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Things are hard

Beijing (China) is a great place to live, if all you ever want to do is sleep, eat, and maybe go to work. Once you start needing to get things done, and we all inevitably get to that point, life starts to get hard. Really hard.

For example, who knew that buying a plane ticket would be so hard? Even though the Air China website claims it will take foreign credit cards, by the time you enter all of your passenger information and get to the page to pay, the “Pay with credit card” bullet isn’t clickable. The other option is to pay with a Chinese bank card. Nevermind that I don’t have one, but those bullets are also unclickable.

Calling Air China’s service line resulted in my waiting on hold for 40 minutes with no service. So how are you supposed to buy a plane ticket? Oh, the Chinese go to ticket agencies in person and pay cash. So, where are the ticket agencies? Walk around the block a few times and see if you spot one. None? Okay, well maybe you can ask a friend who knows.

Try the internet? Sorry, the internet doesn’t know.

Alright, so China’s not quite streamlined the airline ticket purchasing just yet. But what about electricity? That should be a common straightforward thing to get, right? Hmm …

Each apartment comes with an electricity meter and an electricity IC card. Electricity flows when the meter is charged, the card charges the meter when inserted, and one charges the card at the ICBC (a giant bank). So what happens when the ICBC-charged IC card produces no response when inserted into the meter?

Trip #2 to the bank.

Me: Did you actually charge my electricity card, because it doesn’t work?
Bank: We can’t see what’s remaining on your card, but we also can’t add any more credit to it, so it must be charged.
Me: What? What kind of logic is that?
Bank: Sorry we don’t know anything more, your meter must be broken, you need to contact the electricity company.

Getting electricity required another two trips to the electricity company, a meter change, followed by a IC card change so as to be compatible with the new meter, and charging the new card a small amount so that the original amount on the old card can be “transferred” onto the new card.



  1. omg, i had the same experience! nothing was easy to get done. i remember once i had to go into beijing to get a package, and after i schlepped all the way there, they told me they couldn’t give it to me because that section was “closed,” ie, the person running that area wasn’t in, although there was a big pile of boxes right there that the person i was talking to could have given me.

    i got impatient and raised my voice, as i’d do in america without a second thought, and i was seen as the impolite one. my cousin and her friend actually apologized to the post office person!

    ah, china, the country of inefficiency.

    Posted on 31-Jan-10 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  2. v.c.

    I always wonder in the back of my mind what happens if my electricity card fails. Now I know. wow.

    I had a Z-visa (yours is F?). There was a ton of chores to do upon entry; I still have headaches from the Kafkaesque situations you described.

    Still, at the end of the day, living in Beijing with a blue passport, identity issue aside, is probably easier than a local who doesn’t have a Beijing hukou.

    Posted on 02-Feb-10 at 2:19 am | Permalink

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