Wednesday, 26 September 2007

More tales from the conference

As mentioned yesterday, I am at a global tax conference and had the chance to meet up with people from all over the world…

Tale 1: Perception is everything

I had a pretty long chat with the regional tax manager of east Africa during lunch. His name has got a peculiar spelling and it took me a while to know how to actually pronounce it. Sorry, I can't really disclose it here. He is based in Kenya and is of Kenyan origin and naturally, I asked…

“You must be a very good runner”
“Oh, not really,” he smiled.
“Sure? All the marathon winners and world record holder of long distance runners are from Kenya”
“Yes, that is true. But not all Kenyan are like that. In fact, I can't really run at all”

I found out from further conversation that only a very small tribe in Kenya are runners. The rest… well, let’s just say that they prefer to walk. So if you think that most Africans are natural long distance runners, you are wrong. But then again, perception is everything isn’t it? Just like how others perceived us as living on trees and how we are all of one religion.

Tale 2: Maximising time?

When my colleague was organising the conference, she had a tough time working with my boss. Yes,
it’s “that” boss. One main problem was the timing. The hotel only allows us to use the conference rooms until 5.30pm and we have to vacate the room thereafter. But our boss was very adamant that we have to extend our time to at least 6.30pm. Reason being…

“These people fly here from all over the world, surely they want to maximise their time here!”

So my poor colleague had to negotiate with the hotel about it. Oh, did I mention that our boss wanted us to start at 8am? Anyway, the negotiation with the hotel on the closure time failed, but we can commence our conference earlier. So our boss prepared agendas based on 8am – 5.30pm, and the boss was not pleased.

1 week before the conference, the big bosses from London sent over their agendas. And their timing… 9.15am – 5.15pm.

Well, I guess they do want to maximise time. But the question is… on what?... We Asians have much to learn.

Tale 3: An Asian Culture?

Following from tale 2… the first session yesterday was separated according to regions. There were 3 main regions namely… North East Asia covering China, Hong Kong and Taiwan… South East Asia covering Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia… the final region comprises of people from Africa, Middle East and the big bosses from Europe.

Our SEA head insisted that we start our session at 8am for a quick ‘ice breaker’. People from NEA came in at about 8.30am and the rest, at about 9am.

We the SEA people finished at 5.30pm, right before the hotel chase us out of the room. Upon exiting our room, we saw one guy from the NEA region came out for a toilet break and his remark was …

“Sigh… at least another 30 minutes more” (They had a small room which they don’t need to vacate by 5.30pm).

We the SEA people thought we did quite well, didn’t last as long as the NEA people. When we ask how are the Europeans and Africans are doing… They ended theirs at 4.30pm.

I know the thing about Asians being hardworking and all is a very well known culture. But I think if we were to look at it from a macro perspective… this Asian culture is slowly but surely… turning into an Asian curse.


Helen said...

Your boss is really insensitive.. can almost rival my ex-lady boss. Not the Datin lar...another one. Also teruk.

What makes her think ppl really enjoy long working hours like her? I'm beginning to respect you for being able to put up with

Actually, productivity has nothing to do with how many hours you work. Research shows productivity drops the longer hours you put in.

The truth is, there will always be work on your table the next day. There is no way ppl can finish everything.

Gosh, your boss is mean isn't she? Sometimes I wonder how can a person who is truly happy in life be this mean? Unless they're not happy in the first place lor hor?

rainbow angeles said...

Eh... I can't believe you made that statement to your Kenyan counterpart wor... O.o

Okie, let's ALL migrate to Europe!

Anonymous said...

aah, that's a lot of perspective check for one day LOL.

So, in conclusion are we doing pretty bad huh?

whoalse said...

I guess the "older" generations don't get the meaning of life after all. To them, it's all about work. If they have gone thru those times, they expect us the new generations to follow suit n keep comparing our time to their time!

It just shows us, as asians, are inefficient n not maximization when the westerners could finish their work in 7 hrs while the Boss needed 9 hrs!

