Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shanghai public transportation news, courtesy of the 青年报 (Youth Daily):

  • In order to improve traffic flow around Shanghai Railway station, motorbikes are to be forbidden on various streets in the area. This new regulation will take effect on December 1st.

  • Starting tomorrow the Maglev will extend its hours of operation from 9 hours a day to 14 hours a day. The old hours were 8:30am to 5:30pm, and the new hours will be 7:00am to 9:00pm. During the extended morning and evening hours the train will only reach a peak speed of 300 km/hr, as opposed to the daytime peak of 430 km/hr, but the trip duration will only increase by one and a half minutes, to 8.5 minutes total. For the entire length of the operating day, train departures will be fifteen minutes apart.

I think the new Maglev hours still won't be early and late enough to cover the regular flights to and from the USA.

Oh yeah, and I discovered today that there is a new Hello Pizza location just a short walk south of the Zhongshan Park light rail station, on Kaixuan Rd. So now there is one on Jiangsu Rd, on the east end of Zhongshan Park, and on the west end of Zhongshan Park. Hooray for the RMB 10 Hawaiian pizza!

When will Carrefour and Hualian supermarkets get with the times and stop giving me fen with my change? The smallest functional unit of currency in China is the mao/jiao, guys!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I'm cleaning out my home directory, and I just ran across this little table I put together the day I moved out of my last apartment:


In March, I went on vacation for a couple of weeks. In April I went on a computer binge with the box I brought back from the US; it was also one of the peak cold months, and I went a little overboard with the heating.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I watched Saving Face (my pick) last night to come down from a Korean horror flick (Jodi's pick) adrenaline-high, and I had this weird feeling the whole time because it was my conscious experience of watching a movie about the Asian American experience and feeling able to almost completely understand all the Chinese dialogue, which was not meant for consumption by the average (white) American audience member, who would have had to rely on subtitles. I'm not saying this to show off or anything, it was just a weird feeling because then I was comparing the dialogue to the subtitles and found that the subtitles were totally Orientalist—"Saving Face" and "build up your chi"—while the actual Chinese dialogue was a lot more common sense and natural. To borrow a phrase, that's racist!

Tantek points to John's post on a philosophy that echoes one of mine:

I can get another driver's license. I have another camera. I have more money. I can buy more trashy, frosted-pink lipstick.

I'll consider the loss to be part of my optimism tax. I sporadically pay this fee (when people take advantage of my trust in goodness) in exchange for optimistic freedom.

I would be less at-risk if I concentrated more on the negatives. "What if _____ happens?" But it's not worth it. The cost to my quality of life (by worrying more) is far more expensive than the cost of losing some stuff.

And it would only take a bit of work to fit this to my Christian worldview, I think.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I actually got out of the house today and did some interesting stuff on a Saturday morning, and now I'm waiting for Jodi to get home from work, so let me write it up. This post will be half "life in Shanghai" and half "life of Micah".

Unfortunately, I couldn't avoid the morning lazies so by the time I got to the book swap down at Dante Cafe on West Nanjing Rd, I was running about an hour late. Luckily, all the kids were still there and I managed to give away three books and gain one (a collection of Thomas Mann short stories). I think it would be nice if I take a list of books that I would be willing to lend, but not give away, because both book swaps have been preceded by an excruciating session "oh, I wish I could share this book but I REALLY want it back." Big ups to John and Tian for putting on another successful book swap.

On the way to the book swap, I saw a huge set of posters along West Nanjing Rd advertising upcoming movies. One of them is "Perhaps Love", which I would describe as a Chinese "Moulin Rogue" from the trailer I saw last month at the Broadway Cinematheque in Hong Kong. It stars Chinese-Japanese heartthrob Takeshi YutakaKaneshiro, and features lots of singing and dancing. A must see! Coming to a theater near you, December 2nd, 2005.

