2023-11-16 yjl0518 11169

When it comes to work, a lot of Asians are fast and efficient. Sometimes scarily fast and efficient (when compared to others). It’s like a super power that some of us have.


I’m generally a fast worker. Some years ago I worked at a processing job: I stamped forms and divide them into batches of 100, which takes me around five minutes per batch. But that’s not as fast as my Asian colleague, and let’s call her Mandy. Watching Mandy grab a stack of papers, flick the papers up by their corners and count each one until the 100th one in a matter of twenty seconds is like watching a magic show.


Maybe some of Asians do things fast because we want to be first, first to cross the finish line. Coming out on top and getting titles and rewards is admired in Asian cultures. When I was younger, my parents nagged at me to finish all my homework as soon as I got home from school so I could start the next set of questions in the maths revision books. I did that, because back then I naively thought keeping ahead of the pack made us truly happy.


And so we do things fast and perhaps achieve as much as we can because of pride. It’s a “face thing” in Asian cultures to do this, do that.

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Perhaps some of us Asians are fast workers because we want something to do and want to keep occupied. Maybe in the past we lived the rough moving-around-pinching-every-penny Asian life to make ends meet, didn’t have the chance to put our skills to use and so are eager to seize the next opportunity to be productive and better ourselves today.


Then again, maybe the reason some Asians work fast boils down to our hard work ethic – we know the value of working for what we want and it’s something we picked up as a kid.


Sometimes work demands we work fast. If the paperwork doesn’t get put away as it comes in at my work, it piles up. Maybe Mandy is the sort who likes to get it out of the way, though we don’t have an exact deadline for this task.


Usually things go slower in the Western world: there’s more consulting than action compared to Asian workplaces.


And going slow is something I’ve come to like. The slower we go, the more we see what’s happening around us. The more we live in the moment. When we’re doing things fast, chances are we get tired easily. Feel stressed more.


I could be Mandy the Magician and make papers disappear like her. Once she called me “little whiz” when I counted about 500 papers in twenty minutes, so I’m sure I can if I push myself. But if I do, I don’t think I’ll have the energy to blog after work. Then again, I’ll get bored if I took my time – I like moving on with tasks, doing different tasks at work.


Sometimes we can only work so fast. And work so slow. We all have our limits, and our good days and bad days.


Do you like to do things fast at work? Or do you take your time?


Very very provocative piece for us! One of us Asian and one of us not! The Mrs (Le) does things fast and efficiently – that’s just her style. The Mr (David) prefers to be slow and steady and is happy for things to all be that way! As it turns out, Le has learnt slow and steady is the much nicer way to go! And since then we both slow down in general, not to the point of unproductivity or laziness thought!
Along the Camino we saw plenty of snails which we saw as a reminder for us to ‘slow down’ so now when we see a shell or a snail, we take that as a gentle nudge from nature to tell us that there is no need to rush
The moments are all there to be enjoyed and appreciated! Look around and soak up what surrounds us


Mabel Kwong
The two of you sound like chalk and cheese. What different personalities (though I’m sure the two of you have similarities!). Going slow and steady is certainly wise for long-distance hiking trail or travel. Not only will you conserve energy to last the distance, but you get to look around and look out for your physical safety too
That is so nice that you think of snails that way. Slow but always moving forward.


Everyone has a different definition of “fast”. I have heard in HK, the city pace and I assume some workplaces would be “faster”.
But then again, I worked in Toronto for over 14 yrs., where I thought the city pace downtown was definitely more hyper compared to Vancouver or Calgary, both cities where I’ve lived and worked also.
However Toronto is “slower” in pacing than HK.
Somewhere someone must have done a sociological thesis/study on Asian culture workplaces in terms of speed, stress …How about the latter for a blog post?!


Mabel Kwong
So true. “Fast” and “slow” are a matter of perception. To someone, fast might mean doing a set of tasks in an hour. To someone else, fast might mean doing the same set of tasks in two hours.
I’ve always thought the pace of life in Toronto/Calgary is is similar to Melbourne…after all these cities have been consistently voted as the most livable cities in the world. Less stress, good work-life balance leads to a slower, less hectic life? Perhaps.
Our individual personalities plays a considerable part in the way we choose to do things, and usually depends on where and how we’ve been brought up.

