Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Office (Beijing)

Since Alex did such a nice job describing a day in the life of the Shenzhen branch, it seems only proper to share a bit about the CAUPD office in Beijing. Overall, the rhythms and atmosphere of the office sound very familiar, with a few regional variations. Perhaps most significantly, our office is quite a bit bigger. The operation takes up all 13 floors of a building built specifically for CAUPD, and employs over 500 urban planners and designers. The exterior of the building is contemporary with a tinge of corporate - out front, a generous setback provides ample space for shrubs carefully pruned in the shape of the CAUPD logo.

We start a bit earlier here at the headquarters – 8am. As an incentive to arrive early to work, a free breakfast is served in the basement-level cafeteria beginning at 7:30. In Beijing, our patriotic calisthenics time begins at 10, followed immediately by relaxing flute music. My sense, however, is that most people in the Beijing office view the optional morning exercise break – and the music pumped into the office loudspeakers generally - as the vestige of an outdated management style associated with state-owned companies. Only a handful of older gentlemen participate consistently, albeit decked out in headbands and athletic gear, giving it all they’ve got.

Smooth, saxophone-heavy jazz signals the start of the lunch break. While I’ve yet to sample the breakfast, lunch in the cafeteria is reasonably delicious. A variety of veggie and meatydishes are served in addition to rice, potatoes, and a couple different types of noodles. They also provide desert: bananas on Mondays and Wednesdays, traditional Beijing-style yogurt (soupy but delicious) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and watermelon (my favorite) on Fridays. People slurp traditional Chinese soups instead of water or pop.

The distinction between lunch and nap time is less clear-cut here, but people tend to eat quickly and move on to other pursuits – be it napping, games, mid-day errands, or additional work if a deadline is approaching. The Beijing office is equipped with a variety of gaming infrastructure, including a professional-level ping-pong table in the basement (we got our own paddles and balls), foosball and “cornerball” on the 7th floor, and of course networked computer games throughout. Napping is probably the most popular post-lunch activity, although I’ve yet to locate the elusive cots I’ve heard about.

The highly motivational “lunch-is-over/get-amped-for-work” music is my favorite. The melody bursts with old-timey energy, while the percussion strongly suggests that everyone ought to be marching towards her/his desk, full of pride and love for the fatherland. My reading of the song, which of course could be completely wrong, is something to the effect of “work hard for your country, public employees.”

The leadership on my floor evidently does not believe in the power of afternoon fruit time to boost productivity (what gives, housing department?), so sometimes I join interns on the 4th or 6th floors for watermelon, lychee fruit, yum berries, cherries, and/or bananas around 4pm. I also usually go up to the International Cooperation department on the 5th floor sometime during mid-afternoon to re-caffinate, as they maintain the only coffee maker in the building (many Chinese believe coffee is bad for your health, but that napping after lunch is essential for good health and a long life).

At 5pm, our end-of-the-day piano and violin music fills the office, although many people just ignore it and keep working well into the evening. This song cracks me up because it has a decidedly somber feel, as if attempting to instill a feeling of disappointment that the workday is over. It could easily make the cut for the soundtrack of an over-the-top Hollywood tearjerker circa 1947. Stale music and cigarette smoke aside, the work environment is fresh, bright, and overwhelmingly modern. Despite the fact that CAUPD is a state-owned entity, the space, large maps, and models definitely make it feel more like a hip contemporary design firm than a government bureaucracy. Maybe if I learn Chinese I'll have a shot at a job here when I graduate. Shouldn't be that hard, right? Just a 5 tones and a couple thousand characters.


Alex Steinberger said...

Remy is doing some pretty solid pose-work in these photos! Great post, Collin!

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