I had to shuffle off a little early because I was already behind on my way to the Shanghai Perl Users Meetup. The address turned out to be the technical training center that group leader Joe Jiang works at, set in a quiet, charming little neighborhood of 3-story red brick apartments just two blocks down bustling West Nanjing Road from the Dante Cafe. The meeting consisted of 5 people, was conducted entirely in Chinese (naturally), and was composed of a short round of self-introductions, a talk by Joe about the POE Perl module which he had used in a project and co-translated the documentation for, and a talk by a dashing young graduate student about the use of Perl in the bio-informatics. Joe's talk was very technical and forced us to grapple with several dense pieces of code, and of course was a great learning experience for me in terms of specialized vocabulary. The Bio-informatics talk was non-technical, and covered everything from Tamiflu to the different Perl modules that deal with database formats for storing genetic sequence data. Afterwards, the rest of the group went out to dinner together, but I chose to wander home because Jodi is expecting me back for dinner.

Wandering home is great because I've tended to coop myself up at home the last few weeks, maintaining my morning lazy state all the way into the late afternoon when it's time to prepare dinner. Today, though, besides picking up a couple of movies at the DVD place by Hongkou Stadium—Asian-American culture clash comedy "Saving Face" and Korean horror flick "The Ghost"—and dodging scalpers and binocular sellers hovering outside the Stadium due to tonight's Malaysian All-stars concert, I managed to pick up a Shanghai Evening Post and get through a few articles on the light rail ride home.

Of the most personal interest to me was the article detailing recent revelations concerning public transportation in Shanghai. First off, we find out that the one-ticket-system that recently integrated Line 3 (light rail) with Line 1 and Line 2 (subway/metro) will be extended to Line 5 (light rail) by the end of the year. One amusing side effect of this decision that the reporter noted was that in some cases it will actually be cheaper to leave the platform and buy a seperate ticket for your Line 5 ride because the privately operated Line 5 did not follow the publicly owned Lines 1, 2 and 3 in raising their prices back in October. Also in the article, it is stated that when Line 5 joins the other lines in a single ticket system, it will also implement "满70元享9折", ie the "10% off after RMB 70" plan; in addition, the city will allow passengers to inquire at tellers how much they've spent that month, in order to know when they can start enjoying their 10% discount.

The second section of interest answers a question I've had for a long time: how do I know if I'm getting ripped off at the farmer's market? Come on, haven't we all wondered this at one time or another? So I was excited to find a chart in the "Metro Life" section called 疏菜批发价格, or Wholesale Vegetable Prices, which I reproduce below:

Chinese greens
0.7 番茄
1.7 什椒
0.6 冬瓜
Winter melon
Chinese cabbage
0.45 黄瓜
2.6 毛豆
Soy bean
1.8 豇豆
1.9 刀豆
String bean
Water spinach
(blank) 茭白
Wild rice stem
2.1 土豆

Source: 上海农产品中心批发市场经营管理有限公司 (Shanghai Agricultural Products Center Wholesale Market Operational Management Company, Ltd).

Pretty cool, huh? Just clip it and keep this cheat sheet with you next time you go shopping.

Here's one amusing bit in the Hotline section of stories involving the police and/or medical services:


晚报迅 昨天下午2点,家住四平路的苏小姐正在打扫房间,突然打了一个喷嚏。不料动作过大,腰部顿时动弹不得。她忙呼喊男友帮忙,后拨打120求救。


Sneeze Strains Sweeping Sweetie

Evening Post Wire Yesterday at 2am, Ms Su was sweeping her Siping Rd residence when she suddenly gave quick sneeze. To her surprise, although the sneeze was not overly powerful, she found that her waist was paralized. She hurriedly called out to her boyfriend, and then dialed the city's 120 medical emergency hotline.

An examination and X-rays resulted in a non-serious diagnosis: the woman's waist was sprained, and called for nothing more than bedrest and abstaining from strenuous activity for two weeks.

If would be funnier if I was a better translator.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ahh, the joys of a fresh Firefox install, with all my favorite plugins and customizations:

Further info: my Essential Firefox Extensions, userChrome.css, and userContent.css.

Monday, November 21, 2005

This is a post about life in Shanghai.

So how's everybody enjoying the weather? Freezing one day, temperate the next and then back to freezing again. I've broken out the long underwear already, though I think that a comfie pair of sweatpants worn under the jeans beats longjohns any day.

I've been meaning to write about the following topic for a couple of weeks now. If you ride the metro a lot like I do, you maybe have noticed some strange balances on your stored value card. For example, right now I have RMB 107.1 left with which to charge bus, metro and taxi rides. Huh? How did that one mao get onto there? Well, I figured it's the "frequent user discount" that I wrote about back in September, the one where you get 10% off metro tickets when you spend more than RMB 70 in a month. A few more rides at discounted prices confirmed that hypothesis.

