31 October 2005 The Daily Dosage
Ironically, here in Kashgar, I saw some pumpkin-like looking melons or gourds at a stall, walking back to Semans Hotel (where I’m currently staying). This after having ‘cha,’ (Pakistani style) with Toby and Elvis.
Elvis, who’s mentioned in ‘The Lonely Planet Guide Book’ (for Kashgar) is interesting: A Uyghur guy who speaks fluent English. He was a tour operator until 9/11, but since tourists are hard to come by these days he now sells carpets.
I will probably buy a carpet from Elvis for Mr. And Mrs. Speer (their wedding in November). But, it’s the shipping that gets you from Asia! So, don’t expect a huge one, Jim and Donna!
In the meantime, both Toby and I have been faced with daunting challenges, and I thought I’d jump ahead to today, 31 October 05 (been writing about cycling). Who knows I end up on the street! My ‘challenge’ is withdrawing money from my U.S. bank in Texas.
This is a very strange problem to me, particularly so here in the fabled city of Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, but also in China at large. Of all the countries I’ve been in ATMs seem to befuddle the Chinese. Or, more likely they aren’t interested in serving ‘foreigners.’ I’m sure an ATM card for a local, on a local bank works fine. But, for us ‘foreigners,’ it’s a problem—maybe having to do with English (which the Chinese would prefer not to deal with).
You would think that China would cater to foreign travellers, this now only becoming the case (with the 08 Beijing Olympics on the horizon). But, China, like the U.S., is ‘ethnocentric.’ They’re not so interested in other cultures, nor the people that come from them.
Now, I’ve been blessed as I know Stephanie Zhao in Hangzhou, and she and her boyfriend (Samuel) came through for me the other day, as they transferred 1K Yuan into an account I opened at the Bank of China here in Kashgar (had to, the only way they would do it). So, I was saved temporarily from the street. I paid Murat (in Uremqi) 100Yuan, and had to buy a mobile card (new number) for 150. So, paying the hotel 50Yuan per, again, my resources are rapidly dwindling again!
The solution, which I’m working on via an old Dallas friend named Fred Garner (and Ganai in Prescott, Arizona), is to have my bank transfer funds into this new account at the Bank of China. Of course, this is expensive. But, what else to do?
Of course, I lost my ‘emergency cash,’ when I left my Rotrauat Boyens (my German guarding angel) given ‘necklace’ (something she made with a 50-Euro note cleverly concealed in it), in a hotel room between U. and K (talk about stupid, or fate, or whatever). Ironically, Mamat left something similar in the same hotel the same night—what are the odds? Amazingly, he knew someone and supposedly they collected all three of the items (I left two, he left one), and has them with him in Uremqi. If Mamat does, all I can say is, wow! The odds of getting these back, are more than astronomical.
But, the 50 Euro note is worth 500 Yuan and will stave the ‘wolf from my hotel door!’ temporarily! That is if Murat communicates with Mamat, and everything works out so they can deposit in my (15-digit) account in the BOC in Uremqi. Gosh, life can be complicated!
I wonder sometimes how I get myself into these ‘fixes!’ Of course, hindsight is brilliant, and now I know what I should have done… Withdraw the maximum in Uremqi and brought traveller’s checks (to carry with me). Why didn’t I do this…?
It seems to me that you learn from your mistakes (hopefully) and next time I will have with me multiple types of resources available. I think I was lulled into a false sense of security as I’ve been lucky enough to be able to access my account (via my debit bank card) practically everywhere I’ve been, including Nepal!
But, for the long term I have to figure out how to access funds regularly (and inexpensively), or I simply can’t stay in Kashgar.
In Uremqi it was no problem as China Merchant’s Bank had an ATM (Pulse and/or Cirrus) that worked with my card. Not only that it was convenient to ‘Hotel California.’ So, accessing cash in Uremqi was not a problem for me.
Toby’s ‘challenge,’ is entirely different. His has to do with extending his Chinese visa. Unfortunately, they turned it down here in Kashgar today, not only a big disappointment, but possibly expensive as they fine you so much per day if you don’t renew (extend) on time.
We have been trying to figure out what his best course of action is, from flying to Beijing or Uremqi to going to Pakistan. He has to extend his Chinese visa as soon as possible, as the fine may be as much as 500 Yuan per day! Additionally, he left his equipment on a mountain (part of a Snow Leopard expedition), and has to retrieve it! Again, life (on the road) can get complicated.
But, Elvis had the solution for Toby! Yeah for Elvis! He suggested that he go to Hotan, a city east of Kashgar, in another district, and renew there. This Toby is going to do tomorrow!
So, the upshot is that two Americans are running around trying to solve the kinds of problems you might not understand there in America, or have much sympathy for, you never having to deal with such.
Luckily, it’s not lack of funds that is my problem but accessing them in a foreign country. Additionally, I live in the era when I can get ‘online’ in Kashgar and check my bank balance in Texas, U.S.A.! My problem would be even more daunting without email/Internet!
Today, I printed our a page showing my bank balance (this took much doing), and included a letter I wrote to Lei Zhang, my English-speaking contact at the BOChina. But, as with all employees in such situations, she, even thought helpful, can’t really solve the problem. In fact, she really wasn’t interested in reading the letter.
Also, there’s a reciprocal ‘thing’ that goes on between countries. If it’s difficult for Chinese tourists to get U.S. visas, guess what? It’s vice versa for American tourists. So, maybe the Chinese have difficulty accessing funds with their bank cards while they’re in the U.S.? And maybe one of them is a Chinese banking official…? Suddenly, it becomes difficult for American tourists to access funds in China. Kind of a ‘game’ is played internationally. And who gets caught in the middle? People like Toby and me!
On the other hand, we choose to be ‘out here,’ and to risk such things happening. Such ‘drama’ certainly makes life interesting! Additionally, there is some benefit from being in this ‘drama!’ You get very good at anticipating (travelling situations), and ultimately a ‘genus’ at problem solving.
Experience, is by far, the greatest of all teachers; the fodder for many stories too! And I just happen to be a writer!
But, thank God for friends (our ‘guardian angels’) near and far! As they’ve saved my ass more than once (I assume Toby’s too)! Of course, I try to reciprocate! Where would we all be without the loving kindness of others?
In Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China (where debit bank cards don’t work! )