My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In Which Our Hero Attempts to Exchange Some Currency (July 22, 2010)

Almost as soon as we got upstairs to our room, AJ & I decided we'd better get in a last round of souvenir shopping -- plus it was time to pick up that extra suitcase we needed to carry 'em all back home! (Two important notes to those traveling like we did: First, buy the kiddo his/her own seat for the flight home because you'll all be lots more comfortable with the added bonus of having the full complement of baggage allowance for an additional person. Second, when you're nearing the return home, don't be stingy with buying souvenirs for yourself or to give away to friends back home; you'll regret every single, "Nope, I think I'd better hang onto the money instead" comment once you're back home.)

Anyway, there's a Bank of China branch right next door to the White Swan (almost directly across from the 7-11) and we were a little short on cash, so I headed over to change some more Dollars into Yuan while AJ got the Pipsqueak ready for a shopping trip. I walked in and noticed they operated on a "wait until your number is called" system (luckily the scrolling message boards alternated between Chinese & English), and then noticed an ATM-style machine on one side that was apparently where the numbers came from And then noticed that there wasn't a single recognizable character, indicator, icon, or pointer anywhere on its screen, just totally unintelligible (to me) Chinese characters with arrows pointing to various buttons. (Dude, you really shoulda spent more time with those Rosetta Stone CDs...!)  I must've stood there for 5 minutes staring at the screen, desperately willing it to translate itself into something obvious, when the young guard realized what was going on, came over and asked, "Change?" (possibly the only word of English he knew) and when I smiled and vigorously shook my head yes, pushed the appropriate button for me and gave me my little number ticket with a smile.

After many a "xie xie" (hey, the guy was armed, y'know) I picked a seat in the waiting area and plunked myself down. After a few minutes, my sister & niece appeared but the Pipsqueak didn't want to sit still so AJ took her back outside in the stroller while I waited. And then AJ wheeled her back & forth in front of the bank while I waited. And then AJ wheeled her down to the end of the block & back a couple of times while I waited... and then AJ wheeled her into a nearby store & shopped for a while... Just about the time I was actually beginning to doze off, my number came up and I zipped over to the appropriate window. The very polite young woman knew enough English to coach me through the appropriate paperwork and then began to examine my money.

Every single bill.

In detail.

Twice.  (No, I am NOT exagerrating.)

We'd been coached well in advance of our trip to take only "like new" bills -- or at least the best quality we could -- and had been carefully choosing to change only the crispest, least wrinkled, cleanest bills throughout the trip... But even taking into account all the other times I'd exchanged Dollars for Yuan (Beijing Airport,  the Henan Plaza, the Guangxi Wharton, the Guilin Royal Bravo), this was absolutely the most detailed, most complete, most microscopic examination of U.S. currency I'd seen outside a TV movie about counterfeiters. (On the plus side, it gave me plenty of time to appreciate the little old lady at the window next to me yelling alternately at the teller and then at some poor soul on the other end of her cell phone, something about missing paperwork as far as I could tell...) Eventually, the teller handed back a $100 bill I could've sworn was perfect, and pointed out a teeny tiny little tear (maybe 1/16" long) on one edge. I apologized and passed her a different bill, which was carefully examined -- notice I didn't say "quickly" -- until finally the teller put all the U.S. cash into an automatic counting machine and had me sign for a smallish wad of Yuan.

I thanked the teller, crammed everything into my wallet, and zipped it into one of my pockets. (Travel tip: cargo pants with large-ish zippered pockets may not be the epitome of style, but they provide peace of mind when carrying money & IDs!) I scared the (still PO'd) little old lady next to me by smiling & nodding at her, smiled at the guard & gave him one last "xie xie," smiled & nodded at the guy who'd been sitting & waiting next to me, and made good my escape. I managed to find AJ & the Pipsqueak in the store next door, and we set off to Jordon's for squeaky shoes and a new suitcase. (We'd been pricing suitcases almost since arriving in Guangzhou, and he had the best deal.)

NEXT: The red couch at long last!

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