Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Chase for the Almighty Dollar

No, it's not what you think: I have not suddenly turned meretricious, searching for ways to earn more... although that is something that I am currently embroiled in, right now. More on that in another post.

No, this story involves what it took to get money out of China.

This has historically been a problem for me and, judging by the wealth of articles on the internet about moving money out of China, a topic of conversation for more than one expat serving in China.

Officially, there are plenty of ways to get money out of the country: wire transfers, bank drafts, Western  Union, MoneyGram, International Postal Money Orders. One can also make e-transfers via PayPal or the Chinese system Alipay, a virtual wallet.

Now, for the fine print:

Only expats holding a D-visa, the fabled 'green card' can use Alipay's international money transfers option. Otherwise, it is limited to Chinese nationals. Ditto with Paypal, which does not offer the 'friends and family' funds transfer option in China; one must transfer funds as a business transaction, which has a waiting time of up to twenty-one days.

Two weeks ago, early in my attempt to send money out, I enlisted Gary, who had helped me send my daughter money in the past, via PayPal. This time, the money would go to my son, to help prepare for his wedding, and the amount was larger than I ever sent my daughter.

The transaction was refused, possibly because it was a larger amount.

Online banking! I've recently regained the use of my online bank account; surely I can use it to transfer money into Darrell's account... right? Wrong! My online banking only affords me the ability to transfer money to accounts within China.

Back to the 'Net, where I found this article:

It was very specific about how one can transfer money: bank transfer (too much information that I don't have is required); bank draft (possible solution); Western Union and MoneyGram (both are hard to find and even harder to use, here – as opposed to other countries); international postal money order and e-transactions.

Having tried by all means electronic to send money, I settled on postal money orders. As a former postal employee I firmly believe in supporting that institution, no matter what country I live in. The added bonus is that I would not need to know my son's banking information, along with a litany of seemingly unneeded information, such as the bank's physical address and phone number. I would only need his home address, and I had that memorized!

First stop: local branch office, who directed me to a larger office a ways away. Confidently, I sauntered into that establishment and asked the customer service rep which clerk I should address my query to: the bank side or the postal side?

China's post offices are also banks, the same as in many other countries.

“We don't have money orders.” she said, flatly, before directing me to a bank that does wire transfers.

I kind of knew this would happen. I slunk out and made it about 10 yards away before going back in. I had done my homework! Everything I've read clearly states that one can buy international money orders, and I intended to buy some! Bypassing the customer service desk, I went to the postal clerks' window.

“I'd like to buy an interntional postal money order” I said, showing her my phone, which showed the article that stated money orders are available.

“We have stamps, no money orders. You want stamps?” - the word for 'stamp' and 'draft' (as in: cash draft' is the same: piao). 

“The clerk at my local post office directed me to this office, and confirmed you had money orders!” I averred.

She told me to try the bank side, whose clerk also told me there are no such things as international postal money orders, no matter what my phone, internet articles or other postal clerks say, and I should just go to the bank and do a money transfer.

Finally admitting defeat, I left that post office, rode a bus five stops to my bank, and asked the customer service person whom I should address in order to buy a demand draft.

“We don't have them. Please go to Bank of China.” At least, she was polite and smiling while turning me away.

Time out, take a break: McDonald's is right next to my bank and their coffee is pretty good. The added bonus is free WIFI, which I used to scout other possibilities.

Lo and Behold! The Chinese postal website clearly states that money orders and demand drafts are available (here, we duly thank my ability to read Chinese). I took a screen shot, intending to go to the next post office I see and waving my phone around until somebody provides the service I need.

Or, until I get arrested.

That very real possibility was a sobering thought. Caving in to what I know is the norm – if a foreigner wants anything official done, she had better have a Chinese friend negotiate for her, I messaged Sam. I didn't tell him what I needed him for until he was seated, and I had bought him lunch and a coffee.

He got on the phone with the postal service, whose representative directed him to the branch I had spent all morning arguing at. We agreed to change tactics and he called Bank of China. He was very explicit: “I have a foreigner friend who needs to send money to America for her son's wedding, and she doesn't have his banking information or his ID number. Can we buy a demand draft (cashier's check)?”

“Of course we do demand drafts in U.S. dollars! You only need to present yourself and your foreigner at any Bank of China counter, and they will be able to help you.”

Realizing it was before 2:00PM, the customary time for officials to resume duty, we lingered at McD's, finally setting off just after 2.

“No, we don't do demand drafts.” said the customer service person.

Sam replied: “I called before coming and was told that we could get one.”

“Those are only for...”

I have no idea what was said because I walked out. Helpless, furious tears streamed down my face as Sam joined me, minutes later, and I couldn't tell you what he said because I was too enraged to listen. Angrily I stabbed my finger toward the MoneyGram sign, prominently displayed below the bank's logo, and launched into a tirade.

Apparently the clerk saw me motioning violently and came out: “We don't have that service at this branch. You have to go to another branch...”   

And then, I found this: 

In an effort to stem the flow of foreign currency out of China, all financial institutions have been inofficially restricted in performing any transactions, yet the laws and policies remain the same. Check out this article:

I can see the purpose behind these regulations: crime deterrent. No point in malfeasance if you can't move the money around, is there? But what does all of this mean for me, someone without a criminal bone in her body? And what about when I leave China? Will I be able to move my money out when I vacate?

