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Survival Tips

We've discovered a few things to watch out for if you live in China.  Sometimes these discoveries have been painful, sometimes just amusing and only slightly expensive.

Warning: An ATM Gave me Counterfeit Money

I always try to keep this website upbeat,  and don't like to complain about anything in my host country.  I like it here.  Injustice can happen anywhere in the world.  But this is something you need to know about: Check your money before you leave the ATM booth.  If you find a fake,  you must hold it up to the security camera so that you can prove you got it from the ATM machine.

Of course it  isn't wise to be hanging around in a dimly lit ATM booth late at night,  taking the time to inspect every bill the machine gave you,  and advertising to potential thieves that you have fresh cash.  That's scary.  I didn't do it,  and never will.  So maybe a hundred yuan hit now and then is just part of the price of living in China.  I guess I can afford that.

I know for sure that my fake bill came from the ATM machine at a major Guilin branch of the China Industrial and Commercial Bank.  But I didn't discover that one of the 100 yuan bills was 假的 (jiǎ de,  fake, counterfeit) until I got to Shanghai.  So my branch of the bank will do nothing.  They didn't even seem interested enough to contact the branch in Guilin to let them know they are employing a criminal,  as they must be because this bill is so obviously phony that whoever loaded the ATM machine knew it.  All I got was, "Sorry."   The young man in the elegant dark suit suggested I pass the fake on to a cab driver or store keeper. 

If you've got any money in the China Industrial and Commercial Bank, my best advice is to take it out,  and check every single bill when you do.

A Warning about Living in China

     Please don't misunderstand me.  I like living in China and I feel very safe here.  It is not the dangerous country many westerners imagine it to be.  At least not in my experience as a sheltered "foreign expert".  But it does have one quality that is worth some attention - an obvious lack of inspection, regulation and enforcement of such things as building codes,  electrical codes,  and consumer goods.
     I've seen a snapping,  crackling electrical extension cord end lying in a puddle of  water just outside the wangba (internet cafe) during a downpour,  five foot drops off sidewalk edges with no safety railing or warnings, and large pieces of lethal roofing flying through the air during a moderate wind storm.  In Weihai I stepped on the manhole cover outside my apartment,  which promptly flipped over and dropped my leg into a meter deep hole full of electrical wiring.  I was grateful that it wasn't full of something else.  One learns not to step on such things here.

     The other day I set a hot pot down on this oven mitt.  When I picked it up again I was surprised to find that the mitt had melted onto the bottom of the pot.  That should have been warning enough,  and would have been if I was paying attention.  But I assumed that it was just the outer covering that was meltable,  not the inner insulation.

     Last night Ruth discovered that this simply wasn't so.  Reaching for a baked potato in our tiny little electric oven,  the back of her hand touched the top element.  Instantly the glove melted,  resulting in the burns you see in this picture.
     The idea of an oven mitt that can melt is...  a shock.  Oven mitts of course should be made out of pure cotton,  with a non-melting and non-flammable insulation.  Of course.  Who would think to check on such a thing?

     As more and more consumer items are manufactured in China and exported to the west,  maybe it would be a good idea for you to check the oven mitts in your own kitchen.  I'm not sure whether government inspection of such items is mandatory in the west,  or whether that is just another of my fantasies.  But coming to China has given me a whole new appreciation of building codes,  electrical and plumbing codes, and lawsuits that punish businesses that cause pain and suffering.  Class action torts do seem to serve a purpose,  and aren't just frivolous claims (check out the guy suing Starbucks for causing damage to his penis!) made by stupid crybabies.
     And if you are thinking of coming to China,  be aware that the dangers are not political and can be very unexpected.

     The lack of consumer testing here is actually quite amazing.  This keychain fingernail clipper was a gift from a Chinese friend,  a birthday present last year.  It's sleek and attractive,  with the Chinese five star logo inlaid into the cover. 

     Slickly packaged.  Elegant.  Really fine looking in fact.  The only problem with it is that it will not cut a fingernail.  Not at all.  Just think of it - designed,  design approved,  prototype made,  prototype approved,  manufactured,  packaged,  inspected,  shipped,  distributed,  and sold -  and it absolutely doesn't work at all.  It's like a miracle of modern production and marketing.
     I can't blame my Chinese friend for not testing it before she bought it.  Who would think to do that?  And it is the thought that counts after all.  One might be tempted to say that this is typical of Chinese culture,  where "face" means not getting caught,  or not having your misdeeds brought to your attention,  and appearance is everything.  But drawing such a generalized conclusion isn't fair,  and also not accurate,  not to mention bordering on racist. 
     The systems simply aren't in place here yet.  I'm sure they are coming.

