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 ...

Bitcoin in China update 4

Bitcoin in China update
JISHOU, HUNAN — #Bitcoin is still alive and well in China, a year after the central banking authorities clamped down hard on banks doing Bitcoin-related business. We can still exchange renminbi for Bitcoin; it’s just not as easy as it was before December last year. Before the big crackdown, it was easy to transfer money from one’s bank account to any of several Bitcoin exchanges in China using the UnionPay interbank debit card system or the AliPay or TenPay third-party processor systems. So easy, that it appears Chinese Bitcoin speculation was pushing the exchange rate well over US$1,000. After the central bank restricted bank transfers and required banks close the exchanges’ bank accounts, the value of Bitcoins tumbled very quickly and has yet to return to the $1,000 level. Today, it was trading around $325. All but a few of the Bitcoin exchanges in China closed their doors. BTC China is one of the few that survives. It works around the banking restrictions by using vouchers as an intermediate step, and two representatives who accept the bank transfers. I took advantage of this system this week to transfer part of my paycheck to my US bank account. Previously, I had ...

Using Bitcoin to top up your cellphone minutes

JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s a practical use for Bitcoin: I just topped up my friend’s cellphone account by sending Bitcoin from my phone’s wallet. My friend Laura is in Beijing and for various reasons not pertinent to this discussion, asked me to top up her cellphone account. Normally. I could do it from my computer by logging into my online bank account services and sending funds to top up any Chinese cellphone number. Trouble is, the entire campus hasn’t had Internet access since 11:30 am (it’s now 4 pm), and she needed the funds right away. So, I could have walked to the campus China Mobile office — in the pouring rain — and put in cash money — assuming their Internet was working — but I decided to try a new service called Piiko a try. Piiko allows you to top up cellphone accounts worldwide just by entering the country code + phone number and paying with Bitcoin. I had about $20 in my cell’s Bitcoin wallet, so I tried sending half that to Laura’s account. It worked! Here are the details. To use it with your mobile phone, you need to have a Bitcoin wallet on your phone, ...

Moving money the modern way

JISHOU, HUNAN — You work in China, and get paid in Chinese currency. So how do you send US dollars in your bank account back home quickly and cheaply? Short answer: PayPal. Longer answer: keep reading. Using myself as a real life example. here are the options, ranked from most expensive to least. Bank wire transfer: $15-30 in fees, 2-3 business days for final credit Western Union transfer: basically the same Withdraw cash from an American ATM, using Chinese bank debit card: $7-10 in fees, very quick, but requires physical presence in the USA at the time PayPal: 4% in fees, two websites, 1-2 business days for final credit Bitcoin: 1-2% in fees, three to four websites, 3-4 business days for final credit The hands-down winner in my case has been #4 for the last four years. Today I tried #5, to test one of the presumed advantages of Bitcoins and similar crypto-currencies — that they make moving money across national borders easy and cheap. It was a little cheaper than PayPal, and almost as fast. As for easier. not so much. Bank wire transfers My contract allows me to take 70% of my monthly pay out and send it ...

Bitcoin update: Haven’t lost my shirt yet

JISHOU, HUNAN — My “shirt” shrank a little, however, because the value of Bitcoin against the dollar has dropped from $864 to about $820 in the last four weeks. I’m still in the game, but bearish on the market for now. Not that it’s easy for me to get Bitcoins in China anymore. China’s financial overseers have choked off access to Bitcoin by forbidding China’s banks and third-party payment services — similar to PayPal — from trading in the crypto-currency. The big Bitcoin exchanges here, BTC-China, Huobi and OKCoin, soldier on, however. They have found ways to get around government restrictions, but they are not especially convenient. So, if I want to buy Bitcoins, I can transfer money from my Chinese bank to my American bank, then pull money from the American bank to fund my account at Coinbase, where I can buy Bitcoins. Easy, right? Aside from mining Bitcoins (see below), most people who want to own Bitcoins now have to exchange a fiat currency, like dollars or euros, for them. If that is hard to do, then most people will just forget the whole thing. Coinbase in the USA makes it fairly easy, but Bitcoins are a solution ...
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