Zewt, check the pic out of the friend in Random Portraits on The person mentioned that fact to me! hahahaha....

may said...

lucky me then, they don't question when I leave 5.30 on the dot if I want to, as long as my work is done. and no death stares either! haha!

Angie Tan said...


Oh man! Your tales of your lady boss is probably giving us all other lady bosses (potential and current) a bad name!

What's with the kiasu-ness about maximising time and etc.?? NEA vs SEA???

IMHO, longer time not equal to higher productivity. Productivity is how much you can output, irregardless of the amount of time given.

Having worked in a European location for a short time, I can tell you that the folks can be productive over the day irregardless of the time they come in/out of the office. In fact, it's the same for Aussies as well. The notion that Aussies are lazy is a myth. At my friend's place, they work non-stop from 7am - 5:30pm. They don't take as much breaks as we do but when they do take a break, they really take a break!

When will we Asians learn that we need to do things right efficiently, rather than just to do things because people pay us to do so?

Anonymous said...

The whole point people invented things like fascimiles, photocopiers and so on is to ensure that the same work can be done at shorter amount of time. But the sad fact is the expectation of sacrificing your life for your work also increased accordingly.

I admire the West because they spend quality time to enhance their lives and with those limited hours left for work, they use creativity to comeout with better and more productive ways to get things done which in the long run, improves their productivity.

Here in Asia, it is all about keeping the cost down. We are like agriculturalist stuck in an industrialised nation! Always breaking our backs thinking that's how life should be.

Anonymous said...

I beginning to wonder if we're "right" to compare our standards or ideals with the West at all. We are Asians and should have our own expectations and way of thinking/ living. Just because we're most influenced by what is projected by Western media doesn't make them any better than us. Because believe it or not, half the world does not believe in their way of thinking nor their ideals.

What is wrong with trying to make the most out of another hour? When in Rome, do as Romans do (and the Romans ruled West and East back then). So, just because a few individuals felt bored or tired after a long day and chose to say so to another disillussioned few doesn't make what they say right nor the organisers wrong.

Apologies if this comment hits a defensive cord, I'm also lazy to stay at a conference for too long. But then again, I'm a Western media junkie.

Horny Ang Moh said...

Money worth! If possible pay 10 cents must get back 20 cents worth of exchange! This is our culture!And it apply to the slavery world! Ur boss pay u RM10k every month but she expect to to work at least RM20k worth of work!I am not surprise that sooner or later she might ask u to do extra 'service' for her! But if u did that to her then my suggestion is for u to ask back somethings in return! Have a nice day!

Huei said...

tale 1: it's like how people cut down the entire tree because of one bad apple! >.<

tale 2: time's never enough isit?

tale 3: it's a curse alright!!

Pak Zawi said...

Wrong perception is very common as people tend to generalise due to incomplete informations or even ignorance. What you found out about the runners goes to prove that excellence is achieved through rather than being born with it.
As long as you remain in that outfit with your boss, I can safely say that we will be hearing alot more stories about her. Anyway there is alot to learn from your musings about her management style. We sure would like to hear your honest appraisal about her style.
As to work culture, can you compare the output from the three groups? Who produce the best result? It maybe subjective but if the quality is acceptable, I would say the group that did it in the shortest time is the most productive.

Anonymous said...

what an idiot your boss is.. typical malaysian slave driver. My experience is that we asians are just too afraid to really try and innovate and do something that will make our lives easier. instead we just plug on using the old fashioned way which takes longer to do (because our grandpa did it!) Work is never ending, it can never be finished, you have to call it a day sometime and stop hanging around in the office pretending to work but in fact surfing the web.. asians must also stop the bad habit of calling meeting's after work hours " i just want to go over something with you at 5.30", couldnt it have been done earlier? Do we asians need twice the time to do the same work?

Eileen said...

Zewt, I was going to pin you on your first tale... mana tau u answered yourself... It is the same of East Malaysians on East Malaysia... And lots more...

Are there gonna be more tales from the conference?

