Category Kunming

“My Corona!”

It all began Jan 21st 2020. The day my dad passed and I was contacted in China of his death. I quickly made plans to return to California to make his arrangements being the successor trustee of the Hendler Trust.

I was able to book the next flight to LAX which was on Jan 23rd. We arrived in LA on the 24th. The next day LAX began careful screening for the coronavirus that had just been announced by the Chinese. People from China were quarantined or forced to return to China. We just made it hours before!

My return to China was scheduled for Feb 16, which was cancelled by Cathay Pacific. I rebooked the return for April 6th.

After the business of having final services for my Dad, we stayed in California until Mar 2nd, when we decided to drive to Texas where our friends graciously put us up to stay with them until my flight for Apr 6 was due.

This coronavirus has gotten worse by the day to the point of my flight being cancelled agin, with no option to rebook it. Travel all over the world has shut down and people no longer able to go anywhere. So at this point they are saying 4-6 months before restrictions can be lifted.

So here we are, no hope to return home in the foreseeable future. I will make updates to this story as we go.


March 28th 2020.

Cathay Pacific sent me email a week ago cancelling my new Apr 6th departure. Four days later, another email saying they changed my departure from Apr 6th to April 5th. Now today another email confirming my April 5th date, but once I get to HK, I will not be allowed into HK, nor can I transfer to my flight to Kunming! WTH???

I called Cathay Pacific and told them change my flight to May. They told me no more flights until at least June! So I rebooked June 2nd at this point. I will h,ave 2 more months stranded in the USA at least.

April 18,2020

We just rented a house in Laguna Beach for May 1st. So we will drive back to California and stay to hopefully return to China in June.

Now I have to contact the IRS since we did not received our stimulas check as expected. We should have got $2400 like most of my friends have already received.

May 20,2020

Living in Laguna since May 1st. Things are all closed around here, even the beaches! My return flight cancelled again, so I made a new booking for July 1. We will be forced to stay another month in the US, unless it also gets cancelled. I am trying to contact the Chinese Embassy in LA and see what they can do in my case to insure we can travel home on July 1st. This last few days has some businesses opening and also have limited beach access now. IRS never contacted me and I doubt I will ever see this stimulos check. We will be moving to another condo June 1st since this place want to double my rent for next month. California is in a sad state of affairs.

July 9,2020

We just relocated to Laguna Woods after receiving another email from Cathay Pacific cancelling our flight home again. This is the 3rd time it has been cancelled.

I rebooked our flight, this time for Oct 2. CP informed me that I will now have to pay an additional $2300 to rebook this ticket! However after having a talk with them, they decided to waive this fee and did rebook our flights.

All the while this is going on, I am watching the US move into violent civil war. Democrat led cities are moving to defund police and warn citizens that personal safety will be upon each individual to address. Our country is under attack by George Soros funded groups hell bent to destroy this country from within. I was lucky enough to find and purchase a military type weapon and arm myself to protect me until I can leave. It was a miracle I was able to get one. Guns and ammunition are almost non-existant in the US now. Millions are buying up anything they can get. Much like the toilet paper madness a few months earlier.

As we get closer to elections, I fear this violence will only intensify. I predict that right after elections, large scale violence will ensue.

I only wish I could get out of here and go back home.

Aug 30,2020

We just got our flight cancelled a few weeks ago again. So now I will have to reschedule again for December. By now this is all beginning to wear on us. No end in sight to go home. We miss our home and family. Not much elsa to say about it all.

Oct 22,2020

Our Dec flight has been cancelled since the HK to Kunming leg (Dragon Air) has gone bankrupt. Calling Cathay several times through Nov and they still have no solution. I was forced to find and sign a new rental lease to Mar 2021 now. We will move Dec 1 into our new location and continue to wait for a flight and Mia’s visa change to allow her back home.

