Chongxi or the Wash of Misfortune

I’ve grown fond of China after seven months of living and working here. However, certain circumstances continue being a stone in the shoe.

A few days before the Chinese New Year holiday, I hurt my big toe during the rehearsals for the school celebration. Every step was so difficult during the 7 minute walk to the office and more so while teaching my classes.  This was the fourth day already. I left school to a hospital where I could be seen in private (I was tired of the “collective” consultations). A bilingual woman was waiting for me, she asked me what the issue was as I followed her to the doctor’s office. This was the first time I was going to be seen privately, and despite the pain, I had a feeling of wellness and relief.

“You Don’t Have Insurance”

The woman asked me for my insurance card.

“I don’t have an insurance card, but I have insurance through school.” I showed her all my other  documents: Passport, expert certificate, hospital book…asian-doctor

“You need an insurance card to be seen or you need to pay 400 yuan for the consultation.” I repeated my previous statement and added that she could look me up in the system, which she did, only to give me the bad news, “You don’t have insurance.”

Startled, I tried to convey an explanation that I myself could believe as well, but nothing coherent came out.

I texted our department coordinator and her answer just shocked me, “The insurance that is made available to teachers is for serious injuries, surgeries and conditions. If you are at the doctor and it is minor that is not covered.”

When I asked for an explanation she told me to talk to one the school’s officers. She works for the international school… and ours, the domestic. They were on vacation, but I could set an appointment with her a few weeks later.

The Foreign Affairs Officer

At the appointment the officer started, “Not because you’re friends with some people at this school that means you have the same insurance.” What? Where did that come from? I took a deep breath to prevent blurting out the answer I felt she deserved, then pulled out a copy of my contract, “Here it says the school provides health insurance, I went to the hospital and they told me I don’t have insurance, what’s the deal? I’m complying with my side of the contract, I feel that you’re not.”

She smiled in a condescending way, “It is different.”

“That’s what the coordinator said, that I can only use my insurance for emergences, but where do I go if I have an emergency? And who determines that? And, I don’t even own an insurance card!” I breathed again and pointed at the contract, “Plus, here it says, ‘Party A shall introduce to Party B the laws, decrees and relevant regulations enacted by the Chinese government,’ but nobody has explained anything to me!”

“Huh, I went to college in Europe and nobody explained the rules of the country to me!” She laughed superciliously and I was losing it. “I really don’t care about the ‘rules of the country’, I just need to know how the school works! And if the contract mentions ‘laws and decrees’ there must be a reason for it. You could have prevented a lot of stress for us foreigners who don’t know how the school operates by explaining this to us. Like, who’s my boss?”

“Your coordinator.”

“And, who’s her boss? You?”

“No, your coordinator’s boss is the school owner.”

“I need to speak with the school owner then.”

“You have to understand, she’s a very busy person.”

“I get it, but if I’m here for a year I’m sure she’ll have 5 minutes for me. How can I arrange an appointment? Can you show me where her office is?”

“I can talk to her to see when she can see you.”

“Perfect! And going back to my insurance. How does it work?”

She drew a horizontal line with the number 1,000. “When you spend up to 1,000 yuan out of pocket, the school gives you a refund. If you spend more than 1,000 we submit a claim to the insurance.”

Nevertheless, months ago our coordinator had said we had to spend 1,000 out of pocket before we were able to make an insurance claim.

“I haven’t spent 1,000 yuan yet, so I still can get the money back?”

“Yes, ask your coordinator to sign this form, bring it together with your receipts, and I’ll give you the money back.”

“Oh, great! Thanks! And when can I talk to the school owner?”

“I’ll let you know as soon as possible. And if you have any questions, just come to my office, I’ll be happy to help you.” Two months have passed. No news about the school owner despite my inquiries.

Back at the Office

wp-1489128211094.pngI asked the coordinator to sign the refund form. She seemed confused, “But, have you spent 1,000 yuan yet?”

“No, but I understand that if I bring my receipts I can get the money back.”

“That is only because you asked!” Whoa! I’m trying to practice not to lose face (stay put, not to lose respect) so I point at the document politely, “Will you sign here, please?”

“I have to ask.”

