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Useful Tips and Useless Quirks I Learned About Travelling in China

When travelling in another country, it's hard not to note some of the quirkier cultural differences. here are some of my observations. I haven't gone out of my way to be politically correct.

I'll keep adding to this list while I'm here.



  • I have only ever been harassed by street vendors at a popular tourist site.


  • Most police stations have one English-speaking officer on duty.
  • Every police officer I have talked to has been friendly and extremely helpful. If you ask them where something is, they will often find an excuse to drive you there, unprompted.
  • I don't think you can walk for 10 minutes without encountering a police station. They are everywhere.
  • The sign will often say "Traffic Police", but they carry a pistol, a rifle, and SWAT shields.
  • The officers that I spoke to had much loyalty to protecting the people of their district, but did not have strong feelings about loyalty to the state. They consider that the job of the military police.


  • Any non-trivial exchange with the police will involved them photocopying your passport. This is actually kind of handy, because a condition of the Chinese visa is that you report your location to the police. Hotels do this for you. Hostels may or may not.
  • You will also be asked for your passport for many other things, such as buying bus/train/plane tickets.
  • Guard it at all times. I met an Indonesian man who lost his passport, and dealing with the government to reissue his visa took about a week, and may trips to the capitol.


  • There are no public drinking fountains, because the water is not considered potable (even in most hotels). Instead, boiling water dispensers are very common. I think this is one reason that tea is so ubiquitous here; who wants to drink hot water?
  • Most hotels provide bottled water and a kettle.
  • Learn to enjoy Chinese tea. Kind of like Chai, no two are the same.
  • Locals do not use teabags, they just dump the ingredients in water (it looks like you're drinking pot-pourri).
  • Unfortunately for once you do acquire a taste for Chinese tea, it is never served strong.


  • Most taxi drivers are kind and helpful, use the meter, and will provide a receipt. Although not expected, I always tips these drivers and usually tell them why.
  • A few will try to take advantage of foreigners, and charge you more; but at least they will do so before they embark.
  • If they actually try to rip you off or fight about the fare, find a police officer (there is always one nearby). A threat to be sent to jail will clear up the issue.
  • You can get a good inter-city rate for a taxi by sharing a taxi. You can do this yourself, ask the cabbie to do so (if in an area where other people going to the destination is likely), or they may just do it themselves.


  • Finding the bus station can be tricky, because the buses are in the back, and there isn't any English signage. After a police officer took me to the bus station, I said, "I never would have guess this was the bus station." He replied, "But it says so on the big sign out front??"
  • Just hop on any bus if you're not at a bus station. Someone will come to get payment eventually. Local trips will generally cost less than 10 RMB, and 25 RMB for inter-city routes is normal.
  • The bus will not leave a station until every seat has a person on it. If it won't fit overhead, and the bus doesn't have a luggage area underneath, your large pack is going to have to sit on your lap.
  • In some areas, buses have seat belts, and you are expected/required to use them.


  • Mobile phones must be turned off and put away at all times, except while the plane is at the terminal. This is a CAA regulation. Flight mode doesn't count, it has to be off. If you don't, you will be asked to put it away (and they will make sure you do).
  • This applies to inter-city flights, as well as international flights if the airline is based on China.


  • Tipping is not expected in most circumstances.
  • I always tip when anyone goes over and above, and it is appreciated.
  • It is not rude to tell them why, and it encourages good behaviour, and goodwill toward foreigners.


  • Yes, websites are heavily censored here. Sometimes this is done at a DNS level; usually the connection attempt just times out.
  • Everything Google is blocked. Bing search works, but some results will be censored.
  • VPN services like ExpressVPN do work, but depending on the protocol used, the connection may get dropped regularly.
  • PPTP, while less secure, does seem to universally work without disruption.
  • Generally, use of mobile data is uncommon and expensive.
  • Instead, there is free public wi-fi almost everywhere in urban areas.
  • Unfortunately, in order to access it, you usually need to authenticate with your Chinese phone number or WeChat account, even at McDonalds.
  • Some KFCs do not require authentication, and hotels usually do not, so loitering outside was sometimes an option.
  • I have yet to have a reliable and fast connection.


  • I've heard people remark that Chinese people are not friendly, or even rude. I have never had this be the case, but they do keep to themselves unless interacted with.
  • As an example, an elderly lady looked overwhelmed by having to carry her luggage down a long flight of stairs at the train station. No one stopped to help her. I motioned to help, and carried them down for her, and she was extremely grateful.


