What We Need to Understand

With WeChat Product Manager Dan Grover!

With WeChat Product Manager Dan Grover!Although I had written that my book for March would be Wealth and Power by Orville Schell and John Delury, I quickly decided afterward that I would instead go for Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s China in the 21st Century, mostly because I knew I wouldn’t have that much time in March and it looked like the shortest book I had in my collection. By the year end, I likely will regret trying to cram the shortest books first…

But I actually have been spending a lot of my time reading more long-form articles online, as I hinted at in a recent post, and listening to quite a few podcasts. I like to think that makes up for the lack of reading actual books.

Also in between cramming my book of the month (more on that later) and catching up on producing my WeChat episodes, I’ve been doing further research on grad school. I’d like to say that I will start studying ASAP for the GRE, but I’m becoming doubtful of how realistic it would be to apply for fall 2017 admission, even if it does seem like forever from now.

I’m getting a better yet forever disagreeable understanding of how China works, and I hope that you will, too.

As recent as my last post, based on my frustrations as a foreigner looking into a country that I misunderstood and continue to misunderstand, I basically said I was near closing this chapter of living and starting a career in China.

Since then, I’ve made some progress mentally to try to figure out why and if I should bother trying to see things differently. Here I bring up main issues that I and everyone I’ve told this to have had (hence the use of “we”) and try to provide another perspective, one that will seem silly or nonsensical but nevertheless the facts of my situation. A lot of the issues are simply because I never had to deal with working in “real life.”

1 — No Contract
I see with painful clarity now how naive it was to expect a contract as soon as I started working. Even within a month. Honestly I have no idea how long it usually takes in other countries, but it was easy to assume that if a company agrees to take you on, it would offer a contract ASAP. This was mid-July. I officially started September. It’s now approaching April. Still no contract.

The Other Side: This company, at least, doesn’t sign until it gets a batch of newcomers. This is to streamline the process of signing people. Especially since I’m a foreigner—the only one to request a contract for the TV side, mind you—this means creating an entirely new path. It means confirming my “expertise” with the leaders within the company, and then procuring the necessary paperwork to send to the local, provincial, then national governments to approve. This paperwork then needs to go from national back down to provincial then local then the company. In a brief chat with a leader yesterday, the latest progress is that national has “approved.” Without trying to understand what that means in an already complicated process, I realize that it wasn’t necessarily because the company was “out to get me” or “testing my loyalty” or some other excuse I had to think of to offer outsiders who don’t understand my situation.

2 — Late Payment
OK, this is especially hard to understand, and even after reading this, you likely will still encourage me to leave ASAP. Literally everyone at this company and, as I’m learning, many companies in China, doesn’t get paid on time. There’s been coverage on this rampant and serious issue, mostly regarding the manufacturing, construction and mining industries and the increasing number of strikes that are actually happening because of late payments. (But seriously, am I part of something big going on?) Mine was especially ridiculous, and the anger that we felt was mainly due to our thinking that the company did this to target me specifically.

The Other Side: The omniscient “leaders” purposefully delay payment for specific departments, affecting not only naive and innocent me, but also many others who know the process already and know to push payment when necessary. Yes, it’s not ideal and annoying as hell, but that’s just what we have to accept.

Also the reality is, thanks to my family’s support, I don’t need the money to survive. Of course it would be best for me to live on my own, but frankly as someone who graduated with a degree in journalism in a globally unstable media environment, I can’t expect to be financially independent even if I had secured a job that paid on time.

3 — Taxes
To my knowledge, I get upwards of 23% of random taxes taken from my terribly irregular paycheck when I am not under contract.

The Other Side: If you’re getting paid by a company through a bank, no matter for whatever reason, you’re subject to taxes. The only workarounds are cold-hard cash or reporting more than you should get so that when taxes are taken, you get exactly what you were promised. I was literally told, “You just have to stop asking why something is and just accept it.”

And so, here I am.

It’s conflicting as hell, huh. On one hand, I don’t want to accept things that are plainly unacceptable from an outsider’s perspective. But therein lies the problem: I’m not really a total outsider now, and yet I want to reap all the benefits of being in a land of opportunity.

A wiser me is slowly coming to terms with the downsides of being in China. Because let’s take a step back and rehash the real purpose of my being here: To work and get paid like a Westerner to be financially independent as a recent grad, OR to work and gain experience I frankly would never be able to anywhere else?

As I recently learned from a podcast, sometimes it’s better to start off being ignored. I’m OK with producing work that doesn’t really get seen or work I can’t yet be totally proud of. Because I know I’m learning and getting better, even if I have to push to get paid and deal with the onslaught of concern from family and friends about how “unfair” I’m being treated.

Look, I know exactly how ridiculous not being paid is (at least in a timely manner). But how ridiculous is it that someone like me with no experiences hosting TV shows, let alone directing and producing them, can do all that immediately?!

So what does this all mean? Have I given up on giving up on China? I guess it’s better to say that I’m sticking with what I had intended when I first came: to stay long enough to make a difference in both the company and myself. It would suck to have to plan to leave all of a sudden just because I can’t deal with things that, sure, I don’t deserve, but under an umbrella of opportunity I also probably don’t deserve. If I back out now, how ungrateful would I seem?

Instead, I’m taking a step back and saying:

I’m lucky to be where I am today. Shit happens. But if I can deal with it, you should, too.


Now for some links to unrelated recommended readings:

The Incredibly True Story of Renting a Friend in Tokyo
This is altogether depressing, cool, “so Japanese,” and something I definitely will try whenever I visit Japan. Funny quote that speaks more to the writing than the article’s topic: “They’re one of those sweet and unassuming couples that exist just to radiate koala-like gentleness.”

Religion for the Non-Religious by Tim Urban
I would recommend his entire website, on which I could spend the rest of my life reading, but I came across this older article after reading his most recent one on cryonics (warning: super long but worth it): I don’t know about you, but once I get some steady income, I’m totally booking an appointment. Tim writes with so much truth and clarity. I love it.