Hui Piao (Or Personal Check)

One of my coworkers heard about my frustration when transferring money to America, so he suggested to ask for a hui piao at the bank. This is basically a personal check for any amount of money that you can either send to America for a friend or relative to deposit for you, or to deposit yourself by taking a picture with your bank app. No fee for this service.

I was hopeful again, went to the bank and asked for a hui piao.

“How much money do you need?”

“1,000 dollars.”

“You can only buy 500.”

“But I need a hui piao. It’s different.”

“Do you have your tax certificate?”

“No. Here is my debit card and my passport.”

“For the hui piao you need bank card, passport, contract, tax certificate, and expert certificate.”

I go back to school to ask the coordinator for the tax certificate. She says the school can’t provide it, but we could go together to the tax office and ask for it ourselves.

“Do you have your passport with you?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go!”

Tax Office

It is raining. We arrive at the tax building, but the gate doesn’t open. The coordinator gets out of the car, pushes all the buttons, but the gate doesn’t move. She asks a passerby and he indicates to go around.

Once inside, the coordinator shows them my passport and asks for my tax certificate. The woman shakes her head, “Méiyou” (don’t have). Other employers come, all speaking at the same time, repeating méiyou everytime they look at my passport and back at the computer screen. Another woman comes, she seems to have more authority than the rest. She speaks with the coordinator, “Blah, blah, blah, méiyou.” The coordinator tells me they cannot give me the tax certificate because they only give those before August. “But I’ve been in this country for three months, I have the right to ask for this document!” They send us to customer service. The man there does the same thing. Checks my passport, looks at the screen, “Méiyou.” However, he gives the coordinator a website where she can print my tax certificate from her computer.

Back at School

The coordinator gets excited. She says that from now on she can print as many tax certificates as she wants thanks to that website. This employee shouldn’t have given her the website information but seeing the desperation on my face he felt a little bit of compassion. She also says that having the tax certificate gives me the advantage of being able to buy as many dollars as I need to at once. She prints the tax certificate and I go to the bank at 4:00.

The Bank

“I’m here for a hui piao

“You mean you want a check from the bank?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry, this bank is small. Hui piao is in the big bank.”

Breathe…

“And where is the big branch?”

She leaves and comes back with paper and a pen. “You can take the bus number… get off here… take bus number…”

“I’m not going to take the bus, I need the address so I can take a taxi.”

She writes the address in Chinese characters, I leave, then I hear, “Miss! Miss!!!!”

The lady says, “The big bank they close at 4:30, you have go tomorrow.”

The Big Branch

The next morning, I take a taxi that arrives at the Bank of China 45 minutes later. It’s beautiful, big, clean, and shiny. I take my number, fill out the hui piao form, and wait.

“You don’t have 1,000 dollars.” My heart drops.

“Of course I have more than 1,000 dollars!”

“I mean, you can’t buy 1,000, only 500.”

“I was told at work that if I asked for the hui piao I could buy 1,000 or more.”

“But you need other documents.”
“I have all the documents.”

I handle the passport, expert certificate, contract, and tax certificate.

“This tax certificate no good.”

“My boss printed this for me at school.”

“It doesn’t have the government seal.”

“No, because my boss printed it at the office!”

“And you need other document. We need see proof of salary.”

“Here is my contract, my salary is there.”

“Yes, but you need timetable, your money for every month.”

My voice breaks.

“I went to the other bank, this one is very far from where I live, they told me this is what I need, they never mentioned a timetable, the tax office didn’t give me this document because they only provide these before August, that’s why my boss had to print it at the office, I’ve been trying to do this for a long time, my contract says how much I earn every month, I don’t understand why I need something else, please…”

The teller turns to talk to her colleagues, there’s shouting, she nods (yes!), then she shakes her head (oh boy).

“Please, don’t worry. The manager come talk to you.”

A woman comes with a list of documents I need for the hui piao. I want to take it and put it in my pocketbook, but she says to take a picture. The only thing I could do that day was to buy $500 and put them in my Chinese account.

The Other Bank

I attended a birthday party that weekend and during the taxi ride I told my friends about my bank issues. One of them tells me I shouldn’t be doing so much and offers to take me to the bank she always goes to, where she’s been able to send much more than $1,000 at once.

Since I already bought $500, I just want to buy the other $500 and send the $1,000 home.  Forget about the hui piao, with all that has happened I might not be able to make a deposit with my bank’s app.

