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The fine print E-mail
City Life - Blogs & Columns
Written by Mary Higgins
I have always found that business in China is conducted extremely honestly. What’s that, you say?  Impossible?  You are quite wrong, my friend. It is you that has been defeated time and time again by honest merchants that have pegged you as a sucker willing to subject yourself to their whims. You were not beaten by them insofar as you were beaten by the fine print. In China, the fine print is king. It rules over all and it rarely loses.

Here’s a pretty straightforward example. I have a nice big computer chair at my place. It is where I spend an extraordinary amount of time hiding and shielding myself from the outside world. My lease is up next month and I recently signed an extension. During the negotiations, I mentioned that the computer chair is broken and that a new one would be required. “Not a problem,’ replied my landlord. “I’ll be back later tonight with a new chair.”  Hazzah!  He was no match for my abilities. He caved. He’s pathetic.

Or so I thought. A few hours later, as promised, the landlord showed up with a plastic folding chair. It’s the kind of chair that your stick behind a refrigerator when you can’t find any room for thin useless crap. “It’s what I use,” he said. I carried this piece of garbage over to the now piece of garbage computer chair on my floor and I tried to imagine how these could be perceived as being the same. One is a leathery beast with armrests and a padded seat. The other doubles as a 2-dimensional joke.

And then it hit me. I got beat by the fine print. This is actually my fault for assuming that the landlord is not an enormous prick. I didn’t specify during the negotiations that I was expecting an identical replacement. I didn’t specify during the negotiations that I was expecting a similar replacement. I simply pointed to the chair and said “Can I get a new one?”  To be fair, there was no way that I was going to get anything other than my new plastic piece of shit. I could have said “I would like the exact same chair as the one that I am pointing to right now. It is a Seabreeze 4500J and has a registered ID number of XW3412. I have already reserved the required chair at the nearby furniture store and all you need to do is go pay for it. Do you agree?  Please confirm all of the details. So we’re in agreement then?  Terrific. ” and the landlord would have still shown up with the plastic chair in his hand.

It’s like someone getting fired because their boss is looking for a reason so the boss says that they’re fired for stealing pencils from work. It’s a great strategy. It can easily be defended. It cannot be refuted. It’s how the world works here. You will get fucked. The only questions are: how hard and will you fuck the guy other worse?  That’s it. My gripe has nothing to do with money. Hell, I’ve already gone out and bought my own chair. This is about integrity and trust in your fellow man.

Am I so naive to think for a moment that people aren’t necessarily evil or should I assume that someone is going to steal my shoes while I’m napping on the subway?  When I see a sign that says “Free delivery for large orders” or “All you can eat” should I expect that no order will ever be large enough and the buffet will be out of food?

Look, I appreciate that business is about making money and the “there are no free lunches” sort of thinking but not every goddamn moment in a single day should be spent trying to think of ways to screw anyone that you possibly can. So, in the spirt of this post, I pledge to give 1000RMB to each and every person reading this post. That’s no lie.

Our valuable Editor Mary Higgins has been with us since Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

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+1 #2 Ian Clark 2010-06-01 11:44
The author is right here. It's hard to just relax and do normal business in China without having to sweat all kinds of details. Trust is a major problem, and getting into minutiae of contracts won't necessarily help you.
0 #1 just me 2010-04-29 12:49
You should keep the 1000RMB and buy a plane ticket home...sounds like you're done here.

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