> Beijing has made the landmark decision to lift a ban on internet access within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone to foreign websites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, including Facebook, Twitter and newspaper website The New York Times.
An unfiltered Internet? In Shanghai? Seriously?! For some of us, this is a total dream come true. I often say that filtered (and slow, as a result) Internet access in China is one of the most frustrating downsides to living in China as a foreigner. Maybe we should be more concerned about food safety, pollution, and social issues, but the truth is that Internet censorship directly affects us (and our businesses) every single day.
OK, but first, let’s be clear about what this so-called “Shanghai FTZ” really is:
> Shanghai Free-trade Zone is the first Hong Kong-like free trade area in mainland China. The plan was first announced by the government in July and it was personally endorsed by Premier Li Keqiang who said he wanted to make the zone a snapshot of how China can upgrade its economic structure. Other mainland cities and provinces including Tianjin and Guangdong have also lobbied Beijing for such approvals. The Shanghai FTZ will first span 28.78 square kilometres in the city’s Pudong New Area, including the Waigaoqiao duty-free zone and Yangshan port and it is believed it may eventually expand to cover the entire Pudong district which covers 1,210.4 sq km of land.
OK, so it’s not all of Shanghai, it’s just a corner of Pudong. Bummer. But one could hope that such a haven of free internet access right in Shanghai could be expanded over time… or at least exploited by the entire city. It does give one hope.
How do we foreigners live in China when YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all blocked here? We use VPNs to get around the blocks. Five years ago, it seemed like only a few foreigners I knew in Shanghai found it really necessary to pay money to circumvent the blocks. Now, almost all foreigners I know find it necessary. Tools like Facebook have become too important of a means of communication to just give up.
For a while, it felt like there was a truce. Lots of sites will get blocked, but the blocks are easily worked around through VPNs. Those who “need” VPNs just had to pay for them. Now the situation is different. Recently many VPNs have stopped working, and even those of us that prefer to stay apolitical need to use the internet (unfettered).
Some recent articles about the status of VPNs in China:
The Chinese internet has been all kinds of slow lately. Foreign sites load extremely sluggishly, and I can’t upload to Flickr at all.
Enter Firefox 3! The Chinese internet is still damn slow, but at least the browser is faster! Gmail works dramatically faster.
The one problem with upgrading immediately is that many Firefox addons might not be up to date and no longer work. Actually, though, most of these plugins can be forced to work by editing the compatible version range in the XPI file. Since I’ve started using Gladder as my proxy tool of choice, I can’t live without it. I figure some of you may be in the same boat, so I’m sharing my unofficial, hacked Gladder XPI file:
So you may have heard that YouTube is blocked in the PRC. Those of us who live here have come to depend on YouTube for little 2-minute clips of entertainment which keep us smiling throughout the workday. So now what do we do?
Well, I was all set to recommend Divx’s Stage6 as a substitute. It worked on Friday. I’ve been getting into it because it has such superior video quality and also hosts long videos. However, as of yesterday, it, too seems to be blocked. I turned to a TechCrunch article on YouTube alternatives and found that many of them are not loading for me. Here are my results (Oct. 21, 10pm in Shanghai).
I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot about IPTV lately. The image at left is the ad I now see every month in my phone bill from China Telecom. So what is IPTV? According to Wikipedia:
> IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) describes a system where a digital television service is delivered using the Internet Protocol over a network infrastructure, which may include delivery by a broadband connection. For residential users, IPTV is often provided in conjunction with Video on Demand and may be bundled with Internet services such as Web access and VoIP.
I’m going to be moving into a new apartment soon, and IPTV is an option I’ve been considering. I’m not sure how wide the offerings are, if it compares with satellite TV (which can be a slight hassle because it’s technically “illegal”), and how easy it would be to use in conjunction with satellite TV.
Oh, and then there’s also the whole “why pay for something you can get for free online already?” issue. Well, it’s not that simple. The internet here is slow. YouTube is slow. Bittorrent downloads take a long time. The IPTV connection should be fast; real “video on demand.” For the time being, it may very well be worthwhile.
