Don’t allow hotels to keep your passport. Some want to hold them at the front desk, but this puts you at risk. One person I know had their passport stolen that way. Leave them with a photocopy if they need something from you, but don’t give up your passport.
The medical literature tends to suggest that people waste a lot of money on the vitamins and other nutritional supplements they buy. But here in China, there is a vitamin that I think you may need: D3. Vitamin D3 is normally created in our skin by sunlight, but sunlight is sadly lacking in typical Chinese cities because of the air pollution. Even when there is sunlight, there is not much UV light getting through the haze. In the US, people also get some Vitamin D in dairy products since it is routinely added to milk, but I haven’t seen evidence of that being standard in China and dairy products tend to be a much smaller part of one’s diet here.
Lots of people here have lingering colds and coughs. In a couple of cases I know, giving the sufferers regular vitamin D3 helped them get back to normal. D3 is said to play a role in strengthening the immune system and other systems. It’s something we really need in China. You can buy it here, but it’s much more expensive than in the U.S., so I recommend that if you are coming to China for a long time, bring a good supply of Vitamin D3 with you and stay healthy.
Just returned from my second trip to Thailand. The first was in Bangkok. This time we went further south, flying to Phuket, then taking a ferry to Phi Phi Island (Kho Phi Phi), another ferry to Krabi Town, and then flying to Chiang Mai.
Thailand is one of the easiest places in Asia for Westerners to visit and enjoy. It’s generally safe, both in terms of personal security and the safety of the food. It’s also convenient, for the most part, for most important signs include English and many people speak English, so hotels, restaurants, and shops are easy to use. Many cabbies also speak some English.
While theft is low and the people are usually honest and kind, there are some risks. On Phi Phi Island, a man from Brazil we met explained that shortly after he used an ATM machine at a bank on the island (one of the numerous yellow ATM machines associated with Krungthi Bank), his account had several thousand dollars stolen from it. The ATM appeared to be secure and did not have bogus scanners or cameras attached to it to steal his card information. After discussing his case with his bank card company, he concluded that someone at the Thai bank must have helped make this theft possible. He went to talk to the local bank and of course, they denied any knowledge or complicity. One day he might get his money back, perhaps, but he was relying on that account to pay for the remainder of his trip. Fortunately, he had brought along enough cash to get by and would be OK, but the prospect of having an account cleared out by a local thief working in or with a bank made me unwilling to risk using an ATM card in Thailand.
My tip: avoid the risk of ATM fraud by bringing enough cash for your trip. I had brought along some hundred dollar bills from the US, and before coming my wife had converted Chinese RMB into Thai Baht at a bank in Shanghai. We budgeted our last couple of days very carefully so the money we had converted turned out to be just enough (OK, I skimped on our last meal and wished I had had another 100 Baht or so), avoiding the need to use an ATM machine or to use any credit cards in Thailand. (To be fair, I also avoid using credit cards in China, and am constantly on the alert for ATM risks, though I do use ATM machines in China frequently.)
In Bangkok, taxis are a pain because they want to charge foreigners very high rates and don’t want to use the meters. Have a Thai friend help or at least know what a reasonable fare should be for your destination so you can negotiate from a position of knowledge and walk away when the rate is way too high.
In Chiang Mai, there are metered cabs at the airport, but they are rarely seen on the streets. Instead there are abundant tuk-tuks (motorcyle-powered vehicles with three wheels that seat two people) and red trucks (small covered pick-up trucks with seats in the back that can hold up to about 10 people). Fares are negotiated but are usually quite inexpensive (maybe 80 Baht to get across town, 20 or so Baht for a few blocks). You can rent one of the red trucks for a private trip to a destination like Doi Suthep. For long trips or any trip where you care about comfort, safety, and the ability to see where you are going, rent a private driver in a nice car (typically a minivan). A day of driving in the off-season will cost around 1000 Baht (about US$27).
