January 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
My first day in Hong Kong was hectic and endless. The list of things to do:
1. Buy a SIM card for my phone
2. Open a bank account
3. Transfer money from U.S. to HK so I could withdraw it immediately
4. Exchange my USD and RMB
5. Buy some household items, like a pillow and a cup
6. Email my family & access some social networking so everybody knows I’m alive
7. Call my friend Kathy to meet for dinner
8. Shower & sleep
None of those tasks are particularly difficult, but I was a frazzled hot mess and don’t understand Cantonese, so it added a layer of complications.
After dropping off my luggage at the apartment, Bobby walked me to the nearby MTR (subway) station, showing me some shops along the way. I popped into a 7-11 to buy a SIM card (852.6702.6379 call me!) and boarded the MTR to Central, hoping to find a Citibank without too much trouble. Thankfully, I found one right outside the MTR exit I happened to choose, but there, my progress slowed to a dispirited halt.
I chose to go with Citibank because I have an account there in the U.S. (is this too much information to be revealing on the Internet??), so transferring money between the two accounts wouldn’t generate any fees. However, lately I had learned (through opening various new bank accounts at home) that banks basically hate people, especially non-rich people, and will do anything they can to squeeze money from even the most basic of checking accounts. I HATE BANKS.
Citibank HK was no different. I couldn’t qualify for the waived-fee work-pay checking account (or whatever it was called) because I was only here for an internship and didn’t have my work contract with me, so I had to open a basic checking account, which has a $100HK monthly fee unless there’s a balance of $10,000HK in there (almost $1,300US). Well, great. I already have to keep $1,500 in my U.S. Citibank account; where am I supposed to magic this extra money from?? Whatever.
I spent 2.5 hours in that bank. One third of it was listening to my banker (a young man named Axel, as if he were a character from Cars) explain everything to me, another third was spent watching the poor guy run around trying to process my paperwork while I tried to process all the information I was receiving, and the last third was spent at one of the e-kiosks on the side, trying to activate my online accounts and do a global transfer. During the last part, I had to go back to Axel twice for help.
After that experience, I truly understood the value of just keeping all your money under your mattress. Besides, the debit card they gave me starts with “666”…if that’s not an authentic sign of banking evil, I don’t know what is!
I withdrew my funds, visited the currency exchange next door, and finally had enough money to pay Bobby the deposit + one month’s rent, which came out to a total of more than $900US. Damn. I never had to pay that much for an apartment during college. $465 a month could get me a pretty nice place back in Columbia!
Stopping by a Japan Home Centre on the way back, I discovered that pillows were outrageously expensive. Most cost around $100HK (a little less than $13US), and the cheapest one I found was $49HK — but it was an embroidered throw pillow. Like, one you would have on the couch. I was pretty sure that I had bought decent pillows at Wal-Mart for $5, so color me bamboozled. I ended up buying nothing and went home, exhausted and dejected.
Fortunately, the rest of the day went according to plan, and I was happy to be reunited with Kathy, whom I had met while studying abroad in 2010.
My friends have been asking me to post photos, but I haven’t been having that many adventures because I’m working full-time. Seriously, though, I took so many photos while I was studying abroad two years ago. You guys can creep through those while I work on my next blog post, which will definitely have pictures!