Saturday, July 21, 2007

Live in China Forever?

I have been asked on many occasions "So, are you going to live in China forever or are you going to come back to the UK?"

I don't believe it's an either or, but there certainly is an answer which is "I'm not going to live in China forever"

"Why?", I can hear both of my loyal readers ask. Well, it's not the people, the politics, the traffic, the noise, the spitting, the lack of queuing, etc., etc.

It's this.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Curse of the Spam Filter?

So, is it me, or is it Spam Filtering?

Being a decent (ahem) individual, I came across three instances recently where I saw that people had issues with their websites and contacted them: - they had a sponsored link on a Google page for a product I was interested in, but the link didn't actually work. I emailed them out of kindness (oh alright and a 'completer finisher' personality trait) and they fixed the link.
- hand written greeting card company. My complaint was that whilst in China I got a message from their card processor Netbanx saying that I couldn't pay because of the country I was located in. Trying from Singapore met the same result so I emailed them to suggest that expats might actually find that their service was quite useful so they might want to change card processors. Currently their site says they're 'undergoing site maintenance for several weeks' so they may have bigger fish to try. - This is a service that I actually pay to subscribe to - every time I go in, it popped up a 'Go to Vault China' link which didn't work. I emailed them. They fixed it.

So, it is me? Is it spam filtering? Is it the death of common courtesy? In all three cases there was a business benefit to them following up on my email (and in one case I am a real, live paying customer) and yet no-one thought to flash me a 'Thanks for your email'. For shame.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's Getting Warm

Ah, Hangzhou in the summer. These lazy, hazy summer days.

They certainly can be hazy but you need to understand they're not lazy because you're not doing anything, just that you'd have a heart attack and die if you tried to move at a faster pace.

The car, admittedly parked in the full sun, estimated the outside temperature to be 45 degrees Celcius this afternoon (113 F to save, er, older English people from looking it up) although I'm certain the driver's seat was hotter than that.

Right now reckons it's 34 (feels like 39) whereas tomorrow is going to be an even sunnier 37 (feels like 43 - gotta love that humidity).

Don't you wish you were in Hangzhou right now?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

DIY Diary

I used to own a Page-a-day diary which came preprinted with a whole year's worth of pages already for filling in appointments and stuff. It was a bit bulky but did the job of keeping track of future appointments and allowing me to plan.

One thing I've noticed in China is that a lot of people use books that look like diaries but, in practice, only have a space at the top for you to write the date in.

On the current day, that's easy enough. I could simply write '2007/07/14' at the top and away I go. But what would I do with a request for a meeting in a month's time. Choices are obviously, 1) Fill in all the dates for the next month in advance or 2) Not record the meeting in the diary at all.

If it was me, I'd go with option 1) (actually I'd go with option '0' which is to buy a preprinted diary) but I'd want to make sure that I didn't forget my important appointment but my guess is that many government officials go with option 2).

One of the joys of Chinese Business Life is that of emergency appointments. My explanation for this is that, thanks to these diaries, appointments simply don't exist until they're written into the diary but, as people only work on the current and the following day, that appointments only come into being a maximum of 24 hours before they take place.

Recently the new head of our local government zone requested a meeting with us, specifically at 2pm on the following day, and would like, after his reception, a presentation - in Chinese - of our company. We don't actually have that as all our clients happen to be overseas so a full day's productivity is magically lost from a variety of management and admin staff preparing for this.

And now, just as I'm writing about American Cowboys I get a message saying could I please attend a meeting on Monday with some visitors from overseas who are coming to the our local government zone. A reply of 'I'm actually quite busy, can you please tell me who the visitors are so I can decide' was met with 'actually we don't know who they are'. My guess is this would have been written down some time ago if only it wasn't for the DIY diaries. Sigh.

Friday, July 13, 2007


So, you want to send a small amount of money to someone in the Philippines who needs the cash immediately and has no bank account. What do you do? Your mind may turn to Western Union - self-advertised as "a fast, reliable and convenient money transfer".

