16 May 2004
I think I’m a really atypical American. I’ve never owned a car. I’ve never used a credit card in my life. I’ve used a debit card with a Mastercard seal on it, and I’ve owned a credit card, but the credit card was eventually cancelled because I never once used it. Well, despite my personal history, I recently applied for a credit card at a major Shanghai bank.
Traditionally, Asia has been slow to catch on to the credit card trend, preferring cash. I remember that the first “credit cards” sporting Visa and Mastercard logos in Japan were not actually true credit cards at all, but rather debit cards which could automatically exchange currencies to make overseas payments more convenient. Early Chinese “credit cards” strayed even further from the model, since not only were they only debit cards, but RMB were not even freely exchangeable on the international market, so they could only be used within China.
Well, all that seems to be changing. This new credit card I applied for is not only a real credit card in that you can buy first and pay later, but it also allows for international purchases through automatic RMB-US Dollar exchanges. Cool!
So I applied. I had to provide a letter stating my monthly pay, stamped with my danwei‘s (my company’s) offical seal. That was sure not to be a problem, as I was making easily twice as much as some other Shanghainese people that have this kind of credit card.
The thing is, I got rejected! I was really shocked. I can’t know for sure why I was rejected, but it’s probably because I seem like a risk. I could easily run up a debt and then leave China.
It’s interesting to be discriminated against in a way that actually matters. This isn’t people maniacally yelling “hello” at me on the street, this is a financial issue. I can’t really be angry, because I understand the bank’s viewpoint. I’m sure that there really are quite a few unscrupulous laowai in Shanghai that would, indeed, rack up a huge debt and then flee.
But now I can’t get my credit card. Bummer.