Saturday, January 30, 2010 is weird in careful what you're searching for...

Dealing with the Great Firewall of China, It's always hard to tell (at first) if this is a temporary glitch or if something is permanently blocked.

Even 20 minutes ago, it was working fine for me.

I did a web search on the (old) PC game "Freedom Force" (there was a $2 special on the game via Steam and I wanted to see some reviews).

That immediately resulted in an error page and my access to (not resulted in errors as well.

(Someone has probably made a list of search terms that trigger this reaction...I guess that "freedom" is among them, as well as "Tibet" and "Tiananmen", among others)

After ~5 minutes though, access returned.

Although in day to day life as a foreigner in China, one may feel more free than one does in the US, experiences such as this are jarring reminders that one has very little recourse against the government here.

I'm trying to think of aspects of people's lives where government does not have some influence. But for that matter, the same could be said of life in the US as well - it is just that I am more accustomed to how the US government does things and so nothing strikes me as odd about it. (Taxes, health insurance, registration of anything, working, regulation of the food that is bought, regulation of the stores that sell it to me, rules and support of the roads that I drive to purchase anything, the cops that are on those roads enforcing traffic law, a sense the government is equally pervasive in the US as here)

Rambling now...enough on that for the time being.

Time for trip to gym, then more walking around Shanghai.

Happy to discover that I'm actually only a few blocks away from the first hostel where I stayed when I first visited Shanghai 9.5 years ago. Will check that out on my way to explore some other places.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

follow-up thought on the iPad

So, was just thinking if the iPad would really replace my living-room / couch laptop...and I'm having more doubts than before.

The lack of Flash support is actually more problematic than it seemed at first glance.

I mean, I don't always use Flash while I'm online - I usually get really annoyed by flash-enabled websites that are relics of 2001.

However, I do appreciate the various video clips, cartoons, games, and extra interactive function that Flash allows. The iPad won't support that. It will have a Youtube workaround...but youtube is not the sole source of decent online video content.

Although perhaps not as trendy looking, ANY laptop would have more functionality.

So we'll wait and see on this one. Certainly no rush from me at this point.

But Apple did get my attention.

landed & keepin' it real - quickie reviews from plane - Why didn't this get posted earlier in the month????

Touched down in Shanghai ~ 4 hours ago.

My friend Jeff sent his driver over; I was picked up and we met for drinks. Also met Jeff's girlfriend, a very nice lady who happens to be from Australia.

Had some wine & beer. Now is going to come way too soon tomorrow.

Anyway, during the plane ride over to this hemisphere, I partook in some movies and other media.


1. District 9 - very solid sci-fi, and the South African setting is a refreshing change of pace.

2. Public Enemies -  pretty good cop/gangster movie. Seemed different than the trailers - thought that there would be more romance and more that establishes Dillinger as a badass. Instead, most of the movie is just about the endgame for how Dillinger is caught; and you're rooting for him all the way. But although the movie was flawed, it was one of those movies that still leaves an impression on you; the setting was very well done and the world was presented very well (although it seems like the exterior scenes were very, very controlled...probably in order to maintain the premise of the time period).

3. Extract - Mike Judge office commentary on suburban America? Count me in. While none of the characters are particularily likeable to start with, somehow the movie keeps you interested and laughing. Probably will get better with another viewing or two.

Mega-update post - thought this went up earlier but it was sitting in my drafts folder

Had been intending to do this in smaller chunks, but I've been out & about more frequently and jet lag is wearing off so I am no longer at home exhausted at 10 pm hoping to still fill a little time with chronicles of my thoughts.

So now, here I am, 1:31 AM my time on a Thursday - nearly a week has gone by since my last post, so there's a lot to say:

Thursday - registered at gym close by to where I'm staying. Just a one-month membership - but pretty nice for what I am used to; I guess not so much for the gym & equipment itself, but rather for the other stuff offered; there's a lot of spa-like amenities. Anyway, not the sort of thing I'd normally join, but given proximity and other factors this made the best sense for right now.

