Ctrip Trouble: Beware “Free Cancellation”

Ctrip.com is one of the most popular sites for booking travel in Asia and my experiences with it have generally been positive. Unfortunately, I learned that hotel rooms advertised with “free cancellation” policies may leave the purchaser without the protection sought. I also learned that Ctrip’s customer service needs serious improvement.

I was booking a room for 5 people for a tentative stay in Haikou, Hainan. Seeing that the Tienyow Hotel offered some rooms with free cancellation, I booked one of those rooms and then prepaid. The listing with free cancellation had a higher price than the same kind of room without free cancellation, but the extra price was worth the security of having free cancellation if our plans were to change.

On the payment page, the listing continued to show the words “free cancellation” (I didn’t pay much attention to that at the time, actually, but have since verified this behavior on similar listings at the hotel) — but also had a confusing message about not being able to make changes once an order is confirmed. I figured that was standard verbiage that had not been updated to reflect the free cancellation that I was paying for. After all, I was paying extra for the free cancellation service.

When I completed payment, I received an email from Ctrip that said I had paid and that everything was nonrefundable in case I wanted to change. So I called customer service and was told that there was no free cancellation and they couldn’t do anything about it. The representative didn’t seem to get that it was a pretty disturbing, actually illegal, thing to advertise a service or benefit (free cancellation), charge extra for it, and then withhold the service. I asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor was too busy, I was told, but would call me back. He or she did not.

I later went to Ctrip’s live chat and explained the problem and asked for the email of the Legal Department and the CEO so I could register my complaint. They refused to give me that information, after repeated requests, and simply said that “We would inform the staff.” Huh? It took a while to get them to explain what they meant by that, but it was that they would ask a customer service person to call me. Other than that, the chat rep would not answer anything, in spite of my other questions about how they could offer free cancellation and not provide it.

Finally I did get a call from a supervisor in customer service who wanted to argue and tell me that they “had clearly” given notice that there was no free cancellation because of the conflicting message on the second page. They could not change my order because this was their policy, and they cannot change their policy.

At this point a native-Chinese speaking lawyer in my office jumped in and argued with the rep. After about 30 minutes, they offered to try to cancel the reservation for me. But that failed because the hotel refused to cooperate. Later, however, Ctrip did kindly acknowledge that there was something of a problem here and offered to cover 50% of my loss if we have to change or cancel the reservation that I’ve paid for. They also offered 100 RMB, later upped to 200 RMB, as Ctrip-bucks if we do complete the reservation. OK, that’s an improvement, but it took a lot of time and energy to get Ctrip to budge, and they still have a credibility gap when it comes to their offerings. They claim they will fix that soon. I hope so.

By | October 20th, 2016|Categories: China, Consumers, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Review of The Lion King Musical at Shanghai Disney Resort, the Chinese Version of the Broadway Hit

The Chinese version of the Broadway hit, The Lion King, was one of best performances I’ve seen. Spectacular, beautiful, wonderful to watch, even for those who don’t speak Mandarin, the language it is performed in at the beautiful theater in Disney Town at Shanghai Disney Resort. We attended a matinee performance on June 11, a few days before the official opening. There were no serious rough edges that we could see. The cast was wonderful, though a few voices weren’t as strong as one might encounter on Broadway. I was particularly delighted with the costumes, which were brilliant, clever, beautiful, and fascinating to watch. Special effects were also nicely done. Dramatic, fun, well choreographed, just a lot of fun. I really like the uniquely Chinese elements that were added such as the appearance of the Chinese Monkey King a couple of times. I understand one of the songs was added also for the Chinese production, though I’m unclear on that. The Disney Town theater is spacious and comfortable, and I think seats about 1500 people.

If you are coming to Shanghai, attending The Lion King might be one of the big attractions you should plan for. Note, however, that going there by taxi can be rough since many cabbies don’t know the area yet and since the Shanghai Disney Resort Website is surprisingly deficient in basic information on how to get there. There is no map or address given! There is a chat function for help, so I tried in many ways to squeeze information out of the chat service, but they insisted that there was nothing to worry about, that you just had to say “Disney” to cabbies and they would know where to go, which proved to be completely wrong for our friends who tried to meet us early at the theater to get their tickets. I eventually got an address from the chat service–actually 3 addresses, which confused things further, but none of them were helpful to the cabbie and my friends, came within a couple minutes of missing the opening of the performance. As of today, June 23, 2016, the website still lacks an address for those coming by taxi. Huh? I tried about several times to ask the chat service person to let the webmaster know this needed to be added, and just got the delusional “no worries, there is no problem, cabbies will know how to get there” response. Disney, wake up! You are not the Middle Kingdom in the center of the world where everyone knows your location. You are in an obscure remote corner of the outskirts of Shanghai and people don’t know how to drive there.

