Monday, January 18, 2010

Google, Guests, Guangzhou, and Good Ones

Ok, it's been a couple weeks, and I mightn't have updated my blog now, but there is just too much stuff that either has happened recently or that will happen soon for me to ignore.

In case you didn't know, on Tuesday, Google announced that they are finished with censoring their searches on (the google portal for mainland China) and that they would try to work with the Chinese authorities over the coming weeks to see how they could implement an unfiltered search engine, if at all. This "if at all" is not only significant, it's likely, as the Chinese
government is not likely to compromise on this issue. So it looks like Google, and all of its widely used features such as google docs and gmail will soon be unavailable in China. Part of this was precipitated from what Google said was a highly targeted and sophisticated hacking attack originating from China. The implication was that it was the Chinese government behind these attacks, but wasn't expicitly stated.

Later, VeriSign, an internet security company, looked into the matter and declared that the attacks were either done by "agents of the Chinese state or proxies thereof."

After I first read this news I realized that this could have huge, if not in the short term, at least in the long term, economic and political ramifications. But I posited that it may hinge on what the other US-based internet players do after Google's withdrawal. I did read recently that there has been a bit of a revival of a bill on Congress that would ban US tech based companies from doing business in countries that digitally spy on their own citizens. There are a number of reasons why I think a bill like this probably couldn't pass, but it does show the renewed vigor of the argument.

In the end, I think that in the long term, Google's move here is a good thing... for the Chinese
people. was the #2 search player here in China with about 35% of the market. The leaer is with about 58% market share. However, an article I read recently suggests that while the Google-using Chinese population was smaller and younger, they represented, on average, a wealthier and more highly educated portion of the Chinese population... the kind of people more likely to make noise and effect change later on.

Two of the more interesting articles I read were a San Francisco gate piece here and a New York Times piece here and I highly recommend them for a read.

By the way, in all that I've been reading about this issue this past week, I did come across one extra interesting tidbit. Apparently using encryption of your internet connection (such as I do when I use my VPN to connect to my blog or facebook or youtube) in China is not allowed... unless you are a foreign national. So, I'm perfectly allowed to circumvent it using my current methods. :)

The weekend before last, Jean and I invited Ellis to come to Hangzhou (only her 2nd trip to Hangzhou in over a year) and to stay with us for the weekend. On Friday night, we all went out to Eudora, a favorite Hangzhou hangout of ours, to eat some pizza.




Fried Calamari (interesting side note, and I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but the phrase "fried squid" in Chinese, 炒鱿鱼 chao you yu, is a colorful way to say in Chinese that one has been fired from his job)

The pizza at Eudora is the best I've had in China... but it essentially is a little too heavy on
the grease, as you will notice in these pictures.

As listed in the menu, the four-sausage pizza

The 4-cheese pizza. This picture really gives you a clear idea of how much grease was involved. Perhaps it was more like, "Oh waiter, I think I found some pizza swimming in my grease."

After going for a walk to burn off some of those greasy greasy calories, we decided to add a few more and bought a half-dozen doughnuts for the next day's breakfast. Top to bottom, left to right: Coco Ring (That's "Coco" Ellis. There is no "k"), Cherry, Chocobanana, Blueberry, Strawberry, and Coffee

On Saturday, we went to the movie theater to see "Avatar." The movie was played in English with Chinese subtitles. The only annoying parts were when the Navi were speaking their native language. There were no English subtitles in those sections, only Chinese ones. I'm not totally illiterate when it comes to Chinese characters, but it'd be safe to compare my literacy level to that of a 7 year old, both in terms of vocab recognition and reading speed. When those Navi-language-only moments would happen, I could usually catch at least 3 or 4 characters that I knew before it flashed to the next line, and it was often enough for me to understand, but that wasn't always the case. Luckily, those moments were infrequent and minimized by the fact that James Cameron's writing is fairly simple and predictable. The movie was visually stunning and brilliant, and from a design and visuals standpoint, perhaps the most impressive movie I've ever seen. From an acting standpoint, however, I found it average, and as far as the story was concerned, if you've seen Disney's "Pocahontas", you basically know the story already.

