Buy an iPhone 6 Plus in the US to Use in China: My Success Story With a Verizon Phone

Apple iPhone 6 Plus GoldBuying an iPhone 6 and especially an iPhone 6 Plus in China is extremely difficult. You can’t just walk into an Apple store to buy one. You have to first go online and compete against untold thousands to reserve one of the few to be sold each day. This makes it something of a lottery that begins each day at 8 AM and ends shortly thereafter. I’ve wanted to get one for a few weeks now but there didn’t seem to be much hope, though I did have a shot at a relatively less popular black iPhone 6 with the lowest amount of memory offered (16 GB)–not many are rushing to buy that one. But for an iPhone 6 Plus, forget it. And for either phone in the wildly popular gold color, you can totally forget it, unless you want to pay a huge premium for one smuggled in from Hong Kong or somewhere.

Buying an iPhone in the US is a little cheaper and easier than in China, but there’s the risk that the phone won’t work in China. Apple does not yet sell factory unlocked phones in the US, according to Apple’s website (Nov. 2014), and phones need to be unlocked to work here. Unlocking might be possible but is a hassle and risk if something goes wrong. Further, according to tech support at China Mobile, only models designed for China have chips compatible with the Chinese 4G network, and typical American models just won’t work. That’s what they told me AFTER I bought a phone in the US that didn’t seem to work here. The Verizon model I had bought, model A1522, had no hope. And that’s what Apple tech support also told me when I called from China as a frustrated new customer. But my phone is working great now. Turns out the Verizon phone may have been the perfect one to buy in the US. Here’s my story.

I was at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia last week, and on the last day of my event, my Samsung cell phone died. The third Samsung device of mine to die in the past couple of months! I have had it for 3.5 years, so it’s been OK, but suddenly I could do nothing with it since the touch screen function quit working completely. I resolved to try even harder to buy an iPhone when I got back to China, but later that day on my way back to my hotel, I wandered into the Perimeter Center Mall to buy a few items needed for my life in China, and to my surprise found that they had an Apple store there. Hmm, I though, maybe I can ask about an iPhone 6 Plus and see if they know how to get it to work in China.

I found a helpful agent who told me that they did have the iPhone 6 Plus in stock, though I’d have to wait in line for an hour or so to get one after reserving it. I was willing. But I asked if it would work in China. Hmm, not sure. He checked with some other people and came back to tell me that the Verizon phone–presumably “locked” in to Verizon’s network–was the one that people were having “the most luck with,” though he couldn’t guarantee it would work. Should I risk buying one?? I was feeling a little desperate and was tired of using inadequate gadgets that wasted my time with failures and glitches, so I had concluded I needed to improve my odds by going with an iPhone and wanted the larger Plus model so it could replace the Samsung tablet I was carrying with me all the time for help in translating Chinese. With the glimmer of hope the Apple agent gave me, I decided to buy. It just seemed like something I was destined to do that day, with my Samsung phone having failed just a couple hours earlier and an Apple store being right where I was, with the phone I had been trying to buy actually in stock. A little over an hour later, I was holding an iPhone 6 Plus with 64 Gig in my hands–a beautiful golden iPhone 6 Plus, a legendary rarity in China.

I already had a 4G SIMM card from China Mobile that I placed in the device, switching out the Verizon card. I figured I would have to wait until I was in China to activate the card. People at my work had given me instructions on how to activate it, which basically involved calling China Mobile (10086 in Shanghai) and giving them my company name in Chinese, an account number, and my cell phone number. Meanwhile, I was happy with how the phone worked through the Internet and how easily it uploaded most of the apps and date I already had on my old iPad 1.

