Beware Inflated Delivery Charges in China: Get Pricing First

Delivery fees in China are usually surprisingly low. Kuaidi, rapid delivery, is far less than it is in the United States and is a pervasive way of moving goods, with the postal system being used far less for such things. But aways be ont he alert regarding fees. I’ve seen a number of cases where high delivery fees are being used to compensate for low asking price. When delivery is involved, make sure you have the delivery fee pricing before you buy. On TaoBao or related online services, check the delivery fee carefully–sometimes it can be quite large. Of course, this is a problem anywhere. In the States I’ve seen offers for “free” products that included $20 shipping and handling fees.

In China or anywhere else, never agree to any service before you know what the price is. The danger is that you’ll assume that the customary low price for something must apply, only to face a painful surprise, as happens in the karaoke scam and other scams.

By |November 12th, 2014|Categories: Scams, Shanghai, Shopping|Tags: |0 Comments

Real Italian Bread (Roman Style) on Gubei’s Pedestrian Street: Panificio Roma

While walking along Gubei’s beautiful pedestrian street, my wife and I encountered a little Italian bakery on a corner, where we met the owners (Francesco Mazzani, originally from Milan, and his wife, originally from Shanghai).  Panificio Roma is a real Italian bakery. In fact, the dough they use is actually made in Italy, made by his family’s traditional bakery there, and then frozen and imported to China, where it is baked in his store at 620 Jin Chen Dao (Golden Street) in Gubei. You can learn more about the bread and the Italian craftsmanship in every loaf at their website, http://panificioroma.eu/.

The bread is really great. We were in Italy earlier this year and learned that Italian bread can be terrific, although bread in Tuscany usually has almost no salt in it and seems like it has no flavor. But Panificio Roma isn’t that way–it’s a good, hearty bread that I like better than Tuscan-style bread. The ciabatta is perfect, and the baguettes are soft inside with great texture. We also had a panini for 45 RMB and some fresh squeezed juice. Outstanding. We will be back. The owners, both of whom speak wonderful English, are very friendly, intelligent, and interesting. They sat down with us and talked while we slowly ate out delicious food. Imagine, real Italian bread imported from Italy but baked in Shanghai.

By |November 2nd, 2014|Categories: Food, Restaurants, Shanghai, Shopping|Tags: |0 Comments

The Mysterious Angels of Lujiazui Park Watching Over Shanghai

In the midst of the tallest buildings in Shanghai, in the heart of mighty Pudong, lies an unexpectedly serene and generally overlooked park with one of Shanghai’s most intriguing mysteries. It is a beautiful but small park, offset against the towers on all sides. But within its borders lies the mystery of two unusual figures, rising and hovering over the city.

Angels? In a public park in a Communist nation? Yes, angels, with wings, cleverly sculpted so they appear to rise from the earth as trees, then transform into feminine angels watching over and nurturing the inhabitants below.

Angels are not only a symbol from Christianity or Judaism. They play a role in numerous cultures and beliefs, and even for a formally atheistic society, I believe the Party leaders here recognized that angels of this kind can be widely appreciated symbol of protection and favor of China, be it heavenly favor, cosmic, spiritual, or whatever. Yes, there can be a touch of mysticism and cosmic imagination here without subverting official policies. And for those of us who wish to see further dimensions to the art, I welcome the concept of heavenly favor of China. May real angels watch over this grand nation and its peoples!

 
13-12-20_81867

Lujiazui Park

A Protective Angel Watches Over Shanghai

13-12-20_81865

13-12-20_81871

13-12-20_81875

13-12-20_81876

13-12-20_81886

13-12-20_81893

13-12-20_81901

The Angels of Lujiazui Park

The Angels of Lujiazui Park

By |October 25th, 2014|Categories: Photography, Religion, Shanghai|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

More Trouble: Challenges of Teaching English in China

Met today with someone who had come to China with a major program to teach English. Heard some pretty troubling stories. Heard that administrators of the program have not been to the majority of the schools where they place teachers, so they don’t really know if the housing is adequate, if the conditions are safe, if there is any heating, or if the food provided is edible. Teachers can be subject to grueling conditions in remote and difficult places, much longer teaching hours than promised, with random changes in schedules that wipe out personal plans.

