Thursday, May 14, 2009

The short-lived Indian British English school II

At the British Indian English school, I had hoped they would give up asking for my teaching certificate, but, unfortunately, they didn’t - and after putting it off for a while it reached a crisis point. It was a pity because I had taken a liking to my role as an ambassador for British education – so much so that I tried to think of a way out of things.

“Sanjeet, I need to talk to you,” I said. “I’m gutted, that school I went to in Egypt was a fake. I am really sorry.”

I handed over a letter from Cambridge Schools Certification Organization confirming that the Al-Fayed school of English was indeed a fake. The lady I emailed had been most sympathetic, even giving me a helpful warning about unscrupulous schools.

“Ah, this is from Sarah Richardson, I know her…Well, anyway, what are we going to do now? I think we keep this between for the moment, but I would like you to do a TEFL at some later juncture,” he said. “I’ll let you into a little secret: I have never set foot in England. Just between us of course...”

That explained his positive view of race relations in the UK, I thought.

I may have got away with the teaching certificate but they were still after a copy of my M.A. which also didn’t exist – and I guessed was a bullshit bridge too far. However, other events took over before I was found out.

“We can’t teach here for a while. Now we are going to a coffee shop for class,” said Sanjeet. Bad timing meant classes had started before they had got their Bushiban (private school) license. Ordinarily not a problem – the police were not particularly vigorous in their pursuit of illegal schools – unless someone wanted you closed down. Sanjeet’s old company did, and the police had reluctantly dragged themselves over.

It then got more ridiculous: Two days later, at incredible expense to the owner of the school, they were now teaching in the conference rooms of a five star hotel. The boss knew the owner of the hotel and the staff had been told not to tell anyone.

…Then just another five days later I was off home half way through class, my position in the high echelons of the English teaching profession short lived. Sanjay’s old school had caught up with him, and he was on the five o’clock flight to Rome, all expenses paid. A few hours earlier, the chief of police had called the boss – it was the courteous thing to do as the boss knew everyone – to say the police were on the way, and if they found Sanjay then they would have to expel him, never to return. If he left the country he could lie low for a week or two and then come back.

A week or so later the owner called all the teachers together to explain what had happened and when the school would open again. He had his rich guy line: As usual he talked about what a nice guy he was, and he wasn’t doing this to earn money, but because his wife was interested in setting up the school and contributing something back to society. He said he would pay them this month’s salary regardless – I had already started working somewhere else.

They still wanted me to work at the school but I figured there was no need to continue the lie. “I am sorry. I have had a change of plan and I have to go back to England,” I said. It would be strange going back to working in dark, second division schools and kindergartens in Taipei County where no questions were asked, when I had managed to work in a spanking new school in the center of town in my suit. Still I had proved to myself the only difference between me and the teachers in these schools was the piece of paper.

The short-lived Indian British English school I

“There is something classy about the English: the accent, mannerisms – not like those common yanks. England has tradition, those Americans just copy everything... I had some applications from Americans…Well qualified a lot of them, but straight in the rubbish. I am not going to employ any of them. We British should stick together,” said Sanjeet a very posh British Indian, who was opening a new school specializing in British English. They wrote on the advert that they needed someone with an teaching certificate and an M.A. – which I didn’t have - but the advert clearly said only those with British English need apply, and this was the first ad I had ever seen like that so I just had to come along.

“Indeed,” I replied conflicted: I liked the Britain is great bit, but wanted to tell him off for being an elitist snob.

“I can tell if someone has had a good education. It doesn’t matter if he/she has no teaching experience. It is…that knowledge of the grammar and the influence from good teachers, that schooling in how to learn…I know they will put up a good show. They will do themselves proud.”

I walked out of the door feelings mean, unsociable having just given him a handshake, the guy at least deserved a few bars of God save the Queen or England’s green and pleasant land. I chalked up the interview to experience and went for some kindergarten ones elsewhere.

The next week, after promising to get my teaching certificate and masters sent out from England I had taken up my position as principal teacher of the British culture and Heritage English Program, preparing the children of the rich for the playing fields of Eton.

Even though I possibly couldn’t last in the school without a teaching certificate I wanted to do the job just because it was the first place I had come across as unashamedly British. The walls of the school were covered with posters for England’s finest public and private schools, while the sounds of St. Somebody’s Hallowed School Choir playing in the background.

“Wonderful, isn’t it. Stirs the soul,” said Sanjeet. “I want you to encourage them to come in here to use the tapes and watch the videos.”

He continued, “Bet you miss all that, eh? - School, discipline, and the uniform...”

“Absolutely, mate,” I said while thinking of my comprehensive.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taiwanese girls and close family relationships

Taiwanese women had very close relationships with their family - and sometimes that could translate itself in strange ways.

