Offered a Good Job in China? Congrats! Now, Can You Afford It? (Bring a Wad of Cash!)

So you’ve got a great job offer in China? Way to go! But can you afford it? More specifically, can you afford the large up-front expenses that many foreigners face when they are required to arrange their own housing. That usually doesn’t apply to school teachers living on campus or to many big executives living in palaces (expensive villas), but for many of us, the company or institution we work for requires us to find our own housing (though they may provide a hotel for a couple of weeks to give you time to find a place to rent). Renting an apartment involves enormous expenses. Are you ready?

Rent in China’s large cities is quite high. A small place may still cost you $1,000 a month (6800 RMB) but it can easily be $3,000 a month if it’s in a nice location with, say, three bedrooms. Even if your company reimburses you for rent or for part of your rent, the process of renting involves large up-front costs that you need to pay. Rental agreements usually require a deposit of two months of rent, plus paying up front for your first three months of rent, and then paying 35% of one month as a fee to the real estate agent. You can be broke before you ever move in if you aren’t prepared. Get details and make sure you know what your company will cover and what they won’t.

You may be able to negotiate a reduced deposit of just one month, but even if you do, you need to have a wad of cash of enough funds in your Chinese bank to pay 43,500 RMB for a 10,000/month apartment. That’s over $6,000. Your credit cards won’t be accepted.

Know what you’re up against before you come!

By | 2019-01-11T06:42:51+00:00 January 11th, 2019|Categories: China, Consumers, Finances, Housing, Shanghai, Surviving|0 Comments

When Cabbies Dump You

Shanghai cabThough most of my cab rides in Shanghai turn out well, occasionally something goes sour. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to make some serious mistakes, just like I did today.

My cab ride had just begun when I pulled a beloved Chinese epic sci-fi novel from my bag to begin some precious reading time. Suddenly the cabbie saw something come in on his cell phone and turned around and told me that he was sorry, but I had to get out so he could go get another customer. Had I been better prepared, I would have said no, I’m your customer, and please take me to my destination. This might not work and sometimes could lead to a big argument or even physical fight, but I should have resisted or at least have him take me a little closer to my destination or to the nearest subway or something better than what I did, which was 1) give up easy and 2) make a dangerous and actually illegal exit in the middle of an intersection.

“Rats,” I thought, when he told me to get out. I resigned myself to his rejection, but was actually too cooperative. He was in the left lane at an intersection at a red light. There were just seconds before it would be green, so I needed to hustle. It wasn’t a busy intersection, but still, it was wrong to let him force me out there. As I hastily prepared to open the right door, I was focused on traffic coming along the right side of the car, not wanting to be hit by a motorcycle or other vehicle. This was stupid and dangerous, for I at least should have insisted that he first drive me to a safe spot.

I got out safely and he drove off. Only later would I realize that he had my beloved book, with many markings and notes, sitting unloved in the back of his car. I was only 75 pages into it, but it was a painful loss, and I had no way to reach him because he didn’t charge me for the brief ride, meaning I didn’t get a receipt.

Rule #1 of cab rides is NEVER GET OUT WITHOUT A RECEIPT. The main reason for this is in case you leave something behind, you can use the receipt to call the company and identify the driver and get your goods back in most cases. (It also is essential if you get double billed if you got the cab through WeChat, paid by cash, but then also got an automated WeChat bill.) But a corollary to that rule is if you are being booted out without a receipt, get a photo of the driver’s ID posted in the front of the cab and a photo of his license plate number in case you need that info later, either to recover lost goods or, as in this case, to also report illegal dumping. And you might as well ask for an old spare receipt (fapiao) as partial compensation for your lost time–they usually have several.

Of course, if you have your wits about you enough to get the ID and license plate, you will also be thinking about not losing goods and looking carefully before you step out of the car. But this requires being smart enough to step out of the car in a safe spot where you can take the time to slowly gather your things, check the seat carefully, and gracefully exit instead of just making a made dash to get out of an intersection while someone drives off with your book (or cell phone, wallet, passport, etc.).

