Tag Archives: workinchina

Riding Electric Scooters in Beijing

When I first came to Beijing I used to commute to work for an hour and a half each way on the subway. That meant most of my time was spent either at work or in the metro.

I think it was in one of those early morning commutes that I vowed to myself that I would never knowingly accept such a commute again if I could help it. In order to make good on that promise to myself I needed to find another job and minimize the time spent commuting.

Since those early days I have switched jobs a few times and apartments as well. A big part of my solution to the original commuter problem is to live in an apartment located nearby my office and to ride an electric moped.

Riding a moped into work is not perfect, (early morning traffic still gives me anxiety), but it definitely beats taking the bus or metro. In fact, the utility I have found in owning a scooter is one of the biggest reasons why I like my job and life in China.

My Current Scooter Set Up

Throughout my time in Beijing I have had two scooters. The first was a beat-up model with wide handlebars that navigated the hutongs more like a boat than anything else. Ever though it was old, it was still useful to commute from the room that I had rented in the city center to my job a few blocks away (this was post first Beijing job).

That bike had many problems and eventually I ended up selling it to a local repair shop for 300 RMB. Considering that I had used it for the better part of a year, and bought it for 800 RMB, I considered it a good purchase.

I purchased my second and current scooter upon getting a new job in a different district and moving nearby the office. In this area, it was very hard to find a good apartment close to the subway, so buying a scooter was a way for me to get around while still living somewhere nice.

While people often go for style when purchasing scooters, I chose a slightly different tact. For me, the most important feature was utility as I was using it as a tool to both commute to work and park nearby the different metro stations. That meant I was concerned primarily with the scooter utility.

When judging a scooters utility there are two important factors: batteries and safety. I decided to go with a very basic, large black scooter and lead batteries for 2500 RMB based on these two criteria.

Battery Life

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six pack lead batteries

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battery price list from local shop

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outside of the lead battery pack

As noted above, perhaps the most important quality of a scooter is its battery system. In China, there are many different kinds of batteries to choose from, ranging from cheap lead, to higher quality lithium.

Lead batteries are of poorer quality. This means that they will wear out much faster and weigh much more depending upon your desired range than lithium. However, because they are less valuable, they are also less likely to be stolen. A box of six lead batteries can cost from anywhere between three hundred to one thousand RMB.

Lithium batteries are much better. Generally speaking, you will only need one lithium battery to power your scooter with excellent range. They are lighter and also last much longer than their lead counterparts.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of lead batteries is the difficulty in charging them. If you plan on using your bike for commuting anything more than a couple of kms, then you will need more than one in your bike. (For the record, I commute 9 kms every day and have placed the entire pack of six batteries in my bike).

To charge lead batteries, riders either pull them out of the bike and lug them up to their apartments, or literally bring their bikes into the elevator and wheel them into their apartments.

The advantage of using lithium batteries is that you can simply pull the battery out and easily carry it up to your apartment. It’s simple, convenient, and incredibly light in comparison to lead batteries.

However, I chose to power my bike with lead batteries because I am honestly too afraid of a lithium battery being stolen. I myself have had two bikes stolen from me in Beijing (one I was watching for a friend) and do not relish the idea of going through this again with a lithium battery bike. Lead batteries allow me to leave the bike nearby the subway and worry less about the costs should it be tampered with.


Aside from batteries, the safety of one’s scooter is also very important. We can judge safety mostly in terms of how well the parts work: most importantly its wheels and brakes. The size of the scooter is also very important.

My first scooter in Beijing was second-hand and very unsafe.

Looking back at it now, I understand how the poorly maintained brake pads caused me to get into an accident. That … and a lack of concentration.

In order to hedge against poorly working parts I decided to buy a brand new scooter. This was a good way to ensure that everything was as new and safe as possible.

Also, like any good American, my desire to optimize safety led me to purchase the largest scooter that I could find. This idea was put into me at a very young age when my siblings and friends got their first cars to drive. That is, if you get into a crash, the largest car will always come out on top.

For these two reasons I went with a brand new model of the largest scooter I could find. This ensured brand new brakes and tires, as well as something large enough to make sure that I was a presence on the road.


Overall, I am happy with the purchase. It lets me cruise into work safely, and if something happens to the bike then I am not at a terrible financial loss. The size has proved well worth it while riding to and from work and I have not had a problem so far leaving it parked in various places.

However, I think if I were to purchase another bike I would seriously consider upgrading to lithium. As most of my distance gets put on between my compound and place of work, I find that actually I don’t need to worry about parking it that often. Once complaint that I have is that bringing my scooter into my elevator and then apartment multiple times a week is a hassle. I would definitely consider paying a little bit more to solve this problem.

What do you think? Are my scooter criteria aligned with your own? How do you make commuting to work more enjoyable?

Useful  Vocabulary
electric scooter: 电动车 (diàndòngchē)
battery: 电池 (diànchí)
wheels: 车轮 (chēlún)
second hand: 二手 (èrshǒu)

How to Develop Good Relationships in a Chinese Company


Guanxi (关系) is the Chinese word for relationship. In China, relationships are everything. The word Guanxi, is as nuanced and deep as an American’s attachment to the idea of Freedom.

