Friday, April 28, 2017

MoBike means MoFun

Some days there are some things that I witness here that makes me think, "shit, China you really have got your shit together". With that being said let me introduce you to MoBike.

MoBike build 1 bike for every 6 people in the country as their basic business model as a bike sharing company. Sign up with your initial deposit of 299 (about C$60) from which you draw down when you use the bike. If you so desire you can withdraw it at any time, through Wechat of course. 720 million dollars in reserve from this model after one year makes you realize these kids nailed it! This is a country of 1.3 billion people with a history of bike use and no real desire to own a car (from the people I have spoken to). Their logic, to expensive to buy, use gas and insurance. Then it breaks down and you have accidents. In the west we say the same thing but buy one anyways. Interesting observation.

Part 1 : Here is how it works. Using a mobile app, of course, you register and put a deposit into your account. You then search the map from your location to find the nearest bike. You can reserve it for 15 minutes and it is taken off the map. There is either a "red packet" which means "free to use for 2 hours" or a paid bike which costs 2 Yuan and hour (.40 cents). When you locate the bike you walk up to it and using the QR Code scanner on the bike you log it, it unlocks and off you go.  When you are done you just leave the bike where ever you are. Scan it, lock it and you are done. Walk away and the next user will find it. It is that simple. It is now my "go to" for point A to B adventures. I notice that people take great care in leaving the bikes in locations with other bikes or in a safe spot. I make sure I do the same now as well.

Part 2: Getting around. This city as are most in China are designed or have been redesigned with the bike in mind. Bike paths are on every street, are wide and usually barrier-ed from the main road. You do have to fight with scooters and pedestrians at times but it is harmless. The serious challenges are crosswalks or smaller lane bike ways that are beside the road without barriers. Cars absolutely have the right of way at ALL times. No discussion. If you lose you ego and any form of road rage and accept it for what it is you will be fine. If you decide that you can "beat the car or bus" or "screw them I am on a bike", well "may you rest comfortably in the hospital ward or the grave".

Part 3: The Bike. I am to understand these bikes were designed at a price of $1000 each so they are quality bikes. High tempered aluminum frames and wheels, extra vulcanized wide tires, one gear and an important bell. They are not indestructible but they are designed to last in all weather. If you come across a bike that has an issue such as a flat tire, broken pedal or whatever you click an area on the app and the bike is located. The company immediately dispatches a service team to take care of it.  The seats are adjustable, they are light weight and easy to ride. Success breeds competition and withing the year of MoBikes start there are 2 other companies. MoBikes are orange, Company A is yellow and Company B is Green. There are Blue bike around so there may be a 4th company. In this city of 8 million everyone will do just fine. For now, MoBike is King

Part 4: You can only rent one bike per cell phone so the trick is to register with 2 companies. I also have OFO as a back up. If you are with someone without a MoBike account, which is probably nobody, you can still get you hands on 2 bikes. It worked for Olivia who was my guide for the day. I as I did not have my account setup the day we went out. We used Mobike for her and then the OFO  for me. Easy enough. When you are done you receive immediate notice of how much you are charged. The MoBike was a much better bike all round and there were more of them where we were that day. As I said success breeds imitation and once we looked OFO was not as random as we thought.

Part 5: Promotions are insane. When you ride your bike you accumulate points for time used which translates into "free time". This free time can be used by yourself or you can send it as a gift to someone and with a simple use of the app the "free time" is transferred. If you find a "red envelope bike" it is free. Why? Because they have made enough money to cover the cost of the bike that day. Then when you ride the free bike you accumulate double points toward free time. Why all this free time and bonus structure. As it was explained to me the company has every one's 299 Yuan deposit. If you multiple that by the number of users you are reaching into hundreds of millions of American Dollars. The money they make each day on interest on that deposit money can be substantial so they do not want anyone to withdraw it. Few people will because the service and bikes are amazing. I do not want to get into a business management discussion but the start up costs must have been massive and who knows what the Cost of Business is? Don't want to know, don't care.

