Wednesday, January 31, 2007
1. Services that think your time is worthless.
I put places like the bank in this category. You go in, take a number, wait anywhere between 30-75 minutes until your number is called. Then you can finally perform whatever simple transaction you required (like withdrawing or depositing money.) The problem here is that banks don’t segregate the time-consuming tasks from the short ones. In a US bank, if you want to open an account, or something equally involved, you don’t stand in line. You see a clerk at a desk. In China, there is one line. Unless you are a VIP (don’t know how you qualify), you wait along with everyone else for the 2 tellers that are helping everyone. If two people want to open an account, they hold up the entire line for 15-20 minutes.
Retail stores are similar. There’s no such thing as a simple transaction. Everything requires a hard sell, bargaining on price, confirmation that the product is in good condition, payment, collection of products, and finally confirmation that the products you just received are the ones that you examined earlier.
2. Services that think your time is valuable.
The assistant waited in line for me because there is a clear understanding that my time is worth "more" than hers. Delivery services here (such as the ones that delivered my furniture) work weekends and long morning and evening hours. Ayis (maids) clean your apartment because your time is worth "more" than the $2/hour they make. Is it exploitation? I think it’s efficient allocation of resources.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
While at work, I came across some interesting facts about Chinese tourists.
1) Chinese outbound (international) travel is growing at 15% a year. There are now more tourists leaving from
2) Chinese trade-down on accommodations and transportation, but trade up in shopping. Trading-up and down are terms used to describe the behavior of buying really cheap things to be able to afford certain luxuries, for example, buying Target-brand socks to wear with $200 Nike sneakers. For example, the average American visitor to
3) Most travel in with tour groups. This is because Chinese travelers typically can’t speak English, have never traveled before and don’t know what to expect, and want to be able to eat Chinese food.
4) The cost of round trip airfare from
Sunday, January 28, 2007
I need slippers. Across Asia, it's culturally proper to take off your shoes and put on slippers before entering someone's home. In China, it's even more important because for some reason, the street is particularly dirty. It's still a developing country in many ways, so I expected parts to be dirty. But, despite the many people sweeping streets and mopping hallway floors, there is a permanent layer of grime on every horizontal surface. Thus, I try to take off my shoes even as I enter my own apartment. However, since it's still the middle of winter, I also needed to get a pair of warm slippers. It's easy to find a cheap pair of slippers from any stall on the street. But they are typically made for tourists and not very warm. My feet are worth spending some cash, so I went to the department store in my local mall (conveniently right above Carrefour).
Let me describe it so you can get a better picture of it. It's seven stories high and yet never has any more than 5 customers on each floor (which says something about me, since I went in there to buy something). It averages a staff to customer ratio of 3:1 on any given floor. Strangely, each department in the department store is actually operated almost entirely independently of the others. Imagine the Polo section in your local Macy's not being run by the same company as the Tommy Hilfiger section, and you'll get the idea. I asked one clerk who was selling wool socks where I could find slippers. She simply said, "I don't sell slippers." I said, "I know that, where can I get some?" Her response was, "I don't know, I don't sell them. Maybe somebody else here does." I finally found slippers, and even though the biggest size was still one size smaller than my feet (I only wear a size 10 ½ in the US, but apparently, those are giant feet over here), I still bought them. I was desperate, having not seen any insulated slippers so far, and they were also half the price of ones I had seen in a US department store.
In addition to being arranged independently, the department store's departments also aren’t allowed to take payments. Instead, they write up a receipt, and you have to walk to the nearest cashier (sometimes located outside the actual department store) settle the bill there, get a receipt for your payment, bring it back to the clerk who sold you your goods, and then pick up your stuff. In any case, long story short, I paid 90 RMB for comfortable slippers.
Since the department store is right above Carrefour, I figured I’d pop down to get some food and other odds and ends. I couldn’t help but look for slippers there as well. I am kicking myself now because of course I found much cheaper slippers there; one pair actually fits my extra-large feet. They were so cheap, I bought two pairs. One for me, and one for any guests that might come over. They were 20 RMB and 13 RMB respectively. Moral of the story: Go to Carrefour first. Go to other places only if Carrefour doesn’t have what you need, because it’s likely to be more expensive and a lot more difficult to purchase anyplace else.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Here's an aerial view of my apartment building. Well, not from very high up, and not of my actual building. It's part of a model of the entire city of Shanghai at the City Planning musuem. But you get the picture. There are seven towers (not connected - read my earlier post about rooftop crossings) that are each 25-30 stories high. I wrote earlier that I live on the 33rd floor, but I actually live on the floor numbered 33. In reality, it's only the 29th story of the building. Thanks to superstition (Chinese and Western), there are no floors numbered 4, 13, 14, 24, or 34. The number 4 sounds like death in Chinese, so those numbers are all taboo. (More to come on Chinese number preferences.)
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The internet connection between here and the
However, I do have enough bandwidth to use my VOIP phone. So now, Katie can call me on a local phone number from the
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Step 1) Take off my shirt and put on a robe top.
Step 2) Have my height and weight measured using an ultrasonic scanner (bounces off my head to measure my height).
Step 3) Have two tubes of blood drawn. No immediate results.
Step 4) Quick eye exam while still wearing my glasses. I guess it’s a good thing I am not colorblind and that my prescription is correct.
Step 5) Chest X-ray. Again, no immediate results, but the x-ray sensor was labeled “X-ray autoloader” and seemed like it was capable of taking x-rays faster than my printer can print pages.
