I’m back, and now dealing with China’s new Bitcoin restrictions

I'm back, and now dealing with China's new Bitcoin restrictions
JISHOU, HUNAN — While I was away, China’s central banking authorities decided to investigate (as they put it), China’s Bitcoin exchanges, resulting in all the exchanges sharply curtailing withdrawals of Bitcoin until further notice. As I have used Bitcoin as a way to move part of my salary (paid in Chinese yuan) to my bank in America, this new situation directly affects me. All is not lost, however, as I will detail below. One dilemma many expats face is moving money from one country to another. I am paid in Chinese yuan, and am permitted to transfer 70% of my very modest pay — by US standards — each month to the USA. At first, I used bank wire transfers, which required substantial paperwork, the assistance of a Chinese national’s bank account and relatively high fees. Then I learned I could create a Chinese PayPal account and send funds to my American PayPal account, paying about 4% in exchange fees. Not bad, but my experience with PayPal is, shall we say, less than positive. Beginning in 2013 I started using Bitcoin to move my money cross-border. I’d buy bitcoins with Chinese yuan, send the bitcoins to my Coinbase account, and ...

Three Chinese cities in top 10 most costly places for expats

Three Chinese cities in top 10 most costly places for expats
JISHOU, HUNAN — Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are among the ten most expensive places to live for expats, according to Mercer, a global business consulting firm. Hong Kong is #1, with Shanghai in seventh place and Beijing in tenth. Other Asian cities in the top ten are Singapore and Tokyo, in fourth and fifth places respectively. Jishou is not included on the list, but it would be near the bottom, as rents are quite cheap here compared to the larger cities in China. Citing the Mercer study, the BBC reports that a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment in Hong Kong rents for US$6,800, compared with $5,100 for a comparable apartment in New York. A cup of coffee in HK will set you back about US$8, but a hamburger meal is about $5. Some of the cities are expensive, because of their fearsome cost of living generally. Many Chinese, for example, have trouble affording housing in the nation’s largest cities. Other cities, such Luanda, Angola (#2) are in countries with weak currencies, which hurts expat pocketbooks. Mercer says it evaluates expats’ cost of living in some 200-odd cities by taking into account housing, education for children, transport and everything needed to live ...

Animation shows #Bitcoin transactions happening in real time

Animation shows #Bitcoin transactions happening in real time
If you don’t pay attention to the Bitcoin world, you probably aren’t aware how active the Bitcoin system (other known as the blockchain) is. Now there’s an app for that. It won’t fit on your phone, but a web visualization at bitbonkers.com (screencap above) will show you in real time what the Bitcoin world is doing After a rough-and-tumble beginning that saw Bitcoin prices soar to more than $1,000 from a measly $1, the computer-based currency has settled into a more settled dollar-exchange zone between $300 and $500 as it has become more widely used. Each cube represents a block of transactions within the Bitcoin shared ledger, the blockchain. The balls represent individual Bitcoin transactions, with different colors representing the size of the exchanges. Reds — representing transactions up to 1 BTC ($420 at this moment) — are the most common, but blues (100 – 1000 BTC) are pretty frequent, too, suggesting some users with deep pockets are using Bitcoin. Click on a ball to see the exact amount displayed on the right. If the sound effects get on your nerves, click the mute button at upper right to quiet things down. The project is part of the WebGL project, ...

Website updates took almost a whole day

Website updates took almost a whole day
JISHOU, HUNAN — What started out to be a few simple housekeeping chores turned into an all-day affair. I’d forgotten how time-consuming website maintenance can be. With a day off from classes, I wanted to clean up two things on the site that have been bothering me for months. Clean up the header, to put the site title and logo over the banner image, to recover some lost space. Refine/reinstall the PayPal and Bitcoin donation buttons. I tackled #2 first, because I naively assumed it would take less time than #1. Nope. Taking care of the PayPal donations button was not especially time-consuming, aside from dealing with PayPal’s hidden user profile page, which contains the merchant ID. I no longer have a merchant account, but the ID is still valid. Using it allows me to keep my personal email address out of reach of spammers when I use the PayPal donation button. You’d assume that PayPal would place the ID in plain sight, like on your profile page. I had to go to a usergroup discussion to find the link to it. PayPal still has the information; it’s just not included in the newly designed profile page. There will now ...