If your program won’t tell you where you will be placed until you are here and can’t provide you references from people who have been to same place, be very worried. The numerous problems that young people face when they come to teach English in China are quite discouraging. Don’t come here without knowing what it will be like. Don’t go with a program that will put you in a remote situation without support, help, and structure.

By |October 8th, 2014|Categories: Education, Travel tips|Tags: |Comments Off

Young Single Adult Tours in Shanghai, Fall 2014

For the large group of young single adults coming to join us in Shanghai on a certain weekend this fall, here are the basic tours we are offering.

1. The QiBao ancient water town tour: visit a popular and historic water town with some pretty bridges, a bustling pedestrian street, great street food, quirky museums (ah, the cricket museum!) and many photo ops. Tour begins at the QiBao station way out on Line 9, Exit 2, meeting underground and leaving at 10:00 AM sharp. Leave early to get there on time. This station is about 35 minutes from downtown. Your tour leader, D. R., will cover the tickets for a gondola ride and the funny little museums in Qibao.

2. Shanghai’s Biggest Hits: See the Bund, Yu Gardens, the matchmaking market at People’s Park, and the skyscrapers at Lujiazui. We meet at People’s Square, Exit 1 at 9:45 AM, departing at 10:00 AM. Note: the matchmaking market is a remarkable Shanghai tradition that strikes some foreigners as very odd. Absorb and look but don’t giggle or take too many photos. Be respectful, polite, and relatively quiet even thought it’s a pretty lively and noisy place. You’ll have time to discuss and comment later. (Some of you may wish to sign up some of your friends, but it’s best for foreigners to not try their luck with this system.)

3. Arts and Culture in Shanghai (great for bad weather): see the famous Shanghai Museum, see arts and crafts at Yu Garden, and visit the China Art Museum or several small museums near the Bund (details depend on group size and interest). Starts at People’s Square also.

4. Quirky Shanghai: Unusual sites most tourists miss. Includes the matchmaking market at People’s Park (observe the rules mentioned in #2 above), the mysterious angels at Lujiazui Park, great architecture and art in places like the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the cricket market, the Dong Tai Antiques Market, and the surprisingly calm Confucian Temple in the heart of the wild old city. I’ll lead this group. We start at People’s Square, departing at 10:00 AM.

Bring some money for lunch and dinner. We’ll show you places where you can eat for around 35 RMB or less. We’ll also have subway cards for using the metro system at now cost to you (if all goes well). Tours will go from 10 to 3 PM. Then you’ve got a meeting and, in the evening, a dance.

Stay safe and healthy. Don’t get lost. Stay with the group. Know the phone numbers of your tour leaders and where you will be going next in case you are separated. Use the buddy system. Keep a water bottle with you and get plenty of fluids. If there are health issues, let me or your tour leaders know right away.

Know the basic scams to watch out for (the tea ceremony scam, etc.). Use caution when crossing the sometimes dangerous roads. Watch your feet and your head, especially on the streets of the old city, and watch for motorcycles that can come from any direction.

By |September 11th, 2014|Categories: Shanghai, Surviving|Tags: |Comments Off

Bukhara: Marvelous Indian Food Near Lao Wai Jie: Great Indian Restaurant in Shanghai

Lao Wai Jie, literally “Foreigner Street,” is a walking street in the Hongqiao area of Shanghai that is lined with restaurants catering to foreigners. It’s a popular but sometimes overpriced place. You can get to it from the Longxi Road station on Line 10 and then heading south on Hongmei Road, crossing Yan An Road and the elevated road above it, then turning left into the Lao Wai Jie area. But before you get there, right after crossing Yan An, you’ll see a lovely Indian restaurant on the right side of the street: Bukhara. The address is 3729 Hongmei Road. Their website is bukhara.com.cn and their phone is 6446 8800.