“Is this the bedroom?” I asked. It was five in the morning and I was dead drunk and tired with only the prospect of pathetic, meaningless, quick and unmemorable sex keeping me awake.

“Just a moment,” said Carol tapping on the bedroom door. “Ge ge, Ge ge (Older brother) are you asleep?”

Someone grunted from inside and she turned to me face lit up. “Wow, my brother is home. You can meet him.” I was thinking this wasn’t an absolute necessity, but remembering I was drunk, and could be overly rude and impatient in that state, decided not to complain.

We walked into the room and her brother finished up his sentence about not minding if ‘he was 15, I think we have so much to talk about’ in the chat room, and looked up from the computer screen: “Nice to meet you. Where are you from?” he said.

“Bristol, England.”

“Can you speak Chinese?”

“No! Sorry! Have you been to England?”

“No, Ireland.”

We then beamed polite warm smiles at each other and made small talk for what would have felt like forever – if I had the ability to feel - one of us determined not to be a rude host and the other not out done in the politeness stakes by a Taiwanese.

Carol finally ended the standoff. “Hey, lets go,” she said tugging my arm.

“I think your sis’ wants it…Sorry,” I said, thinking there was no point in me being embarrassed if she wasn’t.

I shook myself having almost forgotten why I was here.

Her brother stood up and started to give a slight bow while extending his hands. “Please. Go,” he said. “Nice talking to you.”

“And you mate,” I said while cracking my shoulder on the door frame.

We moved to her bedroom and she immediately got down on her knees and started unzipping my flies. “Isn’t he such a nice guy,” she said while looking up at me. “You know I really love my brother. My parents are not in Taiwan and so he looks after me….Like a father and a friend - I need to be driven somewhere or breakfast…”

Half an hour later she was still going on about her brother: how he had comforted her when he had had a pregnancy scare… I didn’t mind listening to this sort of thing - the alternative was to leave Taiwan - but there was a time and a place: like on the date, or when you have switched to post-coital daydream mode and are busy taking that special, precious moment that only two can share, comparing it to all that have gone before, replaying match highlights and wondering what the experience would have been like if she had bigger breasts, slimmer ass or so-and-so’s face. However, she had started on this rich vein of expression while she was unzipping my pants, it had then proceeded to upset her oral rhythm, and even now, even though she had to turn her head to speak to me, saw no sign of abating.

“I like him too,” I said. “Do you think you could save up all those wonderful thoughts about your brother for the next hour or so - better still organize them so you don’t miss any when you tell me later…Ok?”

“You like him too,” she said now twisting around to look at me; so much I thought she would flip onto her back. “I am in a good mood, now.”

“Excellent. Plan your speech.”

A knock at the door a few hours later: “Wow, my brother has got some breakfast for us. Isn’t he nice?”

“Fuckin’ star,” I replied not happy to be woken up.

“Hah, I have to get up soon. I am going to Canada to visit my parents for a few months. You want to come to the airport with me? - My brother is driving.”

“I thought he might be.”

She saw I was looking reluctant. “Don’t worry. Stay here and sleep. You can talk to my brother when he gets back.”

“I know - he is an interesting, guy,” I said, thinking that perhaps I will have disappeared before the brother got back.

God, Taiwan was a wonderful place.

An Englishman in Taipei VI

As an Englishman, after a while in Taipei, once you had learnt how to teach, and that there were many Taiwanese who appreciated a British accent, you could be more indulgent when you got a bad interview.

“You have a strange accent, but you can try to see if the students accept you,”said the boss of the school.

"Really? You are so kind," I replied. "Mmm…shove your job up your bald eagle fuckin’ ass...”

Going back home III

"Now you are going to have to start working hard again...The UK is not so cheap...Can't live on a beach."

When you go back home it seems there was a universal lack of acceptance of Taiwan's economic situation. Even after i gave my friends the long lecture about the fact that Taiwan wasn't Thailand they would still give me that look that said, You don't have to bullshit me mate.

If they weren't asking me how i paid for my flight back, then they would be saying how jealous they were of me dropping out, opting for a beach lifestyle. Either that or the old one about me buying all my girlfriends or them being mail order brides.

Taiwan doesn't have a standard of living as high as the west or Japan, but they are not far off. A quick look at average salary puts them at 16000US a year, about half of the US or UK - you have to bear in mind that China or Thailand is near 3000US a year. But the key thing is that you have to look at the MacDonalds Index done by the Economist, a bit of a joke name it has a serious purpose: compare prices for the same things on a country by country basis to see how much your salary is worth - The idea is not to just compare the price of food because obviously it is cheaper in poorer countries but also poorer quality, but to see what your salary can purchase, what it is actually worth to you. Anyway, once adjusted in this way Taiwan moves up to nearer 25000 US a year making a salary in Taiwan only say 20% less than a western one.