Oct 14, 2021

I haven’t posted an update in a while just because there is not much to update. We continue to be stuck in the USA since China is still not issuing visas so we can return home. They say MAYBE by Mar 2022 that will change. I just resigned a new 6 months lease and we just continue to wait……..


Apr 28, 2023

Oh joy! We are finally returning home. My visa is finished, and we leave the USA May 1st. Hard to believe this day would ever come. This 3 year nightmare is about to end and we get to go back to our home. See you in China!


July 6,2023

We made it! Got back to China and began working on getting our house back up and running after being mothballed for the past 3.5 years. Lots to do, but all in all it’s in better shape than I expected.


My Townhouse Remodel part 2

Our house is finally finished (for the most part). I’m hard at work tweaking all the automation functions at this point. The pictures are some of the highlights of this house. I received a lot of interest in this project, so I wanted to showcase some of the finished product. Here is an exclusive (for now) preview.

This is a 3 story design 210 sqm, and actually 4 story if you count the roof space. I built in access to the roof where I will eventually add an outside dinning area.

My idea was to mix Chinese and American design throughout. All the infrastructure (electrical and plumbing) is built to commercial American specs. All material was personally purchased and sent to this location for our builder’s use. Very little material was actually used locally. I travelled to USA, HK, Shenzhen, Gaungzhou, Germany and Shanghai to aquire the materials used in this project. I was responsible to inspect and approve every phase of the construction. With over 4000 meters of data cable alone, I had to teach the builders the art of data wire routing and handling. This is just not done in China, well certainly not Kunming. In the end, all the time I spent was well spent.
The result is a solidly built home that should last trouble free for quite some time. You can see some home pictures. I didn’t take too many, but you get the idea.

I spent 3 years on the design and testing of the automation and security systems. The main challenge was integrating electronic systems from several countries so that they all communicated with each other. The systems are all commercial spec and designed as bullet proof as can be made. The breaker pic divides all the house electrical systems properly and everything protected via a custom made arrestor panel from Germany. You will find all houses in China will have a maximum of 5 or 6 CB’s. I have 44 CB’s including EFI’s. Everything is 3 wire, including lighting circuits. China normally uses 2 wire electrical.

I designed this to be a green house, and it’s using 40% of the energy consumed in a normal home. If I turn on every light in my home, it consumes 500 watts of power, about the same as a normal single dinning room light fixture. Water heating is solar and electric. A computer monitors the solar water temp and constantly pumps solar heated water back into my electric heater to maintain 60 C temperature 24/7. The HA picture shows a few screens on my iPad to illustrate the energy monitor. The upper left screen updates every 30 seconds giving me energy use for heating, lighting, appliances. With other software, I can graph this data year by year to monitor and adjust various configurations.

The whole house is controlled manually using iPads and iPhones. I can operate and monitor all the functions from anywhere in the world. Also the house functions automatically without the need for any intervention on my part. All the security and control systems are on an integrated UPS power system that will continue to function 100% for 6 hours should A/C fail. The house even follows my location and knows how far away I am from home. When I get within a certain distance from home, automation systems will react. If it is night time, certain lights will turn on. The security system will disarm and unlock the entry door. Of course the coffee machine will turn on. If a friend is trying to locate my place, I will have outside lights blink so he can find my location in the dark.

I will break down the HA systems by category next.

Security: The HA screens pic (lower right) and the Cams pic is my ipad monitor for security. Cameras are all IP, with PTZ function. Controllable from any location. They sense and record motion events, as well as sound. Via the HA screen, I know the state of all security devices, including main water and gas. The system will respond to any emergency much the same as any security system, but with a few differences. If a fire or burglery occures, I am notified by email and instant phone messages. Same is true with any house malfunctions. For example, if a water or gas leak occurs, the house will shut of the water or gas mains, then notify me of a problem. I can even call into the house and “listen in” to various areas of my house.
The reality of a police response to a home in China is non existant. Therefore I designed the house for “self protection”. The bad guy will find himself very uncomfortable should he gain access inside. I won’t elaborate on this specifically here, but suffice to say, he will want to leave as fast as possible. My experience as a security systems tech for US govt, military weapons facilities, prisons and banks came into play with my house project. The server room pictures show the various systems in operation.

