My Chinese is O.K. but I wouldn’t stake my life on it, or anyone elses’, for that matter.
This is why, when it came to transferring funds into Jason’s (Ji Ke’s) banking account, I asked for assistance.
Jason is my former student at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. He currently is attending Qing Hai University, a 24-hour train ride from here. His family lives near Dujiangyan, a hard-hit area of the quake, but luckily all escaped without harm or a great deal of damage to their home.
In my May 17th blog entry, I talked about Jason’s farming family and his sister, who was in need of a heart operation. The money was almost collected when the family was told they needed another 30,000 yuan ($4,285) more. The situation was quite dire but the money wasn’t there.
Then the earthquake struck. Hospitals in Chengdu filled with tens-of-thousands of injured people. Jason’s parents managed to borrow just about enough to pay for their daughter’s operation but due to the hospital overload, they were told to wait.
Almost 4 weeks later, Jason’s sister is now in the number one hospital in the province here in Chengdu. That last extra bit to reach their needed monetary goal sat in my drawer yesterday. This was the life-saving amount that was to be wired into Jason’s family’s bank account.
As I mentioned, my Chinese is O.K. but I wouldn’t stake a life on it. I wasn’t about to trust doing such an important bank transaction by myself so I enlisted the help of Rich (Wang Yun), a 1st year student at Chengdu Medical College.
Rich and I had met several weeks ago when three of my former students from Luzhou came to participate in a provincial English language proficiency contest. One of the contestants, Diana (Ding Yanbin), had been corresponding with Rich for about 6 months after being introduced to him by her middle-school classmate, Irena (Zhang Lijuan). Irena and Rich attend the same medical school and she felt this nice young man might be a good match for her friend. Telephone numbers and emails were exchanged and the two began their friendship through phone calls and written words.
When Rich learned Diana would be coming to the big city, his immediate reaction was to race to the bus station and anxiously wait for her (three hours) until she arrived. I was somewhat the sponsor of the three Luzhou contestants so we spent quite a bit of time together touring the campus, eating out, getting settled into hotel rooms and visiting. All the while, Rich was present, enjoying the company of us four gals, who made a big fuss over him, but most importantly getting to know Diana a bit better.
It was rather sad when everyone had to part. Rich had hovered outside of the contest building, waiting for the competition to finish, before being seen off to his bus stop by the girls. He and Diana waved to one another, not knowing when they’d see each other again. A trip to Chengdu is expensive for those without much money. The $25 round-trip bus ticket is enough for a month’s worth of food in the student cafeteria. Young people from poor families in China have very little money to spare on such extravagant journeys as visits to the capital city so most likely, they wouldn’t see one another for some time.
As luck would have it, this weekend the Chinese government has given us all a holiday. Dragon Boat Festival, which before was merely a traditional day, has become a national day-off. This year, it falls on Monday. Diana took advantage of our 3-day weekend to return to Chengdu. She decided to stay for 2 nights before leaving for her own hometown an hour away. And of course, a stay in Chengdu meant a visit with Rich.
Now we come to the money transfer.
Rich and Jason had talked on the phone about the details of this transaction but although being a fully capable individual to handle such matters, Rich was worried. What if he got the account number wrong? What if he didn’t fill out the transfer paper properly? What if the bank refused to do the transaction? He needed back-up.
So on Friday afternoon, it wasn’t just Rich who came to my aid but Diana as well and none other than Irena, the matchmaker, who tagged along for the ride.
I must say, I was quite moved to see my three Muskateers waiting for me at the West Gate of Sichuan University. I, the maiden in distress, had little to fear being surrounded by such a united, strong three-some.
As with anything, we did have some glitches in our first efforts to send the money.
We all weren’t sure where we needed to go so I suggested we ask if the Bank of China could do this for us. Jason hadn’t given us clear instructions about how to do this. The nearest bank seemed a good place to start.
In China, a group venture comes with it some cultural dilemmas which many foreigners find annoying. If a task is to be done, there’s a lot of loud, seemingly chaotic, talk going on. Ideas have to be shared, discussed, argued about, and decided upon before another round takes place on who’s going to actually follow through with it all. These kind of dialogues can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on how many are involved. And they almost always draw a crowd of curious onlookers who may (or may not) like to give advice as well.
Once in the Bank of China, Rich approached the service desk to ask about transferring money to an account which was not a branch of the bank’s. What proceeded was one of those typical group venture projects which I mentioned above. Three bank attendants had to be consulted if this was possible. Two said it wasn’t; one said it was. More talks ensued by Rich, Diana and Irena explaining in detail to the bank people what they wanted to do. Misunderstandings took place, ideas circulated on alternative methods, Rich made several cellphone calls to Jason while the girls debated what to do next, a crowd started to gather and I? I sat off in a corner, very happy to be the maiden in distress with not a worry in the world as my three Muskateers took care of everything.
Eventually, after about 45 minutes, it was decided we should go to a Postal Service Bank which was where Jason’s account was held. The Bank of China service workers were very helpful in directing us to the nearest Postal Bank, which happened to be at our nearby Sichuan University, just inside the North Gate entrance.
We were a bit worried about the time the bank would close so we taxied to the main entrance of the university. Diana quickly asked one of the gate guards where the Postal bank was located. He merely pointed around the corner, inside the campus, and there it was, a two-window tiny bank with a short line of students getting money from home.
Diana took control of the situation and pushed her way to the front of the line to ask the postal bank worker inside what time they closed and how to do a money transfer. She came back to report we had 1 ½ hours to spare and just needed to fill out a form, hand the money over and off it would go.
And that’s exactly what happened. Within 15 minutes, everything was finished. According to the teller, Jason could expect the money in his account immediately.
To complete the mission, Rich went to a nearby payphone to give Jason a ring and tell him all had been taken care of. He next handed the phone over to me as Jason had a few words to say.
“I will check my account after class,” he said gratefully. “I just want to thank you so much for your help.”
“Forget about the money,” I replied. “For now, we just think about your sister, O.K.?”
Jason promised to tell me the day of the operation and then contact Rich about the where and when we could pay her a hospital visit. Sadly for him, he’d still be in school until mid-July so he wouldn’t be able be there for her.
“Rich and I will do that for you,” I assured him, then we said our goodbyes.
Rich, Diana and Irena walked me back to the west gate, nearest my apartment, by route of the university campus. As we went along, I expressed my thanks again and again for their help.
“You have all done a wonderful thing,” I said. “And how nice to have so many of us participating. We all shared, didn’t we? Rich, you were the worrier. Diana, you were the do-er. Irena, you were the cheerleader and I just followed along with the money. We made such a great team.”
“Yes!” Diana piped up as the rest of the group smiled. “Now that’s cooperation.”
Here, here, Diana. I second that.
Or better yet, as our Muskateers would say, “All for one, and one for all!”
From Chengdu, sending you "Ping An!" (Peace)
REMINDER FOR AID IN BUYING TENTS, VACCINES, AND OTHER SUPPLIES FOR EARTHQUAKE RELIEF EFFORTS
United Methodists: UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response, China Earthquake