Both of our trips have been in the fall (September/October), which is a great time to visit Thailand. Not too hot, not too crowded, though it is the rainy season so be prepared for several days of rain. For us, that was OK. It was still sunny when we really needed sun and fine otherwise, though some views were less than ideal. But we here that in the peak seasons, the popular beaches and other attractions can be both unpleasantly hot and overcrowded. Not for us.
Electricity is fairly easy to manage. US plugs, both two- and three-pronged, will fit into the standard outlets here, which are around 220 V. No problem for typical electronics. I’ve read that sometimes outlets aren’t well grounded, so be careful, but we had no trouble in the places we stayed.
In spite of the beauty of Thailand, many places can be a little run down. Watch your step: sidewalks may have unexpected holes or other dangers. Walkways may be missing boards or have dangerous openings or unstable sections. Watch your head also: there are plenty of poles and other objects waiting to gouge your head if you aren’t careful, especially if you are tall.
It’s a beautiful country and a great place to relax, enjoy the scenery, enjoy adventures like elephant riding, diving, and white water rafting, and enjoy wonderful food. As for food, Khao Soy, a Chiang Mai specialty, something like a coconut-based curry with noodles and fried noodles on top, was one of our favorites, along with Massaman curry and Panang Curry. We also loved the fresh fruit drinks and smoothies.
Having shared a variety of my experiences here in China on the pages of my Shake Well blog, I hope some of you will be more willing to come here when the opportunity comes. I thought coming here would be a sacrifice, but it has been a blessing and joy beyond all my expectations. After four years, hardly a day goes by without me expressing wonder and gratitude at the privilege of being here. My love for China has only grown, in spite of the various challenges that Westerners may face here. I deal with some of the challenges and the more daunting aspects on the Surviving China section of my website, where I discuss some issues like the occasional scams to avoid, the problems with the Internet, dealing with food safety, etc. Lots of places will give you advice on those topics, and it’s important to understand them to stay out of trouble and survive here.
Beyond mere survival, though, comes a more important factor: joyous living. For many foreigners who find China an endless frustration and can’t wait to get back home, the joyous living part may seem remote. I’ll admit that sometimes foreigners end up in situations that are difficult and painful. But I’ve seen foreigners living in remote, difficult locations on shoestring budgets finding the same excitement and happiness that I’ve experienced in Shanghai, where my circumstances are favorable in many ways, and I’ve seen foreigners with much better settings who find the place intolerable. I’ve learned some valuable lessons from those who seem to living on more than their fair share of joy here, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
If you approach China in the right way, I feel you can make your in China one of the most enjoyable and rewarding times of your life. (This probably applies to many places, but there are some uniquely wonderful things about China.) China offers a richness of culture, scenery, history, language, and food that can make life here better than what you might experience anywhere else, but it takes preparation, work, and some mental adjustments to discover the richness that is here. You may also find Shanghai in particular to be one of the safest, most convenient and most delightful places on earth, IF you are flexible, overlook some gaps, and enjoy the strengths and beauty of the city.
It Begins with the People
Finding happiness in China, in my opinion , begins with the people. In spite of my various warnings about scams and other dangers that I give elsewhere, you need to understand that the Chinese people in general are kind, honest, friendly, and very kind to foreigners. There are times when you might cause problems and cross over hidden boundaries when it won’t seem that way, but you’ll soon learn how to avoid those situations and how to act properly for Chinese culture.
The key to finding joy in China, in my opinion, is learning to respect and love the people. Once you discover who they are and what they have to offer, it can change your life and your attitudes. To begin, you need to get out of your expat shell and make friends with the locals and learn about their lives. There are many ways to do this, such as:
- Hire a Chinese teacher to come into your home at least once a week and teach you Chinese while also discussing Chinese culture, current events, etc. A good teacher can help you understand the vast culture behind the words and better look into the heart of China.
- Invite your neighbors and other Chinese acquaintances into your home for dinner. This can lead to lasting friendships and great exchanges of information. Some of our lasting friendships arose by apparent chance after talking to a stranger on the street or chatting with someone on a train. Talk to people, make friends, and follow up.