Lighting: LED lights and even wall sockets are automaticaly controlled. The lights are all dimmable (see HA screens top right and bottom left). The house tracks the azimuth of the sun to determine when to activate light automation. Moving around the house will automatically turn lights on and off. The house also uses logic to control the lights functions. It knows when I want to watch the theator, and will close window curtains, drop down the screen, and adjust lights accordingly. If I arm the security system for away mode or sleep mode, it will turn off all lights and appliances. I create program routines the system can pick from based on sensor inputs for many different scenerios. For instance, when I wake up and disarm the security system, the system knows to turn on my coffee machine. It can also give me audio feedback for any given situation.

A/V system: I have whole house audio and video distribution controlled in the server room. I can Play movies or watch TV in different rooms, all controlled in a central location. HDTV is streamed via CAT6 to the various TV’s. Same for music. I use the iPad to select music to play, and which room to play it in. I have about 300 channels of worldwide TV via an IPTV box. Throw away the satellite dishes! This stuff works well here, and the HD is way cool!

That is a pretty fair overview of my home in Kunming. The reaction of visitors to my house is quite positive. In fact, I’m already doing designs for 2 villas in Kunming. I think Chinese people really embrace this style of living and security. The HA market here has a huge potential. Not to mention the fact the savings in energy resources.


My Townhouse Remodel

This post is related to my post “The Art of Realestate in China” posted May 3rd,2010.

I am about 1 month away from everything completed and ready to move in. It has been a long road to reach this point, but joy is soon to be had.

After the physical construction of the building, the interior design work began. We went through a lengthy process before selecting a Kunming remodel company. Most important this involved visiting many construction sights of various remodel companies so I could observe the actual construction methods of the work crews. I was looking at their methods of wiring, plumbing, wall and floor fitting, material quality, building skills and finish. This is the ONLY criteria I used for selecting a remodel company. I had no interest sitting in their sales office and listening  to a bunch of sales talk or looking at the books of remodel pictures. Upon visiting a remodel company, I told them  to give me locations of their current projects. If I liked what I saw, then we can sit down and talk about doing business.

In the end, I did select a company AND a particular work crew from this company. Upon returning to this company’s office, I insisted that ONLY this work crew be assigned to my remodel. They agreed to my request, so the next step was to pick an architect from their company for drawing up our design. Their function for us was to create the plans as opposed to them “creating” a design for us. I already had very specific designs for every centimeter of our property. I also insisted that the A/C wiring and plumbing be installed to my specs (US standards). Drain and sink traps, circuit breaker layouts, jbox and wire splices, water valves, water pipe specs, conduit, and an industrial whole house  lightening surge protection system (German made).

In a nutshell, the concept of our townhouse was that it would be built as a green “Smarthouse”. Totally automated throughout, with my designs certainly exclusive to anywhere in China. This is a project I have though about for a long time, and patiently waited for western technology to catch up to a point of making it a reality. However, now being in China added a high degree of difficulty to this concept. So in order to pull it all off, it required a lot of electronics from the USA, Poland, Germany and China. Adding to the fact that all this mix of tech stuff had to talk and play nice with each other at the same time. I spent over 1 year alone on it’s design and implimentation. This involved numerous travels to these different places to aquire all the hardware and software necessary for this project.