I’ve done some internet research, but I think what will help inform me the most is to make a trip to the China Telecom building (I need to go there to pay an overdue phone bill anyway) and see what they can tell (and hopefully show) me.
Recently Andrea invited me to Douban. I had never heard of it, but I checked it out. My first impression was negative. Although it’s not a photo sharing service, the site’s design and “Web2.0” social networking structure was completely ripped off of Flickr. But I explored a little.
I found that I really liked Douban! The site allows you to share what books you are currently reading, what books you have read, and what books you’d like to read. Obviously, the real value is in the “sharing” aspect of it. It’s great to see what books your friends are reading. It’s also great to see that one of the books you want to read is currently being read by one of your friends also in Shanghai (that’s you, Phil!). It does all this with attractive book cover images and the same navigation that Flickr has made comfortable.
Douban also does the same thing for music albums. This is cool too, although I’m way more impressed by Last.fm for my music Web2.0 social networking needs.
Douban was originally launched in Chinese (called 豆瓣), and has been so successful that it just launched this Beta English version. The Chinese version allows users to share movies in addition to books and music.
I think one of the things that impresses me most about Douban is that it started out as a Chinese service, and then it branched out to embrace an English-speaking audience. I’m not totally up on all the new Chinese websites (I would have known about Douban long ago if I were), but I’m of the opinion that this is rather rare. What you see much more often is something akin to what happened with Flickr. Flickr came up with a great new service. Some Chinese users embraced it, but before it could really catch on in China, a handful of Chinese companies copied and translated Flickr as best they could and released it to China. Most Chinese surfers would then go with the Chinese copy. Either they don’t know about the original, don’t care, or don’t want to bother with English. All understandable.
I think that the resulting division of the community is a real shame. If all the social digital photographers in China were using Flickr instead of whatever second rate Flickr clone they’re using, it could be a huge boon to the community. Furthermore, I think the Chinese users would really feel a difference, using the service of the original innovator instead of a poor imitation.
Even though Douban is not especially innovative (none of the ingredients of the site are new), the execution is good, and I like the effort of bridging to English. There’s even talk of merging the two systems, I hear. Not sure how that would work.
It makes me wonder, though… what can an innovative new service like Flickr do to avoid losing their potential Chinese audience to second rate imitators? The only solution I can think of is to release a Chinese language version of the site as early as possible (and make sure that the servers are fast in China too).
Read more about Douban on the great new blog China Web2.0 Review. (If you hadn’t heard about it elsewhere, you would have known about this blog a few days ago if you follow the new CBL additions.) China Web2.0 Review is part of the same network that does blog中文翻译.
So yes, I was curious how it went. Did I read Micah’s whole account? Yes. Do I wish I had gone? No. (I had to beat Shadow of the Colossus over the weekend! Man, that is a truly awesome, ground-breaking game.)
I think we can expect another account of the Bloggercon from a different angle out of Chinawhite very soon.
This is a pretty crazy week for me; I may take a short break from blogging. After that, I’ll be tackling some subjects/projects on Sinosplice that I’ve been postponing for a while…
I recently received a new submission for the CBL called blog中文翻译 (“blog Chinese translation”). It doesn’t qualify to be listed on the CBL, as it’s almost entirely in Chinese, but it’s a good idea nonetheless. The author starts an entry with a link to an online English article, then translates it.
It could be very useful to Chinese readers as well as to advanced students of Chinese. The topics all seem to be geeky tech topics. I haven’t yet taken the time to judge the quality of the translation.
There are some terms in the translations which I would not be at all sure how to verify. For example, in one article the author translates “semantic web” as “语义网.” 语义 is indeed the Chinese linguistic term for “semantic” or “semantics,” and 网 clearly means “web,” but is that the official translation for “semantic web?” In this case, it is. However there have to be plenty of cases where a convenient translation standard doesn’t exist.
> Firefox extension unblocks Google Cache in China
> Chinese users of the latest version of the popular Firefox extension CustomizeGoogle are happy. A new feature modifies the Google Cache urls so that they are no longer blocked by the Chinese firewall.
I don’t have time to give it a try today. If anyone else within China has time to verify it, that would be great.