Friday - After work, met up with an old friend that I've known since I was an exchange student as well as someone who I knew through mutual friends back in my Shenzhen days. Had dinner, then ended up running around town to a few different bars. Shanghai, as long as I've known it, was always more expensive than other places in China; during this trip it's clear that at some establishments prices are on par with that of the US or Europe, if not more expensive. 

Did not go to a neighborhood or area with a super-clear bar street, it's more like you have to find parts of town that have bars and then shuttle between them or walk for 10+ minutes between locations. Certainly manageable.

Timing was a bit off, however - most of the places we found were closing up just as we entered.

Notable, the bar "People's No. 6" (may have been People's No. 7...apparently the owner just adds locations in a sequential order) - the entrance has two sealed doors, one needs to find and press a hidden button in a faux entry area in order to gain access to the main club. However, we made it there just as the bar was shutting down.

Perhaps things are more regulated here than I remember; it seemed that a lot of bars were closing at 1 am or earlier.

Found another place, it seemed dead but we encountered someone on the way out. She wore a very revealing/low-cut top, and introduced herself as "Juggalicious". 


She informed us that the party upstairs was private, and a combination birthday/farewell/debauchery event for a few people together.

Although she had to leave, she & friends was happy to pass their wristbands onto us. 

We went upstairs, and were suprised for:

1. The 95% amount of foreigners there
2. The "discounted" beer price offered with wrist band - 35 RMB per bottle. I guess that's ~5.41 USD - not crazy, but not exactly a screaming deal either.

After the bar, went back to my place;, with friends in tow.

Told stories, shared beer, ate yangrouchuanr and fired rice/noodles from local vendor where we had stopped along the way

Had been hitting a jet-lag wall that evening, but somehow broke through and was raring to go at 6 am the next day.

Had intended to post more but am passing out 

tug of war

Usual-kind of day today...up, then to work, then busy at work.

Was happy to hear that we had to change training plans around because of a team office activity.

I had not received that memo.

Apparently all the different groups in the company that are responsible for different vendor partners got to team up against each other for a tug of war. It turned out to be pretty fun, and my colleagues were kind enough to get permission for me to join in as well.

Unfortunately, our team didn't do very well - we got slammed after the first round. :(

Still, it was a cool experience. I put lots of pictures of the event up on facebook; I really should get around to updating this post with helpful and illustrative pictures once I am free of the Great Firewall's blocking effects.

Had Japanese-style curry and sushi for dinner, then subway home, then picked up some laundry detergent, soap, and cheap-ass wine. 

Then visited gym.

Now back home, updating posts. 

It should be this case, $3.75 did not get me a very good bottle of wine (should I be surprised)? It's watery and has some weird funk to it. It is probably not a good sign that there is no visible label denoting the year it was produced. 

If I was cynical, I'd guess this is water + formaldehyde + red coloring + sulfur + "wine flavour crystals". 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


So, saw the news concerning the new Apple tablet.

After reading through the keynotes, it seems interesting - a nice toy.

I'm not sure who is really going to buy one at first; probably just the mac faithful initially.

Considering old laptop (overhwhelmingly used for couch-based web surfing) is doing just fine...but if I needed a replacement, maybe this would be good enough; it is certainly cheaper than a new Macbook.

Then again, they are asking $499 for the base model that is basically a glorified/bigger iPhone...decent laptops (if not Macs) are available for that much if you shop around. Doesn't matter for me anyway; I'll figure that out when my laptop eventually (but hopefully not too soon) dies.

Regardless, I think it's too early to tell how successful it will be. Certainly could get some support, but I'm not sure if it will gain mass-market acceptance as quickly as the iPhone did...probably not; could be more of a slow/steady growth.

Could do some neat things, but nothing's striking me quite as much as the iphone did.

on the train today

Was a pretty average day, all in all.


Took subway + bus to office, as usual; during transfer to bus I picked up some kind of fresh dough + egg + sausage thing on the street for 7 RMB (just over 1 USD, for those keeping score at home).

Not a bad breakfast, though it sat in a small plastic bag dangling from my hand for 15 minutes as I stood on the crowded bus winding its way to the software park where I'm working for the time being.

