The longer I teach in China the more convinced I become that the "last minute" culture is a deliberate attempt to control the actions and movements of the people here. There may or may not be exams at my school tomorrow. I may or may not have the day off. If I have the day off I may or may not have to work on Saturday or Sunday to make it up. It is literally impossible to ever make a plan here because it is literally impossible to ever find out what's happening. My next lesson at that school is at ten thirty tomorrow morning. It's now one forty. How is it possible that no one, no one at all, in the school knows whether there is an exam tomorrow? How can the school function under those conditions?
I am told that, in the absence of other instructions, I should make the thirty minute journey to school at the usual time where I may find my students doing an exam and be told to go home again.
At first I thought it was just schools but my girlfriend works in real estate and she can never tell me before six O'clock on Friday whether she has to work on the weekend. My friend Doctor Hu sometimes rings me up to go for dinner. He never does it with more than a couple of hours notice because he is never told further ahead than that which shift he will be working. My private student is usually accompanied by her father but sometimes it's her mother because her father has been given ten minutes notice of extra work he must do.
No other country in the world routinely works at such short notice. It makes it completely impossible to plan even short trips. A colleague was planning to go away on a camping trip with the parent of a potential student on Sunday. He has just, and I do mean just - Thursday lunchtime - been told that his Friday lesson is now being moved to Sunday so that trip is off.
Dragon Boat Festival is next week and this, in previous years, has meant a day off in the week, again made up on the weekend. No one, inside or outside the school, can tell me if or when it's happening though their "best guess" is Monday with work shifted to the following Sunday.
Everyone here is so used to this that when I mention it they find it remarkable that anyone even thinks about it. When I tell them that school timetables in other countries are known before the academic year even begins they look at me with incredulity or outright disbelief.
The only reason that I can think of that this would be so is that by keeping people in the dark until the very last minute the authorities ensure that no one can make plans. And if no one can make plans it's so much easier to control their movements and actions.
The fact that it makes everything function so inefficiently doesn't matter when your principal aim isn't success but control.