About Jeffrey Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay, the Sheik of Shake Well, is an ordinary guy posing as another ordinary guy formerly from Appleton, Wisconsin, now living in Shanghai, China.

Slow Internet Connection in China? Tips for Service and How to Measure Local Speed

The most challenging aspect of life in China for many foreigners may be the Internet. In addition to many of our favorite sites being blocked by the Great Firewall of China, the Internet here can often be painfully slow. Here are some tips for dealing with both problems.

The Firewall can be overcome with VPN, allowing a direct port to a foreign server to be established with encrypted communication. I use ExpressVPN (https://www.expressvpn.mobi/). It costs money, but it’s worth it and I believe it to be the best service with the best technical support to help you deal with the challenges of connecting. It also adds some extra security since data to and from your computer is encrypted, so it’s good to use for online banking and other sensitive issues. It slows everything down, though.

The general problem of a slow Internet connection in China may be due in part to the heavy work of monitoring Internet usage and to rapidly expanding demand on existing infrastructure. There’s a lot of data requiring a lot of surveillance. But many times foreigners living in China don’t realize that the service they are getting in their apartment can be upgraded to faster service. The base local speed (China to China connections) may range from 10 Mps (10 megabytes/sec) to 100 Mps. If you need higher speed, contact your provider (often China Telecom, reachable by dialing 10000–and yes, they do have English speaking support) and check into an upgrade.

Understand your connection speed by doing speed tests. A good test that might not load for you in China (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t) is SpeedTest.net. This service can use servers in China to test your latency (ping delay), download speed, and upload speed. If your download speed is limited to around 10 Mps, using the Internet is going to be painful. Upgrade. In Shanghai, you can use a China Telecom service at http://sh.189.cn/support/netreport/ to test you download speed with local servers to see what your maximum speed is likely to be. It’s in Chinese, but you don’t need to understand Chinese to use it. Click on the green button that says “开始测速” (begin testing speed). The numerical result is in Mps. You can also use other speed tests that measure data transfer involving US servers. Numbers will be lower than using Asian servers, of course. ATT has a speed test and so does Comcast (Xfinity).

For best speed, make sure you have background processes off (things like software updates, online backup, etc. can slow you down) and don’t have too many browser windows open. For best speed, bypass the slight delay of a wireless router and plug directly into the Ethernet output jack on the back of your cable modem or router — but the gains will often be minor. Also beware of prime times when everybody else is trying to download movies or play games: the Internet can really bog down in China from about 7 PM to 11 PM. And weekends, lunchtime, and so on.

By |July 7th, 2014|Categories: Shanghai, Surviving, Webmasters|Tags: , , |Comments Off

Food Poisoning: Beware of Hamburgers and Other High Risk Items

food poisoning shanghai burgers hospital preparation

Was it the meat? The mayo? the lettuce? Or maybe the shake? It’s hard to know with food poisoning.

I had a call at 2:15 AM this morning from a victim of food poisoning, a friend who had just been taken to one of Shanghai’s many hospitals with quaint names. This one was the Armed Police Hospital of Shanghai on Hongxu Road near Yan An Road in Hongqiao, not far from where we live. He had been out with some friends eating at Munchies, a popular joint serving basic Western food like hamburgers, shakes, and fries. I ate there once a few months ago and thought it was OK but not interesting, and avoided the hamburgers due to my concerns about the risks of food poisoning. Hamburgers are already a common source of food poisoning in the States, and I think the risks will be higher here.

My friend had eaten a hamburger, shake, and fries. He guessed that his food poisoning came from bad oil in the fries or bad cream in the shake. My guess is the hamburger was the culprit. Hamburger is so often contaminated with bacteria and is too easy to undercook or recontaminate with sloppy handling. But who knows, it could have been bacteria on dirty lettuce in the burger. I doubt that bad oil would give the violent food poisoning reaction he had, with hours of pain and loss of everything in his digestive tract.

He eventually became so dehydrated and weak and in so much pain that he realized he was in medical trouble, so he called for help and soon was being carried away in an ambulance. In his weakened state, he forget to bring a wad of cash with him. Mistake! Bring lots of cash when you go to the hospital. Bringing an ATM card can work, but if there is trouble, then what? He was so weak when he got to the hospital that his fingers kept slipping as he tried to enter the long password code for his bank card, and after 3 tries, his card was locked and unable to be used at all. He called the bank to clear it, but was told he had to come in personally when the bank opened again later. Not good at 2 AM when you need to pay now for urgent help.

