Qingdao, China: Clean, Beautiful City with a Great Beach and Nearby Mountains

For a recent 3-day holiday, my wife and I went to Qingdao, China, in Shandong Province. We stayed on the beach the Haiyu Hotel. The hotel was reasonably good and quite inexpensive, less than 500 RMB a night with an ocean view and a great beachfront to explore. Qingdao has wonderful seafood, and if you like clams and basic fish, you can get it very inexpensively. The air was fresh, the sky was blue, and the ocean front was relatively clean and attractive, unlike the mud the occupies the region around Shanghai.

We began with a trip to Lao Shan Mountain, which features some good hiking and also beautiful fishing boats in the coastal city of Lao Shan. Then we visited a few parts of Qingdao such as Ba De Guan with lots of European architecture and the beautiful Zhongshan Park.

Travel tip: taxis can be hard to hail in Qingdao. During a time with lots of visitors, you would be wise to arrange a driver ahead of time. Might cost 400-500 per day. If you hire a taxi for a day, it might be more like 800 or higher. A subway system is under construction and should be up starting in 2015.

Here are some photos of our adventure.

If You Ride the Maglev from the Pudong Airport, Beware the Cabbies at Longyang Station

Many foreigners visiting of living in Shanghai have learned about the Maglev, the rapid train that connects the PuDong International Airport with a location closer to the center of Pudong. The 50-RBM ride (40 RMB if you use a metro card) from the airport to the Maglev’s other end at Longyang Station takes only about 8 minutes reaching a brisk speed of 300 km/hr, whereas it would take about 40 or so minutes on the metro (Line 2) and would take over 30 minutes by taxi, depending on traffic, and would cost over 100 RMB. So a great way to get to downtown Shanghai is to take the Maglev to Longyang Station, and then take line 2 or line 7 from Longyang to get to other parts of Shanghai. If you are brave and perhaps foolhardy, you can take a cab from Longyang. In my experience, it’s the worse place in town to take a cab.

The problem is not that cabs are hard to get–there are a lot of them anxiously waiting for foreigners. The problem is that it’s hard to find honest cabs, the ones that use the meter and charge you fairly. Cabs almost everywhere else in town can be expected to use the meter and comply with the law, but not at Longyang. You tell them where you want to go and then they act like illegal black cabs, telling you the price they will charge without using a meter. A ride that normally would be 35 RMB, for example, will be quoted at 100 RMB, and almost always at least twice what the real rate ought to be. And you probably won’t get a receipt for the ride, either. The taxi is a “black cab” for that ride. It’s illegal, but they do it at Longyang as their standard operating procedure, mainly to prey upon gullible tourists getting off the Maglev.

Do not get into a cab that isn’t going to use the meter. If you can’t speak Chinese, say “meter” and point to it and make sure they will use it. If it’s not on when you get in, stop and get out. I think “dabiao” is the Chinese way to indicate the ride will use the meter.

You can find cabs willing to use the meter there, though you may have to walk past the line of snakes waiting to prey upon you and go beyond the taxi stand area out toward the main street and wave one down there.

Don’t encourage the snakes to keep preying on foreigners by giving in and paying double to triple fare to a cabbie in a normal cab illegally acting as a black cab. Better to take an unmarked black cab than a marked cab where the cabbie has dishonestly turned off the meter. When you let a dishonest person take you for a ride, it can turn out poorly in several ways. The excessive 100 RMB fare he quoted you might become 100 RMB per person. You might get taken to the wrong place. Why take further risk?

Don’t be in a rush. Plan on taking at least 10 extra minutes to find an honest cab, or take the subway instead of the Maglev, if only to get to a new location where the cabbies are more honest.

Scams in China (and Beyond): Some Tips

There are many scams that newcomers here must learn to avoid. The classic scam involves English speakers inviting Westerners to come to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. After a cup or two, there’s a bill for a huge amount, with some hefty bouncers there to enforce payment. Ouch.

Online shopping in China or with Chinese companies can be a big risk. Here is a list of Chinese retail websites that are reported to be fraudulent. One friend of mine bought a computer on one of these sites and lost his money. One of the warning signs that he should have known about: they told him they don’t accept credit cards but needed the money sent via Western Union. That’s the same as handing someone cash. No recourse. No protection. Don’t ever buy anything via Western Union payments! Ever.