OK, I got a chance to try it out. It was easier than I expected, but the results were less than impressive. It works something like this:
1. Go to CustomizeGoogle and install the extension. (Note that this may require adding customizegoogle.com to Firefox’s list of safe sites.)
2. Close and reopen Firefox.
3. Under Tools, you will find the option “CustomizeGoogle Options” has been added. Select it. An Options window will pop up.
4. Under “Google Web Search,” the next to last checkbox should be “Add links to WayBackMachine (webpage history).” Check that box.
5. Now go to Google.com and do a search. I recommend you add “site:blogspot.com” to the search to guarantee you’ll get pages that are blocked in China. In the search results, you will notice there is now a link to “Filter” and “History” to the right of the “Cache” and “Similar” links.
6. Click on the “History” link. (The actual “Cache” link still doesn’t work any better than it did before.) Chances are, the page you want can’t be found in the WayBackMachine’s archives. You should be able to find some page from the blocked site if you click around, though.
So basically, this extension adds a link to a proxy of sorts to all Google search results. That in itself is cool. The problem is that the WayBackMachine is not likely to have the exact page you want to see archived. Not so cool.
Shortly after posting my update, I received this e-mail:
> The feature is not optional. Everyone that uses CustomizeGoogle in Chinese will get this feature automatically.
> This is how it works: All links to Google Cache, from the Google search result, are slightly modified. The Great Firewall doesn’t recognize the new links as Google Cache links, and therefore they are accessible for everyone.
> Also note that the feature has nothing to do with the History feature (WayBackMachine).
Ahhh, that further explanation was needed.
Still, I can’t get it to work. I uninstalled the English-version CustomizeGoogle extension, but when I tried to install the Chinese version, I got an error message:
I have gotten several requests for the guitar tablature for the song 月亮代表我的心, so I did a search for them and found them in about 20 minutes. They’re hosted by a Chinese music site: www.yf66.com.
In the process, I necessarily learned the word for “guitar tabs” in Chinese. It’s 吉他谱. This is unsurprising, as the character 谱 has the meaning of “musical notation” itself, so you can just tack the word for “guitar” (吉他) onto it. Normal musical notation with the staff and all that is called 五线谱 (“five line musical notation” Heh…). There’s also a simplified musical notation which uses numbers in place of notes, and you can see amateur pianists all around China using it. It’s called 简谱 (“simplified musical notation”). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this 简谱 for 月亮代表我的心.
Anyway, as with any search, my search for guitar tabs for “The Moon Represents My Heart” resulted in quite a few deadends before I found what I was looking for. Most of what I found was annoying crap, but I did discover a video that sort of cast a spell on me.
The video is just a short clip of a Chinese girl playing 月亮代表我的心 on her guitar and singing the song. It’s not that the girl is a babe or an amazing singer. She’s rather ordinary-looking. In fact, she could easily have been one of the many students I taught in Hangzhou. So what makes the video special?
I was struck by how incredibly Chinese it was, down to the last detail. The girl looks like a typical Chinese college girl, and even when she’s filming herself, she never even looks the camera straight on. She’s wearing the same kind of white puffy coat that I’ve seen so many girls here wear in the winter, complete with faux fur trim on the hood. The bare white walls behind her, the simple shelf holding just a few knicknacks guarded by a stuffed bear, the folded up Asian-style comforter behind her that’s just barely peeking out… so Chinese.
I don’t mean to imply that all Chinese girls are just like this girl or anything ridiculous like that. I’m not trying to reinforce stereotypes here. I was just really amazed how the sweet song of a girl on video could just scream “China.”
I think any modern student of Chinese should be using Baidu’s MP3 search. With it, it’s possible to find a huge variety of MP3s on the internet, and it’s totally free! (Yes, the world’s loss regarding intellectual property rights in China can be your gain!) I can imagine, though, that for a beginning student of Chinese, an all-Chinese interface can be daunting. It is my aim to make it more accessible to the beginner.
Note: to use Baidu, your computer must support Chinese fonts. Baidu uses GB2312 encoding, which should be automatically detected by your browser, but the Chinese characters will only be readable if your computer supports them.
