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.