10 things China made me do better
It has been a while that I wrote something on this blog. More precisely since I left Denmark to spend three months in China. This experience has been probably one, if not the most, overwhelming experience in my life. That might be the reason I found it hard to write: where to begin? Now that this period is coming to an end I find it easier to have perspective on all events, feelings, learnings.
I ignore my strive to sum it all up in one post and I’ll just write a list of some serious and some not so serious learning experiences in China. All equally contributing to me being a more advanced human being. The order might not reflect on the level of importance. Please don’t forget to use humor when reading.
I believe I have already been a decent chopstick user before this trip. By decent I mean if I did not have the option of knife and fork I was not in risk of starvation. But now! Now I am able to handle wooden, metal, flat, round, kids size, broken chopsticks with all sorts of food including slippery dumplings, mile-long noodles, soups (!?), rice and the list goes on. Let me quote one of my colleagues to emphasize the level of professionalism here: ‘You use chopsticks nicer than most Chinese kids’.
I have spent most of my time in small cities of about 5 million-8 million people (yes, small), where English language is not widely spoken since most generations did not learn it in school and have no need to use it in China. So, let’s say communication is a challenge. When I refer to developing English skills, I do not mean the English we all learned in school or use when visiting London.. I learned to look at English not only as a channel of communication but more like a riddle where the lack of adjectives, nouns, verbs offers the user a rollercoaster of experiences from devastation to amusement.
Speaking of communication, I was taught that 80% of our communication is supported by body language. This either does not apply here or I have been sending very mixed messages. I am sad to announce that I must have poor acting skills too because people really do not get me when I am trying to explain ‘chicken and water’ in restaurants. (Yes, that involves imitating animal sounds too.)
I used to say I was bad at directions. The reason is because in Budapest I used to get lost at undergrounds exits. But now I have been practicing this from China countryside to Tokyo by myself and I think I seriously became an expert. Imagine: getting around in China with the foreign road signs, foreign maps, no internet connection, no English speaking people. Manage that! I would hereby like to thank modern technology and its developers for the contribution to my journey. Please picture me in most cases like this: staring at my phone with eyes-wide open like Bambi, turning around myself, trying to figure if the arrow in Google maps points in the right direction, moving 1 meter to the left, 1 meter back, 1 meter to the right. There we go.
4. ART OF GETTING LOST
If the above mentioned tricks fail, this point 5 applies. After the first 5 minutes of panic I decide to embrace being lost. It’s a good go with the flow experience. This is how I found the cutest little streets, bargain shops, restaurants and took some amazing pictures. Sooner or later (rather later, really) I end up on the right track again.
Most of our suppliers organized karaoke parties in my honor inviting their whole team to have fun together. My absolute favorite parties in China! I really want to get a karaoke set for Denmark too because I think I fully adapted to this. I love listening to the Chinese pop songs that all sound to me like the soundtrack of Asian Titanic (more dramatic than the original). I also happened to find out that I love singing. I would never have had the confidence to perform Rolling in the deep before but now I can sing it when woken up from my deepest sleep. And if being a designer at Bestseller doesn’t work out…well, let’s just say I’ve got plenty of 6digit offers here waiting for me in the Chinese show business.
6. MASTERING HOW NOT TO CARE
This sounds controversial but it is much needed in some situations. You might be in a different culture and it’s required to adapt to it to an extent out of respect and practicality but I realized that for my own sanity I also need to be myself and do the things that make me happy. It can be extremely frustrating to constantly be stared at due to being the only foreigner in 20 km distance. Still I needed my long evening walks by myself, I needed to swim in the sea when everyone else around me was fully dressed, sitting at the shore. When it came to Halloween I dressed up as a male pirate with a very professional looking costume and a proper beard, moustache, bushy eyebrows. Imagine the shock it caused in the hotel lobby and on the streets. The number of selfies requested that evening is a personal record.
7. PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE
Just because I also promised some seriousness in this list. I visit all kinds of factories from printing, trimmings, knitting, stitching and so on and so on. I ask so many questions about every little detail. I am learning a lot. I gain so much knowledge about the products that will make me a much stronger designer. Not only will it help to make cost efficient designs and create higher quality products but also to communicate easier with the suppliers. Forever thankful for the opportunity!
When I came to China and started working in a completely different work culture I realized that what works in Denmark does not lead to efficiency here. The first month I used to begin my meeting proposals somehow like this:
– Good Morning. Could you please tell me when you have the time to discuss some ideas I have about our cooperation? Thank you. –These meetings never took place because people are extremely busy here. Now I send this e-mail instead: Good Morning. Today we will have a meeting at 2 pm about the future of our cooperation. Please bring all your team members and prepare the attached file for me. Thank you.
Standing up as force to be reckon with does not equal arrogance but is much needed to be taken seriously and get results. I am very happy to have developed this sort of attitude – I think I have been missing out in my whole life.
Basically, every two weeks I have been working with a different supplier team with the same aim to establish good relationship with them. This included many first dates with people and many conversation- boosting topics. I have never been a champion of small talking. So, I decided not to look at these talks in such ways. You know the saying that if you listen instead of talking, you might as well learn something you don’t know? I decided to keep my mind open and feel genuine interest in these people’s lives, ideas, culture and stories. They are amazing, hard working people with really kind hearts, each fighting their own battles. Not only did I get a better business partnership but also gained respect and maybe, I dare to say, some new friends.
10. SENSE OF HUMOR
No matter what kind of absurd situation life has thrown at me during these past weeks – humor came as my most useful companion.. Handling everything in a positive way helps to deal with culture shock. Every single day I have a reason to be I am laughing at myself and hopefully others are laughing with me. Or at me. I don’t mind. At least we’re having fun J
Thank you for reading. Keep on checking the blog for more posts about my experience in China.
Have a great day! 🙂