Monday, January 03, 2005

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I heard from lots of people about the great New Year's Eve they had. Fantastic. Now it's your turn to hear about mine. It made me very, very angry. But like most of the times I get angry, I'm not very sure who to be angry at.

So on Friday at about 11:45 AM I was walking out of the gate of Hailida Preschool when I got a phone call from the office. It was our department manager, and she was asking me to a New Year activity that night. "Everybody will there," she said, specifically naming the office boss, several higher ups from the marketing department and teachers from our own department. I had not gotten much sleep the night before so I was looking for a low-key New Year celebration with friends, and I felt a little guilty about skipping the Christmas party and several past company dinners for various reasons. So I agreed, and she had another teacher message me with an address and remind me to bring a small gift. Perfect, a chance to share some more of my cookies with the Melody teachers.

That night I showed up at 7:30 PM, half an hour early. As I walked, I discovered that the address was for a renovated estate in the old Concession area of Shanghai, near our original office. It struck me as strange that our company would rent such a nice place for a party, and it was even more disconcerting when I peeked through the window and did not see a single familiar face. Minutes later, as I loitered around unsure that I belonged there, I saw one of our teachers at the front gate asking for directions. She seemed to be more informed than I was, so I followed her inside and dropped off my cookies—I had specifically picked the best ones to share with my co-workers—into a gift box guarded by strangers. This only served to compound my discomfort.

We were led by a into a side room and introduced to a well-dressed older woman, who turned out to be a semi-famous actress and one of the MCs for that evening. MC? This was made clear when my department manager arrived, sat down, smiled, and handed me a paper with the order of events for the night. Order of events?! Yes, this was not a party for our company at all, this was some sort of evening program for rich Shanghai retirees and their relatives, and we would be running several games during the course of the night, right up until 30 minutes to midnight. I felt like I had been duped. This was not a relaxing night with friends, this was work!

So imagine my situation: I'm dog tired from lack of sleep the night before, I'm a relative introvert at a party for old Shanghainese i.e. people I don't know (and later asked to hob-knob with the principal of a preschool from which my company derives significant guanxi), my best cookies are on their way toward some unappreciative stranger's mouth, half of the people who I had been told would show up are not there, I'm not getting paid a red cent for this, and my department manager is making lame excuses at me: "think of it as half-play, half-work!" At this point, I'm fuming just remembering it.

Since I was not on the clock, I knew the ball was in my court: I had a choice to make. I could simply refuse to participate and walk out to make other New Year's Eve plans, leaving my manager to put on the games. This would leave her in the incredibly unfavorable position of having to explain to the hosts and to our office manager (basically the manager for our company's entire mainland operations) why the "foreign guest" and game MC had just walked out of the party. Or I could stay and play along.

I'm such a pushover.

Or maybe not. I actually made our department manager very aware of how angry I was, and got her to give all the attending teachers a half-day-off plus the promise of lunch on her sometime this week for me.

By the time the party was over, I actually felt bad for her because I think the party was a significant disappointment for her in terms of the entertainment it was supposed to provide. I think she didn't quite get what she was expecting either.

So I am very angry, but I don't know who to be angry at. The possibilities:

  • Myself: the usual suspect, for making assumptions about what I was walking into.

  • Department manager: for misleading me about what the evening was about.

  • Marketing department manager: who got us roped into doing this event.

  • Co-worker: only coincidentally, for excusing himself from this event, unknowingly passing it on to me.

  • Fate: I had such a nice Christmas this year, maybe it was only fair that my New Year was wet-blanketed.

Thanks for reading all the way through this, you really didn't have to. I just wanted to get it off my chest.

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