June 30, 2005

Asking a visa for weird countries

P. has obtained the right to deposit a visa request in the consulate of a Schengen country, placed between Europe and Africa, after a three days ordeal.
Documents required were, as usual only few, such as:
Passport; detailed three pages form duly fulfilled; photo, in a specific format; original business license of her company; invitation letter of the inviting company including full description of the visit’s reasons and linked projects, assuming full responsibility for the period of stay in the inviting country; signature of a member of the board and official stamp of the inviting company; original register certificate of the inviting company; full insurance for the period of stay; return air tickets; original hotel booking and confirmation, specifying the payment; description of the local means of transportation during the trip; proof of salary/income in the country of origin; specification of the entry customs and the airline to be used (well, name is written on the ticket, but you know: repetita juvant); list of references in China and in the visited country; description and date of at least three previously obtained visa; copy of an ID document of a member of the board of the inviting company; letter of “mission” signed by a member of the board of the sending company.

Is it enough? does it seems a lot of paper?

No: If you require a tourist, single entry visa, you need to provide even more documents, including a six months certified bank account statement, invitation of a private citizen of the visited country and so on

Once collected the documents P. has made three days of queue in the basement of a building (leaving home at 6 a.m., going back in the afternoon), with hundreds of people in the same situation. The ventilation system of the basement was off and the temperature was around 36-38 C: Often people faints, orderly, in the line. Queue allows you to receive by an impolite employee a number for a further queue, this time in a better office where other employees interview the applicants and, if all is ok, accept the demand.
Employees from the country of the consulate find it funny to make comments (believing that visa applicants don’t speak their language) or inquisitive questions such as “why the hotel you booked is so far (note: 1 hour driving) from the company you will visit?”
If the trial is passed, you might receive your visa in one or two weeks.
Sometimes the consulate doesn’t release some visa, random, to show they are tight in controlling “immigrants” (but those visa are for very limited periods, not to immigrate)
Once P will obtain the visa, I will publish pictures taken during the three days ordeal.
Other consulates make big difficulties in order to issue visa, but at least they keep an image of respect towards the applicants

Now: a politician of the same country recently said that this same country should promote tourism from China ( a new big reservoir of tourists) and target the market of individual travellers. They have (and spend) more money than the tourist of organized tours (the”15 countries in 7 days” packages)
My two cents of advice: forget about it, you wanker!

click to continue

June 29, 2005

Working in a little, private hell

As I stated somewhere else, I am the general manager of a foreign invested group in Hong Kong, with factories in the N.T. and in southern China.
I am working in a private branch of hell, and I don’t say it because of the labour conditions in our Chinese companies, as my sensitive EU friends may believe:
In our factories I have applied EU standards of safety, services, working time and environmental conditions, and a decent working time and pay. Shareholders, earning huge profits, let me do (for the moment)
Our factory is not heaven (well, it is quite ugly), but it is much better than the place where they produce the puppet from your child’s preferred movie or the cool shoes you are wearing now.

My little private hell is the HK headquarter, where a smelling and sinister evil fog permeates walls as well as minds.
Please do not imagine that we have attention-grabbing and colourful monsters or pale but noisy ghosts walking around the offices.
Neither we have those bold, hairy (this is difficult to find in HK) and roaring bad guys you see in cartoons nor a really intelligent genius of evil or even a well educated sociopath : Those “evils” have , at least, their own greatness.

Our evil is of the most common kind: a shallow, drab and dull one.
It is an ignorant but persistent evil, made by a compound of lack of dreams and perspective, cold exploitation and fear.
You know: it is like to see a terminally ill, robbing a beggar of few cigarette butts.

In Hong Kong I have lost my previous and quite honourable Chinese title of laowai to become a gweilo (or gui lao 鬼佬,in serious Chinese), a kind of ghost. I am now free to look at my little hell as if I am a part of the background, a little fly on the top right of the canvas. This new status allows me to observe without being directly involved in the dynamics down in the circles.

