Archive | Travel

I take it all back about Charles Schwab, onward with Fidelity

tl;dr version: Schwab is NOT a good choice for international travelers, use Fidelity instead.

I blogged about switching to Schwab for my banking needs while temporarily living outside the U.S., well, I spoke too soon.

While we were in Hualien for the Taroko half marathon, I got errors trying to withdraw from ATMs with my Schwab card. I called Schwab and was told I had to call the verification department to remove restrictions placed on my accounts. I called the following Monday (their verification department has normal business hours, not 24/7 like their customer service), and this was what happened:

  • When I applied for the Schwab account, I came from a Taiwan IP address
  • I was told the Schwab One Brokerage and Investor Checking accounts are only for U.S. residents living in the United States
  • I have to go into a Schwab location in the States, in person, with 2 forms of identification to verify the account
  • If I couldn’t do that, I could either close the account, or convert it to an International Schwab account, which takes a long time to open and is not really the same thing
  • It doesn’t matter that I am a U.S. Citizen, they said to comply with whatever banking regulations they couldn’t allow account holders living outside the United States, even temporarily
  • Even if I was able to walk in to verify the account this time, if I use foreign ATMs too many times they could potentially re-lock the account without notice and I would have to do the verification in person all over again

This is total bull, if their policy is such that you can’t open accounts with foreign IPs without in-person verification, they should’ve blocked the application until it was verified. However they let me open it, transferred in money, even ACATS in stocks from another brokerage account. They also sent me a box of checks and even sent me the debit/ATM card via FedEx to Taiwan! I could access the account online and with the iPhone app, used the ATM card as normal for almost a month, AND THEN locked me out of everything all the sudden without warnings.

Fortunately I played it safe and hadn’t switched to Schwab as my primary bank yet, so not having access to that cash and not able to trade wasn’t a huge deal. All my holdings are long-term, so I didn’t get screwed too badly. HOWEVER, after the election there was actually a decent selloff, and the portfolio value dipped over 20%, I could not do anything about it, but since they’re very long shares, I probably wouldn’t have done anything about it either.

My main reason for choosing and recommending Schwab was foreign ATM transactions fees refunds while traveling internationally, but fact that they would lock the accounts randomly due to out-of-States usage makes Schwab a HORRIBLE choice. So, if you plan to travel outside U.S. for an extended period of time, do not count on being able to access your Schwab account.

I ended up opening a Fidelity account with similar offerings, and transferred everything from Schwab to it. I used a VPN with a U.S. IP address close to my U.S. mailing address to do the application this time just in case. I had to call Fidelity once with a few questions, and was told they wouldn’t care even if I lived permanently outside the U.S., I can have the accounts as long as I am a citizen.

Also, with Schwab, every time I setup an account for ETF transfer, I had to call them to finalize the link even after I typed in the verification deposit amounts. It was pretty annoying but I only had to do that once per account I wanted to setup ETF for. When I applied for the Schwab account I enabled Bill Pay in the application, but it was never automatically setup. I had to call and it took 3 weeks to get working. Fidelity’s setup process has been a lot more seamless.

And just to avoid any accidental account lock-ups, while traveling outside your home area, it’s best to use a VPN with an IP address close to home to access financial sites and iOS apps. I’m trying Astrill with an IP from Los Angeles, where my Virtual Post Mail virtual address is.

Finally closing all bank/brokerage accounts with virtual keyboards

UPDATE: I don’t recommend Schwab anymore

4 years ago I blogged about how much I hated financial sites with virtual keyboards. They are inconvenient, and they encourage shorter, easier to type, less secure passwords. Also 1Password can’t automatically fill them. I tweeted about it once and @tradeking replied and said it was to prevent keyloggers. While that might be true, it certainly didn’t prevent the guy behind me on a plane or at a coffeeshop from knowing my password.

I recently opened a Schwab account mainly because they refund all international ATM fees with no minimum balance requirements, and no fees whatsoever. I love them so much I ACATed my TradeKing account over, and I will also be moving funds from 2 other online checking/savings accounts and then closing them when the transfers complete. So now with HSBC and TradeKing gone, I no longer have to tolerate virtual keyboards.

