Last week I had to go again to my bank. Only two customers in there. Usual story. They saw me, had that “Arrgghh, ugly scary farang” look on their faces, and shot straight out the door. I’m not complaining. It’s nice to have the place to myself.
Earlier that day I tried to make an online transaction. I have internet access to my account, but bizarrely, I can’t do anything other than check my balance at look at recent transactions.
I’d tried to correct this some ten days earlier. I’d been to the bank. I’d had to sign a bunch of forms, have my passport copied, have my bank passbook copied, and leave a urine sample. No. Not the last one. But it was tempting.
I was told to wait three to five days and that an SMS would confirm everything had been processed successfully. The SMS never arrived, but I tried again anyways, and again the transaction failed, and again an on-screen message told me to go to my bank. Sigh.
So there I was, having done my bank-clearing act, and I was explaining to the nice smiling lady that even though I had signed all her forms, and I’d waited ten days, I still could not make any online transactions. As it happens, this was getting kind of urgent as Bert’s insurance payment was now a few days overdue.
She did lots of tapping on her computer keyboard, and made lots of phone calls. Usual routine. Although, I’m quite sure she wasn’t talking with anyone at the bank, because she was holding the bank’s handset to her left ear with her right hand, and her mobile phone to her right ear with her left hand. It looked like she was hugging herself. Maybe it was Hug-A-Bank-Employee-Day and everyone had gone to lunch. I could have helped.
After about ten minutes of this self-hugging, she started rustling through the tall pile of papers alongside her desk, and pulled out my Please May I Make Online Transactions Application Forms. Maybe I’d forgotten to sign the Pretty Please May I … Form.
Eventually she found the photocopy of my passport and said “Not same-same.” “Errm, what is not the same as what?” I asked politely. “Yes, not same-same” she said. We went around this loop one more time than is good for my blood pressure. But eventually she was a little more specific and pointed directly at my name in my passport and then at my name on her computer screen. “Not same-same.”
So, I checked the names and the spelling, which looked same-same to me, and then it hit me. My passport knows my middle name, and the bank’s computer does not. Oh dear. Not same-same.
Now, I should explain if I haven’t already, if ever Problem Finding became an Olympic Sport, Thailand would win gold every time. But if it was Solution Finding, the country would never even qualify. It was obvious that finding the problem had made her day, but that she was not going to spend even the tiniest amount of effort in fixing it.
“Can’t you change my name in the computer?” I asked, helpfully. This set off another flurry of phone calls. Eventually she passed the phone to me. I wasn’t sure if holding the handset to my left ear with my left hand would work, but thankfully it did. A lady introduced herself, in perfect English, and just when I though she was going to offer a solution she said “Not same-same.” The bank really should hand out blood pressure pills instead of candies.
I think I must have said ten times “Yes, I understand the problem, but what is the solution?” but I was making no progress. So I tried the direct approach and said “Why don’t you change my name in the computer system?” “Oh!” she exclaimed. “You want us to change your name in the computer?”
These seemed to be the magic words. I’m guessing (because there’s no way of knowing anything for sure) that they can only change my name if I ask them to. And bingo. I asked them to. Tap, tap, tap. Problem solved. “Please wait three to five days for an SMS … blah, blah, blah.” I’m sure it’s not going to work, and in another few days I’ll be clearing out the bank again.
I’m also fairly sure that the real problem was that the nice lady had forgotten all about my forms and had done nothing with them, so she had to find a reason other than her oversight to explain why I couldn’t do online transfers. “Not same-same” was just a face-saving exercise.
I mean, I’d opened the account without them being same-same. I’d been given a Debit Card, ATM card, and Passbook when they were not same-same. I’d managed to make other transactions, so I’m not buying this excuse. But, I have to keep this to myself … and to you folks. Please don’t tell anyone. I can’t face the idea of having to change banks.
And after all this, there was still the problem of my car insurance. So, I asked the self-hugging lady if I could make the transaction in the bank. “Oh yes, of course” she said, and instantly rushed off to press the button on the Farangs Are Too Dumb To Take A Ticket To Line-Up machine. Hmm, there’s no one else in the bank, I thought. Why would I … arrgghh, zip it. Never ask why.
Immediately the scratchy Thai recorded voice told me to go to teller #2. That was a shame. Teller #1 was kind of cute. She was the one who’d spent ninety minutes helping me pay for Bert.
It was especially unfortunate as teller #2 was having a bad day. He’d just spilled coffee on his shirt. The last thing he needed to see at that moment was a large ugly farang at his wicket. Now; everything he needed to know was on the form – in Thai of course, but I had to explain slowly and carefully in English what I wanted to pay and to whom.
I could sense the extreme frustration setting in, but I guess smashing me in the face would have cost him his job, so he took it out on his keyboard.
If you’ve ever tried squishing crazy ants, you’ll know immediately what he was doing. They move so fast, and in totally unpredictable ways, that you have to poke them with the end of your finger as fast and as hard as you can. Otherwise, post-poke, you’ll find they are now somewhere completely different.
The keyboard survived. The teller survived. I survived.
But not before yet more copies were made of my passport. I swear there must be a thousand copies spread all over Thailand. Everything I do seems to need two copies. And every page of every copy has to be signed twice. By me.
I confess that when it comes to signing, I deliberately get difficult. I find it so illogical that things need to be signed twice that I pretend not to understand. I sign once and wait for them to ask me to sign everything again. Which I do with a totally exasperated, but completely unnoticed, look on my face. They must think that while they’re not looking, I’ve rushed out of the bank, to be replaced by my evil identical twin who has a different signature and who is going to steal all my money.
One of these days I’m going to sign the second time as Arthur Blenkinsop, or something, and see how long it takes to set off another round of the Not Same-Same Game.
Or, maybe not.