"The machine ate our money!"
"What? Did it give you a receipt?" I asked.
"Yes, but it said 'deposited money 0 yuan'."
Cripes! Can machines lie? "OK, well don't panic, we'll take it to the teller."
ATM machines in China can do deposits as well as withdrawals in China. Which might seem strange but it takes an age to get to a teller window so it is often the best way to go. The ATM machine in question had just eaten 9000 yuan of our hard-earned cash (almost NZD2000).
We waited in a queue where she told me about other well known cases where banks denied responsibility for the missing money. In one instance a machine regurgitated money shortly after the person went into the bank and a passer-by took it. Since the bank didn't have the money, they didn't compensate the person for a loss. In another case, probably apocryphal, someone called the bank after having a large deposit eaten without a trace; the bank said that there was no-one available. The customer, doubtful about the response, called a policeman over and used another phone to call the bank saying that an ATM disgorged the same amount suddenly. A technician was there straight away.
"OK, what seems to be the problem?" we were asked.
"The ATM ate our money."
"Why did it do that? Did you ask it?"
Surpressing outrage as much as humanly possible, we went through the required procedure of forms until everything was about right.
"You'll have to wait until Monday." It was Friday.
"Couldn't you just check the machine now?"
"No, we can't do that. You'll have to wait for Monday."
"If there is problem, we'll call you."
"And if not?"
"We'll deposit the money back into your account. But we won't call you."
This interesting protocol took a little while to sink in but our man at the bank insisted that it'd be the way things would play. The effect is that on Monday you'd be left helpless waiting by phone for a non-ring. And come 5pm, you'd creep slowly to the bank, put your card in the machine to check the balance with bated breath. This isn't American Idol - you don't need to make us wait until after the commercial break!
So Monday came. No call. We went to the bank together and checked our balance. The money had been restored. We celebrated with cheese and wine. Nice ending but does it really need to be this way?
This was the Bank of China. "Wei renmin fuwu", literally "for+people (do) service", is the slogan and guiding principle for the Communist party and any state-owned organisation, including the whole local banking sector. It is meant to guide civil servants to see their job as servants to the masses... Yeah, it was never going to happen. It's often made fun of by adding -bi to renmin, to make "wei renminbi fuwu", for+ the people's money (RMB), do service" as often they won't do anything unless there is something in it for them. Or the system extorts maximum cost to the individual to achieve whatever small ends you wished to achieve.
In my fourth year in China, I still cannot help but make snide comments about how unexcited government workers act, how half-open buddha-eyed they appear, how disrespectfully some hurl your change on a counter, and how they may speak and ignore. There are exceptions fortunately and usually it is in particular organisations. And it isn't fair to say that the problem is just state-owned companies. The culture of reluctant, lethargic and rude service is in the private sector as well where you'd have optimistically thought that people would be more encouraged to smile, jump up and offer you something different.