Mozambique – The Indoor experience

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One of the most annoying things when travelling is not being able to visit the most famous landmarks of your destination. In the case of my trip to Mozambique, I did not manage to see anything expect the hotel. We were told not to adventure ourselves outside the hotel as it was not safe for young girls to go alone. So my colleague Eva and I stayed our whole stay in Mozambique trapped in the hotel covering a conference.

The worst thing of working in a male-dominated environment is that sometimes you think that what awaits you outside cannot be worse that the creeps that surround you inside the hotel. As it always happens, there is an old guy who treats like if you were his secretary and does not get it when you politely tell him that you are not there to assist him.

The creep that I am talking about kept coming to my colleague and I with lots of requests. Could you untangle my UBS cord? Could you dial this number for me? and other things…We obviously told the creep that we were not PAs but journalist. The creep wasnt impressed but he promised to give us some juicy information. And as he said, he came back while my colleague and I were typing our stories. The creep inhaled deeply and got ready to blurt out his scoop…. There´s going to be huge inflation in Angola.

My colleague and I looked at each other thinking it was a joke. But the Creep was also looking at us expecting some kind of excitement. Instead, we kept typing our stories. The Creep, who was shocked, asked us why we were not writing what he just told us. Well, we could have told the Creep that he had missed the latest statistics that situated Angola as one of the places with highest inflation in the world but it was not really worth it.

 

The Creep was not happy about our decision and decided to stay looking at our screens. “So, you are not going to write about it?” Given that I am getting used to dealing with Asperger people, I told him that of course we would write about it, but later in the day. The manipulation of the truth worked and The Creep left. However, after a few minutes The Creep came back. “It looks like I am trapped in the hotel, I have to meet some more people now. Have you started to work on the Angola thing?” . At that point, our patience was disappearing and my knowledge on the treatment of Asperger started to show its limitations. Luckily, the people he was meeting showed up and the creep was taken away.

But the Creep was not the most disgusting person we met at the hotel. There was also a British Diplomat who scored 10 in being the most undiplomatic person I have ever met. While I was waiting for my colleague to arrive at my table, he asked if I minded him sitting with us. Of course I told him to please sit down but I regretted it five minutes later, The service at the hotel was excellent so while we were waiting for the food to come, they kept asking me if I wanted a drink as I only had water. I said that I was fine but they came three times to make sure I was being served, The Undiplomat laughed at the waiters and called them stupid.

I obviously apologised to the waiters as I found his behaviour shameful. The Undiplomat was annoyed at what I did and started asking me questions in a condescendent way. I could not be less bothered to keep talking to him and took my phone out pretending that I was working when I was actually checking Facebook. He continued to be unpleasant to the other people in the table but at least I did not have to talk to him.

Back at the conference, I saw the perfect opportunity to get back at him.  I was waiting for my colleague to come so I kept looking at the door. Let me tell you that the Conference was about mining and I caught the Undiplomat showing how to dig for materials. He was picking his nose and actually really going for it. Good that I didnt shake his hand back in the table. I could embarrass him now so I kept looking at him. But I had to turn back because one the Portuguese guys thought I was looking at him and sexily winked at me. In order to avoid more unrest, I sat down quietly looking at my computer for the remaining of the conference.

The flight back home was not great either. I was really looking forward to finishing the Star Treck movie but my screen was not working. The BA assistant who was a mix between SpongeBob and Alan Carr promised to fix it but he didnt manage to. SpongeBob said he could not upgrade me as the plane was full and that I will have to make a formal complaint when we landed. As a compensation he decided to get my colleague and I as drunk as he could. SpongeBob kept bringing cocktails to us and after two hours we were completely drunk which had a incredibly good sedative effect. I felt asleep and knocked my drink over me. Luckily, my drink was a gin tonic but my colleague had done exactly the same thing with her red wine.  Still drunk I laughed at the fact that things evaporate so fast on planes, although the whole thing wasnt that funny. I tried to look for the glass, where  could I  have sent it to? It was a proper glass and not a plastic one so it couldnt have travelled that far. I stood up and started looking for it in the corridor but then I was tired and thought that I would find it in the morning, After a few hours and with my senses back, I realised that the glass had landed in the old woman´s seat next to me. She was asleep so she didnt notice. I was too embarrass to tell her anything so I kept quiet and told SpongeBob that it was enough with the drinks.

We landed safe and sound at 7 am in the morning and it was out of the question that the Grinch would give me the day off. So I had a quick shower and went back to deal with the Asperger that I know.

