Everything in China is complicated. Even simple things.
For instance, for the entire first half of March, internet access was… variable. You see, China’s two big important political bodies, the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, both had their Big Meetings earlier this month. This meant that VPNs around China went crazy for a while. The censors went around making everybody’s lives harder by really shutting down the internet.
This meant that I spent most of my day at work swearing creatively at the internet (because, of course, since I work for a tech company, using the internet is very important). After spending eight or nine hours every day getting nothing done (because the internet was shit), I did not relish the reality of facing down my computer every night trying to get anything done. Thankfully, those conferences are all over, and the internet has (mostly) gotten its act back together again. I hope.
Another complicated thing, I learned to my chagrin today, is paying utilities bills is also very difficult. I’ve been paying my water bill and my assorted bills more or less on time. Oddly though, I’d never gotten an electric bill, but I figured that it was wrapped into the water & assorted miscellany bill that I pay monthly to the office of my apartment complex. That is, until I walked out of my house today, turned to shut the door, and found a little paper taped to my door informing me that I had better pay my electric bill today or they were going to shut down my electricity.
I would have loved to pay my electric bill immediately. In fact, I was eagerly looking forward to shoving my money in the electric company’s hot little hands. Take my money, Electric Company! Keep giving me more electricity! I wanted to tell them. Don’t shut off my electricity now that my internet is finally working again!
The little sheet of paper helpfully listed four ways for me to pay my electric bill:
- automatic deduction from the bank account linked to the electric bill account.
- pay it off at my own bank branch.
- WeChat Pay
The easiest option for me was WeChat Pay, because I already had it set up. And WeChat Pay even has a handy little payment screen selection where you can pay off your utilities. There was even a pretty little button marked “electricity”. It all sounds so easy doesn’t it? In China, you can pay your electric bill on your phone! How 21st century! But really, if I was able to do that, do you think I’d be writing about it? Of course it didn’t work… because the Electric Company in Shenzhen doesn’t support WeChat Pay. Which begs the question: why the fuck was it even a payment option?! Who knows. I certainly don’t.
Option #1 was definitely not an option for me for reasons we won’t get into, but suffice to say, banking in China is so complicated, it would take at least one or two blog posts to get into it. And I really don’t want to open that can of worms.
Option #2 then, seemed like the best way to go, except for one tiny, infinitesimal little problem: today (aka the day I received the electricity shut-off message) is Sunday. The banks are all closed on Sunday, because. Banks. Yes, even in China, the banks close on Sunday (some of them). In an ideal world, the electric company would’ve given me this message two days ago, when I could’ve actually done something about it by walking into my bank branch to pay the bill.
Alas, with all other options clearly impossible, I could only do one thing: brave the route to setting up my own Alipay account, so I could pay off my electric bill.
I’d already heard all the horror stories about setting up an Alipay account, and in fact, the reason why I still hadn’t an Alipay account even after two months in China was partially because of all those stories. However, in the name of my electric bill, I was willing to brave the nightmare. I mean, people do it all the time. It’s one of the most-used payment platforms in China. How bad could it be?
So I downloaded the app onto my phone, and 60 seconds later, and began the registration process: cell phone number, check; new password, check; new password confirmation, check; confirmation number texted to my phone, check. So far, so good.
Then, I got this message: An Alipay account is already tied to your phone number. Is this your Alipay account?
No, Alipay, that is not.
Well, said Alipay, you’re going to need to use a different phone number to create your Alipay account. The phone number you want to use is already taken.
I was going to have to get a new phone number just to pay an electric bill worth 29.33 RMB or US$4.50.