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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Good Cop, Bad Cop - with Chinese Characteristics!    

By Garreth Humphris
3184 Views | 11 Comments | 9/14/2012 11:47:58 AM

Unsafe SAFETY STORE in Guangzhou - image: wikipedia

One of the things I really like to do in China (if I have a few minutes) is to explore the ’local, local’ shopping areas. What I mean here is that the “living areas” in my city are actually a bevy of small alleyways, porticos and overhanging lean-to constructions that house small family businesses. You can quite easily travel along the main streets thinking the whole place is devoid of life, but ducking into a “housing” hole-in-the-wall gives you a chance to find local foods, fruits and candies; a hairdresser or 20; the ’assorted duck bits’ seller; my favourite Chou Dofu (stinky tofu) sellers and a plethora of other people just sitting around doing not much, trying to sell a few trinkets and treasures to the residents passing by!

As you may know from a few previous blogs, I have a bit of a passion for hardware shops, they are full of piled stuff you can't buy anywhere else in the city (and maybe, even the world)...I have had a problem with a pesky mouse in my home, so I was looking for a mouse trap...so I went searching!

The little store I found was dark and cavernous - the family seemed to live between the piles of plastic pipes and other warehouse items. A sallow man, with a pointed chin and a downturned mouth sat on a small stool, his hands resting on his knees! 

He looked up at me, half smiled and asked what I was doing there! I told him I was after a “mouse kill machine", to which he raise an eyebrow and scratched his hair and repeated my words about 10 times with a questioning tone - I was just about to turn and leave when he finally corrected me “arrest rat machine”!

“Sorry, I don't speak so well, do you have one of those?"

“No have”, he replied lazily, pointing to a large rodent that had conveniently jumped into view in front of the rubbish hut across the street.

The next thing that happened was a woman bustled out of the shop and started berating the man, about being lazy and never doing anything! She just yelled at him for a good minute.

He looked up at her and said “I have a customer"

She yelled at him again - that's not how you serve a customer, sitting down all day, enjoying the sunshine... stand up, get in the shop, do something, show the customer something to buy! Every few moments the man would meekly look up at me - as if this was some major cross he had to bear for some past misdeed!

At this point, I jumped in. “Excuse me, wait a minute, I'm looking for a Kill mouse machine”.

“Arrest rodent machine”, he quietly corrected.

“Yes”, she said,”I have one of those”, and she bustled to the back of the shop.

She came back momentarily with an armful of stuff and lay them out on the floor - sticky mouse paper (a heavy-duty version of flypaper), a 3-4 box of poison, a toilet plunger, a small plastic box and bottle of some poisonous liquid (soak rice in stuff to poison the mice).

I quickly decided that I didn’t want poison - I had visions of a mouse perishing behind my refrigerator and not being able to remove it... the plastic box I had no idea about... so it was the mouse paper!

“Very good”, the guy motioned, miming how to open the package and lay it io the floor, with a big “thumbs up”!

The lady waved the plunger - “you also need this in your home”, she asked hopefully. Obviously she’d been to McDonalds Hamburger Restaurant and seen “up-selling” in action. “Ok”, I said, “I might come in handy one day”

“plastic bag?” she suggested

“ok”

I paid for my plunger, mega-flypaper and the plastic bag and the man stood up and vigorously shook my hand! “Thank you, please come again!” he chortled.

As I walked away from the shop with an item I didnt even need, just to appease the angry lady shop owner, I realised that I'd just 'been had' by the Chinese equivalent of Good Cop, Bad Cop!

This is a very common ’negotiation tactic’ in China - to 'shame' a seemingly innocent individual to make the guilty partners “change their mind” to appease the complainer and return ’face’ to the shamed one - the Chinese even have a phrase for this - “kill a chicken to scare the monkeys’!

For example, in sales, the salesman will argue and cajole - he cannot return to his “office” without an order lest he lose face with his unseen boss!

Interestingly, unlike the Western ’good cop, bad cop’ scenario where the implied threat (bad cop) is on the accused - and they seek a friend (good cop) to ease their pain, the Chinese scene usually happens within a family, in a sort of “look at the pain you are putting your father through” type of outcome.

Applying Western logic of justice and fair play do not work well here - there is a pattern of atonement and it must be followed to restore ’harmony’.

It is interesting because it does allow some ’compromise’ (depending on the status of the parties) but also a chance to continue a lifelong ’partial blame game’ or the tactic can last a long period of time until the necessary appeasement cost is paid - this is sometimes why these things can drag on for years, and suddenly be settled overnight.

So be aware of the tactic in your liaisons with Chinese ladies, and their families!

About the object of my quest...well, i Didn’t find a mechanical mousetrap, but I was sold an A4 size cardboard book with a sticky glue on it...apparently when the mouse runs across the paper it is neatly stuck!

After 2 nights, no mouse...but about 1000 cockroaches - so although the paper has not achieved as advertised, it is doing something good ... Wow, what a great analogy for the rest of the stuff you buy in China!

