Delivery Groceries in Shanghai

In Shanghai, everything can be delivered. So far in my brief one month here, I have had everything from groceries to McDonald’s delivered to my apartment. Before I came to Shanghai, I found this article on CozyRent on different things that can be delivered. I’ll try to explain each one of them in different articles, however for this post I will go over groceries. As I write this, I am waiting for my recent delivery of groceries from Epermarket. Yesterday, I picked out a few things to get delivered:

Grocery Checkout List

Just a few odd things for cooking and to supplement what I already have in my apartment. Next week I am going to try to bring my dinner often so that I might be able to sneak some time in during lunch to study Chinese. I like Epermarket because you can actually put when exactly you want your items to be delivered. I chose on Sunday between 5pm – 9:30pm. During writing this post, the groceries came:

My groceries

All in all very good quality. You kind of have to pick and choose what you order from the website. Some items (like fruits/vegetables) can be found cheaper at a local grocery store or market (there is a kickass fruit market right downstairs). Other things like meat though I feel more comfortable spending a little bit extra money so I don’t get sick. I can also find foreign foods such as canned tuna and pasta on this site with no problems at all. I’ve also used CityShop before with reasonable luck, however all the “foreign” super markets tend to be on the pricier side.

Business Trip / Vacation to Taiwan

So I went to Taiwan again for business. I guess you have been to Taiwan a lot when you lose track of exactly how many times you have been. This time, I was able to “tag” a few days onto the trip as vacation. I was supposed to actually spend a few days in Hong Kong at the end of my Shenzhen business trip, however urgent customer business made me reschedule these plans and go to Taipei instead. Having a few friends in Taiwan definitely made the vacation very enjoyable and I am glad I went.

Anyway, like I said I was in Shenzhen and had to run back to Shanghai to pick up my laptop and get some work done. During all of these last minute flights, I was flying China Eastern Airlines. China Eastern is considered on of the “budget” airlines and has a notoriously bad reputation for foreigners. It is funny though- whenever I asked my friend about China Eastern my Chinese friends had glowing reviews while my western friends told me to avoid them at all costs. My verdict? The service/plane/food is really not that bad, however they are almost always late. From what I hear this has something to do with Chinese airlines having a difficult time getting permissions to take off, however I will say the actual service inside the airplane was 10x better than the average American airline. One interesting note was that when boarding the plane everyone had the old school “stairway” to the plane instead of the bridge. I was a little bit confused when I had to board a bus after scanning my ticket, but I guess this sort of thing is quite common in China.

Loading into the plane by the staircase

Going to Taiwan and not having the normal jet lag was a welcome change. I flew into Taipei and arrived around noon on Sunday. Since I didn’t have any customer responsibilities until the next day, I decided to go on a hike to Elephant Mountain (深山). This mountain is a very small mountain that is situated very close to downtown Taipei. It touts some of the best views of the cities and was perfect for an afternoon hike. After taking the base of the mountain, I started my hike to the top. The one thing that anyone will notice when hiking to the top of elephant mountain are the stairs. There are so many stairs. This coupled with the high humidity and temperature made me covered in sweat. It was definitely a nice hike though and the view was pretty spectacular.

Stairs while climbing Elephant Mountain

View of Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain

After getting back to my hotel, I took a quick nap and cleaned up for dinner. I was meeting a couple of my friends that I often hang out with in Taiwan (I had met them when I lived in Tokyo) for drinks/dinner. We went to Ding Tai Fung, a popular Xiaolongpao restaurant in Taipei. Xiaolongpao are a type of Chinese dumpling that are usually filled with pork/meat/etc. Ding Tai Fung tends to attract a lot of tourists from Japan/Hong Kong so it was pretty interesting hearing all of the different languages in the restaurant.

Crab dumplings from Ding Tai Fung

The next couple of days were all business. I was able to knock the customer issue out pretty quickly which allowed me time to relax and spend time with friends. On Tuesday after work I actually took the high speed rail to visit a friend in Taichung (a city in the middle part of Taipei). The high speed rail in Taiwan is pretty awesome and apparently contains elements from Japan/China/German high speed rails. The country is also quite small so you can get from one side of Taiwan to the other in about an hour.

