Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chinese, Issues of Ethics and Etiquette...

Continued from before...

Little importance to Systems and Training

Back to the Chinese restaurant example…. To many, waiters and waitresses in Chinese restaurants are a very efficient lot indeed. They seem so busy. But are they really efficient? Look more closely or try to beckon them for service and you will find you are quite invisible to them! They are mostly “activities-oriented”, which we mistake for efficiency. Try comparing them with the young lads in McDonald’s, you will understand what I am trying to compare and contrast.

Few Chinese restaurants train their staff to lay the tables the way Westerners and the Japanese do. Look at the way they arrange plates, glasses and cutlery. Look at the way they pour your drinks. In a Chinese restaurant, everything is left to the devices of the individual waiter or waitress. To them, what’s the big deal? Only The Flower Drum in Melbourne understands the concept of service; not even John So’s restaurants. His waiters and waitresses are still of the “kei-tor-wei?

(In Cantonese: How many of you? - usually asked in a non-attentive manner) and “one-sauce-for-all-to-share” type. And John So is the ex-Lord Mayor of the very cultured city of Melbourne!

Germans spent years in apprenticeship before they dare strike out on their own. How many of our electricians, mechanics, and plumbers have gone through a formal apprenticeship programme? Many had been handymen to their “sifu” [师父] (masters) for only months before they also decided to set up shops themselves. No wonder, when you summon one of these tradesmen to fix one problem, you end up with two! Ethnic Chinese think they can pick things up on the job. That may be true when things were pretty simple. But the misplaced confidence persists.

Once I walked into a men’s wear store in Kuala Lumpur’s Mid-Valley Shopping Complex and as I was browsing through the selection, the young woman who was looking after the store asked, “chong e moh[1]?” (“You like it?”) What “chong e moh” when I have not even picked one to see!
In societies where attention on social etiquette is more diligently observed, you will find that the store assistants will most likely leave you alone or, if you are seen a little lost, ask “can I help you?” But ethnic Chinese shop assistants tend to follow you like a shadow. Or is it that I am a potential shoplifter?

Oh, we still have a great deal to learn from the Japanese…

When the then prime minister Mahathir Mohamed said we should look East, few dared to contradict him, although in the hearts of many ethnic Chinese, they must be saying, “why from the Japanese, of all people?” I believe not many people really understood his intention; they might have thought that he was prompting Malaysians to learn all the productivity gimmicks from the Japanese. But in reality, Mahathir wanted Malaysians to absorb the best of Japanese culture, values, philosophy and even rituals! To him, these are the stuff that will make a nation great.

It will cost you a bomb to take a taxi from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo. If you are not in a hurry, the shuttle coach service is good and more affordable. Before the coach arrives, porters at the terminal will have finished tagging all the baggage and when the coach pulls out of the terminal, a chap will stand in front of the aisle, and with a deep bow, wish everybody a happy journey. There are no pretensions. And no tips, please! How refreshing! It may also make a number of passenger droppings, but it will deliver you to your destination right on the dot, unless you are really not in luck that day!

I cannot help admiring the Japanese (but NOT their Shinzo Abe and Yasukuni Shrine worshippers). I was watching a road sweeper in front of Daichi Hotel at work during one my rare visits there. The experience fascinated me a great deal. His uniform was smart, not the T-shirts and slippers stuff we generally see of cleaners. If not for his gears, he could be mistaken for a police sergeant. His strokes were so deliberate. He did his work like an artist. If you think this is just an isolated case, go to the Tokyo Central Station; it is as clean as many private hospitals!

I was once invited by a long lost distant cousin to attend a seminar organised by his firm at Subang Merlin (now Sheraton). This distant cousin of mine holds a PhD from Liverpool. He was lecturing at the National University of Singapore before he returned to Kuala Lumpur to start his information technology business. He provides IT consulting services to the manufacturing sector. The invitation said the session would begin at 6:00 p.m. sharp and end at 9:00 p.m.

I turned up at exactly 6:00 p.m. and was promptly ushered into the function room. The room was very empty; I was amongst the first there! The backdrop read: WORLD CLASS MANUFACTURING, VISION 2020.  SIRIM and MIDA were also the joint sponsors, besides my cousin’s firm. Guests trickled in slowly. At 6:20 p.m. or so, one of the staff, detecting some restlessness, went to the microphone and made this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the delay, blah, blah, blah, and thank you for your patience.”

By 6:35 p.m., there was still no sign of the session convening. I thought I had better go as I had another appointment in Kajang to keep at 7:30 p.m. On my way out, I walked towards my cousin who appeared a little lost.

“What’s the matter?”

“The key speaker, Mr (now Datuk) Jegathesan of MIDA, has not turned up yet.”

So much for our Vision 2020 and my cousin’s World Class Manufacturing. Can you achieve Vision 2020 if punctuality is still being taken for granted by the champions of management?

Have Fengshui will travel!

A TV interviewer was going round soliciting for opinions when Malaysia was besieged by the Nipah virus some years ago.

Everybody had some points to make. But this one was most mind-boggling…“You know what Nipah is in Chinese?” One excitedly asked. Interested only to say his piece, he went on to explain, “Pai [] in Chinese means hundred. One hundred people will die.” He said it in such a manner as if the figure was written in the stars already! Despite all the sciences, numerology still commands a large following. No wonder Lillian Too’s books on fengshui are still selling like hot cakes.

You have to go for the number ‘8’ if you want wild fortunes to drop on your lap (fatt) []. For high status, you have to seek out the number ‘6’ (lôke) [祿]. And if you are the forever rejuvenating type, then the number ‘3’ (sum) [] is pretty good. But the Fujianese will bet on the number ‘9’ (kaô) [] – I suppose it stands for “almost perfect”; Cantonese will say it is also not a bad number – “chance to play on”? Ethnic Chinese will want to steer clear of the number ‘4’. When I was a schoolboy in Muar, my family used to live near Othman Sa’at[2]’s kampung. I remember all his personal cars carried number plates of “4” (sei) []. Othman Sa’at went into political oblivion. Maybe Lillian Too will say this: I told you so.

One day I casually asked Lim Goh Tong’s fengshui consultant about his true feeling about the belief. He said he was very sceptical about it for many years. But there is something mystical about it that makes him now a practitioner; he calls it au-miao [奥妙] Chinese characters, two]. I suppose it pays to be vigilant; it is a little like insurance, don’t regret when things happen!


[1]Is it suitable?” in Cantonese
[2] The Menteri Besar or chief minister of Johor in the 1960s and 1970s.

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