OK, let’s suppose you’re a total beginner. You’ve heard of this hot boy band called F4, and you figure it’s as good a place as any (plus you don’t have to actually use any Chinese to search for it!).
Enter your search term in the box (in this case it’s “F4” without the quotes).
Choose your format. I only want MP3s, so I select the “MP3” radio button. (The choices, left to right, are: 歌词 (lyrics), 全部音乐 (all music files), mp3, rm (RealPlayer format), wma (Windows Media Player format), flash, 其它 (others), 铃声 (cell phone ringtones).)
Click on the button next to the search box, “百度搜索” (Baidu search). (For the future, when you do searches from the search results page, make sure you click on the left button. The right button will be “歌词搜索” (lyrics search).)
You will see a table of your search results. Below you will find a guide to interpreting this table:
歌曲名: Song Title (this name is linked to the MP3s you download)
试听: Listen First (uses Windows Media Player in a popup window)
歌词: Lyrics (very useful, especially for pop music, although not 100% reliable)
铃声: Cell Phone Ringtone
大小: Filesize (in megabytes)
格式: Format (MP3, WMA, etc.)
下载速度: Download Speed (especially if you’re outside of China, this may be important)
Right click on a title (choose from the 歌曲名/Song Title column) and “Save as“. There’s a good chance that you’ll want to change the filename, as they are often completely random or unhelpful.
Update: You now have to first left-click on the song title. A pop-up window will appear containing the URL to the MP3. Right-click on that to save.
That’s it! Also try out the lyrics search. You can click on 歌词 (lyrics) for any search result that has them. You can also search for lyrics directly, from the search results page. Click on the right button, “歌词搜索” (lyrics search).)
Note that the lyrics are not always 100% accurate. Most are submitted by users.
I was in a blogging mood today, and then out of nowhere the internet here in Shanghai decided not to let me access my site all day. Well, something like 9am to 11pm, anyway. I hate it when that happens. I can never be sure if it’ll be permanent condition or not.
I was going to put up a bunch of posts, as my recent trip home taught me that I rather like blogging in advance. Forgetful soul that I am, I ended up checking my website every day, never knowing what new entry will appear there (even though I just wrote it a few days prior).
John B first reported to me about two weeks ago that he was getting “Document Contains No Data” errors when he tried to view the China Blog List from Hangzhou. Now, since yesterday I’ve been getting the same errors consistently. Other sections of my website seem to load fine, but as soon as I try to go to http://www.sinosplice.com/cbl/ (or http://cbl.www.sinosplice.com/) I get “Document Contains No Data.”
If you are in China, could you please try going to the CBL page and let me know the results? (Warning: if you get the DCND error, you may need to close your browser and reopen it to view any pages on Sinosplice again.) Thanks!
For about half a year now, I’ve been using software called Skype to communicate by voice with friends back home. In the past month or two I’ve even gotten my family into it, and we’ve enjoyed an excellent connection (at least as good as long distance phone calls) many times. The really great part, of course, is that it’s completely free. The network connection uses similar technology to Kazaa, the popular file-sharing (P2P) software.
Jump back to several months ago. Major Chinese entertainment portal Tom.com partnered up with Skype. Advertisements for Skype appeared throughout the Shanghai subway system and around town. Tom.com was apparently putting a lot of money into promoting Skype, which, I should remind you, is free software.
Now here’s the interesting part. For about the past 2-3 weeks, I have noticed that I can no longer access Skype.com in Shanghai without a proxy. (Skype.com is accessible in Beijing and Hangzhou, however.) Due to some issues with my Skype installation (which I later discovered was a driver conflict), I wanted to reinstall with the newer version of Skype. Since I couldn’t access the Skype website, my only easy option was to get Skype from Tom.com.
Predictably, it had Tom.com advertising built in, but I was able to install English-mode Skype; I wasn’t forced to use Chinese. Fortunately there seems to be none of the spyware or malware that plagues Chinese software.
