Do you remember that children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?
I don’t really remember details of the story but *spoiler alert* I think the the main plot is that the kid has a bad day. Not just, my-friend-made-fun-of-my-pants bad day. But my dog got run over, my friend doesn’t like me or my pants, I wore two different shoes to work, I bounced a check, I was forced to engage in some sort of public speaking event that went terribly wrong and I accidentally took a sip of spoiled milk sorta bad day. Essentially, the WORST day.
Everyone has terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Right?
But, here in China, we take bad days to the next level. In China, an already terrible, horrible, no good day, can be sprinkled with a hefty dose of language barriers, a dash of face-saving, a dollop of illogical hoop-jumping and, just for kicks, a generous serving of toxic pollution. China wins the gold medal in facilitating bad days. China invented bad days.
Sometimes living here can make you crazy. Sometimes it can just make you depressed. Sometimes it can make you crazy and depressed. And, my friends, THOSE days are what we collectively call “China Days”. Everyone here will emphatically nod their head and give you a pat on the back when you mention that you are having a China Day. We may not know what happened to you to bring you to your knees, but we know the feeling. We have ALL been there. We also all know that, immediately after having a China Day, you are weak and vulnerable. We know that if you were given the option to hop on a plane right that minute (to anywhere) and never come back, you would do it. Without blinking. Or thinking about the poor child and husband you are leaving behind.
Let me give you just one example. This is, unfortunately, a true and personal story. It is not inspiring or uplifting. It simply happened and in the spirit of keeping it real, I am sharing it with you. I wrote the following excerpt last week, while smack dab in the middle of having a China
Day Week (you can read more about that here). If it comes across like I was complaining or feeling sorry for myself that is probably because I was complaining and feeling sorry for myself. You will be happy to know that I have since recovered and that I did not abandon my child or husband. However, to be fair, no one ever actually offered me that golden ticket. Otherwise, there is a good chance I’d be in Kosovo or Mombasa right now. So, with that in mind, here we go:
I am 27 weeks pregnant today. I also have O Negative Blood type. For reasons I cannot really explain, because I lack the brain power and medical lingo, these two facts mean that next week I have to get a special shot. Not a big deal…at all…unless you have a fear of shots. Thankfully I do not possess such a fear. Ferrets…that is another story.
If you are living in the States and/or any other normal place, this probably wouldn’t even register as anything to think more than a second about. You would simply go to the hospital at 28 weeks, your doctor would inform you that you need this shot and the nurse would administer it. Simple as that.
But that is not how it works here. Here, the hospital does not actually HAVE the shot you need and is not allowed to legally purchase it on your behalf. Again, I cannot explain why. They just can’t. So instead they give you a piece of paper that has an email address on it and say something real casual like, “Just contact them and get the shot”.
So you go home and fire off an email to some Random Chinese Man (who will henceforth be referred to as RCM) in Hong Kong and inquire about purchasing this shot. Shockingly, RCM gets back to you within 3 working days and reports that:
RCM: “Yes, you can purchase that shot from us and we can special deliver it to you in Beijing”
“Sweet”, you think prematurely. “This is so easy.”
The email continues….you read on:
RCM: “To purchase the medication, simply direct deposit 4,000 RMB * into the account listed below:
Bank and branch name: 中國銀行深圳分行東門支行
Account holder name: Sun yao can 孙耀灿
Account number: 60138 22000 59513 XXXX
*the equivalent of 600 USD
Never mind how sketchy this all seems, you also realize how complicated this could become and quickly fire off a second email.
“Thanks for the information but I would prefer to pay with a credit card. Can I just give you my credit card details?”
RCM: “No. That is impossible. We only accept a direct deposit.”
“Awesome.” Do I have to tell you to insert a sarcastic tone here?
Defeated, days pass where you actively try to avoid thinking about this. The thing is, online banking is not an option…literally. It does not exist. So to directly deposit money into someone’s account, I need to withdraw money from ATM and physically go to their bank to deposit the money.