- If you have guards (“menwei”) at your apartment complex, smile at them, wave, and occasionally bring them treats, especially Western goodies that you make or bring to China. A plate of cookies for them to share with each other can earn you a lot of “brownie points” and help you make friends. If you can afford it, I also strongly recommend giving “hong bao” (red envelopes with some cash) to all your menwei right before the Chinese New Year holiday. Once you understand how little they make, you’ll be grateful for the opportunity to give them a bonus. That kindness will often be more than reciprocated by the help they can give you. For example, once my wife left her suitcase in the back of a taxi. The menwei at our complex spent an hour or so reviewing security camera video footage to track down the cab and then recognized and called the cabbie, and we had it back that day—in time for a flight that night. They could have just said, “Too bad!”
- Treat your ayi (maid) well, if you have one (this also applies to a driver or others who might be hired to help you). One of the benefits of living in China is that help in the home is very inexpensive. Actually, it’s often too inexpensive. While you may hire an ayi at a fair market price, take care of her with occasional tips, be sure to give an extra month of salary in February as part of the traditional employer obligations to employees at New Year festival (you can pro-rate this if they have been working for you for less than a year), offer to pay her transportation costs to get to your place, and pay her even when you’re away and she doesn’t need to come to work (giving her vacation, in essence). A happy ayi who trusts you and respects you can spare you from a variety of problems and will be motivated to go out of her way to help you.
- While tipping is not required, I suggest doing it when you can. Cabbies will always appreciate it. Once you learn how little they earn for working so hard, and what a small portion of each fair actually goes to them, you’ll realize that a small tip makes a big difference. When they are friendly and helpful, why not give an extra tip and make them really happy?
- Don’t just shop at expensive expat stores like Carrefour. You will get some of the healthiest, freshest, and tastiest produce, eggs, and even meat at local wet markets. There you can become a regular and make friends with vendors, and experience an important part of Chinese life: the market. Chinese markets are wonderful, but often missed by foreigners.
- What about annoying people pushy salesman who approach you on the street selling questionable products? Perhaps they are scammers or crooks, but there’s a good chance they are real people with real needs. They get rejection all day long. Instead of brushing off the salesmen, be polite, smile, and say “Thank you.”
BACKGROUND: A friend of mine asked a wise Chinese man for a powerful Chinese “zinger” to put annoying salesmen in their place and get rid of them. “What can I say to verbally shove them away?” was his question. The highly educated Chinese man thought for a moment and said, “Try this phrase: Xiexie.” My friend was surprised: “Wait, that just means thank you!” “Yes,” said the Chinese man, “and it’s the right thing to say. Those pushy salesman are just people trying to make a living, and deserve as much respect as you or I, even if we don’t want their goods. So don’t try to make them feel bad. Just be respectful and say ‘Thank you’ or ‘No thanks.’” My friend told me he felt humbled by this and saw those annoying people on East Nanjing and elsewhere in a new light.
- What about beggars? There’s a chance that they are scammers, but there’s also a good chance that they are real people in difficult situations. Carry a few coins or small bills reserved for the occasional beggar you meet. Treat them with courtesy. Look them in the eye, smile, and give them something. There may be times when you’ll sense something is wrong and you may just wish to move on, but in general, you won’t regret giving. You may even find some regulars you really like.
Tip: When giving, don’t expose your wallet or purse to potential pickpockets. They are rare, but at Yu Garden a friend of mine had her wallet and passport stolen by a group of migrant kids while she opened up her purse to give some money to a beggar. (The empty wallet and passport was found shortly after by a Chinese man, a worker from the north, who spent 3 hours tracking down the owner to return it. Since the wallet had my wife’s card in it, he called my wife to report the wallet he had found, and waited until we could meet him to retrieve it—one of the many honest and kind people we have met in China.) Have your change in an easy-to-access place.