  • Expect x-rays, metal detectors, and a pat-down everywhere you go. Train stations, bus stations, subway stations, malls, banks; pretty much anywhere people congregate. And they actually do their job.
  • Gas stations are usually barricaded, and the police will let you in.
  • Before letting you in, a search of the cabin/trunk is customary. The are looking for firearms, explosives, or anything that could threaten the attendant or other customers.
  • Passengers must leave the vehicle while it is in the station. Stations have a waiting area with chairs for passengers. I think this is so a group of people do not try to overpower the attendant.


  • Almost all power outlets are universal, and can accommodate North American plugs.
  • Not all are grounded, so my 3-prong power bar/extention cord was not always useful.


  • In an entire week of travelling all over the country, I have only seen 4 non-Chinese people. It is a reminder of how diverse Canada is; in fact 4.3% of Canadians are of Chinese heritage.
  • In Sandaoling, my room came with a Mahjong table, complete with tiles. It took me a while to notice, because it was covered with a tablecloth.
  • The scale by which wind turbine generators are used here makes ours look like a quaint science fair project (in a sense, it is).
  • KFC is huge here. About as common as Tim Hortons' in Canada.
  • Fast food restaurants often will present you with a laminated menu with pictures, and you can gesture toward what you want.
  • Following the death of Mao Tse Tung and the end of the Cultural Revolution, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been pulled above the poverty line, initiated by the government of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Then 68%, now only 10% live below the poverty line (as defined by the IMF).


  • I've heard people remark that Chinese people are not friendly or rude. I have never had this be the case, but they do keep to themselves unless interacted with.
  • As an example, an elderly lady looked overwhelmed by having to carry her luggage down a long flight of stairs at the train station. No one stopped to help her. I motioned to help, and carried them down for her, and she was extremely grateful.
  • Yes, there is Walmart in China.
  • Although not quite up to the same standards, IHG hotels are very safe bet.


  • Smoking is still widely allowed everywhere, and ventilation is usually bad. In Beijing, smoking is not allowed indoors, but everyone smells like it, picked up from people smoking outside.
  • Many non-smoking hotel rooms smell like smoke, and have an ashtray.
  • Trains (not the bullet ones) wreak of smoke. Very sad for someone who loves riding trains; it makes the experience unenjoyable.
  • In addition to being heavily censored, hotel wi-fi/wired internet connections are very unreliable and slow.
  • If you came to see rural China, with lush vegetation, beautiful gardens, and rice paddies, don't come in winter.
  • The Terracotta Warriors exhibit closes at 4:30pm.


  • It is very difficult to suppress the urge so sing Convoy out loud when you see one.
  • I'm not saying there is a genetic predisposition or anything, but yes, Chinese drivers are awful.

Packing for a Month in India


It was my intention to pack as light as possible for my trip. That said, I needed to bring enough gear that I could remotely solve any kind of work-related emergency that might have come up.

In the end, I ended up heavier than I would have liked. I should have put in the effort to weigh the heavy things make some tough choices. I could have easily shed 5kg, probably more.

This is what I packed, and what I would change.

PS: By removing the unneeded items, I would have saved 6.3 kg (14 pounds)!

