Cellphones for Sale
near Hong Qi Lu
April 1, 2009

It took me over four hours to realize that I'd left my card in the ATM.

Nisagul and I had met up that morning to spend the entire day around Urumqi. In between running various errands around the Hong Qi Lu and Er Dao Qiao neighborhoods we fit in a leisurely sushi lunch at Hiramasa, in the City Hotel. We had just sat down for a cup of coffee down the street at the Texas Cafe when I noticed the card was missing.

"Where's my bankcard? I'm certain I had it here in my wallet when I left this morning..."

"Is it the one that you used to take cash out at the bank earlier?", Nisagul asked.

"Yeah, it was that one. So, I must have it in here somewhere," I said, repeatedly fumbling through every fold in my wallet and all the pockets of my jeans.

"Where could it be? Let's see... we got cash at the bank. They we went for sushi. Then we bought those blank CD's at the Hong Qi Lu electronics bazaar. Then we sat down here. I didn't take my wallet out anywhere else. I must have taken cash out of the machine then walked away without my card."

Nisagul at ICBC Branch
It was close to 5:00 P.M.. Leaving behind our unfinished mugs of coffee we paid, then hurried over to the ICBC branch where I'd withdrawn cash earlier that morning.

As we walked down the street, I fretted aloud and speculated as to what might have happened:

"I can't believe this: I've never left a card behind in an ATM before! I must have taken the cash and just walked away. I remember taking the receipt, turning to you, and remarking on how there was an ATM service fee for using that machine: I'd never been hit with one of those in China before. That must have thrown me off and I just left the card in the machine.

"If I don't recover that card today I'll really be pressed for money. I don't have enough to pay for that ticket back to Seattle I booked at the travel agency this morning. On top of the cash I withdrew earlier, I do have a stash of travelers checks, dollars, and euro I could convert... but that would still come up short."

We started to walk more briskly. I contemplated the worst-case scenario:

"I hope that whoever came along next didn't take the card or throw it away. Or even worse, if they were waiting in line right behind me, they could have pressed the "Yes" button when the ATM asks if you want another transaction. They could have then pulled even more cash out of my account.

"Even if the person who came along next was honest and turned the card in, if the branch is closed right now or we can't talk to a manager who knows where the card is, I'll have to call my bank in the U.S. to cancel the card. And then, I won't have any way of getting money for the next several days..."

We were practically running when we arrived at the branch. I flung the door open and made a beeline to the branch manager's desk.

"Hello, how are you? I was here a few hours ago and I left your ATM without my card," I said in my heavily accented Chinese.

The branch manager blinked a couple times then walked me and Nisagul over to a teller window. "Xiao Yang, speak English with these two," she ordered.

"Wait, I can explain," Nisagul said in her perfect Mandarin. I was so glad Nisagul happened to be with me from the moment I discovered I'd lost the card. As she spoke with the manager I had a sense of deja vu, flashing back to an episode three years prior when Nisagul helped me write a note in Chinese after I left my passport in an Urumqi Internet cafe.

After listening, the manager instructed us to wait until she had a chance to check in the back office. We hung at a comfortable distance from her desk, which was mobbed with people clutching forms. When the manager went to the back office she returned clutching an ATM card; even from a distance I could see that it wasn't mine.

"Don't worry," Nisagul advised. "You're the luckiest person I know."

Celebratory Iced Mocha

"You know, that's true," I said. "Things usually do seem to go my way. Let's just hang back and hope that she's busy taking care of these other people."

When the manager returned from the office the second time, she beckoned us to the back. Behind a metal door, standing next to two glass teller windows was another bank employee--holding my card.

"Passport," the manager said. I almost never bring my passport when I go out. But, when leaving that morning I happened to throw it in my bag, just in case they asked to see it when booking my flight ticket.

"Let's celebrate!", I said as we walked away from the bank. "Is Eversun Coffee still open just up the street? I haven't had one of their iced mochas in years!"


Trivia: ICBC stands for "Industrial and Commercial Bank of China".