Monday, December 29, 2008

PS2 and the new year

Well for New Year's it seems that I have to attend a party that my department is holding. But it's not too bad, I didn't have any other plans yet anyways. I can't spend New Year's Eve with Jean because at her company they have to work until midnight on New Year's Eve. They do go out to dinner stay and later they get like a phone call from the head of the company wishing Happy New Year, but in the time between dinner and midnight, they do actually have to work, it's not a party. Seems pretty rough to me.

Anyhow, pretty soon many of my foreign friends will be gone. 3 of the kids (20 somethings) here either already have or will have left China by the middle of January, and Nellie isn't leaving China, but moving to Shanghai. So at that point it'll pretty much just be Ellis and I here in Huzhou, save for a few other older foreign teachers who have families here.

I did get to break in my football today! On Mondays I have an English Corner, and I brought the football with me. I asked some of the kids there if they'd like to throw the ball around afterward, and a couple of the guys threw it with me. Sure, their form was horrible, and it was cold outside, but it felt good to play some toss and catch again.

I'm actually going to try to plan on inviting some students, and whoever else is interested, to the school soccer field Friday afternoon to introduce them to football. Now that I think about it, maybe I ought to look into getting some flags.

On another note, I did get the "genuine" PS2 disc, but when I put it into my PS2, it wouldn't even load at all. So, I contacted the seller (in Chinese of course), let him know, and he said to send it back and he would take a look at it.

So, last Tuesday, I sent it. He got it a couple days later and told me he tried it and had no problems. My guess is though that he got it, popped a game in, and when it worked, felt there was no problem. So I tried explaining to him my specific problem and with which specific games. He then said he would try to play those games himself and see if he could see the problem.

Well, later on, he said he tried them and had no problem. He suggested maybe it was the discs' problem or perhaps I was operating it incorrectly. It DEFinitely isn't that I was operating it incorrectly, and while it's possible the problem is the discs, I find it less likely that ALL of the discs, EVERY single game I tried had this problem.

(By the way, the problem is, the game would load and play, but then in the middle of playing the game, the audio would get all messed and the game would freeze. The game might unfreeze a few moments later but the audio would still be all screwy. In a game like Guitar Hero, which is THE reason I got the PS2, audio problems mean unplayability.)

I ultimately explained to him that I just wanted to be able to play my game, and the way things currently are I cannot. The seller was not being confrontational or uncooperative (from a Chinese standpoint that is, returning or exchanging merchandise in China is not as simple a process as it is in the states). To look at it from his end, he tried some games, and they seemed to work fine, so there wasn't a problem. Although I bought this online (from China's version of eBay), the seller was based in Shanghai and has a shop there. So being that he didn't see my problem, and knowing that I can recreate it easily, I asked him if I could go to his shop and show him the issue. He said ok. SO, on Thursday, the 1st, I will go to Shanghai (with Jean) and get this whole thing taken care of once and for all. Either the PS2 doesn't work when I show him and he replaces it OR it DOES work with a different disc, perhaps one he used, and then I just know I need to use a better disc. Either way is fine.

I also found out today that my break isn't as open as I thought. The semester is over for me after next week. However, the training center that the school has a relationship with will be having a winter program from Jan 11 to 17. Not terribly looking forward to it, but at least they do pay so will get a little bit of extra cash.

In other news, the losers lost again. The Bucs, just 3 weeks ago playing for the NFC South, lose 4 straight games and will sit out the playoffs. What a collapse. Pretty crappy, but frankly even if they'd lost 3 and won this last won, they'd've just snuck into the playoffs and lost the opening game anyways, taking it away from a team that actually deserves to be there (like this year's scrappy Eagles). The Dolphins, on the other hand, won 5 straight games, took the AFC South, and are heading into the playoffs on a good note. They play a tough Baltimore team who beat them earlier in the season, and I don't know if they can beat them this time, but at least they didn't just up and quit with 4 games left in the season.

