Booking Trips on Ctrip.com

While writing about the Dragon Boat Festival I found myself getting off topic by talking too much about Ctrip.com. If you’re going to live in China (or even if you’re just visiting), you should get familiar with Ctrip – the Skyscanner of China. You can download their app or just use their website that’s available in multiple languages including English.

As soon as you can you should sign up for an account to start collecting benefits. Any time you book a trip, you’ll get points towards accommodation, etc. What makes Ctrip truly great is that it’s not only for booking flights, train tickets or hotels. They also offer tours and information on things to do around China. Occasionally, they also offer great deals on packaged trips to nearby countries that include transportation and accommodation.

Things that are good to know about Ctrip:

  • If you’re searching for flights you always have the option of choosing multiple cities.
  • You can find hostels and hotels that aren’t even available on Western websites.
  • It remembers your passenger information which makes it easier to book flights. You can add up to several passengers to automatically input all of their info.
  • Flights from Shanghai to Beijing are generally cheaper than trains from Shanghai to Beijing.
  • You can’t book train tickets until 60 or sometimes 30 days before the trip. It will tell you the exact date and time that booking will become available. If it’s on a weekend or during a holiday, tickets will sell out fast… and I mean FAST.
  • Sometimes there are problems booking a flight on your phone. This can be solved by calling them and having them do the booking for you, which is time consuming but effective.
  • It’s very easy to cancel tickets and you get refunded immediately. Keep in mind that you don’t get the booking fee back.
  • Once or twice I saw better deals on Ctrip than on Skyscanner. Skyscanner does search Ctrip’s website, but if you’re flying within China you might as well search directly on Ctrip. However Skyscanner can be better if you’re flexible because by searching “everywhere”, “entire month” or “cheapest month” you can find the absolutely lowest price.

Ctrip is a truly great website that you should take advantage of. If you know any tips or hacks for using it, please share in the comment section below!

 

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Chinese Hair Salons: Cheap Haircuts, Pricey Hair Coloring

I’m the type of person who puts off getting a haircut in fear of a hairdresser butchering my hair. This fear is magnified in a country where I can’t communicate properly with the man holding the scissors – which is my fault, but that’s not the point. Getting a haircut in China involves repeatedly showing the same photo while everyone in the salon stares at you like you’re an alien.

Some unexpected facts about Chinese hair salons (at least those in Huaqiao):

  • 90% of the hairdressers are men! In fact, the closest salon to my house ONLY has male hairdressers and they are all great (and super stylish.)
  • Haircuts are insanely cheap, usually between 20 and 40 RMB (an average of $5).
  • Men and women pay the same fee for a haircut. My husband and I went in together, my knotted hair required three washes and 5x as more product and took four times as long as his trim. We each paid 30 RMB…
  • Many long-haired Chinese women get their hair washed at a hair salon. Our Chinese friend was shocked when I said I washed it myself. His wife goes for salon washes 2 or 3 times a week.
  • While haircuts are insanely cheap, hair coloring is extremely expensive in comparison and depends on the length of hair. So while a haircut will cost 30 RMB ($5), dyeing a full head of hair will cost around 1,000 RMB ($150). Luckily, you can do it yourself using quality products for around $10.
  • They don’t rush to sweep cut hair off the floor the way they do in the West. Expect to see piles of hair on the floor when you walk in.
  • There are as many salons around China as there are pubs in Prague!

If you hate getting your hair cut like I do, just know that you have nothing to worry about in China. As long as you explain exactly what you want, they will do exactly that. So far I’ve had better experiences here than in Prague where they always cut too much or Hawaii where they refused to cut as much as I asked them to.

Electronics Market in Huaqiao

The famous Huaqiao electronics market is located just a few minutes walk from Zhaofeng Road metro station (line 11). You don’t even have to be a tech nerd to appreciate the hundreds of stalls selling everything from phones, laptops, cameras and all the individual bits and pieces required to build it all yourself.

Flashing neon signs and the typical chatter of bartering customers give the market a lively atmosphere. It’s a fun place to visit even if you’re just passing through, but it’s a great place to buy a phone or get your laptop fixed. Prices are low and the service is great. Unfortunately, no one at the market specializes in cleaning Mongolian sand out of my DSLR Nikon camera.

You can get to the electronics market by taking a bus: 100, 101 and 228 all go from the emart stop to the Zhaofeng transportation hub. You can also just take the metro a few stops. From there, you need to walk past KFC about two blocks until you get to a large building filled with all the electronic goodies that you can possibly imagine.

Huaqiao Off the Beaten Path (PHOTOS)

What happens when already live off the beaten path? Find something even more unusual! (PHOTOS)

First of all, Huaqiao is an entire city that’s off the beaten path. It’s an economic development zone right outside the Shanghai boarder. It’s a city within a city and it’s more like a village with high-rise residential buildings anyway.