On Monday night I met up with my friend to go to Outback Steakhouse and see a movie. In mainland China, movies are very controlled by the government and often times censored/altered if there is anything the censors do not like. For that reason, I took my time in Taiwan as an opportunity to see Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie theater experience in Taipei was pretty enjoyable and everyone seemed to be very polite in quiet. The Outback Steak we had before had was “so-so”. I asked for mine medium rare, however it came out pretty rare. A recurring theme in Asia is that you should always ask for your steak two levels above what the American standard is to get what you really want. Going back to the movie- it was awesome. I love Marvel movies. I am a bit afraid to see a movie in Mainland China though. I hear people are completely disrespectful, talk, answer their phones, and make the entire movie going experience a sham. I wish they would open up an Alamo Drafthouse here.

Wednesday was my first full vacation day. I wanted to walk around a little bit, so I decided to go try to take the Maokong Gondola to the mountains to get some fresh air. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard so the gondola service had been suspended. Still, next to the gondola station there was the Taipei Zoo so I decided to check that you. It was very cheap to get in (only about $6) and was very worthwhile- unfortunately the rain dampened everything. I was able to buy a $3 umbrella from some random umbrella saleswoman on the street, but inevitably I got a bit wet. The new feature at the zoo was a new baby panda that was born. It was definitely the most popular exhibit and everyone seemed very excited to see the panda. Unfortunately, the pandas seemed to be very lazy and were just sleeping. Still, it was fun to go around and take pictures of all the animals. I saw tigers, monkeys, elephants, and a few other animals. Because of the rain, I decided to go back to the hotel and take a killer nap.

Lazy Pandas

Swinging Monkey

After the killer nap, I went to karaoke with friends and coworkers. Karaoke in Taiwan is very similar to karaoke in Japan. You get your own room, copious amounts of alcohol, and sing all night and a very low price. Very fun. I need to practice my Japanese/Chinese songs though as I am getting a bit rusty.

I had a full day planned on Thursday planned with my friends from Japan. We planned on going to Shifen. Shifen is a very old Taiwanese town that used to be a coal mine back in the day, but has since transformed into a touristy spot. It is situated on an old set of train tracks and is about an hour away from Taipei by train. For lunch we ate at Chili’s in Taipei. Chili’s in Taipei is very similar to Chili’s in USA (albeit a little pricier). After a quick taxi ride to Songshan Station and a mad dash to catch the hourly train, we were off to Shifen. As the train went further and further away from Taipei the scenery got more and more rural. It was a nice sunny day so the weather definitely aided more to the vacation feel. After about an hour, we reached an intermediary train station where we were going to take a cab to the Shifen Station.

Station on the way to Shifen

Again, the weather was gorgeous. After talking with a cab and negotiating, we took a cab ride for about 390 minutes to Shifen Station. The cab went over a very windy and twisty mountain that reminded me a lot of Initial D (a popular Japanese anime about racing in the mountain). They even had the gutters where Takumi does his special AE86 trick. Anyway, after about thirty minutes we were at Shifen Station. I am not quite sure if it is Shifen Station (or another station in the same area), however they all looked pretty much the same. Small shops hugging a functional train track that sell traditional Taiwanese fair such as Taiwanese sausage and tea.

A unique thing about Shifen is that they sell lanterns that you can write wishes on and light up into the sky. Different colors had different meanings (I forgot what ours meant), but the thought is you write your wishes onto lantern, light it up into the sky, and eventually your wishes came true. We held off this at the main train station (we were going to take the old-timey train to another station), and instead walked around and took pictures. There was a bit of an ominous cloud in the background which made the lanterns look a bit scary. Also at this station, there was a pretty cool looking rope bridge that we took some pictures on.

Shifen Station

Ominous black clouds with lanterns

Rope bridge with me and my friend jumping.

After taking a pretty packed train to the next station, we explored around. I grabbed a snack of a Taiwanese sausage and some sort of a smoothie for energy. After going around and admiring the scenery/taking pictures, we made our own lantern. I wrote the typical nerdy things like “live long and prosper” as well as things like お金持ちになりたい (I want to become a rich person in Japanese). After lighting up our lantern it flew really high and eventually burned up and feel down. I was curious about what happens to all of the lanterns that fall down. I asked, and apparently they are made out of some bio-degradable material.

