Blogging . . . it used to be a part of my daily routine and then I got lazy. Well, now I don’t have any excuses. I’m not bouncing around the globe, I’m not attending a funeral or mourning my loss anymore, I’m not standing at an alter saying, “I do”, and I am most certainly not working. So, what else do I have time for? Pretty much anything that I want. And for the most part that has included sleeping late, watching season and after season of whatever TV show I downloaded, and making sure that dinner is cooked for my hubby when he finally gets home after a long day behind the desk. But those aren’t the only things going on in here in Shanghai.
Since I have moved to Shanghai, China, a lot has happened.
On my second day here, my flipping wallet was stolen. All in all they didn’t get much, but they did get five crisp 100 yuan bills, my US and Chinese debit card, credit card, traveler check receipts, a whole section of business cards of people I don’t really know, the USC staff card I liked to use to get discounts at movie theaters and the like, my driver license(that had a good picture on it!) and random mementos that I’ve carried in my wallet for way too long. Most of what was stolen can be replaced. The major pain was having to call and get everything canceled and knowing that it was probably going to be a complete bitch getting access to 8000 yuan I still had left from Linyi. Why, would that be difficult you ask? Well, it’s simple really. China wouldn’t be China if everything was easy. As much as the lack of ease irks me here in China, I do suppose that it is part of the reason it keeps me here. I know, I am completely retarded.
As soon as I realized that my wallet had been stolen, the first thought that popped into my head besides, “Oh, shit, oh, shit”, was the Ben Ross post I read several years ago. His wallet wasn’t stolen, but it might have well have been. He just forgot his pass code. You can read all about it here, here, here, and here. It’s a lot of reading, but worth it. The memory of this post put the fear of God in me. I was almost certain I was gonna be screwed eight ways to Sunday.
I did the proper thing after I realized my wallet was gone. Teary-eyed(me, not Phil), Phil and I found a police officer and in broken Chinese told him what had happened. He told us to follow him and so we did. I don’t think he told us where he was taking us and if he did the Chinese was lost on us. All I knew was that he was walking us away from the possible scene of the crime. He guided us, silently, across several busy streets and eventually turned down a very dark and quite alley. For one paranoid, horror-esque moment, I thought he was guiding us to our doom. I’ve seen to many movies for my own good. In my defense, I was tired, angry as a bee hive that has been poked with a stick, and worried sick about how I was going to survive in Shanghai until all this was resolved. You need money to live after all.
The police officer finally parked his bicycle in front of building and pointed that we should go in. Surprise, surprise, he had taken us to a police station. He told us to wait while he went and talked to a few of the other officers. In a small, windowless back room, I could see about 7 officers chain smoking. A wall of smoke continuously wafted out. When one officer put out his cigarette and left, another officer would replace him. Not a single one of them stepped through the door frame holding a cigarette. It was obviously the designated smoking area. I didn’t know China had designated smoking areas.
Finally, a guy came over to me and asked in Chinese if I had a Chinese friend that he could call. Apparently, of all the officers present, not a one of them spoke enough English for me to file a report. If this had happened in Linyi or Fuyang, or any other small city I have lived in or visited, I would have expected as much. I guess I thought Shanghai would have more officers that could communicate with foreigners on some level at least, and especially so soon after the Expo had finished. I thought wrong. I was very lucky that I did indeed have a local Chinese friend to call. Amanda(Zhang Yun Jing) has been so very helpful to both me and Phil since we have arrived. I hated to call her so late, but it was the only way the officers were going to be able to communicate with me. I figured they would just use Amanda as a translator, so I waited patiently while they talked to one another. When the guy hung up the phone without handing it back to me, I was confused. I immediately called Amanda back and asked her what was going on.
“I am coming to you,” she said.
“But it is 11:00 p.m. and you live so far away. You don’t need to come all the way here. I just want them to know my wallet was stolen, so that if it is somehow found that they can give it back to me.”
“No, it is okay. We are friends.”
At this point, I had only met with her three times. We spent two days together looking for an apartment in December and then earlier that day, I had seen her at Phil’s work. She was helping us get our paperwork in order. I tried very hard to convince her that she really didn’t need to travel 30 minutes across town, but it was no use. She was my friend, and friends help friends in times of need.
Phil and I sat and waited while our ice cream cones melted. We had forgotten we had bought them with all the insanity. I refused to let mine go to waste and slurped mine out of its wrapper. It dripped all over me and I didn’t care.
When Amanda arrived about 45 minutes later, we found a police officer who sat down with us to write up a report. He asked the normal questions – where did I think I was when my wallet was stolen, when did I realize it was missing, what was in my wallet, and how to contact me if my wallet was found or if they had any further questions. This took about 30 minutes. They told me if I was sure it was taken at Carrefour, a store a lot like Wal-Mart, they would review the tapes, but there was no way I could know for sure if it was or not. It could have happened in several different places. They took all of my information, typed it up and gave me a copy. It was my first and hopefully, last Chinese police report.
As we walked back down the dark and now even quieter alley, I thanked Amanda repeatedly for all she had done. I even got a little emotional when I told her how happy I was to have a friend like her because g0od friends, not just in China, are hard to come by. She told me that I did not have to thank her because I was her friend and that she was very happy to be there for me. I hugged her and off she went.
Phil and I went home and promptly crashed. It had been a long day. I probably should have looked for the number to my bank then, but I was just too tired to think about it. It was the first thing I did when I woke up the next day, though.
After finding the English hot-line number to the China Construction Bank and telling them that my wallet was stolen(fairly easy), they froze my account so that the stupid pick pocket couldn’t attempt to withdraw my small chunk of change, after verifying who I was. They wanted to know how much money I thought I had, when the last time I used it, and my name of course. Since I did not know my card number, I had to provide my passport number.
