The greatest invention to ever hit China

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Chinese Culture
Tags: , , , ,

When I first moved to Beijing from Nanjing, I hit a snag at the police bureau. I’d just returned from a trip back home and had two days to get a student visa before my old working one expired. But it turned out my school had given me one wrong document (which was nearly identical to the correct one). I asked if they could let it slide but obviously that was out of the question. So I asked if I could pay to extend my current visa; something I’d done before and knew I could still do. Here’s how that went:

Visa woman: You think this is a game? You can just get whatever visa you feel like?

Me: No, there was just a mix-up with the school so I want to extend my current visa until I can get it straightened out with them. I’ve done it before.

Visa woman: No, you’ll just need to go back to the US and apply through the Chinese embassy.

Me: Are you fucking kidding me?! I just got back from the US. I’ve extended my visa before, I know I can do it.

Visa woman:  (Shakes head dismissively, waves me off and refuses to say another word)

I began to understand why there was a bulletproof glass barrier between her and me. I made some calls and got my school to hash it out, but I later learned I was totally right about extending my current visa.  The visa woman was ready to make me go thousands of dollars and a few weeks out of my way just so she could avoid two minutes of extra work.

She’s the disinterested bureaucrat who’s paid to sit there and she’ll be damned if she’s going to do anything more. She’ll abuse her miniscule authority to create shortcuts for fixers and anyone else willing to make it worth her while, but those expecting her to just do her job are about to get their day ruined. If you’ve ever tried to get something done in one of China’s infinite state-run monopolies, you’ve met her.

But I went to open a bank account a few days later and discovered a little invention that could revolutionize China in the most profound way since Reform & Opening Up:

It’s a customer service rating machine. After your interaction, you simply press your level of satisfaction and the total results affect the employee’s job. By no coincidence, the service at the bank was fantastic.

I had similar results when I called to get my internet hooked up. The first two reps I called talked to me like I was a moron for wasting their time in trying to patronize their company. But the third couldn’t have been more helpful. I found out why when, after the conversation, there was an automated feature that asked me to hit a number corresponding with my satisfaction level.

Imagine if every bureaucrat, secretary, doctor, police officer, petitions office worker, train ticket clerk, inspector, etc. had incentives tied to meeting a certain quota on one of these machines. Customer service and efficiency would skyrocket and petty malfeasance would drop precipitously.

After the scheme’s success is proven, who knows, maybe these machines could even be put in little booths every 4 or 5 years and be tied to people in even higher positions of power.

I call on the government to begin immediate production on tens of millions of these machines. I can’t imagine a better investment for the country’s continued development.


  1. I’d agree with this – they use similar machines at every immigration point between Shenzhen and Hong Kong and the Chinese (mainland – not Hong Kong sadly) staff are the best immigration officers in the world, friendly, efficient and just fab.

  2. C. says:

    I’m not so sure. I suspect the employees would just bribe their bosses to overlook the results.

    Such is life in the kleptocracy.

  3. FOARP says:

    I’ve seen these things everywhere in China for years, going right back to when I first arrived in Nanjing back in ’03. Never noticed a blind bit of difference in the way I was treated – they didn’t stop the girl at the BoC making me spend three days arguing with her that I could send home more cash than I had paid in taxes and that had been the case for a couple of decades. They didn’t stop the BoC constantly refusing to exchange yuan for HK dollars despite me having all the documentation necessary to do so. Also didn’t stop the border cops in Shenzhen damn-near tearing my passport apart and making me wait an hour before letting me back in after a weekend in Hong Kong, which then resulted in me nearly getting denied re-entry to the UK.

    ‘fraid you’ve just been lucky enough to get some decent service – nothing to see here folks.

    • sinostand says:

      Well I doubt anyone’s quota is 100%. I imagine plenty of people accept up front that a foreigner will be a problem case and act accordingly. I remember a woman waving me off from a train ticket booth before I said a word saying completely implausibly “都没有“ (We don’t have any at all). So I went to the next booth and got my ticket.

      There’s also plenty of “He doesn’t speak Chinese flawlessly, therefore he must be an idiot.” Therefore, he probably doesn’t know what these machines are.

    • sinostand says:

      PS – My intended takeaway was more about public accountability in general than the literal mass production of these machines.

  4. So what happened? You didn’t say if you got your visa extended.

    • sinostand says:

      My school directed me to a visa agent who gets things done regardless of the rules or incorrect documents. (Perhaps a topic for a later post) Got my new student visa a few days later.

  5. Kitty says:

    You know why? Though Chinese people work so hard, they get few wage, especially compare with foreigners. So, why the visa woman should always keep good patience for you? If you get so few salary, it’s also hard for you to keep smiling on your face.

    • foarp says:

      True, but I’ve found plenty of people who work for less having a more positive attitude to their work than the average government/bank/post office bureaucrat. I always felt it was far more to do with job security – the people at the bank couldn’t get fired for refusing to carry out the transactions I needed, but they might get fired if they carried them out and it turned out that they shouldn’t have. There’s no reward in being helpful, only risk, and so they behave like this.

      Actually, I can’t pretend that banks/government/post offices in the UK are fantastic, but because they do have somewhat more job security, they are somewhat more willing to be helpful and the experience is rather less painful.

    • sinostand says:

      i’ve worked jobs where i got paid pittance to put up with ungrateful assholes, but i never took it out on people that just expected me to do my job and had no negative attitude in doing so. I was nothing but polite with that woman at the begining. Her job sucks and i can empathize. I don’t need a smile on her face or a good attitude. But when she brushes me off in a way that could needlessly cost me thousands of dollars just so she can escape two extra minutes of shuffling papers, that’s inexcusable.

  6. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    Hear! Hear! Sinostand! Quite agree with you! As for being jealous of the foreigner’s wages – that’s the emotional intelligence of a five year old! Grow up I say!

  7. Hugh Grigg says:

    So, so true. Service in China drives me insane. Although I have a completely different visa story to tell.

    My visa actually expired, so I went to my uni to ask what to do. The visa advisor person there said “Go to the visa office, and when they say it’s expired, just say that it isn’t.”

    Not having a lot to lose, I went to the visa office. The guy looked at my visa, looked at the calendar, and said “Your visa has expired.”

    “No it hasn’t,” I said.

    He shrugged and processed it without any issues.

  8. Ruud says:

    Organisations and companies that are well-run do not have, or need these. I have not seen the slightest improvement since their introduction.

    And at customs, do you really think I am going to press anything less than “completely satisfied”?

  9. Great, pleasant posting and also the precise product information, allow me to present to my friend inside fb.

  10. Fantastic, excellent publish and also the precise product information, let me show to my friend in facebook.

  11. Fantastic, good publish and also the precise product information, let me present to my local freinds in myspace

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s