Young Single Adult Tours in Shanghai, Fall 2014

For the large group of young single adults coming to join us in Shanghai on a certain weekend this fall, here are the basic tours we are offering.

1. The QiBao ancient water town tour: visit a popular and historic water town with some pretty bridges, a bustling pedestrian street, great street food, quirky museums (ah, the cricket museum!) and many photo ops. Tour begins at the QiBao station way out on Line 9, Exit 2, meeting underground and leaving at 10:00 AM sharp. Leave early to get there on time. This station is about 35 minutes from downtown. Your tour leader, D. R., will cover the tickets for a gondola ride and the funny little museums in Qibao.

2. Shanghai’s Biggest Hits: See the Bund, Yu Gardens, the matchmaking market at People’s Park, and the skyscrapers at Lujiazui. We meet at People’s Square, Exit 1 at 9:45 AM, departing at 10:00 AM. Note: the matchmaking market is a remarkable Shanghai tradition that strikes some foreigners as very odd. Absorb and look but don’t giggle or take too many photos. Be respectful, polite, and relatively quiet even thought it’s a pretty lively and noisy place. You’ll have time to discuss and comment later. (Some of you may wish to sign up some of your friends, but it’s best for foreigners to not try their luck with this system.)

3. Arts and Culture in Shanghai (great for bad weather): see the famous Shanghai Museum, see arts and crafts at Yu Garden, and visit the China Art Museum or several small museums near the Bund (details depend on group size and interest). Starts at People’s Square also.

4. Quirky Shanghai: Unusual sites most tourists miss. Includes the matchmaking market at People’s Park (observe the rules mentioned in #2 above), the mysterious angels at Lujiazui Park, great architecture and art in places like the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the cricket market, the Dong Tai Antiques Market, and the surprisingly calm Confucian Temple in the heart of the wild old city. I’ll lead this group. We start at People’s Square, departing at 10:00 AM.

Bring some money for lunch and dinner. We’ll show you places where you can eat for around 35 RMB or less. We’ll also have subway cards for using the metro system at now cost to you (if all goes well). Tours will go from 10 to 3 PM. Then you’ve got a meeting and, in the evening, a dance.

Stay safe and healthy. Don’t get lost. Stay with the group. Know the phone numbers of your tour leaders and where you will be going next in case you are separated. Use the buddy system. Keep a water bottle with you and get plenty of fluids. If there are health issues, let me or your tour leaders know right away.

Know the basic scams to watch out for (the tea ceremony scam, etc.). Use caution when crossing the sometimes dangerous roads. Watch your feet and your head, especially on the streets of the old city, and watch for motorcycles that can come from any direction.

By |September 11th, 2014|Categories: Shanghai, Surviving|Tags: |0 Comments

Foreigners in China: Get the VIP Internet Service from China Telecom to Improve Access to Foreign Websites

We recently upgraded our Internet service to the fastest available: 100 Mbps service for 248 RMB a month. Even with that high speed, we noticed that accessing foreign websites was still painfully slow and unreliable. When we turned on ExpressVPN, our generally good VPN service, the speed was even worse and was essentially blocked, or so it seemed on many days.

Then I learned about China Telecom’s VIP service for foreign websites. This service costs an extra 50 RMB per month and gives you “more stable” access to websites in the US, Japan, Europe, and Hong Kong. Desperate. we tried it, and it has made a huge difference. Foreign websites now upload much faster. We still need VPN for sites like Facebook, but that also seems much faster than before.

To change your service, you need to be on their monthly billing plan. We were on a prepaid plan, having prepaid for a year, so we needed to make a change. How we got on their strange prepaid system is a long story of itself: someone in our real-estate agent’s company handled this and possibly tried to rip-us off, paying for the lowest-speed service instead of the highest and pocketing the money. Only we caught the “mistake” and insisted on correcting did the upgrade happen, and then they only prepared for one month and possibly tried to pocket the difference again. We finally got all or nearly all of the money we had given to show up in our Telecom account. Don’t let intermediaries do this for you! Our mistake.

To switch to monthly billing, you would think it should just take a phone call and the flip of a digital switch. Nope. I had to go a special office in person–not the closest one, but one that is authorized to handle the VIP account. That office is at 500 Jiangsu Road, close Yan An Road. It’s inside an electronic store on the second floor. Right next to the escalator is a round desk with an English speaking young man working there, and he was great.