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On How the Corporate Grinch Tried to Steal X-Mas

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I have always been very lucky in my working life as all my bosses have been very nice people. But what happens when you actually have to face the so-called office Grinch? Because there is always someone in your working life that wants to turn your life into hell. Well, there is nothing you can do about it except telling your family and friends about your attempted office co-existence with the Grinch. And when that is not enough, you can always start a post telling everyone about the Grinch and hoping he will never read it.

The Grinch is a weird man and I havent yet figured out if he is also a mean person, although everything indicates that he is. The Grinch will NEVER explain how to do things but he will take for granted that everyone knows what he is thinking. The Grinch will get annoyed and will roll his eyes at any attempt of sensible question that someone may pose. The Grinch will also cut any conversation by saying “You know what I am talking about” when it is obvious that nobody knows what he is on about. But the worst thing the Grinch will do is trying to steal Christmas. As part of his Grinchish nature, the Grinch will refuse to approve your X-mas holidays  even if you are entitled to them. Instead, the Grinch will say that he needs to think about it and he will spend over a month to reach a decision. At the time of the publication of this post, the Grinch hadnt made a final decision. And it doesnt look promising. 

 

There are many things one can put up with, but ruining Xmas is just not one of them. Given that I have the suspicion that The Grinch suffers from some severe form of autism or Asperger syndrome, I tried to be understanding. However, the Grinch really makes it difficult for others to feel any kind of sympathy. The Grinch will enjoy sending you impossible tasks and knowing that you will not be able to perform. Read the next examples to understand the Grinch´s evil mind.

– The Grinch will give you 20 pages of German macro data in German and will ask you to write sth on it. God Bless Google Translate.

– The Grinch will send you on your second day of work to a conference on Mozambique. He would then expect you to become best pals with the Ministers of the country. Result: Shamefully failed at it.

– The Grinch, thinking that you hadnt had enough of Mozambique does send you to Africa in your third week so you can fail at your second attempt to become best friends with the Foreign Ministers of the country. The Grinch will insist in you meeting Indian traders when there are no Indian traders at the conference. The Grinch will show his disappointed when informed that you couldnt meet the non-existent Indian people.

– The Grinch will leave you alone in the office in the second week, while he is in the Far East doing who knows what. Given that he is away and your other colleague is on holiday, you will be left in charge when you actually dont know how to do anything.

– The Grinch will use the term, You are not alone in this, to actually mean “you are going to be alone in this, sooooo alone”.

– The Grinch decided to send you to Germany for Christmas to meet some traders. The Grinch finally changed the date, not because you reminded him that you have some unapproved holidays planned but because you kindly reminded him that the people he wanted you to meet most probably dont work over xmas.

– The Grinch will say congratulations to you and will shake your hand. Dont be mistaken, The Grinch is shaking his own hand, he just wanted to let you know that HE has done something right and you should congratulate him. So, it will be never about you. In fact, dont even expect a compliment. The Grinch only cares about his own success.

– The Grinch will only ask you to do macro data and work with numbers, even if you told him that you are rubbish at maths. He would have prepared all sorts of conversions and mathematical mind games for your entertainment.

But despite his evil plans, I am determined to celebrate my Christmas, The Grinch will not take my holidays away!

Packing

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Here it comes what I fear the most: Packing! It really does not matter how I organize myself to do it. I always fail and I end up looking like the mule/donkey (not sure which animal it was) in the film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Here I am again packing for my comeback to China. But I am also spending the next two months travelling around Thailand, Myanmar and Korea, so I had to add stuff that I was not planning to.  But then I need to take some things with me that might not sound useful but that I am refusing to take out, like….

a mop, a mop replacement, two toilet disinfectants, half a kilo of bread crumbs, a book of 1840 cooking recipes, 10 tins containing food, 10 packages containing food, 5 jars containing food…

Yes and there is no room for negotiation here. I am taking that stuff because I need it. I also need to add a sleeping bag, presents, 2 bottles of moschito repellent, drugs (the legal ones), creams, clothes, more food and books (heavy books)

 

So it can´t be helped… Once again I am the mule/Donkey of Sierra Madre…. I just hope customs will not open my suitcase…

 

 

 

 

The Truth About China II: Doing (Dirty) Business in China

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The number of corporations that are going East is increasing at an astonishing pace, but is investing in China as profitable as it appears to be?  Investors trying to find an opportunity to open their business in the country should reconsider it. China is most likely to face political turmoil and financial instability in the coming years. 

During the 18th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),  the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) , Hu Jintao, warned that corruption could be fatal to the CCP. Hu also added that China faced a period of major change and complicated domestic and international circumstances.

Mr Hu and his Party are aware that these changes are already taking place. A few years ago, it was not common to meet people who criticised the CCP. The reason for this was not fear but political indifference. Politics were overshadowed by Economics. Political dissidents were a minority formed by intellectuals, artists and people directly affected by corruption. Most Chinese were not really interested in Politics. However, now that things are getting tougher and with inflation going through the roof, people are becoming more vocal.  And expressions of discontentmet are no longer kept quiet.

