Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hong Kong service and communication

I just had one of the culturally confusing experiences one often has in Hong Kong, one that reminds me of Linda Young's Crosstalk and Culture in Sino-American Communication. In that book, Young analyzes a conversation between a HK police officer who tries to be polite but is misunderstood by an American businessman, who mistakes politeness for weakness and then blows up when he can't push the policeman around.

In my case, I called HP to try to buy a new power supply for my desktop computer, which surprisingly has a 220-240 volt power pack. I only told the woman on the phone (who I will call Izzy--I never did get her name clearly) I needed a 110 volt power supply for my computer, a computer that is out of warranty. Before I even told her what model of computer I had, she told me that HP does not sell that power supply any more, and told me to go buy the part from another vendor (I understood her to mean the small vendors like at Golden Arcade in Sham Shui Po). I asked her how she could know that it was not available, since I had not told her the model number. We went around in circles, but basically, she was telling me that because it was out of warranty, and since I wanted to buy the power supply myself, it was not made any more. I told her I did not believe this, and asked to speak to her manager. She did not say no, but did not call the manager, and instead went through a repetition of all these nonsensical details (just like in the Linda Young case). I told her I did not believe her because she did not know my model number, so she looked it up and found out my model of computer was last sold in 2012. She kept going back to the fact that since it was out of warranty, there were no parts from the factory. I asked if her reply would be different if I asked HP to change the power supply for me. Gradually, it turned out that in fact, if I asked HP to change the power supply, they would do it, but the labor would be HK$650, and the cost of the part would be over HK$2000, so the total was over US$300, which is basically more than a 4-year old computer is worth.

So basically, I was too stupid to understand her meaning from the start, which is that if I wanted to change the power supply, then I should go with a small vendor who will do it cheaply, not with HP which is not interested or equipped, really, to do such "repairs" or modifications. I imagined a company with parts on hand for repairs, which would allow me to get a quality part that would fit in the computer case, but apparently that is not the way computers work. Even after years in Hong Kong, I can still have these confusing conversations--in part because I don't speak Cantonese and Izzy's English was poor, but also because we did not understand each other's speech strategies and assumptions.

Frustrating, but fun, too.

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