Day 22 in Beijing: With My Mind On My Money and My Money On My Mind!

Good morning, Snoop Dog.

It is 3 AM.  I have just finished three different phone calls to Provident Credit Union in Redwood City, CA.

Why you ask, Dear Readers?

Because I need to pay six months rent, IN ADVANCE, to get the apartment I want in Beijing.

Six months rent.

In advance.

Jump back in time to around 48 hours ago.

I need to get a wire transfer of a large amount of money.

Fast.

 

The Bank of China.  Better know as the BOC.

The Bank of China. Better know as the BOC.

 

I went to the Bank of China (from now on referred to as BOC) right near my office and many of the foreign embassies.

It is located in the Dongcheng District Branch.

Please no jokes about the district name.

Yes, I know what you are thinking right now.

For the sake of all of us.

Rise above it.

Thanks.

 

I asked how to wire money, after asking how to get an online account in post Day 19 in Beijing: Look Ma, No Hands!, and was given a piece of paper with the codes and information.

 

I feel a bit like a secret agent. Cool.  But confused.

I feel a bit like a secret agent. Cool. But confused.

Most of which, sensibly, was in Chinese.  I ask them about certain words and characters and they patiently explain to this Laowei what they mean and how to do the wire transfer.  I scratch my head a few times and they notice I’m confused and help me.

I go back and check Provident’s website and they can do the transfer. It states that if the Bank of China asks for the transfer instead of them initiating it it is recommended.  Supposedly it is faster and easier to verify.

Wonderful!

This should be quick.

Not so fast, my dear readers.

 

I call the BOC and asked them how to start the wire transfer.  They reply that they are not able to ask for a transfer and Provident has to start it from America.

Okay, not that difficult.

But wait, there’s more!

They also have an “intermediary bank” in New York called BOCNY (imaginative, eh?) that Provident will have to transfer the money to and then BOCNY will exchange it into Quai (the common term for money in Beijing) and then send it to my account.

This doesn’t sound too hard.

However, there are special SWIFT codes and routing numbers for each bank.  They are not easy to find.  I do research, call a friend in the U.S., and ask my brother about a thousand different questions in the next few hours.

Where is E.F. Hutton when you need him?

Anyway, I finally find the correct form and start to fill it out.  My friend in San Francisco, Jill, is incredibly generous and calls Provident for me and says she’ll fax in the form since I can not email it in to them.

Remember, there is a 15 hour time difference.  This is not just a leisurely transfer here.

After numerous attempts to fill the form in correctly and have it checked, I get it right.

I email it to Jill, she prints it out, and takes it to FEDEX to have it faxed over to Provident.

I realize, and this worrisome, that my phone number is my old phone number that I disconnected when I moved to Beijing 21 days ago.  They need to verify by my phone and the new number I have here isn’t on my profile page on Provident’s website.

I rush to change it and I get a phone call from Provident right that minute. They used my new phone number that I wrote on the form.  It is a Skype number that can contact me anywhere.

The customer service attendant tells me that she can’t do the transfer because the listed phone line is closed.  They require a phone line that has been tied to the account for 60 or more days.  She will also need a California Driver’s license to prove my identity no matter what.

OH SNAP!

I tell her that I just moved here, this is my new phone, and I’ve been a loyal customer for 5 years now and I need the money for my rent or I won’t have a place to live.

She will check with her manager and see if they can approve a one-time transfer.  I thank her profusely.

It is 1 am, Beijing Time, at this point.

And so it goes.

She also tells me the fax is not very clear and asks me to fax it again.

I tell her that I will email it since i have the original scan and scan in my I.D. and email that also.  I asked for enough favors already.

 

Just the Fax, Ma'am.

Just the Fax, Ma’am.

 

I go to the scanner which my brother showed me how to use yesterday…I should have paid better attention.

I notice the characters are all in Chinese.

I start pressing them and try to remember what he had told me.

After about 10 minutes i figure it out.

I start the scan and it works perfectly.

I then send the information to Provident and wait for a response.

 

 

I get a call within a few minutes saying that they can do the transfer but I have to answer security questions.

I start answering and it works fine.

They have to call me two more times to make sure the security checks are real and I am totally cleared to transfer the money by wire to China.

It is now around 3 a.m. Beijing Time.

I hop into bed wondering how long it will take for the money to be wired out of my account.  I check my account online and it is already been transferred out.

Wow.

My cash is somewhere in the stratosphere right now.

I hope it has a nice view of the Pacific Ocean as it flies along.

I sit in bed and think for a bit.

I hope it arrives.

I trust it will.

My 21 days in Beijing have been amazing and everything has worked out about as perfectly as I could imagine..

I fall asleep With My Mind On My Money And My Money On My Mind.

Knowing this will all work out.

Perfectly.

Good morning, Snoop Dog.

