rumor has it…about “guanliao”

Here’s a story for a Monday morning: My husband and I recently bought a condo in Dali, where we plan to retire. This past Chinese New Year, we opened the condo, calling the gas company to send someone over to connect our gas line. A team of three people showed up. The best dressed of the group carried a clipboard and explained to us what was happening. One of the electricians set to connecting the line. The third was there to oversee the young man making the connection and insure that he didn’t make any mistakes. The entire process–explaining, connecting, and checking the connection–took about ten minutes. Once they had finished their work, they moved on to the next condo.

I found it ridiculous to send three people to complete the job. However, when I told a 20-something friend this story she half-jokingly responded, “Wow, Dali is really efficient!” She then told me that most government and central enterprises had an even higher ratio of bureaucrats and supervisors to actual workers. At her company, she explained, actual work didn’t start until Wednesday because on Monday mornings top level executives met to decide on the week’s work, Monday afternoons, vice-executives informed managers of their responsibilities, on Tuesday mornings, managers further refined jobs for office heads, and then on Tuesday afternoon, office heads assigned tasks to actual workers. I laughed (as I was supposed to) and then clarified, “You’re exaggerating, right?” And she said, “Not really. There are at least four or five levels of management above my level, where the work actually happens. Even in Shenzhen, it has all become too guanliao.”

Continue reading

traveling in dali

Am in Dali, Yunnan, which for years was a favorite spot for backpackers, Chinese and foreign. The out of the way city boasts mountains for trekking, fresh weather, ethnic minorities with links to Tibet, and inexpensive crafts and food. Almost 30 years of backpackers have shaped the development of tourism in the area and many of the shops sell hippy clothes, while the cafes serve better bread and muesli than are available in Shenzhen.

Nevertheless, consistent low-end tourism has brought the area enough capital to inspire dreams of ¬†attracting higher-end tourists. Yesterday, for example, I took the Cangshan Mountain Cable Car and then walked through the mountains to Xima Pool.¬†The trip is over 5.8 meters long with a rise of almost 2 meters. Built with French technology, the cable car symbolizes the initiative to transform Yunnan into a world class tourist destination. In fact, the Kunming Airport, which opened June 28, 2012 exemplifies the scale of ambition — according to an architect friend, it is large enough to handle 30-40 million people a year, which is larger than Shanghai’s airport.

I’m not sure how much infrastructure debt Yunnan has incurred, but Cangshan has not been diminished.

Impressions, below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.