There are a number of examples that stand out clearly: the underground train system is brand new and has won the best mass transport system in the world award for the last four years or so, yet it is a quarter of the price of the London one. Income tax is only 6%. There is no council tax. Taxis are about the same price as a bus in London. In short, while my salary is less than if i was in England it feels like I have more disposable income.

But it is not just about the disposable income. Taiwan feels like it has money compared to many places because it makes things and unemployment is extremely low; the average Taiwanese can afford to take international holidays and spend a year abroad studying English.

The one that always gets my friends shaking their head in disbelief is that Taiwan has to import low wage labor from the Thailand or Phillipines: maids, carers, and construction workers.

Anyway, enough of the rant. Just be prepared to hear this one - and for nobody to accept it when you explain...

Going back home II

When you are in Taiwan you moan continually about the power old people have over their children: living in their houses and expecting them to simply open their wallet when they need money.

But back in England our treatment of old people seems to have gone a little far the other way. Town centers are desperately sad: bored, listless and lonely old people, desperate for something to do, some human interaction, or feeling of self-worth, hang around in doorways politely holding them open for people who are not on their shoulder, but in the process of finishing parking their cars a few streets away; otherwise giving their place up in queues in shops, seats on buses to frail fitness instructors, the perfectly ably bodied, and superheroes.

They should be a compromise somewhere.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Taiwan English teaching III: Not as straightforward as it seemed

Teaching in Taiwan wasn't as straightforward as it might seem. Going to teach wasn’t just a matter of finding a school and going to work nine-to-five, there were lots of different things to think about: kids, adults, and age-groups among others. Most of these private schools were designed for kids from seven to sixteen taking over once the local government schools finished at around 4 pm; therefore, if you wanted to teach at these schools your likely hours were from 4.30 to 8.30 everyday – and Wednesday and Saturday from 2pm to 8pm because on these days government schools finished earlier. Now if you wanted to teach nine-to-five the only way was Kindergarten which meant teaching kids from three to seven years old. If you wanted to teach adults it was mornings from nine-to-twelve (housewives) and then evenings from seven-to-ten when people got off work.

Most non-teachers preferred to teach adults because they didn’t want to deal with the shouting and screaming, but the problem of adults were the hours weren't so stable.

Now who to work for? The big chains of English schools had there benefits: training, work visa, and organization, but there drawbacks: designed to deal with the just arrived foreigner they paid less, had more homework to mark and preparation to do for class. If you went to one of the smaller chains or independent schools, they might not: have anyone who can speak good English on staff and a clear curriculum, but you might be able to squeeze an extra hundred an hour out of them and they wouldn’t expect preparation.

Number of hours: As i said the kindergartens were the only ones who were offering a solid 40 hours a week. All the private schools, would expect you to teach a minimum of 20 hours a week for them in order to get you a work visa – but would not guarantee to give you 20 hours a week. Even if all was well at the school and you were good they still didn’t like to give you more than twenty-five hours a week, telling you that was enough because you had to prepare – It was also good for them to have more teachers on staff, hungry and a little desperate. Adult teaching schools usually had even less hours because adults were sporadic and uncommitted.

What to do? Most people had a contract at one of these private schools and then went and found an illegal job at a small school somewhere else.

The only other alternative was to find private students. Private students weren’t students who wanted to meet in dark alleys or didn’t like to talk about themselves. Private students were individuals or small groups who wanted to learn one-by-one at their home or coffee shop. You could get them in various ways: agents, referrals, neighbor knocks on your door, or mother comes up to you in McDonalds - among others. One-to-ones were good because they were higher paying, and most important: easier, just sit in a coffee shop and talk to people.

Managing your schedule: Now, if you have chosen the private school, and you want to teach 35 plus hours a week, you can see from the above that you will have several jobs - Maybe, a second private school or the morning and then several privates at different times of the day. At this point you start to get obsessed with scheduling as people compete for you and you try to arrange them so that they are as near to each other as possible in terms of time and distance. For example, a private may pay 1000NT an hour but if you have to travel an hour and they only want an hour and a half it is better to try and get a school which pays less and may have a block.
Finally, there is the transportation issue: if you have numerous jobs you need a scooter to get you around as soon as possible.

When I first arrived I had no idea what I wanted to do - other than get paid a lot for doing a little - so I decided to look for as many illegal and privates as possible. Besides I liked the idea of illegal, beating the system.

It had its ups and downs...