I checked out the Live Bar for the noise concert on Sunday night. Man, that venue is truly "underground" if there ever was an underground venue in Shanghai. It's too bad that getting there is such a pain; tucked down in the southern corner of Yangpu District, it's inconvenient to get there from just about anywhere except central Shanghai. It's really the kind of place I'd go just to hang out, if I was into that kind of thing. But since I just found a cute little all-you-can-drink teahouse tucked away in a side alley off North Sichuan Rd...

Oh, and I'm looking forward to the Book Swap this Saturday. I got a couple more good ones.

Oh man, internet radio site added a Drum 'n' Bass channel. Woo.

Monday, November 14, 2005

At dinner on Friday, Jodi and YL gave Asa the nickname 文盲 (illiterate), then changed it to 伊里特瑞.

I'm addicted to this Cai Yilin song; for some reason I could not understand the words to it at all until I looked them up on Baidu.

Shanghai has this thing for putting its major sporting events out in the middle of nowhere (aka Minhang).

Proust is the bomb. Here's another sample sentence which also happens to be a paragraph:

All this, and still more the treasures which had come to the church from personages who to me were almost legendary figures (such as the golden cross wrought, it was said, by Saint Eloi and presented by Dagobert, and the tomb of the sons of Louis the Germanic in porphyry and enamelled copper), because of which I used to advance into the church, as we made our way to our seats, as into a fairy-haunted valley, where the rustic sees with amazement in a rock, a tree, a pond, the tangible traces of the little people's supernatural passage—all this made of the church for me something entirely different from the rest of the town: an edifice occupying, so to speak, a four-dimensional space—the names of the fourth being Time—extending through the centuries its ancient nave, which, bay after bay, chapel after chapel, seemed to stretch across and conquer not merely a few yards of soil, but each successive epoch from which it emerged triumphant, hiding the rugged barbarities of the eleventh century in the thickness of its walls, through which nothing could be seen of the heavy arches, long stopped and blinded with coarse blocks of ashlar, except where, near the porch, a deep cleft had been hollowed out by the tower staircase, and veiling it even there by the graceful Gothic arcades which crowded coquettishly around it like a row of grown-up sisters who, to hide him from the eyes of strangers, arrange themselves smilingly in front of a rustic, surly and ill-dressed younger brother; raising up into the sky above the Square a tower which had looked down upon Saint Louis, and seemed to see him still; and thrusting down with its crypt into a Merovingian darkness, thorugh which, guiding us with groping finger-tips beneath the shadowy vault, powerfuly ribbed like an immense bat's wing of stone, Thèodore and his siter would light up for us with a candle the tomb of Sigebert's little daughter, in which a deep cavity, like the bed of a fossil, had been dug, or so it was said, "by a crystal lamp which, on the night when the Frankish princess was murdered, had detached itself, of its own accord, from the golden chains by which it was suspended on the site of the present apse and, with neither the crystal being broken nor the light extinguished, had buried itself in the stone, which had softly given way beneath it."

You can see abve how Proust uses all the tools of drawing out a sentence: commas, the m-dash ("—"), semi-colons, the word "which", and quoting other sources.

I hope this book gets exciting sometime soon.

What's up with American companies lately making things cheaper in China to give consumers an alternative to piracy? For example, on the Shanghai Expat forum, user Magnolia tells us that the reason I can only find an RMB 28 copy of the new Willy Wonka movie at the little DVD place next to Hongkou Stadium is that it's an official Warner Bros release. And I just discovered that Shanghai Book City on Fuzhou Road is selling classic computer science reprints in English and Chinese for cheap: an officially licensed Nanjing University Press reprint of O'Reilly's Python was going for RMB 68, about USD 7.50. Why didn't they do start doing this a long time ago?

A couple Chinese friends told me that November eleventh (11/11) is Singles' Day? And that it's a Western holiday? I told them I'd never heard of it.