The other challenge was to teach the construction crew the art of running over 3000 meters of low power cable over a three story 200 sq meter townhouse. The wire I used was spec’d by me and I traveled to Shenzhen to visit actual wire factories in order to obtain the exact wire I needed. I found out early that what is printed on the wire cable IS NOT actually what you get! SOP for China I suppose. For you tech heads, I needed a mixture of AWG 22,18,16 wire, RG 6 quad core, Cat 6 with a splash of Cat5e. In the end I used a quality wire company in Shenzhen to obtain it all. Next challenge was the wire routing done the right way as opposed to the Chinese way.  That is to say wire all run through conduit to a central 3 story chase, down to my server room. All this wire is run start to finish with no splices to the head end. All security, data, sensor and control systems are home run to this server room. The crew did an outstanding job of following my directions, and I have over 150 wires laying about in this room now. OK, enough details. So what does this all really mean?

Once I have personally put everything together,  my townhouse will have some smarts. All lighting will be provided with 21vdc LED’s. I had all the LED lights and LED controllers custom made in Shenzhen. The lights are dimmable and can be controlled for any location on earth. Lighting loads in the house will be 10% of what incandesent or CFL lighting requires.  My iPads and iPhones will remotely control the lights, as well as all other functions of the house. In addition to manual control, they will also be controlled via a stand alone Linux based wireless controller networked from within the house. This unit will make intelligent logical decisions for controlling lights, sensors, security systems, CCTV cameras, home theater  water, gas, even down to the electrical sockets. It will also monitor energy usage and climate inside and weather outside the house. It monitors the exact azimuth of the sun depending on the day of the year for lighting purposes.   In addition it will know which parts of the house are occupied and be able to specifically  identify me or my wife. The house will provide information verbally in both Mandarin and English as to the current status of the various systems, emergency conditions, or provide information I may request of it.

So who cares? I suppose that is all subjective, but for me a few things come to mind. First, it is a major challenge I wanted to accomplish for myself. I suppose I just have too much time on my hands. Next, it takes everyday living to a whole new level, and I am sure, a first in China. These things have been done in the western world, but China, at best, has just mastered automation of turning on a light when you enter a room. That’s about it. Then I want to have the ability to operate anything (sans 50 remote controls) from virtually anywhere in the world. Here is a few example scenarios……

1. The house will know when I am within a predefined radius of my house via GPS sensors. At which point it will turn on various lights in the house if it determines it is dark outside either because of the sun’s position and/or weather making the daytime dark. It will also vary the brightness of the lights according to the conditions. Then it will unlock the front door and disable the security system. As I reach the door, I simply push it open and enter a lit house carrying a handful of groceries.  When the house senses I actually entered, it will announce a greeting (English for me and Mandarin for my wife). It will tell me if I have emails and if anyone had come to the house during my absence. I could then request it turn on the TV and display images of whomever approached the house while I was gone.

2. Finished dinner, it’s movie time! One touch of a single button on my iPad and the system will lower the window shades, run through a 3 minute dimming ramp with the theater lights, lower the 110″ projector screen hidden in the ceiling, turn on the projector, sound system, networked media player and get down to business.  At intermission, one button push and the movie is paused, lights come up to 50%, kitchen lights turn on, hey maybe the espresso machine cranks up as well.

3. Bedtime. One button push and all house lights begin a 3 minute ramp to off. Except for the stairway and bedroom lights. The system checks that all windows and doors are secure, turns off the gas and hot water heater. Announces the house status and tells me a countdown when the security system will arm itself in stay mode. 10 minutes later the bedroom lights will slowly dim by the time I’m in bed. If during the night I get out of bed for the bathroom, the system will turn on lights at 20% dim to lead the way to where I am walking (bathroom, downstairs to the kitchen, etc.)

Since the house status is always being monitored, it will know if a water pipe is leaking and in seconds shut off the water main to the house. Then it will send me an email alert, a text message, and voice announcement to inform me of a problem. If someone rings my doorbell, I will get an alert on my iPhone from wherever I am. I can then open my iPhone and see who is standing there via the camera. Now I can instantly talk to them with my iPhone through the house speakers (no phone call needed), and even remotely open the door and disable the alarm for them if I want them to have access.