- Don’t let language barriers stop you from connecting. Get out and meet your neighbors. Find a translator if you need to, but introduce yourself and find out who your neighbors are. They may not be interested, but a consistent smile will eventually work wonders. Also try to be sensitive to things you may do that annoy neighbors, and get feedback from others on how to be a good neighbor. Meanwhile, keep your expectations from others low and don’t assume that others are being deliberately annoying when they are making too much noise or doing other things that bother you.
- Be patient in lines, while defending your position when you need to. When people cut in front of you, they may not have realized that you were really in line. After all, why was there a 12-inch space in front of you if you mean to be in line? Be patient and forgiving. You can indicate that you are in a line and ask them to get in line (paidui)—but do it with patience and a smile. (I know, this is easy for me to say, and admittedly often hard to do.) They probably didn’t understand. That’s the kind assumption, anyway, and a good way to think about the frustrations you might experience that come from the culture gaps you face.
- Be aware of the people around you and look for opportunities to help. If you are healthy and strong, a seemingly frail or elderly person carrying a heavy suitcase up or down stairs can be a great opportunity to help. A mother struggling to get her baby’s stroller down the stairs is another opportunity. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to go occasional good, and be ready to back off with a smile if they refuse help. But being considerate of the Chinese people helps compensate for the numbing effect of living in crowds and helps you feel more part of the community that is China.
In general, go out of your way to be friendly and respectful to people, though sometimes you’ll need to be firm and insistent. The times you slip and lose your patience will be times of regret. There are things that happen that will try your patience and yes, it may be easy to become angry and frustrated.
The times you do things that help others and the times you overlook the things that annoy are the times when you will most quickly appreciate who the Chinese people really are. The more you can see the good in these very different but very similar neighbors, the more you will connect with China and find happiness and excitement living here. But do take steps to avoid some of the problems that can leave you feeling angry and frustrated.
One opportunity to serve comes through various charities. My employer runs one of the China’s biggest private charitable trusts, the Huang Yi Cong Foundation, which provides help to needy school children in Gansu Province and supports other charitable efforts in China. Many of my colleagues donate a small part of their monthly income to the Foundation, which helps them become connected with the child or children they are helping. They receive occasional letters and photos that help them better understand the difficult life of the poor in China and give them opportunities to make a lasting difference. There are other organizations, of course, providing opportunities to make a difference, but I’m proud of the good people running the Huang Yi Cong Foundation and their passionate care for the needy families they serve.
In addition to building connections with the people, you’ll love your China experience more if you experience Chinese culture. There are many ways to do this. Go to museums, parks, community events, etc. Walk through neighborhoods and watch the dancing, game playing, calligraphy, tai qi, etc. Parks in the morning are great places to visit, and the Bund between 6 am and 7 am is another example, as you witness kite flyers and others at their best. Get involved in community events like special interest groups, classes, musical productions, dance groups, etc., especially those that reflect Chinese culture. There are numerous opportunities here and many friendships and mind-expanding opportunities here.
Again, don’t live in an expat shell. Get out and experience China and its culture. That includes the food. Please don’t just eat Western food. Learn about the many varieties of sophisticated Chinese food and experience many parts of China through its cuisine. Also learn about Chinese history, watch some Chinese movies, and continue learning the language and the culture as much as you can. You’ll find China to be a never-ending puzzle and mystery that rewards you deeply for each layer you unravel.
I hope you will experience life in China one day. May your experience here be exhilarating!
On October 15, 2015, Appleton, Wisconsin’s Paper Industry International Hall of Fame will be inducting six new figures into the hall of fame. One of them is a historical figure from China who can be considered China’s answer to Gutenberg. Gutenberg is frequently cited in the West as one of the most important inventors of all time for giving us the world’s first book printed with movable type, a remarkable achievement from around 1455. As with many inventions long thought to have had European origins, there’s a touch of Eastern flavor in this one, for Gutenberg’s Bible came 142 years after the world’s first mass-produced printed book made with movable type, the large Book of Farming (Nong Shu) from China, printed in 1313 by Wang Zhen.