Recapping, when a driver wants to dump you for another customer:

  1. Know that this is illegal and try to insist on your rights. If he won’t respect your request, take your time. Ask for an explanation. Repeat your request. Don’t feel obligated to jump out right away. No need to reward his bad behavior. But stay friendly and don’t provoke a fight.
  2. Take a photo of his ID (this will alert him that you have the power to report him, and that may change his tune on the spot). Ask for a spare fapiao as well. Make sure you have the phone number of his company. When you get out, also get a photo of the license plate and maybe of him as well (leaving a door open for a while can buy you time for this so he doesn’t speed off immediately).
  3. Take your time to gather your stuff. Don’t leave things behind! Always ask yourself: is there anything in the trunk? On the floor? Anything that could have slipped from my pockets?
  4. Never get out at an unsafe and inconvenient location. If he won’t take you to your destination, insist that he drive you forward to the next subway station or at least to an area where it might be easier to catch a cab, and make sure he takes you to a safe spot to exit.

By knowing your rights and being assertive/annoying in a calm, friendly way, you may help him realize that cabbie crime doesn’t pay, maybe making things easier for the next customer. But don’t provoke him into extreme anger. Some cabbies have assaulted passengers, so be careful. You can just roll over like I did — but don’t do it in a rush, for you are more likely to lose things and have an accident. Take your time and insist on safety.

For me, the loss is mostly recoverable, for I just ordered a new copy of the book on Amazon.cn, and will have it back in my hands tomorrow. Taxi losses can be much more painful than that, so be careful and keep your wits about you.

By | 2018-11-05T04:45:26+00:00 November 5th, 2018|Categories: China, Safety, Shanghai, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , |Comments Off on When Cabbies Dump You

Routine Physical Exams in China

If you work for a large company in China, you may be given a routine physical checkup every year through a local Chinese clinic. I’ve been through several versions of this in my years in China. The process can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s certainly efficient.

In these exams, you and many dozens of other people will be herded from one station to another where a “specialist” will perform there duty. Blood test, urine sample reception, eye exam, ear exam, ultrasound inspection of your heart and neck, cardiograph, magic “qi” measurement with electrodes, blood pressure check, etc. It can go pretty quickly and seems very efficient. However, it’s not exactly perfect.

In my last exam at Ciming Clinic on Hongqiao Road near Yili Road, the ear specialist looked into both ears and said all was well. On to the next station. But in reality I had severe ear wax in both ears that was already causing some hearing loss and soon would be causing ringing in one ear. When I had a real ear doctor look at it, he was amazed at how much wax there was. It took two treatments by a good ear doctor at Shanghai East Hospital to get most of it out, and a third treatment by an excellent German specialist at the Gleneagle Clinic at the Tomorrow Center at People’s Square to finish the extraction. How on earth did the Ciming ear specialist not notice and inform me of the problem? I don’t think he even looked when he stuck the ear probe in my ear.

Others have made similar complaints. Basic things are missed. The process is useful for basic indicators, but don’t assume that all is well if the results are positive, or that some of the problems they point to are real. Some of the tests may be unnecessary or even weird, sometimes apparently trying to justify a strange piece of equipment someone acquired. So see a real doctor afterwards to discuss your results and talk about your health. In the mass production operations, generally nobody will ask you basic questions that should be the beginning of a health exam. Good luck!

By | 2018-09-26T16:43:30+00:00 September 26th, 2018|Categories: China, Consumers, Health, Shanghai, Surviving|Comments Off on Routine Physical Exams in China

Coping with Suicidal Thoughts in Shanghai? Local English- and Chinese-Speaking Resources Can Help

Foreigners living in China can sometimes feel very isolated, which might make depression or other mental health challenges even worse. It’s important to know that if your or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts or the trauma of someone else’s suicide, there are resources to help. One resource is located right here in Shanghai for English speakers: Lifeline Shanghai (China; English only), phone: (021) 62798990. If calling from outside China, use the country code of +86. For Chinese speakers, a resource is HopeLine: 4001619995 (Chinese speakers; 24/7 toll-free access within China).

According to the Lifeline Shanghai website (http://www.lifeline-shanghai.com/):

Lifeline Shanghai serves the English-speaking community with free, confidential, and anonymous emotional support via telephone 10AM to 10PM, 365 days a year. Our helpline offers an emotional support service that respects everyone’s right to be heard, understood, and cared for. Lifeline Shanghai helpline assistants are ready to listen and support, helping you to gain another perspective and connecting you with other support services as needed. Trained volunteers offer emotional support and assist you to clarify options and choices that are right for you. ​

This service is for those with a wide variety of difficulties, not just suicidal thoughts. Appears to be a valuable addition to Shanghai’s expat resources.