Writing wishes onto the lantern

Lighting the lantern with my friends

Up it goes.

Going into the sky

After we caught the train back into Taipei, we ate a nice meal of Dimsum and called it a night. The next day (Friday), my friends had to work so I thought I would give another try to the Maokong Gondola. The weather was perfect so I did not have to worry about it being closed. After talking the train to the Taipei Zoo exit, I walked about 5 minutes to the gondola station and bought my ticket. You can opt either for a “regular” gondola or a “crystal” gondola that has a see-through glass bottom. The line for the crystal gondola was about twice as long, however since I was only going to be there once I decided to opt for the crystal one. The view was amazing. Taipei has so many forests and mountains surrounding it that it makes the entire city very gorgeous. The gondola seemed to be very sturdy and provided excellent views of the city/mountains. I was in the same gondola as two girls from Singapore in Taiwan for vacation and we had a casual conversation.

Maokong Gondola Station

Crystal Hello Kitty Gondola

Glass floor led to some cool views.

View from gondola

At the top, I wanted to hike around and get some exercise. After buying a jumbo size of water from the convenient store, I started to walk. One thing I missed a little bit is that I didn’t take any specific hiking path- I just hiked around the road. This was still very enjoyable as I got to see some spectacular views of the Taipei 101 financial building as well as the luscious green scenery. I stopped at a roadside cafe called “The Cat’s got Nothing to Do Cafe” and had an iced green tea latte while admiring the scenery. I also ran into some random temple. I tried to video call my friend back in the states, however the 3G connection was a bit shoddy so I gave up on that.

Cat’s got nothing to do Cafe

Sipping green tea latte and admiring the view

My plan was to walk from Maokong Station (the highest one) to the next lowest station, however I underestimated the difference and instead turned back after about 5 miles or so (there was also an ominous looking rain cloud). I was a bit afraid the rain cloud would develop into something that would cancel the gondola so I rushed back to the station and took a regular gondola (not a crystal) back to Taipei.

After returning back to my hotel and taking another nap, I met up with my friend to go to the Raohe Night Market. In my previous times in Taipei, I have been to many night markets so I won’t spend too much time writing about it here. I bought a few Taiwanese snacks including a raw bamboo shoot dish that I always go for and a Taiwanese sausage. I wanted to buy a USB battery for my phone, but couldn’t really find anything that I felt was reliable/a good deal.

Raohe Night Market

Raw bamboo shoot with mayo

Stinky tofu. I did not eat this time.

After the night market, my friend and I combined with our other friend for a night of drinking. We wanted to go to Carnegie’s (a local bar that holds some nostalgic value), however it was in “club” mode so we decided to go to a different bar close by called “Music Land”. After drinking way too much at this bar (and making a side stop at the Shangri-La bar), I called an Uber. After dropping my friends off at their home, I headed back to my hotel, drank copious amounts of water, and fell sound asleep. The next day (Saturday) wasn’t terrible, however I was definitely tired and wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Still, after a quick breakfast with my friends, I muscled to the airport and flew back to Shanghai.

A few side notes about traveling to Taiwan this time. One is that this time I flew to/from Songshan Airport instead of Taoyuan Airport. Songshan is the smaller/mainly domestic airport and is definitely preferable. It is very close to downtown and customs/security takes a lot less time than the further away Taoyuan. Another side note is that I bought a SIM card for 7 days data for my unlocked iPhone 5S. This definitely was a good idea as I was constantly using LINE (a messaging app) and looking up stuff on the internet.

I’ve been back in Shanghai about a week now and definitely enjoyed my time in Taipei. I can’t wait until I can go back and also look forward to my next adventures. I have already booked airfare/hotels for Vietnam in September, Korea in October and Japan in November (all for vacation). It will be a very busy year and I look forward to making the most out of my time here in Asia!