Screen capture of Tom.com’s version of Skype
I find it strange that Skype.com should become inaccessible in Shanghai after making a deal with Tom.com. I would think that Tom.com would have the guanxi to protect its partner fromthe chill shadow of the Great Firewall. On the other hand, since the Tom.com Skype page still works just fine, maybe Tom.com is using its guanxi to force Chinese surfers to use its version of the Skype software in order to drive more traffic to Tom.com?
This is all just crazy speculation, though. It’s likely just another case of Shanghai’s fickle internet connection, especially since Tom.com seems to be Beijing-based. I should note, however, that last week when the internet connection in Shanghai was faster than it had been in a long time and even sometimes-blocked sites were loading too, Skype still did not work.
Skype could be a great tool for global communication, and it’s great that many Chinese users are now getting into it. I hope that China doesn’t screw this good thing up.
Update:Isaac Mao was all over this when it first went down. The issue that neither Isaac nor Fons Tuinstra, in his comments, address is why Skype is accessible in other parts of China, but not Shanghai.
A while back I made a webpage dedicated to the Chinese song “The Moon Represents My Heart.” I also put online ten different renditions of this song in MP3 format. I thought it was pretty cool to be able to compare them. Aware that the Chinese words on the page would soon have Baidu’s searchbot on my case, I did my best to keep it off my site with my robots.txt file. Looks like that was completely futile.
Teresa Teng’s version of the song was the first to be hammered. I had to replace it with a link to MP3.baidu.com‘s search results to preserve my own bandwidth. Soon, the bandwidth consumed by the other MP3s on that page started creeping up as well. I had to remove Andy Lau’s rendition. Then Lesley Cheung’s. I forgot about it for a while, but if I hadn’t checked my stats in the middle of April I would have exceeded my bandwidth allotment solely because of those MP3 files, as bandwidth consumption had taken another big jump. I removed all the MP3s. I had no other choice.
Lesson learned: do not put up Chinese songs for download. Your bandwidth is no match for China’s web surfing population! (Well, don’t put up popular songs, anyway. Rapping flight attendants might be OK.)
In other news, I recently participated in an anonymous blogging survey for someone’s thesis. I was e-mailed because I was in the Technorati Top 2000. Wow! That kind of surprised me. Top 2000 out of 9,500,068 blogs. Top 2% isn’t too shabby for a niche blog prone to periodic entries as boring as this one.
In case you’re wondering (as I did) where this “Technorati Top 2000” list can be found, it can’t. There’s only a Technorati Top 100 online. The student contacted Technorati with details of the study, and Technorati complied.
Google may be the search engine of the West, but in China it’s still trailing one called Baidu (百度). The name means “one hundred degrees.” I hear Baidu is so popular in China that the word 百度 is starting to be used as a verb in Chinese just like we now say “Google it” in English.
Baidu recently published its list of top 10 searches of 2004, and organized the data in such a way as to actually make it interesting reading. The results are really very illuminating (if you trust internet search results to reveal anything real about a culture). Readers of Chinese, I recommend you look at the original. For everyone else, here’s my select translation:
Top 10 Search Terms:
Pao Pao Tang (an online game: 泡泡堂)
Dao Lang (a singer: 刀郎)
QQ (China’s most popular IM software)
BT (abbreviation for BitTorrent)
“Mice Love Rice” (a song: 《老鼠爱大米》)
Guo Jingjing (Olympic gold medalist 郭晶晶)
House of Flying Daggers (movie: 《十面埋伏》)
A Chinese-style Divorce (a TV series: 《中国式离婚》)
“The Legend of Little Bing” (a novel: 《小兵传奇》)
Top 10 How To’s:
How to kiss
How to lose weight
How to put on makeup
How to use contraception
How to write a thesis
How to make a webpage
How to protect the environment
How to get pregnant
How to face difficulties
How to make money
Top 10 Why’s:
Why am I always the one that gets hurt?
Why join the Party?
Why are you having an affair?
Why do we need to innovate?
Why do we need to pay taxes?
Why do we need to go to college?
Why can’t I get online?
Why do we need an education?
Why do we need to learn English?
Top 10 What Is’s:
What is love?
What is health?
