An ATM at Beijing Capital Airport.

A Picture and a Phrase Book Saved My Day

This ATM ate my debit card…It lives inTerminal 3 of Beijing Capital Airport.

My heart stopped, then beat so hard I could hear it. I didn’t want to leave to get help: what if it gave my card to someone else? I tried to to ask for help (any Mandarin I might have been able to pull up in calmer circumstances had evaporated so this was harder than it sounds). I did have the presence of mind to take this picture.

One helpful soul pointed to a phone number on the screen. I called it, pressed the number to get an English speaker…and got a recording in Chinese. Finally, I got out of the way and watched. After two people successfully used their own ATM cards (and didn’t get mine back) I sought out the airport’s help desk.

I showed the woman at the help desk this picture and she called the number they had for that bank. Her reply was that  no one could help me until 9:00 a.m. I was told I could come back then and she would call for me, or I could go downstairs to the branch ofice that would open at 9:00 a.m.

I sat on the end of my luggage cart (I travel pretty light so there was room) right in front of the door to the branch office, by now it was around 8:00 a.m.  Since I had a little time, I got out my trusty Lonely Planet Phrasebook and found this phrase: “the ATM took my card” (qukuanji chile wode ka).

When the armed guards with the bank employee bringing in a suitcase walked around me I didn’t approach them, but didn’t budge either. The next emplyee that came I did approach: I just said “excuse me” (I tried to learn some Mandarin before the trip but it always evaporated when it would be useful) and pointed to the phrase in the book. She seemed concerned and went in and brought out another employee. I was able to show him this picture on my camera screen and zoom in to read the ATM identification number. He went off and was soon back with my card.

If I understood (a big if) the reason for the ATM’s appetite was a safety feature: I had tried too many times (I couldn’t get English instructions to come up on the screen and kept guessing wrong about what stuff meant).

All of this happened before 9:00 a.m.  I caught the first bus of the day to the south train station. I got where I was going as if nothing had happened!

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