Just like in the states there are many necessary amenities – water, gas, electricity, internet, rent, and filtered water. Unlike the states, paying them is always an adventure. It would be easy to just pay online or to write a check when the bill comes in the mail, but what would you do if no bill ever came and you had to pay whenever the collector showed up on your doorstep? Here are a few things that I have learned:
1. When the internet company tells you to just pay your bill at the China Construction Bank once a month, make sure you have all your paperwork with you because no one will have a clue that you are supposed to pay or even how much you are supposed to pay.
A month ago, I showed up for my once a month appointment at China Construction Bank and waited in line for 45 minutes only to be sent to the Bank of China across the street. At that bank, I waited about 30 minutes only to have the teller tell me I needed to go to China Unicom’s office. When I refused, she called China Unicom and then sent me back to China Construction.
2. When paying the electricity bill remember that you can buy as much power as you want and it is usually pretty cheap/kwh, so 200 RMB ($30) goes a long way. Remember to check your meter once a week because it could run out before you get home, and who likes a defrosted freezer?
3. Gas? Who uses gas? Oh right…for this bill you can probably work it out with the landlord when you sign the rental contract. Apparently our gas bill is paid for the year.
4. When negotiating rent with the landlord, make sure you have everything in writing and bring a lawyer with you to the rental agreement signing. There is a good chance the landlord will try to up the rent on signing day just because she can. Also remember that you will usually have to pay 3 to 6 to 12 months in advance plus realtor fees and a one month deposit and if you are lucky a foreigner tax or a full month’s rent.
5. When buying filtered water call the number on the side of your unit and give them the 4 identification numbers. Remember to use the correct tones – Yi Bai Wu San is not the same as Yi Ba Wu San. This can get really confusing when the Chinese guy you work with can complete this phone call in 4 seconds and the American guy (me) takes 10 minutes and still has to get his Chinese friend to call to make sure they understood him.
6. Finally, when you haven’t seen the water lady, expect her to come randomly demanding her money. Easter morning is when she graced us with her presence. First she pounded on our door. I dressed, closed the bedroom door, and Ni Hao’ed her. She started speaking, I shrugged, and she pushed her way through the door and into the kitchen. After checking the meter under the sink (a feature I didn’t know we had), she apparently told me how much I owed her. When I didn’t understand, she wrote a bunch of Chinese characters on a piece of paper. Since I don’t speak Chinese it should be assumed I don’t read it either, but I just shrugged, so she tried to push her way into the bedroom. After I stopped her, she pulled out a calculator, showed me the price which I paid, and she left. Happy Easter to us!