Why not Canada? When it comes to something logical such as a bike sharing program the first issue would be price. A Canadian company would charge way to much for anyone to get excited. The people of China actually respect the bikes and take care to leave them with other bikes or somewhere away from them being damaged. Canadians would aim to destroy them because that is how we roll. I could not even want to think about theft. We are also a car country and in cities making an effort to introduce a bike culture car drivers think they own the road and do not respect bike drivers. Bike drivers feel they live on a moral high ground and have no respect drivers. Our roads are not designed for bike lanes and the list goes on.

I will add MoBike to the growing list of things I marvel at here in the Middle Kingdom.

 Here is a link to the Website

Sunday, April 16, 2017

So, You Want To Move To China

 "Forget you lust, for the rich mans gold, all that you need is in your soul" 

YouTube Music Roulette
I just finished my work week and I find myself  sipping on a HANS Dry Beer (600 ml bottle 2.5 yuan or .50 Canadian) and playing music roulette on YouTube. I had Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd in my head so that song was easy to find. While it  is playing there is a list to the right of songs to choose from. Pick one and see where that leads you. I will play my big 3 from Skynard as I am feeling a bit reflective at the moment. Simple Man, Tuesdays Gone and of course Freebird. My only rule is I have to chose from one of the 5 songs that are displayed. I can not scroll. I find this type of randomness quenches my musical soul. I also figured now would be a great time to reflect on how I got here and what it took to "finally" have all my documents and resources in place.

You have made the decision to move to China to live, work and explore, good choice. Depending on your personal situation things could be a bit different from mine however my experience fits right into the "normal process" if there ever was such a thing as normal when it comes to China.

3 Month Visa
In Nicaragua I showed up, my passport was stamped and away I went. Mind you I was on a 90 day tourist
visa and had to leave the country every three month but taking off to Costa Rica for a border run
is not the worst thing in the world. In Mexico it was 180 days so 6 months later you hit the road to Guatemala or if you were inclined the USA for your visa run. I had a long break so I went back to Canada. With China I walked face first right into my discomfort zone.

With my spanking new flash Bank of China bank account and Bank Card my final task is complete. It has not been without issues but they were minor and usually me waiting for one thing or another while I was itching to hit the trail.

1 Year Working Visa
It started as a simple conversation while living in Mexico. During the second semester a few of us were having beer on a Friday night talking about "what was next" for each of us. Tom Webster was heading to Peru, Jessica Reeves was off to Indonesia, Lucy Andrew was heading back to Australia, Dan Greenland was staying in Mexico, Eric Silberrberg was going back to NYC, Keane Orchard had had enough of teaching and was going to bang around Europe, my Room mate Scott was heading to Colombia and I was mulling an offer to return to Honduras. The conversation was light and it is always exciting to talk about future plans. Randomly Scott said "have you ever thought about China"? He had talked about working in Xi'an and how much he liked it. The more he talked about it and the drunker I got the better it sounded.  So good in fact that by the end of the night I had sent an email to the school in Honduras declining their kind job offer. I had been in and around Latin America for the better part of 5 years so this little nugget of motivation was all I needed. Now I had to get it done.

Scott set up the introductions and during the semester I talked to the school a few times and set up a Skype Demo lesson for an IELTS SPEAKING lesson. They wanted someone right away but I told them I was committed to Mexico until the end of December. I received a "do not worry, the job is yours when ever you can arrive". It was the good word put in by Scott that gave me the flexibility I needed. I was set to finish my job at Heslington, head to Cancun for a week then back to Canada for Christmas. I could begin my process as soon as I got back and figured I would be of moving heading to China by end of January at the latest.

