Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Banking must have: patience


On a gloomy Monday just before lunch time I decide its about time I head to the bank and do what I've been meaning to do for the last 4 months: get myself access to Bank of China's Internet banking. It's just one of those things that have been on my mind for ages but that isn't urgent enough for me to not postpone month after month. But this day I've made up my mind. And prepared myself. Paperwork up to my ears. Copies of everything, even of my leasing contract (you NEVER know what kind of papers they want when you try to do something here in China, so I always bring everything).

I head to the bank which is a mere 10 min bike ride from my flat. Can't believe I haven't done this earlier?! Oh well.

Step in, immediately draw attention to me and before I have time to push any button or ask for assistance a Bank of China woman is coming up to me:

-Can I help you Miss? Do you want to exchange money?

-No... I have an account here. I'd like to get access to Internet banking.

-Oh...


The woman tells me to wait while she heads to a bank clerk, chats with him, and then waves me over. No lining up for me. Fortunately there are not that many people waiting, and those that are seem to be too busy looking at my large feet (" 老外的脚那么大") to even care that I just cut in line.

The bank clerk speaks perfect English and I explain my errand. He nods and asks for my passport. I hand it over. He looks at it, types at his computer, looks at the screen, then back at my passport, back to the screen, passport, screen... (it reminds me of someone watching a game of fast ping-pong).

-Your passport number is different to the passport number you had when you opened this account? He says.

Darn. I forgot about that. I opened this account 2 years ago and 1 year ago I had to get a new passport because my old one was broken (pages were falling out and they almost didn't let me through the visa check at the airport because of this).

-Yeah I forgot, I say, wanting to kick myself for doing so.

-You need to bring your old passport too so that I can change the passport number at your account,
he says in a serious manner.

-Yup...


I decide to take immediate action and jump on my bike and head home (Not keen to wait another 4 months for inspiration to go to the bank). Twenty minutes or so later I am back, panting slightly, with my old AND new passports. The same woman who helped me 20 minutes ago comes up to me:

-Can I help you Miss? Do you want to exchange money?

I stare at her to see if she's joking but nope. No sign of recognition.

-No... I have an account here. I'd like to get access to Internet banking.

-Oh...

This time I am not allowed to cut in line. I get a number and have to wait like everyone else. (And nobody comments on my feet. Funny how fast novelty wears off?) The male bank clerk that helped me 20 minutes ago is not working. He's sitting at a table two rows behind the bank clerk counter (clearly visible to the other bank clerks still) munching noodles. It's lunch time.

My number is called and I explain my errand to the a new female bank clerk. She looks very troubled and I can tell this is going to take a bit more explaining than I had expected. I push my two passports under the plastic wall and she looks extremely annoyed and pushes one back to me. I try to explain in both English and Chinese but it doesn't really seem to go through (note to self: have to work on my Chinese bank vocab). The woman types and types and asks for my password, tells me to fill in two forms and keeps shaking her head, in a very familiar 'mei you ban fa' -way. I can feel myself going a bit red. The fact that the noodle guy is happily munching along, watching me with entertained eyes doesn't make matters better. Finally the bank clerk yells for another girl who comes up to me and starts asking me questions (in English) about why I have two passports.

-The old one broke so I had to get a new one.

-So you want to open a new account with your new one?

-Noooooo... I just want to change the passport number that you have written down on my account.

-Is the name still the same?

I stare at her. No hints of her joking with me.

-Both passports are mine. One is old. One is new. So yes. My name is still the same. The only difference is the passport number. I was here earlier on with my new passport but that guy over there (pointing at the noodle guy, he waves back) told me that I needed to bring my old passport too (remain calm, remain calm!). 

Chinese chatter and frantic computer typing. Noodle guy is cracking up in the background. I shoot him my darkest look and he smiles back.

New forms are handed over. I swear to myself to go straight home and study Chinese for 10 hours (without breaks) once I am done with this. Bank-Chinese. And passport Chinese. Whatever that means.

Ten minutes later the annoyed looking bank clerk suddenly smiles and says: "Okay le!" and does a movement with her hand indicating for me to move while she pushes a bunch of papers under the plastic wall.

-Done?

-Done.

Big exchange of smiles. I think we are experiencing the same sense of relief. 

As I ride my bike home I think to myself that I really have to work on those bank words. And prepare a large dose of patience for next time.

53 comments:

wiseman1stopcentre said...

a lot of patience we need. Be positive..
well done!..Positive!

Lost in Americana said...

Shouting very very loud sometimes also helps get through to these people.

Loveanewidea said...

Funny story! It will be interesting to hear how their Online Banking systems is to use.

Lost in America - very funny!

Mark's Blog said...

Bank of China's service sometimes makes me feel terrible.

