Prepare For Your Trip to China With Scam-Prep 101: Beware the Karaoke Scam, the Tea Ceremony Scam, and Other Scams in China

I’ve written before about the dangers of the “Tea Ceremony Scam” in China where attractive girls or other friendly young people invite foreigners to join them as they attend a nearby traditional Chinese tea ceremony. After a few tiny samples of tea, you’ll be billed for hundreds of dollars, and there might be some tough muscular guy there to enforce payment. This scam is actually dangerous, and if you fall for it, you’ll literally be in a den of criminals. It’s one of the most common scams in China.

It is important to know that there can be several variations of this scam. An important variation has come to my attention with the recent news story in the Shanghai Daily, “15 members of karaoke crime gang detained” (June 24, 2014). In this scam, friendly people invited victims to join them in karaoke. After some entertainment, a bill was presented for something like 30,000 RMB (US $5,000). In the case in the story, the man paid $1,000, everything he had, but this was not enough, and they were forcibly taking him back to his hotel to get the rest of his money. He managed to escape on the way and get help from the police, who eventually captured the gang. But there are probably many similar gangs in operation.

Whether you are in Shanghai, Beijing, or any other place that gets significant tourism, you have to be wary of friendly strangers who want to invite you somewhere. Don’t go with them. Don’t let merchants or others lead you down isolated alleys or remote floors of buildings to see their mystery shop. Don’t let them lead you into a room where they can lock the door to prevent you from escaping–something that happened to someone I know well. Fortunately for her, they were just keeping the police away from their fake goods operation, and the woman was able to get out unharmed. But don’t take those risks. Avoid the scams in China, but recognize that the scammers can be very polished, alluring, and highly trained–they are part of a well-oiled scam machine run by real professionals who have mastered effective systems that keep duping foreigner after foreigner, making loads of money for the scamlords.

Be alert. Make sure he change people give you is real Chinese money. Make sure the expensive product you buy is actually put int he package. Make sure the cab you get into you is a real cab using a real meter. If the meter is off and they quote you a price to get to your destination, don’t accept that unless you know what the real price is and it is close enough to be acceptable to you, otherwise you can many times the real price. Don’t prepay for rides because you might get dumped off for some other low bidder to take you, only to find additional fees on the way (yeah, I experienced that).

When you’ve been robbed by falling for a scam, you’ll feel really stupid and pained by how you were used and cheated. That’s a lot of stress that you can avoid in many cases by being alert and reducing your risks.

The Chinese people are generally honest, friendly, and decent, but the handful of exceptions are the ones who will be watching for you. They are organized and know you are coming. Be ready and stay safe.

 

 

By | 2017-10-26T06:10:59+00:00 June 27th, 2014|Categories: China, Scams, Shanghai|Comments Off on Prepare For Your Trip to China With Scam-Prep 101: Beware the Karaoke Scam, the Tea Ceremony Scam, and Other Scams in China

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 | 2016-10-24T05:57:55+00:00 June 24th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Housing, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off on Finding an Apartment or Moving to a New Apartment in Shanghai

Kakadu Australian Restaurant at Bridge 8 on Jiaguo Zhong Lu: Great Food

My wife and I took a friend from Namibia to my latest restaurant discovery, Kakadu, an Australian restaurant with interesting imported items, top-notch ingredients and great flavors. This place is hidden away in the Bridge 8 complex at 8 Jianguo Zhong Lu, just a few yards west of Chongqing Road (below the elevated ring road), on the north side of Jianguo Zhong Lu (middle Jianguo road). We were there on a Friday night. As we walked into the bar area, we saw that this is a popular place for foreigners. The bar was packed and there was a lot of good food being served there to the patrons. The restaurant area, though, still had seating for us though it was pretty busy also. We went there at 6:45 PM without reservations–dangerous, given its popularity, but we were lucky to get in and be seated quickly.

The menu has a good mix of meat dishes such as Australian steak, hamburgers including Austrialian beef, crododile, kangaraoo, and emu, salads, and so forth. I had the emu burger (98 RMB), while the others had spicy chicken salad (nicely barbecued chicken) and smoked salmon salad. My emu burger was delightful. Thick, flavorful with a touch of cumin, and pretty healthy. The burger was creative with a beetroot paste and interesting flavorings. Good bun also. I tasted the salads and like them as well. Also tried the pumpkin soup–perfect and creamy. The berry smoothie was also good, with a bit of ice cream in there, the way I like it.