Item Quantity Weight Opinion Comments
jeans 1 750g bad I brought jeans because I knew I would be riding a motorcycle. Jeans give more protection on a bike than shorts. At home, even on the hottest 35C days, you can crank the throttle, and you cool right down. The problem was that in India, you can't crank on the throttle. Traffic moves at 40-60, not 80-120, so there is no way of staying cool in jeans. Worse, once your legs start sweating, the jeans absorb the moisture and just get wet, heavy, and smelly. They take up a lot of space and are heavy. I wore shorts almost exclusively. A pair of light cotton pants might have worked, but these are out of fashion and difficult to find.
undies 4 300g good Since they are small and light, I might pack a couple more, but 4 was enough since there was laundry facilities.
shorts 1 350g good Should have brought 2.
socks 3 pair 150g bad I think I wore socks once or twice while I was there (see running shoes).
running shoes 1 pair 800g bad Unless you intend to run, leave the running shoes at home. They are bulky and heavy. I brought them for added protection on the bike, but ended up wearing sandals exclusively.
rubber sandals 1 pair light good These were great for everything. They could get wet at the beach, and be dry for the ride home.
Birkenstock style sandals 1 pair heavy bad Too heavy, and less comfortable than the spongy rubber sandals. Barely wore them.
white long sleeve shirt 2 light ok I brought white long sleeve shirts because I wanted to cover my skin, and hoped the white would keep me cool. The local men wear long sleeve shirts. After a month I started to adapt, but honestly the long sleeves were just uncomfortably hot.
t-shirts 2 light good I wanted to avoid t-shirts because most Indian men wear button-up shirts. Nonetheless, the t-shirts were very comfortable in the heat, and I wish I brought more.
undershirts 2 320g good The tank tops were great for sleeping in and hanging around the house. Although it would have been most comfortable, I did not wear them in public; only the beach tourists do.
swim trunks 1 200g good I didn't swim much, but the trunks were small/light enough that I was glad to have them, and they coulod double as underwear in a pinch.
hoodie sweater 1 400g good I knew the hoodie was bulky and heavy, and I wasn't sure about bringing it, but it was great up in the Himilayas, and even in Goa in the early mornings.
money belt 1 light good Peace of mind in busy airports and train stations.
documents   200g required Passport/visa, International Driver's Permit, cash, driver's license, credit cards.
magazines 6 1200g good, but I had a few unread Popular Mechanics to read. They were very heavy on the way there, but I threw them out or gave them away as I read them, and they were gone for my trip back. If I didn't already have them, I would have downloaded digital copies instead.
prescriptions   light required I packed them into s smaller container for the trip.
prescription sunglasses 1 light n/a I forgot them at home. I wish I had them.
zip ties 30 10g good Solved so many problems. Kept pickpockets out of all my zippered compartments.
binoculars 1 heavy bad I never used them.
pens and pencils 10 120g good 2 pens + pencil + sharpie would have sufficed.
Gravol 1 bottle light ok Didn't use but, glad I had it. A few tablets would have sufficed.
Immodium 2 packs light ok Luckily didn't need it. Glad I had it, didn't need so much.
other pills lots light ok I brought pills for most ailments. I only used the Tylenol-1. Didn't need so much.
toothpaste 1 100g good The travel tube didn't last long so I bought toothpaste there.
shampoo 1 50g good Travel size.
soap 1 50g good I brought a full-size bar. The smell of a familiar soap is surprisingly reassuring.
toothbrush 1 25g good A mini travel brush would have been nice.
deodorant 1 120g ok The turny knob broke so I didn't end up using it. It didn't help as an anti-perspirant, and luckily I don't smell too bad. Access to a shower helps.
q-tips small box 20g good Good for cleaning ears and so much else.
wipes 1 pack 300g good Packs better than toilet paper. Heavy but worth it. Good for cleaning all the things. I bought more there.
carabiner 1 10g good Handy for attaching A to B. They remove zip ties with a twist of the wrist.
nail clippers 1 15g good My nails grow quickly. They got lots of use. Great for cutting zip ties that are done too tight for carabiner.
phone 1 200g good Once I got a SIM card it was an irreplacable source of information.
camera 1 365g bad I barely used my point-and-shoot camera. I used my phone instead, even though the camera had optical zoom and better image quality. I knew I wasn't going to take a ton of pictures. If I was going on "a photo trip", I would bring my DSLR gear. I missed the 300mm telephoto, remote shutter, aperture/shutter speed control, and low-light quality.
tablet 1 1500g good Great for doing research at the coffee shop, etc. Great for large maps while on the road. 1.2kg plus charger.
ultrabook 1 1880g good Great for doing work, writing blog updates, etc. 1.5kg plus charger. I could have gotten by with only this or the tablet, but I don't know which one I would choose. Since my tablet is a full windows PC, maybe it + a keyboard and mouse would have worked.
power bar 1 light good My sister mocked me for bringing it -- until she saw me charge my phone, tablet, laptop, and camera at the same time. This $3 until from the dollar store was very light.
cable lock 1 150g bad I never used this computer lock.
mouse 1 100g good A real mouse makes working so much easier.
portable hard disk 1 200g bad Never used it.
misc. cables, etc.   200g bad It never hurts to have a spare ethernet or HDMI cable, or USB drive, but that weight add up.
water bottle  150g  good  Great for filling when you have access to clean water. 
pajama bottoms 0 light good I didn't bring any, but gave in and bought a pair there. Great for around the house and sleeping on the train.
sunscreen 0 heavy good I should have brought some. Very hard to find in India. Eventually got some (containing skin whitener).