I reckon 招商银行.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Mark -I don't think it was necessarily bad service.. I just feel that what often happens here in China when someone doesn't immediately understand your errand is that they then REFUSE to even try to understand you... they just go 'no no no not possible not possible' even though u know that it is def possible. This is not restricted to Bank of China but it happens all the time and everywhere.

Sometimes I have asked things in Chinese and because the person behind my counter doesn't immediately understand me, s/he freaks, asking for assistance from a work mate that speaks English or simply shaking his/her head to me. I understand, obviously, that my Chinese is far from perfect but I sometimes wish that people here didn't 'give up' so fast... if they don't understand they should just ask me again, 'what do u mean' and maybe THEN it will come through. But nope.. it is almost as if u have one shot and if you don't make yourself understood then, you've lost your chance.

Suiiki said...

Unfortunately this happens a lot, everywhere, whether you're in China or not...I was born in Australia and still have the accent, even though I grew up in the US and now live in Canada. I've been asked far too many if English is my first language. It doesn't even matter if I use bigger words than the people I talk to daily, if they don't immediately understand me because of my accent they assume I'm just another ESL student from the local university...

Lilly said...

It must be so irritating that you could not them understood and the guy was not helping immediately!
Thank Net Banking!!

Leenie said...

Enjoy the sharing of your experiences. It's almost like being there without the waste of time and stretching of patience. Congrats to you for working so hard to communicate.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Leenie -well I am trying to train my patience... my bf always complains that I get annoyed so fast when people don't understand me immediately and obviously that doesn't work so well here in China. So... nowadays I am trying to staaaay caaaaalm and say things over and over again. Also, I have stopped just saying 'Oh OK' if someone tells me 'no that is no possible'. Rather I nag and nag and nag and then... taaaa-daaaaaa: it's possible! :)

kanmuri said...

That made me smile. Bureaucracy in Japan is similar. My friend had lost her bankbook and she wanted a new one. The bank said she would need to change her bank card as well. My friend agrees. Ten minutes later they tell her they can't change her bank card unless she also bring her bankbook... which she LOST!!! lol

sheri amor said...

so.. you've been to so many countries?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Kanmuri -yeah it is all about bureaucracy here isn't it. That story of your friend and her bank book is just such a classic. I wonder what would have happened at the bank if I would have lost my old passport. Probably would have had to open a new account...

Sheri -eh.. yes. A bit off the topic but yeah I have been to some different countries. Over a time-span of 8 years though so it is not as if I have been travelling constantly.

Reggie said...

You are a gifted story teller. The way you retell everything is so entertaining. Your experiences in China would make a great sitcom.

Emil said...

Yeah, usually I end up doing so many things myself instead of asking some others to do it in China. Because I know they will either give up or give me several phones calls complaining that it can not be done, just because they meet some small obstacles. End of story is that I have to correct their mistakes and do it myself.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Reggie -thank you so much for that compliment! :) I have always loved writing and telling stories so it is really great to hear that people enjoy the way I write.. (even though I am far from perfect when it comes to writing in English).

Jonna Wibelius said...

Emil -yey you're back, for a while I thought you'd abandoned my blog.

Your Chinese must be really d*** good as u manage to solve everything yourself. Can't wait for myself to get to that point too.

Woai said...

Oh God don't get me started on banking in China. It is the most miserable task I have to do - going to the bank. The long winded process is one thing but the awful attitude of the staff is what kills me. It's one aspect of Chinese life that REALLY needs to be revolutionised!

I am having difficulties of my own which will be a blog post very soon, so I won't spoil it.

SUNJUNE said...

What a funny story! I feel so ashamed as a Chinese. Although it makes you so worried, it is a special experience. it's funny, right? you can't change the clerk's mind. it's just a funny thing. you can get a joke from it and make yourself smile. On the other hand if your chinese is perfect or clerk's English is perfect, these terrible things won't happen. Actually, the clerk is so nervous when he talk with a foreigner. Don't be irritated, OK? everybody can't change it. this thing happen everywhere, every bank, every countries. But it is not often. Enjoying your time in China. Despite sometimes it makes you feel irritating. Actually, it's just a funny story in your blog. So many people love your blog because of these funny story.Right? haha. happy every day.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Woai -look forward to your post!!!

Sunjune -yeah I know the language barrier so I don't get angry because they don't understand me. Just frustrated -although I am working on that :)

A lot of funny/not so funny things are happening on an every day basis here in China. At most times I try to keep a light-hearted attitude towards it all. After all, I am the 'lost laowai' here, trying to fit in.

Tripfriend said...