As a fly, during my early times in HK, I observed with surprise the absolute lack of principles of my young and aggressive managers. I saw their daily struggle to become richer at any cost, with the only aim to buy symbols of richness (the latest gadget, that Gucci or Prada accessory) in order to show to the others their achievements and reach the climax in the comparison. I looked at them becoming poorer again, due to the price of symbols, and restarting the cycle.
It was a curious but not strange environment: it seemed to me that they were living an extreme version of consumerism joint with a snob attitude towards the less fortunate, a pinch of greed and a total lack of ethics: well, fundamentally Hong Kong was an old cove of pirates, then a colony and now a breeding house of rapacious tycoons, thus nothing new under the fragrant harbour’s sun.
At the beginning of my gweilo career it was even fun to see those apparently polite skinny people ripping off each other for few kuai or a grain of power, while pontificating about the backwardness and lack of rules in mainland China.
Now, more than one year later, I can’t laugh anymore and I am fed up:
- Half of the sales people spend an average 40% of their time spreading in my direction rumours about how the other half is taking advantage of company resources. Another 20% of their time is used in doing it (stealing). A further 10 % in bashing other colleagues (“that one is so dirty!”, “the other is living in a container yard, poor bastard”; “you know, her husband is a drunkard”, and a 10% in asking for more money. Only 20% of their time is used in selling our product to bad-paying customers in order to increase their commissions. The other half of them, behaves in the same way
- The financial manager, a shy guy, a kind of beguine new born Christian, after working time becomes a maniac harassing his staff with obscene phone calls and threatening contract termination if they don’t listen to him
- Most of them stay in office from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. in order to show their full dedication to the company, body and soul. What they do? Interesting things like collection of “Hello Kitty” badges (“It is an important brand”), playing solitaire or managing their investments in real estate, or the cousin’s sweat shop accounts down in Guangdong or even the bets at jockey’s club.
- They don’t have a private life: some of them wait for me at light rail in the morning in order to “reach the office together” and talk about that “little problem of my co-worker” forcing me to change timetable everyday to escape. Others never went to cinema with their family, or ate a cooked dinner (only instant noodles and similar rubbish) because they “have no time to loose”: but they try to invite me to cinema on Sunday early morning (to save on tickets cost) when I just want to f..king sleep
- I find an average of 10 trials per day of installing spy ware and key loggers on my laptop
- Everyone , everyday is trying to find a subordinate to submit and humiliate in public in order to show his power

Even so, for a kind of miracle, our company is doing really well.
Don’t be crazy for an MBA! You will learn nothing, spend a lot of money and meet ugly and boring people.
The only management theory that works is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The secret is in entropy

Now I have only three choices:
- I become a babbling paranoid and I escape back to relaxing (yes, relaxing and laid back, if compared with HK) Shanghai
- I accept the HK way of life and I become a triad big brother (or a tycoon, who is the bland but richer version), chopping the most boring of them into small pieces.
- I become really, really bad.

Considering plus and minus, I have chosen the third alternative: tomorrow, the finance manager will be fired. Commissions will be withdrawn and I’ll modify the organization chart in a Confucian style: one single paternalistic loubaan (老板laoban, in serious Chinese) and more than 200 little soldiers.

click to continue

June 12, 2005

A world of opportunities, but ...

An old friend reached me in HK a couple of weeks ago. We were schoolmates in the eighties, which mean many, many years ago: later we took different paths and we lost contact. He found me last year through an internet search, and we met again.
A pearl of wisdom for my two readers: people never changes, apart for the scars and the wearing caused by a longer exposure to bad weather and bullshits.