What I am slightly concerned about is the very real possibility of Atlanta, or worse, Carolina winning a Super Bowl in our house, IN Tampa, since that's where the Super Bowl is this year. Oh well. What I do think is funny is the fact that New England goes undefeated last year and doesn't even get into the playoffs this season. To be fair, they did finish 11-5 which is a pretty darn good record, and it's just luck that this year 11-5 isn't good enough to make the playoffs for sure (which is rare).

Christmas and the End of the Year

So last week was Christmas and some of the other foreigners and I went out to dinner. As I said in the last post, the original plan was to go to Nellie's but there would've been just too many people. But before we went to dinner, a few of us did go to Nellie's first just for to hangout for a bit, and have a few snacks and drinks.

I brought along the Christmas episodes of Futurama. Man, that was a great show.

Anyways, when we went to dinner, we all ate at a western-style (meaning western food) restaurant here in Huzhou. I had eaten there once before with Wayne actually, and made the bold mistake of ordering the pizza there. Ketchup with pizza is not very good.

So this time I ordered something different: the steak. I was actually pleasantly surprised, it was really good. So, now I know where to get a tasty steak in Huzhou :D

Anyways, since I didn't end up having a potluck Christmas dinner, I didn't get a chance to make the baked ziti, but I still had all the stuff to make it. And I wanted to make it and make it soon since acquiring the ingredients was kind of expensive and since some of them wouldn't last much longer. The ricotta cheese I bought actually had a date of December 19 on it, but I figured, it had never been opened so it might be ok. But, to be safe, I would taste and smell it when I finally opened it. If it was good, I'd use it, otherwise I'd trash the whole thing. So, on December 26, (a week after the ricotta's date) I made the baked ziti before bringing it and heading over to Jean's in Hangzhou.

The only thing it was missing: meat. Originally since I had planned to make it for our small Huzhou group, two of the girls I know are vegetarians, so I didn't buy any meat to add to the ziti. Even though I wasn't making it for the group anymore, I didn't think to get any meat until I began cooking the ziti. Despite that, it actually turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself! Ellis tried a bit before I left for Hangzhou, and she said it was good too.

Jean also really liked it. She agreed that it would be better with some meat, and also perhaps just a small amount of chili peppers to add just a bit of kick. I'm actually looking forward to making it again for some other occasion and serving it gooey and hot.

Also in Hangzhou this weekend, Jean took me to an "Italian" restaurant in Hangzhou. It wasn't one that caters to westerners, but rather Chinese. The advantage of this is that it wouldn't be as expensive as the former. The disadvantage is the risk that it may not be very good. In terms of Italian food, it was ok. The spaghetti was just ok and the garlic bread was fine. The pizza however was actually not bad, certainly no worse than at the Pizza Hut in Hangzhou, and yet at a third of the price. The best pizza I've had in China so far was still at the Papa John's, but this place's pizza, at only 20 yuan (about $3), was pretty fair.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

So, some students had invited me to a couple of Christmas parties here on campus so I'll probably make an appearance at those.

Tomorrow night, I had originally planned to go over to Nellie's (another American English teacher) apartment for dinner with her and some other American/Canadians. But unfortunately for Nellie, the list of attendees grew a little too large for her apartment to accommodate (instead of 5 or 6 people, it would be 13 to 15 people). As such, we will all go out to a restaurant for dinner.

However that means that I won't bring the baked ziti I had originally planned to make. But it's not so bad. It means I can make it this weekend just for my girlfriend and I, and it leaves more for us to eat as well! :)

Anyhow, today when I went to the office before class, one of the Chinese English teachers had bought gifts for us, and she gave us some candy which she said was a gift from the school.

On my way to my first class, I was in for a surprise. As soon as I walked in, the students shouted "Merry Christmas!" and the one who had been waiting behind the door showered me with "snow" (shaving cream). They got me pretty good, but they did help me clean myself off and it didn't stain my jacket. In addition, they had all bought me a gift, a really beautiful cake!

