Thursday, December 14, 2006


Elong (the online travel agency - see previous post) may not have the technology to process a credit card without a very complicated procedure, but they do have the technology to search the web for references to them. I suppose that technology could be somebody that gets paid $1 an hour to Google "elong" and read any new entries that come up. However they do it, the day after our previous post Brad got a phone call and I got an email expressing apologies for the mix up and giving us some VIP points. I'm not exactly sure what the VIP points are good for, but it was a nice gesture anyway.

The whole situation really wasn't elong's fault. They are not the one's that canceled the flight and the fact that they called us and spoke to us in English to tell us that the flight was cancelled was more than I could have expected from another travel agency. As mixed up as the situation was, it was far better than arriving at the airport to find out that the flight was cancelled and it would be 21 hours until the next flight.

The way we handle money in the US is so abstract and removed from purchasing. We have our paychecks deposited into the bank directly. They send us an email once a month telling us how much money we have. We make purchases with a card that holds a magnetic strip containing a sequence of numbers that get transmitted somewhere else. We get an email once a month telling us how much we've spent. Once I have both emails I electronically transfer money from one place to another to pay for everything I've bought in the month. I use so little cash that I once put a purchase for 75 cents on my credit card.

The requirement in China for the physical pieces of paper (cash) representing value and the paper receipts representing the transfer of cash just seems crazy to me. I suppose I should be thankful that I don't have to use the barter system and pay for my airline tickets with chickens and whisky. (We once paid for a place to sleep in Laos this way - actually we gave our guide cash who paid for the room with a chicken and a bottle of whiskey)

Really when you think about it cash is no less an abstract representation of value than numbers on a computer screen. I think I prefer the latter.

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