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Clash of Working Cultures

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Henry Chinaski

Joined: 04 Jan 2007
Posts: 22

PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 2:32 am    Post subject: Clash of Working Cultures Reply with quote

Hello All,
Well almost a week with no postings. Wow, dead as a door nail so to speak. I'm a guy who spends a lot of time reading the posts here without ever interacting much. It has been so quiet I thought I might post a question for discussion.

I've been in Hong Kong for about three months now and I would have to say things are pretty much as expected. I am a lecturer with the VTC and it seems some of the difficulties in working here are similar to some of you working in SNET or PNET positions. Specifically what I am referring to is the Hong Kong (or should I say Chinese) working culture. I have previously lived in Taiwan so the Chinese working culture is not new to me but Hong Kong is something else. People here spend large amounts of time at work doing what I consider to be close to absolutely nothing. However, the fact that they are physically at work seems to have them convinced that they are actually working and being productive little workers.

Now, I realize as a Westerner I am part of a completely different culture and my concept of work may be somewhat different. But I guess what I am asking is this - Is the one overwhelming aspect of working in Hong Kong that sends most of us mad the fact that even though our work, classes, administration duties, etc. are completely up to date we still have to at least attempt to creat the the illusion that we are busy and that there is never enough time in the day?I have to spend at least 40 hours a week at my campus when I feel I could do my job in a little over half of that time.

Anyway, its just a question. Would be very interested in what others have to say.

Henry Chinaski
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Joined: 01 Aug 2007
Posts: 53

PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 3:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lucky for you I'm trying to rack up enough posts to start private messaging Very Happy

Despite the fact that Taiwan has a higher population density, I am under the impression that maybe average living conditions are more tolerable?

In any event, and I know this to be the case with University students like myself who have to share a room with seventeen hundred people each semester, staying at work/school late, without doing anything in particular, is bittersweet: you think you're getting a little sanctuary, but you aren't.

And for what its worth, I think everyone, to some degree, thinks they can do their job in fewer hours than what is expected by their employer. Smile
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Joined: 31 Aug 2006
Posts: 632
Location: Hong Kong: The 'Pearl of the Orient'

PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2007 10:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Henry, I was not aware that VTC had office hours. That seems a tad daft to me. My advice would to be get a job where you are left to your own devices, as long as the work gets done. I do not have office hours, and I don't think any of the universities here do, but I am fully aware of the situation you refer to. It has been discussed here many times before and I'll offer the same comments to you that I did to others in the past.

Aside from teaching, one thing I do as part of my job is to analyse and encode errors made by local teachers on the written paper of the LPT, construct corpora, and perform quantitative and qualitative analyses on the said data. I also have to occasionally conduct interviews with teachers, which of course (unfortunately) entails going into various local putative 'educational establishments' (as elsewhere on the forum today, I hesitate to employ the term 'schools'). When I do it is rare not to see at least three or four teachers in the staff room sprawled out over their desk, dribbling and/or snoring.

When I ask about this somewhat strange state of affairs I am invariably told that it is because they 'are such good teachers' and 'spend so long at work'. But, to my mind at least, surely at least part of the reason that they 'spend so long at work' is that they have a two-hour nap at some point in the afternoon. If they didn't have the siesta then they would not be there so long so they wouldn't have to have the little snooze! The HK Chinese always seem to confuse cause and effect and always seem to employ circular logic and this is another classic example of that. Also, they invariably also spend at least an hour on their mobile phone (why on Earth do they all have so many incoming calls everyday? Are they all running businesses on the side or something?) Add to this the fact that they usually have elevenses and that most if not all seem to enjoy a cooked, sit down lunch at a local restaurant sixty-odd minutes after this mid-morning snack, have afternoon 'tea' about two hours after their lunch, and spend another hour or so on the school landline phone taking care of 'banking matters' (again, as they are 'at work for so long' and so can't do it otherwise) and we see soon that their 'We have to spend 14 hours a day at work' line is just that: a line, and is nothing short of sheer nonsense.

They do indeed tend to spend that long at work but it is their choice. If they cut out the perpetual phone calls, the restaurant lunch, the forty winks at their desk, and the incessant jabbering on about their stocks and shares/maids/Australian passports/new 'Japanese-style' [sic] haircuts, etc., then they could most likely go in at 8am and leave at 4.30pm, if not 4pm, just like most teachers at International and ESF schools. But they won't so they can't. That's what they refer to as their 'school/educational/work culture', and the results (or rather the lack thereof) speak for themselves.

In short, they cannot distinguish between activity and productivity, or quality and quantity (and in fact I personally believe that they take great delight in purposefully blurring these distinctions) and quality of life is quite obviously an alien concept to them. I actually know of one local teacher who swears blind that she and the rest of the teaching staff have been told by their principal (unofficially of course) that they are not permitted to leave the school premises until she (the principal) does. Of course, number 1 principals with thirty years of experience are on around $70,000 and $80,000 HK per month on the master point pay scale whilst many of the young local teachers are on as little as $14,000, and principals, one would have thought, have vastly more responsibility than basic teachers and so one would expect that they would have to occasionally stay longer, but of course such things are typically left unsaid.