Movie review: Batman v. Superman waits too long to show Wonder Woman

Movie review: <em>Batman v. Superman</em> waits too long to show Wonder Woman
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve never posted a movie review here before, because there’s so many other people reviewing movies, why bother? But I went to see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice tonight with an entirely Chinese audience, accompanied by six of my freshmen. So this review will have a different perspective than others out there. For those who have not seen the movie (or read the reviews), I’ll cut to the chase and skip all the story commentary. (1) For whatever reason, director Zack Snyder felt it necessary to provide Batman’s complete back story, though it was hardly necessary for an understanding of this movie. (2) The first half of the movie was just plain dull, despite the fight sequences. One student, Lee, said it was boring. Another, Meredith, just fell asleep. I almost did myself. I sat through the first half comparing it unfavorably to a Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, waiting for something exciting that would advance the main plot. (3) My students were all female, with no previous knowledge of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. They all really enjoyed seeing WW in uniform, kicking ass alongside the boys. They said she was cool, and powerful. And I thought, why ...

The Malaysia trip, wrapping it up

The Malaysia trip, wrapping it up
JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Here are some closing thoughts and even some statistics about my month-long journey around Malaysia. I really like it. There is something for everyone in Malaysia: big cities, wilderness areas, beaches, different cuisines and cultures. In fact, the part I liked the most was the multicultural atmosphere of the country. It’s something China really cannot offer, despite its 55 minority groups. Their culture is largely being subsumed by the majority Han culture. The largest cities, Shanghai, Beijing, and others, are cosmopolitan, to be sure, but not to the extent of Kuala Lumpur, George Town or Singapore. Another big factor was the English level of the Malaysians I met. Even taxi drivers and bus drivers could speak enough English that we could communicate well. It baffles me why in China, which requires English instruction beginning in grade 3, even college graduates have trouble with ordinary English conversation. Well, it doesn’t really baffle me. The focus in China is on reading, writing and grammar, mostly for the purpose of passing competency exams. Conversation is an afterthought, and only English majors get any real practice in it. Native English teachers at the secondary level may try to get their ...

The Malaysia trip, part 6 1

The Malaysia trip, part 6
JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — I just realized that my posts are numbered differently from the map I made. Whoops! When I devoted an extra post to the Batu Caves/Thaipusam visit, I should have labeled it “part 1.5,” because I was still technically in Kuala Lumpur. Oh, well. You are all clever enough to figure things out. Although this post is “part 6,” it pertains to location 5 on the map I posted — Kota Kinabalu, which is in Sabah state on the island of Borneo. You can find it on the map on the right near the northern tip of the island. Malaysia is divided into peninsular West Malaysia, where I have spent most of my time, the federal territory of Labuan, which is an island north of Borneo, and the east Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah on the north side of Borneo. The rest of Borneo belongs to the tiny sultanate of Brunei (embedded in Sarawak) and Indonesia. In addition, Malaysia has two distinct monsoon seasons, depending where you are. The western coast of peninsular Malaysia has its monsoons April to October. Meanwhile, the eastern coast and Borneo have their monsoons between November and February. As I was ...

The Malaysia trip, part 5

The Malaysia trip, part 5
JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Let’s see if I can wrap up my travelogue before classes start in a few days. As you probably have guessed, Singapore was my next destination after Penang. My friends who have been there praised this city as a good place to visit, and since I was in the neighborhood (so to speak), I decided to spend a few days there. It was not nearly enough. Singapore is like Hong Kong, or New York City, or any other big metropolis. There’s so much to see and do, that even locals have not seen or done it all. My plan was to spend Chinese New Year there, as I knew Singapore would have a massive fireworks display on Feb. 7. There were at least two, one in Chinatown and one on the waterfront, and in the end, I saw neither one. I had not counted on one major factor: the crowds. Navigating the crush of people in Chinatown just got to me, and round about 10 pm, I decided to bail out and head back to my airbnb place in Little India. So, I can’t offer any photos of massive fireworks displays. Which is not to say ...