My favorite item was the scallops that we ordered as an appetizer. Three succulent scallops came on a surprising bed of flavorful mashed green peas with a little maple syrup poured over it. Really a creative surprise and it was delicious and beautiful.

The experience was excellent, in spite of little slip in service that resulted in my burger coming about 30 minutes too late, having obviously sat on a counter cooling off the whole time. I pointed out that it was cold when it came and the management kindly and quickly brought me a new one that was fresh and sizzling hot. All is forgiven, and the experience overall was great.

Service gaps are a common problem in China or anywhere, probably: food you order might get overlooked or the order might never get placed, so it can sit or disappear. You need to check with the staff repeatedly sometimes to find out what’s happening with your food. Sigh. I checked with our waiter 3 times and he assured me it was coming, but had he checked more carefully, I think he would have found that it was there and waiting to be brought to the table. Or something.

For 3 of us, the bull was 395 RMB. Definitely plan to return.

By | 2016-10-24T05:57:55+00:00 May 18th, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off on Kakadu Australian Restaurant at Bridge 8 on Jiaguo Zhong Lu: Great Food

Best Value for Italian Food Near the Bund: Marissa (Marisa) Italian Below Henderson Metropolitan

Directly accessible from the East Nanjing subway station and hidden beneath the Henderson Metropolitan Mall on the lowest level (the same level as the subway foot traffic between lines 10 and 2) is my new favorite place for inexpensive Italian food, Marisa Italian (though I would prefer the spelling Marissa). This new Italian restaurant has really excellent Italian food at budget prices. It is run by a Chinese man from Milan, Italy, who has brought real Italian cuisine to Shanghai with great imported ingredients. My first meal there introduced me to outstanding seafood risotto, my favorite Italian food, for around 50 RMB. Later I tried an inexpensive set meal for about 30 RMB featuring perfect pesto and a good salad. Last night I took my wife there on a date where we had a great meal for 151 RMB. I had the rack of lamb and was really impressed. Perfectly grilled with a flavorful outside featuring a lot of fresh rosemary, and very tasty grilled vegetables. My wife’s lasagna was hearty and good. We shared a large bowl of mushroom soup which is made from a lot of fresh mushrooms without being too fatty, just the way I like it. The fresh apple-carrot juice was also good.

The owner pays attention to service, and service is quite good.

You can get there directly from the East Nanjing subway station by taking the Henderson Mall exit opposite from Exit 2. Or enter the Apple Store on East Nanjing Street and go through it into the mall, then down two levels via the escalator.

The Bund offers several good places with Italian food, and Shanghai has many great Italian choices, but for value and flavor, Marissa Italian is hard to beat. You’ll get twice as much for your buck there as in many other places.

Update, May 21, 2014: I took an Italian friend to Marisa Italian for lunch and he loved it. We had pizza, pasta, and mushroom risotto. Earlier this week, I took a group of 12 people there for dinner. What fun they had! We had several great pizzas that we shared, plus pasta and risotto dishes, and some deserts. The panecotta was remarkably good! The bill for 12 people was 669 RMB, which is amazing.

By | 2016-10-24T05:57:55+00:00 May 8th, 2014|Categories: Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |Comments Off on Best Value for Italian Food Near the Bund: Marissa (Marisa) Italian Below Henderson Metropolitan

Shanghai Dining: Recent Restaurant Experiences in Puxi

Puxi, the west side of Shangai, is my favorite place to dine (and to live). Incredible variety and typically more convenient than the new city of Pudong. Here are some recent restaurant recommendations and suggestions from dining experiences on the west side.

Top Chef Jacky: A leading Italian restaurant in Shanghai with the best pizza I’ve tasted here, plus the best mushroom soup. Their seafood risotto was excellent (though nothing will beat the seafood risotto I had in Florence, Italy earlier this year!). Top Chef is at 169 Mengzi Road, about 2 blocks south of LuJiaBang / XuJiaHui Road. I get there by taking line 9 to the MaDang Road Station, and then from Exit 3 (Mengzi Road) walking south 2 blocks. Mengzi Road begins where MaDang ends (a name change, it appears) at LuJiaBang Road. Service is excellent. Top Chef has opened an additional location just around the corner from the main site on Mengzi, so if they are full at the latter, they will walk you around the corner to their “secret” additional place. We’ve tried both and both are outstanding.