I need to do something like this myself. I'm going to grab a Chinese friend and find out why I can't use my bank card with anything but their ATMs. I'm currently with China Citic Bank, and the closest one is about 15 minutes from my apartment. It helps keep me from spending too much, but I want to start taking some college classes online and I don't think I can just mail the school a wad of Chinese bills.

Jason said...

I love the noddle guy!
you give him a nice name!
perfect!

Famous landscape oil painting reproductions said...

Why you not call the noodle guy again? he can help you do it fast.

Heli82 said...

I think it really doesn't matter if you spoke absolutely perfect Chinese the first time. Many times in china, when someone sees that you are foreign they automatically assume that there's no way you can speak Chinese or they don't expect to understand. That's why it's so easy to immediately use the 没办法 excuse. I think it's normal to fluctuate between frustration and acceptance. Most days you just let it slide but sometimes there are the bad China days and it gets under your skin. At least that's the way I always felt. But hey, if you can survive banking in China, you can handle anything!

sour said...

Oh geez!! I've had similar experiences with bureaucracy in Mexico. It is so frustrating when you seem to only have one chance to speak perfectly fluent Spanish (or in your case Chinese)with a flawless accent. Sometimes I would pause, take a breath and say "You need to listen to me, and speak slowly. I am still learning."
haha

Gingerblossom said...

What a hilarious account! I had the same passport problem at ICBC that took 3 trips to iron out ( even though I speak Mandarin quite fluently). And for some strange reason they can't just change the passport no. on their system. Every time I go back to the bank for any transaction, I have to bring both passports!!! Drives me nuts.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jonna,

Another year seems to have brought forth a larger audience for you. Your last few entries have garnered over 20 comments, almost double the usual last year.

Keep this up and you'll be a paid reporter in a couple of years :)

Back to the issue at hand- I think everyone can feel for you. These administrative things really the pits.

May I tell you my own banking internet story?

(But of course Adrian, you say. Please do!)

When I first went to Singapore, I opened a bank account. To get internet access, you have to go to an atm to get some pin to type in online, which I duely obtained.

Back home, I typed in the pin, and the bank site froze on me. It did this 3 times, so I just let it be.

Fast forward 3 years, and I decide to give it another try. I went to the bank counter, which said to go to the atm, and at the atm, instead of another pin, I got a message which said I have already been given one and cant be given another.

Now, do you think I kept the small receipt from the atm 3 years ago?

So back at the counter, I tell them, and they cant help me.

Fast forward yet another 2 years, and I try again. Now, it seems, you can get online banking by filling in a multitude of forms. I did so, and they sent it back saying I was missing some details.

I remain internet bankless to this day from that account.


Sorry this is a bit long, and thanks for reading- I know lack your skill in making horrible events seem humourous and compulsive to read :)

Cheers,

Adrian

Josh said...

It never fails that I show up at the bank counter and it's like a game they play to find out which document I didn't bring. Passport? Check. Driver's License? Check. Proof of employment? Check. Elementary school ID card? Excuse me?

"Oh, I'm sorry. Without that ID card we can't process your request."

I just end up bringing a bag with me full of all my official documents. It's real fun. Really.

Li Xiang said...

Going to bank is a simple story, but you tell it so funny. I don't think I can write so long and so good, even in Chinese, haha~~ I have to admit that in China many clerks in banks, in bureaucracies or on bus have a bad service attitude, not only to foreigners but also to Chinese natives. It's a problem that have been last for a long time. But now the whole society has realized the significance of good service attitude, and things have been becoming better and better. Be hopeful.

Oliver khoo said...

what about the spectacles? are they freebies with new account?

Anush said...

Hey I really enjoy reading your blog. Your experiences as well are your story-telling abilities are really good.

Keep writing :)

Regina said...

i can almost imagine myself being in the bank and chanting "breath in, breath out" :P

Ingrid Booz Morejohn said...

Hej från Chengdu! Läste ditt post med stor behållning, ett besök hos banken, på posten eller allra värst hos PSB föranleder kallsvettningar och minnesförlust av all kinesiska man har lärt sig. Men allting har blivit så mycket bättre än vad det var förr, nu är det nästan svenska posten och banken som är värst tycker jag! Mycket bra blogg, Ingrid Booz Morejohn/

fivefeetofftheground.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

wow i dont think i woulda been able to remain calm if i had to go thru all that u did!

Katie-Jane said...

Okay, I just began reading your blog the other day and I've read just a couple of entries because of my own lack of time. I was just wondering, what inspired you to go China?
It seems such a weird place, and I'd love to go myself and I was just wondering what attracted you to it.
Thanks!

Chao said...

BANK means a place you have to wait for a long time in China.

I get customed to wait for to queuing up very much.

Matt Snyder said...

Hmm...seems like banks in china aren't so different from the states after all.

The bank tellers still stare at you as if you are speaking in a different language.


