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September 29, 2004

At the bank: "Bu tai mingbai" (not too clear)

Terry and I are about to take another medium-distance outing.

During China's week-long Nantional Day holiday (Oct. 1-7), we will visit our friend Zhao Jianxia. Jianxia lives in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, a little west and mostly north of Nantong. We became friendly with Jianxia during the two years she studied at the University of Kansas as a visiting scholar. We will fly to Zhengzhou and take the train back. Learning from our last holiday trip, to visit friends in Wuhan, this time we are paying for all 4 bunks in our sleeping car. (We were surprised that time to find out that we had two travel companions, although happily they turned out to be very nice people.) At $50 per bed for the 16-hour trip, it's affordable for us.

To get to the point, I had to wire transfer the money to Jianxia to buy our train tickets. The Chinese terminology isn't too complicated, so I ventured out on my on. I explained that I wanted to send money from my account at Bank of China to my friend's account at Communication Bank of China. The teller gave me a confirming explanation that I thought was simply a repetition of what I had said, then ended with "Mingbai ma?" As its English counterpart, "mingbai" means "clear" in the visual sense and also in the sense of someone understanding. ("Ma" is the Chinese word at the end of a sentence that tells you the speaker is asking a question.) I replied, "Mingbai," quite proud of myself. Next, though, the teller handed me in cash the amount of money I wanted to wire transfer, and my self-assurance crumbled. She explained (again, I guess) that I needed to go to the nearest branch of Communication Bank of China, give them the cash, and ask them to make the wire transfer. A new, young employee who wanted a chance to practice her English escorted me to the other bank, and there I successfully executed the wire transfer. Moral: Don't be too quick to say "Mingbai." -- Norty

Posted by now at 02:04 PM