May 25, 2012
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One of the things that has always amazed me about China's mega-cities is that there are enough jobs to go around. Not only are the country's top-tier cities populous in their own right, but a continuous flood of migrant workers from far flung provinces means that there is a constant need for new positions to fill.
Like anywhere in the world, China has its share of doctors, chefs, street sweepers, drivers, etc. But with 1.3 billion people to employ, China also has some unusual jobs that help keep official joblessness statistics to about 4 percent.
Some of these jobs may seem superfluous to foreign observers (do you really need three people to bow and say "welcome" when you arrive at the restaurant?) while others are plain odd (professional drinkers to help foster business relationships after hours) or antiquated (street-side tinkers, anyone?).
Other jobs may have been created in the adaptation of a traditional family-based culture into a success-driven economy. Employers might just tailor-make a position for a good friend's daughter or a poor nephew from the countryside—in other words, nepotism. Another factor is that numerous employees can equal more face for the boss or the company image. This is the rationale for keeping lines of greeters on the payroll at supermarkets or luxury restaurants.
Many of these odd professions may have at one time been important in the West as well, but as labour prices rose in the last century, employers there cut payrolls to increase profits. The automation or mechanisation of some processes have eliminated the human element there as well—for example, using a street-sweeping car instead of a phalanx of city employees with brooms.
Here are examples of five "odd" jobs found in China:
1) Store-front clappers
In congested Chinese shopping streets, businesses pull out all the stops trying to attract customers. One common marketing idea holds that the loudest shop will get the most customers. To that end, shops often blare pop music while megaphone-wielding barkers shout the shop's special offers at the top of their lungs. Barkers, also referred to as touts, are not unique to China, but the co-workers paid to clap their hands in unison to get the attention of passers-by probably are.
2) Free ticket seller
Every attraction in China requires a small army of employees to assist in the ticketing process: A few people sitting in the ticket booth to take the money and issue the ticket (sometimes these tasks are done separately by two people at the same window), a few people sitting inside the gate to take the ticket, examine it, and punch it. Another guard or two, often standing only a few feet inside the gate, have the job of double-checking the ticket they just watched you buy and have punched.
I recognise the necessity of regulating entrance to national monuments, however even museums in China which have waived the entrance fee have retained this ticketing army. So now, museum-goers wait in line to get a free ticket, which they then give to someone to validate, and then that validation is duly checked. As if tourists might be sneaking in – for free?
3) Fake significant other
Not necessarily as seedy as it sounds, at Spring Festival you can find ads for "hired boyfriends" that young professional women may contract to represent her fiancé when she visits her hometown. In traditional thinking, young women should get married early, and constant and vehement reminders of this from family members can drive some women who are unlucky in real love to hire a stand-in boyfriend for a family dinner. The opposite also holds true, as some men ‘lease' a girlfriend for a week or two to avoid the mother's nagging.
4) Receipt stamper
This is one of the first "strange" jobs expatriates encounter upon moving to China. At many department stores and supermarkets, a (usually, very bored) man or woman lurks by the checkout counters, putting a red chop on shoppers' receipts as they exit. While in theory this could be an anti-shoplifting procedure, in reality the stamper rarely checks the contents of your shopping bag against the receipt, and usually they stand just by the security sensors that should, in theory, make their job redundant.
The job of a porter is not, in itself, remarkable. But what makes the Chinese job odd is the fact you can hire a porter for anything. Need your broken washing machine carried down eight flights of stairs in your elevator-less building? There's a guy out there whose job is to pack it down those stairs, bungee-cord it to the back of his patched motorbike and whiz it away to a back-alley repair shop. In rural places with higher unemployment, for-hire porters wait outside markets and shopping malls and offer to follow behind you and carry your daily shopping. At parks that feature mountains (or at least, steep hills) you can even find porters to carry you if you're not up to the hike. Halfway between a servant and a deliveryman, porters provide services most people could do for themselves, but at such low rate it becomes attractive to higher-paid, white-collar workers.
Of course, the diversity of "strange" jobs is as vast as the nation of China. Readers, what other jobs in China have struck you as being odd?
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