 

 

Day 19 in Beijing: Look Ma, No Hands!

I’m waiting, in person, to get my online banking account at The Bank of China today.

Did you notice the verb in that sentence, Dear Reader?

I’m waiting, in person, to get my online banking account at The Bank of China today.

Yep, read that sentence one more time.

Let it sink in.

Ponder it.

And now move on.

I waited about two hours to be seen and it is an amazing way to spend some quality time.  I met a wonderful man, Alejandro Ramirez, who is basically the whole tourism board for the country of Mexico.  We had a great conversation about China, red wine, salsa dancing and our lives.  It was enriching to both of us and we’ve now become friends.

I don’t think connections like this really happen in America.  Maybe in New York but not anywhere would you run into people as diverse as I have in line waiting to be serviced at a bank.

Again, after two hours, I hear my number being called and I walk to the teller and hand her my passport and bank information.  She spoke excellent English and was very sweet and laughed a lot at my inane attempts to decipher what I was reading and signing.  Pretty much just signed it and hoped for the best.  Took about 10 minutes total.

I was given my login number and this crazy little device:

The random number generating device that improves security for online banking.

The random number generating device that improves security for online banking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is basically a random number generator that counts down in about 20 seconds and changes the number.  When you log in, online, you have to enter this number because there is so much fraud in the banking world in Beijing from what I’ve been told by others.  Either way, it is a cool little gadget and I went home and set it up and it worked perfectly.

By the way, I forgot to mention that when Mr. Ramirez was called to the teller for his transaction, this gentleman sat down in his place and started having a  15 minute conversation.  Dude has some serious skillz, as they say in the States.

Yes, he had a full length conversation sitting just like this.  Amazing.

Look Ma, No Hands!.

 

Day 18 in Beijing: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

The answer to the question above:  In Beijing.  Literally and figuratively.

Imagine my surprise as I went to a beer festival in Beijing and I was treated to some classic bluegrass Americana music.  A total joyous surprise and experience!

The 2nd Annual Beijing Brew Festival

The 2nd Annual Beijing Brew Festival

 

I’ll Fly Away.  Beijing Picker’s Style (Click on their name to see a clip of them live.).

And, if you like them, this is the Beijing Picker’s website.

 

If you are a fan of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, you will know the song posted above.  Most know that the Coen brothers’ Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? was based on Homer’s The Odyssey.  However, the title of the film actually is a reference to the 1941 film called Sullivan’s Travels.  Sullivan wants to film a movie about a fictional book named, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?  In 1990, Sullivan’s Travels was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Interestingly, Sullivan’s Travels is based on the title of Gulliver’s Travels.

So it goes.

Day 17 in Beijing: A School Of Fish? Nope, A Pedicab Ride!

Pedicab rides: A fun, fast, and a enjoyable way to get around Beijing on the cheap!

Pedicab rides: A fun, fast, and a enjoyable way to get around Beijing on the cheap!

Pedicabs.

If you are from San Francisco, you’ve seen someone being driven around in a Golden Gate Pedicab at some point.  Maybe you’ve ridden in one yourself.

Let me tell you, it is a whole different story in Beijing.

The Pedicabs run on the streets with all the other cars and buses.  They are tiny, have no protection, and dart in and out of where ever they need to go.

This doesn’t sound too bad until a massive truck or a city bus pulls up behind you.

And the honking starts.

people honk their horns in Beijing a lot.

I still can’t figure out when and why they honk because it seems so random.  There is the expected honking when someone is in the way but they also honk at red lights, at people and at the air, from what I can tell.

So, I’m in this tiny, unprotected, zooming along little pedicab and, without warning, an incredibly loud air horn goes off behind me.  A huge bus is about 2 feet from me on my left.  I didn’t even notice it.

I almost jump out of my seat, and the pedicab, in utter surprise.  The driver, on the other hand, is used to it and just ignores it and merrily keeps on driving.  He continues to dart in and out of traffic, around cars trying to park, and attempts not to get us crushed by buses and trucks that are right beside us and wandering all over the road.

That is something else I’ve noticed:  Driving here is like a school of fish with everyone merging, turning, jumping, flailing, and whatever other adjective you can think of at this moment.  I have yet to see a car, bike, motorcycle, pedicab or truck actually attempt a jump yet but I’m pretty sure it will happen one day soon.

So, we are darting through traffic and then cut off onto a tiny little street that the pedicab barely can fit into without it hitting the walls on either side.  People are walking around us and they seem to instinctively know when the pedicab is about to run them over and step aside without even looking back at us.  It is very calm and serene and the driver slows down.  I really enjoy the smaller streets because the neighborhoods are older and the buildings smaller with more local flavor.

We continue to cruise to my destination, about a 15 minute ride, and I pay the driver. Ten RMB, or about one dollar and fifty cents American, for a 15 minute ride and a new experience.