Residence and Health Certificate
I prepared everything they needed which included my CV, TEFL Certificate, Trebas Diploma, Police Background Check, Passport Scan and extra photos and sent them off. The school would use these to process the required document in China that they would send back to me via DSL courier that I would then use to get my temporary visa. Everything was going smooth and then I was hit with Chinese New Year, the year of the Rooster. This massive holiday would delay my documents being sent to me by 2 weeks and they had not been approved yet by the Chinese Government. Hello February.

I received an excited email that my documents were approved and my Chinese documents would be sent within 3 days. Scans of the 6 documents had been sent as well. I received the tracking code 7 days later, but 3 days after that the DSL truck pulled into my driveway and I had them in my grubby hands, Feb 16th. Jubilation, I could leave in a week. All I needed to do was go to the Visa Processing Centre in Toronto and get it done. As I excitedly looked up the address and read through the process (for god sake read what you need and have to bring!) there was a bolded  and capped  NEED TO MAKE AND APPOINTMENT which was followed by no phone calls, appointment made online only. Shit! There is was staring right back at me. Next available appointment  Monday March 6th. 10:00 am. Hello March.

Of course I did not learn my lesson and figured without issues I could get my appointment on Monday, get my visa by Wednesday and book my flight for Friday March 10th, so I did. Ironically, China Eastern had a weird half price sale for Friday the 10th, which I took as an omen of course. $425.00 Canadian to fly to Xi'an which is crazy if you thing about it. Regardless I tossed caution into the wind and booked it even though I did realize nothing about this process went as planned.

Healthy and Normal
The Monday arrived and Lynne went with me to Toronto. I was glad I took the time to make 100% sure I had everything I needed because it was a shit show at the Visa Processing Centre. People without appointments, proper documents and in one case no identification begging, pleading and yelling that they needed their visa immediately. I watched this horror show while sitting patiently with a hot coffee waiting for 10:00 and my appointment. Fun Fact. The Visa Processing Centre does not give a shit that it is an "emergency" or that you "did not know you needed this or that". Make sure you have your shit together.

I was called to the window to get processing and 15 minutes later I was out the door. My visa would be ready on Wednesday. A return trip to pick up my passport and my backs were packed, I was leaving on Friday March 10th, approximately 11 Weeks from when I started the process. Little did I know that there was more to come on this administrative roller coaster.

Wheels down and 19 hours and who know how many time zones later I was in Xi'an, Sunday March 12th. You read that correctly. I left on Friday March 10th and landed on Sunday March 12th. Saturday March 11th will never exist for me. The day literally disappeared from the calendar.

Money, Gas and Electric Cards,
Apt Keys and Metro Pass
I have written about the jet lag, time change and health check process. Toss in a regional administration check get my residence card and a visit to another police station to process my full one year working visa brings me to April 14th. My final glorious agenda item was a bank account. So on Monday April 16th, approximately 3.5 months after I sent my first email I am sitting in my apartment, sipping my beer, listening to music and writing this post. Along the way I have started to work at my school, Forrest Gumped my way through the language, discovered fantastic historical sites and areas of this town, made new friends, lost my metro pass the day after I put 50Y on it ($10), got a new phone, had Internet installed, and look out my window every morning and think, "shit, I am living and working in China"!

All because of a few drinks in Mexico with friends I made on the road. 

Here is the playlist that I enjoyed while writing this post.
Simple man - Lynyrd Skynyrd
Tuesday's Gone - Lynayrd skynard
Freebird - Lynayrd Skynard
More Than A Feeling - Boston
Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac
The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
Edge of Seventeen - Stevie Nicks
Dont Fear The Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult
All Along The Watchtower - Jimmy Hendrix
House of The Rising Sun - The Animals
Riders on the Storm - The Doors
Paint it Black - The Rolling Stones
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place - The Animals
Eve of Destruction - Barry McGuire
For What Its Worth - Buffalo Springfield
Old Man - Neil Young
A Horse With No Name - America
Nights in White Sating - Moody Blues
Hotel California - The Eagles
Nothing Else Matters - Metallica

Nothing Else Matters - Lucie Silvas
Shooting Star - Bad Company 
Turn The Page - Bob Seger
Copperhead Road - Steve Earl

Friday, April 14, 2017

Small Steps, Small Victories

I have discovered a few things while traveling and  living abroad. First, people are usually kind and are willing to help especially if you smile and do not know the local language. Second, learn the local language. Even if you are hanging around a country for a few weeks learn a few words and phrases before you jump on the plane. Hello, Thank You, Please, Restroom, Help. A few random words go a long way in showing respect to the people of that country and you will be amazed at what can happen.