Since many of my friends and some of my readers in Shanghai are part of my LDS religious community (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints),  will also mention the excellent resources and list of external resources provided at the Church’s official page, “Suicide Prevention and Ministering Understanding and Healing from the Pain of Suicide” (https://www.lds.org/get-help/suicide/?lang=eng).

Although Shanghai is a prosperous and wonderful place, the problem of suicide is serious. Suicide rates are painfully high and is even a serious problem among children, perhaps due to the high pressure they face in school. See “Child suicides high in Shanghai” at the Christian Science Monitor (an old 2004 article). But suicide rates have been increasing in many parts of the world, including the US. Rates among young girls have actually tripled in recent years, a terrible development. See “Suicide rate triples among young girls: How can we stem the ‘silent epidemic’?,” also from the Christian Science Monitor.

If someone you know is showing signs of suicidal thoughts, take it seriously and lovingly work to support them and get help. Turning to outside expert help may be vitally important.

By | 2018-08-17T17:53:13+00:00 August 17th, 2018|Categories: Education, Health, Relationships, Religion, Safety, Shanghai, Society, Surviving|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Coping with Suicidal Thoughts in Shanghai? Local English- and Chinese-Speaking Resources Can Help

Finally! Now I Have 4G on My iPhone 6+ Thanks to China Unicom (Goodbye, China Telecom!)

Two days ago the most amazing thing happened. I needed to buy a new SIM card for my Apple iPhone 6+, and when I went looking for a local China Mobile (中国移动) store, I saw a competing China Unicom (中国联通) store closer to my office and decided to give it a try for convenience. When I put the China Unicom SIM card in my iPhone, I was shocked and delighted to see that after all these years of suffering, I finally had 4G service. Wow! That means fast access to the Internet and, for example, all the valuable functions WeChat provides (taxi hailing, payments, bus schedules, social media, even video calls). Life just got better.



One of my few frustrations in China has been the slow data services on my iPhone. When I need to use the Internet and don’t have local WiFi, I’ve been limited to 2G. Folks at the Apple store here explained that my US iPhone was designed for a different cellular network not compatible with China’s network, so there was no hope of 4G service like everyone else seems to have. But they were wrong. The real problem, as explained by a knowledgeable Taiwanese colleague, was that the provider of my former SIM card, China Mobile, operates over a portion of the cellular spectrum that is incompatible with my iPhone. China Unicom, on the other hand, operates over a different portion of the spectrum, making their network more compatible with US phones. The China Unicom employee smiled as she explained what was apparently well known to her: their service gives me 4G, but China Mobile’s service can’t. Wish I had known this a couple years ago! Even after a supposed updated SIM card was installed in my iPhone courtesy of my employer, the service remained 2G.

Why am I changing SIM cards at all? My employer is giving me a new company phone, a Samsung model with high security features (VMWare to track employees and make it harder to steal trade secrets, supposedly) that has 4G, and are giving me a new SIM card with that phone while requiring me to return the old SIM card I have been using in my iPhone. Changing phones is a bit traumatic, but discovering accidentally that I could easily upgrade to 4G just by switching to China Unicom helps make the change more welcome. Thank you, China Unicom!

By | 2018-06-17T18:51:44+00:00 May 31st, 2018|Categories: China, Consumers, Internet, Products, Shanghai, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Finally! Now I Have 4G on My iPhone 6+ Thanks to China Unicom (Goodbye, China Telecom!)

Expats in China, Be Sure to File Your Tax Report (WeChat Can Help)

The Shanghai City government has sent out notices to employers reminding them to have foreigners who make over 120,000 RMB per year to file a tax report with the government. It’s due March 31. Foreigners typically need the help of HR or someone else to do this. Not a simple process if you haven’t done it before. In Shanghai, you can use the “fabu” site on WeChat (search for and follow 上海发布, which can show up just by searching for “fabu” I think). Enter that site, click on the second icon on the lower left corner (市政大厅), and then you click on the red and white icon at the bottom of the screen in the center (个税查询), which deals with individual taxes. From there, you’ll need to enter your ID, name, create a password, and enter other information including a recent tax payment level. When done, it will give you access to your past tax payments. Please see HR or a competent Chinese friend for the details.