Best to go by subway. Line 11 ends there at a station clearly marked as “Disney.”

Here are some photos of the theater.

Before or after the show, enjoy a meal at one of the many good restaurants in Disney Town. This is a fun place that doesn’t require a ticket to get in. Just stroll from the subway (Line 11, Disney station) to Disney Town and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The restaurants include some of China’s most popular higher-end places like Shanghai Min (wonderful Shanghai-style food, one of my favorite places), The Dining Place (fairly inexpensive dim sum and Shanghai fair), Element Fresh, Simply Thai, and many others. We tried a tremendously popular US restaurant that is the first of its kind in China, the Cheesecake Factory. We were very impressed. They have a menu just like the typical menus in the States, with strong leadership from the States here to train the staff and ensure high quality service and food preparation. Food was delicious though pricey for Chinese standards, but portions were also huge, maybe twice the size we are used to in China, so for us a single dish shared would have been enough, coupled with the appetizers were bought. I had Jamaican chicken and shrimp, and it was so flavorful and tender. The guacamole was surprisingly good, almost perfect. A slight disappointment was that the fish tacos were almost cold by the time they came to the table. Looks like they try to bring all the food at once, which means uneven wait times for some dishes. Ask to have food brought hot as soon as each dish is ready. More work for the sometimes overwhelmed staff at this hugely popular place, but you deserve your food fresh and hot.

By | June 23rd, 2016|Categories: China, Consumers, Food, Parks, Products, Restaurants, Shanghai, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on Review of The Lion King Musical at Shanghai Disney Resort, the Chinese Version of the Broadway Hit

Renting an Apartment in Shanghai: Some Practical Tips

We’ve lived in Shanghai for almost 5 years now and have rented four different places in this time (#4 about to start). Moving is a pain, but it’s given us some valuable experience. Here are some tips based on what we’ve seen.

Looking for apartments in Shanghai usually involves a real estate agent who will help you find an apartment. You’ll be asked to sign a one-year rental agreement. Anything less is difficult, but can be done with special arrangements, but only with a minority of landlords. Those needing an apartment for less than a year might try subletting a place listings at SmartShanghai.com or by personal connections with Shanghai residents willing to let someone use a room for a while.

You will need a lot of cash. In general, apartments are rented out one year at a time with contracts requiring one or two months’ rent as a deposit, and then upfront payment of the first two or sometimes three months of rent. This is a big surprise for many foreigners coming here, for it means that obtaining an apartment in one of the most expensive cities on earth will require at least three and usually four or five months of rent paid before you can even move in. In addition, you will also need to pay 35% of one month’s rent (typically, but be sure to check) as a fee to the real estate agent. (That may seem like a pretty steep fee for the work of signing you up for an apartment, but it’s actually worse than that because the landlord has to pay also, and the going fee now seems to be 100% of a month’s rent as payment from the landlord to the rental agency they signed up with.) Many foreigners coming here are shocked to see how expensive apartments are (e.g., often 2 or frequently even 4 times as much as in many US cities), and are even more shocked to see how much cash they have to provide in their first few weeks.

The company that brought you here typically won’t help with any of that upfront cash you need to pay. If they offer housing assistance, as many do, it comes in the form of a monthly stipend that will start after (maybe a month or even two after) you’ve paid all that cash and moved in. You will need to provide a fapiao (official government tax receipt) for the first month of rent from the landlord to your work and it must be listed with the exact name of your company (generally) in order for you to get reimbursed for one month of rent at a time.

For the process of finding the apartment, here are some tips:

First, if you don’t speak Chinese, bring or hire a Chinese-speaking friend to help you get the information you need. If you rely on rare English-speaking agents, your choices will be much more limited and it will be hard to find multiple agents covering a desired region, which is part of Tip #2 below.