You determine that the recipient has a convenient Western Union location to receive the money and go online to (because the UK is where your credit card was issued) - reassured by the statement of that you can "send money overseas in minutes*".

You are offered a choice of currencies so enter 3000 PHP (about 30 GBP) and are told "Maximum amount is 500 GBP" - some fine coding there. Enter 30 GBP. The first attempt gets rejected with a message stating "There is a problem".
You try again with another card and get "In order to provide final approval for your transaction, we need additional information". You're curoius now - it's 30 GBP so can't have fallen foul of any "money laundering" processes (the transaction fee is 12 GBP so it's unlikely any money launderers would break their payments up into such small payments unless they own a lot of Western Union shares). There's a hotline number but it's in Ireland and it's closed! The person in the Philippines is already waiting to collect the money so what do you do.

You search for another number of the site and find the US 24 hour hotline. Success. You ring and listen to a long message telling you that despite it being an 800 number it's not free (wondering all that time if you're already paying to listen to the message) before you arrive in Automated Response Hell.

  • Press 1 to do something unrelated
  • Press 2 to do something unrelated
Down to option 7 by which point you can't remember which option was most appropriate and there was no "or hold the line to speak to a representative"

You start again and pick one that offers you a choice of "Send a new transfer or check fees". You try this but only get a submenu which offers a choice of "check domestic fees" or "check international fees" - no send a new transfer, damn, you can't get through to a person! You hang up and start again. This time cursing the "it's not free" message and simply mashing the keypad with your palm until you hear a human on the line.

You explain, carefully, that you have commenced an online transfer but have received a message asking for more information.

The highly-trained, American, customer services representative leaps into action. Tired of poor customer service in China you know that the Americans have this part down to an art:

"OK sir, so you want to create a new transfer to send money overseas".

You re-explain, carefully, everything you've already said.

"Ah! You want to know the fees for sending money overseas!"

You bite your tongue and explain, using the shortest possible words and speaking slowly in case Chad can't comprehend English the way it's supposed to be spoken.

"Ah! I can't help you with that. I'll put you through to the credit card department"

This sounds like a minor success and you are momentarily pleased. You're paying by credit. The credit card department sounds like they might be the right people. You wait expectantly.

"Good evening Tammy speaking. How may I help you".

You explain, for the fourth time, in monosyllables and get the reply you're half expecting...

"Sorry sir, I can't help you with that. I can put you through to the international department."

Customer Services drone 3 comes on the line. You begin to wonder if this call from China to the USA has already cost you more than the 30 GBP you were trying to send in the first place. You explain. Again.

"Sorry sir, I can't help you with that. Can I take your transfer number and I can pass the details over to someone else who can help you.".

This sounds promising so you comply. And wait.

"Good evening Western Union. This is Charlene. How may I help you?"

You grimace and explain the whole story again only for her to say "Is that Mr.B?". You assume that she did, in fact, get all of the details from drone 3 but was just prolonging your "customer service experience". You confirm it is, assuming that you're finally getting somewhere. Alas.

"Sorry Sir, I can't help you with that. I'll put you through to someone who can help" your cry of "But..." drifts away on the wind.

Drone 5 comes online. You begin to notice that each time they transfer you the call gets quieter. You aren't surprised when you discover that drone 5 neither received any details from Charlene, nor is she able to assist so on to drone 6.

Drone 6 is barely audible. You ask him to speak up. He doesn't. You ask, very loudly (in case you're equally quiet) for him to speak up. He doesn't. Then he hangs up.

Once you've retrieved your phone from where it landed and reassembled it you wonder what to do next. The bank! You ring your bank (who have a charming, helpful, 24 hour customer service (God bless you HSBC Premier Team) who not only confirm that the transaction has cleared but they look up a UK 24-hour telephone number for Western Union for you.