In China, if you don’t pay upfront or have proof of adequate insurance (that may not work in many cases), you aren’t going to get treatment, as far as I know. Understand that and be prepared. The hospital staff suggested he call a friend. I normally put my phone in silent mode when I go to sleep to prevent unwanted calls in the middle of the night. Last night was an unusual exception, and I’m glad I didn’t. I was able to rush over and help out, handling the payment. 650 RMB is all it cost for him to get a lot of good attention (once payment was made), an IV with several bags of fluid, medication, etc. The kit of supplies I received for him after payment was really impressive. Treatment was good, the place was clean, and the staff were efficient and friendly. Pretty good for a public hospital in the middle of the night. Remarkably low cost. Not bad.

What is bad is food poisoning. It can really hurt and make life miserable. Staying hydrated when you are hit with it is a real challenge. Drink lots and lots of fluids, even though you might lost them swiftly. Gets some salts also. Gatorade might be a good beverage to keep on hand for such cases. But do your own research to prepare. Keep some cash in your wallet or in a handy place at home to take with you to the hospital, along with one or two bank cards, your cell phone, and a cell phone charger, etc. Be ready. And especially be careful about what you eat. It’s a key to surviving in Shanghai, China.

By |July 6th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Food, Health, Shanghai, Surviving|Tags: , , , |Comments Off

More Tips on Moving in China: Trucks, Boxes, Etc.

When you are moving in China, there are several things to do to prepare.

First, review your current rental contract and make sure you give adequate notice and comply with other terms needed to ensure you have a good chance of getting your rental deposit back. It’s often two months of rent, so you don’t want to lose this money. Be a good tenant, give adequate notice before the end of the contract so they have time to find a new tenant (if leaving mid-year, you may not be able to get your deposit back at all). Make sure you leave the place clean and handle outstanding bills for utilities (this may include leaving enough money in the hands of the landlord to cover estimated costs, or taking other steps).

Second, prepare well in advance with the supplies you will need such as boxes, tape, bubble wrap, scissors, string, etc. If you move, you may want to get a lot of boxes. These can be hard to find on sale, but you can get them at B&Q for about 15 RMB each. Cheaper is to track down a recycler carrying loads of boxes and boxboard down the street. He’ll sell you boxes for maybe 2 RMB each. Cheaper still is to go to department stores or other places discarding boxes and take away used boxes for free. Keep some boxes around the house–they often come in handy and can be a pain to find when you need them. Also prepare by getting bubble wrap, newspaper or wrapping paper, and lots of good packaging tape, which isn’t always easy to find. When you see it, get some well in advance. You can also order boxes and tape online at Taobao.

Third, arrange for help such as a moving service to get you and your stuff to your new place. This often involves using a local moving service. Order a truck that is bigger than what you think you need so you can avoid two trips. A medium truck going across town might cost you 700 RMB if just one or two people are needed. Since we were moving a piano, we had a large truck and a crew of four, which costs us more than we expected: 1700 RMB. But it was a solid half-day of work for four people, and the extra-large truck had a 500 RMB surcharge. But had we negotiated ahead of time as we should have, I think we might have only paid 1300 RMB or maybe 1400. Lesson learned, maybe. While arranging for moving muscle, it’s also wise to hire an ayi or two (maids) to provide cleaning muscle for your new place and your old.

Fourth, pack early. Don’t wait until the night before the move. Your stuff is important and you don’t want to lose it or misplace it through careless packing. Mark boxes so you know what is where. Wrap delicate things carefully and be prepared for rough treatment. Make sure you don’t take things that are part of the apartment, either. Spend a few hours every night for a week to get prepared, if you can.

My experiences in moving in China have been limited to Shanghai, but the principles should apply to other large cities as well.

Related posts:  Tips on Finding an Apartment in Shanghai, Renting in Shanghai

Related pages: Surviving in China

By |July 1st, 2014|Categories: China, Consumers, Housing, Shanghai|Tags: , , |Comments Off

Prepare For Your Trip to China With Scam-Prep 101: Beware the Karaoke Scam, the Tea Ceremony Scam, and Other Scams in China

I’ve written before about the dangers of the “Tea Ceremony Scam” in China where attractive girls or other friendly young people invite foreigners to join them as they attend a nearby traditional Chinese tea ceremony. After a few tiny samples of tea, you’ll be billed for hundreds of dollars, and there might be some tough muscular guy there to enforce payment. This scam is actually dangerous, and if you fall for it, you’ll literally be in a den of criminals. It’s one of the most common scams in China.

