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China – Looking at Labour

China has a huge population so it seems like the thing to do here is to hire people to work for you.   For example, when you go grocery shopping, the store not only has many cashiers, but lots of people hanging around in the store to help you.  Kim and I went to the Century Mart to buy some cleaning supplies.  There were three ladies who work in the cleaning supplies row who pointed out all of the best deals in cleaning supplies.  We would pick up one laundry soap, and they would put it back explaining that another product was better or cheaper.  They would show us the price and sure enough we would have a better bargain.  I could never complain about the quality of the products because they all seemed quite good when we use them.  Although we didn’t understand what they are saying, we learn to heed their advice and save lots of money.  Asking for assistance is always a fun time.  Of course no speaks English.  Kim and I have found that by speaking English slowly, with lots of broken syllables and also speaking really loudly for some reason doesn’t seem to help.   Isn’t that the international way to be understood?   The same is true of the real estate office.  It’s just a little office about the size of The Source at the Coquitlam Center, but there are 16 – 20 employees who work their daily.  My hair salon is an average size but again 6 chairs and 15 employees.  Even their ambulances carry 4 people in them (Not including the sick guy).    I had originally thought that 4 people went in ambulances because that’s what you need to play bridge.  The real reason for this is because labor is so cheap.  Here’s an example.  
Kim and I needed someone to do some minor home repairs for us.  Usually I can look after minor fix ups and electrical problems, but without any tools it is pretty hard. So we hired a fellow to come in and repair a loose shelf, a light socket and rehang a cupboard door.  We had our liaison send over her assistant to assess what needed to be done.  She phoned for a repairman and he was here in three minutes.  He arrived and we knew he was the real deal.  He carried his sack of tools, wore very dirty coveralls and had his government issue ID badge with his picture and number on it so we knew he was a bon fide trades person.   He went right to work, talking in Chinese the whole time.  We have no idea what he said but when he was finished after 35 minutes, he presented us with a bill for 10¥.  That’s $1.60 Canadian.  Try to find a qualified home repair man who will come to your home in Canada for that price.  I toyed with the idea of hiring a maid to come and clean our apartment twice a week.  Our place is so small, that it just didn’t seem like it was worth the bother. 
Tipping in Shanghai is pretty rare.  We usually tip for good service so the Chinese people tend to learn who we are and fight to serve us.  I have two shampoo girls who figure out I give them a ten yuan tip for giving me fifteen minute scalp massage and a 30 minute neck, shoulder, arm and hand massage.  They make 10 yuan for each customer and I pay them another ten.  Ten yuan is only a buck sixty!  Why not give them a 100% tip?  When I leave, I have also tipped my stylist ten yuan as well.  At that point the two of the fight to help me with my coat on, brush off any hair on my shoulders and walk me to the door and open it and say good bye.  It’s nice when people love you, even if it’s just for your money!
There are some sectors we don’t tip.  We never tip cab drivers.  They have been instructed not to take tips it seems.  When we first arrived we would give them a small tip, but one or two have looked at us like we were trying to get them in trouble so we have stopped.  
Kim, Wen  Juan  and I went out for dinner while Brent her husband was working.   We tried to tip the girl and she said no.  I gave it to her a second time to show her I understood that it was not part of the bill.  She brought it back again with the receipt and wouldn’t take it.  Come to think of it, she didn’t open the door for us when we left.  
Finally, street cleaners and traffic assistants.  These are a very common sight in downtown Shanghai.  There are so many people that the government needs to create jobs so that people can earn money and live.  These I am sure are two such jobs.  On every major downtown street corner there are four traffic assistants.  They are there to……   Well, honestly I have no idea why they are there. Once (only once mind you)  there was fellow who was crossing against the light.  You have to understand that this is not only common, it is actually a national past time!  The crossing guard called out after the transgressors.  The fellow crossing turned around to see who would dare to challenge him crossing against the light.  The traffic assistant quickly turned the other way and looked off so he would not be chosen as the guilty party.  These guys are everywhere.  The only thing I ever see them do is smoke cigarettes and stamp their feet because it is cold out. I would honestly feel safer with the grade six girls who wear the safety vests and carried the stop signs at Irvine Elementary School.  They got traffic to stop and kids to wait until it was safe.   The other group of people are just the opposite.  These are the street cleaners. They tend to be mostly women between 30-50 and they work from 6:30 am until 8:30 at night the best we can figure.  They also work 7 days a week.  We know this because the lady who cleans our street always used to smile at me until she found out I was married to Kim, then she pretended not to see me.  She seems to have mellowed out a little and says hello to Kim and I when we walk around town.  They make their own brooms of a used broom pole and branches.  They work hard and only clean their one side of the street.  It’s not a long street, but everyone litters throughout the day, so theirs is a very busy job.  They are very proud of their work.  I was talking with my Chinese buddy Johnson who is retiring.  I asked him what he was going to do when he retired next year.  He will receive a pension, but he plans on coming back to the school to assist everyone with the running of the school.  As he put it, “I feel that this is my duty.”  
My final word on Chinese labour is one of my favourite subjects; our massage girls.  Dong Ling is back from visiting her family, however Shau Kway worked all of February. She starts about 10:00am everyday and works until 12:00 mid night sometimes 1-2:00 in the morning.  If it gets a little slow at lunch time they might get an hour off to go for lunch/  It is busy over dinner break so no time off.  Wednesday is her day off ( the day she has English lessons) and often on her day off she will work from 10:00 until 1:00 then go in from 8:00 pm until midnight.  When you do the math she worked about 360 hours in February.  Now she told last week that she was very happy because she made 6000 yuan (a thousand bucks) for the month of February.  Do the math.  She is getting paid $2.70 per hour in the massage parlour.  Imagine how she feels when she gets a tip of $1.60.   That’s more than half her salary!  By the way did you know that China has more billionaires than any other country in the world?  I am not sure what I am trying to say here other than we live in interesting times in a very interesting part of the world.
The Science and Technology Center
We were delighted to entertain Helene and Steve Henrichsen who has just arrived here in Shanghai.  Steve is the principal at one of the other English Schools in Shanghai.  
Lawrence Vea also came for dinner. He is working as a principal at another English School program in the same building as Steve.  He is the master of the subway!
Confucious say “A lumpy couch is always more comfortable after two glasses of wine.”
We saw these little guys in front of the Science and Technology Center.
ImageWe visited a Chinese pawn shop.  Very different from Canada.  Same idea bring stuff you don’t want and sell it or pawn it if you need money.  You don’t repay them back they get to sell it.  The only small differences is that this pawn shop handled only very high end jewellery.  We are talking everything starts at $6000 bucks and up.  Very different.

One comment on “China – Looking at Labour

  1. I just love that couch. Thanks again for that dinner at your place!

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