I’m not sure what problems arise if you don’t file this report, but China is a place where you don’t want to ignore laws, especially those that affect how the nation’s detailed computer records view you. This one feeds right into those records, so don’t skip it.

 

 

By | 2018-03-28T16:43:21+00:00 March 28th, 2018|Categories: China, Finances, Shanghai, Society, Surviving|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Expats in China, Be Sure to File Your Tax Report (WeChat Can Help)

Jimmer, the “Lonely Master,” Might Be Doing Better and Doing More in China than the Deseret News Thinks

In the state of Utah, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News recently carried a touching but slightly downbeat article about China’s most popular basketball player, Jimmer Fredette, the impressive star who once stunned American crowds while playing for Brigham Young University. The article is “Lonely Master: From March Madness to Shanghai, the Unlikely Journey of Jimmer Fredette” by Jesse Hyde, published March 12, 2018. It has a lot of positive things to say about Jimmer and his accomplishments in China, but the general tone of the article is that Jimmer has missed out on his US dreams and thus has settled for something painfully inferior by coming to China, a grim and gritty place. I think there’s another perspective that ought to be considered.

Yes, the CBA is a far weaker competitive field than the NBA, and yes, it is disappointing that his NBA career did not give him the opportunities and satisfaction he sought. But don’t shed too many tears for Jimmer: things might not be as grim as the article implies.

The negative picture painted of China is quite disappointing. It’s a beautiful, exciting place where Jimmer is visible and influential to millions of people in ways that would not be possible in Europe or the US. I have met Jimmer and chatted a few times but don’t know him well nor can I speak for him. But what he is doing here is remarkable and has touched many people. His goodness, his honesty, his humility, and his high standards have also helped him touch people beyond what his athletic skills alone could do. For someone who possibly may have a sense of a mission higher than personal temporal success alone, coming to China brings many opportunities to achieve greater good, while also benefiting from a shorter season and excellent pay. Win/win from my perspective. His presence in China is part of something big, at least in the minds of many of his BYU-related fans here.

One of those fans, a Communist Party official, requested a chance to meet Jimmer last year. I was honored to be part of the little gathering where introductions were made. Jimmer with his characteristic class and humility brought gifts for the Chinese men who had come — framed photos of him as keepsakes. They were thrilled. Before Jimmer showed up, one man in the small group, a business leader in charge of the large complex where we rent some beautiful space to hold LDS services, chattered excitedly about Jimmer and quoted statistics from Jimmer’s games when he was at BYU and in China. Kid in a candy shop when Jimmer arrived. The official had gifts also, a terrific album of Chinese postage stamps. It was a beautiful souvenir for each of the foreigners at this event, which I’m proudly holding in the photo below.

With typical Jimmer class, Jimmer noticed a couple of keenly interested staff members from the little cafe where we met and invited them to get their photos taken also. It was a big day for all of us.

The Deseret News article makes numerous references to the pollution of China and Jimmer’s depressing situation here. The lead paragraph suggests he can’t see much of the skyline in Shanghai due to pollution (yes, we have pollution and some days visibility is noticeably reduced, but we have a lot of beautiful days too and air quality is improving). His apartment is “empty, lonely, a place he just crashes, so devoid of personal effects….” Regarding some reminders of his wife and daughter in his apartment: “Sometimes he needs those reminders. Like when he’s in Shanxi, a gritty industrial city where the gray dust blows from the cement factories and the grime is so thick he could scribble his name on the windows of parked cars.” And when he’s in Shanghai, in spite of the wealth and good food here, “even here, the air carries a slight whiff of chemicals you can almost taste. It’s hard not to want to be somewhere else.”

