Visiting China’s Other Great Wall

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

English Wikipedia is mostly available from here in Beijing but there are some notable exceptions:

The connection to the server was reset while the page was loading.                                     *   The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy. Try again in a few           moments.      *   If you are unable to load any pages, check your computer’s network           connection.      *   If your computer or network is protected by a firewall or proxy, make sure           that Firefox is permitted to access the Web.

I’ve also noticed that although I can get through to some parts of IBiblio, I can’t reach others, including Cafe au Lait and Cafe con Leche. I can get e-mail from IBiblio but not use SFTP (which explains why those sites are fairly static at the moment.)

I knew I should have set up that VPN before I left the states.

Wanted: A Course in Pidgin Mandarin

Friday, April 18th, 2008

One thing this trip to Beijing has brought out is just how useful it would be to speak even a little Mandarin here, even if one can’t reasonably converse or understand spoken Mandarin. Maybe a week’s worth of basic vocabulary and phrases:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I don’t speak Chinese.
  • Cell phone
  • Too Expensive
  • No meat
  • Duck
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Rice
  • Noodles
  • Water
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Diet Coke
  • How much?
  • Skim Milk
  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Thank you
  • Not now
  • Maybe later
  • I don’t know
  • I understand
  • Turn right
  • Turn left
  • You’re going the wrong way
  • Down the sidewalk!
  • Oh my God I’m going to die and I still haven’t seen the giant pandas!
  • etc.


Beijing Day 2

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Today I spent doing a lot of the standard tourist things in Beijing: The Forbidden City, Beihai Park, Hutongs, and Jianshan Park; and the most interesting thing I noticed while doing this is that Beijing is not a tourist city.

Even in the Forbidden City, Caucasians were greatly outnumbered by Asians (all Chinese as near as I could tell). After I left the Forbidden City, it was over an hour before I saw another Caucasian and that infrequency repeated until I got to the Jade Islet late in the day. There were several tour groups wandering around the Hutongs, but they were all Chinese.

This did mean I stuck out more than I’m accustomed to, and was a target for every single person making their living off tourists: waitresses trying to lure me into tea shops, vendors hawking water bottles, “Rolex” salesmen, and rickshaw drivers looking for a fare. These were the most persistent. They’d follow me down the street, and just as one would give up, the next would jump in. You think they might have realized that I could not have possibly gotten halfway down the block without already refusing half a dozen of their competitors. I’m not sure why they thought I’d be different, but maybe they were desperate. There were hundreds of them, and not many potential customers (though most of the people I’ve seen actually riding in rickshaws are Chinese.)

10 Things I Hate About Irvine

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

10. Taco Bell qualifies as ethnic food. Chile’s counts as gourmet dining.

9. Drivers who think the bicycle lane is a right turn lane.

8. Supermarkets that charge you 30% more because you don’t have some silly plastic card.

7. Paranoid residents who lock themselves up in gated communities in case brown people drive by (except for the ones who cut the grass, of course.)

6. No laundromats. If you aren’t rich enough to buy your own washer and dryer, go live somewhere else.

5. No parking signs everywhere, but you have to have a car to go anywhere.

4. Homeowners associations that refuse to tell you what the rules are but will ticket you for violating them.

3. Walk signals that last approximately 0.4 seconds before they start blinking red.

2. Farmers’ markets where frozen Alaskan fish and Mexican vegetables count as local food.

And the number one thing I hate about Irvine:

ZipCar expands Insurance Coverage

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Zipcar and Flexcar have agreed to merge. This is exactly the sort of merger that I think ought to be prohibited by antitrust laws: two competitors doing exactly the same thing, even if they are both still Tiddlywink operations by Fortune 500 standards. I’d much rather see them compete in the marketplace than collude. However there will be at least one immediate benefit for ZipCar customers: more insurance.

Effective immediately, Zipcar is raising their coverage to $300,000 per incident for members 21 and over instead of the state mandated minimum. It will also soon be possible to rent Zipcars in Flexcar’s cities: Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland and Atlanta. Now if they could only find the cars they think they have in Brooklyn, everything would be hunky dory.

Yet Another Way to Beat Airport Security

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Apparently the duty free shops have convinced the TSA (and foreign equivalents) to allow unlimited quantities of liquor, water, and so forth from outside the security checkpoint to be carried onto the planes provided they’re sealed in a special clear plastic baggie at purchase and not removed from the bag before you clear security. I have just one word to say about this incredibly tight security: Tylenol.