(This Is China-52) March 23, 2019 – Chapter 53 from THIS IS CHINA



PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China. It costs too much to get a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, USA, March 23, 2019   stephenehling@hotmail.com     blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com

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Chapter 53

I arrived in China January 16, 2016 and Benny had informed me to go to the central train station in Xiamen to pick up my tickets. The first of my travel in China would be on January 21. In fact it was my idea to do so after what happened to Youli and I during an earlier WUYI holidays when we were fighting hopelessly to pick up the tickets and the train left without us. Armed with my American passport and cheerful spirit and a student—in case I needed someone to assist me with some translation from Putonghua to English, Jay and I arrived at the newly renovated train station expecting the whole of China to be there fighting for seats to their different destinations across China. As expected, the lines at the different windows were long but I was not feeling anxious because I had plenty of time to wait for my turn to pick up my six tickets to six different cities—from Xiamen to Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Nanchang, Wenzhou, and back to Xiamen. At first, I was a little impatient seeing the people before me were not moving fast enough. Once or twice I was tempted to shout out my dissatisfaction or demanded American-style quick and prompt service from the slow workers inside the ticket office. “This is China voice” came back to me loud and clear. After seemingly an eternal wait—I am convinced it is easier and quicker to see the Queen of England, albeit through the iron bars of the gate to Buckingham Palace if you are lucky—I came face to face with the female worker behind a thick glass wall, and smilingly thrust my American passport at her face, so to speak. She took a quick look at my passport, not me, and said, “What is your ticket number?”

“Ticket number? What ticket number.” I said in the same cold-blooded manner like her, and that, “I had paid for the six tickets months ago, and now I am here to pick up my tickets.” I could speak some simple Putonghua. But she repeated, without that service-style friendliness that I could and would expect when I was back in America. “Ticket numbers?” I forgot I am in China. This is China. Do what you are told and you will be ok, a voice told me deep within my soul.

Jay was next to me and could sense my temperature rising uncontrollably, skipping a notch or two, “What tickets?” I said angrily. I should have learned to control my impatience and anger long ago…for God sake, This is China, Steve. I had lived in China for the past seven years, and had known and experienced the poor services in China, from the theater to the bus station, or airport, or restaurant, or the bank.

Jay is always a calm person and he took the whole situation calmly and told me with that cunning smile on his face: “Learn to accept it, Steve. Just do what she told you,

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Steve. You are in China, Steve.” Better still, tolerate it, like a Chinese bride the first days with her new mother-in-law. I had heard this refrain like a familiar line from a popular song, a thousand times the past seven years. Learn to accept it. This is China, Steve. Now I behaved like an “ugly” American, not the authentic Chinese that I have professed to be in front of my students. I searched desperately for my mobile phone and knew who to call. Benny was the one who had ordered the tickets for me while I was still in the United States.

“Hi Benny, this is Steve at the central train station. The office clerk wants me to show her my train ticket numbers. Can you send them to me? Again?” How presumptuous to think Benny would act instinctively at my command. I interrupted him at work. But Benny is Benny, always ready to act at my command, day or night. “No problem. I will do it right now.” Benny was in his office. He was as quick and efficient as a Japanese robot! He had it all in the palm of his hand, literally. Or in his mobile phone. And using the WeChat, Benny was able to send me the six ticket numbers instantly, and I handed my phone to the clerk with the ticket numbers to make her happy.

And like a robot, she had no problem inserting the numbers one at a time into her machine, and out came the tickets in the correct sequence, from the first city to the last city of my itinerary. I finally got the tickets from her. I thanked her profusely, like a child who was given his first toy. I counted each one carefully, and read the names of the cities according to my itinerary. The first day of my travel would be on January 21, from Xiamen to Fuzhou city.

Jay could not quite comprehend why I was still very upset and pissed about the whole incident, now that I had in my hands all the six tickets that I had ordered and paid for by Benny when I was still in America.

“Jay? Does this make any sense to you?”