The same teacher openly confesses that, as she would normally complete all her work and discharge all her responsibilities by, say, 4pm or 5pm, in order to save herself getting bored by sitting there for 3 or 4 hours with nothing to do, she purposefully takes her time with her work (marking and what-have-you) so that she has something to do in the time she has to sit there waiting for the principal to leave! But, as the principal is of course unmarried, doesn't have a boyfriend, does not have any hobbies, interests, or commitments outside of work, does not have any chores to do (the maid does them all), all she has to go home to is a ridiculous little rat-like substitute child poodle, and that is hardly a great incentive to return home, and thus is often there till around 9pm!

Like most if not all things in HK, this is just a game, and can be succinctly captured through psychological game analysis. You see, whilst it's all very well and good going on about – and striving (or purporting to strive) for – good, constructive, well-planned, student-centred lessons in which the students actually learn something (information and/or skills), these notions and concepts are quite vague and nebulous, and so are extremely (if not practically impossible) to actually measure in any truly objective, non-self-referential sense. However, time spent at a desk (whether it be eating or marking or sleeping or babbling away into a mobile phone) is highly quantifiable. Indeed, it lends itself to this sort of analysis very well. It is after all easier to count, measure, and gauge amount of time spent at work than it is to calculate student progress (claims that the absurd exams in HK do indeed give an insight into this realm notwithstanding). For the former a punch-in and punch-out card system alone suffices, but a solution to the latter is somewhat more challenging.

Thus, accordingly, they concentrate on the time spent at work in order to convince themselves that they are doing a good/worthy/commendable/(insert adjective of choice) job. When the students fail it is because they are lazy (or, alternatively, because they are Mainland immigrants), not because both the teachers and their teaching methodologies are utter crap. I don't think I have ever seen anything other than chalk-and-talk-style lessons, or rather, given that they without fail employ a microphone, chalk-and-shout lessons. Many local teachers simply sit at the front of the class and read from the textbook, telling the kids what to underline as they go. Truly inspiring indeed!

Another problem, of course, and one which is frequently overlooked, is that the local teachers in the local system are, by definition, 'success stories' of the very system that's rotten to the core in the very first place, so of course it is going to be self-perpetuating! 'Well, I'm a teacher so it worked for me when I was a student, and what was good enough for me is going to be good enough for them (whether they like it or not)'.
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Horizontal Hero

Joined: 26 Mar 2004
Posts: 2492
Location: The civilised little bit of China.

PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2007 5:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah there is an enormous amount of wasted time here, and I can only agree that much of the work done in educational circles is just digging ditches, filling 'em in, digging the ditch again... and so on. I think it's largely because Confucian society is very hierarchical, and people feel powerless to change stuff, or are just too scared to challenge power and systems (most workers are incredibly timid and simply endure totally pointless impositions placed upon them by managers). And managers seem to think they have a duty to creat time-fillers when there is nothing there to actually do. So there are meetings and more meetings which seem to serve no function other than to have a meeting. The classic scenario is the sight of principals stalking back and forth like the husband of an expectant wife, before a comatose staff. And on and on he/she walks and stalks for an hour or two, totally oblvious to the fact that the captive audience have been forced to have out-of body-experinces simply escape the sheer monotony of it all.


No why. Laughing
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 12:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good post, 11:59. It does sound remarkably similar to the working 'culture' on the mainland. It has always made me laugh how Chinese teachers claim that they work so hard, when all they appear to be doing is filing their nails/putting makeup on/chatting on QQ (and thus rendering the computer unusable by anyone else, due to all the malware/spyware/virii that QQ pulls in) or whatever.

I wonder if the Chinese got their working model from leftwing local councils in Britain. I used to work in one, and the amount of time that highly paid people used to spend in the office doing absolutely nothing was remarkable...
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Joined: 11 Jan 2005
Posts: 137
Location: Hong Kong

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 6:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

All very points 11:59. Only thing I can add is that the whole 'stay-until-the boss-leaves' is so ingrained most of the poor sods here don't even notice it as much of a problem.
First year teaching here, I had a local teacher tell me how envious she was of me at my leaving on the dot of 4 and how upset she was cause she never spent any time with her 3yr-old boy as she was at school marking until 7-8pm weekdays.
My suggestion to her that she could take her marking home in order to spend more time with her baby just hit a brick wall. She literally couldn't understand the concept, so conditioned was she to staying until the boss left.

What's worse, it's not even solely the boss' fault for this situation (though they must shoulder most blame as they do little or nothing to stop it). Leaving early is akin to commiting occupational hari kari. Minute after someone leaves early, there'd be a queue outside the principal's office only to eager to inform them of the dissident's transgression.
It reminds me no-end of what happened during the Cultural Revolution, where Mao decided that 1 in 10 were dissidents. They'd have meetings where the first persons to leave were fingered as being the unpatriotic ones.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même...
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Henry Chinaski

Joined: 04 Jan 2007
Posts: 22

PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2007 12:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey 11:59,
Great response as usual and I have to agree again. Quantity over quantity is exactly how it goes here.
By the way, we do have office hours at VTC. I have to sit at my desk between 9am and 5pm even if I have nothing to do. A couple of days a week I start at 8.30am so I take off at 4.30. Of course nobody in my office appreciates this to much but I really don't care. I just turn off my computer, pick up my bag and hightail it out of here.
Finally, I tried to send you a PM but I think I have been locked out. Can you let me know if you reveived it or not?

Henry Chinaski.
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