What is a blog (博客)?
What is a computer virus?
What is e-commerce?
What is cloning?
What is nanotechnology (纳米[技术])?
What are the ‘Three Represents’?
What is BitTorrent?
What is corporate culture?
The other top tens I didn’t translate are:
Top Ten MP3 Songs
Top Ten Sports Stars (Michael Jordan is still #3!)
Top Ten TV Series
Top Ten Movies
Top Ten Online Games
Top Ten Tourist Destinations
Top Ten Male Singers
Top Ten Female Singers
Top Ten Most Photographed Men
Top Ten Most Photographed Women
Top Ten Historical Figures
Top Ten Authors
Top Ten Cell Phones
Top Ten ‘Mosts’
Top Ten History of’s
I found this link via AKEM, a Chinese blogger who has quickly become one of my favorites. She’s a college student in Hangzhou, my original “Chinese home.” If you read her entry, you can see her commentary. She also links to Google’s 2004 Top Search Results, which is kind of interesting for comparison purposes. For one thing, Google’s list is a lot duller. There are no telling “why’s” or “how to’s” “what is’s,” which were the most interesting to read of Baidu’s lists. And Google’s top 5 search terms are all over-sexed female celebrities rather than four computer entertainment-related terms and a singer. Hmmm…
Any regular reader of my site knows that the regular commenters of my site tend to go off topic quite frequently. This slightly annoys a part of me, but how can I can mad when the off-topic stuff is often good stuff? For example, in my last post, “Da Xiangchang” stated:
> I’m not sure if this mass infantilization is uniquely American. I have seen nothing in China that would suggest the Chinese wouldn’t act the same way if they had the wealth and 24-hour-mass-media-saturated lifestyle Americans have.
I think that’s so true. Let me give an example. This semester (ours has another month to go) I’ve been doing a part time job teaching spoken English classes at night. Those classes have been indefinitely suspended due to SARS. The coordinator assured me, though, that after 3 weeks of no class, the classes would definitely resume this past Monday. So I showed up for class. Guess what? No students. Three showed up late, but only because one SMSed me and asked if there were classes. I told her yes. A trip in vain to the coordinator’s office and a few phone calls later, I learned what I pretty much already knew: classes were still suspended until further notice. Great.
Since we had all commuted a ways for the class, I suggested we just have some tea together and have an English/Chinese chat. They thought that was a good idea. All three of them had gone home to their respective hometowns in Zhejiang province just as the height of Hangzhou’s SARS hysteria had hit, and had recently returned to Hangzhou. I figured a good way to begin speaking English was with a fairly simple question: how had they spent their SARS vacation at home?
Their answers shocked me. They said they watched TV. Well, nothing surprising about that. But I pushed further: how many hours a day? The first student told me 12, and I was visibly startled. Every day? I asked for clarification, figuring she had misunderstood. Then she seemed a little embarrassed. No, that couldn’t be right. She did some recalculations, staring at that invisible but ever-so-helpful calculator on the ceiling, while her fingers helped keep track. No, the number was not 12, it should have been 18. Eighteen?!? I gaped. There are only 24 hours in a day! You’re telling me you spend 18 hours watching TV? That only leaves 6 hours for sleep, and no time for anything else! Yes, that’s correct, she verified. What else would she do? I suggested perhaps… reading? She laughed, thought a moment, and then confirmed — no, she hadn’t done any reading or studying.
One of the other students was less excessive, at only 10 hours a day. She also needed time to shop. The third student was down to an almost acceptably “normal” limit at 5 hours a day. But then she added that she spent about 10 hours a day online. Incredible.
I thought I spent a lot of time online, but the time I put in is nothing compared to these students’ “dedication.” The thing is, these students are not morons. They’re pretty smart, and seem fairly typical. I don’t want to suggest it, but I really think they might be somewhat representative about the current state of China’s youth. I do know that when I ask my students students in class what they plan to do in their vacation time, the most popular answer is “watch TV.” It’s frightening. The original “TV nation” is going to be beaten at its own game.
