013 Sometimes You Just Can’t Win

When last we left off, I was two hours into my quest to pay my electric bill. Yes, I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it really is this difficult to get shit done in China. The biggest stumbling block in my way was Alipay, because the person who had my phone number previously, had bound that number to their Alipay account, thus preventing me from using Alipay on my phone (because it requires you to bind your account to your phone number). This explained a few things for me:

  1. Why I kept getting text messages about “my recent purchases” on Taobao, China’s answer to eBay and Amazon, all rolled into one convenient website.
  2. Why random people speaking indecipherable dialects kept calling me, even after I explained to them that no, I really wasn’t whoever they were looking for.

More importantly, I still couldn’t pay my electric bill, and I was more than ready to hurl my phone out the window. Luckily, cooler heads intervened, and suggested I might like to bind Alipay to my email address.

“But I wasn’t even given that option!” I wailed, mashing my way through the entire sign-up process (again) to display my plight. Sure enough, at no point was an email address requested.

“Why don’t you try getting an account online?”

“What do you mean, I am online!”

“No, I mean, go through their website on an actual computer, not the app on your phone.”

At this point, it was well past noon, and I still had that stupid electric bill to pay. If I hadn’t had that bill looming ominously over my head, there is no way I would’ve even bothered turning on my computer, but I did. So on my computer went, and I slowly went through the arduous task of signing up for an Alipay account. This, if you were keeping count, was attempt number three. Or maybe four.

Sure enough, they wanted my phone number, but this time, when I told Alipay that the existing account wasn’t mine, it actually asked me if I wanted to open an account with an email address. The excitement was palpable. I was so thrilled, I probably couldn’t have entered in my email address any faster. Success!

013 Shen Fen Zheng
A sample Chinese ID card, courtesy of Baidu

…and then. The minute my email address was entered, it needed my Real Name. In Chinese characters. And my ID card number. An 18 digit ID card number. To be specific, it wanted my Chinese ID card number. The ID card I don’t have because I am not a citizen of China.

To say I was upset is putting it mildly.

Luckily, I read Chinese. I found their help files. I dug through their help files. None of which helped me. At all. Because I am not a Chinese citizen. And then, just when I was about to give up, I found this nifty little button hidden away at the corner of my screen: “Click to speak our representative if you need help~”

So I did.

And I poured out my tale of woe to the obscenely perky person on the other end, who cheerily informed me, her “dear customer” that it was an easy fix, and that I needed to change the location from “China” to my own nationality. With a cheery emoticon wave, she disappeared back into the monolithic bowels of the Alipay website, and I began my journey once again.

I changed my location. I filled in all my information. Of course, my Chinese phone number didn’t work. Still. And this time, when I told Alipay that that account wasn’t my Alipay account, it suggested something else. It suggested that I enter in a different phone number. A Singaporean phone number.

The last time I had a Singaporean number (any Singaporean number) to speak of, was at least five years ago. It was a temporary number. I was on vacation.

Only great willpower and a very timely phone call saved my computer from a 12 storey drop to its death.

No, I still do not have an Alipay account. I got one of my friends who does have an Alipay account to pay my bill for me. If nothing else, my electricity bill for this month is settled. I had a month’s grace, time enough to get myself a new phone number and figure out this whole Alipay business.

Unfortunately, when I got home today, I found my gas bill taped to my front door. They suggest I pay with Alipay.

11 thoughts on “013 Sometimes You Just Can’t Win

  1. This is hilarious! I am so sorry that I’m laughing at your misery, but I can’t help it! Brilliant!
    Question: didn’t they ask for a confirmation that the phone number bound to Alipay is the correct one? You know, like when you get an email address, or when you sign up for stuff? They ask for confirmation. o-o


    1. They do text me a confirmation number on the number I enter, but I still can’t use it to open an Alipay account… So I’m still receiving texts whenever the previous owner of that account orders and/or pays for something online.


  2. Haha! I sympathize. Not sure if this is an option – or even if this was how it *actually* worked – but when I was working in China, my school set up a bank account for me and my roommates to pay our bills. We just deposited some money, and the gas/electric company withdrew it.


    1. Yeah, I can’t do that. I also don’t want my bank account tied to anything for payments because foreigner banking is really annoying in China.

      I finally have Alipay now, though, so paying my bills should be a lot easier now.


  3. Oh god what a HEADACHE! You poor thing! That was one reason I never bought stuff on Taobao or on any kind of Chinese internet–because I didn’t want to deal with having to set up this sh*t, haha. China is “racist” in that it makes it EXTREMELY hard for foreigners to sign up for Alipay and other things. Urgggh. I feel so bad for you!

    I’m trying to remember how I paid my bills… I faintly remember paying my bills at family mart (which is what I did in Japan as well). Possible…?


    1. I used to have a little card for my electricity that I’d just go to the bank to recharge, and then have one of the security guards open up the electric card-charger thing to recharge my electricity meter. Everything else was included in my rent. Unfortunately, things work differently in Shenzhen than in Beijing. And no, you can’t pay your bills at the corner store. At least, not in Shenzhen!

      I do have an Alipay account now, though, so bill paying should be a lot easier. And yes, I had to change my phone number to get it.


  4. Hang in there, Kitty! At least you didn’t have to go the bank on the same day. It would have been suicide watch for sure!

    More fun news, just wait until you try to buy train tickets online! Since you’re a foreigner and most likely a terrorist, you now have to go through multi-step process to register your ID. It took me four tries (and four trips to a train station) until i got it right. Hooray! But wait a second, only my wife’s Chinese ID can be used to buy the train tickets (you have to link your passport to a Chinese ID number because linking is fun!). Even when you win in China, you still lose.


    1. Yeah… I never buy train tickets online. I go straight to the ticket counter to buy them.

      Luckily, purchasing train tickets is not something I have to do regularly. I think I’d want to kill somebody if I had to do it regularly. I was at the bank just last week, and that pretty much just ruined a perfectly fine day.


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