Step 6) EKG test. Print out was stapled to my form.
Step 7) Ultrasound. Never had this done before. The technician seemed surprised when she said “You’re normal!” I don’t even know what she was looking for, but I was relieved.
Step 8) Basic exam. Blood pressure check and cursory listening via stethoscope. The doctor asked, “Do you have any health problems?” I said “No”, but was really thinking, “isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell me?”
Step 9) Get dressed and tell them if you want to come back to pick up your completed results in a week or have it hand delivered for 30 RMB. Since 30 RMB is less than $4, and the round-trip cab fare alone is 50 RMB, I took the delivered option.
All in all, it took about 45 minutes and didn’t require anything really invasive. If all Chinese medical experiences were like that, I wouldn’t be afraid to go to the doctor.
Monday, January 22, 2007
A few years ago, China decided to build something no other company, city, country, or Simpson’s fan had ever been dumb enough to do. They built the world’s first commercial magnetic levitation train. These trains have been pioneered by the Germans and the Japanese, but it took the ego of the Chinese to think you could make money on a $1.2 billion train that runs 30 km from the airport to the outskirts of Shanghai suburbia.
In any case, it was a lot of fun to ride. We took the metro almost to the end of the line and then bought one-way tickets (40 RMB/~$5 each). We got on board and it took off. It accelerated gently but constantly to 431 km/h (267 miles per hour) and then started to decelerate. In all, we covered the 30 miles in about 12 minutes. The experience was very much like flying on land. I wish we could all get around by maglev. If only it didn’t cost $13,000 per foot of track and require an additional 30 minutes to get to the station. It’s a good exhibition for China; it shows the world that they can utilize advanced technology (and also eases the trade imbalance).
However, it is a little bit inappropriate for its current limited use and just goes to show the lengths to which the country will go just to look good.By the way, my return trip from the airport was via bus. It dropped me off in front of my apartment building, took 75 minutes and cost 20 RMB.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
In my rush to describe our new apartment, I neglected to describe our first evening in it. Katie and I decided to stock the pantry by going to Carrefour (did I mention how much I love the place?) and buying armloads of staples. On our way back to the apartment, we discovered a fire hose snaking out the front door, pumping a heavy stream of water. We were turned away at the door to the building. Apparently, a pipe on the 18th floor burst and the elevators were not working. We could take the stairs or go through the next building and walk over. We decided to follow a security guard to the next building as the prospect of walking up the 29 flights of stairs with our bags of purchases was not very appealing. The guard took us in the elevator to the top floor of the next building over. We walked out and followed him up a flight of stairs, out a door and onto the… roof. It turns out there is no connecting walkway between buildings, just a rooftop available for maintenance workers. We picked our way across the roof, climbing over ventilation ducts, electrical wires, and drainage pipes to get to my building. My building is four stories taller than the one we were on, so to get in from the roof, we had to climb the fire escape. Once there, another security guard was waiting to open the door to get inside my building. We then climbed down one floor to my apartment. While I would not consider our activities dangerous (we were well over 20 feet away from any ledge), I did note that there were no railings, no warning signs, or even lights. We just had three security guards and flashlights helping us. The
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
We’re flying back to
Monday, January 15, 2007
Katie and I are in
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Friday, January 12, 2007
I have heard
1) There are tons of KFCs. I knew KFC is popular, given the fact that the Chinese love chicken as well as anything fried. But I didn’t expect them to be on every corner and offer free wireless internet as well.
2) Street food seems to be popular in every developing country, but I didn’t expect a guy with a metal box full of burning charcoal selling beef kabobs off the luggage rack of his bike. Katie made me promise not to buy meat products on the street.
3) There is a greater variety of banks than in the
4) There are very few homeless people. Perhaps it’s because the Public Security Bureau (i.e. police) sweep them off the streets at night to be carted out to the country, or because the socialist government provides for their well-being. Regardless, I am particularly aware of their absence since I lived in downtown DC and I couldn’t walk 10 feet without being accosted. Now I can’t walk 10 feet without being asked if I want a Rolex watch or a
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Everything here seems to require 4 people and a lot of waiting. The average waiting time in a bank is 45 minutes. I finally signed a lease for my apartment today. It required a total of 4 visits to the apartment, one visit to the furniture store (with 3 people in tow: the property manager, the renter’s agent, and the landlord’s agent), and one visit to the electronics store. Even buying a microwave requires speaking with the microwave sales agent, paying for it at the cashier, bringing the receipt back to the sales agent, and scheduling delivery by another person at a later date. Labor is cheap, but that’s no excuse for the lack of any sort of productivity.
As I mentioned earlier, the primary accomplishment of the day was to get an apartment and sign a lease. The lease agreement was filled out by hand in triplicate. Anybody heard of a copier? But I signed it, and paid five months worth of rent at the same time. Two months for the deposit, and three months of rent (I prepaid to negotiate for a lower monthly rate). Did I mention it was all in cash? Checks are not popular in
However, I am pleased with the apartment’s location. A little bit away from the central downtown area, it’s still very convenient, right above the metro stop, and cheaper. We’ll see how long it takes for me to get tired of going to the same restaurants and shops.
Monday, January 8, 2007
Katie and I woke up yesterday at 4:45 AM to catch a flight out of Dulles bound for San Francisco, where we were to catch a flight to Shanghai. I knew we had a tight connection in SFO if 45 minutes, but I figured we would make it since our flight was early in the morning and there were no weather problems at either airport. Of course, things didn’t start out well, as we boarded our plane in