Field Notes from Xiamen, China

January 13, 2008

If you don’t travel to China, you don’t realize how important reading your favorite blogs can be.   In my last post, I mentioned how they charged us over 200 to 350% more than other nationals for a visa, but that was only the beginning of the Chinese shock-and-awe.

The Chinese government has blocked access to most all major blog sites, so while in China I could not read or access any blogs, including this one. 

In addition, Wikipedia is blocked.   You don’t realize how much you depend on Wikipedia until it is blocked!

Also, you can exchange US Dollars for Chinese Yuan (RMB or CNY) easily, but it is practically impossible to change back Chinese Yuan back to US Dollars.   In fact, the General Manager of our hotel told me it was illegal, under Chinese law, for hotels (and most places except the mostly closed Bank of China) to change Chinese Yuan to Dollars, but they can, by law, change USD to CNY.    The Chinese system is designed to take your money, so be careful!  

Making matters more bizarre, the exchange rate for USD to CNY was about 7.4 CNY to one USD; but in Bangkok, the banks only give around 3.5 Thai Baht for one Chinese Yuan, effectively giving you a greater than 20% haircut (should be around 4.5 Thai Baht per CNY as the current rate is about 33.2 Thai Baht per USD).

Needless to say, we were quite happy to return to Thailand, where foreigners are warmly welcomed, you can access the entire Internet and the government does not have a system to disgorge you of your money in foreign exchange.

So the bottom line of this field report is that China can be a quite a hostile place for foreigners.  Beware!