Sawadeeka Thai: A great new Thai place at the West Nanjing Road subway station. They also have a restaurant on the 4th floor of the SML Center, 618 XuJiaHui Road. This is on the walking street on the south side of East Nanjing Road, just across the road from Sephora’s. It’s at the very end of the building hosting three floors of restaurants, on the ground level. Very good curries. Not too busy yet but they will grow once the word gets out, I think. Just opened in April 2014. Elegant setting, very pleasant, with reasonable prices.

Memory Restaurant: This is a popular chain. I’ve tried a couple of their locations and both were great and very inexpensive. My favorite place is on Shandong Road between East Nanjing Road and Fuzhou Road, a little south of Hankou Road. Shandong Road is a fun street loaded with little restaurants. One of the best is Memory Restaurant which opened there in March. One of my favorites for value and fun. The setting is similar to that of YunSe Restaurant on Fangxie Road (another of my favorites), with fun knick-knacks and lots of wood. It’s busy but efficient. Seems very clean. The menu has no pictures but is in both Chinese and English, with some fun Chinglish for some items. The paper menu is a great souvenir for visiting Westerners. I took a group of six there and ate a lot of food for 300 RMB total, and that included some fruit juice drinks, soups, and lots of main dishes. Great prices!

DaiFuKuya Japanese in the XinTianDi Style Mall, northwest end of the building, also on Ma Dang Road: Fast, fun Japanese place with a good mix of grilled and noodle dishes. We had some good Japanese dumplings and grilled items there. Fast and pleasant with good service. Less expensive than typical XinTianDi restaurants.

TMSK in XinTianDi: One of our favorites for the setting, food, and service. Only had a few minutes in our last visit but they were able to get food to us quickly and it was inspiring. A delicious variation on soup and salad, Asia style. Nice mix of Asian, Western, and fusion items on the menu.

 

By | 2014-04-24T08:22:50+00:00 April 24th, 2014|Categories: Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Shanghai Dining: Recent Restaurant Experiences in Puxi

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.

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:00+00:00 April 9th, 2014|Categories: China, Shanghai, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on If You Ride the Maglev from the Pudong Airport, Beware the Cabbies at Longyang Station

Tailored Clothing in Shanghai: Great Deals, But Be Cautious About Leather

One of the great things about Shanghai for foreigners is being able to have tailored made clothing at prices much lower than is possible in many other nations. Here you can have a suit made for around 800 RMB, around US$140. Lower-end off-the-shelf suits in the US often cost $300 to $500, and custom-made suits are even more, so it’s an attractive option to have them made here. If you are going to be in China for 3 days or more, consider ordering a suit. It usually takes 3 days to get them back. There are many shops in Shanghai that can do this, but the most popular areas with a big concentration of competing tailors are the South Bund Fabric Market and the Science and Technology Museum.

The South Bund Fabric Market is 南外滩轻纺面料市场. Address is 399 Lujiabang Lu, near Nancang Jie. Chinese: 南外滩轻纺面料市场, 陆家浜路399号, 近南仓街. It’s probably enough to just tell the cabby “Qing Fang Shichang” (轻纺市场, meaning light wovens market). This is not far from the Nanpu Bridge subway stop on Line 4, about 5 minutes, and you can walk through old-city chaos from Xiaonanmen station on Line 9, maybe 10 minutes. The Science and Technology Market is very easy to reach. It’s right on line 2 at a station of the same name. You don’t even leave the station. It’s there, underground, with dozens and dozens of shops. But not always the best prices.

It’s good to get the advice of long-timers or frequent customers to get a recommendation for a place that can be trusted. But I’ve tried a couple selected rather randomly and still had fairly good results.

Of the two major centers, I think I prefer the South Bund Fabric Market. The prices may be a little lower. I suggest going to the second or third floors for the best deals. I think the first-floor shops get more business and may charge a slight premium. Not really sure on that.

For men, you can have a custom suit for 800 RMB. I suggest getting two pairs of pants with the suit, which will cost another 150 RMB or maybe 200. Add a shirt for about 100 RMB.

