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Higher Maths in
Lower Diplomacy

by Antonio Graceffo, PhD

Dr. Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He holds a PhD from Shanghai University of Sport, where he wrote his dissertation, in Chinese. He received his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and is currently pursuing a second PhD in economics, while writing a series of economic research papers about the Chinese economy.

While teetering on the edge, suffering from the mental torment of studying PhD level econometrics, taught in Chinese, I suddenly discovered a use for higher mathematics.

The management of the Chinese university where I teach informed us teachers that the hotel where we live complained that our microwave ovens were tripping the electrical breakers. I knew this wasn't true because, fist, the breakers are in our rooms. If they went out, only we would know about it, and of course the room would go dark. But that didn't happen. Second, it's a hotel with electrical capacity for hundreds of guests. Obviously, there are always some rooms left vacant, which means the hotel hasn’t maxed out their power grid yet. And finally, our suites each have two air conditioners in them, either of which draws much more current than a microwave.

Obviously, there was something else the hotel management were angry about, probably that my breakfast and lunch set off the smoke alarm twice the day before. But in Chinese culture, you NEVER tell the truth when you are upset with someone, because this would be seen as too direct and confrontational. Instead, you make up an implausible lie, to demonstrate that you are upset, and the party you are upset with becomes embarrassed, and modifies his behavior...unless he’s me. Then he sees an opportunity for a prank.

At first, I was going to counter their argument, citing any of the above facts. Instead, I took a Chinese approach, agreeing that our microwaves were the cause of the Phantom power outages. I then posted in the teacher’s social networking group a screen shot of a full page of nonsense Voltage equations and graphs with a message which read “Good news! I calculated the current draw of the ovens versus the load capacity of the breakers and made some small adjustments. Now, I think there shouldn’t be a problem.” I followed this with “It would be great if you could take a look at my calculations and let me know if there are any mistakes. I am not always the best at maths, you know.”

The university administrator responded with a “thumbs up” emoticon and forwarded my message and picture to the hotel with a message reading “Our ingenious teachers have solved the problem.” The hotel responded with an emoticon which, I originally thought was a smiley face, but on second glance, the face just looked blank and surprised like a sex doll.

When this problem first started, my knee jerk reaction was to disprove the allegation. But, by taking this tact I have, created an “out” for the university administrator who probably hated being stuck in the middle. Additionally, this solution validated the feelings of the hotel (yes, hotels in China have feelings), confirmed that they were right about the cause of the problem, and lead them to believe that I feel they are better at math than me. As long as I don’t set off the smoke alarm again, this can all go down as a win-win in international diplomacy. And I owe it all to higher maths.  

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