It’s July 3 and as I write, we have just gotten broadband connected in our apartment, after waiting a total of nine days. One of the first errands we did after we found and signed for our place was to visit the China Telecom offices to set up our account, knowing full well it was best to get that slow-moving ball rolling to ensure we got connected as quickly as possible.
Since I study and live on the internet, I wanted to be sure we had a decent connection. Nick and I had conferred on the story we were going to give the sales people as to why we needed particularly fast broadband. “My work requires that I connect back to the United States and we are running as many as three computers at a time on the same connection.” Not lies, just simplified ways of explaining our needs without cause for suspicion. I certainly wasn’t going to say I “study the internet.”
First we checked out a place that had been advertised on flyers passed out around the neighborhood as having the fastest connection speeds of 10M. From what we could tell, 8M was about as fast as you could hope to get, and most places were advertising 2M and 4M for consumer uses. I was dubious that this unrecognized brand could possibly have faster connections than the larger infrastructure companies, but it was worth checking out. We walked up and down the street near the Human Services offices searching for the broadband office without luck. Nick called the number on the flyer, and it turned out they were on the third floor of the building closest to our hotel. We climbed up the shady stairs to an even shadier office where we inquired about “10M” and pointed to the flyer, only to find out the advertised rates referred to internal network speeds for offices. Thanks, but no thanks.
And so we trekked on to more established purveyors of the internet, namely China Telecom. On their sales floor we saw advertisements for the paltry 2M and 4M connection speeds, and inquired with the sales clerk in the front of the store if there was any way we could get 8 or 10M. Puzzled, she quickly deferred to her manager, and he led us to another sales representative at a computer terminal on the side of the store who looked up our apartment building to see if we were in range of the special required infrastructure. We were! And so we were trotted out of the China Telecom retail store to the local headquarters about two blocks away. There, we were led up six flights of stairs with no explanation of where we were headed. Nick and I joked that we were probably being taken to some special holding office where they kept foreigners who demanded fast internet. Instead, we were brought to the branch manager’s office where it was confirmed that we had her permission to get the special fast broadband, and we didn’t give our prepared speil. We were then escorted back downstairs to what seemed to be the business and commercial sales offices. Another friendly sales lady explained to us our options, and pointed out that 12M was even available in our apartment building. We were made to feel like VIP customers, and perhaps we were, as it seemed likely that your average Chinese citizen in Chongqing wasn’t willing to pay a premium for faster internet, but we were. It turned out we also got a SIM card, telephone, and IPTV service with the internet package, all for much less than one might pay in the States for the Triple Play equivalent. Though it was a process of approvals, it had been surprisingly easy to get what we wanted - even more than we had expected - in this situation. And this was a pleasant change of pace in a string of tasks that had required more drawn-out negotiations and effort.
But nothing is ever easy here, and there were many false starts in actually getting connected. We were hopeful one day a service person called and actually came to the door, but it turned out he was only running the special 12M wire up to our apartment. Another day our installation guy called, only to call back and say he needed another part before he could come. Yesterday we called and he said he would try to be there around 7 or 7:30 PM. He did not come, and when we called at 8 PM his phone was off. This morning we called and he said the same thing, that he would be there around 7 or 7:30. I began to think that’s what he told all impatient broadband customers to fend them off for another day.
And so we went about our business today, going to lunch at our favorite fast food dumpling spot and then proceeded to camp out in Starbucks for a few hours of emailing and internet catch up. Not a moment after Nick sat down with our drinks, his phone rang: the broadband guy would be there “immediately.” So we raced back upstairs (thankfully, Starbucks is very close), eager not to miss him in this rare moment of commitment.
Not ten minutes later he arrived, and set to work on the wire that had been strung through the roof to front door of our apartment. His phone rang a couple of times while he worked and I thought he must spend half of his day fielding calls from customers calling wondering where he is and when he is coming, and that’s probably what took him so long in getting to us.
The sweet sweat of installing communications technology.
In some ways, this broadband installation experience was not unlike that in the States, where one setting up a new apartment can generally expect to spend a few inconvenient days without internet or cable. However, with Time Warner you at least get a window (albeit often absurdly large) of time for when your cable guy might show up (for example: between the hours of 8 AM - and 5 PM on July 3). At least that timing has some confirmation and certainty about it: he will come, and you will get internet. Here, you get a nod and a smile from your friendly sales lady saying that she will try her best to get the guy to commit to coming within the week after you signed up, but you know that promise is a very vague one. You exchange numerous calls with a guy who speaks local dialect about when he’ll try to come and then one afternoon, he calls to say he’s coming right now! Either way, it’s a frustratingly long time to go without connectivity, in either place.
After all was said and done and the installation guy had left, Nick jokingly said, “You have your friend back.” But there’s truth in it. I was going a little crazy here not having my own constant connection to all things fresh and current, and I was eager to get set up for work and my normal routines now that the rest of our lives are set up here. And it’s also true, the internet is where my friends are: I can IM or video chat with folks at home and they don’t feel so far away. But for this afternoon, as everyone on the east coast is sleeping into Sunday morning, I’ll write up this post instead.
OMG Internets!!1! Independence Day, indeed! No more Starbucks!
blog comments powered by Disqus