If you are coming here for a job, there a plenty of crooks that will sign up foreigners for jobs here that turn out to be closer to slave labor. They promise to get a visa faster than should be possible, and some smuggle people into the country illegally or bribe an official at a “diplomatic desk” to get the victim into the country. They then keep the person’s passport, making the person completely vulnerable and at risk of imprisonment or deportation if they don’t cooperate, etc. It’s human trafficking. Don’t fall for these scams. They are aimed largely at people from less developed countries.

Remember, there are people looking for ways to exploit you. Be suspicious. Be nervous. Don’t give your passport to people you don’t trust. Don’t pay people in advance with cash. Don’t let a charming smile lure you into an out-of-the-way place where you’ll have to pay a lot for your tee, or pay even more to replace your teeth. China is a great place abounding in kind, honest people, but the few crooks here and everywhere else force us to stay on our guard at all times. Be careful.

By |February 11th, 2014|Categories: China, Scams, Shopping, Travel tips|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Photo Galleries for New Zealand Added

My Collection of Photo Galleries now includes two from New Zealand, a first set heavy on the North Island with emphasis on the Rotorua area, and a second set with emphasis on the South Island, though there is a mix in both. Here are a few samples:

river by Leamington, New Zealand.

A river by Leamington, New Zealand. There is a beautiful walking trail along this river. Thank you, people of Leamington!

New Zealand: near Mount Cook
A mountain valley approaching Mount Cook.

New Zealand: fern trees
Fern trees near the Redwood Forest of Rotorua.

By |March 17th, 2013|Categories: Photography, Travel tips||0 Comments

Travel in New Zealand

Along with thousands of Chinese nationals, I went to New Zealand for the Chinese New Year holiday week. It’s an expensive country and a bit far (11 hour flight from Guangzhou), but so beautiful, clean, and friendly. We toured both the North and South Islands, driving over 2800 km plus hundreds more in a ferry ride between the islands and the Kiwi Rail Tranz Scenic Alpine Railway that crosses the South Island. Everyplace we went to was interesting and worthwhile, with highlights at Rotorua (Thermal Wonderland, Redwood Forest, etc.), the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, the Shotover Jet Boat near Queenstown, and the hike to the Fox Glacier and also the hike to the Hooker Glacier near Mount Cook.

Some travel tips: Be prepared for Internet challenges. Many hotels offer very limited Internet access, such as a maximum of 20 minutes free or, frequently, a limit of 20 Mb or 50 Mb of data. When there is a limit to the amount of data you can access, be sure to turn off automatic updates on your computer because your system can upload many megabytes of system updates in the background and eat up your free or paid account quickly. Also turn off background backups such as Carbonite, Even then, a few unexpected large emails can eat up the bandwidth and leave you without service. A real pain.

The lack of good Internet service at hotels is one of the very few problems we encountered in New Zealand. We love the country and found it very safe and hospitable, with lots of healthy and delicious food as well. Be sure to try to Pavlona dessert, the various honeys (Manuka honey is famous for its healthy properties, but also try the delicious Rata and other types of naturally thick, creamy honeys unique to New Zealand), the delicious seafood, lamb, and beef, and even the pork belly that is popular in Queenstown.

I hope to come back sometime soon!

By |February 18th, 2013|Categories: Travel tips||0 Comments

Lost Bags in Shanghai: Trouble with Delta?

Flights into Shanghai have a pretty high success rate when it comes to baggage arriving safely, from what I see, but when there are problems, they can be severe. International airlines line Delta may not offer reasonable customer service. Once their records show the bags have arrived in Shanghai, they just close out the case and assume it’s settled, whether you ever get your bags or not. Local delivery services are where the gap can be, at least with Delta, who failed to get my bags to me yesterday (Sunday) for my Friday/Saturday flight from the US to Shanghai. The local delivery service says they will get it to me around 2 am Monday.

Of course, never pack valuables in checked luggage and always be prepared to lose your checked bags for two or three days. Wish these airlines had a better way of getting bags to you when the airline routes them incorrectly. Mine apparently went from Detroit to Los Angeles instead of Tokyo and Shanghai.

By |October 7th, 2012|Categories: China, Travel tips||0 Comments