Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I am going to try to be a better person

Because, if I don't, I realise that my personal Purgatory is going to be a branch of the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, where I am going to be holding ticket no. 2152 forever....

The day before I went on holiday, I had to pay my next quarter's rent. I'm supposed to pay this directly into one of my landlord's bank accounts with ICBC using a passbook. If I'm lucky, I can sometimes get it done in half an hour or so. Usually, it takes more like an hour. And sometimes...

Well, it was the day after the end of the Chunjie holiday. There weren't many staff on. And there may have been a minor surge of people seeking to take care of bill paying or whatever that they'd been neglecting during the preceding holiday fortnight.

In fact, in my section of the bank, only three of the nine or ten windows were manned. I drew no. 2152 in the hellish lottery of the queueing ticket machine - and discovered, with sinking heart, that the numbers being served had only just advanced into the 2000s. I settled myself down for a long wait.

Long? Hah! It would have been interminable. I've often complained about the astonishing capacity of certain Chinese workers - bank clerks, in particular - to 'work' in slow motion. The trio on duty that morning were taking the art form to new heights. They only managed to process 10 or 12 enquiries in the first hour or so I was there. That's collectively, not each!

Ah, but a glimmer of hope - a fourth member of staff appeared behind one of the windows.  But didn't do anything. Just sat there, dumbly, provocatively, pretending to busy herself with trivial administrative chores for half an hour... while a mob of customers on the other side of the glass seethed on the brink of riot.

The irrelevant extra member of staff never did open up her window (not while I was there). I was still more than 100 spots away from my number coming up, and the queue had scarcely shortened at all in over one-and-a-half hours. And now it was lunchtime: it was inevitable that the three working clerks would soon be taking a break to inhale some pot noodles and then indulge in the customary 90-minute power nap. And, on this woefully understaffed day, it seemed likely that no-one would replace them. Anyone who was forced to continue 'working' over the lunch hour (which, in China, is often more like two-and-a-half hours) would lapse grumpily into a hypoglycaemic torpor and process customer requests even more slowly, if at all.

It was looking very, very unlikely that I would get to the head of the queue before the bank closed 5 hours hence. Luckily, my landlord took pity on me and agreed to come around to collect the rent in person later that day.

I won't have that option in Hell....


Don Tai said...

LOL! Some things change and others stay the same.

Not so long ago, when most stores in Beijing were government run, all department stores had this type of service. Lunch was followed by a nap so nothing was open from 12:00 to 2:00pm.

You, sir, are living the life!

omg said...

Dropping in after a long absence.

Great post, with a brilliant first paragraph. And now I know of at least one place I can mark off of a list of potential places to live. I just couldn't handle that.

Froog said...

OMG, how nice to hear from you again! I hope you won't keep us waiting so long for your next visit.

My quality of life in China was enormously improved by the recent surprising discovery that you can pay your phone bill post offices, which - unlike the banks - rarely have much of a queue.

Froog said...

Don, I remember one of the most striking indications of the precarious state of the economy when I first visited here in the early 90s was that all the department stores - and many smaller shops and restaurants - had scores of candles permanently set up, anchored on counter tops in puddles of wax. I was slow to twig why at first. And then all the lights went off.