Hong Kong, like much of Asia, is great for many things. From landscapes and architecture to food and nightlife, it’s a vibrant, bustling city full of energy. But, also like much of Asia, don’t expect creative thinking or ability to improvise in a work setting to be one of the traits you notice. While there are certainly creative communities throughout Hong Kong and Asia as a whole, and actually many governments are actively making an effort to encourage the development of more, Asian companies still tend to exercise a firm grip over the thought processes and freedoms of their employees. In other words, coming up with your own way of doing things is not encouraged here, like it is in Silicon Valley firms or other creative hotbeds around the world.
A ramen shop, of all places, would be the least likely place I’d expect to notice this approach to management, but sure enough I did while having lunch at Hong Kong International Airport. Like many restaurants, this particular shop offers set combo menus to make it easy for time-sensitive travelers. Given that I had several hours to kill, however, I was in no rush. As I looked over the menu, I noticed that there were different side dishes available with different main courses, but the offers were specific. In other words, you could not choose one main course ramen and one side—it was strictly Ramen AB with Side C, or Ramen DE with Side F, etc. I wanted Ramen AB with Side F, and figured it would be no trouble by simply asking the waitress. When I did, however, the expression on her face became as if I had just asked her to disprove the Fibionacci Sequence—total confusion. She said tersely that I could not order those dishes together, but offered me another combo instead.
It certainly wasn’t a big deal, but something I noticed so typical of many Asian business cultures—don’t challenge the authority. The restaurant obviously knew much more than me which dishes I would like to compliment each other.