Wang Zhen was a Chinese official who recognized that vast amounts of agricultural technology scattered across China needed to be preserved to help all of China reduce famine and be more productive. He took a Chinese invention, movable type, and improved upon it to make a practical way to print an entire book. He used carved wooden blocks for each character, and developed a sophisticated way of arranging them on two rotating tables to allow typesetters to quickly find needed characters to place them in his press. The Nong Shu was printed and preserved many notable inventions in China, including an early form of a blast furnace driven with a reciprocating piston attached to water works, something long that to be a later European invention.
Recognizing Wang Zhen for his important role in the advance of printing is a fitting step for the Hall of Fame, and I look forward to many more Asian inventors, scientists, and business leaders being recognized in the Hall of Fame in future years. The historical contributions of China in numerous fields have received far too little attention, and I’m delighted to see folks in Appleton taking the lead in rectifying this problem. Kudos to the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame!
An increasing number of friends are reporting troubling cases of theft from their China bank accounts. One friend, after years of working in China and saving every penny, was preparing to return to the US, but suddenly every penny in her ICBC bank account was stolen. The ICBC bank officials told her that someone had a copy of her card and had taken the money out. She asked how this was possible without knowing her password. No explanation was given, except that it was somehow her fault. She spent five days arguing with them and got nowhere. They said that the thief could have been working with her to perpetuate fraud on the bank, so why should they refund her money? Her only option now is to sue, but she has to go back to the US soon and fears she won’t have the ability to pursue the case. But we’ve encouraged her to work with a lawyer to fight this. She will, and I hope to have good news to report sometime.
Her story has almost exactly the same set of facts that we find in a chilling account, “How I sued the world’s largest bank and won” at Shanghaist.com. In this case, it was a smaller amount, 15,000 RMB that was taken from the author’s ICBC account. He encountered the same helpful consumer service policies and attitudes, and was forced also to sue for something that was clearly not his fault. He won, and it only took 7 months and some modest attorney fees to get his money back.
If you have a bank account with an ATM card, there is a real risk that one day money will begin disappearing from your account. There are some very high risk factors in China you need to understand:
1) The daily limit for ATM withdrawals is much higher than it is in the U.S. and Europe. A thief typically can take out 20,000 RMB a day (over $3,000), which is 5 to 10 times higher than typical US limits.
2) The daily limit may not be over a 24-hour period, but may be based on the calendar date, so if that applies to your bank, then a thief can take 20,000 RMB out at 11:55 pm, and another 20,000 RMB out at 12:05 PM.
3) Banks in China often don’t have effective anti-fraud protection.
4) There are many thieves with card copying or card scanning devices who can make a duplicate of your card. If they or a small video camera can watch you enter your password, having your account number and your password leaves you defenseless.
5) Thieves can sometimes pull money out of your account without using your password. I don’t know how this happens, but it has happened to multiple people in China, and it happened to us with our US bank.
6) When someone pulls money out of your account without knowing your password, it should be the bank’s fault and they should reimburse you. But consumer service attitudes and policies may not be identical to those in your home country. China banks may tend to blame the customer and argue that maybe the thief was collaborating with you, so they might not cooperate unless you take them to court. You can sue and win in China, but it will take a lot of work and the help of an attorney.
Because money in the bank is so vulnerable, I suggest several best practices:
1) Do not keep large amounts in any single Chinese bank. Move a lot of it into US accounts without ATM cards or with two-part authentication, and keep plenty of cash.
2) Use your bank cards as little as possible. Instead, use cash to make payments when possible.
3) Do not let employees walk away with your bank card (they might run it through a card copier device of some kind). Keep your eyes on it.
4) Do not let your card be scanned in any place that seems questionable or seedy.
5) When using ATM machines, look for unusual devices, small video cameras, etc., that might have been added.
6) Keep good records of where you have been so that if the bank says it must have been you that pulled all your money out of your account in, say, Harbin, you can prove you weren’t in Harbin that day.
7) Monitor your bank account frequently, and make sure you receive automatic text messages when money is taken out of your ATM.
