August 31st, 2009
Note: This was written on Saturday afternoon, but just before I hit ‘publish’, New Zealand fell off the internet again. This is the first chance I’ve had to get back on my blog since then. I have tried to change every ‘yesterday’ in the text to ‘Friday’, but I may have missed one or two.
It’s that time of year we’re welcoming new teachers, getting them settled in- well, starting to, at least- distributing workloads and timetables and textbooks. It’s not busy, but there are plenty of distractions.
One of our new teachers has just arrived from America. She timed her arrival very well: Late Thursday morning a norwester finally blew up and cleared out all the murk that had been suffocating Beijing for about a week, so that by late afternoon, when she finally got through customs and quarantine and all that nonsense, the sky was spectacularly clear. So clear that we could see clearly in to the CBD and as far as the Western Hills from the expressway leading out from Terminal 3. And just to emphasise the clarity of the air: We got an excellent taxi driver who took us no further west than the 5th Ring until we hit the Jingshen Expressway, which begins just on the southeastern corner of our campus. We could see an extremely long way, in other words. And it was a strange experience looking at the CCTV Tower, Guomao Tower 3, and the Kerry Centre- distinctive buildings, all- from so far away.
But perhaps a couple of points about our new teacher’s arrival bear repeating, as they may be useful for others planning to come to China:
Our new teacher came with a bank card and US$20 cash, expecting, rightly, I believe, to be able to withdraw money from her US bank account. No luck. I’m not sure what the problem is, whether its Chinese ATMs not taking foreign cards (which at least used to be a common enough problem) or not being set up to recognise a 4-digit PIN or that she did not warn her bank that she’d be travelling to China or some combination of the above. What was frustrating was that the ATM another colleague said did take foreign cards was out of money, while all the other ATMs with all the international stickers (VISA, Mastercard, Cirrus, whatnot) on them refused her card. Said colleague, however, had notified his bank he’d be in China.
Why is one’s presence in China so important? I don’t know. I never had any trouble using a New Zealand-issued VISA card anywhere around the world, although that was years and years ago. I could understand that with the rise of the internet and phishing schemes and online scams and all that that foreign banks would be wary about requests for money from their customers’ cards suddenly coming from China, especially given a) the sheer volume of malware coming from China and b) the sheer volume of overblown press reports about China.
Whatever the reason, I don’t think our new teacher was in any way wrong to assume her card would work here- it’s a globalised world, people travel, people need money when they travel, and you open bank accounts with an understanding that the bank’s services will be provided, so why shouldn’t she be able to withdraw money? The way I see it, at least one of the banks involved in Friday’s ATM malarkey is at fault. However, it may well be worth remembering, if you’re planning a trip to China. You may want to make sure you have enough cash or travellers cheques or other such old fashioned stuff on you to cover at least the first week of your time in China just in case plastic doesn’t get you money for whatever reason.
And then there’s still that H1N1 thing going around. Our new teacher put my cellphone number as an emergency contact number on the forms- whether entry card or quarantine declaration, I don’t know- which is fair enough, because that was the only Beijing phone number she had to hand, she didn’t actually know where I was going to take her (nor even who exactly would meet her at the airport) and she didn’t have her own cellphone. The result was that Friday afternoon I got two phonecalls from our local community health service asking if I’d just arrived from overseas. The first one took some figuring out, but after a few minutes of back-and-forth, during which I could not understand why they decided that I/she was a student, the person (doctor? nurse? admin staff?) on the other end spelt out my colleague’s name, and I explained that although I was not her, I knew her (and clearly you’re not familiar enough with English names to realise that the clearly male voice talking to you obviously does not belong to the name on the paper in front of you- no, I did not say that), and what’s up? Stay at home for 7 days, don’t go nowhere, and if you get any flu symptoms or fever, phone us, here’s our number, and she gives me a cellphone number. Alright. Too late, broken the quarantine several times already, and in any case, locking her up for seven days is highly impractical considering she’s stuck in temporary accomodation until we finally get the foreign students out of the foreign teacher housing they’ve been using over the summer while the foreign students’ dorm has been renovated, but whatever. Oh, and temporary accomodation that, being a room in a rather ordinary hotel, has no cooking facilities, and she will need to eat over the next seven days.
And then later that afternoon another phonecall, again assuming I was the person recently arrived, but I had the pattern figured out and spelt out our new teacher’s name and that was who they were looking for. Where was she staying? I told them. Ok, cool, we want to go check her body temperature. Alright. So I sent a message to a few colleagues suggesting they may try to warn her if they see her, but not expecting much, because she still didn’t have a cellphone and if she wasn’t in the hotel or with another colleague, she was uncontactable.
Anyways, so long as this H1N1 is floating around, if you’re planning a trip to China, expect to have the local community health service follow you up and encourage you to quarantine yourself for seven days and maybe even come and have a look at you and check your body temperature.
It feels a little rude putting my colleague’s experiences up here, and one can not extrapolate from the experiences of a single person, but I felt those two points about banks and H1N1 may be of some value to others planning to come to China in the not too distant future.