Not long ago I had an IM conversation with Alf. He’s teaching in Xinxiang, and he clearly does not have a foreign teacher community over there like I now have here. He mentioned that his friends that read his blog say that his blog is mostly just a bunch of complaints. We talked a bunch about those complaints. I post occasional complaints, but I haven’t posted many lately. I think having complaints is a natural part of living in a foreign society. I think I need to unload a few more.
First is the toilets here. The toilets ZUCC gives its foreign teachers are horrible. Yes, they are Western style. That’s not the problem. One problem is that the seat is attached with these shoddy plastic screws that break after about 4.6 seconds of actual use, resulting in a toilet seat that slides around instead of remaining respectfully fixed in place. But the real problem is the flushing. These toilets are not so good at it. There’s just no power behind the flush. It’s maddening. I feel blessed and lucky if I can go number 2 without having a big long plunge session afterwards. It wasn’t like this at first. It used to be OK (but never good), and the problem seems to have worsened over time. Now I’m plunging practically every day! I’m a teacher, dammit, not a janitor! (I would include a pic of this “toilet of the damned,” but my latest plunging efforts were a failure. I’m currently taking a break before tackling the problem with renewed vigor, and in the meantime you really do not want to see a picture of that…)
Last month the school held a special feedback session, allowing the foreign teachers to share their ideas and complaints with various departments of the school. I took it upon myself to bring up the toilet issue. They said they would handle it. Last Friday some guys came to take care of it, but after inspecting for a while they said they couldn’t do anything, that the toilets were just like that. Horrible quality. I say the school owes it to us to replace the hellspawn toilets with toilets with actual flush power. As newly appointed “foreign teacher liaison” for next semester, this will be one of the biggest items on my agenda. It will be my personal crusade. I will be the perpetual thorn in their side, quietly whispering “give us good toilets” until they either comply or go insane. I will triumph in the end.
So it’s winter now. In Hangzhou, that means it’s cold and wet. Of course, it’s not Harbin cold or anything, but many houses here don’t have heating. Also, although it rarely snows in Hangzhou, it’s so humid here that the cold penetrates. To make matters worse, a lot of Chinese people even leave the windows open in the dead of winter for “fresh” air. So how do they keep warm? They don’t. They bundle up inside as well as outside. It’s pretty horrific from a Western perspective. Fortunately, we foreign teachers have heating in our apartments, but it’s not central heating. Also, buildings are not insulated here, and leaks around windows and doors are not properly sealed. Warm air quickly leaks out if the heater is not run continuously. The Chinese way of just bundling up inside starts to make a little more sense. But we foreigners are, of course, fighting the good fight and blasting that heat for the cold nights. When you come home to a cold house and crank up the heat, it starts pouring out, but obviously, hot air rises. So as I wait for the room to heat up, I often find myself sitting at the computer, feeling the effects of an upper layer of warm air slowly pushing downward, displacing the cold air throughout the room. First my head is warm while the rest of me is still quite cold, and the border gradually moves down my torso as the rooms heats up. At first a big bedroom with a high celing seems like a great thing, but in the winter the drawbacks become chillingly apparent.
I now have a new weapon in my arsenal to combat winter here. Wilson and I recently bought heating lamps (yu ba in Chinese) for our bathroom. They pulled the ventilation fans and installed the heat lamps (which also have a built-in fan behind the heat lamp bulbs). Heat never really seems to make it into the bathroom in the winter, so these heat lamps feel like an amazing luxury.
Why can’t I access Yahoo Mail anymore? I don’t know. Even when I use a proxy server, about half the time I click on anything it can’t find the page and I have to reload. It’s really annoying. Pretty much at exactly the time this started happening, I switched over to using Outlook (I don’t like Microsoft domination, but it at least has good Asian language support, so I must succumb at last…). I randomly get these weird errors when I use Outlook. Some error with the POP connection. It’s all in Chinese and I hate it.
It’s 2002, and I’m 24. I think this is the year my metabolism finally quit. I seem to have lost the ability to eat continuously without a second’s thought of any possible consequences. I’m not as skinny as I was, and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for it. I definitely need to exercise more, though.
Note: “Whinge” is an Australian word that means “complain.”