Chinese regulators may finally permit Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals

Chinese regulators may finally permit Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals
JISHOU, HUNAN — Word has it that the People’s Bank of China — China’s central bank — will finally allow exchanges to allow users to once again withdraw Bitcoin and Litecoin, possibly next month. Such withdrawals were halted in January as regulators examined the business practices of China’s major cryptocurrency exchanges. The supposed rationale was to limit fraud and criminal activity, but the basic reason was to stem a possible means of capital flight. The ban did not affect withdrawals to Chinese bank accounts, however. It applied specifically only to Bitcoin and Litecoin, the gold and silver of the cryptocurrencies. Other crypto-coins, like Ether and Zcash, were not included in the ban, as I later discovered. Anyway, as I’ve blogged earlier, the freeze on withdrawals closed off the principal method I used to transfer my monthly pay (in Chinese yuan) to my US bank account (in dollars). Bitcoin enabled me to move money quickly and cheaply. But since January, I’ve had to be more creative in transfers. A larger result of the withdrawal ban was to depress the market price of Bitcoin in China, sometimes by as much as $200, compared to the prices at foreign exchanges like Coinbase or ...

Trying out Abra, a new mobile payment app

Trying out Abra, a new mobile payment app
JISHOU, HUNAN — While exploring ways to move my money more easily around, I stumbled across Abra, a mobile phone app that transfers funds using the Bitcoin network. I gave it a try, and I like it. For one thing, it simplifies my transfers from China to the USA. Before Abra, there were several steps to transfer money from my bank in China to my bank in the USA, whether I used PayPal or Bitcoin. Abra reduces that number, and removes some fees in the process. There still remains one major drawback: Abra has no working relationships with banks in China. So, I still need to jump through a few hoops to buy Bitcoin to drop into my Abra wallet, but once it is there, it’s a breeze to send it to my bank account in the States. I’ve done all sorts of stories about moving money across borders, but to review, here are the main steps. For PayPal: Log into my China PayPal account. Send funds from my Chinese bank to my American PayPal account. PayPal charges a 4% foreign exchange fee. Log into my American PayPal account. Transfer funds to my bank account. Not bad, right? Unless you ...

This term’s schedule

This term's schedule
JISHOU, HUNAN — Rather than blather on about Bitcoins and Ripple, this post is about teaching — y’know, my job. Last term, I had 10 sessions of teaching the freshmen and sophomores, plus a biweekly session with five Ph.D. candidates needing practice in speaking English. Each session is 100 minutes long, including a 10-minute break. This term I have only eight sessions, because another teacher (actually, the associate dean of the college) has taken the two sophomore Listening Comprehension sections. Whether this has anything to do with nine of those 75 students failing my final exam last fall, I cannot say, but the lighter course load is a nice relief. So, this term I meet the two sophomore sections on Mondays for Oral English. The end of the week is much busier, with Listening Comp with the three freshmen sections on Thursdays, and Oral English the day after. Each term, I settle into a new work routine. Saturdays and Tuesdays are what I call goof-off days, meaning I use them for non-teaching activities, like laundry or writing on this blog. Sundays and Wednesdays are class-prep days. I give the freshmen a listening quiz each week, so that means I have ...

Epilogue to my Bitcoin dilemma: I got my money back

Epilogue to my Bitcoin dilemma: I got my money back
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, after three telephone calls and four chat sessions on Huobi’s customer service chat window, I finally got my 500 yuan ($73) deposit back two weeks after I sent it. All is well now. I won’t bother you with all the details, but bank-to-bank transfers in China are persnickety affairs. The sender has to specify the exact bank branch at which the recipient opened his or her account. And my branch at the university is a sub-branch of another branch, so the system was not allowing the transfer to go through. Or something. Anyway, I got my money back. I am still unable to bind my bank card at Huobi without a national ID number, so obtaining Bitcoin using Huobi or BTCChina, despite my previous relationships with them, is impossible for the foreseeable future. In education news, I am spending this weekend recreating my lesson plans and syllabi for courses I taught in 2014-15 to submit to the college. Why, you ask? Well, the college needs to get accreditation (if that’s what it’s called here) from the provincial education bureau. To get it, each instructor has to provide detailed lesson plans and syllabi for courses taught in ...

Revisiting Ripple (not the wine) amid China’s Bitcoin clamp-down

Revisiting Ripple (not the wine) amid China's Bitcoin clamp-down
JISHOU, HUNAN — Out of curiosity yesterday, I checked up on Ripple, a cryptocurrency I honestly had not used or paid much attention lately, just to see what all the buzz about it was. I was pleasantly surprised for two reasons. One, the value of Ripple against the dollar (well, cents, really) has more than doubled since last year. It seems Bitcoin’s inherent limitations have encouraged investors to look at altcoins — the bazillions of alternative electronic currencies to Bitcoin — resulting in sharp price spikes for several since January. Second, it’s once again possible to buy Ripple tokens (XRP) using the Chinese shopping website, Taobao, or payment processors like Alipay. So, I gave it a try and it worked! I’ll explain why this is noteworthy later on. Since I’ve been focusing on Bitcoin in China lately, I’ve been spending more time reading up on Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies, including Ripple. A lot has been happening there, and not just because of China’s regulation of Bitcoin. Bitcoin and similar electronic currency tokens verify transactions using a public electronic ledger, called the blockchain. In other words, if I send you some Bitcoin, it is entered on the blockchain, as is ...