That Sunday, I climb on my friend’s e-bike. The wait at the bank is at least one hour according to my number. We go shopping and come back, but the numbers haven’t moved much. They tell us about a new branch, since almost no one knows about it there’s the possibility it’s almost empty.wp-image-1527885523jpg.jpg

They were right. The bank is almost empty, but when it’s my turn they all start asking questions among each other, I hear the word méiyou and I start to wonder what now. They tell me to wait a minute, then ask me if I had another passport. One teller says they can’t find me in the system, we wait for about 30 minutes, another teller tells me there are two passport numbers in my account. My friend tells them it might be because another person opened the account for me. They tell me to come back the next day and I refuse. If they can’t find me or there’s another passport number it isn’t my problem, I am there to buy dollars and make a transfer, period. They keep working in the system.  A couple of hours pass by. I feel sorry that my friend has to wait for so long, plus it’s Sunday and I’m supposed to be at church.

The Documents

In the meantime, my friend asks them which documents I would need to transfer X amount of money at once. As she asks, she shows them and me the papers she has always brought to do her own transfers. I ask them if I can use the tax certificate the coordinator printed, and when they say that’s okay I think I might try to do this $1,000 transfer thing one more time.

After all the wait they say they fixed the problem and I am able to transfer the money to my American bank, but as soon as we leave the bank I break down. I’m a nervous wreck. The waiting, the banks, the mistakes, the coordinator, the tax certificate, the méiyou’s… I am exhausted!

The Transfer

A month later, having desisted from getting a hui piao, I ask the coordinator for the school’s letter and go to the bank determined to transfer $1,000 at once! The new bank is empty, I sit in front of the teller.

“I need to buy $1,000 and wire them to America.” The teller calls another employee. They both revise my papers. Lots of conversation. Lots of typing. Lots of “Sign here, please” and “Enter your password.” An hour later the transfer is finished! My e-bike friend has arrived a few minutes after me and makes her transfer much faster, but she waits for me to grab lunch together and gives me a ride home.

It only took me four months to get the right documents and the right bank (the banks here have different polices even if they belong to the same branch). And from now on I’ll only need to go to the bank once a month to send myself money to the United States! Yeah China! 🙂

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Chinese Fireworks

It was about 9:00 a.m. the first time I heard the bang, kaboom, crackle, and whistle. I was in a classroom and the first boom made me jump a little. My students chuckled. I was puzzled. “What is that? Is somebody shooting?” I asked nervously. My students laughed louder. “No! Those are fireworks!”

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Taken from the web

“Fireworks?” I ran to the window hoping to see the bright lights in the sky, but it was the morning, plus a big cloud of pollution was covering everything. We kept hearing the loud noises outside. “It sounds so close… that’s dangerous. And why are they lighting fireworks so early… no one can see them!” My students continued having fun with my observations. Fireworks in the morning… even for China this has to be a bit odd. “It’s a wedding!” One of my pupils yelled. “A wedding? Really! With fireworks? How romantic!” I rushed to the window again. My students were more delighted than if I were a puppy. “They bought a house!” Another one shouted. “A wedding and a house? Wow… this has to be the best day ever for that couple!” My students found my words amusing. I paused. chinese_fireworks“How do you know there’s a wedding and that they bought a house? Do you know them?” My comments cracked my students up, meanwhile I didn’t understand why my inquires sounded so funny to them.

The same day I heard the fireworks around 3:00 o’clock. I didn’t ask why, but looked out the window with the same hope as in the morning… and again saw nothing. I remembered my beloved North Carolina and all the 4th of July celebrations I attended there. Waiting till dark to see the fireworks was the best part! Hearing the fireworks now made my heart leap with joy. Whatever ceremony or festivity they were having I wanted to be part of it, even from a distance. The kaboom, and the crackle, and the whistle continued, I could only imagine how beautiful those colors decorated the sky for my eyes couldn’t reach them.

I heard them again one night when I was resting in my apartment. I grinned as I levitated towards the window and opened the curtains. Bang, pop, whoosh, crack, badaboom. All these noises filled me with a nostalgic joy… but I saw nothing. I stuck my head out of the window, opened my door, looked at the sky from the hall, I even went outside as if I was hunting a ghost… Nothing. I blamed the tall buildings that surround my school; then I thought about the pollution. It was possible that I couldn’t see the fireworks for the same reason I couldn’t see the stars.

