Foreigners in China often find themselves half complaining and half laughing/crying about how inefficient we find a lot of processes to be in this country. Living here, you are reminded on a daily basis that when you have a population of 1.3 billion people, it is cheaper to hire five people to do a very specific job rather than cross train one or two employees to manage an entire process.
While I will save the challenges facing HR in China for a later post, I thought it would be interesting to share six jobs in China I have observed over the past three years that are only possible in thanks to having such a robust population.
Advertisement Scraping Duo: In China it is very common to see people walking around (not so) subtly peeling the paper backings off of stickers that advertise illegal things (such as producing fake diplomas or other documents), and then sticking them onto bus stops and other public property or simply dropping them on the ground for people to see while walking. To counter this, the government has brought in a crime-fighting duo. The first person walks down the street and saturates each sticker with water (or some unknown liquid) while the second person follows behind and utilizes a special scraping tool that was devised for the specific purpose of removing these advertisements.
Advertisement scraping device that looks a bit like a golf putter
Autumn Tree Shaking Duo: As the leaves begin to fall in Beijing, there is a dynamic duo that goes up and down each tree-lined street armed with brooms. While one violently shakes each tree, intermittently batting at the branches with his/her broom, the other is right there to sweep up and bag any fallen leaves. When I asked my Chinese colleague why they do this, her answer was simply, “Well the leaves are going to eventually all fall down, aren’t they?” I guess it was a stupid question.
Baijiu Escort: When I go to formal business dinners that involve drinking copious amounts “baijiu,” the notoriously strong Chinese liquor Chinaful referenced in the past and I referenced in my review of Beijing’s Ming Bar, oftentimes the restaurant will dedicate one staff member to stand behind my chair the entire meal. This employee’s sole responsibility is to be sure I do not topple over in a drunken stupor every time I have to stand up for a toast. In their defense, Chinese business dinners are generally pretty active, as you are expected by the end of the meal to have walked around to each person for a one-on-one toast to give thanks for their friendship and cheers to a long and healthy business relationship. On one of my more recent business trips to the port city of Qingdao, the host offered me the 140 proof (70% alcohol content) baijiu pictured below. As it would have been rude of me to decline, I indulged him and we took a couple of shots together. I could literally feel where the baijiu was in my body as it burned the entire journey down to my stomach.
140 Proof Chinese Liquor
McDonald’s Tray Collector: When I first arrived in China to study abroad over eight years ago, my friends and I used to get a kick out of attempting to make it to the trash can with our dirty trays before being intercepted by the dedicated tray collector. Looking back now, this was quite insensitive of us and likely led to the employee losing face (being publicly ashamed) each time we “won,” but at the time we were young and culturally naïve.
The Tea Sorter: Every day when I walk into my office building, without fail there are four or five people dispersed in the various tea shops on the first floor equipped with their large bamboo trays, meticulously sorting through a mountain of tea leaves. The driving factor behind what appears to be the most monotonous occupation ever… you guessed it, money. The tea sorters can make more than double for tea packages that only contain premium leaves.
Sorting tea is as exciting as it looks
Helium Balloon Salesmen/women: As you walk around Beijing you will see many vendors who have strategically set up shop in locations that allow them to capture very specific markets. One of the biggest and I imagine to be somewhat lucrative markets, is selling random things to drunk foreigners. For as long as I can remember, helium balloons have been a hot item on the main bar streets. It isn’t rare to see a foreigner bargaining to purchase the entire lot of balloons from one of the vendors as a means to embarrass the intended recipient.
Three balloon vendors preparing for the night shift
One balloon vendor who makes texting while driving look safe in comparison