulder, laughin’ and scratchin’ (as my dad would say). No one tries to hide their bodies, and no one appears to be embarrassed, unlike similar situations in the US. (Why is it that I know how to change from street clothes to a bathing suit without baring any skin?! So unnecessary.) Take note, America: it’s really so much nicer when you’re not ashamed of your body.


The weekend was made all the better since we got to stay in a mysterious and empty hotel (hotels in China are often empty – the mysterious part was the suit of armor guarding the rickety wooden staircase lined with faux-Euro oil paintings) totally free of charge. Something about the father of one of RP’s friends having good guanxi with the hotel owner. My new motto in China is: Don’t question it, just say thank you.

On top of that, RP and I took out an entire barbecued chicken basically in one sitting, walked through the woods in the pouring rain, and zipped back to Kunming in time for a home viewing of Reds and a very rare dinner meticulously cooked on our hot plate. (Have I mentioned that we don’t have a kitchen so we never eat meals at home? Seeing me stirring a pot over here is like spotting a jackalope.)

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting very much – life has been quiet and busy. I’m working hard and RP is writing his book. In between we’re hosting visiting friends and making wedding plans, and I’m realizing that I’ve seen this season before, which means that soon I’ll have been in China for one year. More on that as the anniversary approaches.

In the mean time I’m enjoying the many new and strange sights brought on by the damp weather, like this guy, who didn’t think a lightening storm was any reason not to tote a motorcyleful of inflated balloons through the streets:

Happy Father’s Day everyone! Dad, all of these are for you:

Caution: Haiku Ahead

In honor of the end of a very long week, I have composed a spot of poetry for your enjoyment! This is inspired by a tea break that I spent staring out the window of my office while it rained today:

A Kunming rainstorm.
Is that thunder I hear? Nope.
Buildings being chai’ed.

Oh, Kunming. Happy Weekend…

A Quick Reminder on Doing Business in China

Today, representatives from one of my org’s major foreign donors came to visit our project site in Kunming. We had diligently gathered various local partners and friends of our projects at the site to meet the VIP donors and it mostly went very well, with everyone shaking hands and making nice with one another despite the language barriers.

The exception to this was one of the VIP donors, who met with a roomful of our local partners and, for some mysterious reason, kept her back to the partners in half of the room for the whole visit. She didn’t look them in the eye and didn’t address questions to them, and left the meeting without appearing to notice what might be wrong with this strategy.

After she left, the Chinese staff were in an uproar about how unbelievably rude this was and made hearty apologies to the local partners, explaining that she’s just a foreigner and foreigners clearly don’t understand how to interact with Chinese people.

(Personally, I think this would have been rude anywhere in the world, but considering the absolute importance of building relationships in order to get anything done in China, it was a particularly bad move over here. I saw a government official storm out of a conference room once because a foreign visitor hosting the meeting had failed to introduce the official with appropriate pomp.)

Some of our staff members approached me after this meeting to let me know that they would be buying lots of fruit and gifts to send to these partners ASAP, in order to salvage the relationship. So my little lesson to you today is this: if you’re considering doing business in China, assume that everyone you meet is an important partner deserving of your respect (or at least your eye contact for goodness sake…).

At the very least you’ll save yourself the cost of a whole lot of fruit.

Friday Love List

I know it’s Sunday, but I think I need to get back into the Love List habit to keep me from getting too bratty about life. So here’s a brief list of things to take note of my love for this week:

  • 杨梅 yangmei (“yahng-may”). I believe this is called a bayberry in English. No matter what you call it, it’s been the season for this fruit in Kunming for a few weeks now and it is absolutely my new favorite fruit. It’s a little sweet, a little tart, smaller than a pingpong ball and very juicy. They’re a little pricey if you buy them in a dedicated fruit shop, but cheap if you buy them from guys on the street.
  • The new Kunming Farmer’s Market. If you’ve been to a farmer’s market in, say, Berkeley, then you’re not going to be too impressed by this – but take my word for it when I tell you that the new KMG farmer’s market, to be held the first Sunday of every month, is a cool thing. It’s held in Cat’s Cradle Cafe and features people selling organic produce and other organic/homemade/crafty/insert-buzzword-here stuff. It’s very cute and grassrootsy and I got a nice pair of earrings and some organic eggs out of it.
  • The amount of tea paraphernalia available at the Kunming Tea Market. Now, I can’t claim to love the Tea Market itself, since it is a sprawling, permanently under construction, perennially empty affair. But! They have the most amazing amount of not only tea, but accessories to go with tea – tea cups, tea pots, wooden tools and trays for more traditionally Chinese tea serving, huge numbers of ridiculous little clay creatures that you are meant to pour tea over at the beginning of serving for good luck, furniture on which you should sit and drink tea, cabinets for displaying your tea accessories – you get the idea. It’s staggering. Click photos below for full album of Tea Market.

    Pour tea over these for good luck

And, most importantly:

  • My friend V. She and I worked together, hung out together, travelled to Burma together and saw each other practically every day for almost a year. Yesterday was her last day in Kunming before going back to the States. Kunming’s loss is Seattle’s gain. <sniff> Here are friends A, BirdAbroad, V and P on V’s last night in town.