Teaching English in Taiwan II: Education Obsession

The obsession with education was one stereotype that was holding up: there were schools for sports, music, air hostesses; schools that taught you how to get the most out of school; schools to teach independent thinking; and schools to break over-reliance on school. Never fret if your kid went to violin class and was told they had no talent, someone will promise to drill that talent into them. People were obsessed: one nine year old student, Michael, already had piano, maths, calligraphy and English; parents were prepared to flog themselves, and their child, to death because it was necessary to be play the piano, speak five languages while fencing and moonlighting as a nuclear physicist from your day job as a broker.

But of all these obsessions English was the biggest: walk a hundred yards and there was another bright, colorful sign for Bright Sparks or Achiever Kid California English School…Pick up the newspaper and there were columns of job advertisements for Native American Speaker Required.

Having never attended a minute of extra-curricular schooling in my life it had taken a while to get used to.

“So you are saying these are all private schools…the kids go there in the evenings?” I kept asking people in the hostel when I first arrived.

“Yes,” they answered.

“So, I mean who goes then?”


“What do you mean everyone?”

“Everyone,” they answered.

“Bloody hell…What for?”

At which point the next few questions and answers automatically popped into my head: Because they want to learn English…But…that much? Yes, you dick: that much.

“Thanks,” I said and wandered off still shaking my head.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Taiwan lifestyle: Thoughts on work in Taiwan

Why don’t you just get another job? My friends would ask when I complained about Mickey. Isn’t MTI a famous company in Taiwan? Aren’t you a senior manager now?

I had got my stocks and MTI was now one of the top companies in Taiwan so it should be an easy matter of sending out my resume – many of my colleagues were using the company name to jump ship for higher positions - but Taiwan was a funny old place – and most of the problems I originally had still existed. For work in Taiwan Acer was still employing only Taiwanese with MBAs from Harvard; and recruiting in America for its American offices. That only left me with only the up-and-coming local companies and you still had to go through the usual hoops: why do you want to work in Taiwan? Can you manage local Taiwanese? And spot the cons: need white guy to make the company look good for a couple of months…And, actually it was harder than before because my next move was as a director or head of department. I had no doubt I could manage local staff but the locals weren’t so sure – Even if, as at MTI most of the people went to school in America or Canada, and I was more Taiwanese than them.

Josh, who had sailed up the ladder quickly, had now opened his own business because he was sure there was a glass ceiling.

The few people I knew who were directors had done it by staying in the same company, and ingratiating themselves with the management, using their connection, allowing themselves to be carried up.

Several times I felt that the only way to move up was to leave the country, but I wasn’t ready to leave my adoptive home…Anyway, a story for later was that the right position did come along.

Work in Taiwan: My next computer company job and really learning the ropes XI

The following happened at MTI but it could equally go under the marketing in Taiwan topic – or even a separate one, ‘Mickey of the day’ - I have since worked in other Taiwan companies and while the marketing is bad Mickey took it to new heights of stupidity.

Every three or four months Mickey would call an emergency meeting after being roughly appraised by the upper management - Now that we had a qualified engineer in charge of marketing, they couldn’t see why big things weren’t happening.

“Xien zi wo di pressure hao da. (I am under a lot of pressure at the moment.) Hen dwo ren zi ask product marketing xien zai zai zuo she ma?” (Lots of people are asking what product marketing is doing),” said Mickey in the part English/part Chinese style all the guys use in these companies.

“Wo men bu gou professional, bu gou innovative. (We have to be more professional and innovative).”

It was those special two words again that western companies supposedly were and therefore every manager in Taiwan had to pay lip service to - Pity he never gave any concrete example of how. And this missed the point as it didn’t seem to occur to him that nobody in his department was doing product marketing: Mickey was acting as assistant to the vice president spending most of his time abroad talking to clients; Fred, the new guy recruited as a product manager was actually performing the job of account manager; the technology guy spent all his time testing new solutions; Josh was working with sales; and the girl recruited to handle marketing information was doing manuals…oh, and Joe, the guy who didn’t recognize my white skin, he had an unusual job: Mickey found out that Joe could actually do marketing and so his job was to organize all the research he had done in his previous job for an international company and give us daily presentations. Mostly of them totally unrelated to the smartphone market but it didn’t matter to Mickey.

Anyway, then we got to the point of the meeting: we were going to get better by internally reorganizing. “I think one thing Robin Liao did was organize marketing into good divisions, but I think we can do it better,” said Mickey.

Product marketing, corporate marketing and technical marketing. You can get that on the first page of the textbook, I thought.

