Company and Community

August 14, 2011 - Suzhou, China

It is Sunday evening and a full week since my last post.  I am winding down my trip and only have 2 1/2 days left in the office before I head to Shanghai for a meeting in the afternoon and then a 10:00 am flight home on Thursday morning.  I can't believe my departure is so soon, however, I am very ready to get back home and be with the family.

On top of my English class that I continue to hold daily, I was able to have several employees join me each morning for breakfast at the hotel.  It was a great experience to meet them in pairs and allow them to ask me questions while I learned a bit more about each of them.  They all seem to lead very simple lives and probably very different from the young adults in the City.  For enjoyment they go out with friends for tea or to Suzhou to walk around and shop.  Most have a boyfriend or girlfriend and have the traditional view that they should get married around 25 - 28 years old.  There is extra stress on the women to find a husband and it presents a unique challenge to the Company such that if they do not find someone local, it is very likely they will leave the organization to go closer to their hometown when they approach the age of 24 or 25.  We have several employees that are dating eachother (we have actually recently hired one of our Engineer's girlfriends so she could move close to him) and it makes some sense because if they stay together it is likely they both will remain at the company.  Of course, you always hope the relationship stays positive.....

On another topic, due to the "one child" regulation in China (unless you have a girl first), I found that one of our employee's (Amay) sister was given to her Uncle and Aunt at birth to be raised as their own child.  It was only this past week that Amay attended her sister's wedding and told her (at her father's direction) the truth about her "true" family - she cried and said she always had a suspicion but now she knows.  I was told this situation was not uncommon and either due to having additional children or "helping" out a family member with no child, things like this happen and it is just part of their culture. In regards to children, the pressure to have a boy still remains and unfortunately, too often couples find out the sex of the child during the pregnancy and you can imagine the consequences if the tests do not reveal a boy.  A lot of tough choices have to be made due to family pressure, economic reasons and tradition.  Thank goodness for our freedoms!

The gender roles are also very prevalent in the workforce.  One of our women employees, Ada, received her degree in Electronics and Instrumentation, similar to several of the men in our electrical/service department.  Due to the inability to find a job after university because these were "men's jobs," she went back to school for business administration.  She is now in our purchasing department and doing a great job, clearly very smart but she changed career paths and in my opinion, for all the wrong reasons.  Again, much of this is more prevalent outside the larger cities, however, due to the economic conditions many of these young people could not afford to live and work in the city.  Most grew up in the country and many are the first educated in their families.  These are just a few tidbits from breakfast, but these are the types of stories and experiences that will remain with me forever.

This weekend was clearly more active than the past.  A group of employees and I went to the old town of Zhou Zhueng (joe jung).  We had to leave early and get through the city gates before 7:00 am.  After 7:00 am they charge each person 100 RMB (~$15) which clearly is very expensive for most people here. The town was an old water town, full of narrow streets and shops along canals.  We stopped for a quick breakfast of silky tofu soup and later found a teahouse where we stayed for over one hour, sipping tea, eating small snacks and playing a chinese "connect 5" board game.  I also taught several how to play the card game Gin and we practiced our English since I still can't seem to remember more than a few Chinese words.  We ended the trip with a group lunch and headed back home.  After resting for a bit, I invited myself to Freda's dorm and asked if I could cook her and Paul (our HR/Office manager) dinner that evening.  Freda and I went to the traditional market (something to see) and purchased some things to make pasta sauce and some steamed vegetables.  We stayed away from the meat and if you were in the market, you'd know why!!  We enjoyed a "close to" Italian dinner together, listening to Freda's Pavarotti CD and ended the evening with a cup of tea as they taught me some things about the effects of the cultural revolution on China and how Taiwan differs since the revolution did not devastate their home country.  Not my typical Saturday evening with friends, but a special evening with friends to say the least.

Then on Sunday, a day I was waiting for..... I met back at Freda's dorm to get a cooking lesson from our company cook (they call her "Ayi" a term similar to Aunt).  On the menu was this wonderul slow-cooked pork, steamed whole fish, cucumber salad, stir-fried cauliflower and winter melon soup.  I took copious notes and can only hope I can recreate this menu at home.  I think I now need to purchase a rice cooker and steamer upon my return. I also had the privilege to learn more about Ayi. She began cooking at the age of eight when her mother became ill and she had to take care of her younger and older brother.  She never got the chance to go to school due to her family obligations but learned some basic reading skills later in life by her own son.  She needed to learn how to read and understand simple math since she worked for a large company as their cook and needed to purchase the food plus review the receipt to make sure it was correct.  Her son is now 25 and will get married in November and the new daughter-in-law "can't cook" as she said with a smile. The lunch was terrific and our company is very lucky to have her on our staff.

As you can see, a full week, a good week and I'll post pictures to tell the story.  Again, I really look forward to getting home but will feel a bit sad leaving all these wonderul people that are working for our company - or should I call it "our community?"  Until next time??  Deb


Our town
Fresh poultry stand
Pork stand
Market stand


August 14, 2011
Wow! The kids and I are so proud of you. We can't imagine being in your shoes. I know you have made a big impact over there and you will be missed but we need you back home.

We are very excited to pick you up on Thursday. Until then, be safe and get plenty of rest before you leave.

Jamie, Nick, Ali and Yoyo
Ellen Cook:
August 14, 2011
I loved what you wrote...for so many reasons...the pictures are great...see you next week

August 14, 2011
Your latest post was so wonderful and touching. I could feel the emotion in your words. These are memories for a lifetime. We all miss you so much. Have safe travels. Send my regards to the "community". Love, mom
Sara B.:
August 16, 2011
Deb, I have enjoyed reading your entries and seeing China through your eyes. What wonderful memories you have ALL made for a lifetime to come.
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