Most of my days are a combination of taking care of business (doing stuff that needs to get done both here and in Canada) and exploring my new environment. Since pretty much everything here is new for us, most everything falls into the “exploring” category. A unique experience of this type can be found in the process of setting up banking and cell phone service here in Hong Kong.
When Paul and I were here on our April reconnaissance trip, Paul opened a bank account at HSBC without any problem. Shortly after I arrived, we went to the branch to add me to the account and make it joint so that I can access all of our millions of dollars (I can say that now that we are dealing in HK dollars). The first such excursion was a bit of a bust. We waited almost an hour to speak to someone who could not give me a bank card for a joint account but could if I opened my own new account (??). She couldn’t do any of it anyway because I didn’t have my passport with me. That was my fault; I thought my HK identity card would suffice but that wasn’t the case. We went back a week later, this time with an appointment and passport, and saw someone who sent us on to someone else who was actually very friendly and helpful, but we still came away empty-handed. This time we learned that they require proof of address for me, meaning they need a utility bill or something showing our current address. A copy of our lease does not count because that is “private”. Well, we’ve only been at our current address for three weeks and no bills have arrived yet, so how’s that supposed to work? However, they would accept as proof of address my Canadian driver’s license or a utility bill from Canada (???!!!). And after providing said proof of address, Paul will have to sign a form saying that I am really his wife and live with him at this address. So another trip to the bank is in our near future. Meanwhile, our millions languish, sadly unspent.
I read an expat forum that has long threads about similar experiences. The terms used by others to describe their HK banking experiences are far too colourful to repeat here, so it seems this is nothing new.
We are also intrepid explorers of the HK cell phone service system. Again, Paul waltzed right in after he arrived and set up an account. We went in to add me to his account and all went well. I left with a functioning cell phone and, I was told, a “lucky” cell phone number. A few days later I received a text from the company saying I would have to validate my address (oh no!!) by following instructions that would be sent to me by mail (really??). Well, nothing came in the mail but I did get another text saying I had to validate my address or my service would be cut off in five days. I called – but because the account is under Paul’s name, they could/would not help me (shades of Rogers Canada there). Off Paul goes to their shop where he discovered they had entered our new address incorrectly, hence no mail. But guess what? They still cut off my service!! So Paul had to call and go through the whole explanation again which, believe me, is not always easy depending on the service person’s English. So my cell service is back, but we are still waiting for this piece of mail which, upon receipt, will contain instructions on how to validate my address ONLINE (?????!!!!!). I’m dying to find out if they will accept my Canadian driver’s license. I’ll tell you, I’ve never been so eager to receive a utility bill.
All this seems to be in keeping with the dichotomies we’ve noticed since Paul’s head-hunting process began a year ago. While HK is a global financial and banking centre, the sector has a bizarre approach to customer service. And while HK was the first place to have residential gigabit connection (which means it has super-fast internet connection) and just about everyone here has their nose buried in their cell phone, the system here still relies on regular mail to set up an account. I am certain that these are just small examples of huge paradoxes and contradictions that exist here in Hong Kong. Even in my short time here, I see odd interplay between West and East traditions, the super-modern and archaic. I’m really interested to explore more of this … but preferably with a bank card and cell phone in hand.