Stay tuned...

The Year in Review... Three Weeks Into the New Year

It's been quite a while since we've talked, hasn't it? Last I recall, I shared Tristan's wedding and the awkwardness of the school's year end show that I was to participate in, but in the end got voted out of. Apparently, my tinny singing voice didn't have enough pizzazz to wow the officials clamoring for better entertainment (see previous entry).

At least, they didn't lop my head off. That makes me giddy because I can still talk with you, a feat that would have been impossible with a lopped-off head.

By and large, this has been a year of disappointments, personally and globally. On Wednesday, November 9th, I came home from class to find that Donald Trump had won the presidency – not the election. The punch-in-the-gut feeling, the dawning horror of what the Trump administration might entail chased all thoughts of food away. No mean feat considering I had been in the classroom for four hours.

If I were to characterize this year, I'd label it fraught with disillusionment and disappointment, Trump's win included.

Since August I have spent a lot of time focusing on the monumental sense of betrayal I felt (still feel!), dished out by someone I thought was a good friend: Sam. His disclosure of reporting my doings to school officials for the past six years, all while not telling me about this supposed duty of his, leads me to question whether he was ever a friend.... Did he volunteer to help me buy transit tickets and secure hotel accommodations in order to keep tabs on me? All of those texts he sent while I traveled: “Are you There?” “Are you on the train?” “Are you back home?” no longer appear to be from a friend, curious of my travels, but of someone who needs to know exactly where I am and what I am doing.    

Sam's friendship is not the only question I have had, these past few months.

I've spent six years describing to you how China is so open, so friendly, so transparent to expats such as myself. Have I been gullible? Guilty of wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses? Or was it just a case of not delving deep enough into this society and its doings?

This year I've been made painfully aware of just how discriminating China actually is.

Because of our school's insistence at not hiring teachers of color, no matter how qualified, I remained the lone foreign teacher. My workload and class size doubled but my pay remained the same. I can say  with authority that the school doesn't want teachers of any other race than white because I personally presented two teachers who earned their Master's Degree in China, and who are currently in teaching positions in Wuhan but looking for a new situation. Eddie and Tanza were both rejected out of hand, not because of any deficient quality on their part but because of the color of their skin, according to Sam.

This was not my first brush with racial discrimination in China.

Upon returning from Germany I was denied accommodations at hotels I had stayed at previously, with no explanation. Later, Sasuke (a former student of mine), equally outraged at the news, searched Baidu, the Chinese search engine, to find official word of that new regulation: it was formulated to allegedly protect foreigners from anything that might happen in second-rate hotels.

I see it as a way to restrict foreigners' movement and travel within China. And here is another:

Expats who do not have a D-visa, the equivalent of a Green Card, are severely limited on banking options and money handling: foreigners can't exchange currency; foreigners can't do wire transfers; foreigners can't open a bank account without invoking their employer, to vouch for them.

You'd think that having a valid working visa and a Foreign Expert's Certificate would imply that I have a job, and that that would be good enough. Not true!

As I no longer trust or wish to be around Sam, I am trying to resolve my money situation on my own. Everywhere I have looked, on the 'Net and while talking with a customer service representative while trying to manage my own account, I find the suggestion that a Chinese person should manage my affairs for me. So far, my sheer determination has proven to be no match for Chinese obstinacy. 

All of this and more have left me feeling betrayed and disillusioned. Why bother welcoming expats if they are to be restricted from managing their affairs or exploring the country?

These last few months have given me a singular understanding of how people who live with discrimination feel: frustrated, enraged, impotent, hopeless. I have experienced gender discrimination before – not too many women in the maintenance field. This new perceived slight, again because of something I have no control over, my skin color, serves to highlight what I believe is humanity's greatest ill, so prevalent in this day and age. Especially now, with echoes of white supremacism whispering through American politics.

Makes me wonder if civilization has actually progressed in the last fifty or so years.

Looking ahead, now.

Donald Trump will be sworn in January 20th. On that day, I will have a virtual interview for an online teaching position.

Fearing that I will get short-changed – I'll be leaving the country before my last paycheck is due (and not trusting Sam's word that all funds will be disbursed before I leave), I need to find a different way to earn; one that doesn't involve anything Chinese (except for the students). The company I've applied to is American and they will deposit my pay in a western bank.

Marjorie, my life-long friend, will join the Women's March on Washington the day after inauguration. I am so proud of her! She has had a difficult year. Joining the march is a huge step out of character, but one she makes boldly. I hope and pray she and everyone will be safe.

My conspirators had a difficult year, too. Plagued by health problems and allergies, they've made more trips to doctors' offices than anywhere else, last year. Half of my conspiring team, my bike riding mentor, hasn't been able to ride much. Now they are both doing better, albeit medicated to the gills. Let's all hope that this year brings them renewed vigor and lasting good health. 

As for me...

It is sobering to realize that, in six months, I will be jobless and homeless.

I don't yet know what my next step will be. There are a lot of options to consider and, who knows? I might end up someplace I never dreamed of going.

How's that for a spirit of adventure?