Oh man, I went to a net cafe last night for the first time in forever, and I just about died from the broadband rush. Dial-up is cool, but only in moderation. (I know Asa's laughing his head off right about now.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

I'm reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past for fun reading, and this is the kind of things I'm having to work through:

And so I must set forth without viaticum; must climb each step of the staircase "against my heart,"[1] as the saying is, climbing in opposition to my heart's desire, which was to return to my mother, since she had not, by kissing me, given my heart leave to accompany me forth. That hateful staircase, up which I always went so sadly, gave out a smell of varnish which had, as it were, absorbed and crystallised the special quality of sorrow that I felt each evening, and made it perhaps even crueller to my sensibility because, when it assumed this olfactory guise, my intellect was powerless to resist it. When we have gone to sleep with a raging toothache and are conscious of it only as of a little girl whom we attempt, time after time, to pull out of the water, or a line of Molière which we repeat incessantly to ourselves, it is a great relief to wake up, so that our intelligence can disentangle the idea of toothache from any artificial semblance of heroism or rhythmic cadence. It was the converse of this relief which I felt when my anguish at having to go up to my room invaded my consciousness in a manner infinitely rapid, instantaneous almost, a manner at once insidious and brutal, through the inhalation—far more poisonous than moral penetration—of the smell of varnish peculiar to that staircase.

[1] à contre-coeur: reluctantly.

It's so... high school literature. Proust takes a whole, convoluted paragraph to describe this kid walking up the staircase to his room for bed, when he would rather stay in the dining room with his parents entertaining that night's guest. I would never ascribe such deep and refined thoughts to a child, but the anguish described in the above paragraph is such an accurate reflection of the depth of feelings kids have when separated from their parents, isn't it? And don't you love the mess of analogies—drowning girl, line from Molière, toothache—and the idea that his anguish is crystallized into the varnish on the bannister? Great stuff, it's like the classical music of writing: intricate, challenging, strengthening.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Since I translated the schedule of the conference on this weblog before, let me take a new angle on the Chinese Blogger Conference; there were several different groups of people present at the conference: the media, commercial interests, evangelizers and experts, and hobbyists (and probably the PSB, but let's not be paranoid).

The media are at the conference to cover new trends in the Chinese internet, because that is where the money is right now and they can sell papers if they cover that topic. These guys and girls, depending on their level of Chinese proficiency, were either sitting in the conference hall listening for interesting quotes in the talks, having a smoke in the hallway outside chewing the fat with other journalists, or running around the Green Room trying to get quotes from the last speaker or other stars of the Chinese weblogging scene. They carried laptops, checking their Bloglines accounts and listening in on the official IRC channel, and recording devices and pen/paper to jot down keywords and quotes on the themes they were covering. Sometimes they had a translator or photographer tagging along. The Chinese press had a larger presence the first day, but the foreign contingent stuck around on Sunday while their local counterparts left to take care of other business.

Big business was not at the conference, but startups from both sides of the Pacific were represented: I saw representatives of VC firms, Feedster, Blogbus, Seehaha, Toodou, a consultant friend, and I'm sure there were more. The conference was really low key, so there was little chance to advertise products. I'm thinking the weekend was more about schmoozing and establishing relationships during the off-hours. Several business representatives had places on discussion panels.

The conference's speakers were drawn mostly from the "evangelizers and experts" group. The conference "godfather" Isaac Mao gave a very polished keynote speech summarizing the general state of the Chinese weblogging situation as the vanguard of the World Wide Web. Rebecca McKinnon of Global Voices moderated a panel of Taiwan and Hong Kong bloggers on "Blogging Beyong Borders," covering translation, language and culture. Professor Zhuang of Beijing Normal University gave the talk on Weblogs and Education that flew over my head. Professor Li of Hong Kong University executed the transition from the Web 2.0 discussion to a talk about weblogs and the challenge they present to traditional media. And various other pro-ams led talks and panels on things like podcasting (an exciting talk that got off-topic and wandered into copyright and libertarianism) and RSS (a "social" talk where the speaker called various bloggers up to give their perspectives on RSS creation and usage). This being the first event of its kind, this was the first time that many of these people had the chance to meet face-to-face, but the camraderie felt was deep because lots of these guys have been very good friends online for years. It's my feeling that, in contrast to the American weblogging scene, the Chinese scene is weaker on the technical side and so the cultural motivations behind pushing forward the weblogging trend dominate over the logical, technical reasons, or at least that the culture is the driver rather than the technology; this is also due in part to the political scene that exists in China. Think back to Chinese history for examples.