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Chinese New Year 2014 (from the web)

I came in, disappointed that one of my favorite things to see had become a distant, sometimes scarily close uproar. I continued hearing fireworks in the morning, in the afternoon, on weekdays, and weekends; nevertheless, I didn’t ask more questions, until one Saturday morning I was sleeping and the badaboom startled me. I sat bolt upright. My heart beating fast for a minute.

I asked the department coordinator and she said it was because they were celebrating, moving to a new house, or something. Weeks later a friend clarified this for me. “The fireworks are to scare the evil spirits, the same way as when they hawk and spit on the floor, they are expelling the evil spirits from their bodies.”

They light fireworks so the noise scares the evil spirits. They whoosh away the bad luck and the demons when they buy a house, when they get married, when they start a new business, when they graduate, when they have a birthday… The list is interminable. But in this case I have to agree with my Filipino friend who once said jokingly, “The Chinese make it so noisy outside the evil spirits fly back inside the house!”

It’s an interesting tradition though, and they make it happen even when it’s raining, seriously!

Light the fireworks in your heart…

Xīnnián kuàilè 2017 dear friends!! ^_^

When You Lose Your Debit Card In China

I was feeling blue. The end of the year caught me almost off guard. I woke up crying and hadn’t eaten much. It was December 31st, and my mind was divided between the USA and Colombia… I couldn’t focus on any task as simple as this would appear.

I needed cash for a taxi because I was going to attend an end-of-year party at Shangri-La Hotel that night, so a little bit against my own body I took a bus to the mall. Traffic was awful. Even though the Chinese New Year date is different from the Western New Year, everybody was out and about making the streets and transportation more crowded than usual.

I inserted the card in the ATM, took the cash and left. I completely forgot to take the card back from the slot. I noticed later, when I was almost ready to leave my apartment…

The Bank

January first was Sunday and a holiday so I decided not to go anywhere. On Monday the second I stood at the bus stop for quiet a while. Buses were scarce and packed. Luckily the bank was almost empty.

“Passport please.” The teller looks at me not knowing how to ask, so I tell her, “I lost my debit card.”

“Do you remember your card number?”

“No.” She calls another teller who understands English a little better. She becomes my interpreter.

“Do you want the same card number or it’s okay to have another number?”

“It doesn’t matter. Any card, I just need a card.” As soon as I said this I remembered I’m in China!, and nothing is that simple. “Wait! Does it matter if you give me a different card number?”

“Mmm, maybe, if you have another number your salary will be late or they can’t pay you.”

“But my account number would still be the same (again, Kurma, you’re in China)… Yes, give me the same number, please!”

The teller makes copies of my passport while I fill out the “lost card” form. Then I remember, for some reason I had taken a picture of my debit card (Yes!) so I show it to her. She types the number, gives me a bunch of forms to sign, and asks me to enter my password.

“Huh… You have to pay 10 yuan.”

I’m getting ready to give her the money, when she interrupts me, “Sorry, sorry, it’s 20 yuan.”

“Okay, here you are.”

“Your card will be here in 7 business days. Come to this bank with your passport and this form.”

Wow. They’ll pay me the 10th, my card will be ready on Wednesday the 11th, and I’m leaving to Thailand the 13th… Oh God, please, make everything go smoothly this time.

“Thank you. Can I withdraw some money now?”
“No, you need your card to take money out of bank.”
“What? But I’m here, this is my passport, I gave you my card number, I need some money now.”

“Sorry, you only can take out money with your card. Wait 7 business days.”

Oh boy, almost two weeks without access to my money in China. I’m still able to use my American credit card, but then to transfer money there is a hassle.

Happy New Year to me… 😡 😦

Transferring Money By Myself

I had talked about my multiple attempts to transfer money from China to the US. Now I was going to try the “easy” way.

Setting Up Online Banking

Our coordinator (who had convinced me that transferring money would be easier and cheaper if I did it online) took me to the bank because each time I had tried to set up my online banking the page opened in Chinese, stopped working a few minutes later, or didn’t open at all. Once inside, the coordinator spoke in Chinese to one of the tellers who was texting, the other one was having a conversation on the phone, but they both were “helping” me set up my online account. They didn’t invite us to sit at an office, we were all standing at one of the counters, cell phone in one hand, and a kind of pager they gave me in the other hand. Clients came, they talked to them, then came back to the coordinator, who at the same time, gave me the short version of what they were asking. “Enter your password,” which I had to do about 12 times, then check for a message from the bank on my phone, enter that pin, and the numbers they sent to the pager. They warned me I needed my phone and the pager every time I wanted to make an online transfer . They logged out and asked me to log in. And it worked! But everything was in Chinese. The coordinator said I could change it into English and do my transfers online from now on. “So I don’t need to come back to the bank!” I said excitedly.

