Thursday, March 06, 2008



The colleague and housemate, who also happens to be the boss’s right-hand lady, summoned a taxi and we left for the domestic airport at 9am. The flight was scheduled to depart at 11am, but did not receive clearance from the control tower to roll out. So we sat on the tarmac waiting for 45 minutes, gas turbines running.

We arrived at Tianjin airport at 1.30.

The Tianjin office is a remarkable operation. Set up solely to service the construction of a water treatment plant, it is housed in an upmarket apartment unit. The living room has 6 cubicles; the senior engineer sits in the master bedroom, complete with a big important-looking desk; two other rooms each hold 2 workspaces. A last room is used as the meeting room.

The accommodation is almost as exciting. Everyone referred to going back to the ‘hostel’, but I had no idea what they were talking about. When I got there, I found that it was a large 3-room apartment. Each room held 2 occupants. As they had only acquired the place recently and moved in the day before, the furnishings were sparse. All necessary furniture were in place, including a lounge set, TV, wardrobes, beds, dining furniture, shoe cupboard, washing machine and fridge. However, there were no plates, no cutlery, no knives, no pans, no chopping board, no kettle and no cups.

Earlier, the senior engineer had remarked to the boss’s right-hand lady that without any ladies staying in the hostel, the place would get dirty very quickly. She is probably right. I’m staying with 2 Malaysian fabrication contractors who are in town for a fortnight, a young engineer from Shanghai and a Malaysian man who works in administration. They have been here for one day, and there are already traces of messiness. In various locations are empty cups from instant noodle meals, now serving as impromptu ashtrays. The non-perishable groceries are all dumped on the dining table, left in plastic bags.

It’s not about being sexist, whereby women are ‘supposed’ to clean up and cook and breed. This is probably a case where the collectively lower expectations can lead to a general decay in standards.

After a splendid dinner at a Hunan restaurant, 4 of us went to Tesco to gather our supplies of food and cutlery. It’s like starting all over again.

What’s the fair price to pay for a ceramic cup? Is 25 RMB acceptable for a mid-sized kitchen knife? How bad is it when a 500g tin of standard Nescafe instant coffee sells for 113 RMB?

The expectations have to be recalibrated. There is no use converting to MYR, because I’m not earning MYR, and because I am not a full-time arbitrageur. There is even less benefit in comparing to AUD, because I am not earning my salary in AUD and thinking in AUD terms will make me overspend.

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