Samuel Keith (right), 26, from Minnesota in the United States, who is studying Chinese at Peking University in Beijing, takes a customer’s phone number from a colleague before delivering a parcel as a part-time express courier for Chinese retail giant Suning. [Photo by Feng Yongbin/China Daily]
Residents of some of China’s biggest cities expecting parcels over the weeklong Spring Festival holiday may be surprised to see who one retail giant has hired to help out.
The holiday, which begins on Feb 7, is the traditional time for family reunions in China.
Suning Commerce Group Co, China’s largest electronics retailer, has taken on a cohort of foreign students on part-time contracts to help fill the void left by delivery workers who have gone home for the holiday.
For their part the students, employed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing and Chengdu, are hoping to brush up on their Mandarin and earn a little extra cash in the process.
Samuel Keith, 26, from the United States, admitted to being a little nervous as he and Li Yunwang, his Chinese mentor, made their first delivery of the day to an office building east of Beijing’s Fourth Ring Road.
Their customer－Yuan Yongle, who had ordered infant milk powder－was certainly surprised to see Keith, who asked him in Mandarin to sign on the delivery sheet before closing the transaction with xin nian kuai le, which means Happy Chinese New Year.
Keith, who studied international business with a focus on the supply side at the University of Arkansas, came to study Mandarin at Peking University last August and currently lives with 12 Chinese people at a rented building in one of the city’s hutong.
Having heard of the job from a friend, he decided to give it a try so that he could learn more about the company’s supply chain while immersing himself in the Chinese way of life.
“It’s a good opportunity to get to know people and learn the language and culture,” he said. “Doing deliveries door to door is going to be a lot of fun.”
Although he described his first delivery as “rough”, Keith said the second was much easier and his customer, a 60-year-old woman surnamed Dong, thought it was “a delightful surprise and fun” to be served by him.
Fellow part-time worker Akmal Abdurakhimov, a China University of Petroleum student from Uzbekistan, said his understanding of Chinese society had greatly improved since taking on the job.
“Though it’s not a big salary, I am very satisfied with what I’ve learned here,” he said.
Despite the apparent success of Suning’s part-time hiring policy, Sara Gu, marketing director of courier company Sto Express, which doesn’t recruit foreign staff, said it was not industry practice and described it as nothing more than a “marketing campaign”.