Friday, 15 March 2013

When the grille came down

Several weeks ago, I was accused by a friend of a student at the Universiti Sains Malaysia of being a hypocrite because I had no qualms about receiving handouts from the federal government - now in caretaker mode since their mandate has expired and they are still too scared to call for a fresh mandate at the General Elections - although I look at their policies with a cynical mind.

I replied that if this was a definition of "hypocrite", then I was proud to be one. I will take whatever money that the federal government will give out to me and my relatives because after all, these handouts are being paid from taxpayers' money. As a taxpayer myself, I have a right to take back whatever had been taken from me previously.

Anyway, the above is just a comment which ties in with the BR1M handouts that are being given to senior citizens and others. Armed with a letter from the Income Tax Department, I went to the Kim Sen School in Bukit Mertajam to collect a voucher on behalf of my aunt (she's eligible, I'm not) who was still recovering from her recent bout of recurring back pain. A chronic condition.

A few days later, I went with her to the CIMB Bank in Kampung Baru, here in Bukit Mertajam. We arrived just before 9.15a.m. The doors were still shut and locked but we could see the staff inside readying themselves to attend to the customers.

The doors opened almost on the dot. We went in, one of the staff attended to my aunt, asked her to sign here and there, and then I placed her voucher and identity card on the tray at the counter. A few minutes later, her name was called and the money given to her. Very simple procedure if the claimant were to go personally to the bank.

To be sure, that brief wait outside the bank brought back some memories of my time at the Ban Hin Lee Bank or BHL Bank as it was known later. I was based at the bank's head office in Beach Street, George Town. You know, that imposing cuboid-shaped building at the corner of Beach Street and China Street Ghaut.

At that time, banking hours were from 10a.m. till 3p.m. (Mondays to Fridays) and from 9.30a.m. to 11.30a.m. (Saturdays). Yes, we were still working on Saturdays then. Five-and-a-half days week.

Ordinarily in the morning, the main door would remain unlocked until about 9.20a.m. or so, which theoretically should be more than enough time for the staff to arrive and report for work. Once the chief cashier was ready to open the bank vault, security measures would be activated, meaning the door would be locked and an iron grille lowered from the top. The grille won't be lifted again until the vault door was closed and properly secured. And even then, the main door would remain locked.

Woe betide any staff that arrived at the bank once the grille was down. The person would have to wait outside until the grille was up again. Sometimes, it could be a half-an-hour wait. There was no exception to this rule and even the bank's directors and senior management staff had to abide by this regulation.

Of course, once you were caught outside, you would know who your fellow latecomers were. A few were quite consistently late but surprisingly the bank was rather forgiving. As far as I knew, their tardiness would often be overlooked.

I have to admit that once or twice, I did join the queue outside the bank but my explanation was simple: no matter how early you tried to be, the ferry's operations could occasionally be thrown out of schedule. There were so many times when there was either no ferry coming in to berth or upon berthing and discharging the passengers, the ferry went off without picking up new fares. Those were the frustrating wait for the ferries.

(The other occasion when the door grille would come down was at the end of the day, normally just before five o'clock. That was when the vault door would be reopened to allow the chief cashier to store the cash back into the bank's vault.) 

So the brief wait outside the bank in Kampung Baru a few days ago did bring back some interesting memories of my time at the Ban Hin Lee Bank in George Town, Penang.

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