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The things we do to keep the lights on

January 27, 2011


If you were to find this in your mailbox, what would you do? It’s in Vietnamese so you can’t read it. You can’t recall buying anything that you’d be given a receipt for (receipts here are as rare as personal space.) Hmm…

You would, like any good Ivory Tower resident, go into the elevator. There, in each elevator, we find a glass case on the wall with space for four sheets of paper. This is evidently the Ivory Tower’s Official Method of Communication. Here, they tell us when things are due, where to pay them, and at what time. At first I thought this was brilliant. I hate dealing with stamps, envelopes, and checks, and generally avoid doing business with companies that don’t allow online bill pay. Here I can just walk downstairs and pay all my bills. How wonderful!

The newest posting mentions electricity. Hmm again.

Back to the receipt – the notice states that your electric bill will be collected on two different dates.  One of them is the day after the bill showed up in the mailbox – a Sunday morning no less. The next one is on Wednesday. If you don’t pay it then you have less than a week before the power is cut off. And, the dates are different every month.

We were gone most of late November and early December. Since we have only gotten one piece of personal mail in the last four months, I rarely check our mailbox. I knew we had missed the elevator notice stating when the power was due, so I stopped by the front desk to ask when I could pay it. They informed me that, during my last five day trip, I had missed both of the collection times, and had three days to pay it before they turn the power off. I would have to go to the electric company in District 1 to pay the bill. I was on my way to the airport to go out of town for those three days, but fortunately, for a fee, the receptionist would pay it for me.

And, in case this we aren’t having enough fun yet, they only accept cash.

I had learned my lesson, and near the end of December, I started checking the mailbox every day. They had posted the notice in the elevator, but there still wasn’t a bill. I asked the receptionist several times, the last time being the day before it was due, and he said it was up to the power company; no one had received their bills yet. But it’s due in the morning! Nothing we can do. It might come tonight. This time, inside my head – so I’m supposed to keep coming back to check the mailbox all night until they decide to deliver it? I haven’t even gotten the bill so how am I supposed to know how much cash I need to have available? Aaahhhhh!

Sometimes it looks like this instead of a receipt. I think the object of the game is to keep us guessing.



(As a flight attendant, I was often the bearer of bad news, so I’m very aware of and strongly against shooting the messenger. It’s not the receptionist’s fault the power company can’t get their bills out on time. The person collecting the bills rarely speaks enough English to tell them that this is a problem. Even if they have a customer service number, I’m more likely to win the lottery than to be able to convey my displeasure with their operations and have anything done about it. So you, my dear reader (and sometimes Jonathan,) get to hear me rant about how frustrating this is.)

The cable and internet bills give a timeframe – 8:30-11:30am. (I still can’t figure out how it is economically feasible for a company to send an employee to each apartment building to collect, but that’s another rant for another time.) Sometimes they are late, but if you show up at 11:36 they will be gone. The water bill can be paid at the main office here, but don’t go there between 12-1:30pm because they are lunching/napping. The power bill doesn’t give a time frame. It says 9am. Does that mean I have to be there waiting at 9am? Or does the person sit there all day starting at 9am? Last month, in spite of my best efforts, I came downstairs at 11:05, and they were gone.

These are the cable and internet bills.



We also get drinking water delivered, and for each delivery, I have probably spent two days staying at home waiting for them to show up. Last month, we did discover the stash of water downstairs that the receptionist will sell to you if you get really upset, but I still try not to plan things on days when bills are due.

A few months ago, Jonathan met a man who is a realtor, but also runs a business on the side to manage people’s household affairs. Back then, I scoffed at the idea. Who is so lazy they can’t pay their own bills? What is wrong with expats here? Are we really that spoiled? Now, it seems like a dream come true. I am truly curious how people who go to work before 9am and don’t have an unemployed spouse/ domestic facilitator get their bills paid.

Am I the only person that thinks online bill pay is the best thing since, well, the internet? Maybe I’m just being a spoiled, expat brat. Either way, I lurked around the mail boxes long enough and paid the power bill on time this month.


Currently reading: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Charity permalink
    January 27, 2011 11:15

    Yeah… I don’t envy this at all!!

  2. Mary Holby permalink
    January 27, 2011 22:19

    They have modern conveniences with old fashioned inconvenient methods of paying for them.
    Do you see a need you can fill? An idea?
    This is funny but I feel the frustration.

  3. Debbie Tran permalink
    January 29, 2011 06:37

    With a couple months of bill paying under your belt, you probably don’t need this anymore, but feel free to email me images of your bills if you need help deciphering stuff. I don’t promise miracles or that I’ll fully understand what it says, but I’ll try my best.

    Speaking of online conveniences, I tried to check in online for an international VN Airlines flight last month (sorry for saying the V word). Apparently the service is offered online but it has no legs in practice. The security guards weren’t sure what to do with my printed boarding pass but I convinced them to usher me forward, I wasn’t as lucky with the immigration officers though. I had to queue up at the ticket counter outside and get the official printed boarding pass. When asked what’s the purpose of offering the online check in service and still forcing me to queue here, the lady at the desk said that you can pick your seat. Yay.

    • January 29, 2011 08:28

      If I get anything new, trust me, I will be sending you a copy for translation. I’m considering just giving the receptionist a bunch of money at the beginning of the month and letting them fight it out with the individual companies.

      I’m really glad you told me that about VN Airlines. It’s okay, we have to fly them sometimes too. Half the time online check-in doesn’t work (when we flew AirAsia,) and I’m not surprised to hear it’s pretty worthless the other half of the time. And they wonder why we seem a little cock-eyed and insane…

  4. February 10, 2011 13:42

    how did i miss this one? anyway, my friend summer had a business like that, here in ATL, where, for a small fee, would sit at your house for the cable man or whatever. she also did organizing and other stuff for not nesessarily lazy people who don’t have the time to do it themselves. maybe you could look into it as YOUR side job…..

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