Thursday, July 31, 2008

Terracotta Warriors

I was flipping channels and came across a promo for the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. They currently have an exhibition of the Terra Cotta Warriors from China. It's supposed to be the largest exhibition of the clay warriors outside of China. During my trips to China, I've only been to Chengdu and Sanya, not counting the transit stops in Hong Kong. Since most of the trips are "business" for PMI, I haven't done any touristy stuff. Even though Xian, where the original tomb was found, is not that far from Chengdu, I'm not sure when I'll get to visit. Since they brought the warriors here, I'll probably drive 10 minutes up the freeway and check out the exhibition.


Picture of the Terracotta Warriors my parents took on the trip to China last year

Coincidentally, I just watched Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon online, starring Andy Lau, Sammo Hung, and Maggie Q. The movie is set during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese History, from 220 AD to 280 AD. The Terracotta Army was built ~500 years earlier by 秦始皇 (Qin Shi Huang), the First Emperor of China. The Qin Dynasty didn't last that long, from 221 BC to 206 BC, and was followed by the Han Dynasty from 206 BC to 220 AD. Most of the Chinese history classes I took in college was focused on the modern period, beginning with the Republic of China in 1912. I'll need to find some books and learn more about the other ~5000 years of history.

Leaked Olympic Video

Sam sent me an article about how despite the multiple layers of security at the Olympics, a camera crew from SBS (Seoul Broadcast Systems) was able to walk in and film the opening ceremony rehearsal. The clip was posted online but soon disappeared from Sina.com and YouTube, presumably under pressure from BOCOG.

Further proof that Chinese Netizens or 愤怒青年 (indignant angry youths) are crazy:
The leak angered some internet users, who claimed the channel had effectively broken state secrecy laws by screening the footage.

"How could such a network be so unprofessional? They are no better than paparazzi!" fumed one comment posted on popular Chinese web portal Tianya. "Resolutely boycott Korean goods!" said another.

In the spirit of open communications, I downloaded the clip and uploaded it to Blogger. :)

video

It does look a lot like the Mass Games in North Korea. Entertainment... communist style!

What Not To Wear

CBS News/AP Article
Polishing up Beijing for the Olympics has extended to the city government telling residents what not to wear, advising against too many colors, white socks with black shoes, and parading in pajamas.

The advice, on top of campaigns to cut out public spitting and promote orderly lining up, was handed out in booklets to 4 million households ahead of the Olympics, an official said Thursday.

The etiquette book giving advice on everything from shaking hands to how to stand is part of a slew of admonitions on manners, said Zheng Mojie, deputy director of the Office of Capital Spiritual Civilization Construction Commission.

"The level of civility of the whole city has improved and a sound cultural and social environment has been assured for the success of the Beijing Olympic Games," she said.

No white socks with black shoes! That's too funny. How about black socks with sandals? That was the fashion choice for Chinese grad students at UCLA 20 years ago. Will there be squads of fashion police enforcing these rules? My fashion sense is not that good; I don't want to get in trouble when visiting Beijing in September. :)

The down side is that the government spent money to print 4 million copies of this nonsense; surely the money could have been used more wisely. Trying to clean up the air and stop public spitting is good health policy; this effort to create "a sound cultural and social environment" seems kind of trivial. Once again, I think this is the result of the natural tendency of the communist government wanting to control everything, and having too many people that need jobs. Seriously, what is the Office of Capital Spiritual Civilization Construction Commission (maybe I need to see that in Chinese characters) and is that a regular part of the government?

Chinese People vs. Chinese Government

I'm not sure if I need to explain this since almost all of my blog audience is Chinese (not in China of course, as Blogger.com is blocked by the Chinese government). A lot of my posts about China seem to be negative but all the criticism is directed at the Chinese Communist government.

I've met a lot of people from China, both here in the U.S. and during my trips to Beijing and Chengdu. Most of the people are nice, hard-working, and not very different from the typical American. However, I seem to have an instinctive hatred of the communist government. Maybe I blame them for the physical and cultural separation from my ancestral homeland, though not growing up in China during the 1970's is a good thing. Or maybe it's their use of fear and intimidation on fellow Chinese people for personal greed and corruption of power and money. Not least is the death of millions and millions of ordinary Chinese people caused by Mao and failed policies of the communist regime during the 50's and 60's.

Economically, it's true that the standard of living is higher in China since WWII and less people live in poverty. However, the gap between rich and poor is incredibly huge, ironic for a communist country. I believe that those who benefited the most are communist party members and their friends/family. Imagine how much more prosperous China would be today if its development was more like Singapore, Taiwan, or even South Korea.

Great Firewall of China

BBC Article
Journalists covering the Beijing Olympic Games will not have completely uncensored access to the internet, Chinese and Olympic officials say.

Sites related to spiritual group Falun Gong would be blocked, officials said. Journalists also found they could not see some news or human rights websites.

China enforces tough internet controls, but said when it bid for the Games that journalists would be free to report.

A senior international Olympic official called the move disappointing.

How naive. Did all those people in the IOC actually believe the Chinese government would keep their promises? This is just a variation on "it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission." The ultimate goal in 2001 was to win the bid to host the 2008 Olympics. The Chinese government agreed to all those feel-good conditions set by the IOC knowing that once the ball gets rolling, there's nothing the world can do if they renege on their promises. Human rights? Media freedom? Clean air?!
He suggested that part of the problem with other sites could lie with the sites themselves.