The hobbyists, I think, had the most fun. These are the guys participated in the conference as volunteers handing out goodie bags and nametags, surfed the web on their laptops during the sessions chatting on IRC and refreshing the Flickr page, riding around on the kiddie-construction-machines brought in by a toy company sponsor (a la dot-com-boom startup), snapping and uploading pics to Flickr, checking the live broadcast on SeeHaHa, laughing at speaker jokes, and acting as pro-am speakers for many talks.

Here are some random notes:

  • My impression was that the number of Windows notebooks far outnumbered Macs. I saw two notebooks running Linux.
  • We got T-shirts. One T-shirt with signatures of all the speakers is going to be auctioned off to pay for expenses. After all, we only payed about USD 12 for a two day conference that included a T-shirt and two lunches!
  • The entire conference was conducted in Chinese, with a liberal sprinkling-in of English buzzwords. Still I learned a lot of Chinese buzzwords too, like 语义网 (semantic web) vs 语境网 (contextual web), 微支付 (microformatspayments; thanks petechen, who suggests 微格式 for microformats), 开源 (open source), and 标签 (tag).
  • Thanks to Wi-Fi, Professor Zhuang's laptop announced on the projection screen that she had 7035 unread Bloglines entries. Yikes!
  • Dave Winer got a rave endorsement during the RSS talk.
  • Lunch was in the cafeteria upstairs, so Joon and I played hookie: Bifengtang for Hong Kong dim-sum on the first day, and a canteen-style hole-in-the-wall place I know just a few yard from Jing'an Temple for Shanghainese xiaolong bao and noodles on the second day.
  • I know it when I see it.
  • "Acronyms of English words are easier for Chinese people to remember and say", I figured out as I struggled to understand what BSP and SNS are (Blogging Service Provider and Social Network Service), and observed the sudden blank-faces-to-smiles-of-recognition that happened when Dr Li switched from talking about Counter-Strike to talking about CS.
  • Friggin' everyone uses GMail.
  • Friggin' everyone uses Firefox.
  • We got a look at the visitor stats for gets about half the visitors from Baidu that it does from Goole, but gets about 200x the number of visitors from Baidu as it does from Google. One of the top searches (3 or 4) that lead to the Wikipedia mirror is 色情影片, "erotic films".
  • Each participant received a goodie bag on registration with the schedule, meal tickets, conference stickers, and sponsor materials, including a dolls-of-the-world sample, and a die-cast double-decker "Blog Bus", a play on the name of one of China's biggest, and probably most forward-thinking, blogging services.
  • Only at a Bloggercon in China can you talk about ideas that "pop-up出来" and have people not blink an eye.
  • My three favorite talks were the keynote speech by Isaac Mao (currently suffering a non-Slashdot Slashdotting, so check out his Flickr photos), the Podcasting panel moderated by Hopesome, and Horse's slick introduction to Web 2.0.
  • Next time, I need to make up some personal business cards. This time, I either apologized, or went punk rock and Sharpied over some business cards I didn't want.

This year there were 200 seats in the auditorium and there was a little bit of overflow. Next year's Chinese Blogger Conference is tentatively slated to take place in Beijing. But remember, like Yining said, this is it's not the begining of the end, but an end of begining (is English the new Latin/Classical Chinese?).

UPDATE: while she was not moderating a panel, Rebecca McKinnon was busily typing away at her laptop and communicating with Global Voices colleague Angelo Embuldeniya over IRC. The result? A pretty complete English-language transcript of the Conference. Thanks for the heads up and congrats on the excellent job, Angelo and Rebecca.

Also, Wang Jianshou snapped portraits of just about all the major names at the conference. It's worth checking out.

Rebecca McKinnon has also written a post summing up the conference and speculating on the future of the weblogging and the internet in this part of the world. It's filled with lots of good quotes; essential reading.

I gave into my weakness for theological discussion and posted a comment on blakestarrunner's Xanga, which I quote here:

I know we can anthropomorphize God because we are created in his image, but can we do that with sin?

Is sin that important anyway? We all sin, so shouldn't we concentrate on forgiveness, which will convict us not to sin?

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Friday, November 04, 2005

Jodi gives me a cake.  I'm...
Jodi smears cake on my face.  I'm...

I'm trying to put together something a little less low key for next week. Stay tuned.