Monday, January 7, 2008

If You Can't Damn 'The Man'...

...bribe him.

Our school is moving locations in a few weeks. We're only moving a few hundred meters, into a different office building and on a different plaza, but still it is a big change--and hopefully for the better.

There are some problems, though. The 'Fire Council' dictates that all business locations should have two fire exits. Our new school only has one--not counting the main stairway and elevator. Actually, I'm looking around our current location on the fifteenth floor, and I can't find even one route I would consider a fire escape. We do have a central stairway and three elevators, but if the center of the building were on fire, or a floor below us, I'm not sure those would do us much good. The new location at least is only on the third floor, so worst-to-worst you could jump out the window and only expect a couple broken bones rather than being roasted alive for the love of grammar.

I'm required to sign off on all school expenses, so at this point in the narrative, let me backtrack to the moment where I discovered that my Chinese manager had taken these corrupt bureaucrats out to dinner and offered them a large monetary gift. Hmmm. I asked her about this, and she very openly and blatantly said, "Oh, those are just bribes." Just bribes? Yes, just bribes that had even been authorized by the executive VP.

Then she tells me that that's not the end of it. After being paid off, these Fire Dept. guys snidely referred us to the Educational Division which expected another large sum of money from us before the new year (now past) just for the small-potatoes act of allowing us to change our address on our school's license. My poor Chinese manager attempted to bargain them down, but they just threatened to send copious fines our way.

None of this is particularly suprising, if you know how things are done in China, but the incident does underscore my feeling that China is not a country I would particularly wish to invest in. Despite all the enthusiasm about the potential of the Chinese market, as virulent as SARS ever was, the facts beneath the facade are a bit less rosey.

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