Second, work with more than one real estate agent to find a place to rent. The listings from landlords are not all visible to every agent, so the perfect place for you might not be known to the first agent you work with. The quality and diligence of agents varies greatly. Most recently, for example, we started looking about seven weeks before our current contract ended. We had one agent we really liked who took us to a few places but then told us that we needed to wait a couple of weeks before we came back because landlords were not willing to sign a contract what would start in mid-June when it was only early May. But as we were saying good-bye to that agent, another one approached us on a street corner and said he could do better and that he thought it wasn’t too early too look. He worked hard to come up with some places where the landlord was somewhat flexible, and we soon found an ideal place that we’ll be moving into shortly. But during out search, we worked with three different agents, each with different listings and different strengths.

Third, be very clear about what you want and understand where you can compromise. Some people want to be up high enough to have very few mosquitoes. But if you could save 1000 RMB with a place on the first floor, could you cope by using bug zappers and mosquito netting over your bed? Do you really need two bathrooms? If you have lots of guests, this can be especially valuable. Understand how much space you need for the kitchen. Do you need an oven? Do you need a dryer? These are rare but some places have them. Understanding the difference between “nice to have” and “game over if I don’t have” is vital, because you are probably going to have make some compromises or pay a lot more than you want.

Fourth, generate lists of questions and issue to consider and discuss by visualizing details of your life when you are in an apartment you are considering. Look at the kitchen layout and consider how you would use it. Is the fridge too far away for practical work? Is there inadequate storage space? Obvious dangers? In other rooms, look at the electrical outlets and see if there are enough. See if windows can be closed and sealed off in winter to keep cold air from flowing through your home. See if air conditioners work, hot water flows, etc. Sit calmly and listen: is there lots of honking from street traffic, or are you in an peaceful place where you have a chance of getting decent sleep? Try out the furniture. Designed for someone half your size? Feel the bed. Rock hard? If reading is important to you, is there a comfortable place with decent lighting you can use? Look carefully at the neighborhood and the street you will live on. Is the traffic clogging the road all the time? Are there no taxis? Also, make sure your clearly understand if the quoted rent includes a fapiao (if you need two fapiaos, this could be trouble, and make sure that is clearly and plainly explained, and make sure you explain that you need real fapiaos, not fake ones–no kidding!). Ask if there are any extra fees you are responsible for. Will there be an installation fee to start Internet or TV service? Understand parking rules for you or for visitors.

Fifth, don’t trust everything you see or hear. Many online apartment listings rely on fake information to lure you in, and some agents you meet will feed you fake information to win you as a client. This fake information will be a listing that looks absolutely perfect, such as an ideal apartment in the place you want, in your budget, with loads of cute extras that make it seem like a real steal. When you call the agent to schedule a visit, you’ll find out that it has “just been sold.” That same apartment may end up “just being sold” over and over again. It may not even exist. I suggest not relying on that service or agency if they play that game. Further, real estate agents will often make statements when they don’t really know the answer. Be suspicious and ask how they know. Some agents, especially those working for firms that seem to be trying hard to push market prices higher, will quote you greatly inflated prices. Checking with multiple agents can give you a feel for what the real price should be for a given type of apartment.

Sixth, negotiate. Three times we have offered somewhat less than the asking price and had success, but if you ask for more than, say, a 10% reduction, you might not only get a rejection but find that the landlord is not willing to talk with you any more at all. But do negotiate, respectfully. In one place, we pointed out how terrible the furniture was and got the landlord to agree to lower rent if we scrapped some wasted furniture and bought our own instead of requiring the landlord to buy new items. We got 1000 RMB a month off our rent which quickly paid for the cheap used couches and a used bed we bought from expat friends who were moving back to the US. In another place, we got the landlord to buy an over for us if we would pay 500 RMB a month extra, which was fine with us–but in the end a bad deal for us because we stayed there two years, and an over costs about 5000 RMB. Oh well!

Seventh, allay landlord concerns. The visit to an apartment with a landlord present is a two-way interview. You are trying to find out if the landlord will be reasonable, but the landlord is keenly interested in seeing who you are. They have invested way too much money in this place and don’t want to lose it through a disastrous tenant. Dress nicely. Be on time. Be very pleasant and polite. Compliment the landlord on the things you see that are positives. Act like a considerate guest. The feeling they have about you can play an important role. They want responsible, trustworthy people who aren’t going to trash the apartment or sublet it to a tribe of party animals.