Businesses I predicted would fail

Name Date of Prediction Date of Failure Reason for Prediction Destiny
Blackberry 2007 2013 RIM decided to focus on the saturated consumer market and ignore its enterprise market. I sold my shares for a tidy profit. Less than 2.3% market share and $6 billion loss in 2014.
Eaton's 1992 1997 No focus, decline of department stores, overpricing, poor marketing choices, understaffing, closure of key departments. Bankrupt and acquired by Sears
Zellers 1994 2011 Entry by Walmart into Canadian market, poor inventory control, inconsistent brand, degredation of physical stores, poor upkeep of displays Liquidated, real estate bought by Target.
Target 2011 2015 Chose to enter Canadian market at time when Zellers failed and Walmart thriving, no e-commerce, poor online presence, poor market research, failure to replicate US stores in Canada. Ceased all Canadian operations.
Sears 1997 waiting Competition between catalog and in-store sales. Confusing e-commerce strategy, decline of department stores, understaffing, fragmented business strategy.  
General Motors 1995 2009 Brand fragmentation, poor choices in product line. Filed for bankrupcy protection in 2009. Discontinued failed brands.
Syquest 1995 1998 Slow reaction to success of Iomega Zip drive Bankrupt and acquired by Iomega
Quark 1999 debateable Lack of innovation, leaving a captive market for Adobe InDesign, failure to release OSX version of product until 2003 (two years too late), overpricing. Went from 95% market share to immeasureably small.
Apple 1999   PC market share falling from 10% rapidly, fragmentation of product line, poor licensing choices. I got this one wrong. One word: iTunes. The dollar-a-song model reestablished revenues that funded the R&D for iPhone and rescued the recording industry.

Looking for an objective about your business? I can help.

There will always be someone who says that they can do it cheaper…

Declawing is amputation

Declawing sounds innocent. You remove the nail so it won't grow back, right?

Cat paws and human hands and feet actually have very similar anatomy. Declawing actually is an amputation of the last bone in the paw and the connecting tendon.

It often leaves cats in pain, and arthritis at age 2 or 3 is common.

Learn more at the Paw Project.

Does your family know what you do?

A fictional conversation between me and a well-intentioned family members.

Them: I was telling Jim at work about what you do and I gave him your contact info, he's looking for a Web Designer.
Me: Oh. Ummm. I'm not a web designer.
Them: Yeah, but you do web pages.
Me: Actually, I'm an Integrated Technology Solutions Consultant. I solve business problems by engineering custom hardware and software to automa---
Them: ---BUT I've seen you do web pages, and you did that nice site for XYZ Inc.
Me: Well, yeah, but that was part of a bigger project, I was creating an extranet to expose an e-commerce component that I integrated with their legacy back-end information system.
Them: Yeah THAT ONE, that's what I mean, you made it look really nice.
Me: Actually I outsourced the design for that project, I just assembled their---
Them: ---AND you designed that site for ABC Ltd. and it looks nice.
Me: Yeah I guess, but that project had a slim margin and I just made do with my own---
Them: ---PERFECT. I'm sure that would be fine for Jim.
Me: I'm really trying to focus on Industrial Automation. What sort of business is Jim in again?
Them: I think mousetraps..., or maybe its metal scrap...
Me: Uh huh---
Them: ---It might have been house wrap... I wasn't really paying attention.
Me: Right.
Them: He was wondering what it would cost.
Me: Well, I usually don't touch anything for under $5000--
Them: WHOA why does it cost so---
Me: --- well, there are a lot of factors to consider, is it data-driven, there's the cost of writing a proposal, I write a project plan, analyse his needs, define the scope, stakeholders, risks, define metrics for success, I need to hire a designer and a photographer, the content needs to be written and proofread, I do A/B testing and penetration tests, there's documentation to be written, and of course I have to cover the overhead of rent, my assistant, insurance, etc.
Them: No, no, he just needs something simple, can't you just whip something up?
Me: Well, projects that seem simple have a way of bloating into megaproject---
Them: BUT he said a guy from the Yellow Pages called and said they'd do one for $70/month if he bought an ad, and it would have Flash, and---
Me: Well I've seen some of those sites... umm... if that's all he needs I'd say go for---
Them: ---But then he said his nephew was good at computers and he could do it cheap.
Me: Actually that's a great way for young people who are learning to gain experience, he should take him up on---
Them: ---but he wants it to look professional.
Me: Uh huh.
[awkward silence]
Me: Hey! I heard an ad for SquareSpace on TWiT -- it actually sounded like you can make some pretty nice sites from their templates and it's only like $8 a month.
Them: Yeah, I think his business is really going to take off. It's going to be BIG. You know, you need to take these small jobs to build up a reputation---
Me: Actually I'm really well respected among my peers. Remember all those articles I wrote and how well received they were? And I've never had to look for work since I started the business, my skills are actually specialized and there is a lot of demand---
Them: ---look, if you don't want to do it just say so.
Me: I don't want to do---
Them: ---I was just trying to help, and Jim's such a nice guy and I just thought---
Me: Fine. Tell him to email me.