It is important to know that there can be several variations of this scam. An important variation has come to my attention with the recent news story in the Shanghai Daily, “15 members of karaoke crime gang detained” (June 24, 2014). In this scam, friendly people invited victims to join them in karaoke. After some entertainment, a bill was presented for something like 30,000 RMB (US $5,000). In the case in the story, the man paid $1,000, everything he had, but this was not enough, and they were forcibly taking him back to his hotel to get the rest of his money. He managed to escape on the way and get help from the police, who eventually captured the gang. But there are probably many similar gangs in operation.

Whether you are in Shanghai, Beijing, or any other place that gets significant tourism, you have to be wary of friendly strangers who want to invite you somewhere. Don’t go with them. Don’t let merchants or others lead you down isolated alleys or remote floors of buildings to see their mystery shop. Don’t let them lead you into a room where they can lock the door to prevent you from escaping–something that happened to someone I know well. Fortunately for her, they were just keeping the police away from their fake goods operation, and the woman was able to get out unharmed. But don’t take those risks. Avoid the scams in China, but recognize that the scammers can be very polished, alluring, and highly trained–they are part of a well-oiled scam machine run by real professionals who have mastered effective systems that keep duping foreigner after foreigner, making loads of money for the scamlords.

Be alert. Make sure he change people give you is real Chinese money. Make sure the expensive product you buy is actually put int he package. Make sure the cab you get into you is a real cab using a real meter. If the meter is off and they quote you a price to get to your destination, don’t accept that unless you know what the real price is and it is close enough to be acceptable to you, otherwise you can many times the real price. Don’t prepay for rides because you might get dumped off for some other low bidder to take you, only to find additional fees on the way (yeah, I experienced that).

When you’ve been robbed by falling for a scam, you’ll feel really stupid and pained by how you were used and cheated. That’s a lot of stress that you can avoid in many cases by being alert and reducing your risks.

The Chinese people are generally honest, friendly, and decent, but the handful of exceptions are the ones who will be watching for you. They are organized and know you are coming. Be ready and stay safe.

 

 

By |June 27th, 2014|Categories: China, Scams, Shanghai||Comments Off

Finding an Apartment or Moving to a New Apartment in Shanghai

After 3 great years in the Lao Xi Men area of Shanghai (West Gate Apartments on Xizang South Road a little south of Fuxing Road), we have moved close to the Yili Road subway station on Line 10, which puts us in the Gubei area. It’s quieter, cleaner, and with a surprisingly high concentration of fun restaurants and beautiful spots such as the marvelous New Hongqiao Park. We moved because my wife already has too long a commute, and I just found out that my office will be moving to a location closer to where she works, so, as our previous contract was coming to a close, it made sense to move rather than renew. We were delighted with what we found, and it even saves us money.

Finding an apartment in Shanghai begins with finding a good real estate agent. Quality varies wildly. Some are inexperienced and not very helpful, while others go the extra mile to get your the right place at a good price and make your move a success.

Our move to a new place was greatly assisted by one of the best real estate agents I’ve ever worked with. He speaks terrific English and goes the extra mile to help, not just before the deal is closed but especially after. After the deal was signed and his fee pay, he continues helping us. He has helped us set up our Internet service, he made the calls to get our budget TV subscription turned on, he helped us solve some other minor problems, he told me today which office to go to and what to bring to register with the police after our move, he picked up and delivered our fapiaos, and he even came over to show us how to change the combination on our door. He’s extremely kind and really committed to serving his clients. He can help clients anywhere in Shanghai. I can give you his cell (email me at jeff at jefflindsay d0t com)if you wish.

When you are looking for an apartment, start with the region you are interested in and find an agent that serves that area. A good company like David’s can access broad listings and work local connections to help you find candidates where you want. Some just have listing for fixed regions, but they can he helpful, too. Your agent will take you to view available places. A lot depends on whether you want furnished or unfurnished. Then you need to set a budget (ouch, they are expensive here!) and determine what total area you want to consider (e.g., around 50, 100, or 150 square meters) and how many rooms you want and what other features you want. The more places you look at, the more you can recognize what features are important.