-No, you still need to come to buy dollars.

-And how much can I buy at once?

-$500.

“Then this was a waste of time. I’ll still need to come to the bank twice before I can send money to the US, by then it will be at least the 12th of the month and the transaction takes 3 to 4 days!” I almost yelled. “Yes, but you won’t have to pay as much and you won’t need a Chinese teacher to come with you!” The coordinator almost yelled back.

It was the 10th of the month so I told them I needed to buy the first 500 dollars immediately. “You don’t have enough funds.” “But it’s the 10th! The school has to deposit our salary on the 10th!” The coordinator said they would make the deposit later that day.

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The First Transaction

Saturday afternoon I went to the bank to buy the first U$500 with a feeling of independence, knowing I wouldn’t need any help or intrusion again. I filled out the two forms they gave me, then sat in front of the clerk’s window, gave her the forms, passport, and bank card. She grabbed everything together, wrinkled the forms, folded my passport, then tossed everything in front of her. I swallowed. That’s my passport. She reviewed every page for a long time, opened my passport, the American page… the Chinese visa… and tossed it again. “Sorry, again this paper, please.” She gave me back one of the forms. When I gave her the forms back, she didn’t shred the old one, just tore it up in half. She kept looking at my passport, her computer screen, and occasionally talked to another teller. “You changed your passport?” She asked.

“No this is the only passport I’ve had.”

“You renewed your passport recently maybe?”

“No, this is my only American passport, never changed it, never renewed it.”

“Sorry, there is problem. Please go next teller.”

The Next Teller

The female client seated at the next counter was open-mouth chomping her lunch hard while watching a loud video on her cell phone, no earphones. The client that had the next number stood quickly in front of me and I moved to the side anticipating a fight. Fortunately, her number began flashing on the other window and I could have access to the teller who repeated the sequence. Looked at my passport, turned the pages, looked at the screen… In the end, the purchase of the first 500 dollars was successful. I left. Tired.

The Second Transaction

Our coordinator let me go to the bank on Monday morning. I arrived twenty minutes before they opened. I was alone standing at the bank gate when the bank’s armored truck parked in front of me. After they were inside for a few minutes I risked to enter, but one of the tellers told me to wait until the guards finished unloading the money. They left and three more people came and stood behind me. I appreciated them respecting me being there first, until the woman who was second stepped inside the bank. I yelled, “Hey, I was here first!” She stepped back, but stood in front of me. I looked at her and told her again, “I was here first!” signaling to stand behind me with my left thumb. She nodded, but didn’t move. Immediately after we got the green light, she rushed to the ticket machine, printed ticket number one, gave me ticket number two, and sat down! I was astonished! How did she dare!? I wish I knew the Chinese words to tell her to f#@&#$ herself!! But, I don’t curse, so I’m glad I know so little Mandarin right now. For a moment I thought, they’d open at least two windows so we’d make our respective transactions at the same time. But they only opened one. She went first, and she had a big withdrawal to make. I saw the packages of money being given to her and I was seeing red because I couldn’t believe this woman had cut in front of me so “smoothly.” My turn came twenty minutes later. I could buy the $500, but I was furious.  I went to the gym and after that, I needed a little retail therapy.

The Transfer

I opened the bank’s website, but as in previous attempts, it closed a few minutes later. I was using my VPN (the one I need to make my internet access private and be able to open Yahoo and Facebook), but since it was a Chinese site I decided to open it without the VPN, and it worked, but it didn’t accept my address, ergo, I couldn’t make the transfer. I asked our coordinator for help, she changed the language to Chinese and started to type, which made me feel I had lost control again. It didn’t work for her either. I had to make 162 progress reports, print them, and sign them, I really didn’t have time for her to try, and try unsuccessfully. I told her to stop though she truly wanted to help, but it was precious time I didn’t have.

