Monthly Archive: December 2007

Your Card was Declined!

So we got hit by credit card theft again. As we looked up how much we’ve charged to our credit card during the recent trip, I found this plain-looking entry buried in the statement: a $400 something payment to Jazeera Airlines of Kuwait. Despite my willingness to visit Kuwait, I have never been there nor do I plan to go there anytime soon. The last time we got hit by unauthorized charges it was for about $30 for some male hormone two years ago. This time the thief had apparently gotten bolder, perhaps with the aid of the hormone.

I called up my credit card company for the first time in a long while, and as soon as the rep started talking I realized that the credit card company’s customer service, like that of many IT companies, has been outsourced to India. I have nothing against this practice. In fact, I am all for it, just like I think the Americans should stop bitching about the textile jobs they’ve lost to China and other developing countries yet at the same time they enjoy the quality bargains they get to buy and wear everyday.

I proceeded to ask him to reverse the unauthorized charge, which he did. It turned out that there were also a few charges made to obscure websites that I have never visited (and even if I had, I would never admit having visited those kind of sites)—it seemed like the male hormone the thief ordered last time was indeed effective. No worries, just dispute those charges when I receive my statement, I was told. It sounded like he was reading from a script, but that’s fine by me.

But it all went down hill from there. I asked to transfer $6k from my bank account to the credit card account to pay off the trip expenses we charged to the card before I close the account. After the transaction the rep reported that we now owe $12k on the card instead of the original $6k. It took me an angry minute or two to explain to him the difference between a credit and debit transaction and that he essentially took away $6k from my checking account and, instead of using it to pay off my credit card debt, charged another $6k to my card.

He quickly apologized, profusely, and offered to transfer me to another rep. Ok, I thought, it won’t get any worse than this one. But I was wrong. If this one was inept but at least courteous, the new rep was down right rude and impatient. She must have just heard the funniest jokes on earth because she couldn’t suppress her hysterical laughter, even when she wasn’t muting her call, and hysterical to the extent that I almost thought she was either sobbing or choking. She obviously did not want to speak to me because she actively encouraged me to hang up and call back tomorrow, so I made her wish come true and requested to speak with her supervisor instead.

After a few rounds of conversation with the supervisor the card was finally closed. With a sigh of relief from both the close of the account and the end of a long string of calls with some very interesting customer service reps, I started imagining the thief using a replica of my card somewhere in a fine restaurant or a strip club in Kuwait (do they have those there) and the embarrassment of being told by the waiter in a loud voice that the card had been declined. A declined credit card! Ha. Now the whole world knows you are a thief.

At one point I had like 10 credit cards. Then I realized that it was the surest way to ruin your credit score. Now I only have two cards. So before the replacement cards arrive I am left with just one card, which I haven’t used in months. This morning we went to the mall to do some belated holiday shopping, and I used my only card to pay for some coffee at starbucks.

The knit brows of the cashier told me something was wrong. Then, she proclaimed: your card was declined. Before I had a chance to raise a question, she said, I even punched in the number manually. It was still declined.

After paying for my latte and pound of ground coffee with cash I called up my other credit card company. Alas, customer support also outsourced to India. The reason for the block on the account, I was told, was that statements mailed to my old address were being returned undelivered. Anyway, the block was removed, and I could use the card again in 5 minutes, I was told.

The next time I used the card was an hour later in Brooks Brothers, and I was once again told that the card had been declined. It took another call to get things straightened out. Our apologies, the rep said, your card should work fine now. But the damage was already done. I had to pay with my ATM card and at the same time thought I should say something to the store clerk to clarify that I am no credit card thief, but wasn’t sure whether that would have worked.

As luck would have it, a couple of hours later at a gas station the card was declined again for mysterious reasons. Now I really, really hope that the thief gets hit with declined cards too—not for the embarrassment, but for the fact that he may have to deal with the credit card companies and the incompetent and sometimes rude service representatives that these companies hire. But then he may not, at all.


My definition of a decadent lifestyle has always been to do nothing and think about nothing and eat all kinds of things. Since our return to the windy city I’ve achieved none of them, but got dangerously close on all three fronts. I am still procrastinating on my LR assignment but somehow managed to finish almost two thirds of the new edition of Fairbank’s book on Chinese history. When I get tired from reading and trying to catch up with Fairbank’s freakishly insightful remarks, I try not to reflect upon how the China problem may be stated so simply and how its solution may prove all too elusive. So I ended up spending much of the time play with Anna and reading photography forums. Ping once commented that if I cared about and understood and traded stocks as much as I do cameras we’d be rich by now. But because we are not rich we have to be content with ourselves like all poor people do in order to avoid questioning the meaning of our existence. And so I gain comfort in knowing that I now have a stockpile of a variety of Chinese snack food (although dwindling by the day) that mom just brought here.