For us, having a big kitchen with either an over or a space where we could install one was important because we do a lot of entertaining and a lot of cooking, and our style of cooking often requires an over, something most apartments in China do not have. China is a nation of stove-top cooking. Ovens in apartments are rare. But you often can take out the ubiquitous and worthless “sterilizer” unit in many kitchens and replace it with an over, though electrical connections will have to change and the landlord must be on board (and make it clear what happens with the unit when you move away). In our last place, we agreed to a higher rent in return for the landlord buying an over that would stay with the apartment–good deal for him. We’re buying the oven in the new place. Will cost about 4800 RMB.

When you rent, you will normally be asked to pay a deposit of two months’ rent in addition to one or two months rent up front, so you really need a wad of cash to get started. Foreigners coming to work in China often don’t know this. In addition, the renter will typically pay the commission to the agent, which is normally 1/3 of a month’s rent, sometimes a little higher. Before you rent, make sure you negotiate any significant changes that are needed like painting the walls, repairing things, replacing or adding furniture, etc. Make sure you know how to handle utilities, how to get Internet and TV, how to register with the police, etc. If you need a fapiao, this costs 5% of the month’s rent, so make sure you know who is paying for that (it is normally included in the monthly rent).

Everything can be negotiated, so perhaps you can close a deal for less (typically around 10% less) than the asking price. Ask for too low, though, and the landlord will throw you out and not negotiate further.

Landlords in China might often own just one rental apartment that they rent out. It’s a precious piece of property to them and they may be evaluating you as much as you are evaluating the unit. If you seem too demanding, slovenly, or irresponsible or do anything to create a negative emotional reaction, they might not rent to you, even if you accept the asking price. I know two Chinese guys who were planning to rent an apartment together and had agreed on the price, but the landlord got nervous about how clean two men would be and decided at the last minute to turn them down. End of story. For best results, dress nicely and radiate “clean, responsible, friendly” if you can.

When you close the deal, you’ll sign a contract, typically in Chinese and English, and it’s almost always for a year. Have someone you trust review it. In this case, the contract was standard from Oriental Real Estate which we already trusted, and it worked out fine.

If you move, you may want to get a lot of boxes. These can be hard to find on sale, but you can get them at B&Q for about 15 RMB each. Cheaper is to track down a recycler carrying loads of boxes and boxboard down the street. He’ll sell you boxes for maybe 2 RMB each. Cheaper still is to go to department stores or other places discarding boxes and take away used boxes for free. Keep some boxes around the house–they often come in handy and can be a pain to find when you need them. Also prepare by getting bubble wrap, newspaper or wrapping paper, and lots of good packaging tape, which isn’t always easy to find. When you see it, get some well in advance. You can also order boxes and tape online at Taobao.

I also recommend hiring an ayi (local maid) to come in and clean your new place before you move and also to clean out your old place after you move out, leaving it in good condition to keep a landlord and the next tenants happy.

By |June 24th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Housing, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off

Shopping in China: Are the Prices in Department Stores Fixed or Negotiable?

One of the challenges of shopping in China is knowing when the marked prices are firm prices or just an inflated asking price subject to haggling. In grocery stores, the prices are generally the real prices and there is no sense trying to argue anything down. But in many other settings, the marked prices might be negotiable, meaning they could be way too high and you shouldn’t pay that much.

Sometimes a store will have fixed prices on one aisle, and negotiable (inflated) prices on the next. If there are friendly sales people servicing a particular set of products or section of a store, let that be a warning sign. Why does this store have five or six people anxious to help me buy blankets or vitamins, but no one in other sections of the store to help me buy batteries or copy paper? It may be because the people selling blankets or vitamins are on commission. They may not even be employees of the department store, but employees of a manufacturer. They are highly motivated to see you the product for as much as possible. This can happen in malls, department stores, and even grocery

One way to know if the prices are flexible is to simply ask if they can lower the price a little. “Keyi pianyi yidiar?” If they say something like, “Well, since you can speak a little Chinese, I’ll give you the friend discount of 10%,” then you know the price is flexible. If they pull out a calculator and type in the price to display it for you (this allows them to show you a price privately without revealing it to other customers within earshot), that’s a sure sign that the price is flexible, and a sign that what they are asking is way too high.