Update to the update to the Bitcoin saga

Update to the update to the Bitcoin saga
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I got a reply from BTCChina today to my inquiry about continued use of their services. You can guess what it was. But here it is from the horse’s mouth. Good day! Our sincere apologies for this matter. BTCChina will no longer allow foreigners to use our services. You cannot use BTCChina from now on. Should you have further concerns, please do not hesitate to let us know anytime. Thank you very much and have a nice day! Best Regards, Customer Service 1011 This reply has two explanations. Given that both Huobi and BTCChina had no problem before with my using their exchanges with a foreign passport as ID, this new policy confirms that the government is trying to restrict the flow of Chinese yuan out of the country, other than by official channels, and that government regulators want the Chinese Bitcoin exchanges to only deal with Chinese citizens, who would be easier to control legally (or extra-legally) than foreign residents. While I have not heard back from Huobi about my bank card + passport issue, I can now assume that they will tell me the same thing as BTCChina — that Huobi can no longer ...

Update to the China Bitcoin saga

Update to the China Bitcoin saga
JISHOU, HUNAN — I talked to customer service at Huobi today, and it seems enabling deposits with my Chinese bank card is not easy as one would think — all because of the lack of a Chinese national ID number. So, they will refund my 500 RMB ($73) deposit in two to three days. If Huobi’s coders don’t edit the backend to allow linking passport numbers to Chinese bank cards, I may be shut out of Huobi indefinitely. There’s really no point in using an exchange if you can’t, you know, exchange stuff. Meanwhile, I sent an email to BTCChina’s support staff to inquire if I would have similar difficulties trading on their exchange. I’m waiting for their reply. BTCChina has this message on their website now. As with Huobi, I had already provided BTCChina with all that when I first opened the account a couple of years ago. Huobi required me to do it all over again, because the name issue I explained yesterday. I’m hoping I don’t have the same hassles with BTC China. In the meantime, if I want to buy Bitcoin in China, I can still use LocalBitCoins.com or BitKan (a China-based P2P service). While these ...

China’s new regulations for Bitcoin exchanges are a PITA

China's new regulations for Bitcoin exchanges are a PITA
JISHOU, HUNAN — If you’re not into Bitcoin, you may safely skip this post. Otherwise, read on to learn of my frustrations in complying with China’s new requirements for Bitcoin exchange users. I have accounts with two Chinese Bitcoin exchanges, and previously had no issues at all registering those accounts and submitting orders using my Chinese bank cards. But national banking regulators have recently compelled the exchanges to comply with KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) regulations, ostensibly to protect customers and cut off possible criminal activity, but mostly to restrict capital flight. Over the weekend, Bitcoin prices had dipped into the $900 range, and I was betting that they would bounce back. Assuming that these new KYC/AML regulations were not yet in effect, I made a 500 RMB ($73) deposit to my Huobi.com account. And nothing happened. Huobi did not credit the deposit to my account. Yesterday, customer service informed me that I had to upload a photo of my passport and a photo of me holding the passport next to my face. So I did that. Several times. Each time, there was an error message. First, I got “the image is not clear,” so I submitted ...

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 ...

Passport in hand, I’m ready to travel! 3

Passport in hand, I'm ready to travel!
JISHOU, HUNAN — In the eight years since I came here, the city has grown in leaps and bounds. Previously, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) was near the central business district, about 20 minutes from campus. But Jishou is included in the national development of western China (that is, west of the Beijing-Shanghai-Hong Kong corridor), so many of the government offices have moved or will move to brand spanking new quarters in QianZhou, south of Jishou proper. Really, to be completely accurate, I should say QianZhou has grown in leaps and bounds. While Jishou expanded some, it’s constrained by natural borders: a river running west to east and mountains roughly perpendicular to the river. Tearing down the CBD and erecting new buildings is not feasible, especially when it’s easier to build on land to the south. So, the PSB moved to new spacious — no, cavernous — offices on the southern perimeter of QianZhou, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from campus, roughly twice as far away as the old facilities. The area is so new that taxi drivers don’t even know where it is. I had to help him find it, since I’ve been there twice already. My passport was all ...

It’s time for the annual trek to America!

It's time for the annual trek to America!
JISHOU, HUNAN — If all goes to plan, I’ll be in the USA for another summer vacation on Monday. Now is as good a time as any to catch everyone up on what’s been happening here. The spring term basically finished for me last Friday. I gave my final exams the week before, and handed in the grades on the 6th. Since that time, I’ve basically just been cooling my heels here waiting to get my passport with a new residence permit back from the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Until then, I can’t leave town. Two years ago, the PSB almost did not renew my residence permit because they thought I had been teaching at another school, which is against regulations. My foreign affairs officer was able to persuade them to grant me my residency, though. Last year’s renewal went off without a hitch, but this year not so much. See that photo above? I visited a combined primary-secondary school in Huayuan County in May, where a graduate student friend of mine teaches English. He thought I could visit the school’s English classes to encourage the kids to learn English better. I visited three classes in the morning. It was ...

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 ...
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