We had a lamb curry and a chicken curry dish that were among the best I’ve tasted. The mango lassee was too sweet and didn’t have much mango, but the carrot pudding dessert rich in butter (ghee) was truly a surprise and very delicious. Main courses are typically around 90 to 110 RMB each. More expensive than many places, but typical prices for the area.

The environment is beautiful, relaxing, and pleasant. Service was outstanding with an English-speaking waiter from Indian who gave us lots of background information about our food and other issues. A very kind young man.

The flavors we found at Bukhara were some of the best we’ve had in Indian food anywhere. Really delicious. A terrific Indian restaurant in Shanghai.

By |August 31st, 2014|Categories: Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |Comments Off

You Are One Guessed or Stolen PIN Away from Disaster: Be Careful With Your ATM Card in China (or Anywhere)

A friend of mine in Shanghai just had 9000 RMB (US$1500) stolen from his Korean bank account by somebody using his ATM card number in Poland. His bank is unsympathetic. They claim that he must have given his card or PIN number to somebody and that is how they  took the money out. But he never gave it to anyone, though someone may have rigged an ATM machine to read his info.

Your ATM card is a disaster waiting to happen. If someone gets your number and your PIN, by theft or guesswork, you may have no recourse. You must limit the use of your card to avoid having thieves scan it and not keep too much money in any account that can be stolen using an ATM card.

Whenever you use your card with a retailer, there is a chance that the retailer is keeping your PIN, perhaps inadvertently, and this PIN can then be hacked and sold to thieves. See the 2006 story from NBC News which explains some of the basic threats.

The more you use your card, the greater your risk. The more money in your account, the greater your risk. Keep some of your money in accounts that cannot be accessed with an ATM card using the terribly inadequate 4-digit PIN security system.

Surprisingly, money may be swiped from your account using your ATM card number even if the thieves don’t know your PIN number. Sound impossible? Our experience proves otherwise.

Recently someone in Germany started pulling about $300 a day out of our US bank account using our ATM card number from our US bank. This is a card we rarely use–I think we have never used it China but did use it on our trip to Italy in February 2014. the thieves struck in May 2014. They took the most they could each day for 3 days in a row before I happened to check my online bank account and notice the unexpected withdrawals. It was very fortunate that I noticed this right away instead of after our account was drained dry. Amazingly, there was no anti-fraud alert to the surprise bleeding that was underway. Bet they could have taken everything if I hadn’t noticed.

I immediately called the bank and they inactivated the card. Whether I would get the money back or not depended on one thing: did the thieves use my PIN number when making the withdrawals? If they had, then the money would be lost forever. No recourse. But because the bank in Germany that dispensed the money was not able to provide proof that the PIN had been used, my bank ruled in my favor and refunded the money.

How the thieves got money out of my account without my PIN was never explained. But it did happen, so it seems, and that means it can happen–to you! Check your account often for fraudulent charges. Use your card as little as possible. Don’t use it in shady locations–whatever that means. Assume every operation is shady and vulnerable. Guard your PIN zealously and watch for unusual attachments to ATM machines, and realize that people may be watching the keys you push, so cover the keypad and use false moves as well.

On the other hand, when PINs are just 4 characters long, someone could simply guess the PIN after enough tries with enough cards (several tries each on a thousand or more cards) and then they have a money machine. The chances of someone guessing your PIN on the first try are just 1/10,000. After 10 tries, though, it’s 1/1000. How many people have been trying to guess your PIN? Does your bank every tell you? Probably not. Your card might get inactivated with lots of bad guessing–a huge inconvenience, but better than losing everything. Check with your bank and understand their anti-fraud systems and what recourses you have to fraudulent withdrawals.

Remember, you are just 4 numbers away from disaster, and those numbers can be stolen or possibly even guessed.

By |August 18th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Finances, Products, Scams|Tags: , , |Comments Off

Foreigners in China: Get the VIP Internet Service from China Telecom to Improve Access to Foreign Websites

We recently upgraded our Internet service to the fastest available: 100 Mbps service for 248 RMB a month. Even with that high speed, we noticed that accessing foreign websites was still painfully slow and unreliable. When we turned on ExpressVPN, our generally good VPN service, the speed was even worse and was essentially blocked, or so it seemed on many days.