Picture Albums

Elephant Mountain Pictures

Taipei Zoo Pictures

Shifen/Maokong Pictures

The Quest to get Internet in Shanghai

Well I finally have internet in my apartment. It was no simple task and involved a lot of steps, however now that I have internet I can catch up on my blogging.. It didn’t help that in the midst of it all I was flying to Shenzhen/Taipei for business (expect a blog post about those later). I shall attempt to document my quest for the internet here in case some other China traveler finds themselves in the same predicament.

The quest first started when I was in my hotel room and about to move into my apartment a few weeks back. In USA the process to get internet is relatively straightforward- call the cable company, make an appointment, pay an exorbitant amount per month, and you have internet. Since I was unfamiliar with the process in China, I enlisted the help of one of my Chinese colleagues with the promise of rewards of beer and ramen. On the same day we were also going to go to the phone store to get a SIM card for my phone.

For the phone, we chose China Unicom. This was mainly done as their network is the only network that plays nicely with an unlocked T-Mobile iPhone 5. Getting the phone was relatively straightforward. After going to the store I picked a plan of 3GB a month, signed a bunch of documents, picked out a number (supposedly you can pay more for premium “lucky” numbers, but I just took what they gave), and my phone was setup for business. Compared to the USA, the price is ridiculously cheap. I can’t remember the exact price, however I am ending up paying something like four times less what I did in USA. The speed? Well the speed isn’t as great (I am limited to 3G networks), however it will suffice. There are rumors that a major Chinese mobile network will release the iPhone 6 unlocked. Perhaps I will change to that when it comes out- but for right now the 3G is fine.

Internet was a bit harder to get. The fact that I am now just getting it (two weeks after going to the office) is a testament to this. After China Unicom, we went to China Telecom. China seems to share the USA’s method of making it so that for an apartment there is only one choice for an internet/cable provider. We walked to the Telecom office and it was pretty hectic. Very busy and from the way it looked the people working there seemed to be somewhat clueless. Still, my friend explained the situation and said that I wanted internet in my apartment. Previously, I had picked out the 50Mup/4MBdown plan for 1600RMB a year. Doing the math, this equals about $260 a year which is about $22 a month. This is immensely cheaper than the $70 a month I shelled over to Time Warner for 30Mdown/2M up. Still, I’d prefer USA internet anyday (I will get to that in a bit).

After copying my passport, signing some documents, and waiting around, we were told that the central office would need some time to “approve” my application. Approve? Ok, whatever- it looks like I wasn’t getting internet that day so I returned home. The next day at work China Telecom called and said that they couldn’t give me internet until the previous tenant of my apartment returns their modem/router. This was quite annoying as I didn’t even know this person. Why was China Telecom making it so hard for me to give them my money? After what seemed like a day or so of back and forth conversations between my coworker and China Telcom, we decided that we had to contact the previous tenant. Luckily, she was still in Shanghai and super friendly. She is a Spanish girl that was living with her boyfriend in Shanghai. She was able to tell me good things about the apartment and good bars to go around the area. On the Saturday (a week after I went to the office initially), we met up and took the equipment back to the office.

At this point I still did not have internet, however I was called off to Taiwan and Shenzhen for two weeks due to a business trip. The trail went a bit cold here as I did not have any need/time to spend getting internet. My first day back in the office my colleague called China Telecom and they said that they needed the order number in order to further the progress. They insisted that they could not look this up which was bad for me as I had left the order slip in my apartment (40 minutes away from work). Still, having internet was a priority so I sucked it up and spent an hour and a half ping ponging from my work to my apartment and back. After calling, they said that they would call me back within the day on the status of the order. At this point, every day that I did not have internet was torture. Working remotely in China, I had to have some means of communicating with my colleagues in the USA so internet in the house was a requirement to work with the timezones. Luckily, they did keep their word and called back saying that I had to go into the office the next day to pay the fee and make an appointment for the technician- finally some progress.

The next day I went alone to the China Telecom office. A bit worried that my Chinese was not up to snuff, I presented my order slip to the receptionist and was give a number to wait in line. Apparently everyone else had the same idea of me as going in early as the place was packed. It was a DMV type system where you get a number and go up to your assigned counter in turns. Unfortunately, when I went there my number was 3018 and they were only at 3010. This may not seem bad, but for some reason they were always going at a snail’s pace. I distinctly remember people taking a long time and one guy being pretty upset (at least he seemed upset, in China sometimes the normal speaking tone seems angry). I snapped a picture out of pure boredom (the angry guy is at counter 6).

