Toilet paper thieves strike again, 1500 rolls gone in just one week at Chengdu park: Shanghaiist

I’ll never understand what is going through people’s minds when they choose to take advantage of the five finger discount on toilet paper.

China is currently in the middle of a nationwide “toilet revolution” aimed at improving the quality and quantity of the country’s infamously abysmal public toilets, but so far that revolution isn’t going quite as smoothly as officials had hoped.

Source: Toilet paper thieves strike again, 1500 rolls gone in just one week at Chengdu park: Shanghaiist

Will I ever know what a good Internet connection is?

Today saw the great Internet crackdown of 2016 here in China with most IPSec VPN servers being blocked. For users of VPN's on iOS this is a bit of a disaster because IPSec protocols are what they mainly use.

It's not clear whether the blockage is automatic or if the GFW is targeting the big VPN players, but whatever the reason it's a real pain in the arse. Earlier this evening OpenVPN was being blocked but that seems to be working OK right now.

Life is great in China, except for the air quality and the Internet. That reminds me, I must research the air purifier I want to buy from BlueAir….that's assuming I can access their website.

FaceTime Audio in China – Inconsistencies

Last month I wrote a post after I discovered that FaceTime Audio was disabled on the iPhone 5s that I purchased from one of the Apple Stores in Shanghai. After contacting Apple Support I was told that “…the decision to disable the FaceTime audio in devices sold in China is to adhere to regulations in that region.”

As an Apple user in China I am pleased that their relationship with the relevant authorities is better than that of Google, however yesterday I noticed an inconsistencie with this statement.

I purchased an iPad Mini with Retina Display as a Christmas Gift for my Wife. I purchased it from the Apple Store in Pudong, Shanghai and I noticed that the FaceTime Audio option is enabled and functions! So why is FaceTime Audio allowed on an iPad but not an iPhone? It simply makes no sense to me. Perhaps the carriers feel it would take revenue away from them, but if that’s the case then why not inhibit FaceTime altogether (FaceTime Video works on the iPhone!)

In China there are many things that appear illogical, but I really do wish Apple could be more transparent and clearly state which features are disabled in which region, ideally with an explanation of why.

He who pushes, wins!

My commute to work over the last couple of days has been a somewhat unpleasant experience. Anybody who has traveled on public transport in China will relate to the fact the the vast majority of people have no concept of queuing in an orderly manner. When the train or bus doors open it is literally a shove fest so that seat can be obtained, and in my experience is the elderly people you have to watch. They have years of practice and know ever trick in the book. I tell many visitors that the Shanghai public transport traveler motto seems to be “He who pushes, wins!”.

My commute to work starts at Longyang Road on Shanghai's Subway Line 2. My final destination is East Huaxia Road, just 6 stops in the direction of Pudong Airport. However, it is not as direct as it seems. At Guanglan Road, the 3rd stop, passengers must alight the train, cross to the other side of the platform and board another train for the rest of their journey. This all sounds fairly straight forward doesn't it? In reality it isn't. Each train carriage has seats for about 48 people, however at rush our these carriage carry in excess of 160 people, all of whom want a seat on the next train and will stop at nothing to claim their prize.

Yesterday the train from Longyang Road was unusually empty and when it arrived at Guanglan Road. I was standing behind two girls at the door waiting to alight. As the train came to a stop we could see the crowd of people on the platform who had come from the train at the other side of the platform, all with a blood thirsty look, ready to fight for the seats on our train.

Most polite people would allow alighting passengers to leave the train before boarding, but this is China and getting a seat is more important than anything in the world. As the doors opened a wave of people pushed their way on to the train which startled the 2 girls which were then instantly pushed back onto me, knocking me off balance and on to the floor….people could easily see that I was knocked down but carried on with their quest by trampling on me and my bag. I started shouting profanity, got to my feet and shouted in English that people should get some manners. I know that some people understood what I was saying, but most probably thought I was a rude foreigner, after all to them it is perfectly normal to push people to the ground in the hope of being the first to a seat.

