The naked engineer: The inscrutable Orient

Posted on 22 Oct 2012 by Tim Brown

An involuntary sense of fair play hampers NE’s ambitions in China

Landed in Beijing twelve hours after leaving Heathrow. BA business class is really going downhill – not a stewardess under forty and not even so much as a hot towel to mop away the executive stress of running a top flight engineering business.

Consumed as much of BA’s passably decent champers as I could manage while retaining the ability to stay upright and took the opportunity to look at the latest absurd initiative from Hemlock Engineering’s compliance group – bribery and corruption training.

I was a bit confused at first as I was expecting it to tell me how to get away with it. Not that I’m generally for inflating official salaries – would rather it went on my expense account – but needs must, and in some places you have to go with the flow.

Got it sorted out eventually though – seems that greasing the wheels of business is a thing of the past. Somebody needs to tell them that any machine without grease seizes up pretty bloody quickly. Going to have to pass up that half case of single malt I’d been offered though by the look of it – damn!

I’m met at the airport by Hemlock’s China area manager Ho Lee Fook, thankfully known as Lee to his friends. Wash and brush-up at the hotel followed by dinner and then to a bar with Lee to discuss our China strategy.

Sat next to a gorgeous, long-legged creature in a silk dress. Lee winked “raydee of the night” he whispered. Encouraged, I decided to impress by practising my Chinese. “Duo shao qian yi wan shui jiao?” I enquired. She almost fell off her stool laughing and Lee explained that instead of asking her, “How much for one night?” I’d inadvertently asked, “How much for a bowl of dumplings?” Easily done.

I asked Lee to fill me in on our latest opportunity in China – a major contract pending to supply engine control systems to the Chinese airforce. “Ahhh so” began Lee. No need for that sort of language, I thought, then realised he was just kicking off in Chinese style.

‘Need to huv beeg bunkwet with air Rice-Marshall’ said Lee. “Much drinking and women and ajun need to do mush wok, you know.” He winked. I presumed he was telling me our agent needed to grease a few palms.

“Ah, no, we can’t do that sort of thing,” I said, recalling the dire threats in my recent training of spending time at her Maj’s Royal pleasure if we so much as eyed proffered gifts or lavished a prospective client with anything more frugal than a cup of tea and a biscuit (not the chocolate ones).

“Wo you meen?” asked Lee with a look of astonishment.

“UK Bribery Act,” I said. “Afraid we’re stuffed when it comes to that sort of thing now.”

“Bu evyone duz et in China. No jiggy jiggy, no business. In China you do it our way,” explained Lee. “No bunkwet and Air Rice-Marshall be veeery unhappy,” said Lee. “No win contract now.”

He’s not the only one going to be unhappy I thought to myself – shareholders aren’t going to be too chuffed either. £4million quid contract down the pan for the sake of a few plates of crispy duck and some falling over juice. Looked like I might need that half case of Scotch after all – to drown my sorrows when I got back to the UK.

Any similarities of characters to persons living or deceased is purely intentional.