My second class also wished me Merry Christmas and brought a gift for me: a smiling yellow dude coin bank, and they gave it to me inside this stocking (so I will have a stocking this Christmas).

All-in-all, I got a lot of loot today:

Anyway, if anyone back home is reading this, Merry Christmas and I'm thinking about and missing and love all of you!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Internet Connectivity

Well, My internet is finally back on.

For the 3rd consecutive weekend and also for 3rd time in a one week span, my internet was out. It's finally back on now.

It's been fairly frustrating, but this time the phone company actually came out to replace something, so I think (hope) it will finally be good this time.

Jean visited me this weekend and gave me my Christmas present since we won't see each other again till after Christmas. She told me last week that she got me something that she thought I would like, but I had no clue what it could've been.

So when I saw her, she gave me... a football!

I was really surprised and was seriously an awesome gift. I've been meaning to try and find one to toss around and maybe teach some of the students how to play. It's an official collegiate size ball.

Even more interesting though was she had planned to buy me a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football, and she even bookmarked the link, but when she went to go buy it later, it had already been purchased. (It was from an eBay-type website so there was only one available) Even though she wasn't able to get that one, I felt it was really cool of her that she even thought about that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Guitar Hero! or Merry Christmas from the Chinese Supermarket

So I had been itching to play Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band since I've been gone. I'm sorry, that game is just too much fun.

Last month I had ordered a Guitar Hero controller (for the Playstation 2) and a USB adapter so I could play a "Guitar Hero" clone game on the computer.

However, it didn't quite work right. The timing for the detection was often off, and sometimes it just wouldn't detect it at all. I didn't know if it was the controller, the adapter, or maybe the computer processor just wasn't good enough to handle it.

In any case, I couldn't satisfyingly play Guitar Hero, so I began to save up for a Playstation 2 (PS2). And this month I ordered one off of (Chinese e-Bay). it cost 1100元 (yuan) or about $160 for the system, 2 controllers, and some games.

So I ordered the system yesterday, Thursday afternoon, and received it today, Friday afternoon. That's the one nice thing about ordering stuff online in China: it's usually cheap for delivery, and as long as its ordered from Shanghai, it's next day.

Anyhow, I fired it up, and the good news was, for games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the game played as it was supposed to, the timing was right and the controller worked great.

The bad news however was that quite often, like 70 to 80% of the time, the song would stop midway, as it would as if the disc was cracked or scratched or something. I had bought discs for Guitar Hero 1, 2 and 3 and Rock Band, and they all experienced this, which WOULD lead me to believe that something was wrong with the PS2. HOWEVER, ALL of those discs were pirated copies, burned DVDs. So I'm not totally sure if it is the machine or the discs. So today I ordered an original disc for Rock Band (cost about $7). If the original disc plays fine, its because the other discs are copies. If it has the same errors, its the PS2, which I kind of hope its not, because it's always kind of a hassle to exchange stuff purchased over the internet, and you're usually stuck paying the return shipping fees at least one way. In any case, I'll learn what the problem is soon enough.

Anyhow, I have a gym membership here in Huzhou, and I try to go to the gym 3-4 times a week, but I often get lazy and it becomes 2-3 times a week (more often 2). Unlike at home, where I can just walk 100 yards and be at the gym, here I first have to bicycle 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the gym. And as the weather has gotten colder, it has made me less enthusiastic about going.

But, despite getting the PS2 today, I DID go to the gym, not the least of which reasons being if I didn't go, it would've been only once this week, and I do really try to keep it to at least 2 times a week at minimum. After the gym I went to Tesco, the Wal-Mart like store near my gym. Since about the middle of November they've been playing Christmas music throughout the store, which is nice, and they also have signs up saying "Merry Christmas"
The funny thing about it is this: You see where it says "Merry Christmas" and then right below it are some Chinese words? You'd THINK that those Chinese words are the Chinese words for "Merry Christmas". But you'd be wrong. Merry Christmas in Chinese is 圣诞快乐 (Sheng Dan Kuai Le, literally "Christmas, Be Happy") But the words in that sign are 疯狂购物节 (feng kuang gou wu jie), which literally translates to...

