Saturday, March 24, 2007

China Shopping Hazards

If you are going across the border to China to do some shopping, be careful, and be prepared.

1) Pickpockets

There are many pickpockets, including children. Never show your cash, and keep them separated in a few places. Be especially careful when you are seated on a bus. Never leave your luggage or bags unattended too. They tend to disappear.

No one will help alert you to the pickpockets or help you catch them. For some reason, the Chinese in China have became numbed to petty crime.

Sometimes you may see pickpockets in action on the bus, cutting out the pockets of unsuspecting passengers. Being the good Samaritan you are, you stop them. And being the good ruffians they are, they will wait and bash you up later with their friends.


2) Fraud & Deceit

There are many products and practices in China which are downright unethical.

Rat meat may be sold for pigeon meat. Watermelons may be injected with artificial color and sugar water to enhance their taste. There were many food scandals in the past, such as fake, no-nutrient milk powder and poisonous rice. If possible, bring your own food along.

Learn how Chinese Renminbi looks like. If you look like a foreigner, you may be handed Taiwan money, which has about 1/4 the value of Renminbi. A simple rule is if you see Chairman Mao on the note, it is definitely Renminbi. There are also notes which are in cents (jiao), not dollars (yuan). They are legal currency too.

There are a lot of fake $50 and $100 Renminbi, and smaller amounts of other fake denominations. I always bring along a ultraviolet detector just in case. I am a victim of a fake RMB$50 note (probably from a money changer) myself. Here is a tutorial on how to recognize fake Chinese money.

You can buy a 8GB thumbdrive for RMB$120, an insane bargain in 2007. It will format and chkdsk nicely in the computer, but it won't work when you try to put real files on it. Your files will be randomly corrupted instead. The thumbdrive will report that it is full after you copied a few hundred megabytes to it. The same goes for the 8GB imitation iPod players.

Don't buy anything that looks too good to be true. Stick to products which have a warranty and more reasonable prices. Avoid buying from stalls and buy only from shops, as stall owners can just disappear whenever they like.

I was also cheated by a prepaid phone dealer. She claimed that the China card has RMB$200 of value, and she is selling it to me at a discount of RMB$100. It turns out the she has stuck the price stickers on the words that read "RMB$55 value, uniform pricing for the entire China". When I found out I was furious.


3) Dangerous Taxi Drivers

Never ever take an unlicensed taxi. Not only will they charge exorbitant prices, they may also drive you to a place where the rest of their gang lies in wait to rob you. Always take a real taxi that charges by the meter.

The unlicensed taxi drivers are those people walking around busy areas with holding a bunch of keys. They often solicit customers actively.


4) Bargaining

Unless you are very rich, bargaining skills are compulsory for shopping in China. Cheap as the goods may seem to richer countries, it can be cheaper.

For clothes, asking for half their quoted price and then pretending to walk out of the shop will often close the deal. Electronic items, however, may not enjoy such a large discount.

Many sellers are known to use strong and highly persuasive techniques to get you to buy from them, much like hard-selling. [You will know what I mean when you meet one of them.] It is important to learn to say 'no' to them.


5) Language

It is rare to find Chinese shopkeepers who speak English, or any other foreign language. If you do not know Mandarin, or the dialect being spoken in the area, then it will be much harder to bargain and shop. In Zhuhai (bordering Macau) and Shenzhen (bordering Hong Kong), the dominant dialect is Cantonese.


6) Beggars

There are many beggars in China, and it is very hard to tell which are genuine cases and which are just out to earn money.

At one time, I saw a young teenage girl knelling on the street, with the words "Need $10 to take bus home" scribbled in front of her. I decided to let that pass.

Another time, an adorable child pestered me singing Chinese songs wishing me good luck in a sad and tired tone. It was hard to resist ignoring him. I decided to give him some sweets and a RMB$1 coin, causing another child to appear. They asked for me, and I gave a MOP$1 coin to the new child.

Both of them are obviously from the family (or syndicate). I told them to share the sweets and I don't have any more to give or I can't take the bus home. They ran off happily, perhaps because they don't have to give the sweets to their "supervisor". All this time, I was watching my bag to make sure that their tiny fingers don't touch the rest of my money.

If you want to give to the beggars, be discrete and quick. Otherwise, a crowd of beggars (and potential pickpockets) will mill around you asking for donations.

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