These are but a few examples of the power with a “Smarthouse”. Automation is limited only by your imagination. I’ve future proofed with extra wiring all around. I’m also thinking about incorporating an RFID system which will be able to identify anyone who may be a guest staying in the house. So then each guest can have their own custom settings working around the house. If they go in the bathroom, their style of music will play and their preferred light level will activate. Same goes for their bedroom. They can use their iPad to select music, movies, lights, etc to their liking while staying in the house.

Once all the initial systems programing is complete, I will add a SIRI voice based control interface. Currently my entire system does not rely on any PC, it  is a stand alone system. In the event of a power failure, the system will not be effected and continue to function normally on battery back up. However, the SIRI control will require a PC server, so I am still working out how to do it without using a failure prone PC. I am looking at a $35 Rasberry PI computer to implement the required server functions, but this is a project for  the future.

On to the actual townhouse design, I have mixed traditional Chinese design with American design. I think the mix will create a unique living space.

I’ve done a lot of radical surgery on the original layout. Like a balcony that was built off the master bath. Instead, I knocked out the outer wall, extending it to make the balcony part of the bathroom. Then this wall was rebuilt using glass bricks, so the bathroom wall is glass for natural light. The small Chinese bedrooms have been replaced with normal sized larger bedroom space. Small Chinese kitchen design eliminated and now includes a kitchen island. And of course a commercial gas oven/stove and a dishwasher. Funny enough, as I gave the contractor the interior color scheme, he freaked out. He says what are you doing? You have 20 different colors here! He told me at the very most they have only used 5 colors in a single house, and it was much bigger than mine. I told him it’s time to step out of the box my man. Haha And BTW, I had to spend 30 minutes explaining to him the difference between flat and semi-gloss paint finishes.

A lot of thought has gone into design as well as function. Getting down to the final weeks has me sweating bullets that it will all come together as I envisioned.

Onces completed and fully operational, I will do a final post on the townhouse project.

The Art of Real Estate in China

As many know, China is in the midst of a real estate boom rivaling anything in the world. People are getting filthy rich by the virtual minute here buying/selling. But this is a different world here when it comes to buying property and a very uncomfortable process for a westerner going about it.

There is no such thing as “looking” at property to buy here. If it is physically available to look at, you’ve already missed the boat price wise. That is because everything is purchased before a stone is turned. You get to look at some drawings or possibly a model of what a future development will look like. Everything is sold 1 year in advance of any actual construction. If you want to look at existing property to buy, it is easily 2 to 3 times the price.

So I will best illustrate how this works based on my own personal experience. It is typical of how it all goes down all over China.

First you get info that a developer will start a project, and that the pre sale date starts in such and such. You arrive at the “sell office” which will have a model of this completed project or maybe just drawings of floor plans of the units being built. They have slick printed booklets of the facilities and artist concepts of the finished development. At this time, no construction has started nor do they usually know when it will happen. From this info you are able to choose a size and floorplan to purchase. Many times you can also pick the exact unit you want on the model, but this is not always the case. Now you pay about 10% cash up front and receive a single piece of paper that identifies you as a “future owner” of said property.

A year later, and they are at the building phase maybe 70-80% completed. Now you go in and through a lotto system will get to know exactly which unit you will get. As I said before, sometimes you get to pick this in the beginning. Here they also will have “altered” the price you will need to pay for the property. There is no such thing as a “lock” when it comes to property prices or bank loans in China. But now at this point you will know the final price you will pay. This is usually 20-60% more than what they told you when you put in the deposit. If you don’t like it, then that’s too bad. If you walk away, don’t expect to get any deposit back. There are another 100 people to come in and take what you give up.

