I received the results of my health examination on Monday. I’m happy to say I got a clean bill of health. It was hand delivered to my office in the morning. The office assistant took it, my passport and some forms to the Visa/residence permit processing facility this afternoon just to wait in line for me. Since I still had to go in person to get my picture taken, she called me a little before her number was called, and I took a taxi out to meet her there. I handed over all my papers (how come we never call them “papers” in the US?) for processing. I should receive it back in a week. I feel like the availability of cheap labor in China has pushed services in opposite directions:
1. Services that think your time is worthless.
I put places like the bank in this category. You go in, take a number, wait anywhere between 30-75 minutes until your number is called. Then you can finally perform whatever simple transaction you required (like withdrawing or depositing money.) The problem here is that banks don’t segregate the time-consuming tasks from the short ones. In a US bank, if you want to open an account, or something equally involved, you don’t stand in line. You see a clerk at a desk. In China, there is one line. Unless you are a VIP (don’t know how you qualify), you wait along with everyone else for the 2 tellers that are helping everyone. If two people want to open an account, they hold up the entire line for 15-20 minutes.
Retail stores are similar. There’s no such thing as a simple transaction. Everything requires a hard sell, bargaining on price, confirmation that the product is in good condition, payment, collection of products, and finally confirmation that the products you just received are the ones that you examined earlier.
2. Services that think your time is valuable.
The assistant waited in line for me because there is a clear understanding that my time is worth "more" than hers. Delivery services here (such as the ones that delivered my furniture) work weekends and long morning and evening hours. Ayis (maids) clean your apartment because your time is worth "more" than the $2/hour they make. Is it exploitation? I think it’s efficient allocation of resources.