Mickey continued, “But I think we should now be divided into PIM, MIM and TIM – product information management, marketing information management and technology information management. And I think because Bryant is obviously in TIM and Josh, because you don’t have a technical background are in MIM…Now the people in MIM are going to provide the data to support the people in PIM who will be drawing up specs…”

So I can’t propose a product only fucking write the marketing plan once it has been done…Hold on it doesn’t matter as I don’t think PIM are actually allowed to think of new products either.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Taiwanese and Speaking English IV

Occasionally, you got someone who completely ignored the fact you were a foreigner - And it reminded you that you were a hypocrite and you enjoyed the conversation about your foreign status after all.

Roger had been at MTI for a month now and I was preparing to go across, tell him he’d won, and start the conversation about being a foreigner myself. Roger hadn’t paid the slightest attention to the fact that I was a foreigner – even when we were first introduced there no look of surprise, no stupid questions about where I was from, if I had a Taiwanese girlfriend, or if I could speak Chinese.

Since I heard Joe on the phone describing me to another member of staff as the guy who had been in the company a long time, rather than the usual ‘na ge wai guo ren (that foreigner)’…Then he wrote in Chinese just like he expected me to understand it (a little too normal for me because I couldn’t read very well)…Then, a week ago, I heard the news that Roger had studied in Bristol – where I was from – but never mentioned it, and that had been the straw that broke the camels back: did he know we westerners are hypocrites - don’t like to hear the stereotypes, but do expect our country praised by all who visit it.

"You know I am from Bristol?" I said to him.

"Zhi dao le (I know!)"

And that was the end of the conversation and I thought it wasn’t much fun being treated like a normal person after all.

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes X

Amazingly almost two years had passed since I entered the company. When I did there were about 50 employees and now there were 400 or so – for all the micro-management by engineers they were doing exceptionally well: had gone on the market, opened huge new headquarters, and were close to a billion US dollar turnover.

And that led to the crux of Taiwanese companies: they were micromanaged which meant that if the boss was good then the company was good, and vice-versa. In the case of William Kuo, the vice-president, who was the guy actually running the company, he was direct, rude, prone to shouting and screaming a little; not interested in facilitating his workforce – but he worked eighteen hours a day and had an exacting sense of quality. In short, it worked. However, now we were becoming an international company he was prone to calling everyone together to give long talks on how we needed to start thinking like one…

“We are on the market now and we need to start to think differently. Many companies have moved into this area and we need to be more professional. I know in Taiwan we have a culture of listen to the boss, but if we are going to compete internationally then we have to think like international companies do. I am not going to make the decisions for you, I am very busy. I want to pass ownership and responsibility to you all. I know you are very busy, but I want you to stop thinking about what worked last time, that attitude won’t do, you have to start thinking ‘out of the box.’ This means forever trying to think of how to do it better; be more creative.” He would say speaking in mostly English because he believed, if you were going to talk about how to behave like an international company it had more impact in English.

A scan of the room screamed he had his work cut out. It was filled with those engineers with the thick glasses, glasses so thick demolition balls would bounce off. Most of them hadn’t slept for a week and were thinking about the fact that they had enough work to stop them sleeping for the next one too; that their girlfriends were going to dump them because they didn’t have time for them - and it had taken them a lot of time in Internet chat rooms to get them in the first place – they weren’t exactly outgoing guys.

Fuck this shit about us not being innovative, they were thinking, if only he knew the creativity at this moment going into not falling asleep.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stereotypes: Taiwanese men on Taiwanese girls who like foreigners

What Taiwanese men thought of their women who dated foreigners was a subject it was best to not get onto for obvious reasons: they knew that for whatever idiotic reason we had the physical edge, we didn’t want to be seen as bragging, and we didn’t want to hear any negative reasons for why they thought this was the case.

Still it sits there below the surface and has to come out occasionally. On this particular occasion I was sat at lunch time with my colleagues eating our bowls of beef noodle soup and listening to the TV. It was another anti-foreigner week in the media as on Monday some guy was arrested for cheating a bunch of girls out of money so now the media was trotting out a story a day of predator foreigners shagging as many poor, innocent Taiwanese girls as possible and then leaving. Once you have been there in Taiwan a while you know there is nothing to worry about: everyone knows not to trust the media just treat it as entertainment, it isn’t going to get violent, and at the end of week the news will go back to stories of politicians shagging their secretaries. In short, Taiwanese know the world is complicated and naughty and they don’t bear a grudge.

As the TV screamed 'foreigner' there was an edgy silence in the room as I was the only foreign dude. I decided to break the ice: “I don’t understand these girls either – Giving up their culture and family just for some stupid stereotype of the white man. But seriously – I kind of understand now after all these years that we are different cultures and it is extremely tough having a relationship. What are these girls thinking?” I said.