If they say, “No, I can’t lower the price,” say “OK” and walk away. It’s when you walk away that you see if they are serious or not. If you walk away and they say, “OK, OK, 10% off!” then you know the price can be lowered. If they say nothing, the price probably is firm.

Many electronics, appliances, bedware (blankets, linens, quilts, mattresses, etc.), and relatively high-margin items have prices that can be negotiated when shopping in China.

The next challenge is knowing what the real price is. Sometimes you can only hope to shave off 20% or 30% from the price. Other times the asking price might be 10 times the real price (this is especially true of gifts like pearls or jade items). This is where knowledge is power. Chinese people ask each other what they pay for things all the time in order to learn real prices. Do your homework before you buy. But if you don’t have time, you can try several different shops and start very low, and seeing if they call you back after you walk out. Again, it’s only when you walk that you see if your offered price might actually be acceptable. You may have to walk away several times, raising your asking price each time, until you find a taker and realize that you’re close to the real price.

On the other hand, if you are not in a bind financially, don’t be too tight-fisted in China. Spending a little extra money for what you buy can mean a lot to the merchants. For a small extra amount that is still a fair price, you can bring a lot of cheer, and if you feel that a merchant is kind, helpful, and honest, giving him a “healthy price” can keep him or her happy to serve you and help you in the future. That’s my view, anyway.

By |June 14th, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Consumers, Shopping||Comments Off

Zhangjiajie, China’s Beautiful Mountain Treasure Overlooked by Most Foreigners

One of China’s most beautiful locations is Zhangjiajie, arguably one of earth’s most beautiful locations. But Zhangjiajie is sadly overlooked by most foreigners travelers here. They go to Xian or other popular spots that pale in comparison. Zhangjiajie’s scenery was actually used in the filming of Avatar. The tall mountains with trees on the top don’t float they way they do in the movie, but when the clouds are at the right level, it sort of looks that way.

Zhangjiajie is about a two-hour flight from Shanghai. You can stay in the city of Zhangjiajie or take a 40-minute taxi up into the town at the entrance to the major national park, where rates are not bad at all. It can be busy on holidays, but still entirely doable and affordable. Way too much fun to overlook. Plan on spending at least two full days there. Three days are about right.

I recommend staying in the mountain village of Wulingyuan, where you are just a short walk or cab ride to the main entrance of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, one of several attractions in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The park has stunning karst pillars of sandstone. There are often clouds and fog, which can enhance the photography if you are lucky, but might just block your view at times.

Wulingyuan Scenic Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss it!

We reached Wulingyuan by flying to Zhangjiajie city, which has a small airport and a lot of crooked cabbies. They will quote you a price of 300 RMB to get to Wulingyuan. It should be about 100 RMB if they use a meter, which naturally they don’t want to. Insist on the meter or walk away. It’s only when you walk away that they will take you seriously. Tell them you can take a bus or something instead and walk, or go to a different cabbie, but don’t pay 300 RMB.

Also be sure to get a tour guide. We can recommend an excellent one that charges 100 RMB for half a day and 200 RMB for a full day. She was outstanding. Chinese language only, but it was good Chinese – sort of like having a day-long lesson for the price of one or two hours of regular lessons. Yes, we tipped her, and would be happy to recommend her to you as well. Email me (jeff at jeff lindsay d0t com) your contact info and I’ll get you in touch with her.

Here are a few photos of this scenic area in western Hunan province, near the center of China.

By |June 8th, 2014|Categories: China, Photography, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |Comments Off

Renting in Shanghai: Bring Lots of Cash for Your Apartment

For newcomers to Shanghai, it’s important to know that finding apartments here can be frustrating, time-consuming, and quite expensive. Plan on using a real-estate agent to help you find a place, but realize that it will cost you 50% of your first month’s rent as a rule for the agent’s commission. Then also realize that the landlord will normally require you to pay a deposit of two-month’s rent, in addition to paying at least one month of rent up front. Some contracts (not a majority I think) require paying every two or three months instead of monthly, in which case at closing you may be expected to pay another two month’s rent up front. Depending on where you are renting, what floor you are on, and how nice the place is, a two- or three-bedroom flat around 120 to 170 square meters might cost you from 7,000 to 20,000 RMB per month or more. That’s more than many Americans pay for their mortgage on houses much bigger than the apartment. Shanghai is a very expensive place to rent, one of the more expensive cities in the world, though it can be an inexpensive place to eat.

