Sunday, March 25, 2012

We fought China, and China won

We’ve learned pretty well by now that there are peaks and valleys to living abroad, and we’ve really learned to manage them as they come (particularly the valleys), but this weekend brought a pretty deep valley, and all I can say is that China really kicked my ass.

It all started out on Friday, when we went to withdraw our weekly budget plus some additional money for our train tickets to Beijing. Doug and I both have accounts with Bank of America, which has a relationship with the China Construction Bank (which is a large, reputable bank here). This means we can withdraw money from our BoA accounts at CCB ATMs, free of transaction fees. We’ve done this several times, and all was going well on Friday. The machine made the whirring noise that signaled it was preparing to output cash, when…nothing. No money came out. The machine informed us there was an error, then quickly printed out a receipt (with only partial information) that makes it look like I received $4000RMB. A quick check online confirmed that the “withdrawal” had indeed cleared my BoA account. Great. I can dispute the transaction with BoA, but it would be quicker to resolve this with CCB – which I need to try to do this week. Can’t say I’m looking forward to that at all, but it needs to be done as we’re talking over $600 here.

Despite this ill omen to start the week, the weather this weekend was lovely, so we decided to meet up after Berkley’s soccer game at the Shanghai Zoo. Let’s just say that after this visit, I’m convinced that Chinese zookeeper must be one of the hardest jobs in the world. There was no respect for the animals at this zoo. People pounded the glass and made noises at the animals (trying to scare them) over and over. But the worst part of it was the fact that people were constantly throwing things into the exhibits. The turtles and alligators were covered in coins (people were throwing them ON the animals), there was trash in all of the exhibits (if I thought the girl in Xi’an was bad, Doug witnessed a kid throw first his straw and then his cup into the hyena exhibit – and his mother didn’t say a word), and there was food EVERYWHERE. Quin and I saw someone throw a popcorn ball to/at a Sun Bear; this only momentarily distracted the bear from catching what appeared to be bread in his mouth, on the fly. Pretty much all of the animals appear to have been conditioned to the fact that visitors would be throwing food; some of them were even picky about what they ate. I can’t imagine how hard it is to keep these animals healthy when people are constantly throwing them crap all day long. Totally depressing.

On Monday, we decided to use the money we were able to withdraw from Doug’s account to get our train tickets to Beijing. Just a few months ago, the China rail system instituted an online system that allows you to buy tickets 10 days in advance, but it only accepts Chinese credit cards. So, we made the trek out to the train station, to find that you can only purchase tickets 3 days in advance in person. Sigh. We’re going to try to find a ticket agent this afternoon, but I don’t know if they use the 3 day system or the 10 day system. Right now, we’re stuck in some sort of limbo – hoping that the soft sleeper tickets on our return don’t sell out before we figure this whole situation out.

After the unsuccessful trip to the train station, we stopped on the way back to FedEx our ballots back to the U.S. Due to tight turnaround, we weren’t really confident that the ballots would be home on time if we used regular mail (which we still haven’t figured out), so we thought this would be our best option. Of course, there are no FedEx outlets nearby us, and the DHL website is entirely in Chinese. So, we trekked, and we trekked, and we trekked. In the middle of nowhere, we trudged around and back and forth, trying to find this stupid FedEx office. When we finally did, we found out that it would cost us about $50 to send the ballots home. Now, as a political scientist, I know how important it is to vote, but I also know that the odds of our votes actually mattering in the outcome are slim to none, so $50 seemed to be a bit too steep a price to vote. So, at that point we threw in the towel; we left the FedEx office and returned home, with two ballots and no train tickets in hand.

The bottom line, this weekend, we fought China, and China won. Don’t worry – we’ll be back up and fighting again soon as we STILL have to procure train tickets and figure out how to regular mail our ballots (they’ll surely be late, but I have to at least try!). Hopefully, this time around though, the odds will be ever in our favor.


  1. Sigh. As my grad students/colleagues who have been abroad say, "TIC" (ThisIsChina, or, over beers at my place the other night, several argued that it should be "TINA" = ThisIsNotAmerica). Hope the bank withdrawal works out. As for zoos, I would not visit them in the U.S. and certainly not here--with rare exceptions (the otter exhibit at the National Zoo in D.C.), all zoos are cruel in the way wild, free-ranging animals are confined in a dull environment. To heap the common Chinese disrespect for non-human life to that is more pain than I choose to witness. At the same time, there are many happy well-treated dogs and cats hereabouts in the university area and Beibei.

  2. You might try the American consulate for mailing a ballot.