I had to attend Babinette's EAL assembly this morning (incidentally the school song contains references to God) so made my way to school pretty early and found myself in front of my hairdresser (near the school) before it opened. Only to be greeted with another assembly, one of all the 40-odd salon staff lining up military-style on both sides of the entrance, clapping hands, making speeches, telling jokes, dancing to loud music and singing songs. I totally freaked out as lately I kept wandering into places where people happened to assemble, be it the dirty back area of a restaurant before it opened for the day, front of a private compound when the security guards were changing shifts, and a few other similar line-ups. That in a country where I believe you have no right to assemble, except to sing propaganda songs or face the firing squad.
The young man (he came from Henan where Shaolin Temple is) doing my scalp treatment told me that they do those assemblies every morning. They would all have memorised a few slogans, the company's motto etc and would take turns to come out to lead the others in a few songs, sketches or dances. I didn't attend any dance when I was at school so you can imagine that I totally hate occasions like these when you have to move your body parts while others are watching.
Motivation, team spirit building, entertainment before the daily work begins...The Chinese are embracing corporate spirit and functioning with ardour - and I will remember not to turn up at the hair salon before 10:30am the next time.
Then I went to Metro to shop for groceries. In other parts of the world, you usually can't shop there unless you have a corporate membership card. Over here, you pick up a piece of paper when you walk in, shop and then pay up at the cashier giving him the same piece of paper (just pretend you have forgotten your card and write down your company name). He normally doesn't even look at it.
Not that there was anything interesting to buy in Metro. I do not buy in bulk anymore ever since I made my new resolution not to stock up. If you had spent weeks sorting, giving things away and then packing like I had before we left Italy, and then another few weeks unpacking and sorting again like I had since our things arrived in Shanghai - you would have a phobia of stocking up too. The effects will probably wear off in a while, but at the moment the memory is still fresh.
Then I had to deal with our driver. His company is asking our company for a raise. The rental of the (coming new) car is more expensive as is the driver's OT rates. Our company wants to switch to their cheaper rival, but Hub wants to keep our current driver who is a pretty decent chap. I was given the task of testing him out, if he would want to work for the rival company should we stop using his current one...Days like these you wished you couldn't speak Mandarin.
But the Chinese are usually open to talking about anything especially if it has to do with money. My hypothesis is that when you have political repression, you are free to talk about everything else. As a matter of fact, one of the things I enjoy asking people here is how much they earn. That is a particularly indelicate question, but we are in China and people usually have little taboo talking about money.
Actually I am not interested in finding out how much people earn per se. I just want to know how they manage to live on what they earn, why the income gap is so wide in Shanghai especially and what this implies in terms of social justice and stablilty in the long run.
From what I have gathered, the minimum monthly wage in Shanghai is currently 1280 rmb, though what one can do with that I have no idea since one dinner for us in a restaurant near our hotel usually costs this much if not more. We definitely do not eat in the same places.
And inflation is bad here, labour shortage so serious that wages had to increase - though not as much as property or food prices. And education is somewhat not free in this Communist country - ironic, don't you think so?
We lunched at my Parisian Chinese friend's Vietnamese restaurant in Puxi the other day. He used to pay his staff 900 rmb per month 2 years ago. Now he is paying 2300 rmb. And has lost half of his staff after the CNY break - many of the migrant workers do not return to Shanghai after their annual holiday, preferring to stay home or nearer home since the wage gap between smaller cities and bigger ones like Shanghai is narrowing whereas the cost of living in the latter is definitely much much higher.
Then I was told that white collar workers tend to earn much more, from 4000 rmb onwards, many in the 10 to 20000 rmb bracket and certain (someone I actually know, for example) even earning 2 million rmb annually. There are many Ferraris, Porches, Audis etc on the road. My relocation agent travels in Europe almost every year for about 2 weeks and she is only 28. So the income gap is widening at a frightening rate. And trying to tell the driver that the 5 to 10 yuan extra he is asking for per hour during OT is too much makes us look really mean.
So I digress as usual. Anyway driver complained that my ayi earns more than he does. True, except that we pay our ayi whereas the company pays the chauffeur and the latter has not just budget but also policy. And I didn't want to mention that while the young lady keeps busy during the 20 hours she'll be here each week, a driver usually spends the bulk of his time just waiting and doing nothing. But he did concede that the OT pay rise was normally only a suggestion and our company could always refuse it.
He doesn't want to move to the rival company because it has taken him 5 years to build up his relations (guangxi) in his current company. I was told that you have to fatten your manager's pocket during festive occasions plus know someone who knows him in order to be given decent driving jobs (like the one he currently has). Fair enough.
Finally, the cost of the new car should be negotiable so with a bit of adjustment we hope that we can continue to keep our current driver YL. When you see how most people drive here in China, you know that he is quite a gem. Plus he is always in good humour whereas most Chinese people tend to look quite grouchy. And tell me if this is not a sign : my ayi and my driver both have rare surnames and the left half of their surnames is the same - 革 meaning "revolution". Such a coincidence.