"Extremely Popular Shopping Holiday".

Haha, at least the Chinese aren't kidding themselves about it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This Week, New Stuff + Internet Woes

So this Monday, I received two things in the mail I'd been waiting for: the package from my parents with the quilt that my Aunt had made for me. I didn't take it with me when I left because I only brought two bags to China and only had so much space, there just wasn't room. Also, when I arrived, early October, it wasn't that cold yet, so it wasn't necessary as now. However, I am REALLY happy to have it now, it makes a big difference. The weather right now isn't so bad, but essentially, every day the high is in the 50s, and the low usualy around 32. And that's only right now. Technically, winter hasn't begun yet! :S

The other package I was awaiting was a new phone that I ordered. The phone I had been using since I arrived was one I had been borrowing from Nellie (another American teacher here). It did the job, but couldn't connect to the internet (on the rare occasion that I might need to check something while not at home), and also occasionally, I'd have to restart the thing or else it'd not send or receive any calls or messages. Also though, Nellie is moving to Shanghai, and so, needed it back.

So after doing a bit of searching on (the Chinese version of eBay) I found what was listed as a ciPhone. It essentially looks like an iPhone on the outside, but is certainly not one on the inside, either in terms of hardware or software. But it was cheap, just under $90 (they don't do free phones with contracts so much in China), the touch screen works well, and it does what I need it to do: send and receive calls, messages, and connect to the internet. I am just a bit disappointed in its video playback capabailities however. The only videos it will play well are very low resolution with a low frame rate. Think worse than youtube videos. But oh well, you get what you pay for.

Anyhow, I have been having MUCHO problems with my internet connection recently. When I arrived back in Huzhou from Shanghai this last Sunday evening, I came home to find the internet connection was down. Just like the last weekend, when I went to my friend's house to watch the football game. They got it working again Monday. And then it was fine for Tuesday and Wedne/sday. But then today, Thursday, it was on, the off for about 30 minutes, then on for about an hour, then off again for about 5 minutes, then on again for about 10 minutes, and then finally off again for several hours. In fact, I'm typing this right now in a word processor, waiting for the internet to come back up so I can post it.

I really hope this issue gets resolved soon. One outage on a rare occasion, ok you deal, it happens. But this is becoming a fairly frequent and frustrating occurrence.

Anyhow, as promised, finally, here is a video of my new apartment that I moved into a month ago. Rather here is a link to the video:

Trip to Shanghai

Last weekend (the weekend of the 12th) was the birthday of one of my American friends here in Huzhou and so we (we 20-something American kids in Huzhou) had planned to go to Shanghai to celebrate his birthday.

So this would be my first time actually visiting Shanghai. Landing at the airport, being picked up, and going directly to Huzhou doesn't count.

The others headed for Shanghai Friday evening, but I instead would meet up with them Saturday. The reason being is that I first headed to Hangzhou to go see Jin Song... my girlfriend.

Yes, that's right, I have a girlfriend here in China. She is my “friend” from Hangzhou that I mentioned in some previous posts.

Anyway, I met up with her first, and then together we met the rest of my friends in Shanghai on Saturday.

Shanghai was pretty cool. The transportation was SOOOO much better than in Hangzhou. Reason being, Hangzhou is a city about the size of Chicago, with only buses and taxis to get around. And although Shanghai is actually bigger than New York City, it is spread out further and has a solid subway system in addition to the taxis and buses.