To get the VIP account, I had to cancel my entire previous account and have a new line installed. That meant a big service fee or getting a year-long plan. Since I heard that 50 Mbps with the VIP service was better than 100 Mbps without, I accepted a special deal they had on 50 Mbps (no similar deal for the 100 Mbps unless I would take a two-year plan). So now I’m paying about 150 a month plus 50 for the VIP service, less than the 289 a month I was paying for the 100 Mbps service. They had to come and install a new line and put in a new cable modem. But the new service with VIP magic is definitely better. Finally, we can use the Internet, even in the evening, and access foreign websites with acceptable speed. We even were able to watch a movie on Netflix. Wow, it’s a new world for us here in China.

We had 1100 in our account that was closed. To get a refund, we had to take our old modem back in with my passport and apply for a refund. The same guy was very helpful. They will call us in a few days when I can come in and get my cash. They cannot just put the money into my account. That, I’m afraid, would be far too easy. But overall, the process wasn’t bad and I’m delighted with the mysterious yet effective VIP service.

Some folks at ShanghaiExpat.com discuss this as “GFW-free” service. No, it is not free of the Great Firewall. VPN is still needed if you want to access things like Netflix or Facebook. But you might have much better results, I think, than you are getting now. If you are about to abandon hope because of slow Internet in China, try the VIP service from China Telecom.

By |August 16th, 2014|Categories: China, Internet, Products, Shanghai, Surviving|Tags: , , |Comments Off

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

Coming to China to Teach English? Do You Know What You’re Facing?

While there is high demand for English teachers in China and great pay for teachers with teaching credentials, the situation is quite different for those without teaching credentials (e.g., a teaching certificate and a degree). Young teachers, typically college students, are recruited to come to China for a few months in what amounts to an unusually difficult study-abroad experience programs from institutions like China Horizons or ILP (International Language Program). The recruits generally pay their own travel to come here and get almost nothing as pay (if anything at all), though room and board is provided. What the enthusiastic teachers often don’t know before coming here is that the room and board can be unspeakably unpleasant in many cases: no heating or air conditioning, no flush toilets, bad food, poor sanitation, and a location in a remote town far from the conveniences of places like Shanghai or Beijing.

Students coming here to teach often think they will be able to learn Chinese and see China while here. But no instruction in Chinese will be provided and free time to see China will be much less than they imagine. They may be told that weekends will be free, but the schools frequently have weekend programs and tell the teachers they are required to be there. Sometimes they learn of this at the last minute (like on Friday), after having already bought train tickets to go somewhere for the weekend. Many are told that they only have to work a small number of hours or teach a few classes, and then find that their work load is much higher once they get here. They can really be at the mercy of the local school. Many of these teachers I know seem to be little more than servants exploited to make a poor school seem more credible and increase revenues from parents anxious to have their kids learn English.

Many of the students coming here are religious (e.g., LDS/Mormon) and hope to attend church on Sundays, but find out that the town where they are assigned is 3 hours away from the nearest congregation, and that the transportation to go to church will eat up much of their cash. Some make the sacrifice and go as often as they can. But that takes real commitment.

Some know all this and come with a desire to serve, teach, and experience the wonder of China. Others are surprised but boldly conquer their challenges and move forward. Some feel greatly disappointed, but often fear to let others know (especially their parents), not wanting to make people worry or think that they were duped or something. I think there needs to be more awareness of just how challenging China can be for a Westerner. It’s easy in Shanghai, though plenty challenging, but in a small town without all the graces and support systems of Shanghai, it can be quite an ordeal. Some know this and bravely conquer, but others wish they had known first.

Do a little more homework before you come to China to teach English. Make sure you know where you are going and what the conditions are. And recognize that whatever you are told, even in complete good faith, that things change quickly here. Be ready for what you may experience. It is rarely easy. Sadly, for some, it wasn’t worth it. For others, it was terrific.

By |July 15th, 2014|Categories: Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , |Comments Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Poisoning: Beware of Hamburgers and Other High Risk Items

food poisoning shanghai burgers hospital preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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