Variation on the Nigerian Scam

Before I tell this story,  I should say that in the past I have been taken by cons and scams.  I think I learned my lessons,  and I'm pretty sure I have good instincts now and can smell a scam three sentences into the sales pitch. But I don't feel smug or superior to anybody who is victimized.
One of our teachers here,  who prefers to remain nameless because he feels so stupid about it,  just got taken for a couple of hundred dollars. A man in Nigeria found his resume on the Internet and offered him a job.  The man claimed to be very wealthy,  and said he wanted a private English teacher for his children. The job paid fantastically well,  $4500 U.S. per month,  and that alone should have been the tipoff.  When the request came to send $200 so that the "immigration papers" could be processed,  that should have been the end of the conversation.  But our teacher,  being the kind of guy who can be robbed through the mail,  sent off the money.  The next request was for thousands of dollars as a "deposit" to "prove his ability to support himself".  Of course that's when our friend started developing the large red spot on his forehead from slapping himself and saying "duh".

If you are contemplating a job teaching English outside of your native country,  be aware that no legitimate employer will ask for money in advance of your arrival to take the job.  Do your due diligence on any offer.  And if you are thinking of teaching in China,  talk to me and I'll make sure the job you get is legitimate. (If I get a commission for finding a teacher,  it won't come out of your pocket.)  david@themaninchina.com

Life in China Tip Number 1:  Cabs Waiting at Train Stations in China Overcharge
The solution to this problem is to go out on the street,  sometimes a block or two away,  and flag down a cab.  L Min had told us that they live close to the train station in Shanghai,  about twenty yuan away by taxi.  But as usual,  the train station taxis were trying to gouge the foreigners.  The first offered to take us for a hundred yuan.  I laughed at him and moved on,  and was soon offered a ride by another cabbie for eighty.  I told him to just turn on his meter,  and he said his meter was 坏了 (hui le - broken).  Sure.  It took us ten minutes on the street to flag a cab with a driver who would use his meter,  and then the fare was 17 yuan.  It always seems to be this way at a train station.

Life in China Tip Number 2 - Sticking Things to Concrete Walls

If you live in China,  the chances are your apartment will have concrete walls.  How do you hang anything,  or attach anything to a concrete wall?   Forget glues and tapes.  They won't stick to the paint well enough,  and if they do the paint won't stick to the wall well enough.  Click here to find out how to deal with the problem.

Life in China Tip Number 3  Coffee Filters in China

     It's fairly easy to find coffee in China,  but coffee filters can be very hard to come by.  For an absolutely perfect re-useable filter ,  cut the pocket out of an old pair of jeans.  This trick was invented on a camping trip by Simon Truelove and came to me via Pamela Dowler. 

     This "pocket filter" has been in use since my contract in Weihai.  It took a rest when I found some paper filters at the local Metro here in Wuxi,  but I used them all and have reverted to the improvised filter.  It works so well that I don't think I'll buy any more disposable filters.  The time it takes to shake the coffee out of the pocket and give it a rinse is only minimally more than the time it takes to get a new paper filter out of the cupboard.  Usually I notice the filter full of coffee grounds at some time during the day,  and get it ready for the next morning.  As long as I don't have to fuss with it before I'm awake,  it bothers me not at all.  Might as well save the trees.
     The coffee grinder,  along with a large bag of freshly roasted beans,  was presented to me this summer by my friend Mike Clarke,  former owner of Karma Coffee on Vancouver Island.  I just love it.  Grinding the beans by hand seems to generate more aroma,  and I prefer the squeak and grinding sound to the dentist drill whine of an electric grinder.

Another Scam Revealed (originally posted July 11,  2008 )

In the tourist market in Shanghai they sell flashlights that don't need batteries.  They are powered by your hand squeezing a lever.  The sales person squeezes it a few times and hands it to you.  Isn't it amazing?  By gosh,  the light is bright and strong and lasts forever.  What a cool gadget. This kind of thinking could put an end to global warming.
     What they don't tell you is that the battery was fully charged at the factory,  and the salesperson squeezing the lever contributed just about nothing to the light being displayed.  I was curious.  If we let one of these flashlights go completely dead,  how long does it take to charge it up enough to be useful?  So I bought one,  turned it on, and let it go completely dead, which took a few hours.  And then? Once the charge is gone,  you can get a bit of jittery flickering light by squeezing the lever.  Stop squeezing and the light goes out.  Instantly. 

     Recharging by hand is virtually impossible.  It isn't true that you can squeeze the lever a few times and have light for five minutes.  There are limits to what high efficiency LED bulbs can do for you.

How to get Online in China (originally posted May 6,  2008)

Once you leave home your communication will become a bit more difficult, but not impossible.  All you need is an Internet cafe,  called a wǎngba (literally a  "net snap") in China.  These are all over the place once you know what to look for.  The first character,  wǎng,  "net" is a double X inside a frame and actually looks like a net.  The other character has the mouth radical,  kǒu, on the left side and something that looks like a lower case letter E, with an additional vertical line, on the right.

wǎng character first part of wǎngba - Internet cafe in China    

     We've been in some excellent wangbas in China,  but most are grotty caves stinking of stale cigarette smoke and teenagers who've been playing computer games all night.  As part of the Olympic cleanup, Beijing has just passed a law forbidding smoking in an Internet cafe.  So they may improve.  In any event,  they are ubiquitous and never hard to find,  once you know the characters.  And now you do.


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