Eighth, once you’ve found the right place, be prepared for the closing. Find out if the landlord wants the upfront payments in cash or via an electronic deposit (credit cards often are not accepted for these kind of things). If you need, say, 40,000 RMB, realize that you can’t get all of that on one day from an ATM machine, but you can get it from a bank if you have an account there with that much in it. Otherwise you may need to have money wired to China from a US bank. Also as part of preparing for closing, ask the agent to get a copy of the contract to you before the closing so you can review it, and make sure it is in English and Chinese (but the Chinese terms will govern if there are any differences). If they have changed the agreed-upon terms or offer new unexpected conditions, be ready to walk. Also have someone who knows China and Chinese be there with you are at least available to help if there are any issues or questions. Inspect the apartment carefully and make sure agreed-upon repairs or changes have been done or are spelled out in the contract.

Ninth, prepare for moving out of your old place.  Be sure to give your previous landlord plenty of notice (usually by 30 days or a month before the last day of your contract, you need to give written notice if you aren’t going to continue) and cooperate fully to help them sell the place. Keep it clean. Do your best to be thoughtful of your old landlord. While that’s just good human behavior, it also has a practical aspect: it may increase the chances of you getting your deposit back, or at least some of it. Sadly, some landlords make excuses and keep the deposit. We’ve had luck so far in getting our deposit back, though we have another deposit quest coming up soon. Wish us luck. Have an inspection meeting with your former landlord to review the apartment and see if there have been any unusual damages. It may be good to have photos of the place when you moved in and photos of the current place to show that you’ve taken good care. If you’ve spent money on repairs or other things, receipts will be helpful. You may need to prove that the furniture you wish to remove from the apartment is actually yours, since the door guards (“menwei”) at apartment complexes are trained to prevent theft from departing tenants and so will require conformation from the landlord for you to remove something you may own. Make sure you move on a day when the landlord is available by phone.

Tenth, when you move, take many precautions and get help. Hire movers to move your stuff if you have a lot, and watch over the process carefully. They may be fly-by-night and can damage many things. Work with them to protect whatever is really valuable or move it yourself. For special items like a piano, go to a piano shop and get their recommendation for skilled piano movers. Work with the agent and landlord to make sure that services like power, Internet, gas, etc. are operating when you move in. Be very careful not to damage walls, flooring, windows, or light fixtures as you move in. Make sure you have keys and understand how to enter the complex and the building (passwords, key tokens, etc.?).

It can be tiring, but with luck, you’ll have avoided major disasters and will find yourself in a pleasant new setting in one of the most delightful and beautiful cities on earth, Shanghai.

By | May 29th, 2016|Categories: China, Consumers, Housing, Shanghai, Shopping, Surviving|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on Renting an Apartment in Shanghai: Some Practical Tips

The Paper Industry International Hall of Fame to Recognize China’s Answer to Gutenberg, Wang Zhen

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!

By | September 10th, 2015|Categories: China, Consumers, Industry, Innovation, Paper, Products|Comments Off on The Paper Industry International Hall of Fame to Recognize China’s Answer to Gutenberg, Wang Zhen

Golden Jaguar on West Yanan Road in Shanghai: Huge Disapppointment for a Large Party

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.






By | December 28th, 2014|Categories: China, Consumers, Crazy, Food, Products, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |Comments Off on Golden Jaguar on West Yanan Road in Shanghai: Huge Disapppointment for a Large Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By | August 18th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Finances, Products, Scams|Tags: , , |Comments Off on You Are One Guessed or Stolen PIN Away from Disaster: Be Careful With Your ATM Card in China (or Anywhere)

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

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 on Food Poisoning: Beware of Hamburgers and Other High Risk Items

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

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.

There are several ways to find housing in Shanghai. Many people do it themselves through word of mouth or especially through online postings. For foreigners, the most popular tool seems to be the housing section at SmartShanghai.com.

For many, another popular way to find 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 went 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.

Update, June 2015: We would later learn that the help that his office provided in arranging Internet access and managing fapiaos was not quite on the up-and-up. We paid for high-end Internet service but got the lowest end, and the rental fapiaos were fakes. Our agent was surprised and quickly corrected both problems once we detected them. He said were the fault of his staff at the office. This can be a problem with any agency, so if you have them help you with those things, you need to check carefully and ensure that you are getting what you pay for. The temptation for people to pocket extra money is hard to resist.

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 on Finding an Apartment or Moving to a New Apartment in Shanghai

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

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By | January 12th, 2008|Categories: Consumers, Crazy, Humor, Products, Uncategorized|Comments Off on 1975 Lorem Ipsum For Sale – Excellent Condition