She makes a phone call, I hear my name, she hangs up.

“You’re not planning to go to the doctor anymore?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“They said they will save your receipts until you have reached 1,000 yuan, then they will file for a refund.”
“That’s okay. Could you sign here, please?”

I leave the signed form and receipts on the officer’s desk. Three hours later she shows up at our office with an envelope for me, “Here is your money.”

Maybe they didn’t want to lose face. However, why in the same day two people contradicted themselves about something so important as the health insurance? And why didn’t they tell us about it since the very beginning? I don’t get what losing face has to do with not following protocol. If the contract says they have to tell us the “laws and regulations”, why don’t they just do that?

The answer came to me when I was listening to the radio on the internet. This American Life Podcast 585 “In Defense of Ignorance” was talking about how Chinese doctors usually don’t give test results to the patients, but to their relatives, if it is bad news, the relatives decide either to tell them or not. And in honor of mental health… It’s better not to receive bad news. Chinese people think mental and physical health are deeply connected. On the radio, the Chinese lady told a joke, “One patient is healthy, the other patient is terminally ill. Their results are mixed up. The healthy patient gets the bad prognosis, and the sick patient gets the good results. A few weeks later, the healthy patient ends up dying while the sick patient ends up living a long life.” And let’s face it. If I hadn’t gotten sick and looked for private assistance I would have never known I didn’t have insurance and my thoughts towards administration, Chinese regulations, etc. wouldn’t have been affected. Instead, I had a headache, anxiety, became sicker, and resentful. They didn’t tell me about the lack of health insurance because they wanted me to work with them, and also “save face.”

I am also aware of chongxi or the Chinese believe that you can wash away a misfortune with joy. The coordinator never stopped smiling and giving me compliments despite of my long face, and the officer waves at me warmly when she sees me though she never responded to my messages about being able to see the boss. Nobody apologizes. People just go on, like a splice between before the dispute and the afterwards making the actual event vanish. No casualties.

School Schedule

wp-1487752948607.jpgLater that week, I was presented with another matter. I seriously believed I was done with the Chinese schedule and the “tentative” dates until they gave us the “tentative” schedule for second semester.  Because there are a few holidays we have to make up for the leisure time by working on weekends. Check it out. “Tentative” School Calendar 2017:

  • Week 7 Work on Saturday
  • April 2-4 Qingming Festival Holiday
  • Week 8 Work on Saturday and Sunday
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Chinese students walk into the entrance of university for Gaokao test (photo from the web)

  • April 11-16 Gaokao Holiday
  • April 29-May 1 International Labor Day Holiday
  • Week 15 Work on Saturday
  • May 28-30 Dragon Boat Festival Holiday
  • End of School Year July 1 – July 5 ? ? ? Which Day? We don’t know!
  • Summer Holiday ???

I’m not kidding! This is the “official” document for our “tentative” school schedule and they wrote these last two bullets like that (question marks and exclamation point included). And as I’m writing this they have already changed one of these dates, last minute.

The end of my contract is June 30, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be taking off soon after.

I hope I don’t lose my face by then… Or my mind!

NINGBO, CHINA

Sometimes it rains with windwp-1489379371428.jpg

Soggy memories add heaviness

To gloomy days like this

I repent and regret

Not to have loved enough

To have let go too fast

To have dreams

To have had dreams that I never shared

wp-1489246984760.jpgI mimic a stork

Entangled in a fisherman’s net

Where to go… I aim to flap my wings

Where to go… my wings cry in shame

Looking back my pierced mind wanders

And wonders

Why my existence seems meaningless in the big picture

On the horizon

The bright lights remind me of home

While the fireworks attempt to shoo away the evil souls

The fireworks… used to make me happywp-1489379504143.jpg

But where did happiness go

I’ve broken so many hearts

I’m sweeping away the pieces from the floor

Accidentally I sweep away a piece of my heart too

In this place

The only way out is alcohol

Or faith

When it rains God opens His gates to listen to prayers

Praying to be able to find a blue sky

Behind this misty afternoon.

Advantages of Living In China

As an international teacher who works in China I find the country fascinating and challenging at times. However, if you are planning to live in this country there are several advantages to your journey that you must certainly enjoy.

