Oh the mind-numbing exhilaration of everyday living in China
, especially if you are a “laowai 老外
” or foreigner. The longer I live in China
the more I appreciate how listening Chinese
style has potentially more health benefits than Yoga!
- that what’s not being said often hints at the true meaning
- that Chinese will hear the same words but interpret things completely differently
- that Chinese are not comfortable with being direct and confronting people with bad news
… is for China veterans one of the best ways for soothing mind, body, and spirit, as distinct from blood curdling angst.
Here’s what happened yesterday within a 1 km radius of my place of abode in downtown Hangzhou:
Act #1 —- Provincial Headquarters of Bank of China (China’s largest State-owned bank)
Grrrr. Why do I need to provide five signatures to change a US$100 bill into local Chinese RMB? And why do I have to wait for the Bank of China teller assigned to the task of changing money to come back from her lunch when at least 5 other staff in front of me can do the same job? Why oh why?
Act #2 —- China Mobile (China’s largest mobile phone service monopoly)
Finally, local money in hand I headed out onto Fengqi Road and up to Yan’an Road where China Mobile‘s main office is located. As as a customer of 5 years standing – on my 3rd China Mobile number and having spent 10s of thousands of RMB (would consider myself to be a dream customer) I wanted to subscribe to China Mobile‘s roaming service so I could use my China mobile number during my Christmas vacation back home in Ireland. Perfectly straight-forward, so you would think.
Me: “I wish to apply for the roaming feature please.”
Customer Service agent: “You have to go to ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) to pay a RMB 3,000 deposit.”
Customer Service agent: “Yes, that is the regulation.”
Me: “But, when I went home last August I only paid RMB 500 for roaming.”
Customer Service (CS) agent: “Ah yes, but since October you have a new number so you have to pay RMB 3,000. If you have a number for 6 months or more then you pay only RMB 500”
Me (frustrated): “But I have been your VIP customer for 5 years. What is more important to you, the 5 year customer loyalty, or the new number? Surely the business relationship I give you is more important and I should only have to pay RMB 500”
CS agent: “Wo bu hao yisi” (I’m so embarrassed / 我不好意思), which is the habitually spoken ‘crisis management reaction’ used by customer facing workers throughout China when asked to do something they can’t do or or not assigned to do.
CS Manager: “Women bu hao yisi“ (We’re so embarrassed / 我们不好意思), as the manager gets in on the act, simultaneously absolving himself and his team of all responsibility.
CS Manager’s Manager: “Mei banfa“ (it can’t be done, no way out / 没办法 ). When these words are spoken my request becomes a lost cause. There is no solution since nobody has the power to agree to authorise a reduced roaming fee taking into account my 5 years of loyalty to their brand.
Act #3 —– The Plumber
Scene #1 — Floor of apartment is flooded (again)
Me: “Where is all the water coming from?”
Plumber #1: “Wo kan yi kan“ (Let’s take a look / 我看一看)
Scene #2 — 15 minutes later cigarette half way down his throat, mobile phone pinned to his ear, door bell rings, Plumber #2 arrives, not too happy to be woken up from his afternoon slumber. They both stare at the floor, press their feet up and down on the tiles water spurting everywhere, shake their heads, breath in (guttural sounds) deeply, exhaling in unison, blowing out a thick cloud of smoke….
“Haven’t a clue”.
Plumber #1: “Bu xiao de“ (Local Hangzhou dialect for “I have no clue” / 不晓得).
“Hey, no smoking in the apartment!”
Plumber #2: “Bu hao yisi.” (I’m embarrassed /不好意思) and proceeds to stub the cigarette out in the kitchen sink.
Me: “Where is the water coming from?”
Plumbers: “Zhen de bu xiao de” (Really don’t know /真的不晓得 ).
Me: “Huh!! You are plumbers, right? What do you mean you don’t know?
Emotional State of Mind: Has been a long day, and my patience has been worn super thin, “angst” comes to mind but manifestly I am still projecting an air of calm.
Plumber #2 (Glancing at his watch): “Wu dian zheng. Xia ban!” (It’s 5 o’clock, we’re finished for the day / 五点钟.下班!).
Me: But, what about the water and leak?
Plumbers: “Women bu hao yisi” (We’re so embarrassed / 我们不好意思).
“We’re so embarrassed”
…and on that closing note they are gone for the day.
Act #4 —– The Cake Shop Attendent
Scene #1 —– 11.30 am – The Cake Shop, Sofitel Hangzhou West Lake Hotel
Me: “I want you to send this cake and these chocolates on Christmas Day to these people, at this address, with this telephone number. It’s meant to be a surprise gift, so please don’t contact them until Christmas Day!”
Cake Shop Attendent (CSA): “Hao. Mei wenti.” (Yes. No problem /好.没问题)
Scene #2—– 5.00 pm – My Hangzhou apartment, having just received a text message from the Cake Shop notifying me that that the cake and chocolates have already been delivered. Immediately I telephone the Cake Shop.
Me: You said you would deliver the cake on Christmas Day. It was meant to be a surprise
CSA: “Bu hao yisi.” (I’m embarrassed /不好意思), “but the receiver of the chocolates and cake was very surprised!