I asked the guy on the phone how I would be able to get what money I had left out and he told me what I feared. He said that I would have to go back to the China Construction Bank branch where I opened my account to unfreeze my account and to have a new card issued. I told him I didn’t care about the card, that I just wanted my money, but he said that was what I had to do. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if I was still living in Linyi, but I wasn’t. Linyi is about 10 hours away by bus and depending on when you buy a plane ticket, it can cost anywhere between 370 to 800 yuan to fly there – one way. Of course, to fly I would need my passport, and Phil’s work was still in possession of it at the time, and without the ability to get to my money, it would be difficult to pay for the stupid ticket. I could have used what money Phil had left on his Chinese debit card or had him take money out his US accounts, but I refused to go that route.
The next day, I decided to call the hot-line number again, to see if there was someone else I could talk to – maybe there was another way. I talked to a woman and told her my situation. She asked where I was living and gave me the address to a near by branch that should be able to able to help me. This seemed promising and made me happy.
Almost a month later, I finally made my way to the branch the woman had told me to go to. Why did it take me so long? Well, Chinese New Year happened, it took almost three weeks to get my passport back, we were really busy getting settled, I kept forgetting about it, and perhaps it was that I didn’t want to have to deal with what was most likely to come. But if I wanted my money, I would just have walk the walk and deal with it.
With my passport in hand, Phil and I jumped in a taxi and rode to the bank. I think the taxi guy took us to the wrong branch because the numbers on the building didn’t match the ones I had written down. We walked in anyway. In a lot of banks here, they have a machine that gives you a number and you have to wait until your number is called. There were 25 people in front of us. Not too bad, really.
My main worry was that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone at the bank and that I would just be screwed. I brought my police report hoping that would help. I showed it to the guy who greeted me at the door and he gave me a paper to fill out. Of course, it was all in Chinese, so I had a really difficult time filling in all the blanks. Another guy tried to help a little, but most of the form was left blank.
We sat down and waited, watching the numbers tick away. About 20 minutes later, a guard came over and tapped me on the shoulder. He reached down and took the number I was holding in my hand. I was confused why he was taking it because my number had not been called yet. He pointed over to the side where some other consulting areas were located and I saw a woman getting her area ready. I put two and two together and walked over and sat in the chair in front of the desk.
Since I hadn’t heard her talk yet, I wasn’t sure if I should speak in English or my broken Chinese. I went with the good ole’, “Ni hao”(hello in Chinese).
“Hello,” she said back to me in perfect English. “How may I help you.” This made me smile. Maybe it wouldn’t be that hard after all.
I explained my situation to her and handed over my passport and my police report just in case. It seemed that she had experience in this and started pulling out several forms that I would need to fill out. I must have signed my name no less than ten times. Just like on the phone, I had to answer questions about my account to prove that is was me. She was just about down with all the paperwork when Phil suggested that I mentioned that the card I lost was issued to me in Linyi and ask if it was still possible. So, I did.
As soon as I asked, her eyes seemed to get bigger or maybe it was just my imagination.
“Linyi?” She repeated. “No, that is not possible.”
My heart sank.
“It has to be from Shanghai.”
“Well, it’s not,” I said. “Can I at least get my money?”
She looked at me and you could tell she was thinking really hard by the way her eyes moved. “I don’t know. We have never done that before. Please wait while I talk to my manager.” I felt like I had been put on hold and that any minute a stupid ditty would start playing.
As she walked away, I crossed my fingers and prayed to every Chinese God there ever was, specifically, Guanyin, the goddess of mercy.
After she talked to her manager, they disappeared around a corner for a while. The woman came back with what seemed to be more paperwork and handed it to another man sitting behind one of the main desks. They talked for awhile and then he sat the paperwork aside. He fiddled with something on his computer screen and then waved me over. I looked over at all the other people waiting patiently and wondered if they were mad that I had skipped ahead a few places. No one threw anything at me or yelled any insults my way, so I guess they didn’t mind all that much.
The man before me asked me a bunch of the same questions about my account, making sure once again that I was indeed who I said I was. Hey, at least they are cautious. His fingers danced across his key board for a long while before he spoke to me again.
“Okay,” he said. “Forget about your account. It does not exist anymore.” My heart stopped. “If you want you can open a new account later.” Still no heart beat. I was beginning to get a little light headed. “I can give you the money remaining in your account,” he said, and my heart fluttered back to life. “But,” he continued, and my heart flat lined again, “I will need to charge you 25 yuan for losing your card.”
“Oh, that is fine!” I probably sounded hysterical, but I was so happy. My heart almost leapt out of my chest and hugged him.
He just looked at me and then said, “That will be 20 yuan, please.”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” I opened up my purse to look for some money, but all I had was a few yuan and some lint. I looked over my shoulder at Phil waiting patiently on a metal stool. “Please tell me you have 20 yuan.”
Phil reached into his wallet and handed me the most beautiful 20 yuan note I have ever seen in my entire life. I snatched hit out of his hand and quickly shoved it into the metal tray so the guy could get it.
“But just forget about your account,” he said, taking the 20 yuan bill into his possession. “It doesn’t exist anymore.”
Ten minutes later, after counting and recounting, I had my money and I didn’t have to go all the way to Linyi to get it. I danced out the bank’s doors. Everyone thought I was nuts, but I really didn’t care.
Life may not always be easy in China, but man, when things go smoother than you expect, it makes you giggle like a school girl. And now that I have written a short story and bored all of you to tears, I am going to jet. And since the secret it is out and I don’t have any more excuses, I’ll be more of a regular here from now on. Next time, I’ll try to post some pictures or something.