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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Exporting Chineseness    

By Garreth Humphris
2168 Views | 1 Comments | 5/20/2012 12:46:35 PM

No matter where in the world you find the Bank of China, rest assured the service will suck!

I’ve not written for a while - the main reason is that I was travelling a little - the first time I went 'home' in 7 years. It was a strange and surreal experience on so many levels - seeing family, re-meeting friends, catching up with old emotions in old locations.

One of the most interesting similarities with China was a family gathering. It was my Grandmother's 90th birthday so all the family decided to have an afternoon tea. This meant that the 7 brothers and sisters brought the 35 grandchildren and their partners and the 30-odd great-grand children to a small community hall in the middle of a field and I spent most of my time in conversations about why I was not married and how someday I might be ’lucky’.

I'm not really sure what happened to my family, neither me, my sister or my brother have been married. I am the eldest of the grandchildren, my sister is second and my brother is fifth eldest and it seems like all the other young ones have paired off and multiplied, but the older ones are more reticent! One difference I think is that of the grandkids, my family are the most mobile - I have lived overseas for about 15 years and my sister is similar.

It was difficult for me but worse for my sister - over the course of the day her replies changed from ’I just haven't found the right one’ through ’I just haven't asked anyone yet’ to ’Get off my case and change the subject already!!’.

I could give the explanation of having a few girlfriends in China but not selecting the right one yet! That is an acceptable scenario-excuse for me but I doubt my sister would fare so well with such an answer!

So it appears the Chinese requirements of house, car and reputable job have migrated across the ocean to Australia as well.

What else emigrated... well, the poor level of customer service in the Bank of China got there too - I needed the assistance of the bank-teller in the bank to transfer some money into another account to pay an unexpected bill that appeared on my door on the morning I departed. So I went to the bank, to be greeted with that familiar hocking sound... the teller had just been transplanted from my local branch in China, obviously! Long pinky-fingernail, green tea slurp, lop-sided look of feigned indifference and all!

”What?”, he barked at me, obviously thinking from my Caucasian exterior that I was in the wrong place and hopelessly lost!

”I want to pay an electricity bill in China”, I said in my best mangled Chinese.

”You, why do you want to do that?”, he snarled.

”Because I live there and I need to pay it!"

Marimba... he looked up a me, waggled his finger then picked up his phone and ”Wei, DaGe, Ni zai na?”. A 5 minute conversation about the weekend followed, then he looked at me with an almost quizzical look on his face.

”Can’t do, Chinese bank accounts don't work in Australia, only UnionPay!"

”What?”, I asked, ”how do I may my bill?”

”Don’t know”, he relied, ”why ask me?”

”I ask you because you are a bank, I have an account with you and I need a little assistance to arrange some things in China”.

He stared blankly, hopefully optimistic that I would somehow evaporate into thin air and he could go back to cleaning his ear with this elongated fingernail scoop.

”Maybe you could international TT it, maybe"... I was on my guard - that sentence pattern in China is a definite ’I have no idea what I am talking about, and honestly, I don't give a shit!’ sentence form!

”So, what forms to I need to fill in?”, I asked.

He pointed vaguely in the direction of a colleague in a glass box labelled ”Overseas Wealth Exchange” and smiled meekly - obviously happy he had been strong enough to fob me off to the next person.

I went directly to the counter - there were no other customers in the bank but the girl in the box ignored me - obviously she was from Shanghai!

I tapped the glass and said ”Excuse me miss, I was told to come here to pay my electricity bill in China”. She looked up lazily from her romance novel she had downloaded on her iPhone and said ”No ticket, no service”. She didn't look up from her book, just motioned generally with a limp wrist vaguely towards the doorway.

Spinning around on my heel, I noticed a large ticket dispenser lurking behind the door. I went over to it to a screen of jumbled Chinese Characters... even in China they have bilingual instructions and big buttons, but not in Australia?

Luckily there was a security guard standing nearby so I asked him which button to push and he obliged, the machine spitting out a bit of paper and making an audible tone in the glass cage. ”Please wait until your number is called” said the guard, pointing to a line of seats...

What? No customers, no business but I had to wait until the girl finished her chapter in her Ebook.

About 2 minutes later, the number came up on the screen - I sauntered over to the window and explained my situation. The girl made a pouting ”duck face” and I half-expected her to flash a V for Victory sign. I noticed she was wearing a pair of oversized Jackie Onassis glasses without the glass lenses...so Beijing 2011, darling!

She looked down wordlessly and started punching on a calculator. ”Your bill is 347RMB; taxes, fees and charges are 621RMB so altogether 968RMB, that's if State Grid can accept overseas funds as payment!”.

I gulped, how ridiculous is that I thought.

”Don’t bother”, I said, ”even outside China they try to get you on a Laowai tax!”.

Finally the girl smiled - a faint tight-lipped flash of emotion... China had beaten me down again!

On my trip back home on the train I reflected on the experience - and I felt somewhat relieved - It's good to know that even when you are miles from China, some of the true Chinese Characteristics can survive!

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#2012-05-20 17:06:38 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Gareth, if you hadn't been describing the Bank of China in Oz, then you certainly would have been describing the Chinese Consulate in Calgary, Alberta, Canada! Maybe the Bank of China is where the Chinese Foreign Affairs Department (or whatever they call it in China) does its recruiting for employees for it's offshore government jobs. The only place I've been treated more like dirt is entering the USA in San Francisco on a flight from China.

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