E*TRADE ATM Now Charges a 1% Foreign Transaction Fee

The E*TRADE ATM associated with their Complete Brokerage account now charges a 1% foreign transaction fee for withdraws from foreign ATMs. Sometime around 24th the etrade computer’s automatically started applying this charge to my withdraws. E*TRADE still refunds my ATM fees applied by the ATM owner’s even if the fee is not in USD (for example THB in Thailand as long as it’s coded correctly). Etrade customer service representatives so far have been kind enough to credit over $20 of these fees back to my account but I am not certain how long this will last.

For some because of the ATM fee credits the ETRADE ATM might still be a viable option, but for now at least I will be switching to my Capital One Savings Account Debit card for foreign ATM withdraws. I will try to dig up my E*TRADE Bank’s ATM card to see if the charges remain the same.

I Need 3G

In Thailand I use 3G CDMA service from CAT (Communications Authority of Thailand) and I have become spoiled by the flexibility in movement and speed it provides. There were a couple of days in my hotel apartment in China the hotel’s internet stopped working. Somehow it was apparently acceptable that the internet in a business hotel could be down for a week without any other methods of connection being provided. My 3G connection in Thailand almost never goes down. I love my 3G.

The Prettiest New Years Ever

I spent the last month in Beijing, China. It was an interesting experience. I arrived in early December and within 2 days I had already decided I hated the city. In hindsight it was probably mostly due to the fact the city is freezing in the winter and only 2 weeks prior I had been enjoying the hot and humid weather of Thailand. My first few days in Beijing reminded me of my first days in Mumbai. I think it was the remnants of a closed economy, the culture shock, and the sheer size and number of people who live in both metropolises that made me draw the comparison. Or maybe it was just loneliness.

After a while though, like India, Beijing grew on me. The food tasted better, the landscape changed, and I meet some cool friends. I think you need to stay in a place long enough to truly understand the people and culture–it is just not possible traveling thru for a day or a week. New Year’s countdown was fun, and on the night of the second we awoke to a city blanketed in snow and all of a sudden the freezing temperatures of Beijing were all worth it. The storm continued through the 3rd and apparently it was the most snow Beijing had received in several days.

Oh, I also had time to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian–so I guess I can cross that off my places I wanted to see list–although I have to say that I was actually more impressed with the Great Wall than the warriors.

Part 5: Agra and the Magnificent Taj Mahal

My travels have taken me around the world, and I’ve seen many amazing places, but the Taj Mahal was magnificent. Before I went my expectations were low and I thought, oh…so…it’s a big building—big deal…but then you arrive and that initial glance blows mind. There’s little doubt why its considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. To enter the complex it costs foreigners a whopping 750 INR (for locals its 10 INR)–double pricing in India sucks but even worse they didn’t accept my Employment Visa as proof of residence in India (they did in Delhi) which in most countries qualifies you for resident pricing on the basis a big chunk of taxes is paid to the government via your employment. The Taj Mahal is best seen in the morning hours to avoid crowds and because the color of the marbles changes throughout the day.

Matt’s wonderful tip: Go to the Taj Mahal for sunrise and then check out the Taj Mahal from the other side of the river (free) during sunset.

Part 4: Delhi

Yet another Air Deccan flight took us to Delhi where we had just a few hours to explore the city. A pleasant spread-out city when compared to Mumbai/Bombay and I enjoyed the short site-seeing we accomplished…but in the afternoon it was off to catch a train to Agra.

Part 3: Dajeeling

We took a 3-hour bus ride to Patna where we caught an overnight train to New Jaipur in West Bengel. New Jaipur is the transfer point to the world-famous UNESCO toy train up the hill to Dajeeling—the Queen of Hill Stations as their motto goes. I unfortunately didn’t book a ticket in advance which I should have. If we had caught the train it would have been an 8 hour ride with switchbacks and zigzags up the hill. The total cost for the ticket was 120 Rupees (or $3)…so yah, it’s better to book the ticket than to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. The second option for travel up to Dajeeling is via suicide car/bus ride up the winding road with signs along the way that read “donate blood in blood bank, not on this road”. It can be done in 2 hours.

