Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Men (and Women) of Honor
I have to say that by and large, one of the most interesting things about living in China is actually LIVING in China. The experience of finding an apartment in Beijing (and all the particulars that go along with it) is miles apart from that in the U.S. - or from what little of it I know. I've already recounted my experience with apartment hunting (though it was thoroughly plagued with other bureaucratic pestilence like visas and, you know, trying to be employed). Now onto round two, the actual "being in the apartment" part.

Though rent on my eight-month lease is paid three months at a time (the last one being two months and an opportunity to renew), all utilities are paid monthly. And from what I knew of utility payments for water and gas in China thus far, someone from the respective company would come by your apartment, check your meters, and leave you a bill to be paid at a bank that is in cooperation with the (state-owned) company. Usually, ICBC or Bank of China will do. In my last apartment, they always dropped by nice and early, around 7AM on a Saturday (and bear in mind, when I was living there and working at the bar Friday nights, I usually didn't get home until after 3...). Nonetheless, it was easy because I was always around.

But now? Now, during the week, I commute to work (which I've gotten down from an hour to 40 minutes, thank you very much). And despite this extra speed, with the trip to work and just generally being a busy person, I'm never really in the apartment unless I'm sleeping. So imagine my disappointment when I saw the 通知 (a sort of posted notice or announcement) next to the elevator that said workers would be coming to check the gas meters the next day on the 8th - a Tuesday. Before the elevator arrived to take me upstairs, that was all the Chinese I managed to read. I figured the next time I went downstairs, I would take a couple moments to fully read the notice. The next time I was heading out and read it again, I got to the next part, underlined in red marker. Essentially, it said if you're not going to be there, put the amount on the door.

Wait...what?! Come again? If you're not going to be there, write an amount on the door and that's how we'll charge you? I bet NO ONE takes advantage of THAT. Nonetheless, knowing I would be at work, I went yesterday morning to look at the meters, figuring that I understood what the notice was saying and that leaving the amount on the door was sufficient. However, my "new" apartment still used a meter with "old" dials.

My last apartment had a numbered meter (that looked sort of like an odometer), whereas this place had three dials in a triangular formation marked "100," "10," and "1." It looks something like the above, except A LOT grimier and bearing barely discernible, faded writing. The readout on the machine looks something like this below, minus the "1 MILLION" dial all the way on the left. And remember - grimy and faded. It just wouldn't be my apartment without the grimy and faded...

I figured that these were the hundreds, tens, and ones places of the amount I was supposed to give the gas company, but since I wasn't sure (and I was assured by my Chinese friend, Candy, that a day made no difference), I thought I'd ask some people at work.

I came home that night to a note on my door with a big red stamp on it and some Chinese writing. Now, the stamp I recognized as the name and phone number of the gas company. However, the rest was handwritten and I'm not quite good enough with written Chinese to understand the horrible, illegible handwriting (think a doctor's, times twenty) that was on this scrap of paper stuck to my door. I doubt they figured some American novice Chinese speaker was living there. So I brought the note into work this morning. Turns out, the note was just saying that during the daytime, I should call the number on the stamp and in the evening, I could call the number on the bottom to tell them the levels of my gas meter. Cool, no?

They must have quite an honor system going. I have noticed it before in small ways, like on the bus. Though the fare-takers are usually pretty aggressive in pursuing people, they become more anxious and hostile about getting their money or making sure you've swiped your card when someone like me comes on the bus (because apparently, as a foreigner, I have no sense of morality) than when other Chinese board. And it seems even when the buses are packed like sardines, people are still quite honest about paying their fares. I even saw someone pay after they had already disembarked at their stop. It is a bit different in that, with the gas company, you're paying for an actual product (colorless and (nearly) odorless as it may be), whereas on the bus, it would continue to run regardless of whether one more person came on or not. So without cameras, the bus people wouldn't know the 1元 difference. But still, it's a fairly coherent theme so I'll run with it.

I think it's nice that there's so much trust here. The more I think about it, the more I realize that such a system would never work back home. They would still have to send someone out to check the numbers. But to level the playing field, I think the U.S. system is more efficient (surprise, surprise). The meters are outdoors and accessible without having to be checked on-site, apartment-by-apartment, every month. Plus, I can pay my bills online. I think we're still more than a hop, skip, and a jump away from that here. I can only dream of making utility payments in my PJs. It's things like that and not having clothes dryers that make me miss home. Oh, and I suppose there are a few people I wouldn't mind seeing again either.
posted by Rachel @ 1:24 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
What You May Have Missed
A Brief Disclaimer:
This is a satirical site intended for the entertainment of an online audience. None of the features on this site are real (except in my own distorted view of reality), nor are they intended to harm the subjects mentioned. This site uses fictional names in all its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized or when I choose to use this site as a platform for someone's public humiliation (usually my own). Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental (or purposeful, but with good reason).

Despite the trivial nature of my random daily (sometimes weekly) musings, I hope you enjoy your stay at my site. If there is anything you need, don't hesitate to ring up the concierge, because I just travel in style like that. Have a pleasant stay and I hope that you will come see us again soon!

Thanks To
Free Blogger Templates
Blog Directory
Travel Blogs - Blog Top Sites
China Findouter
Ferienhaus Kroatien
Personal Statement Of Purpose
web page counter
Get a website hit counter here.
#1 Free Link Exchange Directory On The Web - Link Market