When I got back to China, I nervously called China Mobile and gave them my information. They said they had initiated the activation process and the card should be active in 5 minutes. Then I asked if there would be any trouble since this phone was purchased in the US. They asked for the model number engraved on the back of the phone. Just about the smallest, faintest microengraving I’ve ever seen, but with magnification I could barely make out the model: A1522. Sorry, they told me, that phone won’t work in China. You’re toast. Ugh. 10 minutes later, the phone still showed no service. Then a little later, the card on my old Samsung device showed no service also–it had been deactivated as they activated the new card, but it apparently wasn’t going to work with the network in China. I called Apple tech support and after being put on hold about 3 times, finally was told that there wasn’t much hope for me. Would I be able to exchange the phone? For that, I’d have to call the store in the US directly and see what they said. They were then closed and I’d have to wait to learn my fate. I knew the Apple stores in China won’t touch phones bought in the US, so there would be no hope of exchanging it here for a model that would work. Was feeling pretty frustrated. During that hour or two of checking with Apple, I checked my phone a couple of times and still it showed no service. Restarted a couple of times. Still no service.

After I had pretty much given up all hope and felt like a fool for plopping down roughly $900 for phone that wouldn’t work, I began wondering if maybe the problem was at the 4G level, and if I used a card designed for a lower system like 3G or 2G, maybe it would work in China. So I went over to ask someone if they thought that might be possible. They asked to see my phone, which I had turned off. When I turned it back on to let them see how it worked, to my amazement, it no longer said “no service” but in fact was able to make and receive calls. Amazing!

Since then it’s been performing beautifully. I can call, receive calls, do Facetime calls even while riding in a subway tunnel, access the Internet, use VPN, translate Chinese, study Chinese flashcard, receive and send email, read books, and even monitor how many steps I’ve taken. It’s a fabulous gadget that eliminates my need to carry a tablet and a phone. It’s big enough for my aging eyes to read well but small enough to fit in my pocket. So based on my experience, it seems like a full-price Verizon phone is the ticket. Appears to nbe already unlocked and ready to work with a 4G SIMM card in China, but give it time, and be sure to activate it through China Mobile. I don’t know if other carriers will give the same results. Maybe other phones will. And maybe I was just extremely lucky and your experience will differ. Let me know what you hear and experience.

Feels like Christmastime here in China. Actually, it is. Merry Christmas!

 

By |November 25th, 2014|Categories: China||0 Comments

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||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||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

Update on Tralin Paper (a.k.a. Tranlin Paper or Quanlin Paper): Financing Based on Chinese IP Now Creates Jobs in America

I previously reported a remarkable IP-backed financial deal in China, where Tralin Paper (Quanlin Paper in Chinese, though they use www.tralin.com for their website) used their IP portfolio to back a loan for 8 billion RMB, around US$1.3 billion. Now news  from the office of Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia reveals what Tralin is doing with that money. See reports at TAPPI.org and MFRTech.com. Tralin Paper, renaming themselves as Tranlin Paper for some reason, has just signed a deal with the State of Virginia, obtaining state support as Tralin/Tranlin/Quanlin invests $2 billion to create a new environmentally friendly paper mill and create over 2,000 US jobs. In a departure from the stereotypical view of Chinese companies stealing American jobs and IP, here is an innovative Chinese company that has created and protected their own IP, used innovative financial tools (and plenty of solid Chinese guanxi) to obtain massive financing based on that IP, and then brought their money and their technology to the US to create many jobs. At least some parts of this story are going to be repeated in many ways in days to come. The old paradigm of China lacking IP or lacking valuable IP is fading.

After the announcement at ChinaPaper.net, the first report on this story to the English-speaking world, as far as I know, was my original March 6, 2014 report at InnovationFatigue.com followed by an update here on the Shake Well blog that gave a translation of the Chinese story. It was picked up by Intellectual Asset Magazine and by World Trademark Review, but is still a generally unrecognized but important story.

Watch for China to surprise many pundits who decry its lack of IP and innovation. Many Western companies are going to be startled at the tsunami of innovation and IP that will come from the Middle Kingdom, which is rushing to become the epicenter of global innovation and IP value creation. China still has a long ways to go in overcoming its problems and strengthening innovation and IP, but the trends here are remarkable and should not be discounted. Meanwhile, we should welcome stories like Tranlin’s, and watch for many more to come. But for some US companies, this will mean even tougher competition that won’t be easily avoided with restrictive, protective tariffs or antidumping legislation.

By |July 8th, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Industry, Innovation, Paper, Patent law|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

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