I went back to the bank with my laptop. I was standing when one teller opened the site for me. The other tellers came by the bucketload to see what she was doing, comment and laugh among them. Another client came, he started making his transaction, I moved my computer to the side so this client wouldn’t see my information, but the teller didn’t catch on that as she even showed this client that she was trying to do my transfer. I was transpiring and breathing fast. The lack of privacy in China is unbelievable.

The transfer was done, but the fee was the same as if I had made two transactions. In other words, having online banking is worth nothing, I went to the bank 4 times, wasted money and time, stressed out… Why on Earth would my coordinator tell me it would be cheaper and easier?

This is too much. I need to go back to work now, but this weekend, more retail therapy it is!

Homesick But Making Progress

When you are planning to leave your home to”see the world” and have all those experiences you believed you’ve dreamed of, but couldn’t achieve because of age, inexperience, budget, and various excuses, you are not really thinking about what you are leaving behind for an entire year.

Loneliness

Suddenly after all the excitement settles in, your routine bores you to death, and you need a friend, you realize you are in a city of 7 million people and you are a part of the very tiny small percentage of foreigners who looks like a giant, is too dark, speaks strangely, and acts in a ridiculously different way… The whole sky opens up, you fall down on your knees with arms wide open and scream, “What am I doing here!!??”

Friends

In China people take pictures of you wherever you go, but they don’t pursue your friendship, they only want to post on social media that they’ve seen a Laowai (foreigner).

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Goofing around with Hussam and Darcie

I developed a good friendship with two foreigners though, but one of them had to leave because his visa expired. Now, with my only close friend, our schedules rarely match and finding time to spend with each other sometimes becomes as painful as not having my friends from Charlotte nearby. Speaking of schedules, she will be flying to her vacation for 6 weeks soon, while I’ll have to work because my break comes much later and shorter. I’m going to have a long hiatus to… meditate perhaps?

Boomer

Oh my dog! How much I have cried for my faithful companion. It seemed so unreal to say goodbye that rainy morning in NY when God found him the most fabulous family in the world. But as fabulous as they are my heart broke in small pieces when I kissed Boomer’s little face for the last time. I lied down depressed for weeks, and I still cry when I see him in pictures. He looks… sad, disconcerted… Or it’s because I see him with mother’s eyes and wish I had telepathic powers to let him know how much I still love him. Not having him with me torments me at times.

Church

At least during the first month I was trying to find a place of worship. I had read that people don’t talk about religion in China so I tried to be cautious; until I saw a post on WeChat. One of the Chinese teachers posted something about Jesus. It was in Mandarin, but the picture accompanying text was pretty clear. I looked for her during lunch. She said she attended services in Mandarin, but told me other teachers went to an international church. That was such great news!! I met with one of the teachers at the mall close to us on a Sunday, we rode the bus for a while, then the train for another long while. It took us about two hours to get there. Wow… In Charlotte it was so easy to jump in the car and drive to the morning service. It usually took me 10-15 minutes. How much do I appreciate to be able to worship in a communist country though. I had heard terrible stories, but so far we  have been able to have fellowship in peace here. Amen!

The Art Circle Starts to Open Up

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Cavon Ahangarzadeh -ISN Head of School

In Charlotte, NC life was accelerated. One event after another, poetry readings, commissioned poems, fashion shows , every week there was so much to do, visit, perform, party, celebrate with friends, awesome friends everywhere… In China I came to a full stop. Zero. Nada. Nichts! Nevertheless, I started small, showing part of my heritage first, dancing cumbia during a festival at school. Then donated my books In the Prism of Your Soul and The Fragrance of Water to the International School library.

After about 2 months I created my own event. I had to! Like a fish has to swim! People came to my apartment to listen to my poetry and one of the attendees delighted us with Navajo chants! I felt so alive! At the same time the Mint Museum of Charlotte asked me to send them a video reading one of my poems to celebrate Candle Day! I’m so thankful with Rubie Britt Height and Claudia Soria for making me feel I’m still part of the artsy life back home.

