Saturday, February 27, 2010

In the Meantime.. A Very Bitter Story

Well, obviously my grand goal of 30 entries in 30 days has not panned out exactly as planned. But, like Chairman Mao said of the Cultural Revolution, some of details didn't work out, but the overall aim was true. So, I won't let a few setbacks haunt me.

Today, I'm writing a simple, recent story that interrupts the current storyline of my cross country trip. We'll resume that storyline after this, but there is just something that I need to get off my chest. Basically, it's how even the simplest tasks in this country that require a bit of administrative work can be very, very difficult. It sucks.

The story begins with the fact that I have to wire my uncle some money. It's money I owed him for the plane trip here, because he fronted it and the university reimbursed me. It ended up being several hundred dollars more than it should of been because the school made me change the international flight after I already had it booked, but that's another issue entirely for me to be mad about, which, to be blunt, I still am.

Now, I had sent money back home once before, and it wasn't easy then. But that time I had a Chinese friend to help me, and although it took much longer than it seemingly should have, it got done in the end by sending it via her name. So this time, I decided to follow the same steps as last time. Naturally, I brought Brandon with me because his fluent Mandarin would no doubt be essential to get this darn thing done.

I first went and withdrew the money from my back, then took it to another bank to be exchanged into US Dollars, the very same steps I had taken before. Then, we went to a third bank, the Postal Savings Bank of China, where there was a Western Union which I knew worked from before. But getting a late start on the day as one is known to do without having any real structure in their life, as I currently do not, we didn't get to the bank till about 4:45pm, and after we waited for a teller, it was nearly 5:00. The teller said we could send the money, just come back tomorrow after the bank opens at 9:00am and bring a passport, because the system was about to shut down at 5:00pm. Fine, we thought, as long as we could come back tomorrow and it would work.

So the next day we did come back. This time we got there at about 12:30pm. However, I was afraid that, because places in China often resolutely shut down in the middle of the day for a long lunch break from 12:00-2:30pm and turn away anyone who wants their business, we would have to come back several hours later. Sadly, I was right, and they told us to come back at 3:00. Obviously, I was getting quite pissed at this point, but I had no choice. So Brandon and I parted ways and agreed to meet back at the bank at 3:00 later that day.

When we got back, wouldn't you know what they told us? To leave and come back again, of course. Because there was a big line of TWO people in front of us, we had to come back in an hour. By then, it would be 4:30, and because as we learned yesterday that this goddamn, mighty "system" shuts down at 5:00pm sharp, I was afraid I wasn't going to get the money sent this day either.

You see, the thing about living in China is that in the case where you don't know someone or aren't connected well with whatever simple service like this you'd like to receive, you have to kick and scream and shout just to get people to do their goddamn jobs. I wish I was kidding or exaggerating, but I assure you, I am not. You actually see people doing this from from time to time, patrons who are causing a big scene, yelling vehemently at employees as a small crowd gathers and looks on. It's all too common in this country because jobs that people are supposed to do simply don't get done.

Anyway, so we returned at 4:30 and had to continue to wait. From the start, Brandon and I found it strange that when we did walk in, a janitor lady in a blue jumpsuit had asked us what we needed and then barked the orders at the regular employees in fancy business clothes. This was a comical sight and we had a good laugh, but I guess the damn janitor lady has worked their a while and actually knew what the Hell she was doing, unlike most of the other staff.

So finally, after filling out the proper forms, we waited in line at the same teller we were always told to talk to. But nothing happened, and the minutes ticked by, and soon it was about 5:00. I said to Brandon, "We're not going to get it done today. These assholes will find a way to fuck it up again." Eventually, the teller, a young woman, began to help us. And, to her credit, she actually seemed to care about what she was doing and she genuinely seemed to be trying to get the transaction done quickly, even though it was well past 5:00 at this point. (Evidently the mighty "system" has more flexible hours than we were initially told. What a surprise.) And it did seem to be working; we were getting the details into the system, slowly but surely: "Yes, it's Hutchinson, Kansas we're sending the money to. H-U-T-C-H-I-N-S-O-N (Ah, Kansas: home of my father's ancestors and the place of my birth)." But I could tell: it had been too long since something went wrong there. We were due for another hold up, and, just as we were nearly finished with the transaction, and after we'd worked on the details for about an hour, it was only then that the staff realized that the passport would not work in, sigh, the mighty "system." Some bureaucratic, inflexible, minor detail was preventing us from sending the goddamn money after we'd been through all of that.

I started to throw a bit of fit, slamming my wallet down on the table and shouting lightly at the staff in English (they didn't understand my words of course, but I thought my demeanor would make sense). After a bit more conversing, Brandon said that we were being stubborn, and forcing them to try something else. I didn't have much hope for it, but it was a shot, and of course it failed. In the end, my passport just wasn't the proper ID to send the money. I evidently couldn't send the damn money as an American. We needed a Chinese form of ID and we asked the teller if we could use hers, but of course said she couldn't, company policy. Essentially, I needed to be a Chinese person to send money to America.

So I did as I was told, and the next day I came back with my Chinese grad student friend, and told her to bring her ID. We walked into the bank at the bright and early hour of 10:30 the next morning. But after a 10 second conversation with a staff member, I could tell something was wrong. Oh, wouldn't you know it? The "system" was down all of a sudden. We had to try back on March 2nd. MARCH FUCKING 2ND. Jesus fucking Christ.

At that instant, I threw another fit, making a scene, shouting "Yesterday the goddamn system was working fine! Now we have to come back?!" I promptly stormed out as my friend stayed behind an extra minute or so to receive the bank worker's apology.

Me and the Chinese friend tried a few other banks that morning, but found the processes at those to be even more confusing, and more importantly, a lot more expensive. I guess there was truly a reason I was going to this same Postal Savings Bank all along: even though it was some of the worst goddamn service I'd ever experienced, it was still the best option we had.

Because my uncle is not dying for the money, I have decided to just wait until March 2. And I assume things probably won't even get done on that day.

In closing, I'll just say fuck: perhaps I'm being too bitter and funneling a few different frustrations into this one incident, but Christ, sometimes I get very sick of this country. I guess it happens to anyone, in fact I know positively that it does. And not that America's administrative systems aren't horribly bureaucratic themselves, it is incidents like this, and many more, that do make me proud to be an American. Hopefully, when I come home again, I will appreciate things in the US a little bit more.

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