But in this case you are. Oh, the irony.

.::~P~::. said...

<3 and I thought I had issues with my Canadian banks.... :S

Good luck :)

Kate said...

Jonna, I want to thank you for your insights into cultural differences. They are always so upbeat and honest. I laughed at your excellent descriptions of the people around you. I also got introspective. I think I have probably been the 'frustrating teller', so to speak, on too many occasions. You have inspired me to be more patient in the future. Thanks again for the daily dose of adventursome living.

FlyingSocks said...

I just started reading your blog about China where I was originally from. I think you will get used to it in about 10 years (given that you live there continuously for the next 10 years). I had trouble banking there even though I speak perfect Chinese. Have you read any book by Peter Hessler about his expat life in China, such as River Town and Oracle Bone. I think you will get a big kick out of them.

surekha tangri said...

hey! good one that means working stlye in china and india are almost similar....ha ha

Fred said...

I have read your post over the last few days and I like the stories you tell, it gives me good information because I also want to travel to China and study, I am also trying to learn to speak the language, though I have just started. I love what you are doing,it is very good work

Anonymous said...

No big deal, I've had numorous similar encounters here in Toronto with several banks .

AixelA said...

Oh, your humor is a breath of fresh air to me!

Jewels said...

What a terrific story teller you are! I'm hooked. I can't wait to read about your next adventure. I featured you in my last blog post so others can read your work.

Sarah said...

I swear to God I've had this exact same experience in Chicago...

Buttonsmum said...

I do love the way you describe this situation. I sympathise - it is the same in Spain and ooooh soooooo sloooow. No matter how well you speak the language, no matter how many extra words you have learnt regarding the Spanish banking system - none of it makes it any quicker or easier. It is the same within the legal system and I wish they taught Patience in schools. Regardless, I will follow this blog as I have recently returned from Beijing and was absolutely enthralled with the lovely Chinese people.

ED-O said...

i absolutely love reading your blog. i stumbled upon it just today. i used to live in china during high school and went to an international school there, so i find myself nodding in agreement with a lot of the experiences you write about on your blog!

flowrgirl1 said...

I love your stories. A great window to the world!

Jonna Wibelius said...

My gosh, u guys are leaving too many comments for me to have time to answer all of them! :) (all good though, so don't stop! Love getting a lot of comments!)

Heli82 -u r probably right... Still, I hate hearing 'mai you ban fa...'

sour -sometimes when I try to do things in Chinese over the phone I actually tell them that 'I am sorry, I am a lao wai and my Chinese is not perfect but please try to listen anyways' and that actually helps. Or at least it seems so.

Gingerblossom -that is strange indeed. I wonder what would happen if u lost your old passport? Would u then have to get a completely new account? What about the money you'd have there?

Adrian -yup, getting crowded in here... :) Love your story, although I am a bit confused.. did u live in Singapore for 5 years without a bank account?!?! Geeez!

Josh -that is hilarious and that is JUST how it always is over here!! Last time I went to the visa office they suddenly wanted 2 photos instead of one and 2 copies of my passport instead of one... fortunately I came mega-well-prepared: with a bag of photos and 5 copies of my passport! After 2.5 years here I have learned!

Ingrid -jag kan tänka mig att det var mkt svårare förr i tiden i Kina för 'laowais'... Ändå möter man många frustrerande moment i dagens Kina. Kul att du gillar bloggen :)

Canadians -seems that the banks in Canada are frustrating too. Never expected to hear that!

ED-O -hehe... deja-vu experiences?! ;)

Anonymous said...

I have a bank account, but dont have internet access for that account.

It's not a problem most of the time, except when there are some things that can only be paid for by credit card, like hotel bookings and buying air tickets online, and I'm overseas and atm's wont let me transfer from savings account to credit card.

Adrian

JasonandSara said...

Great blog. You tell stories with great humor. I was imagining the whole story and cracking up.

mazr003ee said...

your blogs are amassing.. it just make me feel i really want to come to china and live the way you live..

keep on blogging cause you are so good at it....

MozzarElla said...

Love, love, love this! Which expat in China cannot relate to the layering of difficulty and increasing of incredulity and frustration that comes with such a situation?!

Reggie is right! Your writing angle is perfect for a sitcom. How about starting on YouTube? I can imagine right now the strains of the perfect theme: an Asian inspired rendition of... Twilight Zone! Aaaggghh!

Your English, as I'd have expected from a smart Swede, is fantastic. If only the Chinese knew that Mandarin is your 3rd or 4th (or more?!) language* one would think they would have mercy.

[*Pray tell, how many languages do you know? (Myself: native American-English speaker, fluent German, mediocre Spanish & Chinese, and 50 words Greek).]