“I mean, Benny ordered the tickets using my American passport and my name. And you would think all the information is somewhere in the database inside the computer system. Right? The clerk should be able, with my name and my American passport, to retrieve all the information and issue me the tickets. Think of it. I gave her my passport and she is looking at me. The photo and I are the same person. She could not suspect that I could have a stolen passport. I am utterly confused by her insisting I produced my ticket numbers before she would issue me the tickets. It is not making sense, does it, to you, Jay?”

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This is China, I could see Jay’s mouth uttering those words. Jay looked at me and must have wondered why I was acting so fucking crazy, troubled by something that seemed very trivial or insignificant to him. Or normal in China. I am an American and I was not happy the way I was treated at a public place, the central train station. This is 21st century China, number two now in the world following the United States, but in some strange ways, many aspects of life in China are still a little behind time, despite the fact there is a lot of sharing, and copying, and stealing of trade secrets and business practices, between China and the rest of the civilized world.

I would be stupid to think maybe the computers are made in China, technologically less superior than the American Microsoft systems? Microsoft is everywhere in China. I did read a report by Reuters in May 20, 2014 that Microsoft banned the use of Microsoft’s Windows 8 on government computers. And in that same year, Microsoft ended support for the thirteen-year-old Windows XP in China, hoping to encourage the adoption of newer, safer, and secure versions of Windows. Of course, this action left many XP users vulnerable to viruses and hacking. XP, at the time, made up fifty percent of China’s desktop market.

Some suspected maybe finally China had its own OS at last. SCMP did publish on September 14, 2015 a report, saying, “After many failed attempts at promoting homegrown operating systems, Beijing may finally be making headway against Google, Microsoft and Apple, with more than a third of Dell machines in the country running an OS co-developed by the Chinese military.” But the same report raised a serious doubt. “Even with Dell’s support of NeoKylin, the Chinese OS has a long way to go if it is to make any headway against Microsoft.” In January of 2016, StatCounter reported 97.2 percent of desktop computers in China are still using different Windows with the majority still using the discontinued Windows XP than a non-Microsoft OS.

So the fault at the train ticket office was not the computer system. You could say it has to do with the people who are using the system.

I do know China is still struggling to perfect its own OS for Chinese computers. Our Chinese systems are different, the often heard response from Chinese students in China, to calm my anger and doubts about the efficiency of our government or the university.

Jay smiled a little and said, “Steve, This is China. Maybe we have a different system?”

“Jay, that is why we have computers in work places today in the world. That is why

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Steve Jobs was so successful with the fine tuning of his Apple computer products and systems. And why so many people and businesses in the world are using and continue to use Apple products because of their fine quality and efficiency. Steve Jobs tried so hard to make Apple computers user friendly, Jay. If I go to the airport, all I need is my American passport, and everything else would be available and accessible from the database. It does not matter where in the world…all they would ask for is my passport. I had booked the tickets and I had paid for them long before my journey. But it was not happening at our Chinese train station. Do you understand what I am trying to say? That is why we have the internet and the computer. You saw the clerk at the train station, she just sat there and seemed helpless, and unable to retrieve my tickets without my ticket numbers. Did you see she just sat there and did nothing while there were people standing in a long line behind me, about to kill me because the clerk had delayed issuing me my rightful tickets, which I had paid for months ago? What happened to the computer system in China, Jay?”

If they could do it at the airports in China, with just my American passport, and issued me my boarding pass and flight ticket, based on the fact I had ordered the tickets months ago through a travel agency, what happened at the train stations?

Jay remained speechless like a criminal waiting for the guilty verdict. I hope Jay was paying attention to the drama unfolding before his eyes. Because Jay is now studying tourism and tourism management at the university. Anything and everything related to
tourism should interest him…like helping a foreign tourist to buy a simple train ticket in China. And knowledgeable enough to inform foreign tourists of the “different system” in China, or the Chinese ways of doing things. After all, a computer is a computer, anywhere in the world. But, This is China.

I could only snicker, cynically, “Ticket numbers, please?”


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