Work was fine; boss is returning to US after a brief stay here, and I extended the time on my return flight - looks like I'll be coming home later. 

(Missing the cats already thinking about that)...Marsha may or may not make it back home before I do.

The train was fairly empty on the way back, after transferring to Line 1 to cover the last 3 stops before I got out to walk home, there were plenty of seats available.

Guy across from me took out a book, and a pen, and started sneaking furtive glances at me while scribbling.

I was a little unsure what to make of it until I caught a glimpse of the pages in the book...he was making a sketch.

This does not often happen.

So I tried to stay still, all the while knowing that I had only 2 train stops left.

I got up to leave, and the guy showed me the sketch he had made; maybe 1/2 done. Certainly recognizably me, but with a wider face, more jowls, and less hair than I would have liked to see. 

I suppose that in this sketch, and as in life, the truth is not necessarily as flattering as I would like it to be.

I hit the gym after heating up left-overs from the weekend.

Monday, January 25, 2010

some news from today

This post would be better with pics, but I'll be sideloading them onto facebook for the time being; with the Great Firewall of China in full effect it's hard to do any blog updates beyond pure text.

Rather than try & fill in everything that happened in the past few weeks+ the unexpected sojourn to Korea, I'll just say a few things about my experiences today.

Morning was warm - pleasant even. I guess it was around 10 C (or 50 degrees F).

Not sure why, but the trains seemed busier than usual; there was no room in the transfer concourse for the nice old ladies that collected people's used newspapers (I assume to resell as scrap).

Work was busy, and ended up staying way late; so co-worker and I ended up going out to eat. 

The place was called "The Spicy Joint" (辛香汇...if I pick & choose from dictionary it's more like "hot fragrant convergence"). 

My colleague, who is originally from Sichuan, says that most Sichuan restaurants in Shanghai need to tone down the heat in order to gain mass market acceptance. Even so, he said that this place was still pretty good.

Decor was super modernish; lots of curvy fishtanks with orange-reddish fish, shiny lights and post-modern furniture. 

Apparently it's very popular; if one shows up without having made a reservation a month in advance at peak hours (6pm on), it's safe to expect a wait.

By the time we arrived it was already 20:45, and we picked a number and were group number 149...but the restaurant was calling number 108.

The restaurant was located in the 5th floor of a mall/high-rise, there were lots of western brands (real products, not fakes) on sale, even at some discounts. 

Had some time to walk around, then made it back when they happened to be calling for group number 144.

I cannot speak for what happened when I wasn't present, but groups 145-148 were all real people; no one seemed to be taking a ticket number and running.

So anyway, it's probably around 21:15 and finally time to eat.

At that point, rational ordering of what could feasibly be consumed was forgotten.

We had 口水鸡 - literally, "mouth-watering chicken" (or "drooling chicken" if you'd prefer an ugly translation) - in either case, not meaning that the chicken itself is drooling, but rather that you are so excited upon seeing the food...was kind of like cold white cooked chicken drowned in a savory oily spicy sauce, and a few peanuts. Excellent.

Some sort of Sichuan noodles - pretty common at most Sichuan restaurants and available stateside as well. Not much of a kick to them here.

Suanrong you mai cai - garlic & oil stir-fried veggies...token something green on table not covered in peppers.

Some type of Lamb dish - was almost like a lot of foods from Hunan, but with lamb. Decent.

Some kind of Bullfrog - Similar to 水煮牛 or 水煮鱼, but with the meat of choice being frog instead of something less bony. Was pretty good as well...though having misheard my colleague I was convinced that I had been eating some obscure portion of a cow for half the meal, until he clarified the name of the dish again. (the same word for beef or cow - 牛- is also used in "bullfrog" - 牛蛙...makes sense, right?).

Anyway, being stuffed, ended up taking the subway home and very much enjoying the walk back, perhaps burning some fraction of the calories consumed.

Temperature at night was just about freezing. Not that cold in the grand scheme of things, but a shock compared to this morning...may need a sweater tomorrow.