This week I have taken part in my organisation’s biennial planning meeting. For those of you who don’t know, I am working for a local NGO that provides rehabilitation and education for kids with cerebral palsy. If you want to know more you can have a look at dodgy English language website I knocked up (click on the English button at the top right of the page). For a better impression, see the bilingual newsletter I produced in collaboration with two of my colleagues, Xiao Lan and Xiao Hua (their names translate as breaking dawn and little flower-now do you see why Chinese people often choose lame English names?!). The newsletter is in the archive.
The meeting is much as I imagine such things would be like in NGOs in Australia (I’ve never taken part before). There are, however, some interesting Chinese quirks to share.
First things first, the meeting starts on a Sunday. Isn’t that nice? No. Especially not when the Saturday before is spent moving house. Our office is undergoing renovations this week so we’re meeting in a hotel’s conference room that has no windows and horrible fluorescent lights. I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be at nine am on a Sunday.
As a brief aside, I am happy to report I have left the penthouse at the top of a pile of rubble and am now in a little studio where I can sleep in past six am. Unfortunately, these first few days I have woken with a start then anyway-an annoying occurrence that is, however, sweetened by the fact that there’s no construction noise! There’s even the occasional bird cry (does it matter that it’s probably crying “Help! I’m stuck in an industrialised nightmare”?!)
The next funny bit is the morning tea table, which sounds pretty normal, but the range of snacks and beverages laid out, I have to admit, has me hankering after some scones with jam, banana bread or even the Arnott’s cream assortment (nevertheless what’s there does beat the Arnott’s family selection).
Here’s a picture:
Note the coffee-China’ s favourite “Nescafe’s Three-in-one” (that’s coffee, creamer and sugar all in one handy sachet for your convenience! Or repugnance..) Of course, the only tea on offer is green. There’s about 8 different kinds of little individually packaged biscuits with flavours that range from Durian to seaweed to ‘UK smell’
There’s also some salted plums, some spicy peanuts and milk lollies (made famous by their import ban during the poisoning scandal of 2008). On the dot of 10:30 – some things are universal – these are all eagerly guzzled down and the table is all but stripped bare.
Indeed it would not be an official event without a banner:
The Chinese reads: “Angel House Strategic Planning Meeting 2011”. The colours, the font and the material used are ubiquitous-and no event worth its salt would ever go ahead without one of these.
Instead of some limp sandwiches and a pale fruit platter for lunch, we head down to the hotel’s restaurant where we sit in three tables of ten. A banquet promptly arrives. Despite morning tea’s homesick Arnott’s reflection, at this moment I’m not at all hankering after the western equivalent.
It may be a surprise for some to learn that the Chinese practise the lunchtime siesta. Lunchbreaks are usually two hours long (two and a half for government departments, lazy buggers-another universal) which gives people time for a proper sleep. The Chinese don’t waste time doing stupid things like going home and having a long, drawn out meal. They eat as quickly as possible and then get straight to the business of zeds. At work everyone has their own pillows and mats. Because we’re in a different location we all get assigned a room (hourly room rates are pretty standard here –please do not think we are meeting in a brothel). After we’ve finished eating, Big Sister Mo (of fallopian fame) reads out groups of three roommates and hands out keys. I found this whole bit quite amusing, but when I arrived at my room with my two compatriots, I could not hold back the laughter. Turns out we’d all been assigned to sleep three to a double bed! I’d love to say this was common practise in China too, but unfortunately it’s simply a reflection of the fact that this NGO is one of the poorest of the poor.
At the end of three days, the meeting wraps up with an evaluation form that would make the communist party proud. There’s lots of room for praise. Suggestions for improvement are limited to two lines at the very bottom of the sheet. Now we’re off for a two day “retreat”. I don’t think I am unreasonably dubious…