Friday, April 16, 2010

Cheap calls to China

With good friends in China, we'd occasionally like to talk on the phone with them, but charges for calling to Beijing and Shanghai can be obscenely expensive. Our local phone company wants $6.60 per minute. No way! If we have a monthly international calling plan, we can call more cheaply, but we pay the charge even if we don't make any calls one month.

It would cost 89 cents a minute to call on our cell phones, but then my husband and I can't be on the line at the same time.

I searched online for cheap calls to China, and found some services that charge a couple of cents a minute. Now we're talking! But on closer investigation, I found they charge a connect fee which can be up to a dollar (or more) per call, and a monthly user fee to maintain your account. Plus, you have to buy a minimum $25 calling card. This is all certainly better than what our local phone company charges, but the plans either don't allow you to call cell phones or want more money. Cell phones are all our friends have.

But I found something even better, and at Walgreen's of all places. I usually buy refills there for oiur pay-as-you-go cell phones because the reloads are easiest with their system.

On the rack, tucked in with dozen of cell and landline phone cards, was Walgreen's very own international phone card. There are no connection or monthly user fees. The card comes in $10 and $25; I got the $10 just to see how it works. Wow!

The card says it costs 8 cents a minute to call China, but I'm wondering . . . We've called Beijing a couple of times already, and talked for several minutes each time. The first call was 35 cents, and the second call, which we thought was longer, was only 20 cents. Heck, it costs us 10 cents a minute just to call Seattle and that's only 200 miles away!

If you have need to call China or other countries, I'd recommend looking into the Walgreen's card to see if it will work as well for you. (Note the photo above is a pay phone booth in Beijing.)

If you're planning a trip to China, be sure to check out my website. And if you have questions about travel to the Middle Kingdom, email me and I'll try to answer them.

(NOTE: Per FTC regulations, I am required to report if I earned or will earn any money by endorsing this calling card. The answer is no.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kaifeng, China

Kaifeng is an ancient city in central China about an hour or so from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province.

Kaifeng was an early capital of China, but it's more well known today as being the Jewish capital of China. It was the first city in China where the Jews settled when they arrived after journeying along the Silk Road during the Song Dynasty.

I've been to Kaifeng twice, the first time with a Jewish friend who wanted to see what remained of the city's Jewish heritage. Very little, as it turns out. A Chinese co-worker in Beijing made arrangements with a friend who worked for the tourist office in Kaifeng to show us around. Mostly he pointed out spots where Jewish buildings used to be, such as a hospital now standing where once stood a synagogue.

The New York Times' travel section has just published an article on Jewish Kaifeng,w hich is worth reading. Also worth reading is Peony, a novel by Pearl Buck, about a Chinese Jewish family.

Kaifeng is worth visiting even if you're not making a pilgrimage to Judaism. It has lovely parks, an ancient shopping street where you can identify the merchants by the statues about his door, and wonderful hui mian or mutton noddles, which is a local specialty dish. The picture above is a close-up of tiles on Kaifeng's Iron Pagoda.

For more information about traveling in China, especially the Beijing area, please see my website. If you have questions about China, please email me. I've also written several guidebooks on Beijing; be sure to check them out at