Then I learned about China Telecom’s VIP service for foreign websites. This service costs an extra 50 RMB per month and gives you “more stable” access to websites in the US, Japan, Europe, and Hong Kong. Desperate. we tried it, and it has made a huge difference. Foreign websites now upload much faster. We still need VPN for sites like Facebook, but that also seems much faster than before.

To change your service, you need to be on their monthly billing plan. We were on a prepaid plan, having prepaid for a year, so we needed to make a change. How we got on their strange prepaid system is a long story of itself: someone in our real-estate agent’s company handled this and possibly tried to rip-us off, paying for the lowest-speed service instead of the highest and pocketing the money. Only we caught the “mistake” and insisted on correcting did the upgrade happen, and then they only prepared for one month and possibly tried to pocket the difference again. We finally got all or nearly all of the money we had given to show up in our Telecom account. Don’t let intermediaries do this for you! Our mistake.

To switch to monthly billing, you would think it should just take a phone call and the flip of a digital switch. Nope. I had to go a special office in person–not the closest one, but one that is authorized to handle the VIP account. That office is at 500 Jiangsu Road, close Yan An Road. It’s inside an electronic store on the second floor. Right next to the escalator is a round desk with an English speaking young man working there, and he was great.

To get the VIP account, I had to cancel my entire previous account and have a new line installed. That meant a big service fee or getting a year-long plan. Since I heard that 50 Mbps with the VIP service was better than 100 Mbps without, I accepted a special deal they had on 50 Mbps (no similar deal for the 100 Mbps unless I would take a two-year plan). So now I’m paying about 150 a month plus 50 for the VIP service, less than the 289 a month I was paying for the 100 Mbps service. They had to come and install a new line and put in a new cable modem. But the new service with VIP magic is definitely better. Finally, we can use the Internet, even in the evening, and access foreign websites with acceptable speed. We even were able to watch a movie on Netflix. Wow, it’s a new world for us here in China.

We had 1100 in our account that was closed. To get a refund, we had to take our old modem back in with my passport and apply for a refund. The same guy was very helpful. They will call us in a few days when I can come in and get my cash. They cannot just put the money into my account. That, I’m afraid, would be far too easy. But overall, the process wasn’t bad and I’m delighted with the mysterious yet effective VIP service.

Some folks at ShanghaiExpat.com discuss this as “GFW-free” service. No, it is not free of the Great Firewall. VPN is still needed if you want to access things like Netflix or Facebook. But you might have much better results, I think, than you are getting now. If you are about to abandon hope because of slow Internet in China, try the VIP service from China Telecom.

By |August 16th, 2014|Categories: China, Internet, Products, Shanghai, Surviving|Tags: , , |Comments Off

YiLi Road Area on Line 10: Great Shanghai Dining Experiences Abound

The Yili Road metro station on Line 10 puts you close to some really great places to eat. This is a beautiful area next to one of Shanghai’s prettiest little parts, New Hongqiao Park, easily accessible from Exit 4. If you take  Exit 3, you pass under Hongqiao Road and come out at the base of the Takashimaya Mall. Along the short walk to the mall are several restaurants with desserts and other food, and then as you enter the first floor of the mall, there is a good selection of places with fast food, curries, and snacks, including Honey Moon Desserts. But for elegant and fun dining, go up to the 7th floor of the mall. There  you will find Rockstar Italian, a variety of Japanese places, hotpot, and other selections.

A short walk from the station at outside the northeast end of the park, at the confluence of Yili Road and Yan An Road, is Jiadun Square (嘉顿广场) a great complex with numerous restaurants in two adjacent rounded buildings. This includes the famous Element Fresh, a fun Italian place called Gusto, and numerous Korean and Japanese places. Some are quite expensive, but others are great bargains. In the great bargain category is one of our favorite places, Yuli (Yu Ri in Japanese), on the 3rd floor of the northernmost building. There you can get a set meal at dinner with great Japanese steak and onions, plus several side dishes, for 65 RMB (or 55 RMB if you skip the side dishes). I had Soba noodles with beef for 55 RMB, and we also ordered a side of sushi with 6 large, beautiful pieces of different items for 98 RMB. Some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.