Today, I happened to be first at the door as the train arrived at Guanglan Road and I could see the seat thirsty crowd waiting for the doors to open. But this time I put my full body weight (I am probably close to twice the body weight of most Chinese people) and legs in a resistive pose so that I could take on the onslaught of pushing. As the door opened a guy headed towards me and tried to push me back, I did not move, instead he crashed into me and then the guy behind him tried to push him and me. At this point, I pushed them both back towards the station and said affirmatively that they should learn some manners and allow people to get off the train first! There was a look of shock on their faces, and one grunted at me (probably because he lost the opportunity to get seat, not because he was sorry for being a jerk).

It's going to take a while for me to educate 1.3 billion people to be courteous to fellow human beings when traveling on public transport. Unfortunately I cannot send them all to Japan to see how pleasant boarding a train should be. Hope is not lost because even the Chinese Government realises something needs to be done as earlier this year they issued some travel etiquette tips for Chinese citizens traveling abroad.

As much as I love China and the majority of the people, the more time I spend here the more points in this blog post I begin to agree with. Come on China, pull up your socks and show the world how good you can be.

Safe travels in China, and remember “He who pushes, wins”

WTF? FaceTime Audio disabled on devices sold in China!

Friday evening a friend tried to call me using FaceTime Audio, a new feature in iOS 7. Strangely my iPad 3 rang but my new iPhone 5s didn't. At first I thought nothing of it and decided to look into it over the weekend.

After further failed tests with my wife I trawled the internet for answers and discovered this thread  that implied that it was a problem with devices sold in China.

As this was the only thread I could find discussing this issue I decided to contact Apple Care and to my utter surprise I was told the following: 

“I know that for a list of iOS 7 features and availability, you can visit the Apple website. I can certainly understand how you feel in this situation as well, Paul, especially if FaceTime is a feature you utilize often. Please note that the decision to disable the FaceTime audio in devices sold in China is to adhere to regulations in that region.” 

So apple have been asked by Chinese regulators to disable the FaceTime Audio functionality. But why? I can happily uses other VoIP applications such as Skype  Viber  Forfone  and even home grown WeChat so this is mind boggling to me. Even if it was the carriers that forced the restriction, the data plans in China are hardly generous enough to use VoIP regularly instead of a regular call. 

I try my best to understand why the Chinese authorities make various restrictions on the Internet, and for the most part they make sense (though I do not necessarilyt agree with them). And this one has me perplexed. I kind of feel I have an expensive device that is not functionally complete. I see I have 2 options:

  • Return my nice iPhone 5s for a full refund and purchase one from overseas such as Hong Kong or South Korea. Apart from the inconvenience this causes warranty issues because the Apple Stores in China will not honour warranty or even support you with devices purchased overseas.
  • Keep my iPhone 5s, know that it is fully covered by Apple and continue to use the VoIP applications I have been using for years, besides when I do use FaceTime it is inevitably for the superior video functionality.
  • What are your thoughts? What should I do?

    Healthcare or Healthscare?

    This last week has been a week of worry because I inherited the worry gene from my mother).

    Last week I had a few days vacation and on one of the days my wife had booked me into a local health center for a thorough health checkup. Anybody who has lived and worked in China will be able to relate to the health check process as you need to undergo a government approved health check to obtain your residence and work permit.

    Basically you get ushered from room to room and in each room you experience a different test. It's a bit like a production line! Having said that it seems to work incredibly well considering the volume of people.

    The tests you get depend on what you pay for, and one of mine was an ultrasound to check some internal organs. After checking my liver etc the nurse proceeded to check my neck, but promptly stopped because she realised I had not paid for that particular check, however she did say she saw something and I should go to see my doctor! Panic!

    Once the health check was over my wife and I headed to Shanghai East Hospital to see a doctor and find out what was wrong. Another ultrasound was done and the doctor informed us that I had some Thyroid nodules  one of which was large enough for him to be concerned that it could be cancer…yes that 'C' word nobody wishes to hear come from a doctors' mouth.

    So before I knew it I was handing over lots of cash to the hospital for further blood tests and within a few days I was being pumped full of iodine with my neck stuck inside a CT scanner.

    CT Scan of My Neck

    By this time I was really not sleeping and probably made the biggest mistake of all….use the Internet for self diagnosis! Apparently I could have been suffering almost every ailment known to man, or I could be healthy, or soon be having a cancerous thyroid cut out of my neck. The Internet is not good when it comes to this sort of thing! Just don’t do it!