And here is the funny thing about dictatorships, everyone is willing to break the rules. Because in China, the rules are for people to break. Anyone that is interested in investing in China should learn that he/she will always be a loser. Despite the commitments that China assumed with its entry in the World Trade Organization, Chinese regulation is a death trap for foreign companies. Entering China´s market means that you have to play by the house rules that are, in most cases, stacked in Beijing’s favor.

Spain´s wind turbine maker, Gamesa, has already learned the lesson. When Gamesa decided to operate in China, the regulation forced it to have its components produced by local players.  These local suppliers copied the parts and sold them to the Chinese competitors for cheaper prices. When Gamesa first entered the wind turbine market it controlled more than a third of the Chinese market, now its market share is only 3%. In addition to transfering its technology for free, Gamesa also had to put up with local competitors benefitting from low-interest loans and cheap land from the government, as well as preferential contracts from the state-owned power companies. The strategy followed by Chinese companies of acquiring the latest Western technology and then take advantage of government policies can be applied to every sector.

Another interesting example of the difficulties of doing business in China are the Danone vs Wahaha disputes. Danone, one of the world´s largest food producers, entered China when it was compulsory for foreign companies to enter market through an alliance with a local partner. It made sense that Danone chose Wahaha, the largest beverage company in China, to create its joint venture in the country.  When the Chinese regulation changed and allowed foreign companies to buy back the shares in the joint venture,Danone tried to gain full control of the company. However, the owner of Wahaha and China´s richest man, Zong Qinghou, refused to do so.  At the same time, Mr Zong decided to create a series of companies that produced the same products that the joint venture. He copied the recipes of Danone and cashed in the benefits of both the joint venture and the companies outside the joint venture.  Danone continued to fight for the total control of the group but all attempts failed. Additionally, the sales of its products were severely affected. After a number of disputes between the two and three international litigations, in December of 2007, Danone and Wahaha agreed to suspend their legal battle and resumed negotiations.

Given the grim prospects in the West, many workers are considering relocating to China and working for a company in the Asian country. Unless you have an excellent command of the Chinese language, do not try it. I would be even careful applying for jobs in international companies based in China. To show an example of this, out of a workforce of nearly 4,000, 95% of L’Oréal China employees are local. Also, one of my friends is subsidising his studies by being a ‘White’ face in corporate meetings. By this, I mean that Chinese local partners hire Westeners to participate in meetings to give visiting managers the impression that there are foreign employees working in the company, when actually there are not.

But things are bound to change in China and the Asian country is already entering the middle income trap. The country is already losing its comparative advantage of cheap labour and in 2011 the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the country reported that the minimum wage had increased 22%. If us, foreigners, already feel suffocated by inflation, it is hard to imagine how price increases are affecting Chinese people.  China´s economic situation is changing at a vertiginious speed and it is hard to predict the trajectory it will take. No matter the outcome, it will still be interesting to watch.

The Truth About China I: Exposed

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spy

I knew living in China was never going to be easy but after a year in the Asian country I would put the whole experience in a class by itself, if that even makes sense. Although I used to write about China with poetic tenderness, I changed my mind and you will read here what I truly think is happening in the country.

To be honest I just realised what I already knew: I just cannot exist in a dictatorship. If someone would have told me before coming here that Chinese authorities would take an interest in spying on me, I would have burst out laughing. Why would anyone take interest in my boring student life? I do not know the reasons but Chinese authorities appeared to be interested and now my privacy is something that I can no longer control. I was electrified when my internet service was constantly cut, my internet history was monitored and I had the cleaning lady opening my drawers in search of who knows which subversive documents. Best part of all is that a woman has a list with a record stating when I am home and out. I became a target of a second-class spy neighbourhood watch.

On the positive side, I was not the only one to be noted. All the people in my group are also being followed. We are not dissidents, just students. But timing and circumstances have made us part of a spy game. China has chosen a new leader and the measures that authorities took to avoid protests were…just silly in many ways. Pigeon owners had to keep their birds in their coops during the Party Congress to prevent the use of leaflet-carrying pigeons. Taxi drivers were ordered to remove rear window cranks so passengers could not roll down their windows, to toss fliers on the ground. And my favourite, balloons were also included on the blacklist.

