Saturday, April 2, 2011

April (four-letter-word) Fool's!

I ended my employment at Kojen on Wednesday and as is the custom for foreign teachers who leave their jobs in Taiwan, I needed to make a visa run the very next day. So I packed clothes for a 6-day trip to Singapore, every possible document the consulate might need neatly copied and organized in both paper and electronic forms, and a bit of work to take with me for the those afternoons in air-conditioned cafes when I'd be avoiding the mid-day heat. Then I was off for a nice little vacation before my official "working vacation" in Taiwan began.

I arrived in Singapore at 1:30am on April 1st and I made my way to an ATM to get some money. "Incorrect Password" is the machine's response.

"Oh yeah? Lets just try that again..." I say outside 7-Eleven in the middle of the night somewhere between the airport and my hostel where the taxi driver took me for an all-night restaurant called Spize.

"Incorrect Password" again and the wheels start to turn slowly in my head. I need to be smart because I only get so many chances at this. I try the one other PIN I use but I'm absolutely certain it's not assigned to this card. Again, no cash. Maybe it's because it's the middle of the night. I'm sure it will work in the morning and if not, I can always reset the PIN... So I take what little money there is in my business checking and use it for the bare essentials of food and a bed for the night.

Google Talk
Morning comes and I'm able to get online at the hostel and find that Google Talk will let me make calls directly to phones in the US for free. "Wow," I think, "I guess it really has been Taiwan that's been blocking Google's VoiP." I call up my parents to let them know I'm there and don't even mention the ATM thinking it was just a fluke.

I then move on to getting this PIN stuff worked out only to find that the bank's website can't do this for me and I need to call the 800 number. Thank you Google Talk for working in Singapore!!! I can even use the touch-tone keypad in Gmail to work through the bank's automated prompts. The only catch is the phone system is just as incapable of setting new PINs as the website, and their live operators just went home for the night. That meant waiting until 10pm Singapore time before I could actually talk to someone. That was one long, hot day for me of trying to figure out potential alternatives for not having any actual cash on hand.

When night finally comes, I fight tooth and nail against wireless routers, a finicky Internet service, other occupants talking, even an ambitious sawsall still going strong at 10:20pm somewhere on the floor above but can't make the stable connection I need to call my bank. I finally break down and use what little money I have left to buy some time at an Internet cafe. I get my laptop out in the middle of a darkly lit room filled with online gamers and identify the least sticky place among all the rings left from Coke cans.

Strong internet connection...calling the bank..."Well sir, we can mail a new PIN number to your mailing address in the United States" says the polite operator.

"Um, yeah... that's not really going to help. As I said before, I'm in Singapore and I need to reset my PIN like NOW!"

"Well is there someone at that address who can receive the mail for you?"

Oh my god I'm going to strangle you..."Yes there is but it will take several days for the mail to arrive and, as I said before, I'm in Singapore with NO MONEY. Is there anyway we can reset this PIN now through email, text-message verification, whatever? Maybe you can talk to a manager about possibly overriding the usual methods? This really is an emergency."

"Just one moment sir," And I wait and wait, hoping Google Talk will hold the lifeline of the call steady while I myself hold to the abilities of the operator. "I've gone ahead and sent out that PIN to the mailing address on your account. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Yes. You can die a slow, painful death suspended by telephone lines slowly strangling you as a computer system tells you that a pair of wire cutters and a step ladder will be mailed to your address in 2-4 weeks." (I actually just hit the "End" button on the call, knowing that she really wouldn't be of any more help).

"So mom," I say looking at the time remaining on my Internet cafe budget, "Do you remember that bank card you mailed to me? Any chance there was a PIN number for it that you still have somewhere?" Dad does his best to soothe me while she looks.

"Hey Dallas," chimes in mom with a tone ever so much lighter than I was expecting to get from her, "you're going to love this..." and she shares with me the banks version of a "secure" PIN which, lets just says, is about as tough to crack as the combination an idiot puts on his luggage.

After that it's only a short time before I have cash in hand, quickly remember I'm a tourist in Singapore and bury the money deep in my bag, and am soaking up sweet relief as I see the city with an entirely new pair of eyes.

And at 11:45pm I realize that all of this really had transpired in just one day, April Fool's Day. And of course this was the only card that Life could have dealt me on the first day of this new trail.

1 comment:

  1. wow, Singapore is the best place for tourists to have a great time and they have so many good places that one can enjoy a lot. I loved your travel blog.