Beware Asking the “King of Questions”: Twilight Zone Chat with Skype Customer Service

Today I thought I was entering a chat room with Skype’s technical support and customer service team. It looked like a chat room, but it was actually a journey into the heart of the Twilight  Zone.

While at the Los Angeles Airport, I was about to use the free wireless service provided here when suddenly Skype opened a window offering to connect with Skype Connect, a service I never want to use Skype Connect because I consider it way too expensive. The dialog box only had a connect button and no button that I could see to cancel or refuse the connection. While looking for a way to get out of the offered service, the dialog box disappeared and was replaced with a message saying that I was now connected. This is what I consider to be malware behavior. I immediately quit Skype, but then was wondering if this malware-like system had accrued unwanted charges. I looked for billing information in my Skype account but couldn’t find anything to answer my question. I was ticked off enough to want to know and not just let them bill me for unwanted services using a malware approach, so I went to Skype’s technical support page and launched a chat session with their support service. To do this, one must enter one’s Skype user name and password. In theory, you might think that the Skype customer service representative who you chat with should know who you are. In theory, one would also think that they should be able to answer a simple question: was I billed or not? That all sounds nice in theory, but theory isn’t always what we find in the Twilight Zone.

In my chat session, I would be asked again to provide my user name. Then I would be asked for my name. Then later I would be asked for my user name again. And then for my name again. And then, after a series of equally informative and entertaining inquiries of this nature, I would be told that it would take just a few minutes to find an answer to my question, and then when I checked to see if they even knew what question they were actually answering, I found out that they “don’t answer this king of questions.” Wow, I guess I really did it this time. I thought I was asking something simple, like was I billed or not, but this is actually the “King of Questions”–at least in the Twilight Zone of Skype Customer Service.

By the time my free internet access died, I would find out nothing about whether I was billed. I did learn a few things about Skype, but encountered some giant mysteries, like how a their reps can lose track of so much info so quickly, and why they won’t tell you at first when you’ve asked an unanswerable King of Questions. I am left with gaping mysteries, but I still learned enough to make me want to switch to some other service. The Chinese QQ system is said to be superior in many ways, and that may be my next stop. Other recommendations?

 

 

By |April 27th, 2013|Categories: Products||Comments Off

A Jewish Deli with Montreal-Style Smoked Meats Comes to Shanghai

Tock’s, a Montreal deli, is a new sensation in the heart of Shanghai, our first Jewish deli with authentic Montreal-style smoked meats. Delicious! They import their beef from Australia (soon to be Calgary, Canada) and cure and smoke it on site. Turkey is also imported. Their duck comes from a certified organic, superior-quality site in Guangzhou. I’ve met some of the North American team behind this ambitious operation and they impress me, as does the food. Such great smoked meat, available in low fat, medium, and high fat versions.

The smoked meat sandwich is very popular at 75 RMB (95 for the giant size). I’ve enjoyed the smoked meat platter with beef and turkey (75 RMB, with other combinations possible) and their delicious chef salad for 55 RMB. Good service and a fun, bustling operation. Great for lunch. Not open for dinner at the moment, but will be in a few weeks.

231 Henan Zhong Road, just a little north of the Bund Center and not far from Nanjing Street.

 

By |April 24th, 2013|Categories: China, Food||Comments Off

Dining in in the Laoximen and Xintiandi Area of Shanghai

We live in Laoximen where the old west city gate of Shanghai was. This puts us walking distance from Yu Garden, one of Shanghai’s most popular attractions, and walking distance from Xintiandi, a favorite hangout for foreigners. But what I love most about where we live is the combination modern convenience with the picturesque old city around us with its chaotic but efficient markets and bustling street life. And I love the many places to eat that are walking distance from our apartment.Here are some recommendations for this region.