8) When you do find a problem, document in detail who you spoke with, what you said, what they said, etc. You will needs lots of documented details if you have to sue the bank to get back missing money.
9) Avoid trusting your money to any bank that has a bad track record of protecting the money of its customers. If you know of banks that have performed well in this regard, please let me know.
These problems are not unique to China, but they seem to be a lot more frequent here and more severe, especially with the high daily minimum that thieves can take out.
If you do online banking, your risks are also high due to hackers. I suggest you use complex passwords that you change often, and only use secure computers to access your bank accounts. It’s good to have a cheap computer that is never used for browsing but only for bank access, and even then keep good firewall and anti-spyware software on it, keep it updated, use more secure browsers like Chrome or Firefox, and don’t use untrusted wifi networks to access your accounts. For added security, use VPN when you access your bank account.
Don’t keep all your money in any one account, and keep a wad of cash somewhere, too. Thieves can get everything, but we shouldn’t make it easy for them.
Many expatriates living in China receive housing stipends that cover at least part of the monthly cost of rental here. In expensive cities like Shanghai, getting your housing stipend can be essential. Your reimbursement, though, requires that you provide a “fapiao” (official receipt from the government) which shows that taxes have been paid. The tax rate right now is 5%, so your fapiao of, say, 8,000 RMB costs your landlord 400 RMB. Your employer then uses the fapiao for some kind of tax benefits in reimbursing you. If you don’t provide a proper fapiao, you generally won’t get your housing stipend.
A few things can go wrong on this process. Make sure you know exactly what name your company requires to be on the fapiao. For me, it has to be the proper legal name of my company, not my name and not other commonly used versions of my employer’s name. One time my landlord bought several months’ worth of fapiaos all at once, but used the corporate name I pointed to on my business card instead of the official legal name, and I ended up having to pay for new fapiaos out of my pocket. In that process, though, I learned that getting fapiaos involves going to a local tax office, showing your rental agreement and your passport, and then simply paying 5% of your rent to buy the fapiao.
Also make sure you get fapiaos by the month. Your company will generally want one for each month, not one for three months at a time, even if you pay your rent once every three months as I do.
A more troubling problem you may encounter is fake fapiaos. Fake receipts? Yep, it happens, and is an easy way for an unscrupulous person to make some quick money. This may happen when a real estate agent, after closing the deal for your apartment, offers to save the landlord the trouble of getting fapiaos. The agent may have a friend allegedly at the tax bureau who can help you get the fapiaos easily. If the agent doesn’t need a copy of your rental agreement, that’s a clear sign that something is wrong. I don’t know if the seemingly official fapiaos are printed on stolen receipt paper from government offices or are just really good forgeries, but they look like the real thing and businesses may accept them and reimburse you, but if there is an audit or careful investigation, they may discover that the fapiaos are fake and you may then be denied your reimbursement.
For Shanghai folks, you can check to see if your fapiao is real or not using a government website: http://www.csj.sh.gov.cn/wsbs/WSBSptFpCx_loginsNewl.jsp. It’s in Chinese, so you may need help doing this.
If you are getting fake fapiaos, let your landlord know. It can hurt their credit and their reputation with the government. It may end up hurting you. The crooks who are stealing your money (and stealing tax money from China) with fake fapiaos need to be stopped. Of course, your agent or whoever gave you the fake fapiaos will be shocked that their friend in the tax office made some kind of error. Maybe they knew, maybe they didn’t, and maybe it was all an innocent mistake, but given the easy money to be made, chances are someone is just pocketing the money, and not pocketing it accidentally.
Unfortunately, one acquaintance of ours says that she got fake fapiaos by going to the fapiao office her business told her to use. I think this was an official fapiao office but I need to confirm that. Whether it was an accident or intentional theft, you need to recognize that there is a possibility that the fapiao you get is fake. Check to make sure they are legit, and try not to get too many months of fapiaos all at once in case there is a problem with them.