You ring and explain that you've been trying to "send money overseas in minutes*" for over an hour now. You are, however, told:

"Oh, that's an online transaction. You need to ring this number. It's open 7am-11pm UK time"

You patiently explain that you're in China and it's in the middle of the day here and, after all, it's only 30 quid! Hang on, you remember that when you rang this number it said you could send money over the phone, so you ask "So, can I do a new transaction over the phone and forget the online transaction".

"Yes sir, you can. But you've just told me you're in China and you can only do it from the UK so sorry, sir, I can't help you".

Thwarted at every turn you give up, dejected, and conclude you're going to have to wait 4 hours until 7am UK time.

The appointed hour arrives and you ring. By now, you're in the office so you can use the phone system to route your call to a UK office and then on to their hotline, hoping the call looks like it originates in the UK.

"Hello..... Western.. Union" - clearly the online team have just come out of hibernation. You explain. Finally you're talking to the team of experts. They'll be able to fix this in a jiffy.


Nervously you explain again. Surely to God these people can help. He asks the question you were expecting.

"Where are you calling from?"

"Liverpool. I'm calling from my office in Liverpool. I'm Scouse me. Eh, eh!" (quickly muting the call you start to cough from your performance).

"Hold the line"

Minutes pass and he returns explaining that your transaction looks suspicious.

"You tried three times to do this transaction using two different credit cards".

You explain, trying oh, so hard, to avoid sarcasm, that it was only 30 GBP and that the messages were so vague that you had no idea what was going on.

More minutes pass and success. Your transaction goes through!

Only 5 hours after you started to "Send money overseas in minutes*". So, apparently the '*' is to cover up the fact that it's really "Send money overseas in 300 minutes".

Transfer amount: 30 GBP
Their fee: 12 GBP
Many, varied, lengthy international phone calls: God knows but no doubt more than 42 GBP
The catharsis from being able to blog about it and share your customer service experience with the world: Priceless

(with apologies to Mastercard for using their strapline - your part in this went OK!).

A fast, reliable and convenient way to send money abroad.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Frankie Update

Frankie Magazine Cover, originally uploaded by Ambling Sheep.

So, it's been a while since I wrote about little Frankie... Hard to believe that she's getting on for 8 months now...

The photos we had done at 4 months are everywhere - as you can see - apparently there's even a wall full of then in the HangzhouDasha department store. Frankie's even been on TV several times (something everyone appears to have seen here) after YY rang the local government hotline over our plight in trying to get Frankie registered here (that's been ongoing for months - more about this if/when it's ever resolved).

She is very rapidly moving out of the phase where I guess a lot of guys would describe as "Very nice... but what does it do?" to being a little person. Within the last two weeks she has learned to clap, can finally wave 'bye-bye' and, if you hold her up, dance to music.

I fear the guilt-o-meter has just been turned up another notch - particularly as I'm going overseas for 6 weeks in a couple of weeks...

Frankie Boss-eyed, originally uploaded by Ambling Sheep.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

They've Got Me

After modest pressure from Chickie and Pete I've decided that I am, in all probability, capable of running a half marathon.

I did a couple of 12k runs recently, one near my new apartment along the banks of the Qiantang River which was nice as it's completely flat, and another run to the office (also 12k but certainly not flat) and I'm convinced 21k isn't that much further to be a huge problem (obviously a full marathon is a different prospect!).

I am going to be (hopefully) signed up for the Singapore Half Marathon shortly and am currently waiting to find out the date of the Hangzhou Half Marathon (as I can't run if it clashes with an MBA weekend). Unfortunately no sooner do I make the decision to train for a half marathon than I fall sick with two colds one immediately after the other.

It's worth a quick plug for my (on my last three runs anyway) new running companion, Podrunner. Whilst Dance music isn't naturally my thing (my previously oft-used running music was Linkin Park), running to a constant beat stops me from keep changing my pace when the music changes pace. Just need them to be a bit longer (like 2.5 hours) to get a half marathon done without having to fiddle with the iPod.

At this rate I'll be joining the newly formed Hangzhou Hash House Harriers before you know it.