It seems that if one is going to live someplace, it’s probably a good idea to learn a little about how the utility billing and companies work. But it’s not the sort of thing you do because it’s fun and intrigues you — like going to the elephant sanctuary or trying Korean food. It’s much more like the sort of thing you are finally forced to getting around to doing when a crisis occurs and you have no choice.
And when the idea of having no air conditioning spells ‘d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r’ to you and your woolly dogs.
So it was that we found ourselves in a big traffic jam on the National Highway headed for a Tenaga Nasional (National Electric) payment office in Petaling Jaya on a bright sunny Thursday morning. On Wednesday, the postman had delivered an envelope which, any fool could see through the clear bit, was on bright yellow paper and not the usual inoccuous white bill that I give to Derek and Derek gives to the office manager and, somehow, it gets sent somewhere and, eventually, someone in Singapore pays on our expat behalf.
Like all good systems with more than one step, something invariably breaks down and whatever system was tasked with tracking such things is prompted to spit out a bright yellow notice to tell someone. Unfortunately, in our case, they were telling us almost too late (it took six days for the letter to reach us) and it was in a language for which we have only a rudimentary understand of works like “parking”, “exit”, “toilet”, “no dogs” and “cash only”.
However, since the first line read “NOTIS PEMORONGAN BEKALAN ELEKTRIK” and it was yellow and had dates and amounts in ringgits which we recognised, it wasn’t hard to conclude that we needed to do something about it. A “notis” about the “elektric” on yellow paper just screamed “Read me, Seymour. Read me now!”
Did I mention that Google translate is our new best friend? It’s a phenomenal tool and it speaks Malay. It didn’t take long to deduce that “pemotongan” means “disconnect” and there’s no point in translating further except to find the date. Phew. We had a day or two to resolve this matter or we wouldn’t have any electricity and Rogue and Solo would be hot dogs looking for cool buns to nestle into–or we’d be checking into the Holiday Inn and smuggling them into our room. Or driving around with them in the air conditioned car till something was sorted.
A quick check-in with Derek’s company ascertained that the bill had supposedly been paid. At the yellow letter stage, however, that wasn’t good enough. So, next morning, off we went to the cash machine to get a big wad of cash since Alaskan Malamutes are larger consumers of ‘elektrik’ and we have electric bills that make the locals gasp and open their eyes wide. Further, since we don’t have a bank account here, we figured lots of cash cash was the best way to do this anyway.
We found the place. That was the first step and Derek’s good about that sort of thing. The second step was navigating our way around a complicated and very crowded little one-way road system that circumnavigated it and into an old-style multi-storey car park (the kind with no elevators).
Down the stairs we went. Up the stairs Derek went when it was discovered that I’d left the “notis” in the car after we’d keyed the address into the GPS. “I meant to ask if you had it,” he puffed, “but I forgot.” Another of the joys of getting older: one forgets, the other forgets to ask. (We trade roles. It’s more fun that way.)
At last, into the Tenaga Nasional (National Energy; in Malay subject and adjective are reversed) offices we went. I’d been trained on the Malaysian version of the ‘take a number’ machine (more sophisticated than the ones in other places I’ve lived) in our local post office so I managed to procure a number, unaided, and we sat down to wait with the other people for 30 bill payment numbers to roll through.There was a separate section, with fewer people, for enquiries and questions. We longed to be in that line-up but weren’t qualified.
Derek helpfully informed me that the British had instituted the system of installing chairs for people to sit on whilst waiting during the Victorian era–and had clearly brought it here during their tenure here. I said I figured that was because of corsets and high collars, particularly in climates like this one. Fortunately, it was air conditioned for us (it was the energy company office, after all!) and we waited coolly and relatively calmly.
Derek’s inimitable curiosity led him to enquire of the man sitting next to him why there was a desk–the fourth of four–where people went and queued, rather than waiting for their number to be called. Turns out it was for “old people”, we were only partially reliably informed. One line on the sign underneath the counter (generally obscured by old people leaning against it) said “WARGA EMAS (60 Tahun Keatas)” and, sure enough, when I translated it, it said “ELDERLY (60 years and above).”
So there was a dilemma. We were sortof in a hurry (on the basis that this wasn’t that much fun and we could be somewhere else doing something else) and I qualify as “elderly”, even if there isn’t a day of my life that I’ve ever actually felt anything remotely resembling “elderly”. Bah! A quandary: I think Derek wanted to get in the old peoples’ line but he’s not old enough and I’m not willing enough. And sometimes, here, when we produce our ID to substantiate our enfeebled state, they tell us we can’t get the senior discount because we’re foreigners (but sometimes we do get it). So we sat.
I translated the rest of the sign. Payment line #4 was ALSO for people with disabilities and pregnant women. Actually, I thought that was pretty civilised, having a separate payment line for people who might really benefit from not having to sit and wait a long tiome.
In the end, our number was called and the nice Indian lady at Counter #1 was very helpful. We went ahead and paid every “sen” (one hundredth of a ringgit, which is worth about US$0.0003) of the outstanding bill because there is already a new company process being put in place to deal with our utility bills, thankfully. So this would clear it all and start at 0.00 with the new process. At least that’s the plan.
OK, we admit it: it was easy enough. Like most things everywhere, once you know how it works, it works. Until you do, blissful ignorance is an enjoyable way to spend one’s days. And for everything else, there’s Google Translate.