Engineering in China

Recently, I was asked to write an article for the ‘EYE Contact’ newsletter about my work and life in China. EYE stands for European Young Engineers and covers all national engineering associations in Europe. Please continue reading as I would appreciate any feedback!

Although working in a foreign country has always been somewhere in the back of my head I never actively pursued this dream. But when in May last year opportunity knocked, I opened the door and that’s how I ended up working in China. My employer in Belgium asked me whether I was interested in joining our company near Wenzhou, China to support the production and engineering department. The factory is located some 550 km south of Shanghai and produces gelatin from beef hides and pig skin for both pharmaceutical and food applications. I started working in November 2008 but before receiving a residence permit I had a lot of bureaucracy to overcome which took me more than 2 months to complete. The first thing you need to do after entering China is to register at a local police station (unless you intend to stay in a hotel for a while) and to get an extensive medical examination, which includes a detailed blood test. After passing the test, you can start the paperwork for a residence permit. However, one cannot get a residence permit without obtaining a valid work permit and for the latter you need to pay a lot of visits to many different ‘government agencies’ (one of them in Hong Kong, so I was lucky). And you can only get your driver’s license after having your residence permit… However, after all, it’s worth it! The Chinese people have a very interesting culture, are very friendly (especially toward foreigners) and the food is delicious but as always, there are also less enjoyable things! For example, the Chinese have a special way of talking which makes it possible to address something in great length without mentioning its name. This makes it sometimes really hard to understand what my Chinese colleagues are trying to tell me, even though I have a translator working with me. Some of my English speaking Chinese friends tell me that translating from Chinese to Chinese is not that straightforward either. Anyhow, although discussions take a little more time, I’m sure my communication skills will only benefit from this!

One of the other -sometimes frustrating- things is the fact that the Chinese (especially those without much higher education) often try to act on the outcome rather than on the cause of a problem. As a fellow engineer you know that solving a problem is virtually impossible without asking ‘Why?’-questions and that’s where most of my Chinese colleagues are different from me. One of my tasks here is to improve capacity and/or efficiency of existing production equipment and in my quest for a better understanding of those tools I often come across things that sound very onlogical to me but seem to be another fact in life for the Chinese. When discussing these things with my Chinese colleagues it often turns out to be caused by a problem they couldn’t or haven’t fixed in the past because it was simply ‘impossible to do’. However, nothing is impossible, as long as you can think outside the box. I guess that’s just what makes an engineer to be an engineer?!

By Ruben Vandekerkhof

Biographical info comes here!

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