Shortly after my event I was introduced to a Kenyan art teacher, we have to meet yet again to plan a collaboration, and I found a lovely couple which performs at the Shangri-La Hotel weekly. I was reading about them on Ningbo Focus Magazine where I learned Diane is Colombian (Yay!!!) and Vladimir is from Bulgaria. I contacted her immediately and we have been corresponding since. I’ve even asked her if they would let me share some of my poetry during one of their performances… Let’s see what happens 😉

I’ll be back home soon, changed by this experience, maybe wiser, but definitely much more thankful and appreciative. I promise never again take anything for granted. I love my friends and family more than ever now that I don’t have immediate access to them. Distance puts everything into perspective…

The thing I’ve learned about watching artists is that they’re willing to indulge following what’s interesting without knowing where is going to lead. They trust that is going to lead somewhere and even if in that day or that week or that month it doesn’t get interesting they have this, ‘It’s going to get me somewhere interesting’ ~Vicky Taylor, Anthropologist

How to Transfer Money from China to the USA… Part 2

In a previous blog, I had talked about my attempts to open an account at the Construction Bank of China because in America they’d assured I could transfer money from that bank directly to my account at little to no charge. I only needed to bring a tax certificate and my passport, but the tax certificate would be granted only after my first salary had been deposited, which happened on October 10th in the afternoon, and since Elina, our coordinator, had told me I could have it that day, I asked her on October 11th.

Ninth Attempt

Elina said that in order for me to get the tax certificate I needed a copy of my passport. Unfortunately two weeks before, Linda, the school finance/international/foreign affairs person, had asked me for my passport to apply for my one year work visa, and gave me a receipt that would act like a legal document for the time being. I found a copy of the passport in my email and printed it, but I had bought a ticket to go to Taiwan so I needed my passport back asap, for which Linda requested the passport receipt, so now I had neither.

I asked for permission to go to the bank after having been working for 8 consecutive days, once there I asked if anyone spoke English though I had a note in Chinese from Elina, sat in front of the first teller who said a little, and handed the note to her. She asked if I had American dollars in my account. “No, I only need to transfer money to my account in the United States.” She asked something to the other teller, then turned back to me, “For transferring money to the US you need dollars.” “Take the dollars out of my account then.” “Do you have dollars or yuan in your account?” “I work for a school here, they pay me with yuan.” “Oh, no. You need dollars.” The other teller intervened with a combination of Chinese and English; then my teller asked, “How much do you need to transfer?” “$1,000.” “You can’t transfer 1,000 dollars. In China, only 500 dollars a day.” “Okay then.” Another teller approached, he told me to give him my passport. I answered that my boss had my passport to get my work visa, but I had my bank card. He said, “We can do it with the receipt.” “My boss has the receipt too because I asked her for my passport, for traveling purposes.” We all smiled uncomfortably. Then one of them asked, “Do you have a Chinese friend? A foreigner can transfer $500, but a Chinese person can transfer $1,000” “Oh, excellent! Do you want to be my Chinese friend?” I joked. They said they were sorry they couldn’t help me.wp-1479367977589.jpg

10th Attempt

The next morning I explained everything to Elina emphasizing the Chinese friend part. She looked flustered, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. A Chinese person can only transfer 50,000 dollars a year and I already used my transfers.” “Do you know any Chinese person who can help me?” I inquired desperately. “I’m going to ask Mr. Cho, our director. If he hasn’t used his $50,000 maybe he can go with you.” She left and returned with Mr. Cho. Much Chinese was spoken, then both left and came back with a third person. “Funn Yi will meet you at the school gate at 7:50 am tomorrow, and she has a car.” I grinned, said thank you in Chinese, Funn Yi left and I turned to ask Elina if I still needed my passport even though I was going with a Chinese person. Another teacher interjected, “Yes!” But Elina said there was no need if I was going with a Chinese citizen; however, during lunch she said I’d better ask Linda for my passport just in case. I texted Linda, and hours later she responded,  “I plan to go get it tomorrow morning because I have some work to do this afternoon.” I started to pray that showing up at the bank with a Chinese person would give me enough credentials to finally transfer the money to my American account.

11th Is A Charm!

Once Funn Yi and I arrived at the Bank of China I started to speak:

-I need to transfer money to my bank in the US, and I come with a Chinese person to help me.

-How much do you need to transfer?

-$1,000.

-You can only transfer 500.

-I know, but she can transfer 1,000.

-Is your money in her account?

-No, I have my money in my account.

-The money needs to be in her account for her to transfer.

Oh gosh… I didn’t even know this person and I had to put my money in her account?