Malaysia trip SIDEBAR 2: the Hong Kong-mainland ferry

Malaysia trip SIDEBAR 2: the Hong Kong-mainland ferry
This is another sidebar, and I’m breaking the chronology of my tale by skipping momentarily the Singapore and Kota Kinabalu portions of my trip. Please be patient. I’ll get to them soon enough. GUANGZHOU — I’ve been to Hong Kong several times now. Usually, I take the high speed rail to Shenzhen, then the metro to border control, walk across the bridge to HK border control, then use the MTR to get around. While this is inexpensive, the worst part is having to queue up for two passport checks, which usually takes an hour all told. This time, I wanted to try something different — the ferry. When I booked by hotel in Hong Kong, I chose the Butterfly on Waterfront, which is very close to the Macau-HK Ferry Terminal. I had been considering visiting Macau before returning to the mainland, but decided to stay an extra day in Hong Kong instead. [Butterfly on Waterfront is described as a “boutique hotel,” which is a fancy way of saying “your room is small, but trendy!” Room rates are between $80-120 a night, which is cheap by HK standards, and for that price I got a very comfortable room with a desk, ...

Malaysia trip, part 5 SIDEBAR: The quest for Singapore’s Bitcoin ATMs

Malaysia trip, part 5 SIDEBAR: The quest for Singapore's Bitcoin ATMs
HONG KONG — As you can guess from the dateline here, I’ve come to the end of my Malaysian adventure, and I’m still running behind in talking about it. This post is a sidebar to the forthcoming narrative about my three days in Singapore. It’s about my efforts to find Singapore’s Bitcoin ATMs (plural), and finding perhaps the only surviving member of the species. I’m still a cautious booster of Bitcoin, the computer-based “cryptocurrency” that’s been behind both scandals and successes in the financial world. For my purposes, it’s a relatively low-cost way to channel Chinese yuan from my Chinese bank account to American dollars in my US bank account. Depending on market prices, sometimes it’s a no-cost way to move money, and if you time transfers right, somewhat profitable. I move funds roughly once a month, after payday. Usually, I use two exchanges, BTCC, which is based in China, and Coinbase, in the USA. [Coinbase is not technically an exchange, but it does permit you to move between dollars and bitcoins. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call it an exchange for now.] Buying bitcoins in China used to be a piece of cake, using a Chinese version of PayPal called ...

The Malaysia trip, part 4

The Malaysia trip, part 4
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — Cameron Highlands was a bit of a snoozer, but George Town was a real treat. Several writers have described George Town as one of the top places to retire, and I can see why. Great food, lots of things to see and do, great people, interesting culture. I was reluctant to leave at the end of my week there. It’s only a five-hour trip by coach from Brinchang to Butterworth. The coach leaves from Tanah Rata, just south of Brinchang, and stops in Brinchang to pick up passengers on the way to Ipoh terminal and finally Butterworth. As I discovered, the head office of the coach line, Unititi, is at the Brinchang Hotel, but the main bus terminal for the Cameron Highlands is in Tanah Rata. Good to remember for the next time I come. I could have stayed on the bus all the way onto Penang Island, but my Airbnb hosts told me the ferry from Butterworth to George Town would put me closer to their home. Plus, it’s a lot more picturesque. Here’s some history about George Town. Like many other cities with similar names, it’s named after King George III (the fellow we ...

The Malaysia trip, mapped

The Malaysia trip, mapped
Rather than clutter up the last post with a map, I’ll put the map up here. As you can see, most of my travel has been in peninsular Malaysia. Eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, reaches the end of its monsoon season in February, usually. 1. Kuala Lumpur/Batu Caves 2. Brinchang, Cameron Highlands 3. George Town, Penang 4. Singapore 5. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah 6. Kuala Lumpur For the geographically challenged, Brunei is an independent sultanate wedged into the state of Sarawak, Malaysia, and Indonesia controls most of the southern half of Borneo. The Philippines are to the northeast of Borneo, and easily accessible by boat or plane from Sabah (where I am now). Thailand lies to the north of peninsular Malaysia. So, you could land in Bangkok, Thailand, take the train to Kuala Lumpur, or even Singapore. Fly to Jakarta, Indonesia, then hop over to Pontianak on Borneo (and stand on the equator!), then take the bus to Kuching in Sarawak, Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, and finish up in the Philippines. Six countries in all. Yes, I did consider it. But rather than rack up “countries visited” points, I opted for leisurely exploring one — well, two, counting Singapore.
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