I must admit that when I was much younger I was particularly prejudice against the Chinese from China and China itself. The news reporting China women flew to Singapore and hooked up with elderly Singapore men for their retirement funds and citizenship distorted my impression of them. News like guys peeing in tourist attractions, mothers allowing their kid to poop on the busy street, crude way they shout and the need to always clear their throat of phlegm served to increase my dislike in them.
You may find it strange as I am a Chinese but like my earlier post, I am a Singaporean Chinese with my direct roots from Singapore. Heck, I don’t even study China history, in fact, I studied the World War I and II. My brush with Chinese history comes from television series and movies. With almost zero direct contact with the Chinese, I stuck to my conviction that China is a horrible uncouth country.
When I first led a team of phone sales representatives with majority from China, my well-meaning friends cautioned me to be fierce, demanding and strict to them. “Don’t be soft and smiley otherwise they’ll climb all over your head before you know it” was their advice to me. I was apprehensive because I can’t be myself. And when I can’t be myself, I can’t perform my best. I am not a strict manager and I am definitely not a fierce one, I can be demanding but only within reasons. I was tensed the first week and I was miserable the first week of taking that team. That was when I decided just to be myself and I’ll just cross the bridge when they take advantage of me.
Not only was my fears and prejudice was unfound, I am shameful to have those thoughts in the first place. They are perfectly nice, hardworking and clever folks. They are not uncouth or rude, neither do they spit and curse. Happily after 3 months, I reported back to my well-meaning friends that I enjoyed working with them so much and we often have meaningful exchange on the differences between my country and theirs. They were skeptical but I know I am no longer wary of them and in fact, I became not only their leader but their advisor and their friend. When they need advice on any Singapore matters, I am always ready to provide them with advises and directions, whether it is regards to their work permit or visa applications or housing issue or even food.
Then my company decided to relocate me to Shanghai. Again, my well-meaning friends cautioned me that the Chinese folks I coached in Singapore are all highly educated and will be vastly different from those I will meet in China, plus in Singapore, I’m in home ground but when I’m in China, I no longer have that advantage. Actually, my friends went “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy China?????” They thought I would choose to go some sexier locations like America or UK or Europe or Japan. But this time round, I’m not prejudice or afraid because I have a team of expert advisors on China. My Chinese team.
I could go on and on what I have learnt in Shanghai as a foreign manager but that will have to wait for later posts. I could write on all day! The first time round, I opened my eyes and got rid of my tinted eyes. This time round, I opened my heart and embraced China. I learnt so much more from the locals and being there means I have to put in extra effort to blend in and understand their culture, their behaviors and their thoughts. The colored news I saw doesn’t represent the whole country and their people. China has 1.3 billion people, the news probably exaggerated like they always do. When in a bigger country, there is always an issue of safety. Same in China, same in America, same in Europe. In fact for the two years in China, I was very safe and while in France, I got robbed!!
I may not approved of and dislike their spit, shouting over their mobile phones, scams and yes, excreting on the pavement right in front of me but I understand. And understanding comes tolerance and patience. Ever since I came back with an open heart, I have been patiently explaining to people not to see the world with tinted view because the biggest loser will be themselves when they make decisions based on that view. Instead, try to make decisions by asking people who are subject matter experts. I could have given up so much so much more if I had refused to take up the lead of the Chinese team and gave up the opportunity to move to Shanghai!
Today I am not afraid to shout I love China!