At this point in reading the article, I wondered if the staff of the Deseret News have ever been in Salt Lake City during the winter months, when the winter inversion traps air in the Salt Lake Valley and leads to painfully high levels of particles, nitrogen oxide, and other pollutants? Of if they have ever been near operations of the massive copper mine that scars the Valley? Or drove through Utah County in the days when the Geneva Steel works were cranking out massive whiffs of chemicals into the air? Or if they have lived near a paper mill in the United States? Shanghai air can get smoggy and is typically worse than most places in the US, but apart from an occasional painter using oil-based paint or a vehicle burning too much oil, as in almost any city, noticeable “whiffs of chemicals” are something I generally don’t experience here, unless those chemicals include the cinnamon aromas coming from Shanghai’s amazing Cinnaswirl bakery with world-class cinnamon rolls, or from the intoxicating smells of any of the hundreds of different cuisines available in Shanghai. OK, we do have stinky tofu, which does have a noticeable smell from its unusual natural chemistry — maybe that’s what the writer encountered here. But you can just take a few steps and be free of that.

China has pollution, certainly. There are spots that are gritty or grimy, just as in America. But it’s also one of the most beautiful and exciting places to live, especially Shanghai. For me personally, my respiratory health during my nearly seven years in Shanghai has been much better than it was in the US, where I would often get bronchitis or other issues in winter. Here it’s been great and I’ve almost never had to miss work due to illness. One or two days for an injury, but my health has been terrific. Part of that is from the food, which is high in fresh produce and generally quite healthy.

Come give China a chance. It’s one of the nicest places in the world, in my opinion. Anyplace is grim when you are away from family, but with such a short playing season, we hope that Jimmer can continue to thrive here and increasingly experience the beauty and wonders of China while here.

As a reminder of the surprising beauty and sometimes even miraculous nature of life in Shanghai, here are images of one of Shanghai’s secrets: its impressive angels rising from the ground to watch over this city. May Jimmer continue to be among them.

Finally, here’s a couple views of one of Jimmer’s favorite Shanghai spots.

Shanghai Disney Castle

The Shanghai Disney Castle

 

Cinderella’s Castle.

 

 

By | 2018-03-17T07:24:37+00:00 March 16th, 2018|Categories: Business, Career, China, Food, Health, Photography, Relationships, Religion, Restaurants, Safety, Shanghai, Society, Surviving|Comments Off on Jimmer, the “Lonely Master,” Might Be Doing Better and Doing More in China than the Deseret News Thinks

Long Distance Bus Tickets Be Ordered on Ctrip.com (Chinese Language Site Only)

A friend staying with us today needed to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow to get back to Rugao, a town near Nantong. He wanted to go to a bus station to buy the ticket, but that would have used up a big part of his day. Instead I figured there must be a way to do that online. I asked a Chinese friend and was informed that Ctrip (携程) is a good way to do that. I tried my Ctrip app (now just Trip, tied to Trip.com), but this English only app does not show bus information. I lauched Ctrip.com on my iPhone and changed the language setting to Chinese, and still had nothing about buses. I went to my computer and opened Ctrip.com in English, and still had nothing. But when I used the Chinese language version of the website, the bus information was plainly available as the menu item “汽车票” (vehicle tickets), which takes you to http://bus.ctrip.com/.

Ctrip Menu showing Long Distance Bus Ticket Options

Ctrip Menu for Chinese Language on Laptop

You then enter the departure site, destination, and date (Chinese characters are needed for the locations), click on the orange button, and you’ll see a list of bus trips available for your date.

Over on the right, the orange buttons take you to a payment page. You’ll need to enter your full name as on your passport, passport number (select 护照 = passport), and enter the same information in the second area for the person who will pick up the ticket (typically you), along with the phone number (手机). If the ticket is for someone without a phone, enter the phone of someone who can be in touch with the person to verify the ticket. I entered my phone for this traveler without a Chinese phone number (but he has WeChat) and will let you know if this fails tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Then click on the big orange button below to pay using WeChat. You’ll get a 2D code you can scan to bring up WeChat payment. Pay for the ticket and the person can then pick it up at the bus station. Make sure you give them the images of the ticket info, receipt, etc.

In my case, I sent him screenshots of the payment confirmation, then clicked on ticket information to get the ticket sales number (取票好) and order number (取票订单号) in another screen shot. If all goes well, my friend will be on a bus tomorrow to Rugao. If not, it’s a long walk. I’ll let you know.

If you know of other ways to order long-distance bus tickets online, let me know. This seemed pretty easy and the fee was low (3 RMB for a 73 RMB ticket).