After the movie we grabbed some lunch, grabbed a drink in Starbucks, took a stroll by scenic West Lake, and snapped a few pictures while we were there.

This one is my favorite.

After that we caught late dinner at a restaurant called "Babela's" where we had some beer-fried bananas with ice cream, test-tube cocktails, and serviceable pizza for only 19 yuan ($2.79).

We finally ending the evening with a few beers. Wonder if these Harbin brand beers will taste any better fresh from Harbin next month?

Well, this week Jean and I will head to Guangzhou for her visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.
Jean's getting fairly nervous, which is understandable, but I keep telling her that we've got nothing to worry about: Just be honest, and it'll be over before you know it, and we'll soon have a K1 (fiancee) visa in our possession.

Before this week, I had assumed that the visa interview would take place in a room and might need 15 to 20 minutes. However, after some research, Jean found that the interviews are done in an open area, with the interview officers behind a glass window, something akin to the DMV. Further, the interviews are quite short, generally 3 to 5 minutes.

This is a fairly significant event, so be assured that I'll be posting about this trip shortly.

Finally, last week was my last week of classes, and I had given my students a written exam. I don't mean make fun of the students, but I have to admit some of the answers my students wrote, often intentionally on their part, gave me a chuckle.

One of the sections of my exam compares the usage of the word "much" with "many", and the students are to write two sentences, one using "much" and one using "many." The one that made me smile was the student who wrote, "It won't take me much time to finish this test. I have many other things to do this afternoon."

Another funny one was related to the class we had on cooking vocabulary. The question was "When you cut bread into flat pieces you _____ it." with the correct answer being "slice." I gave one student half credit for making me laugh when he wrote, "When you cut bread into flat pieces you will eat it."

Finally, since one of my lectures this past semester covered Christmas, I asked them a few questions about it. One of the questions was, "Where does Santa Claus live?" The vast majority of students got this one right, but I liked these answers:

-America (had 2 students give this answer)

-Finland (really not too far off when you think about it)

-Florida (I guess she thought my father was Santa Claus from his picture?)

and finally...

-In everyone's hearts

You gotta love it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The '09-'10 Holiday Season, Jingle 铃 (Jingle Ling)

In case you're curious 铃 (Ling), as in the title of this post, means "bell."

The Holiday Season has come and gone for the most part, and I hadn't yet posted anything.

Well, I was going to post shortly after Christmas, but then it turned to New Year's, and I decided to have one combined holiday post.

Also on the docket today, I finally got in some of the photos from my modeling. My personal opinion: I needed a haircut, and the orange striped shirt they had me wear is atrocious.

Well, I may as well lead off with that. I already posted about the modelling, so if you hadn't read it you can check it out here. Without further ado, here are the pics:

So I did actually have to work on Christmas Day, but it was just one class at 8 AM, which finished at 9:40, so the rest of my day was free, just like any Friday. Unfortunately, I couldn't spend the day with Jean since she had to work. But my foreign friends were having a Christmas party and I was invited, so that's what I did. Paul the Canadian invited several others over to his house for dinner, and he provided all the food, save for the wonderful desserts a la Ellis.

Sorry I don't have any photos from Christmas, I didn't bring my camera and (gasp!) neither did Ellis. Paul prepared an excellent roast chicken, and after dinner, a few of us sat around and played "Truth or Drink", a slight variation on "Truth or Dare", and which was fueled on by the inexplicable enthusiasm and raunchiness of one Korean exchange student named Ding-Ding.

The next day, Saturday the 26th, Jean came to Huzhou where we exchanged gifts. Now I had actually made an online purchase of some luggage that she had asked for, but it had not yet arrived. (On a side note, still haven't purchased y'all's gift for Jean, Mom & Dad.)

Luckily I was not completely empty-handed in the gift department as I had furtively bought her a toy penguin I had seen her play with when we were in a supermarket one time.

Recently, Jean and Ellis have been becoming better friends (Ellis keeps joking that I had better "watch out." At least, I think she's joking... right, Ellis?). Anyhow, Jean bought a little something for Ellis, a interesting slide calendar. It's difficult to describe, but the best way I can think is to imagine a Swiss Army knife except each of the blades is a month of the calendar. Also, much larger than a Swiss Army knife.

