Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 17 2006

After the phone incident, I had way more RMB than …

After the phone incident, I had way more RMB than I needed, so on the morning of my departure I went to a bank to change it to US dollars. But the bank couldn’t do it. “Go to the Bank of China,” they said. So I went to the Bank of China down the street from the hotel and waited until my number was called.

“You need two things: your passport and a certificate from when you changed your US dollars into this amount of RMB,” the clerk said. Of course I had no such certificate. She was basically saying that banks in China cannot change RMB to any other currency. After learning that Chinese stores can’t remit money back to credit cards, this shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I had to restrain myself from asking, “And Beijing is going to manage the Olympics in 2008 how?”

Fortunately for me a foreign woman in the next line had some US cash, and we did a transaction right there in front of the clerks. They even provided us with the current rates. This is simply how things work in China: under the table in plain view. Where there is no infrastructure, people make it up as they go, and thanks to thousands of years of inept governance, people have been so ingrained with this tactic that it is second nature.

I returned to the Qianyuan and checked out smoothly (for a change) and caught a bus to the airport. As we threaded through some of the streets I bicycled down the other day, I regretted that I haven’t been able to quite get a grasp of this city during my stay. Part of that is due to an inconvenient cold, but actually the sheer size and a lack of a real downtown are more to blame. It would take several trips to even come close to scratching the surface, and at this pace of change and construction, you’d most likely find a different city on each visit. Shanghai was easier to “get” as it is much closer in nature to the cities where I’m used to living, such as Taipei and Hong Kong, and it much more aesthetically pleasing as well. Beijing I’m still not sure about. I found the people friendly for the most part, even though they speak like they’re wearing their socks on their tongues (perhaps a habit evolved from constantly speaking with a full mouth?), but being so close to the seat of power casts a cautious pall over everything, something I’d have to get used to.

At the airport, when my turn came up to go through immigration, the guy behind the desk looked at me and then asked, in Chinese, what my name was. I can only assume that this was some kind of test to see if I was the person listed in my documentation, but honestly, how bad a criminal would you have to be to not even get your own assumed name right? To be fair, however, maybe he was checking my pronunciation or my reaction as well.

The flight home was uneventful, despite my reservations about the state of the plane from Beijing to Hong Kong. It was a rather decrepit craft, with footprints all over the dirty wings, cris-crossing the “no step” areas. I got window seats on both flights, though China was obscured in haze all the way to Hong Kong.

One thing I found out when confirming my ticket back was that China lists Hong Kong flights as “international”. I had thought one of the main stumbling blocks concerning three links with Taiwan was whether to designate the travel routes as domestic or international, but if HK and Macau are already “international” I assume Taiwan must be as well.

As I walked down the gangway to the plane to Taipei, one of the staff called after me, saying, “How many people are you?”

“Huh?” I wondered if she was talking about The Voices, but no, she had seen that the name on my ticket was a Chinese one and thought there might be a mix up. I put her fears to rest and got on the plane.

As we flew into Taipei that night I reminded myself that I was still travelling, was still a passenger and not quite “back” yet. Despite my reluctance to once again assume a non-travelling state, I couldn’t help but look at Taipei in a much better light after Beijing. I used to think Frank Hsieh’s proposal that Taipei go after the 2020 Olympics laughable, but if a city like Beijing can do it, I don’t see why Taipei couldn’t.

In fact, I think more Chinese people should see Taiwan, see what we’ve done for the last few decades, see what China could have been, what it could still be. Not being from there, I can’t be sure if they would notice the differences in the same way I do, but you never know; it might just push them in the right direction, even if just a little bit.

posted by Poagao at 4:42 am  


  1. damn, I had meant to ask you to pick me up copies of second hand roses’ CDs…

    loved reading about your trip, and can’t wait to see your photos…

    Comment by Prince Roy — October 17, 2006 @ 8:23 am

  2. Yeah, I should have picked up some of those; I thought I could get it from Brendan’s computer, but that didn’t work.

    You’ll just have to get me some when you go for Christmas, and take one of my books to Brendan, too (another thing I forgot).

    Comment by TC — October 17, 2006 @ 8:26 am

  3. Hey, guys — will upload the album when I get back home tonight. Any other requests?

    Comment by Brendan — October 17, 2006 @ 9:16 am

  4. Cool. Some of the Mongolian stuff from the group we heard at the Shalou Cafe would be nice too.

    Comment by TC — October 17, 2006 @ 9:17 am

  5. yeah, and any old school tuva throat singing.

    Comment by Prince Roy — October 17, 2006 @ 5:05 pm

  6. OK – will have to get the Mongolian stuff off of Alc and Wula at some later date, but for now here’s the ???? album. (If titles show up as gibberish, set your browser encoding to Unicode/UTF-8.)

    Comment by Brendan — October 18, 2006 @ 6:59 am

  7. Thanks, Brendan, those are cool.

    Comment by TC — October 19, 2006 @ 8:55 am

  8. yeah, and any old school tuvan throat singing.

    Comment by Prince Roy — November 3, 2006 @ 3:06 am

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