Wednesday, September 27, 2006

You Are Out! Auf Wiedersehen

Sometimes, I amaze myself by the amount of useless information I hold in my memory. A few years ago, Joanne Lumley (English actress of Ab Fab fame) went on some breakfast programme in the U.K.; she talked about how she lived in a haunted house in lovely Cotswold for some years.

The "House" and she didn't get on; it smelt foul because of lingering pipe problems, she was sick often, bizarre accidents happened to her and her family, etc. She fought on and wanted to prove to "House" that she was the owner. So she spent a few miserable years living in this lovely cottage in the picturesque land of Cider with Rosie.

Finally she came to her senses and decided to move. Before she stepped out of the cottage for the last time, she went down to the basement and said out loud to her surrounding "I'm leaving now, I hope you are happy". Doors banged a few times by themselves, as if in acknowledgement; Ms Lumley recalled how she felt as if the "House" had released a deep sigh of relief and suddenly she could smell the scent of roses.

OK, before you think I've gone completely loony; I'm only building up to my point which is I feel that cosmic forces of the Universe are giving me no subtle hint or a gentle nudge, but a loud and clear shout: "Get out of here, this country, however beautiful, is NOT FOR YOU".

Most expats have a few hitches here and there settling into a new country. I had more than a few; one actually serious enough to warrant Consular assistance and IDD phone conservations with an Australian police officer stationed somewhere within Latin American and police officers back home in Sydney.

More than one year on, despite being the esposa of an Argentine, I still do not possess an ID card (the DNI) which means I cannot work en blanco (legally). Even if they grant me one, it may not be of any use to me or anyone because they insist on using my Chinese name, the only name on my birth certificate, not my Christian name and Chinese initials on my passport. I had to make peace with myself that I might never work again as long as I stay in this country.

Just when we thought we had overcome most hurdles of settling in and started planning a family, it wasn't meant to be. To add insult to injury, for the past week when I was really in the thick of it (pardon the pun), our gas supply got cut. Due to some minor gas leak on our street, we haven't had gas since last Tuesday and we are not sure when it would be back.

I was sweating from all the intense pain and discomfort, there was mess to be cleaned, and no hot water; it was beyond black comedy. I would have understood completely if Guillermo had moved into the guest bedroom. Well, he didn't; he is my hero now.

His parents offered their bathroom and hot water but Belgrano was too far when I was in such condition. Besides, I would have been just too embarrassed; my in-laws are exceedingly clean and tidy and I would have dirtied their pristine bathroom beyond their wildest imagination.

In the midst of all this, Guillermo had an appointment with a management consultancy which claims they only work with clients at the CEO level in Latin America. They would like Guillermo to train their clients in cognitive skills. Nothing remotely concrete yet, although they have had a number of previous meetings. Since it was a very warm day and I could use some fresh air, I suggested that we set off together towards Recoleta/ Barrio Norte where their office is. The plan was I walked around until he finished his meeting and we would then meet up for coffee.

Within 30 minutes, he called to say he was done. We met up at a corner of Santa Fe. He told me the Managing Directors of this supposedly international consultancy firm had forgotten about their appointment with him and were all out of the office. I was speechless; I didn't quite know whether to laugh or cry at this level of ineptitude.

Guillermo needed to sit down and gather his thoughts; I mean I needed to sit down. We walked around and found some German beer house (clearly we weren't thinking). As soon as we walked in and sat down, some old geezer came over and said to me "We do not serve Chau Fan (he meant fried rice)". I was so shocked that all I could say was "Que?"

Guillermo was not amused but retained his composure and told the old guy we were just having coffee. My gentle lamb obviously had never walked out on waiter/ shop assistant with appalling attitude. I was too tired to give this greasy porteño a piece of my mind or a finger; I just told Guillermo I was walking out and I did.

When you think things couldn't get worse, my husband "casually" mentioned that AFIP (Inland Revenue/ Tax Office) is investigating him. This must be one of the country's greatest ironies.

Why doesn't the AFIP close down the famous Don Carlos restaurant in La Boca where a few scribbles on the paper tablecloth are as close to receipts as anyone would ever get? Or why don't they go and review the books of smiley Maria at El Rincon Organico and get her to explain why she wasn't issuing official tax receipts for most of the year until the time my post on her operation came out?

The reason for their suspicion is that the number of official tax receipts Guillermo issued over the past ten months, since he has been in business, cannot justify the amount of US dollars he has converted in the past year. Most of that money we converted into US$ before he started his business anyway. It was cash for buying the apartment which we brought with us from London (in £) and wired by my parents from Hong Kong (in US$). All real estate transactions are done in US$ and in cash.

The Central Bank forces money transfers in a foreign currency to be converted into pesos first and then, if you wish, to be converted back into US$ for your local US$ banking account. Needless to say the buy/sell spread for this two way conversion is unreasonable if you choose to do so, all at once, at your local HSBC (or any other bank for that matter).

In order not to be screwed twice in one go by the banking system, Guillermo spent days withdrawing pesos (no way of escaping being screwed the first round) from our peso account at HSBC and exchanging them back to US$ in the city centre where the peso: US$ rate was more reasonable. Doing so, he originated a paper trail from these exchange houses which cannot be traced back to the original US$ TT from my father in Hong Kong. So the AFIP thinks he is earning loads and spending more than he reports through his tax receipt book.

When I see other monotributos (self-employed tax payers) like Don Carlos, El Rincon Organico and many others in this city getting away with robbing the country blind of its tax revenues (of course they don't think it is theft, but it is); I sometimes curse that Guillermo should be so upright.
If this is how the country chooses to thank him for his honesty, it is obviously not the right place for either of us. I think we have been shown the door, we can take the hint.

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