Bryant was young and proud so the first to bite. “I don’t know,” he said. “You see them in the park…It is a particular Taiwanese girl who like the foreigner…”

“I know,” I said. “But what kind of girl? – I have dated many and I don’t know why they want us either?”

“They feel no Taiwanese guy wants them,” he continued. “Usually it is the big ones – they think you foreigners don’t mind the big girl.”

“The too individualistic type,” said Jay Chan, the new product marketing guy.

“They are unhappy,” said Eric Chu, a guy from power engineering who had joined us for lunch.

I feigned offence so Eric jumped in: “but not your girlfriend of course, she is beautiful” and they all nodded together.

“Sure,” I said. “There are exceptions to every rule. Didn’t you tell me your sister married a foreigner Jay?”

Once they had told me my girlfriend was beautiful they felt they could continue. “You know, a little strange,” said Jack Liu another power engineer.

“No, it is just have no confidence ones,” said Stephen Liao, a guy in his forties who is head of product management.

At this point we had already finished, paid and were walking back to the office. “I don’t know,” I said. “They say the more outgoing ones, stronger and more independent personalities go for foreigners - The ones who want equality.”

At this they all burst out laughing and started slapping me on the back.

“Don’t you just love these foreigners,” said Stephen Liao. “They are so honest…My point exactly the weird ones…the ones we don’t want.”

Stephen, Jack and Eric walked off at this point to take the lift up to the eighth floor. As they walked off they continued to double over laughing to themselves about those self-deprecating foreigners.

“…We would have a face problem,” said Eric as they lift doors shut.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes VIII

Unfortunately maintaining my freelance role hadn’t been completely possible. The sales director wanted me to continue with him, but apparently William, vice president, also thought I would benefit from taking on some more responsibilities in the marketing department.

You might ask why didn’t I quit? Well, I had a bunch of shares promised me when we went on the market in about a year.

Six months later it was proving to be worst than the worst pessimist’s predictions.

“So what does the layout of a PCB board look like again? Dimensions?” I asked Bryant the technical marketing guy.

Mickey, seeing the commonsense of the engineers’ point of view had said: Yes, if marketing was now responsible for input into device features and specifications - for example whether it should have email or the color of the casing - they should also write full technical specs.

As I say I was just going to make a report on how many buttons we should have on the side of the device to improve ease-of-use – and to do so I had to complete crash courses in engineering across the board from mechanical to electrical over the last couple of months. It had been a hell of fifteen hours days and then Mickey walked over to my desk: “Hmm, Dan, finish the technical specs you are doing, but I have discussed with William and he thinks technical stuff should be left to the engineers. They are more professional. Can do a more professional job.

He hadn't finished, "Hmm, still i think you should complete them anyway."

It was bad enough that nobody wanted my specifications any more, but there was a more salient point: WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I FINISH THEM??

He then turned his attention to Bryant. “How many times do I have to ask you to change this? You really need to pay attention to what you are doing…The grammar, and I want these headings all the same size. We are supposed to be marketing - about communicating…Professional.”

Bryant’s role was even harder: In hi-tech companies in Taiwan most internal documents were written in English so Mickey, aware that he didn’t know how to do marketing, came up with a new plan to show the department had some value: he asked get Bryant to write detailed product specifications for all our products; the only problem was these specifications already existed so the only service we were offering was to make them more presentable and better organized (remember marketing in Taiwan was thought of as the department that makes everything look pretty: if you need your power point presentation to look good go to marketing, and if need someone to redesign a website don’t go to a webmaster…). Now, everyday I sat open mouthed at the stupidity of the director - who's written English was hardly perfect - getting angrier and angrier because Bryant, who was employed to test new software solutions, couldn’t perfectly punctuate an English sentence.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes VI

The next day I had an email from the director Robin Liao.

‘It has been good to work with you all…." it said. In truth I was going to miss the guy as, for a few months, the marketing team had been one: meetings were held in which the director facilitated opinions and ideas, rather than for the purpose of getting his across; there were weekly status reports, organization, and things ran on time. It had persuaded me to get involved in marketing, now I was going to have to go crawling back to sales.

Among Robin’s grievances: no budget, spending the early hours arguing with the president only for him to say no anyway, and the fact that they had promised him he was supposed to setting up an office in Seattle. “I may be Taiwanese, but I really don’t understand how to deal with these people, anymore,” he had confessed to me one night. “You are a foreigner. How do you deal with it?” I wanted to tell him he was a foreigner too, but if he didn’t get it now, then he never would.