Not to mention, Shanghai has the world's only actively running maglev train track. It runs about 30km (about 19 miles) and goes from the Shanghai Pudong airport to some subway station whose name I forget. Since it's a maglev (magnetic levitation) the thing can go REALLY fast. The whole trip takes about 7 minutes, so it AVERAGES 160 mph (257 kph). And at its fastest the thing is moving at 270 miles per hour! (420 km/h). By the way, I was told that the trip taks 7 minutes, but that if you were to take conventional means (like a taxi) it could take you 45 minutes to an hour, due to both distance and traffic)

So, I had to ride that! And I took a video of it while I was on. I wasn't sure how the video would turn out, but you can really get a sense of the speed from it. The video is about 7 minuts long and we reached top speed (270 mph) at about 3:15 into the video, and that whole minute (3:00 to 4:00) we were going at least 250 mph in that stretch. I've uploaded it to youtube so you guys can watch it.

Something else about Shanghai. You can be in Huzhou (a Tampa-sized city) for a couple weeks and not accidentally see another foreigner (American, Canadian, or European). In Hangzhou, when walking along the street, you'll see a foreigner about every 8 to 10 minutes or so. In Shanghai, however, you won't go a minute on the street without seeing other westerners. It's a very international city. There's really nothing special about that per se. It's just, I have been living in Huzhou for two and a half months now, and I have gotten used to doing a “Oh look, another foreigner!” when I happen to see one.

Also, since it is more international, they do have some Christmas decorations up around Shanghai, here's some pictures

This last one actually reminds me of an episode of the simpsons. There was an epsiode where Homer makes friends with a guy owns a toy shop and is explaining to Homer some of the weird toys he sells. One of them is a Japanese toy, a robot Santa Clause, who the shop owner says the Japanese refer to as “Annual Gift Man.” Anyways, in Shanghai, they have a display of a giant robotic Santa Clause and it reminded me exactly of the one from the Simpsons.

So anyways, Saturday night, for my friend's birthday, he had been craving Mexican food, so we went to a Mexican restaurant he had heard about in Shanghai. It was a fairly nice place, and judging from the clientele, certainly seemed to cater to foreigners. Also, you know you're eating a restaurant that caters to foreigners when the menu is ENTIRELY in English... as in there is NO Chinese on the menu. (I didn't even realize that at first, until Jin Song mentioned that she didn't know what these foods were because the menu was in English. By the way, her English is actually pretty good, but when you start talking about Mexican dishes that Chinese people have never heard of, let alone eaten, she was pretty much in the dark.)

Anyways, there was a problem when we arrived there: we did not have a reservation and they didn't have any open tables. However, they were very accommodating and offered to seat us in a lobby area. I guess we didn't think about what that meant exactly, but that's exactly what it was. In the waiting area, the lobby, they have some sofas and a coffee table, and they cleared it for the 6 of us to sit and eat there.

It was actually a bit surreal. We “kids” (all 20-somethings) we sitting around the short table eating dinner in the extra space, while all the “grown-ups” went into the dining room to eat. It was actually kind of funny in retrospect, but it essentially was like a “kids” table. Anyhow, it was a Mexican restaurant that catered to foreigners, and as such, it was kind of a “fusion” Mexican restaurant, or what I like to call “yuppy-Mexican” (Kind of like how P.F. Chang's in the states isn't really like Chinese food, they call it “fusion” cuisine, but it's really just yuppy-Chinese food). The food here was kind of expensive relative to other restaurants, and the portions a bit small. Anyhow, Jean (Jin Song's English name) and I ordered some tacos, which actually weren't terrible, but the rest of what we all ordered was a bit disappointing in terms of what you'd call good Mexican food, coupled with the price and portions.

The next day for lunch we ordered food from a different Mexican restaurant in Shanghai, not as high scale. The ingredients themselves did seem to be more authentic, less “yuppy” but we didn't have a menu when we ordered. And so, when we ordered beef tacos, they were a mini tortilla (a taquito) with... just beef. That's it. Just beef. No lettuce, no tomatoes, no onions, no cheese. Just beef. And not like a lot of beef, a sprinkling of beef that was fairly dry. Anyways, it would seem that if you want good Mexican food, and you live in China, you will be SOL.

I actually feel worst for Gino, the guys whose birthday it was, because he was the one who had been anticipating getting some good Mexican food all week in Shanghai (in Huzhou, you couldn't find a tortilla to buy if you wanted to).