“Okay.” The teller took both our debit cards and started working. Then he looked up, “Sorry, the printer is not working so I write your transfer here” on a paper with a carbon copy. What can I do? I’m in another country. Trusting God is my only alternative. He asked Funn Yi to enter her password a few times, then I had to enter mine, after which he announced, “Your money is in her account.” Funn Yi had to go to get a ticket for the 1,000 dollars, at her return we started transferring the money. I had to provide my American account number and SWIFT code (I had asked at school what this was, and very solemnly my co-worker answered, “Well, it’s a code they have at the bank and they call it ‘swift'” Really!?) I also had to provide my bank address. The teller continued working in front of his screen, kept typing on the computer, and scribbling on paper.  Stopped to make me aware the transfer would cost 200 yuan, the equivalent of 30 dollars; then gave me the hand written receipt and told me to wait 4 to 5 days for the transaction to show in my statement.

Three days later, the money was in my American bank, and I was happy, but there had to be another way. Our coordinator says it’ll be easier and cheaper once I set up my online banking. In the meantime, I have asked her again for my tax certificate. This week she gave me back all the documents I had provided. “They can’t give you the tax certificate yet, maybe in December.”

TIC (This Is China)…

The 2-Hour Trip that Took Me the Whole Day (Conclusion)

In my previous post I was talking about how China Eastern Airlines sold me a flight where according to them an “aircraft” is a train. I was at Ningbo Railway Station swimming in the rivers of people of China. Hoping. To get to spend the week in Taiwan with my friend. When they announced our train number, passengers piled in uneven lines like little iron spheres attracted by a magnet.

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Ningbo Railway Station (China)

I boarded the train pushed by a giant wave, located a seat, stood trying to lift my carry-on to place it on the overhead compartment. The Chinese guy who was sitting there stood up, and for a minute I recovered my faith in humanity, thinking, he was going to help me. Instead, he moved to the adjacent row, laughing with the other passengers who in turn moved their luggage from my side to their side of the aisle. A voice behind me brought me back from this burning hurt. “Let me help you,” said an expat lifting my bag as he gave me a sympathetic look. I sat down still hearing them laughing, still seeing them pointing at me with the corner of my eye.

Were they laughing at my darkness, or they were laughing because I’m taller than them. I had to make a conscious decision to ignore ignorance. I prepared to enjoy the view and relax, now that I was finally going somewhere.

The landscape was passing in front of my eyes in fast motion. Lots and lots of rice fields and little houses, mountains, abandoned buildings, buildings in construction, old factories, garbage, temples, houses like castles, rivers, ships, tall bridges. In order to not fall asleep I started to pay attention to the names of the stations, Hangzhoudi, Hainingxi, Jianxingnan, and finally Shanghai Hongqiao.

Shanghai Hongqiao Station welcomed me with many more people than Ningbo Railway. I knew the drill though, find the ticket window, show my confirmation flight, get a ticket and get inside another “aircraft-train” to Nanjing. The people from customer service kept sending me in circles, and my backpack started to feel like “Monster”, that’s how author Cheryl Strayed called her backpack as she completed her hike throughout the Pacific Crest Trail. Monster was making itself heavy, as my dog when he didn’t want me to move him from my bed. I walked the whole 1st floor four times until I saw an arrow that directed me to the second floor. That window ticket was closed, but there was a sign saying to go to another one a few steps ahead. Again, long line, and when I arrived the woman sent me to the first window. I told her that one was closed, she ignored me as another passenger was asking for his ticket. A Middle Eastern woman stopped me to help me find my way “I speak Chinese,” she said, and let me pass in front of her as she explained my situation to the attendant, who sent me to a window, downstairs… downstairs… once again. Monster acquired its own personality and started giving me a sharp pain on my lower back. My carry-on had the palms of my hands in pain, too. Luckily I found the window and I had to push and threaten (in English) the ones who tried to pass before me. I had to defend my territory! If they tried to interrupt my transaction I yelled “Wait!” They didn’t understand because they kept talking, but I thought my body language spoke by itself.

I got my train ticket and went to “celebrate” with dinner at KFC. I ordered the 2-piece chicken combo, but they gave me a shrimp sandwich instead. What the freak!? Resignation. No more worries. I was only about 12 hours away from Taiwan.

