One of my uncles is a director for a Hong Kong-based fuse manufacturing firm. The CEO, a short, 66 year-old man from Hong Kong, is a demanding boss. Working for him is like being on-call as a military triage surgeon in Helmand, Afghanistan. He often sleeps in till noon, comes home at 9pm, and receives a call from the CEO shortly thereafter asking him to come play mahjong or drink tea. This means my uncle will be gone until 1 or 2am. Sometimes he doesn’t come home for dinner at all. He’ll go to sleep late and do it again the next day.
My uncle is married with a 6-year-old son. They live in mainland China. My grandparents live with him in his two-story penthouse condo on the 14th floor of an apartment complex. His family members call his boss “lao tou” 老头, a derogatory term meaning “old fellow.”
But can they blame the guy? He must work hard and expects his employees to do the same. Hell, the CEO has no family on the mainland. His daughter’s married and his wife lives in Hong Kong to manage that side of the business. He’s alone in mainland China. No Sunday morning dim sum, no Cantonese speaking mahjong buddies, no Cantopop. The old man needs some company after his long hours at work.
So he calls up his employees including my uncle. “Come play mahjong,” he says over the phone in a needy, sensual tone. “Come drink with me.” My uncle feels obligated because it’s his boss, and in Asian work culture, one’s profession and social life overlap. Maybe my uncle can decline his boss’ invitations, but he’ll be wondering about it later if that year-end promotion or bonus doesn’t happen.
The old fellow recently bought a new condo. 5,381 square feet (almost half the area of an Olympic sized swimming pool). He consulted feng shui experts and geomancers (Hong Kong people are superstitious like that). Despite his careful planning, after he settled in, he found it big and a bit scary. So he requested the comfort of his male management team.
Every night for the past month, it’s been someone’s turn to spend a night over at the boss’ place. A pajama party with a petit Hong Kong sexagenarian. How could one refuse? After work, the lucky executive team member heads out with his boss, they arrive at the guy’s sweet pad, they talk about work while eating dinner. Maybe they’ll make eye contact, but then they’ll quickly turn away. They lean forward in their seats. They think about fuses, surge protectors, etc. The air becomes tinged with an electric je ne sais quoi.
Come bedtime, they sleep in separate rooms. The employee doesn’t go to sleep until he hears the old fellow’s rhythmic breathing. In the morning, they make breakfast together and head to work. Probably in the same clothes. The same blue oxford shirt with a few extra wrinkles this time. Everyone who sees that shirt knows what transpired last night. That evening, it’ll be someone else’s turn.
If you thought the last couple of paragraphs were creepily homoerotic – good. That’s how I felt when I heard about my uncle’s situation. Don’t get me wrong. I have sympathy for the CEO. Obviously, the old man is lonely and bought a condo way too big for his britches. But come on. A man should go home to his family at the end of the day instead of spending the night at his boss’.