I procrastinated, mind muddled with indecision, putting it off, putting it off. In the U.S. a trip to the bank is a tidy business. Everybody speaks English. People specialize. You’re questioned and funneled to the appropriate desk. There isn’t a lot of room for creativity so it either can, or it cannot be done. End of conversation, thank you very much, and you’re on your way.
Indonesian banking doesn’t ascribe to that model.
I wanted to close one account and open another. But something in the back of my brain prompted me to be sure I allotted enough time, and I should probably run through my Indonesian vocab before I ventured into something beyond deposits and withdrawals.
On Wednesday this week, stamina summoned, resolve fortified, I finally decided that the time had come.
A security guard opens the door to the bank, greets me, and asks my business. I tell him, in Indonesian, that I wish to speak to Putu, my personal banker. I’m invited to take a number and have a seat. When Putu sees me she motions me to her desk. I tell her what I want to do.
“Yes, of course.” She flashes a gorgeous but professional smile. “You have passport?”
“Not with me.”
Her smile turns to a most apologetic frown. “Oh, sorry Ibu, must have passport to change account.” I thank her and leave.
I have a meeting in the morning so the trip to the bank will have to wait until afternoon. Ketut gets me there around 2:00. The bank closes at 3:00. Plenty of time.
The security guard routine is always the same. I greet him and he ushers me straight to Putu’s desk.
“Hello Ibu, you have passport now?” I assure her that I do.
“And social security number?”
“Social security number?”
“Yes, new law, July 2014, U.S. citizen must have social security number on bank account.”
“Okay, I know my number, let me write it down.”
“Oh no, Ibu, must have card.” My mind does a random search of its memory banks and I see the card, tucked into the Birth Certificates and Marriage Licenses folder, in a file drawer in Minnesota.
“Not possible,” I tell her. But the brain, still grinding for solutions, remembers that I have my tax returns in a Word Document on my computer which I happen to have with me since I needed it for the meeting. “My social security number is on the computer. Maybe you can look?”
She agrees. I pull up the tax return and there they are, the nine digits that identify me to the IRS no matter where I might be in the world. Putu locates her iphone, takes a picture of the document on the computer screen and asks me to, “Wait moment.” She leaves her desk. Fifteen minutes later she re-appears. “So sorry to make you wait. I must send to main branch in Denpasar. If they approve then it’s okay. But sorry, Ibu, not possible today. Bank is closing.”
At 9:00 p.m. that night I received a text from Putu. My unorthodox presentation of the social security number had passed muster. If I would come back tomorrow we could proceed with my request.
I’m on a first name basis with the security guard and he waves me though without comment. Putu introduces me to another banker who will do the paperwork. Kadek is all business. Within minutes there is a formidable stack of forms in front of her. She pulls them out at random, filling in a little here, a little there, shuffling them, stacking them, unstacking them. Settling into the chair I shove my Western brain under the rug and take out my evolving Indonesian brain. It’s the one that says, “Tidak apa-apa,” No problem, about every inconvenience that arises no matter what.
With that letting go I become aware of the spice-sweet scent of incense. A young man in a sarong is making his way through the bank with a tray of small offerings. I hadn’t noticed before, but every desk and teller booth has a footed stand. He places one of the fragrant gifts on each, sprinkles it with holy water, then with hand movements more graceful than I’ve seen on any dancer, he entices smoke from the incense to waft upward toward the deities. I love this, I tell myself, as I float a million miles away from bank accounts.
And then something else catches my attention. All the personal bankers are women. The tellers are women. And the manager who hovers in the background with a name tag indicating her superior status, is a woman. The offerings are being made by a man, often a woman’s role. Balinese reality is shifting and in this case, in a positive direction.
At that point, Kadek places the forms in front of me and I land with a thump back into banking world. As she gracefully indicates the blanks for signatures I’m reminded of my years in real estate sales: sign here, and here, and here please, then here, and I’ll need your initials on all 256 pages…
Two hours and 30 minutes.
When I leave the bank, relief lifts me like a helium balloon. It’s done, and it only took three days, three hours, and fifty minutes. Not bad. Not bad at all. Tidak apa-apa.