Free Rent

In most cases, foreign teachers are granted a furnished free rent apartment. I was a little skeptical on what kind of place I was going to live in because I’d heard spaces are small, but they provided a spacious two bedroom apartment with a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a washer! No dryer since in China most people dry out their clothes by hanging them outside.

Free Lunch

wp-1488711494290.jpgAs if staying in a place for free wasn’t enough, teachers are offered free lunch made daily by a chef trained in the west. Menus are varied, nutritious, delicious, and there is always fruit and soup! We have been blessed, because our school has its own farm, so all products we eat are organic and fresh!

No Taxes

Of course you have to pay taxes, but when you go shopping the tax is included in the price of the item. And it applies also for sales. If a piece of clothing has a 40% discount you don’t have to do the whole math of calculating the extra 8 or 10% after the discounted price. Paradise for shopaholics!! Which leads us to…

Cheap Food and Clothes

Almost everything in China is inexpensive or really cheap. You can dine out literally every day and that won’t ruin your budget. And if you buy groceries to cook at home you are saving much more! You can also find good quality clothes and shoes. However, even

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though in the United States I can wear sizes S and M, here I have to aim for the biggest sizes, especially pants, which for me are XXL, but even that size sometimes doesn’t fit me. That made me feel a little self conscious for a while, especially when I was denied to try on a coat because I was too (big), but I understand that they make the sizes smaller because the population in general is short and slim. The other problem is if your shoe size is 9.5 or bigger. “Meiyou”, no shoes for you ladies 😦

No Tips

This is actually a good thing! At least for customers 😉 Restaurants, spa hotels, coffee shops, bars, taxis, manicurists… You name it. No one demands a tip. You pay for what you order then you don’t have to think about that 15-20% tip or how to split this when you are out with friends. Yipee!!

“Celebrity” Treatment

mmexport1475937099457.jpgChina is a country with zero diversity. That’s why people feel enthralled when someone different is around. Anywhere a foreigner goes heads turn, people elbow their neighbors, and cell phones are pulled out to take pictures of you. It’s funny the tricks they use to get your picture taken. They might follow you for a few steps, or if you are at the bus stop or on the train, they shoot selfies with the peace sign, making you the background of their photos.  Now I know how Halle Berry feels when the paparazzi are all over her. Give me some privacy, please!!  😉

Traveling Options

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Thailand

Because one is able to save money, it is relatively easy to travel to nearby countries. I have had the great opportunity to visit Taiwan and Thailand. And if one has more money and time there’s Vietnam, Laos, Korea, Japan, the Philippines… But also being China as big and ancient as it is there are tons of landmarks and tourist attractions, like the Great Wall, and Shanghai Disneyland.

Safety

China might be one of the safest countries on Earth! For starters, no one is allowed to carry guns, and there are cameras everywhere, so if there is a crime the guilty would be identified and get punished without delay. I love to be able to go out for dinner or a late movie with friends, and take a taxi at 1, 3, 5 in the morning. By the way, all taxis are equipped with cameras as well, which makes it safer for the driver as well as the passengers.

Art Lovers

China has a long history of poetry, opera, and visual arts. Chinese love art in all its forms and they are very appreciative when you perform for/with them during their holiday festivals. Performances are an important part of the Chinese and no one is shy when it’s time to demonstrate their talents. Old Chinese women dancers or dama are often performing in the streets no matter the late hours or if they block traffic, and from a very young age children learn to play the piano, the violin, or more traditional instruments like the guzheng.

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Friendship

And last, but not least, you start friendships that might last a lifetime. It didn’t take me long to meet my “besties” at school, and once you begin to socialize and loosen up your circle of friends becomes wider and stronger. And your new friends are always there to cheer you up when you feel homesick, which is inevitable. Expats give their support freely, because we are all on the same boat.

“China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.”

Charles de Gaulle

Reflections About My Best Friend

In Colombia (my home country) the treatment of pets is very different than in the United States. Dogs and cats usually stay outside. We certainly don’t snuggle with them at night and we rarely recognize them as members of the family. We do love them, and spoil them at times, but we have it clear we are from different species, therefore we live separately. They are companions, soft to the touch, we take care of them, but their place is outside, in the backyard, or out in the farm, depending on where you’re located.

