Our home phone stopped working yesterday. My husband needed it for a conference call tonight, so I was in charge of investigating and fixing it. I called our landlord’s representative and she sent maintainance to check it. He told me that I needed to make a payment. This was the first time I ever heard about a phone bill. I pay the utilities each month to the payment center of the compound. I didn’t know how much it would cost, but since I hadn’t paid in 10 months, I was a little worried! I took 1000 rmb (about $180) to the payment center and explained I needed to make a payment for my phone. Clearly…my phone. I gave the phone number. Another lady came out. I explained again. She asked if I had a bill. No. She went and got a bill that looked like a utility bill. She said, “you can pay this amount.” At this point, I’m thinking, ok, I paid the April bill, but it was low, maybe the phone charge was left off for some reason. I gave her 1000 rmb. I asked if they would turn the phone back on. Oh, she says, you have to go to China Unicom office for that.
What did I just give you money for? Why am I paying towards a utility bill that is not yet due?
Where is the China Unicom office, I ask? They tell me some things that I don’t understand. There is a machine in the clubhouse where you can pay, she says.
Well that is great, because I just gave you my 1000 rmb and the atm in the clubhouse is out of money at the moment! I don’t have a car to get to another atm!
(In order to pay using the machine, you have to use a Chinese debit or credit card, which I have, but I need to extract money with my US card to put on the Chinese card. Hence the frustration over the atm that is without cash.)
I leave. My daughter and I head home. We stop at the big fountain in the park and she plays with a stick. I make her a fishing pole to play in the water. We smell the roses. I take some deep breaths. I have been here too long to be experiencing such a day. These things happened in our first three months here.
Later….I go back to see if the atm has money. It doesn’t. The manager of the clubhouse, a friendly chap from the UK asks if he can help. I explain the situation, and he says, “Well that sounds dodgy. There is a woman here who was subject to fraud in a similar manner.” He takes me to the service center, where he expresses to the representatives in fluent Mandarin what is going on. She investigates my phone number. No, it truly is an overdue bill. Not fraud. It is not connected with the compound, but is connected with a private individual. Apparently, I cannot pay the bill to the China Unicom machine in the clubhouse.
“How do I pay?” I ask. “Oh, you must call Coco. You should pay her.”
“I see. I must pay Coco. Now I understand. Do you have her phone number?”
She calls Coco. Coco has just left. She tells me to come back soon. I go to pick up my older daughter, who is finishing up her Obstacle land after school program. I call Coco. She says she can be back in ten minutes. Great! I tell her. I arrange to meet her in the lobby.
A few minutes later, one of the women from my experience this morning trying to pay this bill shows up.
It is Coco. Apparently she couldn’t do this earlier today???
She uses her China Unicom credit card in the machine. I wait for the total due…expecting the worst.
The numbers flash on the screen.
15.88 rmb. ($2.65)
I laugh and give her a twenty.
And that, is another day in my life.
***If you are an expat reading this, and are confused about the landline telephone billing system, this is what I found out: You have 300 minutes free a month. If you go over, you are billed. There you go. Get a Chinese credit card, and go to the little machine that looks like an atm, but isn’t. Enter your phone number, and pay your bill.
Check it once a month to avoid further hassles.