Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stupid Expats in Asia and leaving commonsense at the airport: Pierre and the restaurant II

As I said before Pierre opened his restaurant in Taipei without any contract. About five months later, his colleagues asked him not to come into work for a few days because there were some issues with the police, and a foreigner working without a permit.
Two days after that he couldn’t get either of his partners on the phone so Pierre headed back to the restaurant; walked in, and, as custom, took a beer from the refrigerator. He saw someone else working behind the bar.
The waitress looked at him like she missed him and had not expected to see him again.“Pierre you want to eat here?”
“I am here!” But his riposte was kind of flat, because he was arrogant but not slow.
The new guy from behind the bar came over and introduced himself. “You must be Pierre! Wow, I am honored to meet you!”
“Where is Ah-Huei?” said Pierre.
“You arrange meet him here for dinner?” said the new guy.
“I don’t fucking need to arrange to meet anyone for dinner in my restaurant,” said Pierre. “Sorry, what is your name? You see, I usually do the hiring.”
One look at their expressions said it all to Pierre – well, actually, to people who didn’t know Taiwanese, one look at their expressions would indicate mild embarrassment of the sort associated with remembering your flies were undone...before anyone had seen. But Pierre knew the greater the embarrassment the deeper they shut down and the blank expressions on their faces now meant that the worse had happened.
As the reality hit he struggled for a moment against inevitably, trying to think of something he could do, then just sunk deep into allowing his dreams to disappear. He had a strange sense of relief – He realized the thing that had kept him awake, on edge for months, was just this. When the restaurant venture had started he had buried this fear because he had nothing to lose at that moment, but as things came together and success was had, the pound became deafening.
A few quick more questions and it was the horrible reality: This guy was the new owner…They thought he had gone back to France…that his partners had bought him out.
“I want to get out of here,” he said not liking to be a guest in his own home. He knew there was no way he was going to find them. Even if he did, what could he do? But stand and shout a little, and get further humiliated. The beating at the hands of the gangsters had made a lasting impression. He wanted to smash the place up, but he knew they might come for him. He headed for the door, then turned, dashed behind the counter and emptied the till. There had to be some act of defiance...and, fortunately, they hadn’t changed his bad habit of leaving large amounts in the till, yet. The oven was too big, so he picked up the espresso maker he had imported from France, kicked open the door, and walked out with a few tears.
He was surprisingly calm in the event of a real crisis, saving his energy for the little ones he invented on a daily basis.
That evening sat in the bar.
“I’ll get those mothers. Nobody cheats me like that.” He still felt the need to perform in front of us.
“So, much cash did you get?”asked John.
“I haven’t counted yet.” Pierre starts pulling money from trouser and coat pockets, and dumping it on the table, next to the espresso maker. He had gone straight from his restaurant to the bar. He had not been feeling particularly optimistic about the cash - Usually one gets a feel for the amount of money and excitedly tries to make predictions on the total, here from first note to the next all he could think was “Oh, there is another, that is it no doubt it.”
“Man, you got 50,000NT. A could survive on that for two months!” called out Eric excitedly, genuinely impressed.
“He had a restaurant pulling in a million a month, dick,” I said.
“Dude, I’m sorry, but you set up an extremely successful business model. You can be proud of yourself, look forward with confidence,” said Josh. Josh wanted to add you just have to go the legal route next time, but he knew it was wasting his time; Pierre would say that it wasn’t necessary. Josh knew many Taiwanese also liked to do it this way; they invested informally on just a handshake because they couldn’t afford or didn’t want to pay for a business license, and they also got cheated, stolen from and ripped off on a daily basis. But it wasn’t the Taiwanese way of doing business, but the bad way of doing business. He had seen it many times: expat guys came to Asia and left their commonsense at the airport. They take some guy out to KTV twice a week for a couple of months, spending a fortune on him, not discussing business, because they believe they have to respect ‘Chinese business’ culture; he studied it on his MBA course. At the end when he doesn’t sign the contract, he blames culture and moves on to the next one to make the same mistake. It wasn’t culture, that guy was taking the piss because you let him, and commonsense should tell you that. Very good western businessmen become idiots over night trying to follow the local culture. Yes, you have to take him to the KTV, but if he ain’t coming into the office next time, you know to cut him loose.
“You never told us who your investors were,” said Eric.
“Does it matter?” answered Pierre, the importance of not admitting it was a couple of his old colleagues from the KTV more important than ever.

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