Based on reviews I’ve read, I would suggest that you avoid having leather goods made there unless you have a recommendation and have seen what was made. Make sure it’s real leather. The shop may show you nice high-quality leather, but what you receive from their tailor might be fake leather and poorly made. With suits and dresses, they are at least probably going to use the same material you selected. Be sure to try it and make sure it fits. The shops don’t have changing rooms for the most part, but can put up or in some cases have one or two people hold up a screen for you to change behind. Don’t be shocked to see some people changing without any privacy barrier, but don’t do that yourself.

For leather belts (or fake leather belts) with the new ratchet mechanism, go to the accessories and crafts market at 399 Renmin Road, across from the main gate leading to Yu Garden. In this five-story complex, you will find hundreds of shops with all sorts of too-dads and crafts, but on the 3rd or 4th floors to the right of the escalator as you come up is a shop selling belts at an asking price way below what you will negotiate at the popular fake goods shops or clothing complexes. 35-50 RMB versus 150 to 250 RMB. Give it a try.

By | 2014-04-08T05:43:02+00:00 April 6th, 2014|Categories: China, Products, Shanghai, Shopping|Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on Tailored Clothing in Shanghai: Great Deals, But Be Cautious About Leather

Tai Fei Ge (泰妃图) Thai Restaurant Opens at Hongyi Plaza Above East Nanjing Subway Station

Today I had lunch at the new Thai restaurant, Tai Fei Ge (泰妃图) above the East Nanjing subway station on the 6th floor of the Hongyi Plaza, directly above Exit 3 of the station. Wonderful place with good prices and service, plus delicious food. I ordered a shrimp curry set meal for just 32 RMB. A large serving of a delicious mild yellow curry dish with large shrimps and a good mix of veggies with a little pineapple, too. One of the best curries I’ve had in China, for my tastes. There was also some pretty good fried fish, a lilttle bowl of some limp greens, and a little serving of fruit. The bowl of rice that came with it looked more like Basmati rice or a real Thai rice and was quite good. A pleasant surprise overall.

The only disappointment was an herbal tea I ordered for 18 RMB. They served it in a regular glass and it was much too hot to handle. Needed a handle on a cup to drink this. Also didn’t have much flavor. This was a Chinese data and rose mix that didn’t have enough of the dates to contribute noticeably to the flavor. But it was certainly pretty.

Will definitely go back for dinner sometime, and certainly for lunch.

By | 2014-03-31T22:28:25+00:00 March 31st, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Tai Fei Ge (泰妃图) Thai Restaurant Opens at Hongyi Plaza Above East Nanjing Subway Station

Another Scam in China: Worthless Foreign Currency (and One More Sip of the Popular Tea Scam)

Thailand-currencyAn American friend of mine visiting Shanghai was shopping at Yu Yuan (Yu Gardens) and bought something from a pushy salesman on the street. He paid with a 100 RMB bill and was given several bills as change. What he didn’t notice was that the  bills he received was worthless currency from some foreign nation (he thought it looked like Arabic but I’m guessing it was from Thailand). So instead of paying 20 RMB, he paid 100. Rip off.

Make sure you know what real Chinese currency looks like so people won’t had you bogus currency for change. Look, verify, and count. Don’t be so trusting and gullible, like many of us Americans are.

Other Basic Scams at Tourist Attractions 

The day before my friend went to Yu Yuan, I warned him about some of the scams he might encountered. I told him that anytime someone approaches you there or at other major tourist sites and speaks English to you, no matter how friendly and attractive they may be, they are probably sales people whose job is to separate you from your money. I warned him that there are people who try to engage foreign visitors by asking them to take their photos, and then some sort of scam is likely to follow. Just say no politely and walk away, I said. I also warned him of the ever-popular and often successful tea ceremony scam, where gullible foreigners are lured by attractive English speaking girls to join them at a traditional tea ceremony for a cup of tea. In this scam, after a few minutes of tea, a gargantuan bill is presented, accompanied with solid Chinese muscle to enforce payment for what was allegedly a rare and exotic high-priced tea. One cup might cost you hundreds of dollars. Never fall for that, I warned. Stay away. Beware. Don’t go inside.

The next day at Yu Yuan, my friend ran into a couple of cute girls who spoke English and asked if he could take their picture. Being friendly and always wanting to help, this young man took the photos and chatted with them. “We are tourists from Beijing,” they said, “and have been to all these major Shanghai attractions on our tourist map except for one, a traditional tea ceremony right around the corner. It’s a great way to experience Chinese culture. Would you like to join us for some tea?”

