Monday, August 30, 2010

2010 Asia Trip, Chengdu Day #2 Early-Morning

It's about 3am in Chengdu and I can hear people snoring in the next hotel room... at least it's not other "noises"...

I was really tired after dinner last night. We were supposed to pick up someone at the airport at ~11:00pm but I fell asleep as soon as I got back to my room for six hours. I'm going to have to try and go back to sleep after this post, otherwise I'm going to be dead tired again.

The first day of PMI was pretty uneventful. I did notice that the traffic was worse than before. There's a new driver (I met him last year when he just started) and he likes to take small streets. The main roads are totally packed and people are driving as crazy as ever.

The most scary sight in China... a row of student drivers. Someone has to be teaching all these people how to drive poorly and ignore all traffic signs.

There were several trucks moving large trees down the street. Who needs a bigger truck?!

Leon's uncle came along with us to the factory and he got a brief tour. Since there is no breakfast available at our hotel, we had some beef noodles for breakfast at work. It was okay... though very different from the Taiwanese version (which has a lot more meat). The building hasn't changed very much although a few of the people are different. Since I been here quarterly for a couple of years, it felt a bit strange to be back after 12 months this time. I did notice that there was a lot more food items as the resident couple (security guard & cook) has planted more produce and built a bigger chicken coop.

Jars of pickled mustard greens (酸菜)... I love pickled mustard greens with noodles (酸菜肉絲麵) but it's hard to find in the US. The cook promised to make that for breakfast later this morning.

Gourds and melons. The green things are huge winter melons (冬瓜) which the cook stir-fried with tiny pieces of dried shrimp for lunch. I told them my parents bought a piece of winter melon for $3 per pound. They thought I was crazy and suggest that PMI start shipping Chinese produce to the US. :)

Lunch dishes. Everything was a bit spicy. I guess it wouldn't be Chengdu or Sichuan if the food wasn't spicy. The brown stuff on bottom left is fish.

Homegrown corn... I saw a few stalks at the back of the factory.

After lunch, we decided to go to the local Bank of China branch. Leon needed to convert some US dollars to RMB, while I just wanted to find out how much money was left in my BofC account. The entire trip took us ~2 hours. When you walk in to a Chinese bank, there is a kiosk where you get a number. Our number was A429 and they were only up to A352... 77 people in front of us and only 5 teller windows. Anyway, after waiting for ~40 minutes and discussing the price of Levis jeans in the US vs. China with our driver, we were called to window #1. All this time the announcements have been in Chinese but the automated voice called our number in English (probably because we pushed a button with English text at the kiosk), though the teller probably didn't speak a word of English. First Leon had problems because he changed passports since opening the account. China has very strict currency controls and individuals can only exchange $50,000 to RMB each year, and it's tracked by passport numbers for foreigners. Since he has a new passport number, they wanted to see the old passport for some reason. Who carries expired passports around with them? Weird thing is that he has exchanged currency at the same branch with the new passport several times already.

While we were waiting for them to confirm we weren't money launderers, I gave them my passbook to check balances. I think it said I have a few hundred RMB and probably some US dollars too (multi-currency account). The teller types in my account number, frowns, then returns my passbook telling me that the account doesn't exist anymore. Huh? What does that mean? I then asked what happened to the money and she said that she didn't know. Clearly that was unacceptable so I kept asking her for a reason, and to print out the transactions that depleted my account. Finally she had to get a manager/supervisor and three people ended up crowding around her computer screen trying to figure out what happened to my ~450 RMB. After 15 minutes, they said (supposedly) they changed something in their bank system and now my hyphenated Chinese middle name was unacceptable, and it took a lot of effort to dig up my account (obviously). The only solution is to open a new account and transfer the balance from the old account. Of course another solution was to close the account and take the cash and run, but at this point I just let them do whatever. So now I have a new Bank of China account with ~440 RMB and either $80 or $100 US... I'm still not quite clear. That's pretty poor customer service by the first teller as she tried to blow me off three times by saying the account doesn't exist anymore. What if I misplaced my passbook? Is my account gone? There's only ~$150 total but what if I had just wired in a few thousand dollars like I did for our family trip last September? There's no culture of helping the customer, and the local people in the office said Bank of China has particularly bad customer service.

After that experience, we were done for the day. After an hour long ride back to the hotel, we had dinner with Leon's uncle and I crashed.

Dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. Four dishes + 2 bowls of rice + pitcher of watermelon juice for ~150 RMB.

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