Order from China before everyone starts doing so – episode 3

So what did finally happen after my initial enthusiasm in episode 2, ordering the cheap phone I was looking for on a Chinese website? Well, I received the phone and it works. However, it took me 7 weeks alltogether to get to this point, and here’s why.

First, the Paypal payment didn’t go as smoothly as planned. I found out I had this message waiting for me on their website, logging in after a few days of wondering why I hadn’t received a single notification email:


Which is true, however I never knew that was a problem. It took us a few iterations back and forth to figure out a workaround:

– “how about we refund you this order and you pay us via western union?” did not suit me. Western Union is not a cheap option.
– ” I can also send official ID document showing my postal address in Morocco (attached)” did not suit them.
– “we will refund you first and you can pay us via credit card by alipay” was fine with me, but I never found the option to pay via Alipay. Alipay being the Chinese Paypal.

Finally we got to the solution: 1/ They refund. 2/ I pay via Paypal for an “extra freight fee” for  the same amount, using the Paypal address for this virtual merchandise. And 3/ The initial purchase is paid for using N°2 and shipped to my not-the-Paypal-address real address. Everyone ends up happy, even Paypal.

So the package finally shipped via Singapore Post 3 weeks after the initial order date. A few days later, the SingPost status became “Arrived at overseas (Country code: DE)”. Good, I thought, it’s somewhere in Germany, a 3-hour direct-flight away. But that’s not how it works, cheap postage meaning slow service. And this is also where tracking ends: “Arrived at overseas”.

The package finally arrived in Morocco 2 weeks later, with a notification in my mailbox telling me to go to the central parcels postoffice to collect my package. Read “Go pay for import taxes first”. Not a problem, I told myself, this is Morocco, we’ll talk this out. I sent the doorman with about $10 to talk this out in the right language. He came back to me with the price to pay written on the back of the notification. I went over to talk this out with the customs guy, confident that I’d convince him that $30 VAT was really too expensive for a cheap Chinese phone, and that really, I didn’t need a receipt. It didn’t work. I talked to 10 different clerks and ended up paying the $37 for VAT and 1-week storage. And I didn’t get a receipt, because “the system is down”. I build systems, what can I say.

Not exactly a seamless process, you’ll say, but hey, I’m experimenting. And I’d finally received my package and I was excited. A guy like me gets excited over this:


But what about the content? It’s a 4” android smartphone that makes calls and sends emails through wifi and 3G. It’s Chinese. This means that it has dozens of Chinese apps preinstalled. Which I uninstalled, except for the Chinese weather channel widget which I found cool. It means that it has a custom Android installed which does not connect to your Google account. It does not have the Google App Store installed, and you can’t install it. At least not seamlessly. And the English locale is Chinglish, mixed with a French locale I added, which ends up in a result I find refreshing.

But I’m not the end user. Is my wife happy with this new phone? Yes, as my son had just inadvertently hidden the battery of the temporary one she was using and she desperately needed a phone. Plus, it has an orange back which is cool, and the final verdict was: “well, it’s pretty much a cousin of the iphone”. Will I do this again? Yes of course, searching for a better route to get it over here. To be continued, therefore…


One comment on “Order from China before everyone starts doing so – episode 3
  1. tessier says:

    Excellent !

    I like very much your blog… I read it as a novel altough I learn a lot.

    Keep on going !

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