In the Beginning

By Doctor John  |  Posted 2006-09-08 Print this article Print

In the Beginning In 2000, I was at a small teachers college in Baotou, Inner Mongolia. The network was very small, three nodes. Everything was shared files over thin coax, and they had one dial-up modem to get to the interweb. My project was to expand the network to 24 nodes with a dedicated server.

I wanted to change from a thin coax backbone to CAT5. Get a high-speed interweb connection, spec out new boxes for the new nodes, and upgrade what I could. This was my first introduction to red envelopes.

China has many different regions. It is a big place. That seems simple enough to understand, but I had no idea how different. IT-wise, I see three regions in China: the Southeast, which includes places like Shanghai, Hangzhou and Shenzhen; Central North, including Baotou, Beijing and Hohhot; then there is everywhere else in China.

In Baotou, I managed to get some prices from local suppliers, get it all written up (my translator really did all the work) and present it all to my boss. He looked it over, then made some telephone calls. For almost an hour, I sat and listened to him talk to maybe 10 people. It was all in Chinese. I had no clue what was happening. Sometimes I would ask my translator what was going on. Every time she just smiled and assured me things were going well.

After the boss finished with all of his calls, he spoke to my translator for about 5 minutes, who told me everything was going well and I could go home. Thats all. Dazed and confused, I did just that. I went to my flat and let all of this soak into my jittery mind. I could not tell if I had done something wrong. The boss seemed agitated at times, happy at times. Always smiling. What was I doing in Inner Mongolia?

Whats the next chapter in IT? Click here to read more.

Now, stand back for a moment. Put yourself in the same place. You have a relatively simple IT project to complete. Your supervisor does not speak your language, and you dont speak his. He just spent an hour on the phone, sometimes yelling, sometimes speaking quietly. Never looking at you. Never talking to you. He tells you, through a translator, to go home and relax.

There I was relaxing, just like you can imagine, in my flat when I got a telephone call from the translator: "A car will come to pick you up for dinner in 20 minutes."

A business dinner in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, is a drinking test, with loads of food thrown in. The food was wonderful; the drink was horrid. Rice liquor. If you get a chance, dont try it.


During all this drinking and eating, I noticed some red envelopes being exchanged at the other side of the table. I lived through the dinner, and my boss seemed very pleased. I was still without a clue as to what went on.

The next morning, way too early, my translator rang me up again: "The boss wants to see you." I speed-shaved and dressed. The car arrived just as I was tying my tie. I got to his office, took the chair offered, tried to get my head to stop pounding out "Stupid, stupid, stupid," and waited for him to speak.

Through my translator, he told me everything was settled. The things I requested would be delivered that afternoon. I was still dazed and confused, now in shock. What the ...?

Later, after I learned some Chinese, I found out about the red envelopes. In China, red envelopes are used to hold "gift" money. Sometimes bribes, but in this case payment for goods. The boss got the things I needed for less than half what I had been quoted. No paperwork, just red envelopes and promises.

Next Page: Civilization.


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