Speakout Wireless: But that's just stupid.

I needed a mobile account for a test device today, so I pulled a Speakout SIM out of my GSM drawer. It has been many months since I last used it, so I fully expected there to be no available call balance on the account, and that a new account and phone number would need to be reassigned.

When I tried to activate the SIM on their website, it told me that it had already been activated. Fair enough.

Since they use your phone number as an account number, I tried adding $25 to the account. It happily took my money, but gave me an error that the funds were not added to my account and that I should call service. A little annoying but sure, it has been a while, and this falls outside the realm of "normal" service activation.

When I reached an agent, she explained that once A SIM on an account goes dormant, it cannot be reactivated. You have to buy a new SIM. The old one is garbage. But... huh? It turns out that after your balance expires, you have 45 days to top it up. After 45 days, the SIM cannot be reactivated.

There is no technical reason for this. Heck, I'd pay $5 just for the convenience of being able to use the old one. That's just stupid.

Luckily my drawer also have some fresh SIM cards, so at least I don't need to make a trip to the store just to buy a SIM card.

Future Shop: do you read e-mails before answering?

I have a raincheque for this item. Can I scan it and send it to you?

Dear Yvan,
Thank you for contacting Future Shop regarding the status of order #283030263.
Regarding the status of your order, shipping is now in progress. This means that your order is currently completing its fulfillment process. We will just have to wait for the funds to be captured and after that it will move toward shipping. You will receive a confirmation email 24-48 hours after the order has been placed. Kindly monitor your email from time to time for the update of your order.
Please allow 3 business days from the date the order was authorized January 10, 2014  for your order to be released for shipping. If you haven't received shipment notification by about 9pm on January 15, 2014 kindly email us back and we will look into the order.
Thank you for contacting Future Shop. We appreciate your business.
Future Shop
Thank you for your response; however you did not answer my question. I asked:

I have a raincheque for this item. Can I scan it and send it to you?

My local store gave me a raincheque for this item but they are unable to fulfill it. Can you process a partial refund if I send you the scanner rebate?

Thank you. 

Dear Yvan,
Thank you for contacting Future Shop regarding the status of order #283030263.
Online Purchases
Best Buy/Future Shop Private Label Cards
American Express
Future Shop/Best Buy Gift Cards
For online purchases, you can use the following combination of Payment Methods
- 1 Credit Card; or
- 1 Credit Card and 1 or 2 Gift Cards; or
- 1, 2 or 3 Gift Cards
Thank you for contacting Future Shop. We appreciate your business.
Future Shop

I have already paid. Please see my question.


I never did get an acknowledgement, response, or answer to my question.

I did however take my online purchase to my local store. Although I had to wait 10 minutes in the customer service line, the person who helped me was excellent. I explained that I got the raincheque in the store, and that the store didn't seem to be getting any inventory, and that I made the purchase online instead. Without hesitation, she pleasantly offered to apply a price correction, refunding the difference in price to me expediently.

Macromedia accounts compromised as part of Adobe leak

Dreamweaver and Fireworks used to be Macromedia products, before Macromedia was purchased by Adobe. As I discovered after receiving email this week to macromedia at, that user database was merged into Adobe's.

List of websites that enforce weak password policies

Please contact me to add a website to the list.

  • 8-20 characters
  • 6-12 characters
  • 6-12 characters (fixed, after 150M accounts were hacked)
  • 6-18 characters



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