Two good friends of mine were traveling in Beijing recently and took out several thousand RMB from a Bank of China ATM machine in the lobby of a popular international hotel chain with a great reputation. Later that day, when they used their cash to pay a cabbie, he checked the bill they gave him and declared it was fake. They tried several other bills and all were fake. They didn’t believe the cabbie. They later went to a restaurant and had their bills rejected. They went back to the hotel and confirmed that the bills were fake, but the hotel said it wasn’t their fault and the bank claimed that it wasn’t possible for fake bills to be issued from their machine.
I’ve read of others encountering fake bills from ATMs, usually with the insistence of the bank that it is not possible. I’m afraid it can happen, though it has never happened to me. But now when I get cash out, before I leave the ATM, I hold a few up to the light to see if they are watermarked. The fake bills my friends had were lightly printed in the watermark area so it looked like a watermark, but holding it up to the light produces a much different effect.
Check a few bills at your ATM machine to reduce the risk of getting a big wad of fakes. Just my two cents.
After several tries, here is what has worked for me and it has helped some friends. First, clear your browser cache and close your browser. Second, flush your DNS cache. Third, restart your computer. The DNS cache flush may be most important, so if you want a fast fix, try it first (after closing your browser) and see if that helps. But I suggest doing all 3 steps. Search for details of how to clear the cache of your specific browser and how to flush the DNS cache for your computer. On Windows machines, for example, the proper approach may be to run CMD as administrator (press the Windows button, search for CMD, then right click on the CMD program and select “run as administrator”) and then type “ipconfig /flushdns” (without the quotes). On my Mac, I had to run terminal and then enter “sudo dscacheutil -flushcache” (without the quotes). Check for your operating system.
But what is going on? Some article at Reddit (here and here) explore the possibility of this being some kind of practice of new capabilities related to the Great Cannon. I’m not sure. But it’s ugly and frightening that it can happen so easily. It may be that using https:// connections for added security could help prevent the problem in the future. That’s just a guess.
Gelato Update: Le Creme Milano at South Shaanxi Road Is Wonderful, But Beware the Rogue Store in Xintiandi
Ever since my visit to Italy a year ago, I’ve been on a quest for good gelato, and have found a couple of fairly good brands here that draw upon Italian know-how.
Gelato was on my agenda following an intellectual property conference in Shanghai, the IP Business Congress Asia 2014, held Dec. 8-9. My wife and I took an IP lawyer from the States and his wife to dinner at the beautiful and delicious TMSK in Xintiandi. After dinner, the lawyer and I wanted to try some gelato, so we went west to Danshui Road to visit a Creme Milano gelato shop, a gelato chain in Shanghai where I’ve had some excellent gelato several times in the past.
When we entered the store, something seemed a little different. No, a lot different. The gelato bins, normally full and carefully groomed, looked sloppy and the trays were mostly empty. What remained looked rather like old relics. We did the best we could by finding a couple of flavors to order from the few surviving bins, but the flavor and texture was unimpressive and the servings were unusually small and stingy. What had happened? Were sales so poor in our cooler weather that the store had just given up and failed to keep up appearances? I was let down.
The next day, I had lunch with another friend and mentioned the bad gelato experience. He knew the people running the business or at least helping to run it. He said he would them give my feedback. He called later that day to tell me surprising news from the owner: the gelato store we had visited was a rogue shop that no longer was getting its product from the authentic source as they were supposed to. I don’t know if the product we had was leftover original gelato or some fake gelato or ice cream from another source. But it wasn’t what I was expecting and what I would find again at the mother store on South Shaanxi Road.
After I sent an email to the owner of a gelato brand in Shanghai about my disappointing experience in the rogue shop and their need to take action to protect their brand from being tarnished, the owner invited me to come to the mother store at 434 Shaanxi South Road in Shanghai’s beautiful French Concession area. We were warmly greeted by the store manager and marveled at the contrast between what we could see in front of us and what we had seen in the rogue shop.
The difference in taste was even more impressive. Gelato is not just another name for ice cream. There are large differences in method of preparation, the ingredients, and even the temperature it is served at. Gelato is more like a rich, very thick fluid rather than the fluffy solid of common ice cream. It takes skill and artistry to make it right, and what a delight it was to encounter real gelato once again. Ahhh!
