Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vonage Saved My Life

There is nothing like the panic of being far away in a strange land and having your means of economic survival snatched out from under you.

Laurel and I both had our bank cards frozen today. MIne worse that hers. The layout of the alphabet on the numeric keypad is different in Asia. I always spell my PIN number, and never actually bothered to learn the number sequence, which is surprising for a such a dyed-in-the-wool geek as myself. Being a creature of habit, I entered my Groucho secret word to the ATM. The spelling was incorrect of course. On top of being a creature of habit, I'm apparently a stupid idiot, and stubborn to boot. I entered it again twice more. My card was toast. Permanently.

Now my sensible wife actually uses numbers for her PIN, and was able to withdraw three months house rental two nights ago with no incident. This pleased us greatly. Then Big Brother stepped up to the plate. When we went to withdraw some more today, we were thwarted at no less than 8 ATMs. The game was afoot. Apparently the system flagged these as "unusual withdrawal patterns", as we actually live on Bowen Island, and someone in India was using our account to withdraw hundreds of dollars, no doubt to finance some sort of terrorist action. We panicked.

So we jumped into an auto-rickshaw and headed down to the bank that was the site out last successful withdrawal. Again, no luck. We found an Internet cafe, and tried to log onto our bank site, which politely informed us that we were now persona non grata. This meant that if we ran up our credit cards, we could not even pay them off, as we would have to log onto our bank site to transfer funds. Suddenly, our ATM problem was increased by an order of magnitude. So we decide to call Customer Service in an effort to sort this evolving mess out. Now Customer Service for this bank is a 1-800 number. It is impossible to call a 1-800 number from within India, although goodness knows we tried. India is peppered with little stands that advertise "STD". This is not a quick and easy way to contact a sexually transmitted disease, as the name might imply. It's like a little booth where you can dial an overseas call. For a fee of course. Four half hearted attempts later, we failed miserably.

So we jumped back into an auto-rickshaw and headed back top our house, which contained not only Emma and our children, but our secret and as yet untried weapon: the Vonage internet phone. Now the Vonage phone consists of a little modem-like device that connects to an ethernet cable, and then connects to a standard telephone handset. In theory, this allows you to make calls for free within the US, Canada, and curiously, Puerto Rico. We set it up at home, and it worked pretty well, but not until we downloaded firmware upgrades and replaced the dodgy cable that it came with. Laurel and I figured that if we could collect the Vonage modem, power adapter, and handset that we packed with us, stuff the whole mess into a shopping bag, and find an internet cafe with a substantial connection, we could call the 1-800 Customer Service line, because in theory, it was a local Canadian call! We only had 45 minutes before the Customer Service center closed, so the race was on...

There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking down an Indian sidewalk, which actually more closely resembles a hybrid of a moonscape, slaughterhouse, and random archaeological rubble, with a bag of hi-tech stuff, and a do-or-die-must-find-a-net-connection kind of attitude. Did I mention the heat? We find one place that is actually up on the second floor of a dilapidated building. Of course, nearly every building is dilapidated, so that's hardly worth mentioning. There's actually a line-up. Our turn finally arrives, but the dude in charge insists on taking our passport information, address, and home phone number, which gets dully entered into a dusty old ledger. All in the name of security, you know. I feverishly start to yank out the ethernet cable from the back of the PC and start to set up the Vonage modem. The dude in charge sees this, and is not pleased. We exchange indignant head wiggles and I carry on like a man possessed. The modem boots up... and..... Error Code 1202. The connection is not fast enough to support Voice Over IP. Bugger.

With less than 25 minutes left, we quickly pack the stuff back into the shopping bag and flee. I think I said "Not fast enough!" as we blew through the ancient door, not even bothering to proffer a rupee. We walked for two more blocks before we found another place. Less than 20 minutes left now. I think I was very much the rabid foreigner bursting into this little establishment and demanding to be able to rewire their system to meet my fiendish needs. With the translation help of a sympathetic chap who happened to work in a call center, who was actually familiar with what I was trying to do, I began to wire up my rig while Laurel dealt with another passport and personal info session. The modem powered up. It found an IP address. Retrieved my profile. And... "READY TO MAKE CALLS!" I picked up the receiver, and lo and behold, there was a dial tone. I dialed the 1-800 number and..."Your call is important to us. Due to unusually heavy call volume, there will be an astronomical wait before we can connect you with a live human. Stay on the line until you are old and gray". Fortunately, shortly after that, the adapter fell out of the wall socket and the line went dead. Start again.

To make a long story a tad shorter, I redialed, and was actually able to connect with a human this time. The phone sounds great! Really clear, and with only a slightly noticeable lag time. A nice chap named Kevin (who ironically, was probably working out of an Indian call center, after has having his accent modified to sound Canadian by extensive idiomatic language training) sorted out our troubles. well, mostly. My card is still hooped, but Laurel's is not. All the stress and hi-tech jiggery-pokery was no doubt vastly entertaining to the small crowd in the shop. We went to go and pay for our half hour of net time, and the bill was the princely sum of 10 rupees. About 25 cents.

Best quarter I ever spent....


Murray A said...

Well locally, it looks like your economic well being is in great hands. Your new NAKED store looks awesome!
I can't imagine the sinking feeling you must have had with the cards. That half hour had to be one of the longest ones of your lives!
Keep up the Blog! Love it!

Chris said...

OMFG that was a funny post. Speeding across Georgia Strait in the Granville Water Taxi, laughing out loud and with a tear trickling down my cheek. Let the adventures continue, but take it easy on us poor homebodies who can only handle so much vicariously.

Love you all and miss you. Keep up the strong technical work!

jcree said...

Here we are in Ireland with apparently no access to our business account back home. We too, have that 1-800 number, but we do not have this fancy phone thing you're talking about. After a lot of frustration, we figured it all out (turns out my link was on the left side, where it never was before.) It was bad enough with Irish accents, can't imagine an entirely different language!

ps. Saw a great band in Galway tonight that you would have shed a tear over. 4 guitar players, 5 or 6 different guitars, one drummer. AWESOME.