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Peng Li

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Korla, August 17th 2012

"Where are we going?" I asked Peng Lung, because it didn't seem likely a money changer existed here.

"To someone who speaks English," he answered.

Her name was Peng Li. Peng Li, Peng Lung. Yeah, they are cousins. Peng Li was in her last year of college. She majored in economics. Compared to the Chinese in general, her English was good. However, making a conversation, meaning not just a yes-no question-answer thing, was more often frustrating. I talk A, and then she would answer enthusiastically but about B. Nggak nyambung banget dah! On the other hand, at times I had to strain myself to grasp what she meant, because she didn't use the correct expression or grammar. For example, she used 'earlier', 'too early', and 'early' in the same way. When I said "9 o'clock", she said that was 'early'. How could I not be confused? Does she mean 9 o'clock is too early or I should leave earlier than 9 o'clock? To make things clear, I had to draw a timeline on a piece of paper, write "10:00". After that I had to give her extra English lesson. 'Earlier' would mean before 9:00, I explained. I drew an arrow backwards from 9:00. "Now, if you mean 9:00 is too early, you are suggesting me to leave after 9:00." I drew an arrow from 9:00 forward. "Which one do you mean?"

"Oh, I always think that's the same," she replied.

Today is my 7th day on this insane Silk Road Adventure -- and Peng Li drove me more insane. I recalled the pass week when I was completely on my own. Most of the time I had no one to talk to. When I didn't understand something, I just made up an answer for myself. With Peng Li, I ask her, she answers, but not to my question. I repeat my question. She repeats her 'other answer'. I repeat, she repeats. In the end, I still don't get the answer, but already wasted emotional energy trying to make her understand what I meant. Don't you call this worse than being alone?

Peng Li explained to me that there aren't money changers in Korla. I only can exchange my US dollar at China Bank. So we went to China Bank. At the bank she talked to the staff and then told me that a foreigner cannot exchange money. Therefore she'll use her identity and exchange my US dollar under her name. For a city like Korla, that seemed weird to me. Am I the first foreigner needing to exchange money in Korla? How unbelievable.

While waiting for Peng Li's turn to go to the cashier, she asked me about my trip. "I don't understand why you are going alone?"

"Who would want to come to a difficult country like this?" I smacked with frustration.

"Like what?"

"Like this!"

Knowing that the exchange of 100 USD won't be enough to sustain me until my last leg on the China part, I went to the ATM machine at China Bank to withdraw some cash. Peng Li said that was impossible. But I told her that my friend had successfully withdrew cash with a Citibank credit card (same as mine) through an ATM machine when we were in Chengdu. At the ATM machine, my password was rejected. Suddenly I remembered that when Citibank upgraded my card, they gave me a new password. But I didn't keep that number, because I never thought I would need to withdraw cash with a credit card. Normally I withdraw cash with my ATM card from BCA. However, on this ATM machine there was no logo of Cirrus or Alto.

I returned to Peng Li and explained to her that I will call Citibank and require to reset my password. I'm sure I can cash money as long as the password is correct, I explained. I regarded she understood what I was talking.

We returned to Jinyue Hotel. To my great surprise, I was required to pay a deposit of 500 yuan. What??! This morning it was 400 yuan, and now it's 500 yuan??

Peng Li talked and talked with the front desk staff. And then she said to me, "I told her you don't have money. So they said it's okay to pay 400 yuan."

Peng Li had said that they would return at 2 o'clock to bring me to Bosten Lake as I had requested. But it seemed that Peng Li was going to join me to my room.

"See you at 2 o'clock," I said to Peng Li. "I can find my room myself. It's okay."

Peng Li's face was like.. oh?

When I stepped into the elevator, I turned my head. I saw Peng Li and Peng Lung walking back to the front desk. What do they need to talk about with the front desk staff? Oh, come on, don't be so negative, I told myself. They just want to make sure the hotel treats you well.