Boomer1

Then I moved to the United States where people share their dwelling space with their pets using terms of endearment and worrying about their illnesses as if they were… people! I found it a little funny and weird that  people referred to their animals as “my baby”, “my lil man”, “my son”…

Then, I hit a bump in the road. A series of jarring circumstances ended up with me renting a room in a house whose owner was a divorced woman who lived with a dog, and a cat. And she LOVED them as family, which I couldn’t understand. A few weeks into living with her she called me one morning excitedly, “I have the perfect dog for you!” Was I asking for a dog? Did I ever show any desire to complicate my world even more by bringing a dog into my life with all the responsibilities it carried? “What? I don’t have time for a dog!” I responded unhesitatingly. “Oh… he is super cute, you’re going to love him!” She continued as if my answer had been, “Yes, when am I going to meet him?” And somehow her wording switched my thinking.boomer15

She brought home a little mutt. “Boomer” was his name according to his birth certificate where it also said he was a chihuahua. Apart from his size I couldn’t see the chihuahua in him. I didn’t like him at first. He was overweight (he had spent his past few years tied to a pole being fed with bread), some of his teeth were green, his breath was… well, terrible, and he was extremely needy. I had been emotionally exhausted for a while, therefore there was nothing in my heart to offer him. So, I looked at him and said, “Hey, I’m gonna take care of you, but I will never love you.”

He wanted to climb to my bed and I pushed him out every time. And less than 24 hours in the house he started getting into huge fights with my landlady’s cat where both of them ended up hurt; he wasn’t potty trained as my friend had assured, and I was angry that I had to clean up his mess every single day. Not a great start for Boomer and I.

Then my father had a stroke and I flew to Colombia thinking this was going to be the last time I was going to see him. It was a stressful emotional time as my father went through surgery and I spent days with him in the hospital and then at my uncle’s house. My father was okay when I flew back to the States, but this experience had left me much more exhausted than I already was.boomer23

When I returned home, I tossed my luggage to the side, I looked down and there it was, little Boomer’s face staring at me, wagging his tail just a bit as if being careful not to upset me. His big eyes so bright, his little body directing all its energy towards me. Only he and I in that bedroom. I couldn’t take it anymore. I hugged him as I cried and told him, “I love you” for the first time. Boomer had torn down my walls. Now we both were vulnerable.

We began jogging together so we both lost some weight, I got his teeth cleaned and though he had three extractions he could start chewing his food better. His fur changed from a dull color to a shiny black. I missed him when I was at work, and if I was a little late he was already howling claiming my presence.

We moved out of that house when I started to earn a full time salary, but we kind of had to move because the fights between Boomer and the cat made the landlady and I fight, too!

boomer11I taught Boomer to roll over, I potty trained him. He had a bed, but I never denied him space in my bed whenever he wanted to jump in. After a hard day, he was there; after an exciting day, he was there; when I was sick, he was there with his little face on my chest… And when my mother passed away unexpectedly he cried with me as he lifted up his little legs to give me a hug. He howled as if something in him had died too.

I never wanted to leave him, now that he had become “my lil man”, “my baby”… But I wanted to travel. I wished for the opportunity to live somewhere else if only for a year. I always thought I would take him with me. Unfortunately, the opportunity opened at a school in China, and there are strong regulations for pets to come here. Also the flight would have been traumatic for my baby, spending almost 30 hours in a kennel in the cold cargo, and being in quarantine at the airport without me being able to see him. That would have been too much for both of us.

For the grace of God, a family in New York volunteered to take care of him and I am humbled and thankful to know they love him as much as I do. However, there is no one day without me thinking about him and all the time, events, jokes, visits, trips, and adventures we shared together.boomer-in-the-park

I also wonder if it is too selfish of me to want him back even though he is being so well cared for by this family of five.

I’m still “stationed” in China for half a year more. Whatever happens, I thank God for the extraordinary gift of Boomer. I have learned a lot about myself because of him. Always in my heart and thoughts ❤

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! 🙂

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!”

chinese-new-year-fireworks-phuket

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.

new-year-fireworks_celebrations-20141

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… 😡 😦