My friend was amazed by the “energy” he felt in China and HK. It was nothing related to feng shui or to more contemporary moronic revisions of an oriental philosophy:
Just he felt that, in this area of the world, all people are doing frantically something in the more or less vain hope to become someone important. Basically they are all busy in making money and they can do it, while in EU things look more sluggish.
From a professional point of view, many people back home seems waiting for a merciful death, wandering on the pack like an old Inuit.
The comparison between the two economic environments, the European and the Chinese, (or, in a wider sense, “Asian”) seems to attract energetic people, pushing them to try to find a job here: but it comes at a price, and it is expensive.
I am not talking about simple things like the total lack of good quality bread and cheese. In China you can find it, even if at the same price of heroin in Europe.
Meanwhile in many parts of Asia, heroin costs less than bread in Europe: but, have you tried to make “panini” with poppies? It is hard, really hard.
The highest price you need to pay is related to psychological stress, because here the rules of the game are different.

Forget about fair means and a pacific life: nobody here pardons a mistake, nobody considers “fair” as an adjective that can be used in business.
If you hold a good job position here, you must be a little paranoid: there is always someone trying to dig a hole around you. The law regulating business relationships, here, is the law of the jungle.
Isn’t it the same anywhere? Yes, for sure, but probably the stress caused by the continue struggle for survival is more felt at an higher power and salary level than the one we poor middle class mortals can attain.
My friend was conscious of it : he worked in the financial and consulting field where always rules the Hobbes definition of “ homo homini lupus”.
Meanwhile, many other pure souls are recently writing to me, trying to find a hook to move here.

I need to give them some suggestions as follows:
If you have to be poor (for EU standards), if you are not so poor, or even you are basically wealthy, but you are not rich, hang with old Europe: for us, here, it is the survival of the fittest and often the fittest are not nice guys.
If you love fresh air, clean water, peaceful landscapes and serene relationships on your job place, do not come here.
If you want to escape from home to follow an exotic dream, remember that in the documentary you saw on Discovery Channel they don’t show you the smell, the dirt and the fatigue: just fancy colours and smiling beauties. They don’t show you the migrant worker in Guangdong’s sweat shop; they show the skyline of Shanghai and HK.
And please, stop sending your CV to me, and calling me to remember how friends we were when we were working in the same company: you still owe me 3 Euro for the coffee machine card.

click to continue

June 11, 2005

Let's Start

Overcoming the “horror vacui”, I try to fill this long-waiting page with some information.
Location: Where I am?
I live in Hong Kong, New Territories, extreme north-west of the Big Lychee (I hear the scream :“No! Not another HK blogger, please!). I travel very often to China: it is around the corner.

Language (with disclaimer):
I will try to use English, even if it is clearly NOT my first language.
I am not interested in comments about my bad English, but, of course, you can waste your time telling me how bad I write.
Would you like I write in Italian? This is my first language but hélas (now, this is French!) too few people understands it.
I could also try zhong wen, but I am not skilled enough (Panpan don’t blame me!).
Meanwhile you can leave your comments in any of the above languages: I’ll understand, and I will also praise you, in internet, by written.

Who am I?
An old, fat fly from Italy. After intensive travels and job assignments in North Africa, then in Latin America and somewhere else in the world, I found my cake in China six or seven years ago. I was an adopted Shanghai ren until I soft-landed in Hong Kong as general manager of a company.
In Shanghai I was found by Panpan, or I found her, or ,well, we met. It was an extremely improbable event and we were, apparently, completely different: that’s why it works.

What kind of blog is this?
I will follow the usual pattern:
- un-useful, self celebrating posts to overcome the contradiction between working as general manager and my pre teen dream to be a doctor for MSF or a revolutionary hero.
- Some more interesting stuff on travels around Asia, life in China and labour issues (the definition of “interesting” is, of course, subjective).
- Personal news to update relatives and few friends back in old Europe.
I will add some nice pictures, time by time, to increase the number of my readers thus boosting my ego.
The blog will be updated randomly: hey, I need to work too, and here in HK we work long time!

Thank you for reading: now I suggest you to use your time for something more worth. Have a nice day

click to continue