The central areas of Huaqiao are modern with plenty of fancy restaurants. The main street is busy with cars, e-bikes and people rushing about their business. Just parallel to the busy, lined-with-skyscrapers street, is a farming wonderland where people live physically harder but in a way more relaxed and rewarding lives!

I found this place by accident while searching for a long-cut on my way to Kang Chiao International School.

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Half of these streets don’t even exist on Google maps.

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The houses here are fascinating. Huge, colorful and with a strange hybrid architecture.

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Farming can be beautifully messy!

The first time I got lost here, I didn’t have my DSLR. So I came back on the weekend and this time, we traveled in style!

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It’s not even a motorcycle… it’s electric. But it still makes us look cool!

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We just loved this mysterious door that didn’t even close…

Back to the beautiful buildings…

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Did you know that the norm in China is living with your entire extended family? That’s why the houses are so big.

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It is generally really cold inside these houses during winter time since there is no central heating. This makes drying laundry really hard! That’s why a bit of sunshine is the best way to dry everything.

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This is a Buddhist style shrine!

It’s not all sunshine and roses 😦

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But the houses are SOOOOO interesting and beautiful!

After the crops are harvested, they are transported using these electric vehicles…

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Then the food ends up in markets like these.

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Don’t let the spiderwebs scare you away. There may be no health regulations but the locals shop here. Everything is home-grown, fresh and delicious. We’ve even bought meat at markets like this and we’ve never gotten sick!

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Thanks for reading (and picture looking). Feel free to leave comments below!

Introducing the Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association

The Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association aims to help foreigners feel at home and bring us together with locals to expose them to the English language. Learn more about the association and it’s goals.

Last night the Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association had their first official party! It was basically a meet-and-greet where teachers from Kang Chiao and other foreigners living in Huaqiao got to meet and discuss a mutually beneficial partnership with the local government.

The ultimate goal is to make Huaqiao a better place for everyone who lives here. The local government wants to give us a space to hang out, work out in and give us the ability to transform it based on our needs. In return, a few volunteers are asked to engage in weekend activities with local children!

It was an intimate party with plenty of food, beer and fun to go around! We enjoyed a great buffet, X-box games, snooker and pink pong, all while discussing future activities in Huaqiao and volunteer opportunities for foreigners. In celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year, we had a special guest calligrapher who made us beautiful couplets.

For those of you who don’t know, couplets are basically lines of poetry hung on one’s door to ensure good luck and fortune in the upcoming year. We have already hung ours up! Unfortunately our door is positioned so our couplets are skewed, but hopefully our year will still be right on point!20170120_133900

Once our bellies were full and we were all tired out from being fruit-slicing ninjas, we discussed how to make Huaqiao a better place. There will be many events organized by the local government that foreigners will be welcome to join, including singing competition, language exchanges and many more events.

We also passed around the volunteering sign-up sheet. So far, ten teachers are interested in spending one or two hours volunteering with children on given weekends. Once we’re all back from the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), we will make a schedule where volunteers will be asked when they are free and events will be organized.

These upcoming events will bring together locals and foreigners in a variety of activities. Most of the volunteering will involve taking kids to the park (with their parents and local volunteers in tow) and playing games to expose them to foreigners and the English language.

Huaqiao is lucky to have three beautiful large parks and they are very different from what Westerners might expect. The parks are huge with lots of man-made bodies of water, intricate arched bridges and bird watching huts. Volunteers will get to discover these parks and many other great places in Huaqiao.

The Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association is still at an early stage of development. Right now the main goal is to figure out what the foreign community needs to be happier in Huaqiao. Then we will work together with the local government to make it happen. This is going to be a long-term project and it has to start somewhere!

If you live in Huaqiao and want to contribute, please join our WeChat group. Together, we can make Huaqiao more than just a place where we live and work. Let’s make Huaqiao a place to call home!

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Check out some photos from the event!

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See you next time!

11 Bar: the Only Bar in Huaqiao

We finally have a bar in Huaqiao! Here’s why it’s a big deal…

What so many foreigners have missed in Huaqiao has been a place where the staff know you and speak your language. Where you can meet with your friends after work or on the weekend and order “the usual”. 11 Bar is a place that makes us feel at home, whether we came to China from the US, Europe or Australia.

Named after it’s location on metro line, 11 Bar is the only authentic bar in Huaqiao! It opened on December 2016 and is located right by Zhaofeng road, close to Huaqiao’s boarder with Shanghai. It welcomes foreigners and locals to enjoy delicious draft beer, quality cocktails and a great intimate atmosphere.

Quick geography and history lesson

Huaqiao is a city within a larger city called Kunshan. It is defined as an economic development zone with a steadily rising population of Chinese people and foreigners alike. The Chinese population is attracted by factory work and cheap rent with a relatively short commute to Shanghai. 90% of the foreigners are here because of Kang Chiao International School.