And of course…this is also not so straight-forward. For starters, when you lack the ability to speak the language, there is a lot of preparatory work that goes into taking a trip to the bank. For example, I needed to write out exactly what I needed to have done and have a Chinese co-worker translate the letter for me. She also had to research for me what bank I needed to go to, where it was located and hours of operation.
Armed with my translated letter, passport and the knowledge that I was quickly running out of time to order my shot by the 28 week deadline, I bravely reluctantly decided to tackle this pesky item on my ever growing to-do list.
I will summarize this experience for you by saying that it is not even close to over and the outcome is still to be determined. To put it another way, I arrived at 3:00 p.m. it is currently 4:09 p.m. and I am still probably a good hour away from actually even speaking to anyone, yet alone actually depositing any money. I am not even holding my breath that I will be able to do this. You can never rule out the possibility that you don’t have the right stamp or paper or that the bank won’t suddenly close on you. #lessconfidentthanateenagegirl
But here is the funny China thing. I should be able to do this whole thing via the ATM. That is, I could directly deposit the money by simply inserting it into the ATM and entering the person’s account information. That is, if the amount that I wanted the person to receive was 3980 RMB. Of course, this is not the amount I want them to receive. I want need them to receive 4000 RMB, the price of the shot.
D (different)RCM: “Because you are transferring money to a person who has the same bank but is at a branch in Hong Kong, not Beijing, you have to pay a fee of 20 RMB (roughly 3 dollars).
“Ok, that’s fine. Whatever. “
DRCM: “So you are okay with the fact that they will only get 3980 RMB?”
“Ummmm…no. They need to get 4000 RMB. Can’t I just pay 4020 RMB?”
DRCM: “No…this is impossible. The fee must come out of the 4000 RMB and you cannot transfer 4020 RMB. You can only transfer certain amounts – 100, 500, 1000.”
“Holy shit….are you freaking serious? Can I pay extra? Can I do anything else?”
DRCM: “No. That is impossible. You must wait in line and transfer the money directly.”
So here I sit. In a windowless, Internetless, grey room wishing I lived in a normal place where these little insignificant things would not be such an enormous pain in the ass. Writing this post for the past hour and a half is the only thing that is keeping me semi-sane. I suppose it could be worse. And because I have nothing better to do right now, let me brainstorm how:
- I could be standing
- It could be really, really hot or really, really cold
- Someone could be smoking. I’m actually surprised no one is.
- More people could be loudly playing their annoying music/talk shows over their phones instead of just the 3 people sitting right behind me.
- I could be being attacked by biting ants or rabid dogs
- I could be being chased by lions in Sudan (have you read ‘What is the What’? Do it. Right now.)
Did you read it? Wasn’t it amazing? Don’t you feel differently about having a bad day now?
- I could have been the lone survivor in the movie ‘Lone Survivor’ (I do think maybe being the lone survivor is the worst possible fate…but that is for another discussion)
- I could be 6+ months pregnant and have to pee…..errrrr….wait…..that is true.
Wait a second…there is movement…and theoretically my number is next. Okay peeps…gotta wrap this up. I’ll let you know how/if it all works out. Fingers crossed.
Update: It worked! 🙂 I got up there, showed my letter and after about 20 minutes of the teller arbitrarily shifting papers around and stamping things, I walked out of there a successful money depositor! Or so I thought. Would you believe it that 30 minutes after getting home, thoroughly exhausted, someone from the bank called and told me they made a mistake and I needed to come back…right now. I wish I was making this up. F this place.
So there you have it folks…a China Day, all laid out for you in black and white (and a little bit of red).
So, it is doubtful that this ever happens, but if you ever find yourself thinking, “Man, Ditty has such an exciting and exotic life” just remember that right now it smells sorta like poop outside and that a having China Day is always just one, otherwise mundane, errand away.
But seriously…come visit…it’s awesome.