We ordered some gelato after sampling several heavenly flavors. I ordered a small cup with a little pistachio flavor and a little blueberry yogurt. The small cup was packed to hold about as much as possible, nearly overflowing with goodness, unlike the miserly, well-below-the-rim portion I received in a cup of the same size at the rogue shop. Both flavors were unforgettable. To my dismay, though, after we received the gelato, the manager refused to take our payment. What kind treatment! It was my birthday, but they didn’t know that in giving me this perfect birthday gift on a little birthday adventure.
Experience real gelato at a real Le Creme Milano store in Shanghai. There may be one or more rogue shops out there selling inferior product, based on what I experienced and learned from the owner. How disappointing that there are stores (at least one) with the nameplate of Le Creme Milano that aren’t selling the real product. I hope the other Creme Milanos in town are legit. One way to check is to email the store using their contact page at http://www.lecrememilano.com/#!contact-uk/c2q4.
Golden Jaguar is a well-known chain offering a large buffet. Unfortunately, after the disturbingly poor experience a large group of us encountered there recently, I won’t be going back. A group of about 200 or so people made reservations for a special dinner there. Some who had been to Golden Jaguar before were really looking forward to the buffet with numerous tasty items. We paid 200 RMB per person, apparently a little more than the normal buffet rate in the main area on the first floor. They put our large group on the sixth floor to give us a big room of our own, pretty much the whole floor, but they wouldn’t let us go down to the first floor to access the good stuff. Instead, they brought in a few large bins of very ordinary, uninteresting food. It was actually the buffet in China that I can remember where I left hungry because there was so little worth eating, and so little of what looked good.
One girl at our table looked really depressed. I asked what was wrong and found out that she had been to the main buffet on the first floor with numerous delicious items and had really been looking forward to a special evening here, but now was gravely disappointed with the low-quality food being brought to us. I asked the floor manager if she could be allowed to go down to the first floor and get some real food. He gave us some story about how we had a special rate for the room and this did not include access to the first floor. Sigh.
The food they brought came in a few large bins that were often empty. It was usually cold, with no devices to keep anything warm. What surprised me was how inept their system was for providing the food. For over 200 people, the food was presented on a single line of tables and they only allowed people to queue up in a single line on one side. This resulted in a ridiculously slow line, complicated by the fact that the bins they brought were too small and quickly depleted, at which point people in the line often just stood and waited until a refill eventually came, making it all the more insufferable.
The fish was cheap, unpalatable sardines or saury. The chicken was cold, boring, plain whole chicken whacked into boney pieces. There was flavorless beef and broccoli, cold. The crab was perhaps the highlight for appearance but there was so little edible meat that it did little to abate hunger. Some fried rice. A salad that was often empty. Tasteless cheap little fluffy cake pastries for desert. Lukewarm Sprite or Coke as the only beverages. There was a tray of smoked salmon, enough to serve about 10 or 12 people per refill, that was usually empty. Some cold shrimp (tender, though) and corn was provided as a salad. That dish was OK, but overall it was something of a miserable meal, given the fact that we knew we were being poorly treated, even ripped off, and that for the same price or less we should have been able to eat a great meal below. Sigh.
There were also some “sushi rolls” that were just rice and radish or other veggies. These sliced rolls came with a safety problem: some were still wrapped in thin cellophane that guests would ingest if they didn’t notice and peel it off before eating their slice. After someone on my table apparently ate one, I pointed this potential danger out to a worker, who blew me off by saying that the plastic was necessary to prepare the sushi. There was not an attitude of serving the customer that night! I went to someone more senior an explained the problem again in great detail, asking repeatedly to make sure he understood that yes, this was a safety issue and should be resolved. Nothing happened for a while, but later I did see that the rolls they brought had the plastic off.
I feel that they really took advantage of our group. If that is their attitude toward customers, I won’t be back.
Buying 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!