I’d say that I received so much more than the price and look forward to my next adventure in a pedicab!

Day 16 in Beijing: Welcome To The Academy!

Like you, I had no idea what The Academy was or how I became a member.

I hoped there was an Oscar somewhere in my future but doubted that would happen.

After reading the work email and asking around, I found out that it was a welcoming party, of sorts, for people that have worked for my company less than 6 months.  It is a meet and greet with other co-workers and also senior management in a very nice restaurant.

The idea is to learn about how to better train, adapt and help new employees find their way and fit into the culture of our company. It also includes amazing food, delicious drinks, and a lot of fun.

The restaurant we went to was named Nomads and is about a five minute walk from my work.

NOMADS Restaurant. Can't wait to be a part of The Academy!

NOMADS Restaurant. Can’t wait to be a part of The Academy!

 

It is based on a theme of different nomadic tribes around China and there are many animal skins, paintings of famous nomadic lords, and weapons all along the restaurant.  It is very colorful and I felt like I was stepping into a different world.

We were asked to talk to each other and there were three tables set up with one senior manager at each one.  We were told that we’d be switching tables during dinner and it was the hope of my company that everyone would meet everyone else and we could have constructive thoughts on how to make the new job more enjoyable.

There was also food.  And lots of it.  Plates kept coming out every so often and it was all delicious.

I’ve mostly worked in non-profits in America and that is a very different story regarding parties and new hires.  In the non-profit sector, there are few parties and they are usually low key because the companies have to deal with government funding.

It was a wonderful experience to talk to so many new people, meet senior management who seemed genuinely interested in helping us meet our potential and have great food, drink and fun.

 

After only two weeks at work, I believe I’ve found my dream job.

And I welcome being a member of The Academy.

Food, Glorious Food!

Food, Glorious Food!

 

Day 14 in Beijing: You Are Literally At Liangmaqiao Station. Already. Honestly.

Line 10 to my work.  This is actually not that full.

Line 10 to my work. This is actually not that full.

The Beijing Subway.  Truly efficient and amazing.  Clean. Fast.  And the translations provoke smiles.

The Beijing Subway system started in 1969.  Until 2002, there were only 2 subway lines in Beijing.  There are 17 now.  There will be 19, total, by 2015.  They have the second longest subway system, measured by distance, and third highest annual ridership, in the world.

The Subway has 2.46 BILLION stops a year.  They deliver an average of 8.5 million people a day to their destinations.

Beijing knows how to build subways and move people.

The price of a subway ride in Beijing, with as many transfers as you want, is 2RMB.  RMB is the English term for the Chinese Yuan or Quai.  The Chinese script for yuan or quai is 元.  The literal translation of RMB rather informative about the culture: R (ren) stands for person 人. M (min) stands for people 民 together they mean people. B (bi) means currency 币.  So person and people currency.  Makes sense to me.

At an exchange rate of 6.1RMB to the U.S. Dollar a subway ride costs about 32 American cents.  Yep, you can ride for miles and miles and pay 32 pennies only.  Does anyone even use pennies in the States anymore?  I know I didn’t.

Buses, by the way, are .4RMB or about one American nickle.

As I ride the subway, there is both a Mandarin voice and an English voice informing the subway riders of the information about where the train is heading, the next stop, and most importantly what stop you are at currently.

And the serene voice that comes from above means in a very literal sense.

I get off at the Liangmaqiao (pronounced, in my horrible accent, as “Lee-ang-ma-chiao”)10 line to get to my work.

When the train arrives, the voice states one of two points:

“We are already at Liangmaqiao Station”

or, my favorite,

“You are literally at Liangmaqiao Station.”  

I smile and start laughing a little bit when I hear this and start wondering who did this translation and why it is so literal and specific.  I would think that the common translation would be, “You have arrived at Liangmaqiao Station” but to each city, country and culture, their own.

It is one of the joys of living in a new city, a new culture, and in many ways, a new life.  So much of it is wonderment, joy and magical.

So, next time you go anywhere, literally be there.  You already are.

The Beijing Subway system.  It is very fast, clean and easy to use.

The Beijing Subway system. It is very fast, clean and easy to use.

 

 

 

Day 11 in Beijing: Sleep when you can. Where you can.

I’m guessing this is a construction worker.  Or a demolition expert.  Or a shop owner.  Or a rock star.  Or a person that just needed a nap. 

Honestly, you sleep when you can and where you can.  That is about it. 

Mind you, this is at 4 in the afternoon, in a highly populated area with many high rises and apartments close by.  This man is on the corner of where I work.  There is a 4 or 6 lane main road right beside him depending on which direction you go at this corner. 

It is not, in any way, relaxing or quiet. 

And yet, he is sound asleep. 

And looks fairly happy and comfortable. 

Sometime you just have to nap.

Sometime you just have to nap.

