Yesterday after work I went to the supermarket in the basement of the building I live in to get some ingredients to make some soup.
I was looking for a slice of winter melon and the ones that were already sliced, wrapped in plastic and priced were a bit on the small side, and I was looking for a bigger piece.
Behind the vegetables for sale, I spied a few slices of winter melon that were in plastic wrap, but not priced.
I picked it up and turned to two women behind me who work at the supermarket, asking them to weigh and price it.
"Oh but the people who do that are off work now," one said to me. "Why don't you just get one of these ones," pointing to the smaller ones that were already priced.
I said that I wanted this one that was I was holding because it was bigger than the others.
Then one of the women tried to order another woman into weighing and pricing the winter melon for me, but she too claimed she didn't know the price of it and didn't know how to do that.
It was so frustrating just watching their lack of pro-activeness that I mumbled in English that this was ridiculous and grabbed the piece of melon that was smaller than the one I had hoped to buy.
This scenario just perfectly illustrates China's growing pains as it transforms from a socialist economy to a market one. If it was truly capitalist, the staff would have immediately taken the melon and found someone to price it, or asked someone what the price of it was and weighed it for me. But, because customer service is not a priority in China, it's a market system with Chinese characteristics.
Do the Chinese not get it?
"As China is shifting from an egalitarian society of a market economy, workers in the service sector have not adapted to a new cultural environment where market competition is fierce," claimed Yi Xinfang, professor in the Department of Psychology at Tsinghua University. He blames it on Chinese people not being aware of "Western" service culture.
Why does this always have to boil down to a "Western" thing? Before 1949 there was a market system in China. People had to give good service otherwise they would not be called back again or people would not buy goods from them again. It's simple as that. Good service means repeat business. This is not a foreign concept.
And this is why China is not moving ahead... it's just another headache we have to deal with "because this is China".