    A couple of days later I get called to the hospital to discuss the CT scan results with the Doctor and fortunately there was nothing to be concerned about, no cancer just a slightly swollen thyroid that could be attributed to the ridiculously long hours I have been working recently in South Korea. The doctor prescribed rest for the remainder of the week! What a top bloke!

    Now that I had calmed down and started to think about the last few days I realised how different healthcare is around the world. Having lived in the UK, USA and now China I still am not sure which  system is better and which offers the best care.

    In the USA I was fortunate enough to have good insurance through my employer but I was skeptical about how doctors prescribed medication, they often had bags of samples that the big pharma reps had dropped off. Was I being prescribed the best medication or was I being given the one that the doctor got the best kick back? I guess I will never know. The only issue I had was where my insurance company refused to pay out for some blood tests that should have been covered. They blamed the doctor for filling in the paperwork incorrectly but my doctor said they had filled it in correctly. Only when I was threatened with the debt collectors knocking on my door I paid up out of my hard earned cash. So much for insurance!

    In the UK healthcare is free to all, rich or poor and throughout my life I have been pleased with the care I have received. That being said, I have no idea how I would go about getting a thorough health check similar to the one I had last week, so if I did have a major problem then perhaps it would not get treated until I had other symptoms which by then it could bet too late.

    Now let's tackle China. It seems if you have money or a good job then healthcare you can get, if you are one of the millions of poorer people then you are out of luck which is simply heartbreaking. I am also a little skeptical whether doctors recommend tests because they are 100% required or if they think I'm a foreigner and they can scare me a little to extract a bit more cash out of me…either way, I may now be out of pocket for the cost of a iPad or two but aleast I can sleep!

    Falling out of love with Taobao

    Two years ago when I first moved to China I had never heard of the online market place called Taobao. I can only describe it as Ebay on steroids, I honestly believe you can purchase anything you want on Tabao be it a new component for your computer or even a wife!

    So what is the catch? This is China after all. The catch is that you can never be sure what you are purchasing exists, and if it does exist is it the real thing. The girls in the office warned me of this when I first started shopping on Taobao  but my experience up until recently has been perfect. Everything I ordered had arrived in a timely manner and was exactly as described. This was shopping heaven for somebody like me who likes to save pennies wherever possible.

    Sadly, my last 3 purchases have not gone to plan…

  • I ordered a USB to 1.8” HDD case so I could utilised a 60GB HDD from an ancient iPod with my Raspberry PI computer….this never showed up, but after several months I was able to ask for a refund.
  • Gillette Fusion Power Razor blades. I ordered these based on the reviews, everybody saying that they were the real thing. Great product etc.  I then thought surely not even the Chinese would go to the trouble of manufacturing fake razor blades.  How wrong could I be. At first the packaging is almost identical to that of the real product. And when you unpack the razor blades from the packaging they look like the real McCoy….but then you try to shave with them….holy crap, it’s like being waxed on the face! I immediately knew there was something wrong so I took a closer look:
  • The blue strip that tells you when to change the blade did not look like that of the genuine article, sure it faded overtime but it was different.
  • The plastic moulding was slightly different, but the overall assembly of the product and colour of the components was identical.
  • The major difference was the spacing of the 5 blades. On the genuine article these are spaced evenly, but on the ‘Chinese’ version the spacing was sporadic which is probably the cause of the painful shave.
  • Apple A1243 keyboard. You either love or hate these keyboards, but I love them. They are quite and great to code with.  When I travel to South Korea I stick mine in the suitcase each time. I am a lazy git and want an easy life so I decided that I would have a complete office setup in Korea and China so I decided to buy another keyboard from Taobao  It arrived today, and although it is genuine article I have no idea which country it is for because the keys have characters that I don’t even recognise. With the aid of my wife I have complained to the seller and intend to return the goods and get a refund, but for me this is all hassle and I will pay the 30% more and get what I want from the Apple Store.
  • I must have been lucky up until now, but my love affair with Taobao is coming to an end. Maybe I am being a bit harsh,  my colleagues have been shopping far longer on Taobao and have much worse stories to tell, so maybe I should chalk this up to another ‘China Experience’.