This is my third week living in China and I must report that a few things have been a little frustrating, like transferring money to my bank in the United States for example. Last month while in the USA I consulted with which would be the best bank for me because of their relationships with China. Laura, the representative from my American bank told me very confidently that I didn’t even have to open an account with the Construction Bank of China, only insert my rewards card at their ATM and deposit the money which would be transferred to my account in America in dollars. After moving to China for work and with that confidence in mind, I went to the Construction Bank of China to deposit the refund of my plane ticket and other money that I got from exchanging my dollars to RMB or Yuan (Chinese currency).
On a very rainy day during the Moon Cake Festival I took the bus, then a taxi (a Chinese friend had written the address in Chinese characters for me.) When I arrived at the Construction Bank of China, I went to their ATM, inserted my card, chose English as my language and the only two options I got were withdraw and print statement. I tried another ATM that had extra buttons with the same result. Breathe…
Everybody seemed so busy, but I waited for one of the clerks to walk by and asked in Chinese, “Do you speak English?” He responded with a very long sentence in Chinese (I didn’t understand a bit of it), then left. Oh my gosh! Did I say something wrong? As you know, Chinese is a tonal language and missing the intonation of a syllable can completely change the meaning. What a relief was when he came back with a woman who started speaking to me in English, though slowly. I told her about my attempts, and she said it wasn’t possible to do what I was attempting to do. But I said, “Yes, it is,” because that’s what they had told me in America. Then she asked me if I had dollars, and I said no, I had exchanged my money to RMB! She said maybe I needed to buy dollars in order to put dollars in my account. “No!” I said again. “In America they told me, no matter the currency I deposit, it will be transferred to my account in dollars automatically!” “No, you have to buy dollars.” She said coldly.
At the risk of looking like a crazy person I asked her to tell me step by step how I could deposit the bunch of money I had in my book bag into my account in the United States. She responded that first I needed to open an account in the Construction Bank of China. Confidence came back to my body. “Ah, okay, I can do that today, thanks!” Without changing the expression on her face she said, “No, this week we’re celebrating the Moon Cake Festival, you see, it’s a holiday.” (I took a deep breath as if that was the last bit of air in the whole Earth). “Okay, I’ll come back next week then, that’s it?” “No, you have to bring proof of income, do you have a salary?” “Yes, I’m a teacher, and the school opened a bank account for me.” “Good, bring the statement with the money your school has deposited.” “Oh, no, I’ve been working for only two and a half weeks, I haven’t received my first salary yet.” “Oh, then you can’t open an account.” (Breathe before that little vein in my brain pops).
I didn’t let her finish turn to her desk. “I’m sorry, you don’t understand. I have bills in the United States and have to transfer this money or I’ll get in trouble. Please, help me.” “Okay, I’ll call customer service for you and you can speak to them in English.” I followed her to a wall-mounted telephone and as she was handling the phone to me she said, “Here, you can speak in English to them.” So I greeted in English and the operator greeted me back saying, “How can I help you?” I explained my predicament feeling now that it would come to an end soon. When I finished telling him my troubles he said stammering, “Wait, I’ll transfer to someone speak English to you.”
Another person came to the line, I explained myself for the nth time, she said I needed dollars, I told her I had already exchanged my dollars to RMB at the Bank of China, she said to bring the receipt of that exchange to the office, I told her I didn’t keep the receipt, she then put me on hold.
When she came back to the line she said that I needed a tax statement from the school. So I asked her if it was possible to get one even if I hadn’t gotten my first check, she said, yes. She added that I needed to ask for a memo at the Construction Bank to be able to exchange my money back to dollars and transfer them to America. She added that she needed to ask a few questions at the bank to make sure the information she was giving me was accurate and to please let her speak with the clerk that had dialed the customer service number. I turned, didn’t see her. Went from window to window and didn’t see her, until the guy I spoke with first stopped me and pointed me in the right direction. The clerk I needed was with clients now, so I signal “phone, now, please…” She sent another clerk, we ran to the phone, she had a long conversation with customer service then gave me the phone back. The voice said, “Please, don’t leave the bank. I think you are okay to open an account with us next week. You just need to get some information from them.”
I went back to my initial clerk. She said, “You need a tax statement from your school and your passport, then I can help you open an account next week. I will give you a memo for you to exchange your money to dollars, too.”
“Ah, okay, that’s it? Just the tax statement from school and my passport? And when I bring that, can you help me exchange my money to dollars and transfer them to my bank in America?”
“Yes, I can help you next week.”
“Can you give me your email in case I have any other questions?”
“Sorry, I don’t have an email”
Despite the three hours I had been in the bank and that there was torrential rain outside I was happy to know there was at least something I could do to put money in my bank in the US, so I left with that hope in my chest.
That night I went to celebrate my Egyptian friend’s birthday, and even though the rain never stopped, we had a great time. The next day (September 16th) I sent a message to my coordinator through WeChat.
Me: Hi Elina, at the Construction Bank they asked me for a tax certificate from school so I can open an account and make transfers to my American bank, would it be possible to have it next week?
Elina: Need to get your first pay then you can have it.
Me: And when will that be?
Elina: I think it’s about 10th of October.
To be continued…