By | 2018-03-16T20:00:41+00:00 March 16th, 2018|Categories: China, Products, Shanghai, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Long Distance Bus Tickets Be Ordered on Ctrip.com (Chinese Language Site Only)

Your Shanghai Apartment and Construction Noise

One of the surprises many foreigners have after moving to Shanghai is how noisy things can be when a big construction project starts. That quiet vacant lot across the street o your building may turn into a volcano of noise that slowly rises one story after another, or the once silent or vacant apartment next to you may become a source of constant pounding and drilling as the owners remodel it over a period of weeks.

Before you select a place, it’s good to look around and see if adjacent lots or buildings look like construction will soon take place. The worse situation is an old vacant building that will be demolished prior to rebuilding. Demolition in China is not a sudden event. It involves endless hours of a giant mechanical woodpecker pounding at stray blocks of cement to break them into tiny chunks. This is one of the most annoying sounds. Much better is the constant grinding sound that occurs when foundations are being dug or poured, for it sort of becomes like white noise that you can sleep through.

Fortunately, Shanghai has strict laws on noise requiring crews to become silent at night, I think by 11 PM, and to stay quiet until about 6:30 AM, giving you a chance to sleep. But these laws apply to ordinary companies and private owners, not to government projects like building a subway. We have a subway site under construction next to our house. Loud grinding and clanking noises will keep going until about midnight and then they are at it again at 3 or 4 in the morning. Pretty much noise all day long. How does one cope?

Make sure you have an apartment where your sleeping quarters will be away from the most likely construction site. That makes a huge difference. Also, consider adding some noise shields over your window at night, like foam board to completely cover the window. Or consider buying a white noise generator to mask the street noise. Ear plugs might also help.

But the real key is knowing what you are in for, as much as you can, before you select your apartment. Then prepare appropriately. Good luck!

By | 2018-03-12T16:30:21+00:00 March 12th, 2018|Categories: Health, Housing, Shanghai, Society, Surviving|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Your Shanghai Apartment and Construction Noise

Surviving Your Bike Ride in China

Riding a bike is one of the best ways to get around big cities in China. I have my own large Giant bike purchased new for 800 RMB, and I love it. Fast and smooth, but just one gear. That’s fine for Shanghai. Many people ride rental bikes now like Mobikes or the yellow Ofo bike that I sometimes ride (the Mobikes are just too small for me, while the Ofo brand often allows the seat to be raised high enough to make it possible for a tall guy to ride, though not comfortably). I ride my bike most days when going to work in the Hongqiao area of Shanghai. It’s often faster than a taxi and much faster than a bus. You can join the pack of crazy motorcyclists who are not impeded by traffic jams, cutting in and out of obstacles while carefully observing all relevant laws — well, most of the laws of physics, I mean.

Bike riding is fast and convenient, but there are serious dangers. Not as dangerous as a motorcycle, where the higher speed means higher risk, but that higher risk includes collisions with you on your bike, and the results can be nasty. A friend of mine just badly crushed his hand in an accident with a motorcycle while riding his bike. He will need delicate surgery. Another friend was riding across a bridge when she hit a rock and fell from her bike, badly shattering her forearm. Painful surgery and months of recovery were required, but after a year has regained nearly all of her motion. But trust me, you don’t want an accident. Understanding the dangers is critical.

One of the biggest dangers comes from motorcylces and especially their nearly silent electric version, the ebike or electric bike. They can be zooming toward you from behind and you won’t hear them coming. They can be coming in from an angle from the back or side and you won’t hear them coming, unless you listen carefully. More important than listening is looking: you need to frequently make quick glances over your shoulders, especially over your left shoulder where faster approaching vehicles are likely to be coming, but also sometimes over your right shoulder.

Vision Trumps Everything

Peripheral vision is crucial. Frequent glances over your shoulders are vital. Understand that a vehicle may suddenly approach you from any side and any angle. A motorcycle or bike may dart out from an alley or from between parked cars on the side of the road. As you approach an intersection or driveway, someone may suddenly move into your path and it will usually seem that they never even looked your way before entering traffic. It’s amazing that some of them are still alive, but natural selection can be a slow and overly random process. I certainly have not seen any evidence that natural selection has been weeding out insane motorists and cyclists over the years in China. Evolution might work well for some species, but it seems rather inactive for species on the road. Never mind, just focus on not being the one who gets weeded out.

