Land of ‘Cargo cult capitalism’ [Part 2]

There is an old joke with a similar punch line, but I will save everyone the hassle of reading that.

At my job I got a bit of a sneak peak at the business end of things. It would have made for an interesting break from the academic side of things, if only the business side of things wasn’t so god damn frustrating. With the business side of things, everything turned into a number or metric. However those numbers often made no god damn sense, because they were looked at in isolation. The metric that people often talk about is seat utilization, how many students booked into a class over total class capacity. This number must be high. However, students are often asked for their feedback regarding our school, and a common complaint is that they feel there are not enough classes. What they mean by this is that there are not classes at the exact moment or hour that they want. Thus, the higher ups think that we need more classes. Well, this leads us to having three classes in a row, all the same class, all booked with just one student. This gives an extremely low seat utilization. And the higher ups just wonder why our seat utilization is so low. They cant begin to fathom what the problem is. They have absolutely no idea. But the solution is always the same; more classes.

To give you an idea of to what extent the people had absolutely no idea what was going on, at one point my boss tells me about an extremely self-congratulating email she received from the higher ups of the company, congratulating themselves over a 49% success rate. I am not sure in what universe anyone considers 49% to be a success, but that’s why I am just an academic.

The culinary scene in China has some incredible examples of this phenomenon. I am convinced that chefs were the first against the wall during the cultural revolution. To call the Chinese culinary under skilled is an understatement, as I am reasonably sure that Neanderthals could have cooked with more sophistication. I can, and will, write about this in further detail. But there is another example that also helps illuminate this particular point that I am trying to make. It also illuminates something about Chinese work ethic, something else I have previously discussed. I once went into a subway. I just needed a good sandwich so badly that I was willing to settle for a mediocre one. Now, whomever it was that subway had hired was only really aware of what a sandwich is by vague description, and had likely never had one in her life. She could have had one there, but she was electing not to. As a result, when I went and asked for my sandwich she helpfully put all the ingredients on half the bread. The other half was bare. I tried to explain this to her, but simply got frustrated and left.

The only exaggeration about that last story is where I said it once happened. It in fact happened twice.

As I sit and write this in my 16th floor apartment, some neighbors are doing a reconstruction project on their house. Their are tearing up the old tiling and putting up some new ones. I can hear a shit ton of banging drilling and hammering. The noise doesn’t seemed to be muffled at all. Which neighbors are doing it? The ones on the 12th floor. Apparently, the buildings here are just one massive concrete pour, and this lets your acoustic business travel freely into every other apartment in the building. I’ll keep this in mind before my next drum solo. I guess it could be worse, as the construction crew who put up the apartment my friend lives in places a toilet in his shower. They didn’t have to, as there was plenty of space in the bathroom to have installed the toilet elsewhere. They just didn’t know what a toilet (and likely, a shower as well) so fuck it, just chuck it anywhere.

The conclusion to all this is a weird outlook to life in China. China is, without the shadow of a doubt, a capitalist country. But it is a weird country, where it just doesn’t feel right somehow. I am sure someone is going to complain and tell me that I have no right to tell people how to capitalism correctly. But that is exactly what I am going to do. To use something of a pathetic analogy, I recall when I was in high school often finding myself in the company of friends who would turn into Johnny-come-lately to whatever it was that I enjoyed. I could flatter myself and say that I was doing a such a great job of enjoying such things, but the truth of the matter was that I was just a Johnny-come-lately of whatever it was my brother was doing. That isn’t the point. What I meant to get on about was that during these high school days listening to these people take what I enjoyed and (without trying to understand it, without doing any of the work to understand it) misrepresent it pissed me off. And that is how I feel about capitalism in China. It has taken my wonderful capitalism and somehow managed to fuck it all up. In high school, I always felt that those people would be so much more fulfilled if they could only manage to put in the work towards doing their own thing. But now that I have lived in China, I finally get it. It’s exactly about not doing the work. Because that would be hard.

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