If you’re not completely happy with your bank, I highly recommend Schwab. Also take a look at Fidelity, they have similar offerings and an AMEX 2% cashback card. Schwab had a 2% visa signature card a couple of years back, but it is now gone.

Sand Harbor near Incline Village

We rode Northstar last Saturday and we went around the east side of the lake to go back to our cabin in South Lake. There were constructions on 28 and traffic was bad, so we stopped by Sand Harbor to take a few photos and picked up a few giant pine cones.

Couple drinking wine and chilling with their dog:

Sand Harbor (by Andrew Ng Images)

Pine cones:

Sand Harbor (by Andrew Ng Images)

These were both shot with a circular polarizer, graduated filters in ACR were used to adjust exposure of sky and beach. They were shot at f/22, at small apertures like this I see quite a bit of dusts in the frame, so dust removal was also done in ACR.

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This is pretty crazy

The San Jose Mercury News reports that a 47 year old man named Jing Hua Wu, after being laid off from his job at a fabless digital radio semiconductor startup in Santa Clara called SiPort, came back to the office on Friday afternoon with a gun and killed three people. Sid Agrawal, the company?s CEO, and Brian Pugh, VP Operations, were killed along with one other as yet unidentified woman. Wu is still at large according to the latest reports.

[From A Sad Day In Silicon Valley]

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trip to Taipei and Shanghai

It’s been a while since I put up a real post, my daily Twitter digests took up the first page of my blog quickly.

I’ve always considered moving to China, or Asia in general, to do startups or consulting. Our friend Jimmy decided to go to business school in Shanghai, so I went there to check out the city and to see how are things there. I hadn’t been to China for over 10 years. Before that we stopped by Taipei as Sherry had to be there to help her mom purchase an investment property in her name.

Other than the extremely humid and hot weather it was a great trip. Taipei is really growing on me, the food and the shopping are pretty decent. Tuan Tuan had most of the brands I like: N(N), UC, Margiela, Hysteric Glamour, CDG, etc. There is also an Undecover store that is always fun to visit. I was in Taipei on the Olympic opening day, but I missed the broadcast as I was jetlagged and pretty much passed out after watching part of the parade.

We flew from Taipei to Shanghai, and with EVA airline now you can fly direct! Well, the plane still goes over to Hong Kong and then back up, but it doesn’t have to stop at Hong Kong. So the flight now is only about 2 and a half hours, before it takes pretty much the whole day to travel from Taiwan to Shanghai as you would have to land in Hong Kong and then take off later, and Hong Kong is a pretty busy airport so that takes a while.

Maglev ticket
Shanghai Maglev at 417km/h

We got off the plane at PVG and got on the Maglev, it was a pretty cool experience, the train went up to 430km/h (~269mph), and took only 6 minutes to get to the middle of Shanghai, I believe the distance is about 18.6 miles. (on our way back to PVG the train didn’t go nearly as fast, not sure why).

We spent a day in Shanghai and then went to West Lake (??),a famous fresh water lake in Hangzhou. The first night in Shanghai we went out with Jimmy and went to a the German theme bar in Xin Tian Di (???), we were pretty tired from traveling and just had a few beer there. The band there was really terrible that night. Xin Tian Di was a really nice area to hang out though, it pretty much feels like you’re in the States, they have cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating and shops like Shanghai Tang.

West Lake was gorgeous, although it was really too hot for sightseeing. We stayed at the Hyatt right on the lake, our room got the lake view and the hotel was really nice (great A/C too obviously). I definitely will go back when the weather is cooler. Most of the trip I didn’t carry my SLR with me, but I had it with me when we toured around West Lake:

?? ???? ????

After we got back to Shanghai we spent most of our time sightseeing, eating, and we also went out with Jimmy pretty much every night. First we went to Bar Rouge, it’s on top of the famous Peace Hotel (????) at Bund 18. The patio offers great view of the Pudong side, they turn off the lights of the buildings, including the Oriental Pearl Tower (?????), at 11pm though, so if you’re gonna hit up a place at the Bund to check out the view make sure you get there before that. Snapshot of The Bund with my digicam, I brought my tripod to Asia but never got to use it:

?? (The Bund)

The highlight for us at Bar Rouge wasn’t the view of Pudong, it was observing how the Shanghainese “pros” work the bar. It was really efficient, they approached mostly foreigners, most of them look like they had never been in a lounge/bar/club before, started dancing with them closely within a few seconds, and in a few minutes they’d start making out, in about 15 minutes they would leave together. We were all pretty shocked, and that was everywhere around the bar!