“Well, I guess I can just take a look,” he said, and followed them into a tea house. But eventually, he later told me, my warnings began to enter his thinking–finally–and he realized he had better check a menu and see what the prices were before he did anything. He asked for a menu and saw that there was a 30 RMB service fee posted in addition to some high prices for the tea. But now he felt pressure to not just walk away, though he explained he didn’t drink tea and needed to leave, so how much did he need to pay for just taking a look as he had done? The waitress was puzzled and went to check with the owner, and came back saying that he needed to pay 200 RMB. That’s for absolutely nothing–what crooks. He said no way and gave them 30 RMB as I recall and left, but they were angry. I think he was lucky the muscle hadn’t shown up yet.  The result could have been much worse.

When you see young people at Yu Yuan waiting with cameras at busy corners or on busy streets, and out of all the thousands of passers-by, they choose you, the stand-out foreigner, to get someone to take their picture, know that the last thing they want is your photographic assistance. It’s a scam. Feel free to take their photo on your camera so you can let others know who these scammers are, but don’t let them lure you anywhere. They don’t want photos, just your cash. Lots of it. And they will use deception and force if you give them the opportunity.

By | 2017-10-24T07:24:57+00:00 March 26th, 2014|Categories: China, Scams, Shanghai, Shopping|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Another Scam in China: Worthless Foreign Currency (and One More Sip of the Popular Tea Scam)

Qibao, a Not-Too-Ancient Water Town in Shanghai

Qibao: A Shanghai Attraction You Must Not Miss

A fun attraction in Shanghai that many foreigners overlook is the ancient water town of Qibao, a 5-minute stroll from the Qibao subway station on Line 9. It’s over 30 minutes away from downtown Shanghai, but is definitely worth the trip. As a water town, it’s views aren’t nearly as scenic as those in the famous water towns like Wuzhen or Zhouzhuang, and lacks the many attractions of Suzhou, but it has plenty of excitement for a half-day visit and can be a fun place to shop and try unusual foods. There are some good photo ops there, but what I like best are the many vendors on the pedestrian street. There are also 8 museums you can visit with one 30 RMB ticket, but they are small and not all that interesting for the most part, though it’s cool to say you’ve been to the Cricket Museum (featuring some calligraphy about cricket fights and a table display with real crickets in real formaldehyde), and there are some interesting items in the memorial hall for Qibao’s famous sculptor, Zhang Chongren and some fascinating  miniatures in the Miniatures Museum.

Here are some photos from recent visits to Qibao:

When you visit Qibao, go to Exit 2 of the Qibao Station on Line 9, then go left to the corner and turn left again. No need to cross any streets. You go may 200 meters and then you will see a big gate for the Qibao area. Go down that street another 200 meters roughly and on your right you will see a big fountain area made from rocks and a small pagoda. Turn right there and follow the stream of people down toward the narrow street close to the rocky fountain that is the beginning of Qibao’s interesting pedestrian street. Follow it to a bridge over the canal. This is a good place for photos. You can wander over to the right to get a good photo of this main bridge, then do on the bridge and take photos, then cross and go over to the left for another good spot for photography. Then continue down the pedestrian street to see the throng of vendors and other attractions.

At any of the little museums that are easy to miss, you can buy tickets for all 8 attractions or just pay the 5 or 10 RMB for individual museums you want to see. Or skip them and focus on food and photography.

One food tip: At #21 on the main pedestrian street, there is quite good gelato or ice cream for just 10 RMB a scoop. I tried the chocolate and found it as good as any chocolate gelato I’ve had in Shanghai, and less than half the typical price. Not bad!

Gate to the Pedestrian Street Area of Qibao

Backside of the Gate to the Pedestrian Street Area of Qibao

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:00+00:00 March 15th, 2014|Categories: China, Photography, Shanghai|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Qibao, a Not-Too-Ancient Water Town in Shanghai