Give Yili Road area a try!

 

 

 

By |August 2nd, 2014|Categories: China|Tags: |Comments Off

Why Do So Many Foreigners Shop at Carrefour? Too Expensive, Not Superior Quality

Now that we’ve moved out to the Gubei/Hongqiao area in Shanghai, we are close to the large and popular Carrefour grocery store. We’ve been there 3 times now, but we’ve decided to shun it as much as we can now that we’ve seen how consistently high the prices area and how iffy the quality can be.

The high prices are my main complaint–many things are 20% to 50% or more what you would pay at E-Mart and maybe twice what you might pay if you shop around a little more. But price is not the only problem. We’ve had some quality problems already.

Produce purchased on Saturday in several cases went bad by Sunday. I could tell it was getting on in age when I bought it, but having to throw vegetables away after one day is ridiculous. We found their baked bread quality to be poor (burned flavor from overcooking). Staff are not that helpful (likely to give you wrong directions or just point you in a general direction without really helping you).

Food is not the only problem we’ve had. A DVD player we purchased was dead out of the box and had to be returned, but returning was difficult because the staff person in the electronics area had us pay her cash and she put it on her card to get credit for the purchase. Took a lot of talking, but finally we were able to get a refund. Also, when you need a fapiao (for example, some people need to get them and turn them in to their employer to help them get some kind of tax benefits I guess), they take and keep your entire receipt so all you have is the fapiao that you might have to turn into the office. If something needs to be replaced, you won’t have your proof of purchase anymore. Good luck. Other stores like E-Mart let you keep the receipt when you get a fapiao.

On the plus side, their fresh herbs were fresh (ah, great mint for my favorite Brazilian pineapple-mint drink) and reasonably priced for the quality. And another big plus for Carrefour in Gubei is the Food Republic food court on the first floor with a dozen or so great places to eat at reasonable prices, including one of my favorite gelato/ice cream places, Ice Season, where natural mint is my flavoite flavor Not too sweet, and perfectly flavored.

On the down side, getting home from Carrefour is a chore if you want to take a taxi. There is along taxi line but very few taxis coming by. Since most of the people there are going short distances to get home, fares will be low, so cabbies aren’t motivated to go there. It’s about a 10-minute walk to the Shuicheng Road subway station on Line 10. Much easier to use that if you can.

But for better deals and fresher produce, go to your local wet market. Or try other grocers or other supermarkets like E-Mart at Laoximen. Much better prices there, and generally good quality.

By |July 29th, 2014|Categories: China, Consumers, Food, Restaurants, Shopping, Surviving|Tags: |Comments Off

Restaurant Recommendations for Special Occasions in Shanghai: TMSK, Whampoa Club, Banana Leaf, More

Recently we had some virtually miraculous evenings with special guests where a visit to a restaurant was memorable, remarkable, and far beyond our expectations. Three of the most enjoyable of these events occurred at TMSK in Xintiandi, Banana Leaf at the Super Brands Mall at Lujiazui (floor 6 or 7), and Whampoa Club in Three on the Bund. Of these three, for our next special night out, TMSK is the one I’m most likely to return to.

The Whampoa Club has beautiful art-deco design inside with a great view of the Bund from the 5th floor of Three on the Bund (3 Guandong Street). Beautiful and fun just to be there. The menu is horrifically expensive, in my opinion, but the set menu on the Chef’s Sampling Menu is more affordable. That menu is 289 per person. But note: you must reserve this ahead of time. If you show up, even with reservations, and have not specifically reserved the sampling menu ahead of time (preferably 24 hours or more ahead), they may turn you down. In my case, I called on the same day to make reservations for the evening, and asked about their sampling menu. They said yes, it’s available, no problem. But when our party of four arrived, we were told that the sampling menu was not available and we’d have to order off the menu. I explained my situation and asked them to reconsider. The waiter had to check with management, and came back a few minutes later saying yes, we could. That was a relief. Otherwise we would have walked.