Make sure you have enough cash on hand when you relocate here! Cash is king here. Landlords won’t take your credit card, and China banks make it hard to access your Western funds. Cash is what you are going to need. ATM cards can work. Wiring funds can work but is difficult. Bring plenty of cash.

By |June 6th, 2014|Categories: China|Tags: , , , |Comments Off

Travel to Hong Kong from China

hong-kong-street-12-01-02_51425 hong-kong-evening_51443 hong-kong_48167Foreigners living in China often may wish to visit Hong Kong also. Typically they will fly into the Hong Kong airport from China. However, you can save money by flying to Shenzhen and then crossing the border and taking a train into China. Flights to Shenzhen avoid international taxes and can sometimes be 30% or more less expensive. Staying in a hotel near the border in Shenzhen can also be much less expensive than Hong Kong. We’ve often stayed at the Shenzhen Best Western Felicity Hotel, which is just across the street from the Lu Huo border crossing, said to be the world’s busiest on-land border crossing. They open at 6:30 AM and continue until midnight, I think (check first if it matters!), and sometimes the lines can be huge. During holidays, weekends, and rush hour, be prepared to take an hour or more to cross the border, though right at 6:30 AM isn’t bad usually. Once across, you can buy an Octopus card (good for trains, subways, taxis, and convenience stores) and then take the train into Hong Kong.

If you fly directly to Hong Kong, there is a chance that you will be asked to prove that you have sufficient funds for the trip. Once, for example, a friend of ours from Mongolia went to the airport to fly to Hong Kong, and was told by the airline (Spring Air) that she needed to show them 5,000 RMB cash before they could give her the ticket she had already paid for. Apparently this was a requirement of the Hong Kong immigration authorities. I haven’t heard of this before and haven’t been asked to show my cash when I’ve gone, but be aware that this could happen. I think having a credit card ought to do the trick. It may be an issue for Mongolian citizens in particular or for other developing nations, where perhaps Hong Kong is worried that people from poorer nations might get into financial trouble once inside their border. Might be good to have proof of a return ticket also and evidence of a hotel that has been booked or prepaid.

Naturally, make sure your visa permits you to enter Hong Kong and come back safely to China. Some people plan on going there without realizing that the China visa they have is for one entry only, and once they go out, they can’t get back in right away. Your visa should be good for one month beyond your stay–don’t take risks as your visa is about to expire. Some details are given here. That page may not be official, though.

Also be aware that Hong Kong has a completely different electrical outlet (a three-pronged UK-style outlet) than China or the U.S., so you’ll need an adapter. Also, be aware that they drive on the left side of the road in Hong Kong, unlike they do in China, so be very careful in crossing the street or driving.

Hong Kong is a clean, safe, and beautiful place with many great places to visit. We especially enjoy the Tai-O Fishing Village and the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha) on the mountain and the cable car ride. It’s more expensive than China, so be prepared, but enjoy!

By |May 21st, 2014|Categories: China, Travel tips|Tags: |Comments Off

Kakadu Australian Restaurant at Bridge 8 on Jiaguo Zhong Lu: Great Food

My wife and I took a friend from Namibia to my latest restaurant discovery, Kakadu, an Australian restaurant with interesting imported items, top-notch ingredients and great flavors. This place is hidden away in the Bridge 8 complex at 8 Jianguo Zhong Lu, just a few yards west of Chongqing Road (below the elevated ring road), on the north side of Jianguo Zhong Lu (middle Jianguo road). We were there on a Friday night. As we walked into the bar area, we saw that this is a popular place for foreigners. The bar was packed and there was a lot of good food being served there to the patrons. The restaurant area, though, still had seating for us though it was pretty busy also. We went there at 6:45 PM without reservations–dangerous, given its popularity, but we were lucky to get in and be seated quickly.