Dajeeling is a beautiful mountain town (about 4x better than Matheran) overlooking the Himalayans. Unfortunately though, during monsoon season the area remained relatively foggy with low visibility…but I saw pictures of what it’s suppose to look like on a clear day and the views were spectacular. Even on a foggy day though, the uniquely designed hillside town and small village-like atmosphere is well worth a visit.

Part 2: Buddahgaya

After a night sleeping in Kolkata airport, we caught an express train from Howarth Station to Gaya Junction. Gaya junction is a 20 minute/100 Rupee rickshaw ride to Buddahgaya, the pilgrimage town where its believed Lord Buddha gained enlightenment while meditating under a tree. That tree still sits there and is the center for activity in this bustling tourist town. I tried my luck meditating under the tree, but I think I’m still a ways off from gaining enlightenment. Buddhists of all nationalities flock to the site but traveling with a Thai, it was clear that several Thai pilgrimage tours pass through the city weekly. It was nice being greeted with Sawasdee rather than the Konechwa. Thais apparently believe fallen leafs from the tree are considered good luck if they have them in their possession—we got 6! One word of caution though, there appears to be at least a few charity scams going around this town…so beware before donating to an unknown charity, I was almost fooled and I’ve heard almost every scam in the book.

Part 1: Air Deccan

It’s been a really, really, really hectic past few months, so these posts have come with some delay.

We flew to Kolkata on a redeye AirDeccan flight out of Mumbai. It was the first time I have flown AirDeccan and I can safely say it sets the standard for a no-frills airline. I ranted about AirAsia in a past post, but Air Deccan makes Air Asia seem like a luxury carrier. To start with, AirDeccan essentially reserves the right to cancel any flight for any reason it deems fit (including it not being booked to capacity) without any liability except the cost paid for the ticket. So AirDeccan sells tickets 6 months in advance but if on the day of departure overhead costs of operating the flight outweigh the income earned by paying flyers, management can simply cancel the flight…which it often does. A cursory glance at their live online flight status table clearly confirms that under “typical” operation at least 10% of their flights get canceled, and almost all are delayed. The result is passengers who are left stranded and frustrated. I consider us lucky, because of the 4 sectors we’ve flown with AirDeccan two were delayed 2+ hours, but luckily none were canceled. A canceled flight would have been disastrous because AirDeccan makes no assurances of proper transfers. So if you miss your connecting flight because their plane came in late, you’re stranded at your transfer point. One last rant, I’ve never seen so many seats crammed into an Airbus A-320 before. If you’re over 6 feet tall, good luck! To be fair though, AirDeccan tickets are often half the price of their nearest LLC competitor…which unfortunately for my travel stress level, keeps me as a repeat customer.

Matheran: A nice change of scenery from urban Mumbai

Last weekend I took a break and headed to the hill station of Matheran about 2 hours by suburban train outside of Mumbai. Locals head here for weekend getaways from the hectic Mumbai lifestyle. Unfortunately, the historic toy train connecting Neral with Matheran wasn’t working (apparently it stopped working 9 months ago, but a local says it should be running again by next year when it celebrates an anniversary)

Matheran is a wilderness retreat and pleasantly doesn’t allow motor vehicles inside. Instead you can opt to hire a horse (120 Rupees/hr) or get carted along in a human powered push cart. I’d recommend a horse because the human-powered cart over unpaved, muddy road does a lot more damage to the butt (and gave me a headache).

To get to Matheran, take a suburban train to Neral on the Karjat-line train (different from Nerul which is on the Harbor line). The train code is S. From the Neral train station, walk right (past the toy train tracks) to the share taxis that will take you to Matheran car park (50 rupees/per person). From there you can choose your method of green transportation (human-powered push card, horse, or walk) to Matheran town (there’s also a 25 Rupee/per person park entrance fee). I stayed at the Regal Hotel and was satisfied with the value. If you are going during the off season, there’s no reason to book ahead (it’s more expensive online).

Enjoy the beauty and clean air…at least by Indian standards.