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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Culture Shock: Paying Bills

I paid bills here for the first time. It did not go as planned, and it was not as smooth as things were back home.

When I lived in America here's how I paid bills: Once a month I opened my browser, logged into my password manager, and clicked on 5 different bookmarks (power, water, natural gas, health insurance, and car insurance). Each of these links opened into their own tab with my username and password prefilled. I was instantly logged into each page where I could see my latest bill that needed to be paid. My bank or credit card information was all pre-loaded, so I just clicked "PAY" and it was done. Seconds later I would get emails confirming that I had made my payments. Easy as pie. I could pay all 5 bills in a matter of 5 minutes, all while sitting on my couch in my pajamas. The utility and insurance companies made it very easy for me to give them my money. 

Image courtesy flickr user Smaku 

Contrast that with my experience the past few weeks (yes...weeks, it took that long) as I tried

to pay bills here. How do I know how much I owe? I don't check it online, that's for sure. I have 3 slips of paper that were given to me. I don't know where they came from, and I don't know how to get more if I loose them. There's a lot of words and numbers on there that I don't understand, but apparently there are 6 account numbers on there somewhere. 

So I took my 3 slips of paper to the post office, which is where you're supposed to be able to pay all of your bills. I handed over the 3 slips hoping the guy would know what to do with them and then I am told that I can only pay 3 of the 6 bills. OK. I want to pay those, but shouldn't I be able to pay all of them here? Turns out that I'm not able to pay one of the bills at the post office. I have to use my local bank account's ATM to do that. Too bad I don't have a local bank, and too bad the banks don't allow me to open up a bank account while I'm on this type of visa. Looks like we won't have cable because I don't know how to pay the bill. (Yes, they've already turned our cable off.)

The other 2 bills are both power bills. (For some reason this house has 2 power bills.) The guy tells me that the post office doesn't have a deposit with the bank this week (whatever that means), so I can either pay the bill directly at the bank or come back to the post office next week when they'll have a deposit. The post office is much more convienent so I wait and go back to the post office the following week. 

When I get out of my car, I again hand over my slip of paper. Here's how the dialogue goes:

"Yeah, I'm here to pay the power bill."
"You can't pay that here. We don't have a deposit."
*He hands the man beside me his receipt for paying his bill.*
"But last week you told me to come here this week and I could pay my bill." 
"Yeah, I waited on you last week, but you didn't come. You could have paid it last week."
"No, I came last week and you told me I couldn't pay because you didn't have a deposit, but I could come back this week and pay."
"Your bill is too high to pay. You have to go the bank like I told you last week."
"So can I normally pay this bill here."
"Yeah. But you have to pay it at the bank now because it's too high."
"Ok, so where's the bank."
"It's on Doctor Rd."
"Oh, close to the university?"
"Yeah, close to the university."
"Ok, thanks."
"You're welcome."

Ok. I don't even know what just happened, but I decided to just get it over with and pay the bill no matter what. I get in my car and drive to Doctor Rd. I go from one end of the road to the other. This includes driving past a ridiculous bottle neck in front of the university where cars, motorcycles, buses, rickshaws, and pedestrians are jammed together going every possible direction every-man-for-himself style. There's no bank on this road, so I turn back around get to drive past the traffic circus in front of the university again. I ended up driving my car off the side of the road to go around another car that's trying to cross in front of me. This car is basically blocking the 2 "lanes" of traffic on my side of the road so my lane drives behind him to go around him, and the other lane eases over into the oncoming traffic lane to go around the front of this car. This is normal here. So just as I get back to where I started from (20 minutes later) I catch a small glimpse of the bank's logo to my right. Turns out the the bank isn't on Doctor Rd. It's near Doctor Rd. on another road. Ok, we're getting closer now. 

This picture is nowhere close to adequately showing what traffic is like, but it's the best I've got.

Oh, but wait, you can't get the bank from my side of the road. I have to drive until I find a spot to pull a u-turn to get to the other side of the road. I drive about 0.5 miles and find one of the designated u-turn spots and begin the long process of making a U-turn. It's rush hour. (I use the term loosely as there's really no definite time when traffic will be bad.) After forcing my way into the steady flow of traffic that's moving at about 5 mph, I'm finally on the right side of the road to go to the bank. The traffic is awful. Just as bad as in front of the university, but as least it's mostly going in one direction. After another 10 minutes I finally make it to the parking lot where the bank is. This parking lot is the reason traffic is so bad on this road. A school just happens to be letting out. It's a private school which means most of the parents are a little better off and most of them have cars. Cars that they're using to pick up their children. I turn into the parking lot which is packed. Cars are parked really close to each other. There's only enough space for the entering traffic to drive one way. Right as I pull into the parking lot, the lady 2 cars in front of me decides that she's just going to park right there and wait for her kid. That's right. She parked her car so that no one could go past her. I can't move, and neither can the car behind me or the car behind that one that decided turn across traffic, so basically the entire road is blocked because of this one lady. It takes her like 10 minutes to get her kid, so the WHOLE road is blocked for 10 minutes as in not a single car can move at all, because this lady wanted to get her kid. I'm not real big on the whole "go green" thing, but this lady's decision just caused about 200 cars to sit idle on the road for 10 minutes. That's 2000 minutes of idle time which 33 hours and 20 minutes. I don't know how many gallons of gas that is, but I know it's a lot.

FINALLY, the lady moves her car and I immediately go and find a parking spot. (I mean how hard would it have been for her to have parked her car 100 feet away and walked?) Little man is asleep, and I'm by myself (the Mrs. was at language school), so I can't leave him in there. So I unbuckle his carseat (do we really need a carseat if traffic rarely gets above 25 mph?) and lug that heavy thing into the bank. No one is in the bank. Actually there are lots of customers, but no employees. I grab a seat and just sit there for 5 minutes before I see the first employee. I hand her my slip of paper and she begins to process my bill. Another customer walks up to the counter and gives the teller something, so the teller drops what she's doing with my bill and starts processing whatever this other customer has given her. She finishes in about 2 minutes and resumes processing my bill. She asks for payment and I pay her. And that's how you pay bills here.

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