The topic of relationships in China is a big one. For the purpose of this post I will just discuss it within the context of the workplace. Specifically, how to understand and manage your relationships with Chinese coworkers while working in a Chinese company.

I have worked full time in China since 2013. During this time I have made bonehead mistakes which made me want to buy the first plane ticket home. You don’t have to make those mistakes, well, at least not as obtusely as me.

Why Your Guan Xi Is Important

Did I mention relationships are important in China? Let me reiterate… relationships are very important in China. You need them to secure pay raises and better jobs. You need them to bypass troublesome corporate bureaucracy. Having good relationships in this context is like spraying a rusty nail with WD-40 before removal.  

I am not suggesting that relationships in China can replace your actual work output (although you could make that argument…). It is merely a strong suggestion that paying attention to this area throughout your China career will help to make you an effective and productive member of the workplace.

The following five points are suggestions to help you develop better relationships with your coworkers. 

  1. Choose the time and place to disagree. Know when to stay quiet and speak up.

When you disagree with a coworker, think very carefully about how to present this to him or her. The worst thing you can do is to make him or her lose face in front of everyone. One on one discussions and talks over messaging services are a great way to present your point respectfully.

You also need to understand hierarchy and your relationship to it. If causing a co worker to lose face is a bad idea, think about what it would mean to your boss. I have seen many foreigners put themselves in very awkward positions by calling out their bosses in front of everyone. Don’t try it. You are not different.

  1. Know when to say no. 

As a general observation, working in a Chinese company means that your job description is much more flexible than if you were at a western company. This means that you need to set your boundaries early on about what you will and will not do.

Early on in my career I thought the only way to get ahead was to work more than everyone else. Therefore, I always accepted the extra jobs my bosses wanted to give me.

I gained a lot of experience, but I also worked for five months straight nonstop. My personal life suffered and I almost went mental. That was how I learned the importance of setting boundaries in the context of working as a foreigner in a Chinese organization.

The silver lining here is that because you are a foreigner it is easier to duck out of these supposedly “mandatory” commitments. This is called using the “Chinese no” and I will talk about it in the next point.

  1. Learn how to give the “Chinese no”.

In America people, for the most part, understand and respect a firm no without any other excuses. However, in China it is often considered rude to simply state that you won’t or don’t want to participate in something. This goes back to face. People lose face if you tell them their activity is not worth the time.

Learning how to say no in Chinese is the best way to deal with this. Basically what I mean here is to simply make up an excuse that both of you know is not true. One that I often use is that I have a date with my girlfriend and she would really kill me if I don’t go. Another good “Chinese no” is, ironically, to say you have Chinese language class.

It is important to note here that you are not being rude. Sometimes people from the West are confused about this. That is because truth is relative to culture. Giving these kinds of excuses is just the proper way to say no in Chinese culture.

  1. Help your coworkers with English.

As a foreigner, a lot of times I feel my bosses don’t know how to manage my workload properly. This means that I need to take a more proactive approach towards helping my team.

What your boss and coworkers really want is for you, as the Foreign Expert, to help them develop their global reach. 

What your boss and coworkers really want you, a Foreign Expert, is for them to help the company develop more internationally. They don’t want to change the actual working process.

A good way to help a Chinese company develop more of an international flavor is to help your department with their English (assuming you have a good handle of the language). After all, English is the language of commerce. So, when coworkers ask you language questions or to help them edit documents, help them! That is why you are there.

I emphasize this point because often foreigners don’t feel like they need to help with this. After all, it wasn’t written specifically in their job description when they were hired. (Believe me, I am  no saint here). However, a little good faith and twenty minutes out of your day is not going to kill you. After all, these little transactions are the basis for how all relationships begin to grow.

  1. Share your snacks.

Speaking of small transactions as the basis for growing all relationships…. In China, these transactions are often skewed towards the edible.

One curious habit of working in a Chinese office is that your coworkers will constantly share their snacks within the department, and with a more select group of “friends”. This is a subtle, yet important detail to both know and employ.

Participating in the communal sharing of food will improve your relationships by showing both your understanding and fluency in Chinese culture.

Although I still find it odd to share my own treats, I do make an effort every couple of weeks to pass around a small snack likes cookies or something else. The neutral territory of snacks shows that I both understand Chinese culture and am interested in being part of the community (albeit on my terms).  

A side note is that in my early days I was very gungho about being seen as a Sinophile. One evening, when my department and I were working overtime, I went downstairs and bought everyone fancy drinks from Starbucks. When I offered the drinks to my coworkers I was dismayed to see a mixture of both embarrassment and confusion.
Reflection on this event has led me to the conclusion that my coworkers thought the gift was too extravagant and, most likely, they didn’t like coffee in the first place. When passing out snacks it is a good rule of thumb to keep it low key. Fruits, chocolates, or cookies work nicely.