The key is being totally alert and aware of what’s happening in front of you, at your sides, and behind you. Listen carefully for horns, bells, rattling sounds, motors, snorts, cellphone conversations, or other indications of an approaching ghost rider. Watch for signs of motion between stationary cars. Anticipate taxi doors suddenly opening, usually on the right side. Note the protruding nose of a dog getting ready to make a dash for it. Anticipate the craziness of intersections where people may cross your path from all directions. Total alertness and attention is your key to survival.

Here’s the shocking news: for enhanced safety, I’ve given up wearing my helmet. Yes, terrible of me, right? But the statistics globally don’t show that bikers who wear helmets fare better than those who don’t, and in my Shanghai experience, I’ve realized that anything that hinders my peripheral vision or my ability to quickly look over my shoulders increases my risk. Avoiding collisions and falls is the first priority, much better than falling with a touch of added protection. Helmets limit my vision and slow me down when making rapid backward glances. Sayonora.

Alertness is also needed for coping with obstacles on the road. Manhole covers may be moved and the dangerous hole not well marked. Potholes may be large. Bricks or other objects can be in your path. With the rise of rental bikes clogging sidewalks, you will sometimes find a rental bike has been abandoned on the side of the road that partially blocks a bicycle lane. Dangerous! Be  good citizen and move it out of the way, but do this by stopping gradually and with clear signaling of intent. No sudden moves!

Speaking of rental bikes, they add a lot of danger to the scene. Not just because they might be barriers, but because they have brought many new cyclists onto the roads who don’t know much about cycling and safety. And they are slow. They go at about 30-50% of my speed, in part because the wheels are small, and as a result they are constant barriers in front of me I need to weave around. But their riders often don’t ride very well, weaving back and forth as they go. So annoying. Increases the risk for everyone. Be cautious and carefully plan how you can avoid them and get past them as soon as possible. Further, bike renters will often step out onto the road with their bike without even looking at incoming traffic. So clueless. Anticipate their stupidity and be cautious when you see someone standing by a rental bike, possibly getting ready to create a pile-up on his or her first ride.

To Be Safe, Be Predictable

From my experience, a key safety tip is that you need to be predictable. Sudden turns, veering to a side, or a sudden stop can result in disaster. In China, car drivers and motorcyclists constantly forecast where others are going and then plan their sudden weaving in and out or other crazy maneuvers based on forecasting the routes of nearby vehicles. They expect you to just keep going and will time their move based on the forecast. But if you suddenly stop or turn without warning, you may end up where they are about to end up. Bang. Ugly. Notice this when you are in a taxi. Drivers are very aggressive and it all kind of works as long as people are somewhat predictable.

Hand signals aren’t common but are a good idea, especially for left turns against traffic. They aren’t going to stop for you in most cases to let you turn, but the signal lets others know what you are doing so they won’t crash into you.

When you stop, try to do it gradually. Recently I was riding along, thinking I was alone, and saw a person who was on the ground right after an accident between a bike and a motorcycle. I stopped quickly to help and then heard someone right behind me yell as he slammed the brakes of his electric motorcycle to avoid me. I was nearly taken down by that mistake. Be predictable. No sudden moves!

I hope this doesn’t deter you from riding a bike. There are dangers, but if you are alert and cautious, you can manage the risks and enjoy getting around town much faster than going on foot or with public transportation. But do realize that there are risks. Walking and public transportation have much lower risks, so weigh them as alternatives. Very few people have ever needed major surgery after a ride on the subway.

 

By | 2018-01-07T19:24:24+00:00 January 7th, 2018|Categories: China, Crazy, Health, Safety, Shanghai, Society, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on Surviving Your Bike Ride in China

The 144-Hour Transit Visa to China: Risky If You Are Staying With Friends or Anywhere Besides a Hotel

The complexities and costs of obtaining a tourist visa to China can be avoided sometimes by taking advantage of the transit visa program that is available in some major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou and several others. Shanghai offers a 144-hour transit visa, which is great for a brief stay here. Some places may offer 72-hour transit visa or 24-hour transit visas. These visas don’t cost anything as far as I know and are easy to get. You have to show that you have a departing international flight scheduled within the allocated time from your arrival, and you need to stay in the designated area. The Shanghai-Zhejiang-Jiangsu 144-hour visa allows you to travel throughout Shanghai and its neighboring provinces, Zhejiang and Jiangsu while here. Getting the transit visa is easy, at least at the Pudong Airport in Shanghai, where there is a special line at the far left of the customs area called “Transit 144/24” for the 144-hour and 24-hour visas. It’s a great program — but there are some rules that can create trouble if you aren’t prepared.

