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As I find my way around this fabulous city by myself, I wish more and more that I could communicate; I make feeble attempts with my Chinese/English Dictionary. Sometimes I use Google Translate. Both strategies have left me and my victim confused and frustrated. Occasionally, however, I find someone who is willing to laugh with me; today, they were all far too serious.

I needed to exchange a $100 for Chinese currency (RNB). To begin with, it took at least five stops and numerous confused inquires before I found the bank that would perform this service for me. Next, I had to get past the guard who instructed me to fill out a form in triplicate and to sign a paper written exclusively in Chinese. (I had no idea what I was agreeing to.) As I sat in the chairs waiting for my number to come up, I was reminded of the interminable waits at the DMV before it was possible to renew car registration online.

Eventually, my number was called. I had to produce my passport and present my information (filled out in triplicate). But wait! I had crossed off a minor mistake which is not acceptable and once again, I was instructed to write all of my personal information on the form in triplicate.

Then, something about my passport raised some flags (or so it seemed). The young woman behind the glass enclosure typed in my critical data, compared my passport to the information on the computer screen, called two other women over for consultation, fiddled with my passport, bent it, curved it, turned if over and over. I envisioned myself being taken into some back room. Did I have the number of the US state department with me? No, it was back at the hotel. Would my sons know how to find me? What on earth had I done to merit such scrutiny? These and at least 17 other questions and concerns raced through my mind during the seemingly endless wait.

Probably, everything was quite routine, but it unnerved me. When the young woman behind the glass wall finally started counting out the money, and filling out no less than four receipts, and passing to me the copy of my information written in triplicate, and the money, and then my passport, I breathed.

Now, I know why I was told that it’s easier to use the debit card at the ATM.

Functional currency safely stowed away, I was at liberty to do some people watching. This young woman fascinated me. What catches her eye as she speeds down the street, pulling her load? What is she thinking? (Click on any image to see it full size.)