Anonymous said...

Maximising time is common among asian(Malaysia?) bosses. When I switched from a Malaysian to a Swedish company, it was an eye opener for me. Same thing happened.

We had a seminar and my msian boss saw our agenda and said it was too short, "Make it longer so that we can end it ngam-ngam at 6pm". My big boss(swedish) answered, "What for? Everythings covered in the agenda. Why create more time just because we can have the conf. room until 6?". :P

Anonymous said...

maximising time - at least farklah did pretty good...

sleeping through everything.

having a helluva times in down under when half of the country is flooding.

breaking fast & canvassing for votes/ge in kelantan when the whole judiciary is in tatter.

hardly found in putrajaya, leaving the country in auto pilot.

and he is saying " i'm working very hard"... what a silly di*khead

Anonymous said...

Eh btw, on a different subject, sometimes I want to comment on ur posts but I see u already have over 50-70 comments man! I kesian u so I refrain from commenting. How do u reply to every comment and still find time to churn out such "thinking" posts.

But I salute u man when u reply every comment. :)

Anonymous said...

Your boss has a lot to learn. I work with Westerners and though working hours are shorter, the productivity is never questioned. In fact, I have learn to work like them, though I do work at home at night but staying in the office does not make one work harder. And I get to avoid the jam because they have flexi hours too! The only set back is the dough....

rinnah said...

Aiyah... your lady boss is so typical... I have worked for (and am working with!) bosses like that.

How I would love to be in that Europe/Africa group! Start late, finish early. Hahaha.

Azlan Zed said...

1. oh like that ar, now i know.
2. ur boss need to learn more.
3. we are taking our own time la.

have a good one, bro.

Anonymous said...

Following your tale #1,
Lol, most of the time when the angmoh ask me where am i from, I said Malaysia... then they will be lost bcos I'm a chinese, non-muslim but i live in malaysia. Hahaha most ppl relli thot malaysia are for MALAYS and MUSLIMS bcos agama islam is agama rasmi and all of our big big, high high pose minister from the same race and same religion. Poorer angmoh no chance to visit our country, only get to see from tv via CNN, BBC.

Anonymous said...

story one:

I knew that one beforehand...


story two:

typical lah. she must be a Pepsi supporter. Ask for more...however, I'm basically that way when it's time to set project deadlines.

story three:

from what I understand about Western business culture, their meetings are brief, but daily.

there are also longer meetings that last days at a time, with intermittent breaks in between.

however, here in Malaysia the meetings are held for long hours, sometimes every day and even extending throughout the day without a single break.

not the best work culture.

Anonymous said...

Wow...we are Malays eh?ahaha..

The boss fucking demanding...who the hell wants a conference that long?

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Cirnelle, we might have our own ways of doing things but there's no harm observing others' ways and learning from them if there are better ways of doing things.

The Westerners have this concept of work-life balance which seems to be missing from our Asian working culture.

Jorji said...

orang kata kat Dublin, kul 4 dah habis keje..kul 5 dah ada kat pub..kul 7 dah mabuk habis.

Budaya keje sampai kul 7-8 malam dah lama aku tinggalkan.

Esok masih ada..sambung aje esok.

me said...

goes without saying, actually. i wld hv tot zewt was no so biased in his views. if all kenyans are born runners, then all malaysians are damn lazy, all british ppl need to stop for a tea break (which, come to think of it, i think they really do), all italians are great lovers, all french are great cooks and all ppl who call themselves lenglui are lenglui. hahahaha.

Bee Ean said...

I think if the conference starts at 10am and have a lunch break at 12pm to 2pm, then continue until 4.30pm, people will pay more attention to the content and contribute to the discussions, then keep reminding themselves that there are still how many hours to go before they can get their butt out.

Ehon said...

i love how u put all these into short tales. :D i love these entries!!

Trader Max said...

Your boss newcomer ar? Hahahaha where got these ppl want to have meeting all day long one?
Better have more plans AFTER the meeting lah... wrong focus leh...