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2012-09-14 12:46:21 by gravics @gravics

This is what I have been appreciating about your writings. Entertaining and educational. Thanks Garreth.
When I was in college, I lived in a kitchenette and had a rat problem. I didn't want to go the mechanical rat trap option because of the remains issue. I chose rat poison which were granules that they would ingest, I suddenly realized that they would die and then I would be left with trying to find the stenchy remains.
Fortunately, they did not come back. Problem solved.

#2012-09-15 06:25:34 by jonno @jonno

Very entertaining, aussie. Other than your usual punctuation problems, it is well written. i collect vintage toys (and other merchandise). Ever see any?

#2012-09-16 11:34:04 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

@gravics - I agree with you wholeheartedly about this article being a prime example of Garreth's best stuff. No one comes close to describing day to day China (the real China) as well as he does (well, Justin also is great at it), and I don't just mean no one of our bloggers, I mean of anyone I've read anywhere. He paints such a great picture of life here. For 10 years I've been witnessing all the same situations and scenes that Garreth describes, but I haven't SEEN them as clearly as he has, and I gain a little more insight with every blog he writes. Cheers, Garreth.

@jonno - at risk of getting into a truly pointless argument over nothing of import (which makes me wonder why you started it in the first place) I don't see any "punctuation problems" in this article. I do however see a couple of serious mistakes in capitalization in your comment. What gives with that?

#2012-09-16 11:58:37 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

Great column. I had an interesting experience trying to find a mouse trap recently. After searching unsuccessfully in the sorts of stores that Garreth mentioned and finding nothing, I came across a guy on bicycle selling a wide array of implements and noticed a mouse trap dangling from the canopy covering his bike. This was ordinary sized mouse trap but one that could have killed a radiation-dosed mouse. I mean, if it snapped while you were setting the thing, I have no doubt that you would lose the finger. As I was inquiring about the price, the guy walked to the back of his bike and came back with--and this truly blew my mind--a sort of catch and release mouse trap. Suckered by the Chinese hard sell (different tactic than the good cop/bad cop but equally effective) I purchased them both, but have yet to turn up any results.

#2012-09-16 22:01:46 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Agreed, capitalization is a problem due to iPad damn spell correct! And I was lazy at checking it! And about 5 minutes after I uploaded it, it was published!
Spelling is 'Aussie' style, not mainland USA and I guess I punctuate like I speak - slow and lazy!

In future I will refer to the NewYork Times Style guide for stylistic guidelines - :)

#2012-09-16 22:08:38 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Jonno, I have not seen too many vintage toys, but I will look out for them - I am assuming they are 'tin toys' and in original condition. I will head down to the 'old man collectors market' next weekend. There are about 1500 old men who collect coins, stamps, jade, porcelain and other treasures so I will ask around! Good excuse to drink tea and chat to the locals in my poor dialects! I have to study up on new words before I go so it is helpful in study!

I have seen lots of 1960's miliraty and propaganda there, if that interests you at all!

#2012-09-17 08:31:48 by jonno @jonno

John-hey, I posted praise before you did, but I'm struggling a little with the readings. aussie does paint a colorful picture, but as an official blogger, the guy should bring his punctuation up to par. He could easily do this with a little self study. In fear of appearing trollish, I will not utter another discouraging word. And I did capitalize all my "i's" and "i'm's" for you (-:

#2012-09-17 13:55:02 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Jonno - don't worry about seeming trollish, I'm the one who is generally the troll around here and I welcome you to assume that roll. You did correct the "i's" and "i'm's", but then there's that glaring "a" in "aussie" which ignores both that it is used as a name and as the first word in a sentence. What are you doing Jonno, joining the SMS simplified English crowd?

I truly meant I don't see anything wrong with Garreth's punctuation in this article. Perhaps it is "lazy" as he says, but for a blog I don't see any issues. For a doctoral dissertation maybe, but not for a blog.

There, I believe between us we have managed to create the most boring comments ever posted on the blogs. :-)

#2012-09-18 11:44:11 by jonno @jonno

There is no capital letter in his screen name, so technically i was correct with the abbreviated "aussie", since screen names are proper nouns, and....uhmm, i think that takes precedence...uhmm. Actually, im not sure of the grammatics here. The internet, as with so many other instances, surely throws wrenches into the writing process. But shouldnt extablished bloggers receive unlimited instant editing, anyway? If that was the case i would have reworded my comments on aussie's punctuation. I had just come from a tutoring session with a high school football star (pfff) who had gotten on my frickin' nerves, and i was blogging under deress that day. I clicked, I submitted, but 15 minutes later i was relenting /-:

#2012-09-18 12:10:17 by jonno @jonno

Yes aussie, anything military is highly collectible. Unfortunately, i dont see any trips to China in my tea leaves future, so there is no need for forming a nice pile of treasures for me in any quiet corner of Suzhou. I have just booked another flight to Manila in January, and i guess i'll just continue on this route. Thanks

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