The menu has a good mix of meat dishes such as Australian steak, hamburgers including Austrialian beef, crododile, kangaraoo, and emu, salads, and so forth. I had the emu burger (98 RMB), while the others had spicy chicken salad (nicely barbecued chicken) and smoked salmon salad. My emu burger was delightful. Thick, flavorful with a touch of cumin, and pretty healthy. The burger was creative with a beetroot paste and interesting flavorings. Good bun also. I tasted the salads and like them as well. Also tried the pumpkin soup–perfect and creamy. The berry smoothie was also good, with a bit of ice cream in there, the way I like it.

My favorite item was the scallops that we ordered as an appetizer. Three succulent scallops came on a surprising bed of flavorful mashed green peas with a little maple syrup poured over it. Really a creative surprise and it was delicious and beautiful.

The experience was excellent, in spite of little slip in service that resulted in my burger coming about 30 minutes too late, having obviously sat on a counter cooling off the whole time. I pointed out that it was cold when it came and the management kindly and quickly brought me a new one that was fresh and sizzling hot. All is forgiven, and the experience overall was great.

Service gaps are a common problem in China or anywhere, probably: food you order might get overlooked or the order might never get placed, so it can sit or disappear. You need to check with the staff repeatedly sometimes to find out what’s happening with your food. Sigh. I checked with our waiter 3 times and he assured me it was coming, but had he checked more carefully, I think he would have found that it was there and waiting to be brought to the table. Or something.

For 3 of us, the bull was 395 RMB. Definitely plan to return.

By |May 18th, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off

American Beef and Chinese Standards: Got Ractopamine?

Americans coming to China often have the notion that American food is pure and high quality, while Chinese food is made with low standards. While there have been some highly publicized food scandals in China, the regulations for food can be quite high. So high, in fact, that some American foods are not allowed in the country. This is particularly the case with beef. The problem is not politics and petty officials seeking vengeance as part of some trade war, but a legitimate problem with American beef. Cattle in America are fed a chemical to make the beef more lean. This chemical is RACTOPAMINE (chemical structure shown to the right), and it appears to be a legitimate concern. It is not a growth hormone (though the widespread use of growth hormones is another concern many people have with American beef and dairy products). China, Europe, Russia, and many other nations have banned ractopamine. It’s used in the majority of beef in the US. I’m happy to avoid it over here in China.

Some people are concerned about beef in China as well. If so, the imported beef over here is very high in quality. Much of the butter and imported beef here comes from New Zealand, where a generally high-quality and safe dairy industry flourishes.

By |May 12th, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Health||Comments Off

Best Value for Italian Food Near the Bund: Marissa (Marisa) Italian Below Henderson Metropolitan

Directly accessible from the East Nanjing subway station and hidden beneath the Henderson Metropolitan Mall on the lowest level (the same level as the subway foot traffic between lines 10 and 2) is my new favorite place for inexpensive Italian food, Marisa Italian (though I would prefer the spelling Marissa). This new Italian restaurant has really excellent Italian food at budget prices. It is run by a Chinese man from Milan, Italy, who has brought real Italian cuisine to Shanghai with great imported ingredients. My first meal there introduced me to outstanding seafood risotto, my favorite Italian food, for around 50 RMB. Later I tried an inexpensive set meal for about 30 RMB featuring perfect pesto and a good salad. Last night I took my wife there on a date where we had a great meal for 151 RMB. I had the rack of lamb and was really impressed. Perfectly grilled with a flavorful outside featuring a lot of fresh rosemary, and very tasty grilled vegetables. My wife’s lasagna was hearty and good. We shared a large bowl of mushroom soup which is made from a lot of fresh mushrooms without being too fatty, just the way I like it. The fresh apple-carrot juice was also good.

The owner pays attention to service, and service is quite good.

You can get there directly from the East Nanjing subway station by taking the Henderson Mall exit opposite from Exit 2. Or enter the Apple Store on East Nanjing Street and go through it into the mall, then down two levels via the escalator.

The Bund offers several good places with Italian food, and Shanghai has many great Italian choices, but for value and flavor, Marissa Italian is hard to beat. You’ll get twice as much for your buck there as in many other places.

Update, May 21, 2014: I took an Italian friend to Marisa Italian for lunch and he loved it. We had pizza, pasta, and mushroom risotto. Earlier this week, I took a group of 12 people there for dinner. What fun they had! We had several great pizzas that we shared, plus pasta and risotto dishes, and some deserts. The panecotta was remarkably good! The bill for 12 people was 669 RMB, which is amazing.

By |May 8th, 2014|Categories: Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |Comments Off