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From cells to bells, 10 things the Chinese do far better than we do

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(In another transit plus, forget those illegible handwritten taxi receipts we get in Canada. China's taxis automatically print out receipts with date, mileage, taxi medallion number, even the start and end times of the ride. That certainly would help you recover the Stradivarius you inadvertently left in the back seat.)

4. Adult playgrounds

Hate paying those gym club bills? Loathe huffing and puffing around buff bodies in spandex? Beijing provides free outdoor exercise equipment in neighbourhoods throughout the city: walking machines, ab flexers, weight machines and rowing machines in bright reds, blues, yellows and greens.

Adult playgrounds get everyone out in the fresh air, especially seniors who might stay shut in at home. Teens like to hang out there, too. And it sends a not-so-subtle propaganda message about the benefits of healthy living.

5. Anti-theft slipcovers

What do you do with a purse in a restaurant? It can slide off your lap, and looping the handle over the back of your chair is an invitation to a thief. In China, when you sling your purse or laptop or coat over your chair back, a waiter hurries to toss a tasteful slipcover over it. It foils thieves, and also protects coats from food spills. Some restaurants provide hooks under the table for purses.

6. Daily banking

We feel so lucky when a bank branch in Canada opens for a few hours on Saturday mornings. (Notice the long, long lines?) But Chinese banks are now open 9 to 5, seven days a week. Even on New Year's Day and other national holidays, at least some branches will open for business. The ones that are closed post helpful notices directing you to the closest open branch. And, yes, they do have a full network of ATMs.

7. Wireless service bells

Trying to flag down your waiter for a glass of water? Just press a made-in-China gizmo at your table. Your table number lights up on a panel inside the kitchen and your server is soon hovering by your side. The bell also eliminates that annoying waiterly interruption: "Is everything all right?"

The same gizmo in spas alerts masseuses when you're demurely under the sheet and ready for their attention.

8. Parking data

A celebrity I once lunched with was an hour late because he couldn't find an empty parking spot in downtown Toronto. He had driven to a dozen lots, each time finding a wooden sign plunked at the entrance smugly announcing that the lot was full.

In China, roadside electronic billboards not only give directions to nearby lots and garages, they crucially reveal how many empty spaces are left.

9. Computer seating maps

Canadian concert halls will tell you that Row DD, Seat 81 costs $74.95. But where on earth is it? At the Shanghai Grand Theatre, the black granite ticket counter is embedded with a Samsung computer screen which lights up with the event you want to see, showing unsold seats, colour-coded by price, and the sightline to the stage. There is even a bar stool on which to perch while you consider your choices.

Movie theatres offer the same service. You choose which film and what showing, and the screen in the counter shows you what's unsold. After you make your choice, you can go shopping or enjoy a latte until show time. No one will take your seats.

10. Free hemming

This doesn't count as cheap labour because only three people service an entire department store. In Canada, hemming a new pair of trousers adds at least $10 to the cost, plus two trips to the tailor. And you have to try them on again while you get measured.

At the No. 1 Department Store in Shanghai, the salesclerk measures you while you are trying on the pants, asking: "Will you be wearing these with high heels or flats?" If you decide to buy them, she scribbles the length on your receipt. You head to what looks like a gift-wrapping station where a man measures and chalks the pants, scissors off the surplus and flings them to two women behind him. One hems the raw edge on a machine and tosses it to the other, who stitches the final hem on another machine and presses them.

Even with two customers ahead of me, I swear it took under three minutes in all to get two pairs back.

When I tell the woman ahead of me that stores in Canada don't do this, she's astonished. "Really?" she says. "How inconvenient."

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