Guide to planning a meeting for MNCs:
1) Good food - ensure that there is a fusion for Msian food and also Western food. Some like to try new things but most cannot tahan and revert back to Western food. Hahahaha
2) Complete facilities for presentation - this one actually basic, nothing much.
3) Arrange for Night Activities. This is where must choose good place and activities oh... depending on many things... but least must have good wine :)

All three done... then dont worry, bonus on the way heh heh heh...

zewt said...

Helen - when someone derive pleasure from verbal recognition and applause... one can just keep going. quite incredible. yeah, we asians just know how to work long hours... dunno how to be efficient.

angel - my statement very bad meh?

jonny - we 'think' we are doing well but...

whoalse - indeed... we are under this blardy curse really. and... what a small world indeed :)

may - well, aussie mah... they will ask u to leave even if u wanna do OT!

Angie Tan - and the worse part is that we have this worship-the-whites mentality... really bad. which is why i say... it's a curse...evolved from a culture.

anon @ 8.43am - the west comes out with effective and productive ways.... then they pay the asians (cos we are cheap) to implement it. we asians are happy to do it... and then feel so damn proud when remitting the profit back to the west.

zewt said...

cirnelle - for a while... i am not sure which side are you heading to. are we to follow the west or not to follow the west? i take it as 'no'. i believe in learning the good traits and do away with the bad ones. their thinking may not be acceptable... but i think, they are still colonising us... indirectly.

hor ny - yeah... i see those ppl being paid well... they have to literally sell their lives to earn it.

huei - damn right!!

zawi - hmm... i actually blog about her before. check out one entry in march called 'it's a boss thing'. well... do u think asians are efficient?

friendfromtaiwan - indeed... blardy culture evolving into a curse. we are killing ourselves. we are being exploited and we are happy with it.

princess eileen - well, i just hope ppl are not bored with it. conference lasts for a week.

adrian - hahahaha.... i am sure u damn like your swedish boss right?

zewt said...

anon @ 12.59pm - very subtle my friend.

KGC - that's the whole problem... asians want more dough and as such... are willing to die for it.

rinnah - they are treating it as a half holiday really. cant blame them.

alan zed - thanks bro :)

littlepolaris - and the CNN and BBC has nothing but bad things to say right? hehe...

Aput - pepsi supporter? apa tu... hehe. as for work culture... we asians only know how to increase quantity.

pookyma - the asians la... only know how to work and dunno how to enjoy life.

zewt said...

sunflower - agree with u. but i think cirnelle can be quite contradictory... really, i know her... haha

j or ji - memang bagus.. mari kita sama tinggalkan budaya yang teruk tu.

me - yes... indeed... i have to agree, not all who call themselves lenglui are lenglui. probably becos they are not thus calling themselves such.

Bee Ean - we just need to learn how to be precise and consise... not beating round the bush. and not to carry the fear that if we end earlier, we are not doing ourselves.

ehon - more to come!

Maxforce - good food... yes. complete facilities... company stingy wanna save this save that... arrange for night activities... boss is an old lady so.... u think my bonus is safe?

Anonymous said...

Now even better. They leave the Asians to run the business. Even coming out with creative ideas. Then they reward these Asians with some shares of their companies. They sell the idea across the globe and makes even more money. Then they remit it all home, for their quality living. Meanwhile, the Asians still feel proud, while slaving away at wee hours, basking in the idea that he/she has created a good product...

Rashikaps said...

Got in late.. :( I don't think there is anything wrong in trying to learn from the Westerners. They are definitely more creative than we are and smarter at maintaining work-life balance.

The more I read, the more I realize all Asians are alike. :) I know of us some people who were sent on a Needs Analysis assignment to the US. The Americans would work 8 hours, 5 days a week and these guys were instructed to work 10 hours, 6 days a week. wow! :)

zewt said...

anon @ 10.22pm - like i said... a damn curse. we long for a sense of satisfaction... the know how to starve and feed us.

rashikaps - and they will gladly do it... right?