Monday, October 12, 2009

Back at the Farmer's Bank

Remember my little visit at the Farmer’s Bank -农业银行- earlier this year?

About one month ago I went back to the same bank pay the rest of my university fee. When I first came into the bank I thought I’d gone to the wrong place: this bank was bright and modern with fresh looking chairs, and green and white walls. Gone were the long lines of people coughing on each other: this place had a “press-a-button-and-get-a-number-and-then-wait-for-your-number-to-show-on-the-big-screen-line-system,’ and although I stirred up a minor chaos amongst the guards/bank clerk helpers when I walked in, most of the customers that were sitting down, bored expressions playing on their faces, did not even shoot me a look. Excellent!

Unfortunately my helper from last time (some sort of guard who helped me fill my slip) were gone and replaced by a female guard + some bank clerk helper who watched over everybody that were filling in papers to make sure they ticked the right boxes (this guy was, by far, the most stressed person I’ve ever met in China. Sweat was trickling its way down his face and his white shirt clung to his body, despite this new, made-over bank had a full blasting air con).

When he saw me I could tell he got even more stressed, looking over his shoulder to see if I had by any chance brought with me a translator. But my errand was fairly simple, and when I asked for a slip in Chinese his face lit up. He quickly presented me with the right papers and ushered me into a private corner. He then went to get me a line-number.

It was a fairly busy day at the bank so when I had finished filling my form (and the clerk had looked at it, laughed at it, taken a new one and re-filled it for me: I don’t get it, because my character handwriting is good enough for them to read and understand it, but still they always want to re-do it when they see my papers) and looked at my number I realized that I had some 20 numbers ahead of me. The bank clerk was immediately by my side and told me to wait a short moment.

-Eh, I think I will be waiting for a long time! I said, and nodded towards my number, that started with 80. Right now they were helping number 61.

-Oh no no. Just wait a short moment.


I sat down and waited. 20 minutes passed…. 30 minutes… sometime after 40 minutes, number 80 started to show on the big screen, making me a bit excited. The bank clerk, too, got really hyped.

-Soon it’s you! Soon it’s you! He came over to me to tell.

-I know. I see the numbers, I explained to him, pointing towards the huge screen, visible for people even standing outside the bank's doors.

Not enough. When number 84 showed (I was 85) the bank clerk wouldn’t let me sit down anymore. He wanted me in some sort of imaginary line, behind the person who was currently being helped. I thought it was a bit ridiculous. The whole thing with a number-line system is to avoid the queue, but I just did what I was told, resulting in giggles from fellow bank customers who probably thought I was a “silly and stressed laowai.” Oh well, that one’s on me!

And then, when number 85 finally showed on the big screen, the bank clerk STILL ran up to the bank clerk who was about to assist me and hissed:

“It’s a laowai coming, it’s a laowai coming!”

(Man, talk about making it a big deal!)

The poor bank clerk behind the glass looked so nervous when he saw me, but put on a brave smile and said:

-Good afternoon miss, how can I help you? in broken English.

I smiled and pushed my passport, the money, the slip and everything else needed under the glass.

Five minutes later we were done.

-Thank you for your help, your English is very good! I said, before I got up. The young bank clerk’s face broke into a huge smile. I seriously think I made his day.

And fair enough, becuase he made my day, by processing my request. Now I don’t have to go to the bank for a long time! Weeeee!

Although got to love this about China. Enter a place that looks a bit worn down and everything but modern, and come back 2 months later to be greeted by a completely new, shiny instalment. It almost happens over night over here.


Brad Farless said...

Looks like the wheels of progress are going full speed ahead in China.

Glad to hear you had a more pleasant experience at the bank this time around and didn't have to make extra trips like last time.

I don't get the whole "omfg it's a white guy what do we do what do we do" in Singapore, because it's international and modernized, but when I'm in some remote areas of the Philippines you'd think I was a purple elephant pooping golden peanuts the way I get stared at.

Little Tiger said...

Hilarious Jonna! I'm surprised the modernized bank didn't have any laowai fanfare!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Brad -yeah things happen overnight here. It's a bit mad almost. And yeah, I still don't understand why they make it such a big deal when they see a "laowai" but it obviously doesn't happen everywhere... Still, I get as amazed every time it does! And I feel like an alien :)

Tiger -hehe, yeah, I will be expecting one next time! ;) Got to love visiting the bank over here. Always bodes for an interesting experience.

George said...

haha, Jonna, great writing, i think the stressed guy's lovely, you should go there more often just for teasing him XD

i guess there might be a reason they have to rewrite a pay-in slip or cheque for you, because some wordings in Chinese banking are very strict, even what you wrote was totally perfect. For example if you pay in 1,650 rmb, you need to write 1,650 Yuan first, then wrote as Chinese words, i guess most non-chinese speaking people might write as "一千六百五十元“, it is right, but not in the banking standards, you have to write it as ”壹仟陆佰伍拾圆“,if you wrote "one" as "一”, it could be very easily changed into "二“ or "三”

Anonymous said...

Jonna, do you think it is better for Chinese to speak Chinese or English when they face a LaoWai?

I personally think it would be better if it is Chinese cause they dont speak broken Chinese. lol

Jonna Wibelius said...

George -yeah that's true. I normally write what I can on the slip and let them put my numbers into characters, because like u said, u don't wanna mess up that one... :) I actually never knew why the number characters on a bank slip weren't the "usual" number characters but now it all makes sense, gosh, I feel so stupid for not getting that earlier on. Anyways, I don't think I'll go back and tease the bank clerk anytime soon, he seemed stressed out enough :)

anonymous -I think they should speak whatever language they feel comfortable speaking. I am obviously not the one to tell others what language they should speak: here I come with my broken Chinese trying to communicate to everybody from taxi drivers to vendors on a daily basis. And they are still nice to me! :) So, if a Chinese person speaks to me in broken English I think it's totally fine! :)

Anonymous said...

Well, Jonna. I am Chinese guy(23 years old) myself. I grow up there and came to the US when I was 16 and I hope to returen to China soon for a visit.

Could you tell me how it has changed? I would like you to post something about Chinese people in Chendu. That is where came from.

Thank you.