It's a question I find myself asking every time I need to call the Bank of China about my secured "international" credit card, Great Wall Credit Card. I need to call them more months than not to request that they fax my statement because, well, China is still a developing country and the postal system isn't quite what it should be.
They're apparently trying to modernize their banking system with extra conveniences, such as adding an automated system that allows you to enter your fax number without ever involving a "service" representative. Unfortunately, there is no "English service" as of yet. Nevertheless, every time I call I am directed to this automated system. Of course, I then need to remind the service representative that the system is only in Chinese and, just in case she wasn't sure, I am not fluent enough in Chinese to use it. Invariably, I am then put on hold so that the clerk can verify this information because foreigners tend to get very confused in China and are just full of misinformation. Sometimes I am disconnected at this juncture, today I wasn't.
"Yes, you are right, there is no English service. Do you have a Chinese friend there who can call for you?"
"No I don't, could I just give you my credit card information so that you could do it?"
"Okay, okay..." (the Chinese have that word down to a science, that and "hello" and "bye") "now I have to ask some information for security."
In the interest of time, I decided to just rattle off, in relatively quick succession, all the information I knew she was about to ask: my name, credit card number, expiration date, passport number and mobile phone number. That proved to be a big mistake. I guess it's not official unless she asks for the information one question at a time. Or, more likely, she just couldn't follow my proffered responses to information that she had to be staring at on the computer screen in front of her. I'm guessing she must have been an English major in college, meaning she scored far too poorly on the Gao Kao (national college entrance exam) to pursue her requested field of study.
"What is your home number?" I told her after looking it up (I can never remember my home number as I never use it. In that respect, I have a lot in common with most Chinese in regard to their 12 years of mandatory English language classes).
"When did you open this card?" I correctly assumed she was referring to the month and year I applied for the account and gave her that information.
"What is your credit limit?" Fair enough I thought.
"Did you put any deposit for this card?" I wondered to myself if this was a trick question as the card is secured.
"How much did you pay?" I correctly surmised that she wanted to know the precise deposit amount.
"Do you have any other cards for this account?" Now this was a first for me. Another trick question I suppose or maybe she had just run out of pertinent questions and felt she needed to ask me the same number of questions she would have if I had not previously provided the rehearsed answers.
Now for a question of my own to let her know that she was trying my patience, "Would you like to know my blood type too?"
"Okay." This girl either had a very sophisticated sense of humor or absolutely no idea what I had just asked.
"O negative," I answered with the same relatively calm demeanor I had used to respond to all her previous questions.
"What is your billing address?" I guessed she had no idea what "O negative" meant: either that or she is an "AB" blood type personality herself and just couldn't relate to an "O."
I told her and then hinted "Would you like my fax number?"
"What is your fax number?"
"Thank God," I blurted out before giving it her. I deliberately and ever-so-slowly over-enunciated each number and then heard "Okay, I will review" as she read back the number to me correctly.
"When will you fax this to me?" I wondered out loud, already knowing what the answer would be as it's the same every time I ask.
Of course, that was two hours ago and still no fax, which is par for the course.
I'm about to call them back and have decided that, this time, I will not be proffering any information. I also just decided that I absolutely, positively have to start taking Chinese language lessons for real this time.
Oh, and by the way, before I forget: Never pray for patience. God has one hell of a sense of humor: You might just find yourself living and working in mainland China one day.