September 28th, 2007

Most of our bills are on a prepay system- gas, electricity, internet, cellphone. Only the water and phone are on the regular kind of system where you pay monthly (or tri-monthly, in the case of the water) depending on how much you have used. I suddenly realised that, actually, I quite like this prepay system. It seems to cut out a lot of unnecessary bullshit. There’s no waiting until you get your bill and then trying to figure out why it’s so high. It’s simple. In the case of the internet, gas and electricity, you keep an eye on the meter (or BeiGongDa homepage, in the case of the internet) and when it’s getting low, you go stock up. In the case of the cellphone, you can dial up the service centre to check how much credit you have left, or when your credit is running low you get an SMS warning you, so you go buy a new card. Yep, these prepay systems seem so much fairer, easier, cleaner and out in the open than what we have with the phone and water.

Of course, the various companies and units of BeiGongDa involved could easily find some way to cheat me, but that’s why I said the prepay systems seem so much….

The only hassle is that buying electricity, internet access and gas means going to particular places. If I could go to just about any bank, as for the water and phone bills, it would be much more convenient.

So this afternoon I jumped on my bike and rode over to the old library looking for the å?Žå‹¤ (My dictionary says “rear services” or “logistics”, but “infrastructure would seem more appropriate in this context) department which was supposed to be at the eastern end. Found it easily enough, right where it’s supposed to be. Up to the third floor which is the housing management office, and then…. well, there’s a lot of little offices to choose from. Which one sells electricity? The power saving office? Maybe… Ah yes, this is the one. Yep, the power saving office sells electricity. There’s something cool about that.

On my way out, I looked around and thought, do I know this part of the campus? Ah, yes, those low buildings with round roofs, like the prisons in Hong Kong movies, are sports.. umm… buildings, with table tennis and badminton inside. Just on the other side is the sports field. That one to the left is one of the newer student dorms. And that ugly brick thing over the back is the Software Department, where we had an office for a few months. It’s been so long since I was over that way that even though nothing in that area had changed at all in the last three years, I didn’t recognise it at first. In fact, I even had to check a campus map to remind myself exactly where the old library was.

Then I stopped by the market, then home, where I started cleaning up and suddenly remembered… the internet! I was going to put more money in our internet account!

So back on the bike and over to the computer department, into the office, handed over 100 kuai, back home.

And that’s the hassle. Even if I’d remembered on that first trip that I was meaning to put money on the internet account, I’d still be going to two completely separate offices to pay those two bills. And if I were buying gas, it’d be even worse, since that can only be done at one particular branch of the Agricultural Bank down by Huawei Qiao.

The phone and water bills, on the other hand, can be paid at just about any bank.

When I lived at Shuanglong Nanli, just across from BeiGongDa’s big, shiny south gate, I was in a BeiGongDa building, but I could pay basically all of my bills at the local ICBC. Of course, this meant queuing for an hour or two for a transaction that generally only takes two minutes, like at just about every ICBC branch (the one at Liyuan was mercifully uncrowded- at least, it was back when we lived out that way. With all the new rich bastard housing going in along the light rail, I guess the Liyuan branch is now like every other branch of ICBC), but still, if I had one or two or several bills all coming due about the same time, I could take care of them all at once.

See? Life has been so good to me since we moved back to BeiGongDa that this pathetic excuse for a hassle is all I have to complain about. Fact is, provided you can avoid the overcrowded hell that is any branch of ICBC, paying the bills here is surprisingly quick, easy and efficient. And pretty cheap, usually.

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