The Bund from Pudong
The Bund, taken from outside Häagen-Dazs.

The next night we went to the Pudong side for coffee at Häagen-Dazs, the place was right on the river and you could see The Bund from it. After that we hit up Muse, a club owned by a Hong Kong actress, our friend knew someone there and hooked us up, had a few drinks and played dice at a table, Chinese-style clubbing experience. I read on SuFu that the best place was Guandi, but we couldn’t find it, maybe it closed. So the next night we went to G-Plus, a relatively new club at Xin Tian Di. The place was nice, huge and they had a nice DJ there that night. At around 1 the bartenders lit the bars on fire and poured free shots. I got that on video:

The coolest area we visited was Taikang Lu(???), it offers art-influenced shopping from up-and-coming artists. It maintains the original old Shanghainese buildings, and you would see people’s houses/apartments right next to remodeled store units. There are also quite a few restaurants and bars that offer outdoor seating, possibly a great place to hang out in the evenings when it’s not as hot.

Our last night there we hit up a place called People 7, I found it from reading the Shanghai thread on superjetset. It was one of the coolest bars I’ve been to. To open the door you have to figure out which 2 lanterns to place your hands into. The place was Taiwanese-owned, they have a couple bars in Taipei as well.

at People 7
jimmyjam x ayn at People 7

We spent another day in Taipei, didn’t do much that day, went to Orange (?????) for some really good shabushabu. I didn’t take any pictures of the food but this guy took some great ones. After dinner we stopped by the Audio-Technica store to auditioned the ATH-A900’s. They were highly recommended by my headfi friend Steve. I’ve wanted to check those out for over 4 years and never got a chance to. They sounded great, so I picked up a pair. They could be had for a bit cheaper online here in the States but I got to audition them there with proper source and their service was great. They also threw in 2 A-T cable organizers. Over the ears closed cans are much more suitable for using at home than my custom in-ear monitors. Also other people can use them as they’re not customized to my ear canals like my IEMs.

Internet access is kindda important to me, especially when I couldn’t yet unlock my iPhone 3G to use in Taiwan and China. In Taipei pretty much anywhere you go within the city limit you can get WiFi via WiFly. You can get access cards with username and password for daily usage for about $3 USD at any Starbucks. There are other plans that are all dirt cheap, like an annual unlimited plan for iPod Touch for about $33 USD. In Shanghai we found free wifi at all Coffee Beans & Tea Leaf locations, Cafe du Paris, Esy Cafe in Taikang Lu, and another coffee chain that I can’t remember the name right now. They have paid wifi at all Starbucks and I believe McD as well, but it was hard to pay for access without a Chinese cellphone (or SIM card). Part of the Taiwan airport has free wifi as well. One thing I found strange was that most stores in China don’t accept credit cards like VISA, MC, or AMEX. Even a Nike store didn’t take them. If you have a Chinese bank account they have something like our debit cards that is accepted at a lot of places, I believe the taxis also take those. btw, taxi in Shanghai is really really cheap, a 30-minute ride (maybe around 20 miles?) costs only about $6 USD.

I brought my running gears there but only ran once, and it was only a 5-mile run. The main problem was that I didn’t know the places and routes well enough to do more than that. Even with the 5 miles I had to loop around the same area a few times. In SF I can easily run 10+ miles by going half of that one way and just turn back. My favorite route is from my apartment in North Beach out to the Wharf, up toward Fort Mason, down to the Marina and then out to Crissy Fields and the Golden Gate Bridge, the view is spectacular.

It’s a shame that I didn’t really get a chance to check out the high tech and startup/business scenes in China. Next time I go there I’ll have to setup some meetings first. This is about it for now, I have more updates to post but I will save those for another time. I am typing this up 4am in the morning as I went to bed at 10pm and got up at around 3am. I am still a bit jetlagged.

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