Next to go was the product manager Eric; all sharp suit, narrow rimmed glasses, and repertoire of attentive, earnest, busy and thoughtful expressions, he had the international executive look that was now available over the counter of a lunchtime as a quick injection at business schools around the world. On maybe, the second or third day at work I had told him: “You look like overseas Chinese” and he was so happy, I thought he was going to die on his chair having completed his life’s journey. Clearly his MBA and subsequent work for international companies had been too much of an enlightening experience for him.

For most of his time in the company he cut a forlorn figure alone in the meeting room waiting for the others. He wore his suit and sat upright, straight-backed, leaning slightly forward on his chair, pulling his routine of expressions that were meant to let you know he was here for you, and he would like to be able to count on your support too – and together as a team they could conquer the world; the engineers sat slumped on their elbows, slouched cross-legged or with their feet on a chair, playing with their notebooks or phones – thinking how bored they were and wondering why he was going on with this bullshit because he didn’t have any authority and so why the fuck did he think they were going to listen to him.

Background: Eric’s father was one of Chiang Kai-Shek’s soldiers who came over in 1947 so he couldn’t speak Taiwanese – and, for reasons only known to himself, believed the people on the mainland to be more classy than the Taiwanese. Taiwanese were often not subtle but spend a couple of weeks in China and then in Taiwan and it was like going from the stone age to a classical music concert.

Eric didn’t get along with anyone, nor was he prepared to try – but, to be fair to him, it didn’t matter: whatever happened they weren’t going to listen to the product proposals he was employed to come up with because he didn’t have a technical background.

The communications manager was the last out. Nana, because her parents taught her to question (and didn’t believe that 11th hour of school on Sunday was productive) was one of the few to come through the Taiwan education system with her natural inquisitiveness, independence and personality intact – One could not overstate the strength of character needed to complete the education system without becoming a zombie. And therefore, because of this, she didn’t see her spell abroad as the complete source of her present confidence. She was told she had been employed to handle the company’s corporate image in China, but once she had organized the opening of the new headquarters and arranged the publicity for the company going public he found she had nothing to do: the company was afloat, attention had been generated, the stockholders had been appeased so now the board could drop the idea of having their own brand.

…Actually, the first to go was the technical marketing guy – an easy oversight because he didn’t really behave as part of the team. He had left almost immediately once he realized he had a manager.

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes V

Taiwanese companies are known for things like working a lot of hours, micro-management and listening to the boss - but this company was overdoing its stereotype.

I had used my foreign status in the previous job to go home on time, but this time I figured if I was to be respected I had to beat them at their own game.

“It is 12 0’clock why are you still here?” I asked the graphic designer.

“The boss he doesn’t like this edge and this corner is not lively enough. He wants to see the new one tomorrow morning…No chance to go home.” And he put his hands together flat, tipped his head to the side, then pointed at the desk.

“Ne na? (You),” he asked.

“I was having a meeting with the boss,” I replied. The meeting had originally been scheduled for five 0’clock, but had then been postponed until eight – and it had just finished: 12 midnight.

I looked at the design. This was why I hadn’t gone straight home: I had to send it to a clients in the States the next morning. “Hey, I don’t think you will be able to get it done before tomorrow - Best to notice everyone.”

“Lao ban (boss), say tomorrow, so I have to do it before tomorrow.”

Still I knew I would have to postpone first thing tomorrow morning at the last minute and walked away shaking my head. Most westerners get frustrated and angry because the Taiwanese agreed to a deadline and then when it is not met, accuse the Taiwanese company of being liars or devious. No doubt, sometimes they are being bullshitted but there was often a cultural thing at play: hard work and effort is the way to attain entry to heaven, employees are afraid to tell their boss they can’t do it, and the boss will actually appreciate the loyalty of the employee for trying, and not appreciate his directness by saying he can’t do it on time.

“Take it easy, man,” I said. As I walked off I saw him flick back to the 2nd hand car auction website that would be his companion for most of the night.

The internet is a god send for people in Taiwanese companies - Remember you are rewarded for the number of hours you sit in the office, not the amount of work you do so you need something to do for those six hours a day you are sat at the desk waiting for the boss to go home. Smart people set up their own company on the side; do evening course or online degrees; download MP3s or buy something from eBay; the lazy ones exhaustively check through newspapers and porn websites – A great advantage of local companies is they never bother to monitor the Internet and email usage of their employees meaning – “Fuck off bastard, up your fucking cunt” – will land smoothly in the inbox of the computer on your Taiwanese friend’s desk at work, as will pictures of your favourite porn actress performing, dildos and organs inserted at will.

I know this is a top-down company so everybody follows the boss, but why not organize your time once he has told you?
A day like that day, namely having to hang around in the office for 15 hours - it couldn’t be called work – would leave me lying awake at night wrestling with this question and others; wrestling with why everything was such chaos. Why they didn’t go bankrupt the next day.

