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My Never-Ending Phone Card Quest

Since arriving in China, I have bought seven phone cards. I have managed to make and complete a phone call with one of them.

The first card I bought in Beijing, at the airport. I was catching my flight to Nanjing, and had an hour to kill. The man at the recruiting agency had told me about IP cards and IC cards, and since I was waiting right near a bank of phones, I grabbed an IC card. (IC cards work in payphones. IP cards work on landlines.)

I ripped open the package, stuffed it into the phone, and attempted to call Kris.

"We're sorry. This phone cannot complete this call."

I tried another pay phone, but I got the same recording at each one. I sighed, stuffed the card in my pocket, and waited for my plane.

The second card I bought in Shanghai. By then I was with Paul, and since he had made several successful calls home, I figured he could help me pick one out that would work. We found a place that sold them, I picked up a nice card, and stuffed that in my pocket, next to the IC card that I still hadn't used. I made a joke about how, in case of emergency, I would rip open the plastic and call home.

When I tried to use it, shaking because of how much I just wanted to hear a familiar voice, I got a new recording:

"We're sorry, this card will not work in this region."

Needless to say, this upset me. A lot.

I've tried cards that don't work for overseas calls. Those frustrate me. I have a growing collection of these damned Chinese phone cards right next to my phone, taunting me every time I try to call home.

Last week I finally began to snap. I was going crazy. I went into the office and asked the teachers there where I could buy an IP card. They directed me to the front gate of the school. Where no one spoke any English, and nothing I could say would get "phone card" across to anyone. I thought I would go mad.

I decided to wander over to the supermarket on campus, because at least one person there speaks enough English for me to talk to. He wasn't there, and I once again tried the pantomime-writing-drawing technique that so far has not worked. With a group of people around me, I tried to explain that I wanted to call Canada, that I needed a phone card.

They finally brought me out a card with bees on it, and told me it was 30 RMB. I just nodded, paid, and left, determined to call home, to hear some sort of familiar voice.

I got through to Kris, and listened in frustration to the answering machine message. I had forgotten how many rings it picked up on, and since I was already being charged for the minutes, I left a message. Then I tried calling Tom.

I actually got through to Tom and Carla. It wasn't much of a conversation, as the second sentence out of my mouth, after "How are you?" was "I want to come home!", followed immediately by incoherent sobbing. Carla, being a wonderful person, handed the phone over to Tom, who had just woken up. He mumbled a bit, I cried a lot, and then, seven minutes into the call, it cut off. No warning, just the end of the card.

I stared at the phone in shock.

I decided I didn't want anymore of those cards.

On the weekend, Paul took me to the place where he buys his cards, and I bought another 100 RMB card. I once again joked about how I would open it in case of emergency, but I tried it as soon as I got home.

"We're sorry, this card will not work in your area."

I've decided that whatever fates that are watching over me have made the choice that I will not be calling home from China.


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