With that being said I am face first into learning Chinese. Yes, I know it is Mandarin but nobody calls it that. It is Chinese as I was "matter of factually" told.  It is easy to study and learn a language in the comfort of your own home or the safety of a classroom. Now get out in the world and use it. When you say fuck it and give it shot there will be small victories and moments of "holy shit, I can do this". I had a few of these moments this week.

Lunch and dinner break is a communal thing here. When 12:00 comes someone always comes up to you and asks "where will we go for lunch". At 5:00 the moment is the same but the question is "where do you want to go for dinner". I had lunch a few times with Candy, one of the English tutors. She ordered for me the first time but in her great Chinese way she said, "tomorrow you order or you will not eat". Talk about tough love, Chinese style. Well the next day we decided on a Chinese Hamburger (rou jiamo) and cold noodles (liang pi). I was told I had to order but not only the food I needed to use the verbs want and eat. This great lunch place go to is busy, loud and fast. You have to be on your game. Well I stood in line and slowly advanced towards the counter. It is tough enough being the only Western guy in the place now I am going to speak and you can be sure anyone around will be listening. With each step forward my anxiety level increased (dramatic effect) as it does in situations like this. Candy, ever supportive gave me the final, "Ken you want to eat right?" I like her more and more. It is my turn and without thinking I nailed it. Wo yao chi rou jiamo he liang pi....bitches!! (there are accents and tones that really cause the problem).

You have to buy gas and electricity for your apartment. You top up your card (looks like any bank or credit card), slide it into either the electrical or gas until and it tops up with how ever much you pay. You can check your balance at any time but you know that 200 yuan will get you about a month of gas and 3 months of electricity. Well my gas ran out with the tell tale beeping of the unit. I mentioned it to the girls at the school and Ella immediately said "lets go", so we did. The shop that sells gas in my apartment complex was closed and would be closed for the next 5 days. No reason but that is how they roll in China. Ella went back to school and  gave me the directions with a WeChat map to a shop. So off I went to buy gas.

I knew the direction because it is near the dentist that I paid a visit to last week for a chipped molar that I have to get repaired. Long story short I will be getting a porcelain crown in June. I went to a Mexican Dentist, why not a Chinese Dentist. I found the shop easy enough by matching the Chinese Characters believe it or not. It helped when I got inside it said China Gas on a poster. So without pause I said hello. The guy busying whatever in front of me took one look smiled and waited to see what was going to happen. I said, this place. I want to buy gas, 200 yuan.(Zhe li. Wo yao mai chi. Er bai yuan..again accents and tones). The guy behind the counter said OK, took my card and money and did his thing. The old guy beside me was smiling and patting me on the back telling me that my "Chinese was good" or something to that effect. He could have be telling me he wanted me to come home and be his love child for all knew. I just used the few phrases I knew..I don't understand, my Chinese is bad, I can speak a little Chinese. Well he got bored pretty quick when our attempted conversation fizzled before it started and off he went. The shop keeper handed me my card, smiled and said thank you and off I went.

I stood on the steps of the shop feeling like a champ and said out loud and in English "shit, I just bought gas in China". I guess it was loud enough that the 3 people passing by looked up at me, and then started laughing. I am sure I heard La Wei (foreigner). Whatever, I just ordered and paid for gas in China!!

I ordered food that gives me gas and I bought gas that allows me to cook my food. The circle of life.