I never thought I’d write something like this about Taiwan and its people because I really love this country. In a foreign culture we have to put up with a little bit of discomfort and should be slow to judge if people behave differently than we are used to at home. That’s how I see it.
However, when my children get sucked into the maelstrom of cultural ineptitude it’s no longer personal – it’s serious.
Let me explain.
Our son has been working part time in the kitchen of a local restaurant. The name: Da Hwa Chicken Village.
Here a map of the location:
One afternoon a few weeks ago, a guest of the restaurant allegedly found a cigarette butt in his meal.
That’s a bad thing in a restaurant and of course the owner engaged in damage control: he handed the customer 10,000 NTD, no questions asked.
In any decent restaurant you would now expect rigorous inquiries into what happened, no-smoking rules being updated for the kitchen area, maybe someone losing his job.
Not in this restaurant.
After a screaming orgy in the kitchen – so the story goes – the owner went ahead and tried to recover the 10,000 NTD by deducting 5,000 NTD from the pay of two of his employees. I guessed he picked them at random because our son doesn’t work in the afternoon.
When the situation persisted and the owner wouldn’t yield to reason I told my son that I don’t want him to work there anymore. He held on for a week. Things got uglier. He finally quit.
His pay for the time he worked in that month was due on March 5. His friend, who continued to work there was supposed to pick it up.
But payday came and… nobody got paid. Reason: the owner had forgotten to pick up money from the bank. Payday was postponed to March 10. When that day came people got only part of their pay. My son’s friend received about half, the others a similar fraction and my son nothing.
My son tried to call the owner but he did not answer his phone. Neither did he respond to email or online inquiries. He simply was not to be reached.
I decided to inquire a bit closer. Personally. My Chinese is not good enough yet for detailed discussions so I first asked my daughter to give Mr. X a call. Mr. X pretended to be someone else.
When my wife heard this she was on the phone faster than I could have blinked. Was it her nice telephone voice or the fact that she introduced herself in the way she did (pissed)? Whatever… after a short discussion Mr. X said that he would give Andi his pay on Monday.
I don’t want my son to go near that place again so my wife and I went instead.
This is what happened:
We enter the restaurant. I introduce myself as Andi’s father and ask for the owner. Two waitresses don’t seem to understand my Chinese. My wife starts to explain why we came but things don’t go anywhere. So, I wander into the kitchen and ask one of the employees about the owner. The ’employee’ says his boss isn’t in, was in before and will be again on Wednesday, 1:00 pm. That’s detailed info. Thanks a lot. Could he please call the boss to clear things up? No, he can’t and could we please leave now because he is very busy.
Yes, indeed, there are a total of two guests in the restaurant but they already have their food on the table.
I’m busy too, I think. And I wouldn’t even be here if the owner had behaved decently. So could the employee please be a bit more polite and call the owner so we can clear things up? Now things got heated just a little bit. Mr. X actually started posturing as if he was going to attack. That’s when my wife stepped in and told me to back off. He’s just an employee, it’s not his fault. Let’s come back on Wednesday.
So we left.
A few hours later I pick up my son from school. On the way home he asks me how things turned out at the restaurant. I tell him that his boss wasn’t there but I almost got into a fight with an employee in the kitchen.
My son says: ‘You argued with someone in the kitchen? What did he look like? I describe Mr. X and when I mention a clearly identifying mark above his left eye my son says: ‘That’s my boss.’
Please allow me to revisit what happened until now.
My daughter calls Mr. X and he pretends to be someone else. My wife calls the same number, finally gets him to talk. He promises to give my son his pay. Three days later, on the agreed upon day, my wife and I enter the restaurant and ask for the owner. Knowing who we are and that we haven’t met him before he pretends to be an employee and tells us that Mr. X isn’t in, was in earlier and will be back again in two days. And no, he can’t call him to help clear things up. Still in the restaurant my wife calls the owner’s cell phone again but gets no answer. It’s a pity we didn’t hear it ring somewhere – like in those movies.
The moment she hears that Mr. Employee is our son’s ex-boss my wife is on the phone. A ten minute conversation ensues during which Mr. X tells us that he doesn’t owe any money because of the cigarette butt incident, because Andi quit too early, quit the wrong way etc. but all the while doesn’t really know how much money exactly is in play. In the end he agrees (again) to pay – on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 1:00 pm.
I don’t expect that things will go smooth on Wednesday. The most recent Facebook conversation between Mr. X and my son (at Mr. X’s initiative) gives no reason for optimism:
( click on images for a clearer picture )
My children also told me to watch out for flying knives and other kitchenware if things get heated.
I think Mr. X has the wrong business strategy. He waves around with 1000 NTD bills and then cheats his employees out of their pay. He ‘saves’ money by having them use cooking oil until it turns black and when it finally is discarded in goes through a hole in the floor down into a creek. He allows smoking in the kitchen. Rats have been spotted in the storage area and cats are frequent visitors in the kitchen, eating from the same meat that is used to prepare meals.
If one pisses off employees often enough these things get out. Even in Taiwan. I actually heard of a mother going to the police because of her son’s pay. And other’s are talking about setting the place on fire. I hope that’s only idle talk to relieve pressure.
Stay in touch.
P.S.: A version of this article in Mandarin Chinese is in the works.