The food that came was highly impressive and tasty. My favorite may have been a large, succulent prawn in batter with a sauce over it. Really delicious and filling. The many samples that came left us full and surprised at the variety of flavors and textures available in this high-end Chinese place.

Banana Leaf at the Super Brands Mall surprised us with the quality of food but mostly with the beautiful private room we were able to walk into without reservations, while dozens were lined up waiting to get in. I had a group of 7 on a Saturday afternoon in Liujiazui. After walking tour of Lujiazui Park, we went to Super Brands Mall where we were planning to try Bellagio’s on the top floor. But one floor before we got there, I saw Banana Lead and, recalling a positive experience in the past, thought maybe my group might like this instead. While there were many people lined up outside waiting to get in, when we told them we had a group of 7 and asked how long the wait would be, they said there was no wait, just go on in, What? But there was a large, beautiful private room that was just waiting for a large group to come–I guess all the people waiting were couples or other small groups too small for the private room. So all 7 of us were seated immediately in luxury. We ordered and food was coming right away. Everything we ordered was delicious. We have a real feast for around 70 RMB per person.

TMSK is one of the most beautiful and interesting places to eat at. They have Chinese and Western items, but I think the Chinese dishes are most outstanding. The roast beef is so tender and delicious. Mama Yang’s noodles surprised us all with the flavor — so much so that we ordered a second helping. We had a lot of food and beverages, including wine for one of our guests, so the total bill was higher than normal, 790 RMB for 4, but it was worth it. TMSK is the one that I’m most anxious to try again in the near future. The fact that I really like the people there is part of the draw. And so beautiful.

 

By |July 17th, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , , |Comments Off

Coming to China to Teach English? Do You Know What You’re Facing?

While there is high demand for English teachers in China and great pay for teachers with teaching credentials, the situation is quite different for those without teaching credentials (e.g., a teaching certificate and a degree). Young teachers, typically college students, are recruited to come to China for a few months in what amounts to an unusually difficult study-abroad experience programs from institutions like China Horizons or ILP (International Language Program). The recruits generally pay their own travel to come here and get almost nothing as pay (if anything at all), though room and board is provided. What the enthusiastic teachers often don’t know before coming here is that the room and board can be unspeakably unpleasant in many cases: no heating or air conditioning, no flush toilets, bad food, poor sanitation, and a location in a remote town far from the conveniences of places like Shanghai or Beijing.

Students coming here to teach often think they will be able to learn Chinese and see China while here. But no instruction in Chinese will be provided and free time to see China will be much less than they imagine. They may be told that weekends will be free, but the schools frequently have weekend programs and tell the teachers they are required to be there. Sometimes they learn of this at the last minute (like on Friday), after having already bought train tickets to go somewhere for the weekend. Many are told that they only have to work a small number of hours or teach a few classes, and then find that their work load is much higher once they get here. They can really be at the mercy of the local school. Many of these teachers I know seem to be little more than servants exploited to make a poor school seem more credible and increase revenues from parents anxious to have their kids learn English.

Many of the students coming here are religious (e.g., LDS/Mormon) and hope to attend church on Sundays, but find out that the town where they are assigned is 3 hours away from the nearest congregation, and that the transportation to go to church will eat up much of their cash. Some make the sacrifice and go as often as they can. But that takes real commitment.

Some know all this and come with a desire to serve, teach, and experience the wonder of China. Others are surprised but boldly conquer their challenges and move forward. Some feel greatly disappointed, but often fear to let others know (especially their parents), not wanting to make people worry or think that they were duped or something. I think there needs to be more awareness of just how challenging China can be for a Westerner. It’s easy in Shanghai, though plenty challenging, but in a small town without all the graces and support systems of Shanghai, it can be quite an ordeal. Some know this and bravely conquer, but others wish they had known first.

Do a little more homework before you come to China to teach English. Make sure you know where you are going and what the conditions are. And recognize that whatever you are told, even in complete good faith, that things change quickly here. Be ready for what you may experience. It is rarely easy. Sadly, for some, it wasn’t worth it. For others, it was terrific.

By |July 15th, 2014|Categories: Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , |Comments Off