I see - the boss is always changing things so you can’t organize your time well. I thought I had a breakthrough, until……So why doesn’t the boss organize his time? – Because he is too busy. Why is he too busy? Because he feels he has to supervise everything….Why does the boss feel he has to micro-manage everything? Yes, the engineers are slow and indecisive, but many are bright so I refuse to accept it cannot be changed - Then the sun would come up and it was time for work again.

The next day didn’t get any better.

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes III

Four months later I had a key role helping sales and business development. As with many things in life you have to ignore the naysayers – the naysayers in this case being the disgruntled foreigners who populated the bars and swore you couldn’t get accepted for doing anything other than teaching – and see what happens. I started off correcting the English, then restructuring the powerpoints…and pretty soon I was writing the reports and presentations and being taken along by sales to give them. The sales director wanted me to transfer but I wasn’t allowed because the chairman believed a foreigner should only be doing marketing – so I continued in my unofficial role. My unstructured set up had its advantages: I was a law unto himself and could learn anything I wanted as long as it didn’t cost money.

Still there was one thing I couldn’t do: propose features for the product because I wasn’t an engineer - I didn’t understand.

“Josh, we need a product proposal presentation for the new smart phone. You know, statistics for market potential etc. Do you think you could help?” asked the sales director.

“No problem,” I replied willing to ignore the fact that he was doing research to justify an existing product, rather than doing the research first. As I said they thought I had the background and knowledge to design the marketing strategy for a product that already existed, just wasn’t qualified to do the marketing strategy to propose the product.

“Do you have anything from the original proposal?” I would often ask. “As this product is a year’s work of the company’s resources."

“Maybe William (Vice-President) has, but I don’t think he will share,” replied the sales director. I wasn’t going to ask why: A man’s brain can only take so much stupidity in a day.

Having no budget meant that several weeks later I was regretting promising to do the product proposal.

Okay, I thought, I have subscribed to every online magazine, have joined every related free association and body, all technical support web groups and chat rooms, I regularly raid Nokia and Motorola’s web site for any presentations, I have sat through countless sales presentations from market research companies lying to them that we were interested in purchasing just to get free data, and I email our clients for old materials…Is there anywhere else I can get some data?

The first six months were great: I was in the hottest area of telecommunications, and the company was growing really fast. Then one day William called me to a meeting…

Monday, May 4, 2009

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes II

A few days after starting I managed to haul down my team member from the other room -Steven Liao was in charge of technical marketing (in other words he was Chief Technology officer).

“Do you know the name of the girl in marketing in Taoyuan? What are her main responsibilities?” I asked.

“I am not sure! I haven’t met her,” he answered trying to sell his best dummy to get past me.

“Do you think we should have a department meeting some time?” I said. “I know it is a little bit of a grand term for the three of us.”

“I am a little busy at the moment.”

“I thought we should get together to discuss department strategy.”

“Aren’t you reporting to William? He will tell you want he wants you to do.”

“Ok,” I said. “So could you feel me in on your marketing strategy up to now? Presumably there are some files I could look through…”

‘Have a look on Claire’s (the girl I replaced) computer.” At which point he cleverly pointed in the direction of the computer skipped past me the other way and was gone.

Oh well, I shrugged, I shouldn’t ask for training when I said I had experience and could already do it.

I didn’t entirely blame him either as technical marketing (or chief technology officer) he actually no doubt had a full plate of work with real things to do. The last thing he needed was to try and do any marketing.

I had also bothered to talk to Josh because starting this position so I could work out a strategy. Josh said I should offer my services and try and move quickly to a department that had things to do like sales or business development. I went back to my desk and found the number for the director of sales. I wasn’t looking forward to this: remember Pierre’s obsession with not being pigeon-holed as an English teacher? ...Well none of us liked it in truth, and now I was going to swallow my pride and live up to my stereotype.

“Hi,” I said speaking English – no point in going half way with the white man stereotype I guessed. “My name is Dan Chapman. I am the new marketing manager.”

“Yes,” he interrupted. “I heard we have a new foreigner in the company. Welcome, welcome.”

“Thank you,” I said. “No doubt I will put on a song and dance routine when I have settled in a little better.”

“What?” he replied.

“Sorry,” I said before swallowing my pride. “So…maybe, you have some power points you want me to look over…Check the English…Add a foreign marketing spin…I don’t know if that is helpful to you?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied. “I don’t like doing power points…You know we Taiwanese are all engineers – and I wish my English was better...”

I thought you were supposed to be sales, I said to myself. “Great,” I said. “So my email is...”

Once I had put down the phone I called business development and had the same conversation…