One of the few names I recognized from Hollywood Boulevard

SoCal Day 5

View from hotel window. And three aircraft carriers in the picture.

The one of the left is USS Ronald Reagan (CVN76), the newest aircraft carrier in service (not counting the USS Bush); the one on the right is presumably USS Nimitz, the first aircraft carrier of the Nimitz class.

The decommissioned USS Midway (CV 41) on this side of the harbor.

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, California

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, California

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, California

Three little monkeys, San Diego Zoo

If I jump high enough, I can see what’s on the other side of the Pacific.

SoCal Day 4

A long day of driving, from L.A. to Joshua Tree National Park to the desert, and finally, back to San Diego. We left L.A. at 8 a.m. and rolled into San Diego at 6 p.m., but the drive in the mountains, the desert, the valleys, and finally along the Pacific again was well worth every minute of it. Going to the zoo tomorrow. Read in the news that Chicago was hit by a snow storm yesterday. And here in Southern California it’s still in the low 60s, and we had to put on the A/C in the car for much of the time we spent in the sun-baked, shadeless desert.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, California

SoCal Day 3

We are still on central time so for the first time in perhaps months, we got to see a sun rise, from our room!

Morning view from hotel room

Our visit to Disneyland was a total waste of time and money. There were like a million people packed into the park. At almost $150 (counting the $5 fries and $3 bottled waters and the like), the carousel ride that Anna took — the only ride we could get on because everything else involved a long line and a 30-minute wait time — was the most expensive and wasteful adventure she has had in her 2.5 years (only Ping’s business school education tops that). And with the fake earth mounds, fake river, and the fake everything else in the park, the whole park screamed “fake” and “make-believe” just like the el-cheapo fake LV bags the tourists carry in the park. I grew up watching Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, but probably not enough to appreciate the magic in Disneyland. Having visited both Disneyworld and Disneyland, I still don’t get it — I have no idea why the whole Disney theme park idea became famous and popular as it is, just like I don’t see why the letters LV imprinted or embossed all over a bag (and also on bags carried by every other woman between 16 and 60 on an L.A. block) could signal any particular status or lifestyle or personality or whatever. In any event, this is the last time I am wasting time on this kind of theme parks.

A ton of people in Disneyland, long lines everywhere.

We left Disneyland shortly after lunch time and headed for Hollywood. The Hollywood Avenue, where the stars are, turned out to be in a pretty creepy area of the town. There weren’t any upscale shops, cafes, restaurants, or other kind of stores along the way that you would expect from a world-famous boulevard. Instead, within a few blocks I counted 1 or 2 topless bars, at least 2 sex-related stores selling lingerie and/or various toys, a “suit store” selling suits straight out of cardboard boxes, and a dozen or so loiterers who made sure that we were aware of their presence in various ways.

The Stars on Hollywood Avenue. Note that the store on the right is probably closed or unoccupied, with its windows all papered up.

The day was not all lost. After two disappointments we headed for Malibu, hoping to drive on California Highway 1 again, sit by the famed beach, and enjoy watching the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. The sun sank dangerously low before we got to Pepperdine University, which was my intended destination, so we pulled over to a public beach somewhere on Highway 1, and watched the sunset there.

L.A. living. Now that’s what I came here to see.

The moment of sunset, looking east.

A minute or so after sunset.

We came back to our hotel and found this plaque near an elevator. It reads: “This is one of two elevators used in filming True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, September 1993.” I never realized that the movie was almost 15 years old. Judging from the decor I am guessing that the hotel has some special connections to the filming industry here (if anyone’s curious, this is the Westin in downtown L.A.), but maybe that can be said about all L.A. hotels.

SoCal Day 2

Inspiration Point, Anacapa Island, Channel Island National Park

Arch Rock, Anacapa Island, Channel Island National Park

Lighthouse and Cliff

California Highway 1, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area


Anna and Ping hiking on Anacapa Island

SoCal Day 1

Anna’s Favorite In-Flight Reading: Safety Instructions, as usual

San Diego, warm, in the lower 60s.

We then took I-5 to L.A.

The rest of the day was spent in the stop-and-go traffic on I-5 and I-10. It took us more than 3 hours to get from San Diego to LA, and another 2.5 from LA to Ventura, for a total of 5-plus hours on a 180-mile trip. In my imagination Ventura is this little quaint, sleepy oceanside town, but as I saw the web of millions of lights in the valley ahead as I exited the 6-lane highway, I knew I was wrong.