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I can see both points of view – the slower we go, the more we live in the moment and SEE what’s happening around us. But working fast and getting things done is challenging and exciting in it’s own way.


Mabel Kwong
Sometimes when I’m being “slow” and taking my time to do things, I find that my mind wanders. It could be because the pace is too slow for me or that I’m bored doing what I’m doing. I don’t know if this happens to you, I hope it doesn’t
When I’m doing something fast or am forced to do it within a very tight deadline, I usually find myself putting all my attention towards what I’m doing. Or maybe I’m just a bit OCD and that’s why I’m usually fast.


Wow this Mandy chick sounds pretty cool…
On a serious note, I am not sure if it is more a personality trait than an Asian thing? I was adopted into a Australian family when I was a baby and never had the so called pressures that you may hear of from the “stereotypical parents”….

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Mabel Kwong
Definitely. This Mandy chick is cool and popular. Many comments below talk about her, like she’s “superhuman”.
What we choose to do and who we are might very well boil down to personality and how we are brought up. I’m sure a lot of Asians who have stereotypical parents have strong minds and would consider taking a break from hectic (work) lifestyles they lead..or consider taking conventional jobs.


as a Chinese American that has lived in China for some time, I do notice that many Chinese emphasize doing many things quickly. From my experience, I noticed that even with day to day activities such as eating, parents tell their children to eat quickly. Even in the grocery lines people don’t really pause, this causes me to feel pressured to do things quickly as well. Growing up for me as well, I felt the pressure from my parents to do things quickly. So I do think that it is apart of at least Chinese culture to try to be as efficinet and quick as possible.
Btw I loved this post Mabel! It’s very relatable to myself. I grew up with parents that are always on the go, doing things, and rarely relaxing. I was influenced by this mentality, which has gotten me far in life. However, I do realize that it makes life much more stressful and less enjoyable. Thanks for the post Mabel!


Mabel Kwong
Those are some astute observations, Jen. Competition is commonly emphasised among many Chinese communities – not just working hard, but working hard to come out on tops. Self-improvement is always emphasised and if you aren’t moving on to the next thing, chances are you might be seen as unproductive. Sure, being quick might save time and we get to make the most of our time in terms of moving ahead, but there’s also much to learn taking the slower route.
Thank you for your kind words. Good to know by hustling you’ve gotten far and hope you’ve found ways to feel less stressed. Sometimes you don’t know what stress is until you stop and step away from what you’ve always done


Actually, one of my husband’s good friends from university lives in Australia now – Sydney to be precise. He is Taiwanese but completed his masters degree in Australia and now lives there. When he returned to Taiwan for a visit earlier this year, we all went out to dinner. He told me that his manager, who is Australian, always says to him ‘Ken (not his real name), take it easy! Don’t work so hard! Don’t give yourself too much pressure.’ He told me his boss is extra nice to him and encourages him to work at the ‘Australian pace.’
Also, I feel that he and his wife are raising their children the ‘Australian way’ as well. They are quite young but he doesn’t put any pressure on them. He said that he wants them to be kids and enjoy their childhood.


Mabel Kwong
Thanks for sharing that story, Constance. The ‘Australian pace’ must be considerably laid-back compared to the work pace in Asian cities.
I notice that many white collar workers – not managers, just regular office staff – in Singapore and China consider it the norm to stay in the office well after the sun has gone down just to get a project done in a tight timefrx. So far of all the places I’ve worked in Melbourne (government, non-profit, education sectors), every one of my colleagues rushes out the door at 5pm or within the next half an hour. I don’t know if it’s that way where you work and if expats in Asia still adopt this laid-back mentality.
Ken sounds like a very nice guy. Hardworking breadwinner and always thinking of his family. Hope he does take it easy at work, and gets more time to spend with his kids

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I deeply admire Asian working ethics. Of course that being efficient doesn’t necessarily make you happy, but the faster you do your work, the sooner you can enjoy other things, right? Mandy appears to be superhuman, but you strike as a pretty efficient person too!


Mabel Kwong
Being efficient all the time doesn’t guarantee happiness. Not everyone can work fast and if you work fast, you might end up alienating others who are naturally “slow”.
But oh yes. The faster we finish work, the sooner we can have fun. Nah, Mandy is indeed superhuman. She works fast 9-5. Don’t know where she gets her energy


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