China Telecom office in all its glory

After about an hour of waiting, my number was called. The girl at the counter didn’t speak any English, however I think with my broken Chinese we were able to get by. After making another copy of my passport (that’s a common theme) and paying the 1800RMB (1600 plus 200 for deposit), to my surprise she said someone was able to come the same afternoon to install the internet (between 13:00 – 17:00). Great! Finally no more obstacles. After returning home, the technician came at 12:45- an entire 15 minutes early. After some fiddling around with the equipment, I finally had internet!

So how is the quality of the internet? Granted that as of writing this post I have only had it for about 5 hours I can’t say too much. I will say for Chinese sites it is extremely fast. Unfortunately, the internet infrastructure in China is handicapped with all of the restrictions put on it. Sites such as Facebook/Google/YouTube are blocked completely from the central level forcing people to use VPNs and other methods to circumvent the block. Sure, there are sites like Baidu which claim to be the Chinese equivalent, however after a month or so in China I can say Baidu is completely useless. Searching is so terrible and you normally end up with results that don’t even remotely resemble your search query. Usually I use a VPN to get to Google, but if I can do that I at least use Bing. If you don’t know the tricks to get to Google, Bing is your best bet. Netflix/Hulu also have some restrictions in that they don’t allow IPs outside of the USA. Again, this can be circumvented with proxies, however from what I have seem most Chinese just use “other” methods to watch their favorite movies and TV shows.

So now that I have proper internet in my apartment I can start blogging more. I really like blogging as I think it is a good way to communicate how I’ve been doing with my friends/family back home. Furthermore, some of my blunders can be found by future ExPats and hopefully some lessons can be learned.

Apartment Hunting in Shanghai

I haven’t updated this blog as much as I should, however I am hoping that will change starting today. I am currently in Taipei on a business trip and found myself with some time waiting for a customer to get some software together.

A couple of weeks ago I set out on the goal to find an apartment in Shanghai. I enlisted the help of my Chinese coworker. I had a few requirements for my apartment:

  • Around the Peoples’ Square Station in Puxi. This station is considered to be very “central” in Shanghai and is close to many of the cool bars/restauraunts.
  • Maximum monthly rent of $1600 (10000 RMB)
  • Air conditioned
  • Furnished
  • High floor
My Chinese colleague helped me go through all of the listing on the Chinese apartment hunter website. We were able to pick out a few candidates and scheduled an appointment with an agent. After work, we set out to Peoples’ Square (which is about 40mins by metro from work) and met with the agent and then proceeded to look at different apartments.

Apartment 1
Was in a quieter part of town and had a fantastic view, however the apartment itself was kind of worn out. It seemed a bit older and in need of some repair.

Apartment 2
Had weird decorations and the apartment owner hadn’t really made much of an effort to clean. If clean, it would probably have been nice.

Apartment 3
Really nice apartment in a “serviced” building. Tons of foreigners— I don’t think I saw once Chinese resident in this building. Still, it had central AC, washer/drier, and a pretty nice layout so it was at the top of the list.
Apartment 4
Was nice, but I had to crouch down to get in the shower which was a turnoff.

Apartment 5 (what I ended up getting)
Really big living room with one bedroom and one bath. The couple that was in it before were foreigners and had good things to say about it. Nice layout and only 5 minutes away from the station.

Pictures of the apartment:

The apartment is very well furnished, maintained, and the landlord is an American Born Chinese (ABC) from New York. The original price for this apartment was 10,000 RMB. After my friend did a good deal of negotiating, we were able to get it to 9,000 RMB for a 1 year lease. The one problem in China though is that you have to pay for rent three months at a time. Also in China, not a lot of people use credit cards. Because of this, I had to carry three months rent, the security deposit of one month’s rent, and a 20% agency fee all in cash. This means I was carrying over six thousand dollars in cash on a crowded metro when I was going to sign the lease. A bit concerning (I’d never do it in USA), however I am glad I was able to find such a nice place.

My apartment has an extra bed, so feel free to crash at my place if you need a place to sleep in Shanghai!

Tim