In Xintiandi, my number one recommendation for quality and value is Bellagio Cafe, a bright, clean, and delicious Taiwanese restaurant that has nothing to do with Italian food in spite of its Italian name. While Xintiandi tends to be very expensive, this place is not. Numerous delicious dishes are available for 30 to 50 RMB. Like many Chinese places, you will enjoy it most fully with a group so you can try lots of dishes. I took five people there two weeks ago, reserving a private room, and we ordered more than we could eat for a total of 570 RMB. Last night  we managed to squeeze 13 people into the same private room that really should only seat 8, maybe 10, and we ordered many dishes, plus watermelon juice and their famous shaved ice desserts including mango ice, peanut ice, and strawberry ice (best!). Bill for the group of 13 was 1170 RMB. That’s less than $15 a person, and they were full and happy.

Bellagio is at 68 Taicang Road. A map and further details is available at SmartShanghai. There is also a Bellagio Cafe in the Hongqiao area that I’ve tried also. Very good.

Things to avoid: the shrimp with fried bread (youtiao) is a little disappointing. Favorites to try: The fish covered in red sauce. I think it’s yellow croaker, a favorite fish. It’s been deboned and is so tender and flavorful. The hakka soup and the bitter melon soup are both really good. Many Westerners are not used to bitter melon, but it’s a taste worth cultivating. The “three cup” chicken is also very flavorful. Their kong pao shrimp is also superb. Service is outstanding.

In the heart of Xintiandi, where things get really expensive, the 1930 Shanghai restaurant offers surprisingly inexpensive basic Chinese food and live entertainment at night. Food is simple but good.  Small menu but very fun place.

Paulauners is a German restaurant almost next to 1930 that has relatively inexpensive dishes. Cost without drinks will be around 150 RMB or so per person. Fast service and good quality.

Back in the Laoximen area, Da Ma Tou Restaurant on the corner of Fuxing and Xizang South Road is a bustling, inexpensive, high-quality Chinese place with great desserts (mango ice, etc.) and many inexpensive items. They do have a dimsum menu if you can read Chinese, and a picture menu as I recall. Many inexpensive items.

Our favorite new discovery is on Fangxie Road, where there are several restaurants largely undiscovered by Westerners. Yunse Restaurant just opened and is delightful and very inexpensive. You can have a really delicious plate of wild mushrooms for 20 RMB. Many items are in the 20-35 RMB range. The mango ice is 25 RMB and the best I’ve tasted, I think. Big enough for two or three people. We’ll be trying more dishes shortly.

 

By |April 16th, 2013|Categories: China, Food||Comments Off

Surviving China: Some Tips from an American in Shanghai. Episode 1: The Passport

Are you a foreigner coming to China? Here already? Here are some tips for survival that might make your experience better. Today we start with basic issue #1, the passport.

Passport basics:

  1. Your passport is life. Protect it. Keep it in a safe place unless you need it. Never leave it with someone you don’t trust. If a hotel wants to hold it, give them a copy but check out before you leave it with them. A friend of mine had their passport stolen while it was in the safe keeping of a hotel. Street value of a US passport is around $5,000-$15,000, I’ve heard. It may be the most tempting and valuable thing you possess. Chinese people are typically very honest, but it just takes that 1 in 10,000 to change your life quickly. 
  2. Know when you will need to bring your passport.  You will need to have it with you for hotels, trains (rarely checked, but it does happen, and will be needed to buy a ticket or make changes), and planes. You will need to do anything with people at a bank, or even registering for, say, a customer loyalty card at a grocery store). Also may need it for checking into a hospital, but check to see if a photocopy will do. In any case, always have a photocopy or two of your passport with you. Carry one in your wallet or purse, and perhaps somewhere else also. 
  3. If your passport is lost, don’t waste time waiting for it to be returned to a lost and found area. Chances are it was stolen or quickly will be. Start on the path of getting a replacement for your passport and Chinese visa. The replacement passport can be done fairly quickly, but the visa takes extra time. This will take about 3 business days typically, if things go well, so change your travel arrangements as needed. Immediately contact the US Consulate in your area. They can get you started on this process. It’s also going to involve several hundred dollars and you will need to leave the country (Hong Kong is a good choice) and come back in to get your new temporary passport stamped and validated. I’ll explain more later.
By |April 9th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized||Comments Off