 

Day 9 in Beijing: Embassy Ahead!

The U.S. EmbassyI went to visit the US embassy today.  I wanted to see it and my brother and his wife had some forms they had to drop off so I accompanied them.  I had seen it on Wednesday night as I went to a meeting of other therapists but I had not gone inside.
The embassy is a massive compound with a huge fence around it and massive walls inside that.  All the guards seem to be Chinese and the same guards to patrol all the embassies in this district.  There are a few windows in the concrete walls so one can see the building inside but it is pretty daunting.  It does not exude a feeling of love and connection. Sadly, it seems much more foreboding and intimidating.  Maybe that is what the architects were going for when they designed it.
There was a line of about 200-300 people waiting to get in.  As Americans, we were able to bypass this line and go straight in.  To quote Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the King.”  I try not to take advantage of my privilege if possible but this is the way it is set up.  Americans get to go into the American embassy without waiting.  The building itself is fairly bland from the outside but quite stunning inside.  There is a lot of beautiful stone work and, even though it is stark inside, it is also airy and open.  Lots of light gets in and it is very cool.
We were able to get our paperwork done quickly and took time to look around a bit.  They are adding a huge addition on to the side of the embassy and it will be intriguing to see if they follow the same design or do something different.
In my opinion, the most beautiful embassies in this district at the Malaysian and the Indian embassies.  They face each other and are radically different and yet both are incredibly aesthetically pleasing.  The Israeli embassy is quite beautiful also.  Sadly, pictures are forbidden so the best way to see them is to google them.

This is “Ladies Street.” It is about 2 block walk from the U.S. Embassy. Yet, a world away.

Day 8 in Beijing: Casino dancing in the your FACE!

The Maestro and me.  A truly wonderful person and dancer.

The Maestro and me. A truly wonderful person and dancer.

David Huo is a famous dancer in Beijing, and actually, in most of China.  He has traveled to, and lived in, Cuba. He has studied Latin culture and different types of Latin dance.  He teaches at the highly respected Beijing Dance Academy.  He travels often and teaches, and performs, all over China.

David is “El Maestro” of China.

Luckily for me, I met him at the San Francisco Salsa/Rueda Festivals where he has taught when he visits the states.  Casino is the term used for Cuban style salsa dancing and rueda is a particular way of dancing where there is a circle (rueda means wheel in Spanish) and one person calls out the dance move and everyone does it at the same time.  Then you pass your partner on to the next person and there is another call and this continues until the song ends.  It is a rather beautiful free form choreography when done well.  On top of being a phenomenal teacher of casino and rueda, David is kind, humble and has the pure joy of dancing casino style salsa that I respect and love.

I had been in contact with David before I came to  Beijing on an infrequent basis and wanted to make sure he would connect and I could see him in his element as soon as possible.  I’ve been here 8 days so far and have seen so much and been busy as can be but haven’t yet been to a salsa event so I was really looking forward to seeing him in action and doing a little dancing also.

David took me to a club called, “FACE” in Sanlitun.  Sanlitun is the more “Western” area of Beijing and there are many clubs and bars.  From what I’ve been told, this was because the westerners came over and “imported” these places as it was their gathering place.  Bars and clubs weren’t a part of the Chinese culture.  I find it interesting to think how different cultures, and people, congregate and show community.  From what I’ve seen, the Chinese will congregate in the parks and courtyards and do dancing, tai chi and other community events.  Very different than in the United States of America.

As for FACE, It is a beautifully designed restaurant that not only has an indoor restaurant but an outdoor patio.  The third floor has hotel rooms and the dance area is on the second floor. There are two medium sized rooms with mirrors and the floor is very smooth and easy to move on.  This is what I came to experience.  There was an intermediate salsa class going on and I felt that classic feeling of joy and a flood of happiness in my body as it woke up and knew that hours of fun lay ahead.

David introduced me to his sister, Queenie, and a few other people and we started dancing.

Smiling wide.
Eyes blazing.
Body moving.
Purity.
Joy.

Queenie is an excellent dancer and seems to have that same love of dance that David and I have.  It is contagious.  There is something about Casino dancing that brings me to another place.  It is so grounded and yet so malleable.  It can be one’s own personal dance and it becomes a work of art when done with joy, skill and freedom.  After thirteen years I am a still a beginner in so many ways and that allows me to enjoy each and every song, each and every dance, each and every partner. So much to learn and so much to love.

I took a few songs off and simply watched David and his partners. His skill, and joy, is so evident and it shines through when he dances in each and every moment.  I smiled watching him and feeling how much he loved the music and how life affirming it must have been, first learning the ballroom style, and then finding casino.  My journey was similar in that I started with the more classic style but quickly went to casino style when I saw people dancing it.
Two worlds.
The same joy.
The same love.
The same dance.
Spoken in English or Mandarin.
It is pronounced,
“Casino.”