The biggest problem might be if you are planning on staying with friends or an AirBNB rather than a normal hotel. An important part of the transit visa process is ensuring that you and your place of residence are registered with the police. The work to do this is usually handled by hotel staff who make copies of your passport information and process things with the police.

What if are aren’t staying at a hotel? Relatives of mine who just arrived here yesterday informed me of the process. When you register for the visa, the helpful staff will say no problem and explain that you just need to go to a police station within 24 hours. They will give you a card that also tells you to do this, as shown below:

Instructions on the 144-hour China Transit Visa Card

So in the evening after our friends arrived early on a Friday morning, we walked a few hundred yards to our local police station. Strangely, I felt that I should bring along information to renew my own residence registration with the police in since the one I did recently might need updating after finalizing my recent visa renewal. As a result, I brought the contract for our apartment.

Our Local Hongqiao Road Police Station

To my surprise, when we entered the police station and explained what our friends needed, the woman in charge asked for our contract. Whew! Felt so relieved. Here it is. Then she looked at the address. “Oh, you live in Minhang District. This is Changning District. You are at the wrong station.” We explained that the authorities at the airport and the card simply tell us to go “a local police station,” and this is the local one closest to us. She laughed and said, “No, you need to go to Minhang.” Of course.

Minhang has many police stations, but in our own registration efforts, we learned there is only one that we can use for our address. So the card should explain that. The one we have to go to is quite far away and took over 20 minutes by cab to reach. Time was running out because we knew the key office at the police station would close by 8 pm.

When we got there, the woman explained that we needed our contract — check! — and also a license from the management of our apartment building showing that we were properly authorized to live there. Wow, a second surprise document required. Amazingly, as were packing up to go on this journey, I had grabbed that also. Check!

Or maybe not. The officer explained that the license was for my wife and I, but I also needed to get the same form for our guests. Huh? This would require them to have a contract of some kind, as far as I know, and would require a great deal of time and effort, and might not be possible at all. She shook her head and insisted, but in the end with a gentle smile and a soft request for help, she shook off the hidden rules somehow and gave us a break, but said next time we should get the license. No idea how to do that, honestly, but guess we’ll have to try.

In Chine, there are rules that can be hard to predict and sometimes vary from place to place or person to person. This officer was kind and gave us a break. Others might not have been so gracious. But in any case, if you are coming to China on a transit visa, stay at a hotel and make life simple.

If you are inviting guests to stay with you in China who may come on a transit visa, work with your local police station ahead of time to know just what documents will be needed and make sure you can get them.

 

By | 2017-12-08T17:58:13+00:00 December 8th, 2017|Categories: China, Housing, Shanghai, Society, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , |Comments Off on The 144-Hour Transit Visa to China: Risky If You Are Staying With Friends or Anywhere Besides a Hotel

Use WeChat to Find When the Next Bus Will Arrive

A wonderful new tool available through WeChat can help you find when the next bus arrives. Search for “Shanghaifabu”, follow that tool and then run it. Then in the lower left-hand corner, click on the text button to see a lost of tools. The upper left tool is a bus icon. Select it. Then enter the number of your bus line. A corresponding line will show up below. Select it and then click on the search icon. You will see a list of bus stops. If your bus has two directions, there will be two choices at the top for the two directions. When you click on a bus stop in Chinese (not to hard to match with your station, IMHO), it will then show some data, including the number of stops to go before your bus gets there and how many minutes (an estimate) you need to wait. So useful! Here are some screenshots showing the use of the Shanghai Fabu (上海发布) tool.

By | 2018-03-21T06:01:54+00:00 November 30th, 2017|Categories: China, Shanghai, Travel tips|Tags: |Comments Off on Use WeChat to Find When the Next Bus Will Arrive