The area is constantly growing but still has a long way to go. Several years ago there was a surge of new businesses popping up. Unfortunately there weren’t enough people to keep all of them open. That is why today, some areas of Huaqiao resemble a ghost town. But this is quickly changing!

Why we love 11 Bar

After so many independently-run businesses failed, people became hesitant to try again. That is, until Tony decided to create the perfect hang out spot with an ideal location. He runs the bar as a hobby whenever he’s not at his full time job. More importantly, he is single handedly bridging the gap between locals and foreigners in Huaqiao.

If you’ve never been to a city like Huaqiao then you might not understand why we’re all so excited about this place. Coming from a city where bars and pubs litter every corner, it’s been hard to adjust to not having any at all. We’ve been hanging out and playing beer pong in grocery stores to compensate, but it’s just no the same.

Western-style drinks and service

11 Bar serves cocktails and draft beer, which are hard to find outside of Shanghai. The prices are great too, 30 RMB ($4.5) for a pint of draft Tiger beer and 35 RMB ($5) for most cocktails. If you get the munchies you can order some fried chicken or fish to enjoy with your beer.

Aside an extensive drink menu and friendly staff, there is also a great sound system, a flat screen TV and high speed internet. It’s a great place to watch sports, have a dance party or simply blast your favorite tunes all night long! What more can you ask for?

11 Bar might be one of the first places where foreigners can meet and get to know locals, but it most certainty won’t be the last. My next post will be about the Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association and their initiative to bring together locals and foreigners! Stay tuned.

Living in Huaqiao: Cooking your own Food (Guest Post)

Strawberry season, and other tips about shopping in Huaqiao!

Written by Olivia Hall, this chapter of the KCIS Survival Guide. This guide was sent to all new teachers coming to teach at the Kang Chiao International School in Huaqiao.

Where and how to buy your own groceries, cooking utensils and supplies:

Local Supermarkets:

E Mart:

Where: Lu Di Da Dao

What: Wide range of basic household supplies and groceries including fruit, veggies, snacks, meat and some dairy.

Wet Market:

Where: W Ring Road, off Lu Di Da Dao, close to the school (near colorful apartments).

What: Fresh fruit, veggies and meat in an open style market.

RT Mart:

Where: Anting Mall

What: Larger version of E Mart with a little more variety including meat and dairy products.

Metro:

Where: Take the metro to Malu station then take any bus a couple of stops. The signs are blue and yellow!

What: Similar to E Mart and RT Mart, with a few more imported goods.

City Shop:

Where: Take the metro to Nanxiang Mall

What: Similar to Metro with even more imported items.

Shanghai Supermarkets

Carrefour:

Where: Zhongshan Park Metro station in the B1 level of the ‘Cloud Nine’ Mall.

What: Originating in France, you can now find Carrefour around the world. Its basically a western supermarket. You can pick up your tobacco sauce or a selection of cheeses.

Avocado Lady:

Where:274 Wulumuqi Lu, near the Changsu Lu metro station.

What: Fresh produce and lots of imported items. There’s almost a cult following among foreigners in Shanghai for the Avocado Lady!

Online Options

Fields:

Where: http://www.fieldschina.com

What: Online grocery store that delivers to KCISEC.

Kate and Kimi:

Where: http://www.kateandkimi.com

What: Online Shanghai based grocery store. Also delivers to the school.

Furniture and Houseware

E Mart, RT Mart and Metro all have basic housing essentials such as duvets, pillows, cutlery and cleaning products. For further specialty items try:

IKEA:

Where: Exit 7, Shanghai Indoor Stadium (Shanghai Gymnasium on Google maps). Follow Coaxi Road under the elevated road 100m.

What: House hold goods galore.

HCE Hotel & Catering Equipment:

Where : 345 Aomen Road Changshou Lu metro station

What: This store is open to the public but actually supplies all of the restaurants and hotels in Shanghai with their cooking supplies and tableware. If you’re a banking fan, you can get anything from muffin tins to pots you could cook a buffalo in.

Toabao:

Where: http://www.taobao.com

What: Online EVERYTHING store but advertising is by private sellers so you deal with different people and companies for each purchase you make. You’ll need a Chinese speaker to help you out!

JD.com:

Where: http://www.jd.com

What: Similar to Taobao but the closest distribution center is actually in Huaqiao; you’ll see employees commuting to work on their scooters in the mornings. You can buy all sorts on here including pianos!

Strawberries: The Light at the End of the Long Winter Tunnel

Let’s be honest, winter is pretty long and brutal here! Last year we worked from October to February with next to no holidays and it was rough! Luckily, we have a solid week off for Christmas this year. Strawberry season is also something to look forward to during the dark days of winter! From March onward you’ll find no shortage of farm fold out (especially in front of E-mart) with baskets of fresh strawberries ready to sell!