Monday, February 25, 2008


I'm sitting in a crowded cafe drinking jasmine tea and catching up on email before meeting a new friend for dinner this evening. There are so many things to tell everyone about but I'm already feeling challenged to decide whether to accept amazing invitations that come my way or stay home and write about the things I've already done. I'm making notes so that I can write later and tell you all about everything.

As I sit here I am continually impressed with the Chinese attitude towards service. I wanted to change tables an hour ago, to one with an electrical outlet, and the staff came running over to help me move my tea, my computer, my coat. With great apology the manager just asked me if I could move to another, shared, table to make room for a large party. I agreed and started to gather my things. That brought anxious looks and shaken heads, and one waitress looked like she would cry when I started to lift my teacup myself - my things were gathered for me and moved to my new perch, and an adapter brought over so that my charger would fit into the plug. Once I started typing again I took a sip of tea, with hand under the mug to catch some of the water dripping from the bottom (from the staff having generously refilled my mug to overflowing, multiple times) and someone came charging over with napkins to dry the saucer. He saw that my mug was almost empty and brought over more hot water, put the porcelain strainer with tea leaves back in my mug and again filled it. Verbal thanks often bring expressions of surprise.

At work I have been stopped from cleaning up after myself. I am not to put away pens or pencils, paper or books that I've used. On Friday I was preparing for a meeting that I thought was in the office and was politely bundled into my coat and taken by black car to an office a few blocks away. The idea that I would walk anywhere brings surprise. When I mention to the CEO the high level of service and attention to any detail that I bring up, she tells me that the administrative staff are there to help me so that I can focus on doing my work and don't have to worry about anything else. She also says that they've seen that I notice all they do and express appreciation, something rarely done by foreigners.

Even the family in the open air market from whom I buy my morning scallion pancake snack smile at me as soon as I walk in and get excited when I pronounce a new word correctly in Mandarin. My cab drivers patiently try to teach me new expressions in Mandarin, or repeat the same word multiple times so that I can hear the correct pronunciation and practice saying it.

I feel spoiled, pampered. It's nice. Then again, I'm told that that's the point.

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