After taking a shower which felt so good, I called Citibank. I explained my problem and was put on hold the line. When I got to speak to another officer, I had to explain my problem all over again. When I finished, the line went off. Dial again, explain again, put on hold again... "Please be quick!" I begged. "I'm aboard and short of money!"

The next officer told me that a new password can only be given through snail mail. But I have an option to try to reset my password by entering my telephone PIN through the answering machine. I was guided step by step. However it didn't go smooth at all. When I entered my card number, the machine said that I entered the wrong number. Every number I pressed was displayed on my cellphone screen. No incorrect number had been input. "Don't press to fast," suggested the officer over there.

Finally my card number was recognized. Now I was required to enter my desired new password number. Done. And then when I was to reenter the new password number for confirmation, the problem reoccurred. The machine said my entered number was wrong whereas the numbers on my cellphone screen proofed I had reentered exactly the correct number. The officer over there requested me to enter the same number once more. Guess what? The line connection went out!

I tried to call Citibank again. This time the officer said that my request for a new password is absolutely impossible. "Don't you have any option for a customer like me, abroad and in an urgent need of cash?"

"I'm sorry. There's nothing can be done," answered Citibank's officer with no feeling.

I told her that I was almost done just a few minutes ago, but the connection went off. She didn't care.

When Peng Lung and Peng Li came to fetch me, I asked Peng Li whether there's an ATM machine for Cirrus or Alto. I showed her my BCA ATM card.

"What card is this?!" Peng Li exclaimed. "There no bank like this in China."

"I know, I know! I'm not looking for the bank. I'm looking for an ATM machine with this logo." I turned the ATM card backside and pointed to the logos.

Peng Li forwarded my ATM card to Peng Lung who was driving. "Do you know a bank like this? None, right?" she asked Peng Lung. Aaarrrggghhh... how can I explain this?!?

In vain, I explained to Peng Li that an ATM machine with Cirrus and or Alto logo enables to cash money even in abroad.

"But you tried already this morning and it didn't work," argued Peng Li.

"That wasn't this card. That was my credit card. It didn't work because I entered a wrong password number."

As if I was talking to a piece of wall, Peng Li replied, "You cannot cash money in China's ATM's with a foreign card."

"I don't know if that's the case in Korla. But my friend had done that in Chengdu. He cashed money through an ATM machine."

"He got money?"

"Yes, he did."

"Was that in China?"

"Yesss!! In Chengdu!"

"He did?"


Back from Bosten Lake, I asked Peng Li to tell Peng Lung to take me to any ATM machine, because I would like to try my credit card one more time. Guess what Peng Li's reply was?

"You already tried this morning and it didn't work, did it?"

Actually, before we arrived at Bosten Lake, I had told her the whole story about my contact with Citibank's officers over the phone. Nevertheless, that seemed too much for her to comprehend. "I already entered a new password number. Although I failed when I reentered the number for confirmation, who knows that number works. I want to try."

"You only can cash money with a credit card inside the bank, not through an ATM machine. Tomorrow morning we'll bring you to the bank. Now the bank is closed."

"Can you just please bring me to the ATM machine now?"

Peng Lung brought me to another China Bank that had an ATM machine. I tried the new password number I had entered through my cellphone this afternoon. Invalid. Tried again. Invalid again.

I sat on the stairs desperate. "Lord, help me, please," I whispered.

I tried my luck on making another call to Citibank. The officer over there, fortunately, was knowledgeable. He guided me to make a request through my telephone PIN number. Inputting my numbers didn't immediately work on first attempt. Nevertheless, it didn't take as long as it did this afternoon. Most important, I ended successfully until the new number reconfirmation input.

The sheets of red 100 yuan coming out from the ATM machine looked like gold in my eyes. "Hey! I made it! I got the money!" I exclaimed as I ran to Peng Lung and Peng Li who were waiting outside.

They didn't laugh nor smile.

Posted by automidori 01:14 Archived in China Tagged china xinjiang korla

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