While all this paranoia was developing, my Spanish twin friends had their bikes stolen. The two girls, let´s call them, Small Rain and Small Snow, directed themselves to the biggest building in campus, the police station. At their arrival, Small Rain and Small Snow were greeted by the police officers by their names. The girls looked shocked and asked how they could know their names if they had never visited the police station before. The police officers could even distinguish them, something that has taken the rest of us a great amount of time. The stolen bikes were obviously no skin of their noses and they made clear that they were not bothered to find them. Obviosuly, looking for missing things was not their job.

I have learnt that Chinese people are not very discreet, not even when they are trying to spy on you. Also, they do not make any effort in denying that they are. You are in their country and consequently you have to follow their rules. But I know for a fact that they behave the same way in other places. One friend of mine was working in the American consulate in Geneva when one day she realised that a Chinese guy was following her and taking pictures of her. Same thing happpened to her colleagues. Needless to say that the Chinese informers were working for the PRC embassy and that the whole incident almost ignited a diplomatic confict. Yes, Chinese do their best to make everything as maddening as the orders decree.

The state of things is that I was unable to update my blog for months but now that I am back in Europe I can keep writing the truths about China. At least, I can give some entertainment to the Chinese lady that opens my drawers and keeps track of my social life.

Power for Fools

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It is sad to think that things could have been different for Spain. A decent political elite would definitely have handled the crisis a lot better. They would have stridden about investigating appropriate measures and made rousing speeches. And it makes you wonder if we deserve the absence of leadership and intelligence that plagues the political class in the modern world. Where are the inspirational politicians with ideals capable of making you work hard and have a sense of pride in your country. Instead, we seem to be governed by fools that only have one interest, their own. The fools take stupid measures and are surprised when their advisers tell them that their only achievement is to have pissed everyone off, including now the stock market. They have completely ignored the ongoing protests in the streets and have decided to completely destroy our welfare system. But now that the pessimism is extending to the market, they are panicking. I don’t think anyone would blame the markets for not trusting our credibility anymore. We let the fools use the scissors to cut because that is the only tool they are able to use. But you wouldn’t let a fool use scissors because of the mess he might cause. They mock the citizens and when it is time to announce the elimination of workers´ rights, the reductions in pensions and salaries, they even dare to add: FUCK’EM OFF!

So given that we already lost our sovereignty and the pride in our country, the worst thing for us might not be that the we have to be rescued but letting that people tear our country apart. Because how does a country survive with a 27% unemployment rate and with no prospects of improvement? Spain is just a Greece revisited. The current government won absolute majority, but at this pace new elections will be called before the year ends. And for the first time in years, people are talking about politics, they are protesting and they are realising that your democratic rights are not just given but you actually have to fight for them and exercise them.

And I hope that at least the crisis has taught some people to be a little bit more critical and has showed them that you vote more than an ideology.  And hopefully if people keep rising as they do, then the fools will be gone and it will be our turn to tell them: FUCK OFF!

Chinese Standards

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I would like to share the inauspicious start of my day: I was bitten by an unidentified bug while I was in the tube. I guess it is Karma punishing me for having managed to get a seat in rush hour. So I sit down and I suddenly notice that something is just not right. I touch my ankle and then something bites me with all its aim and I realise  I have a gigantic black thing in my hand, that does not seem to have enough with my leg. So I yell, WTF! and then the monstrous thing flies away while I try to process what had just happened.

Then the group of Chinese men sitting in front of me start checking their feet in search of other attackers. At the realization that the area is clean of other infectious creatures, they laugh at my panicked face. Three stops until the next transfer and I can’t stop scratching my leg like a horny dog.  A horrifying realisation lurched in me. What if that thing is infectious? What if I cant go back home because of that unknown beast? I usually don’t get hysterical but I admit I was in the type of state that you need a random guy to slap you real hard while yelling: Just calm down, will ya!

And then  I remember that I have some disinfectant in my bag and I apply it in the red area. You see, you wouldn’t normally think of a disinfectant as your best friend but Chinese just have other standards. 

By dinner time, I hadn’t calmed down.  And I think I am quite easy-going when it comes to Chinese standards but the bug episode seems to have awaken my attention for detail again. The best advice when leaving in China is just assume that the standards are different and try to put up with it. Avoid looking at the kitchens in the restaurants and simply avoid bathrooms if you can. Things like a waitress washing her head in the restaurant´s wasin and a sales assistant cutting her nails in front of you should only be taken as funny anecdotes. (And yes I have experienced both).  But honestly, today I had enough and I cant help but observing the filthy restaurant where I am sitting down. The water bottle is not see-through anymore, the floor and walls need some serious cleaning and t rubbish bags are hanging from the ceiling.  And I remind myself to get into denial mode again or otherwise I would starve to death.

 How am I feeling now? Looking forward to buying a bigger new disinfectant bottle and typing and scratching like there’s no tomorrow….Just in case there’s no tomorrow