One thing I also took care of in Shanghai was mailing out the postcards to some of the kids I know back home. That was actually something I could've done in Huzhou, but I would always forget, or when I'd remember, I didn't have a Chinese friend around to help me explain what I wanted to do at the post office. Anyways, at a post office in Shanghai, Jean helped me get the proper postage I needed to mail them off. One thing that was kind of different, the stamps there are not self-adhesive. You have to walk over to the counter and paste it yourself with glue like this:

Finally, the last thing I did do in Shanghai... For Christmas next week, we Americans are going to get together for a Christmas dinner and everyone will make something and bring it. I deciced to make baked ziti! However, in Huzhou, you can find tomato sauce, yes, but the only Italian noodles they have are spaghetti, and forget about the cheeses. So while in Shanghai I bought some ziti, mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese in preparation.

All in all I liked Shanghai, certainly the availability of western foods was much more highly accessible, and the subway system made getting around fairly easy. Maybe next time I go, I will buy some tortillas to try and make my own tacos. Also, Pizza was available in many places, and while most cities (even small cities like Huzhou) in China have a McDonald's, Shanghai even had a Burger King. Mmmm, flame-broiled hamburgers....


I haven't posted anything to my blog in about a month now. It's not that nothing interesting has happened. It's a combination of me being lazy and forgetting to take my camera with me, or buying worthless batteries (for my camera).

So about a month ago I did finally move into my new apartment, and I will take a video tour of it, but that'll be the next post.

About 2 weeks ago Wayne (of the group of 3 Chinese that came over for pizza and poker a while back) invited Ellis and I over to his family's home for dinner and to teach us how to play the Chinese game of Ma Jiang. So we went over there, helped them make baozi (Chinese dumplings) by hand and after dinner, they taught is the “Huzhou” brand of Majiang. By the way, his family have a very nice home, and a 65” TV, but I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have any pictures.

Apparently in China there are several different flavors of Majiang in different regions (kind of like how each region has its own dialect), each with its own rules, but the version we played was actually somewhat similar to rummy, and was rather fun.

So that weekend I was excited about the SEC Championship game coming up: Florida vs Alabama. Now, for those that don't know, I'm able to watch American TV using a device called Slingbox. It's connected to my father's cable and his internet at his house. Then over the internet I can watch cable TV, actually controlling that cable box. The whole reason I even bought the device was for football. And I mostly pay attention to college football this year because it's on at a time when I can watch. If a college game is on at 6pm Eastern time on a Saturday, that is 7am Sunday morning for me. So any evening games I'm able to watch. However pro games, specifically the Buccaneer games, are usually on a 1pm Sunday, which is 2am Monday morning for me, so I can't watch them.

Anyhow that Saturday morning (Friday evening back home) I woke up, and my internet connection was out. Usually its not that big a deal, and there was nothing I really needed to do at that time. However, a few seconds later it hit me that if the internet was not back up by the next morning, I would miss the game! So after shouting a few profanities in no general direction, I began to think, “What can I do?”

My gym has internet, and so do some local coffeehouses. The problem was, however, that the game was on at 4pm ET, or 5am my time. Those places wouldn't be open.

So, I knew it would be a bit of an imposition, but I had missed so many football games this year, and I get to watch so few, I really wanted to see this game, so I called up Wayne, and asked him what he was up to Sunday morning. He said he was free, and then I explained my predicament to him. He said “Sure you can come over. I had no plans, and my fiancee and my parents are out of town this weekend, so its no problem.” He even said if it would be easier (since the game was on so early, 5am) that if I wanted to I could just stay the night.

Anyways, later that evening, my internet still had not come back on, and so I went over to Wayne's and we played some video games (on the DS), went to bed, and the next morning, watch the Gators win the SEC Championship game. I owe Wayne a huge debt of gratitude for that. Plus, we were able to connect my computer to his 65” TV, so it worked out pretty well.