But at this point is where things get interesting. Right now you are holding a piece of paper that secures your purchase. Even when they raise the price, it will still be lower than the current real value. Property values go up an average of 2% per MONTH in China. So now your option is to stand fast and wait for the the day you come in and pay 100% up front to own your property. This is usually within 3 months of it being completed.  And this is where millions of people in China are getting very rich. They put their paper on the market to sell. You can get at least double what you have paid in the deposit. In my case, 14 months after I paid $5600.00, I am being offered $66,000 just for my paper. Look at the number carefully. I did not make a mistake. Thats a profit of $60,400.00 for doing nothing or really owning anything. So do the math, buy 10 of these properties a month and it becomes major $$$ in a hurry.

Ok, so I will not sell my paper and will wait until my property is complete. Now I pay the full price of the property and they hand me the keys. At this point I can sell it quickly (1 week) for at least double what I paid. Or, I can sit on it for 6-12 months and sell it for 3 to 4 times what I paid. In my case my property has tripled in value since I bought it 14 months ago. It still is not finished, but they said it will be worth 4 times what I paid when it is finished end of 2010. I have no doubt this will be the case.  I bought it for my own use, so I won’t be playing that game.

So, needless to say, the govt is trying to control this since it is fueling the housing prices into a bubble. They decided to impose a tax on property that is bought and sold within a 24 month period. Actually all this did was let the govt in on the profits. You can still re sell it, and now this tax is simply passed on to the new buyer. Doesn’t effect you at all!

Recently the govt added another rule since the first one is not so good. If you take a bank loan to buy this “second” house, they spank you with a higher interest rate. Third house, higher still. In any case, if you need a bank loan, under the best circumstances you are getting screwed. The loans are all ARMS only. Plus you cannot pay off early without penalties. Then they only allow you a 5 day window per year to make a pay off. The whole loan business is stacked against you big time. If you don’t have cash, it’s not a good idea to go house buying.

Now what do you actually get when you buy new property? It’s easier for me to list what you DON”T GET.

  • no warranties so you better do research on the builder/developer
  • no walls, floors, interior doors,electrical,lighting or fixtures of any kind. (You do get a front door)
  • no insurance. If it burns, just walk away.

The short of it is, property comes only unfinished. When I say unfinished, I mean unfinished. You get raw, rough structural walls and floors. Plumbing is stubbed to the wall and capped off. They have windows, so at least it is sealed from outside weather. Very basic electric like maybe a high amp line run into the kitchen, or a single light switch in a room. It is essentially just a box shell ready for a complete interior. At first you may think this is a load of BS. I know I did. However, there is some logic to it. You are 100% free to redo every detail of your new property from stem to stern. Since walls are solid concrete, you would want to do the electrical and plumbing things before anything else anyway. They got to cut channels in the walls to lay wire and pipe. Then re cement over them again. A real mess.

So you go get an interior designer and get it on! This is refined to a fine art in China. These guys are amazing at design. You get modeling, hi-res graphic rendering, and muti media presentations of your remodel.  You change and re change 100 times until it is a perfect detail of your dream house. Then they handle it all down to the finished home. What all does this cost? That’s the cool part. It is nothing close to what you would expect in the US for this work. In my case, our home is 3 stories and 2200 sq ft. For me to turn this into a Bill Gates or Taj mahal over the top completed remodel, I can expect to pay between $36~50,000. In the US it would be in the neighborhood of $200,000+ for the same thing easy. And in the end you end up with a killer home!

The pics are my “development” being built in New Kunming City. It will be 1km from the city center. The lakes, rivers and gardens are all private property for my use. Natural spring water swimming pools, clubhouse, restaurants, hot tubs, sports center and shopping mall. Shopping mall will be public. Beautiful views of the mountains and only 2km to Dianchi Lake. New lite rail train service to Kunming (15km) and to the new airport to be completed end of 2011 which stops right in front.

When it is all said and done lets compare values. I will have a 2200 sq ft  townhouse completed and remodeled ready to move in for approx $147,000. Easily 1/3 the price comparable in the USA. Plus, when you buy in China, you pay tax of 2% up front. Then no more taxes ever. Paying utilities is the only on going expense.

Hmmm… so why do I live in China? Let me sit back and think about that one a little while.