The Quest for Italian Food in Shanghai: Two More Tries

There is new Italian place on the Bund, almost next door to Lost Heaven Yunnan on YanAn Road is a classy little place that is easy to miss: Goodfellas at 7 YanAn East Road. Elegant modern interior with lots of black and white photos, possibly from various Italian gangster movies. The lunch menu offers two set meals, one for 68 RMB and one for 98 RMB. I tried the more expensive one to get a better taste of what the restaurant can do. I’ve heard a good report for the food here, but personally I was disappointed. First, the bread was cold and not especially good, just one small roll. The balsamic vinegar was the thick, not very tart variety that I think is made by boiling down vinegar. Not the best, IMHO. First course was mushroom soup, which was OK except the mushrooms had the smooth, rubbery feel of canned or overcooked sliced mushrooms. OK, but not delicious. Then came a generous portion of pan-fried sea bass and mashed potatoes. The sea bass was tender but not flavorful, possibly too low on salt (I prefer low salt cuisine normally, so it must have been really low). The mashed potatoes were OK but had the flavor and texture I get sometimes when dried potato flakes have been used instead of real potatoes. That makes no sense, though, because potatoes are so cheap and abundant here, so it must have just been a little too dry or something. Everything was OK, but nothing was really pleasing. That’s too bad. For 98 RMB, there are a lot of exciting lunch options in this town.

Another place I tried recently and liked is Luccio’s on DanShui Road, a little north of FuXing Road and almost next door to La Creme Milano. Luccio’s also has a classy, comfortable decor and excellent service. They have a good menu with pizza, pasta, steak, and other items. We tried a couple of pasta dishes and were generally pleased. The bread was quite good and included several different kinds, including a black roll that we learned is colored with squid ink. Delicious and creative. The pasta is fresh and homemade with a good consistency. Nothing to complain about. It was good, though not necessarily outstanding. But we’ll go back and try more of their menu. The proprietor is from Italy and adds charm to the place.

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:00+00:00 February 19th, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off on The Quest for Italian Food in Shanghai: Two More Tries

Good Gelato in Shanghai? Yes, It’s Possible!

Dec. 2017 Update: Creme Milano’s website is down, so I assume the shop is also. Sigh. For now, Ice Season may be the most available place to go to for OK gelato. While the flavors are good and ingredients are not bad, the texture and flavor is not up to Italian standards and the temperature is often way too low. Won’t be the real gelato experience, but still not too bad. 

Original post follows:


After a vacation to Italy, I was anxious to see if somewhere in Shanghai there might
be gelato approaching the incredible quality that abounds in Italy. Gelato is
different from ice cream. It has less fat and more flavor, generally prepared with
simple, natural ingredients, and is served at a warmer temperature (around -14 C vs.
-18 C for ice cream) so it is less icy and melts in your mouth easier. It has a
smoother, silkier texture. Some of the “gelato” sold in Shanghai is pretty much just
ice cream or sherbet, but real gelato does exist with surprisingly good quality.

Of the places I’ve sampled so far, Le Creme Milano may be the best, or might be tied with Ice Season. At both places, I have tried several flavors and found none to be bad and several to be really excellent. I thought Le Creme’s chocolate was too rich, but felt that the coconut, strawberry, pumpkin, and Creme de Milano (a special house flavor similar to flan) were excellent. The person in charge when I went to Le Creme Milano spoke excellent English and was interested in chatting, which made our visit extra fun. The shop were tried was at 262 Danshui Road near Xintiandi, just a few yards north of Fuxing Road and a few hundred meters from the Xintiandi subway station on Line 10.

Ice Season is a larger chain, I think. I’ve tried it at East Nanjing Road in the Henderson Metropolitan mall that has the Apple store. They are on the 2nd floor near an escalator above the main entrance on East Nanjing Road. I’ve also tried then in Jinqiao and People’s Square. Great flavors and quality.

Origin at Tianzefang was highly rated by some other foodies in town, but when we
were there they only had four or five flavors and of those, the coconut was
definitely impaired by the presence of added food starch that made the base gelato
grainy instead of smooth and creamy. The chocolate, though, was excellent, as was
the strawberry.

Mr. Eggie’s at the large Dapuqiao food court (an underground area adjacent to the
Dapuqiao station on Line 9) has pretty good gelato also with some Asian flavors like
black sesame and green tea. The chocolate was smooth and flavorful, though its
texture seemed a little more like ice cream.

I will keep reporting as new finds come along. Any suggestions? I’ve heard the
Freshary at the IFC Mall in Lujiazui is excellent, so it’s on my list now.

By | 2017-12-25T05:39:03+00:00 February 9th, 2014|Categories: China, Products, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |Comments Off on Good Gelato in Shanghai? Yes, It’s Possible!