Getting onto the second “aircraft-train” seemed a bit smoother as I already knew what to do. Push, get in, and… find my seat? The ticket was all in Chinese and I wasn’t willing to travel two hours on my feet, so though people seemed unfriendly I started to ask,”Nǐ shuō yīngwén ma.” Do you speak English? The first person responded, “A little.” So I pointed at my ticket, “Seat number?” “You have go train 6, this is 4. Find seat number 5F.” “Thank you.” I smiled at her kindness and walked through the train doors with Monster and my carry-on. I asked the Chinese guy sitting in that row if he would help me and he said yes, immediately putting my carry-on on the overhead compartment. He had placed his huge 4 wheeled spinner between him and me so several times it bumped into my leg, but what could I have done? This man had been one of the few who had helped me. I asked him if he knew where the Nanjing Airport was, and very slowly he answered that it was about 45 minutes away from the train station. A taxi should charge about 70 yuan.

At the exit of the Nanjing Train Station a man asked if I needed a taxi so I managed to tell him to take me to the airport by mimicking a flight with a plain ascending hand. He took my carry-on and I was so relief it wasn’t in my hands anymore. But this man wasn’t a taxi driver. I followed him through the parking lot until he found his car. I didn’t care. I was exhausted. I did ask him how I would know how much I had to pay, when he showed me the meter I thought, “Oh well, I don’t think God wants me to die cut into pieces in Nanjing when I’m just trying to take a vacation.” It was later than 11 pm and I couldn’t fight the urge to sleep this time. When I woke up we were about 10 minutes from the airport and once there he showed me the meter again. Total 230 yuan. What? I told him this ride wasn’t worth more than 100 yuan. But there was no point. He didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Chinese. And I was glad I was alive and in the right place.

Monster, Carry-on, and I found the airport hotel, paid the U$85 charge , and rode the elevator to the 9th floor where we found the most beautiful, plushy bed I’d ever seen in the past two months. What a pity I was going to be in it for only 5 hours.

The next day, after I showered I walked to China Eastern where people were already piling up not respecting the stop here sign at the check-in. They weren’t talking, but screaming, and for a misophonic like me, this was torture. After checking in, they put us on a small bus, all of us. I was glad Carry-on was sitting comfortably underneath the plane, but now Monster had to defend me from all these people’s proximity. When we stopped in front of the aircraft (wow, now the word aircraft made sense!) people pushed , bumped, and ran up the stairs of the airplane with their luggage and children. I was just thinking, what’s the point? All the seats have been assigned way before hand. But the pushing continued even inside the plane. I sat; then a couple sat next to me. Another fellow stood in front of our row talking to the fellow next to me. He was showing him his ticket and I understood that he was saying the seats were numbered A, B, C and he was B. The one next to me kept talking in a loud voice finally sending the other fellow to another seat. Had I understood the situation clearly though…?

I closed my eyes while they were showing the safety video, but the flight attendant pocked me about ten minutes later to ask me what I wanted to eat. I opened my little box of food and was about to start when my whole body trembled. All the people on the airplane were open-mouth chomping, and slurping, and hawking, and spitting… Did I mentioned I am a misophonic? The guy next to me was so loud I put my left index in my left ear and continued eating with my right hand. The torture lasted for about 30 minutes after which I closed my eyes again, but when I was about to relax the guy next to me pocked me and started leaving the row without giving time to give him space. He was taking a while in the restroom, but when I finally saw him coming back I stood for him to have enough space this time. However, he passed me by to occupy a different seat 3 rows in front of me.

The lady from the window seat also went to the restroom and when she came back she started talking to me, even though I told her, “Tīng bù dǒng” (I don’t understand.)

Before the plane landed everybody stood up and took their carry-on. I had to do the same since the window lady seemed to be in a hurry as well. She stood behind me so close I could smell her fish breath, then she brushed my sweater with her hand twice, pulled it down, and patted my lower back indicating that it was uncovered. I looked at her trying to speak with my eyes. “Do-not-touch-me-please.” Luckily the line started to move and people -as usual- started bumping into each other. We were put on a bus again. The wait seems eternal when one can’t stand strong smells, sounds, and crowds. Nevertheless we arrived, and everyone ran to the conveyor belt. I took my suitcase not without having to jostle some people. When I left the baggage claim area and saw the happy familiar face of my friend I promised myself to change the return flight even if I had to pay extra. My friend asked me if I needed to use the restroom, but I told her I’d rather wait till we got to her apartment for I hated to go on “squatters“. When she said that restrooms at the Taichung airport were “normal” I couldn’t hide my emotion.

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Restaurant in the foreign area of Taichung, Taiwan.

Welcome to Taiwan!