I mentioned to Ellis, not what Jean had gotten her, but that Jean had gotten her a little Christmas gift (as a heads up), and so Ellis also got Jean a little gift as well. It was a notepad. But not just any notepad. In its original package the notepad looks like... a package of Salmon you might buy in a grocery store. Yeah, it's definitely different, but in a good way I think. Jean mentioned she's not sure she wants to open it, because the package is all part of the presentation. I tend to agree with her.

As for me, Jean got me a new electric razor, and a pretty darned spiffy one I might add too! She may have gotten the idea when I mentioned I'd had my old one since high school, about 10 years old now. The new one she got me has the swivel heads (that will pivot to the contours of the face) and can be washed under running water. I've used it several times now since Christmas and this has turned out to be a really fantastic gift! Thanks babe!

Also pretty interesting, even though it wasn't "technically" Christmas Day, on Sunday morning December 27th (still Christmas weekend) it was snowing! Now maybe I'm just a bumpkin from the South, but consarnit, I can count the number of times I've seen snow actually falling in front of me on one hand, so when I saw this, it was pretty cool. And you could, with a reasonable stretch, even call it a Christmas snow. I took a video of it, and I've posted to YouTube here.

Finally New Year's. Alas, once again I couldn't spend a holiday together with my sweetheart. She works for the City of Hangzhou, Shangcheng District Finance Office. And in China, if you work in a government finance office, or in any bank, you spend New Year's Eve working. It's the last day of the fiscal year, so there's many things that need to be done, and they stay at the office all night. From what Jean has told me the office leaders take everyone out to dinner, and then they go back to the office and go back to work until midnight.

The calendar New Year's Eve is not the "big" New Year's Eve in China, so while those workers would rather not be at work, it's not the same injustice that it would seem to be back in the states. (Chinese New Year, now that's a horse of a different color.)

So, Web English, the company I work for part-time, was putting on a show that night and they asked me if I wanted to attend. Since I had no other plans, I said, "Sure."

The show/party began at about 7 PM and went on until about 10 o'clock. Brandon (an American teacher at web) and I had a short performance onstage, a poem recitation. We recited a short Chinese poem about the city of Huzhou.

山从天目成群出 Shan cong tian mu, cheng qun chu
水傍太湖分港流 Shui bang tai hu, fen gang liu
行遍江南清丽地 Xing bian jiang nan, qing li di
人生只合住湖州 Ren sheng zhi he, zhu Huzhou

To roughly translate (and I do mean "roughly", this is poetry after all. If any of my Chinese friends are reading this, please forgive any errors) it says that the orator has seen beautiful mountains and rivers and such scenery, but that Huzhou is the only suitable place to live.

The students from Web also put on several different performances, and did a pretty good job at that. Here are some of the photos from the event.

Here several of the teachers are receiving awards. Yep, that's right, I'm the only one wearing jeans at this formal event. In my defense, I didn't formally receive an invitation which formally said it was formal dress. Also, if I had, I don't have any black pants here in China.

This is me, Apple, and Brandon. Apple is the manager of the teachers, basically my boss, and, unfortunately for her, in charge of coordinating the whole event.

Here are Brandon and I during our poetry recitation.

This is Steven, a Londoner, replete with thick cockney accent, one of my colleagues at web, enjoying himself to the open bar. (I gotta say, the first time I met the guy, he was tall and lanky, and reminded me of the tall, lanky henchman of Cruella deVille in "101 Dalmations." Then, lo, when he spoke, I found that his voice was every bit as cockney as I had expected.)

Here is one that the photographer snapped when I wasn't looking. Nothing special happening here, I just think it's a good picture of me, which is pretty rare, I usually hate my pictures of me.

After the party ended several of us from Web (foreign and Chinese alike) headed over to the Forest Bar (a bar in Huzhou) and met up with some of the other Huzhou foreigners already there. We then proceeded to try and catch up to them in drinking. Not long after we counted down and rang in the New Year. I then went to Hangzhou the next day to spend the New Year's Day with my girl.