16/09/2021

Mandarin contract

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The next year I went back to help assess the completed prototypes and next steps. Sinclair had in the meantime appointed a young guy to become their Asian representative. He had never visited Asia before! He arrived in Hong Kong and instead of seeing me as a trusted aide, brushed me off saying he had to go to the British Embassy first. I explained the embassy’s pros and cons but he was insistent.

Bizarrely when we met up later, sat in a Kowloon hotel lobby he asked, if there was anywhere he could buy a calculator (duh?). This was just the first of many strange moments. Driving through Canton he commented aloud ‘You don’t see many fat people here’. During a factory visit discussing workers rates of pay, he asked if salaries varied by what they made, for example would someone making knives and forks earn less than someone producing a computer – our host asked earnestly ‘what is knife and fork?’

Worse on the eve of our key meeting he explained to me that he was going to advise them that the price agreed previously by Nigel, his CEO, was wrong and needed to be increased. I explained to him about the concept of ‘face’ and particularly his boss’s face. That he could not tell them this at the meeting and should come up with half-a-dozen good reasons why the price should be changed, none of which could include his CEO getting it wrong!

If it wasn’t so awful it would have been funny. The main man on their side was the gloriously named Wang Fang Ding who in several prior meetings had sat patiently waiting for the interpreter and had showed absolutely no signs of having any English.

When the Sinclair guy told them the price was to go up and tried out his six best reasons, Wang Fang Ding pulled out an English (language and country) magazine with an advert that showed the price in the UK had just been reduced, and worse, that it was bundled with £60 worth of free software as an extra inducement. In perfectly good English he asked how he should rationalise what the guy had said with what Sinclair was doing in their home market. The 500k unit deal was effectively dead from that instant!

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