Living in a ‘serviced apartment’ had a few perks, one of which was we never had to deal with utilities, as they were included in our rent. Now that we’ve moved to a non-serviced apartment, things are a bit different. Not only are our utilities not included in our rent, but they work on a system that I’d swear is from another planet…Um, that is if I didn’t live in China.
Here’s how it works. Upon move-in, you’re given a handful of different utility cards- Hot water, Electricity, Toilet Water, and Gas.
Each room in our apartment has meters that require us to insert a card to add a value to the meter. So, if we need hot water in the master bathroom, we have to insert the hot water card into the hot water meter and deposit units on to the meter. That goes for every room- if we want hot water in the kitchen, we have to insert the hot water card into the kitchen meter and add units to that particular meter. Same for toilet water….gas, etc.
But, being China, it’s not as easy as just inserting a card into a meter. Those cards need money added to them, and there are rules about how much you can add, certain places you can add the money to the cards, and certain bank cards that you can use to add that money. There are also rules about when you can add a value to the meter, and when you can add money to your cards. Confused yet?
The cards have no value until you add money to them. It took some serious leg work and many hours one day to figure out how to do this. Off to the bank I went to deposit cash into a Chinese bank account. Once the account had cash, I could then put my ATM card into another machine, select ‘electricity’ (in Chinese characters, no cheating with an English menu on these puppies), remove ATM Card, insert electricity card, type in amount I wante to add, hit confirm and bam- I now had units on my electricity card that were purchased with my ATM card. I thought the amount I added was Chinese RMB, not units, but how would I know? I couldn’t read a thing.
Back I went to the apartment to try to add these new units to our meter. But can I I access that meter myself? No way! I have to call an engineer up to our apartment to open the utility closet door. An hour later, he arrives, unlocks the door and inserts my electricity card.
“Bu ke yi.” You can’t, he says.
Hmmmm. I then learn that unless my current electricity balance is UNDER 200 units, I cannot deposit money on to the machine. But in order to check that balance, I have to call the engineer come up, unlock the utility closet and read the meter. Or, we can wait until the building management leaves a note under our door saying our balance is below 200 units. That little note doesn’t always arrive in time,as our friends have experienced three times in the last month, and we may run out of electricity in the middle of the night. That sucks for those of us using an alarm clock…or lights…or air conditioning.
So fast forward one day, I again have the engineer come to the apartment, unlock the utility door, check the balance. 185. Sweet! Now, we insert the utility card and (can you hear the chorus in the background?) we have enough electricity for…….well, for the next few weeks, until I have to do this all over again.
1. Meter cannot be accessed by tenants, only engineering.
2. You cannot add any money to a utility card without first depositing the entire balance of the card into the meter. So if you have 100 units on the card and want to add 900 units to the meter, you first have to add the 100 unit balance to the meter, then head back to the bank to get 800 more units, go back to your apartment, call the engineer, and then deposit the units.
BUT-# 3. That’s only if the balance on the meter is under 200 units. Remember, can’t add units unless you’re below 200.
Just to kick this up a notch, how about #4-
You cannot add more than 1000 units of electricity to a card or a meter at a time, and therefore cannot add enough units at one time to last a few months.
How much does your head hurt just reading this?
I’ve yet to solve the problem of how to deposit a specific amount from the hot water card into the master bathroom, and still have units on the card to deposit on the meter in the guest bathroom. Read between the lines, those of you coming to visit…. You’d better be nice or I may decide not to unravel this mystery, leaving you with an extremely cold shower!
I used to think pay-as-you-go phones were ghetto. But, as it turns out, I just might have one of those here in China also.
Never say never, people.