Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Evah! - Chinese Factory - Lost in Translation

restaurant near factory
I didn't much like the movie Lost in Translation, even though I'm a Huge Bill Murray fan. Maybe it was just the state of mind I was in when I watched it, but it just seemed so, pedantic and slow. Not so funny and not so touching. I did, however really relate to the sentiment as I was on a 17 hour trip to Southern China to work in for a few weeks in a factory there. Actually you take a jet or 2 to New York and board a jet to Hang Kong and either take the ferry, a bus, or a car into China to your final destination.

To get into China you have to have a passport and a visa which you get by having a letter of invitation from the factory you are visiting and then have it approved by the Chinese Government. You also have to get a quickie health inspection to pass the border, most of the time now since SARS. Basically they shoot a temperature scanner your way, so if your temperature is above normal, no crossing the border either way. You get sick in China, you stay in China. 

So what's it like to work in China? Well imagine a bathroom with a stall that has a shelf about 6" taller than your toilet seat. And imagine crawling up on the shelf with toilet paper in hand, without touching the walls or platform because you have no idea what has touched those walls or platform. Now imagine pulling down your pants, but holding them up so they don't touch anything with the tissue in your hand. Now squat over the hole that you are balancing over on the platform 2 feet above the ground, and aim for the hole. Don't dare miss. Now try to clean yourself without dropping your pants on the platform and DON'T toss the tissue in, because that will ruin the septic. It has to be thrown in the wastebasket outside the stall with all the other soiled tissues.

no closets - no dryer - hand wash laundry hangs on balcony
Now are you ready to go to work in China? Don't laugh, I spent one solid month doing that every day. No days off. 14 hour day, but with long lunch and dinner breaks. At least for the workers. Some days they actually worked longer, and I'd leave for the day, but I'd stayed the full 14. For lunch I walked to a local restaurant with one of the factory managers. The food at the factory was not deemed "safe" for me. Not that the restaurant down the street was much better. We had the same food every day, because the other food was too scary. I tried something different and was sorry I did.

Workers were wonderful though. I just loved the people, and amazingly enough, was even able to communicate with some, with a VERY limited Chinese vocabulary. I could tell them when something was good, very good, bad, very bad and beautiful. Usually I had to just show them what finishes I wanted on what pieces by putting the finish next to a sample of the product. It took a while, but I could communicate without an interpreter eventually. I really miss those wonderful people. I did spend a lot of time with them.
Some of the bad things were, no EPA, toxic fumes everywhere. Lighting was horrible. Heat and humidity was unbearable for me and even the AC in the office was bad. I had to work practically naked, tank top and light weight skirt or pants, and a rag for the pouring perspiration. Electricity in China is subject to the whim of the government and often off. Puts a big dent in production. I was working in R and D or research and development. Not actual production, but I did often visit other factories and see their production. 

I actually worked in many factories on China, some actually had flush toilets for visitors. But often, even restaurants had squats. Flush squats, but squats. And those are flush and run, because the whole floor flushes. Hard to describe, unless you've seen them. 

Food can be scary too, depending on the kindness of your host. Some factory owners like to screw with Americans, and it's rude to refuse anything offered. I think I've eaten everything offered to me. I even ate something from the sea that looked kind of like a trilobite or giant bug. There was no meat and it had no taste so I know the host was just screwing with us. I, being a woman often had to keep up with the men to be taken seriously. 

Picking up 3 peanuts at a time with your chopsticks and eating them is a boastful and brave feat for an American Woman. I did not, however keep up with the drinking. I did drink, but you can't out-drink the Chinese, so why try.

There are so much to tell that this is only a tiny touch on what working in China was like. 

It's kind of like these batteries that were made in China. Lost in Translation.


Jane Skoch said...

Wow, fascinating.

vintage eye said...

Where can I get some of those Lusty Batteries? ;) This reminds me very much of my time spent in Turkey during the 1980s. The people, the food & the history were wonderful. I eventually became quite adept at the toileting procedure!

Pili said...

Really fascinating... another country and another culture are always a shock, however you take it it's what makes all the difference!

Denise said...

Reminds me of my adventures traveling!

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