"There are some problems with a lot of websites themselves that makes it not easy to view them in China," he said. "Our attitude is to ensure that foreign journalists have regular access to information in China during the Olympic Games."

Awesome! First they block the sites then they blame the sites themselves for being blocked. I guess they didn't explain what "regular access" to the Internet means in China.
But he said reporters would be able to do their jobs.

"During the Olympic Games we will provide reporters with sufficient and convenient internet access so the Olympic Games will not be affected," he said.

I think this says a lot about the arrogance of the Chinese government. Maybe a half-assed Internet connection is good enough for Chinese reporters and censored reporting but how does he know the needs of 20,000 foreign reporters? What if they have a Blogger.com site they need to update? :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

.hack//G.U. Trilogy

I just watched a 90 anime called ".hack//G.U. Trilogy" and I have no idea what happened. It's like watching an animated version of The Matrix directed by John Woo. Evidently it's related to some PlayStation games that were published by Bandai. I saw a few games with .hack titles several years ago but I ended up playing Final Fantasy X and X-2. A friend of mine works at Bandai; maybe I can ask her what the heck is going on.
.hack
.hack//G.U.

Earthquake!

I was just about to go out to pick up some lunch when a moderate earthquake hit. I think it lasted about 20 seconds and stuff shook on my desk but nothing fell over. I was standing in the middle of the room and ended up not doing anything, i.e., stand under a doorway or crawl under a table.

The earthquake measured 5.4 and the epicenter was near Chino Hills. That's much closer to my old house in Brea. I experienced a 4.7 that was centered near Yorba Linda and it felt pretty big; I'm sure this earthquake was much scarier up close. NewSong is setting up our new church site in Brea and there's stuff everywhere in the warehouse space. I hope no one was on the rented scissor-lift during the quake.


Main quake plus a swarm of small aftershocks

Just about every local TV station is covering the earthquake. I saw a press conference at Caltech/USGS with a geologist and the reporters are asking the most retarded questions (paraphrasing):
Q: Uh, so if the earthquake was centered near downtown Los Angeles, would there be more damage?
A: Maybe

Chengdu Consulate Reponds

Sort of. At least I got a response from my complaint which is more than I expected.
Thank you for your e-mail. Your friend's application was denied based on a failure to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent as required by Section 214b of the Immigration and Nationality Act by showing compelling ties to her home country. She is free to reapply at any time, however unless something significant changes in their circumstances, it is unlikely that a new interview will yield a different result.

I understand that you and your friend feel that the interview process was unfair, but the Consular did take a look at her situation, from her application form and during the interview, and decided that your friend was not qualified. She is welcome to reapply, and she will be interviewed by a different consular officer.

We regret that we cannot be more encouraging.

Sincerely,

The Consular Section

The reply doesn't address any of the issues I brought up in my email to them. It appeared to us that my friend's interview experience was typical that morning, regardless which window/consular officer. There is no real point to reapply for a visa and wasting another month's rent money. If the application fee was reasonable, maybe we would try again; spending ~$150 each time is too much money. In addition, even if they had reviewed any of her documents, we're not sure what else to show or do short of me showing up in person (Fridays from 3pm to 4pm) at the Consulate in Chengdu, assuming that they let me in the door. Coincidentally, I will actually be in Chengdu on a Friday afternoon during my trip in September. I wonder how many American citizens go personally to complain about a visa rejection.

I think Section 214b of the INA is totally lame. It gives them a blanket excuse to reject visa applicants without accountability; they don't need to explain why you were rejected, only that you didn't convince them you're not a liar. Ultimately, that's what bothers me the most about all this. In America, you're assumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, everyone is considered guilty of lying on their visa application unless you prove otherwise, without rules on what is acceptable as proof. Perhaps they've been in China too long and picked up on Chinese government style of law and justice. Maybe I can see if the Consulate does business the Chinese way as well and let a travel agency get a visa through the back door for ~$2500... :(

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tiger Truck



While walking to church from the parking structure at Fullerton College, I saw a tiny white pick-up truck.



I've never heard of the brand on the tailgate (Tiger Truck) but it looked a lot like the older cargo van we have at PMI-Chengdu; the Star Trek logo on the mudflaps also looked familiar. After searching the web, it turns out Tiger Truck is really Chana Auto, based out of Chongqing. I think this is the model we have in China:



I usually ride in the newer Mitsubishi-based minivan while in Chengdu but one time the driver took me home in the old Chana van. It's really small and the seats were pretty uncomfortable but I saw a lot of them on the road. The one I saw today in Fullerton is a crew cab and sells for $13,895 with a 1.0L 4-cylinder engine. I wonder if you can even reach freeway speeds when fully loaded with 4 people and 500 lbs. of cargo. I can't tell from the website whether it's made in their new plant in Oklahoma or shipped from China. It's not even that cheap since you can get the base Toyota Tacoma for $14,280. If you really need to carry 4 people, the Tacoma 4dr Access Cab is $17,720 and both has a 2.7L engine. I would much rather get a Toyota for a bit more money.



Front view. The empty weight is only 2,116 lbs., about 2/3 of my 350Z or 1/2 of my 4Runner. Sure it gets better gas mileage but it doesn't look very crash-worthy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mad About English! - Official Theatrical Trailer 2008



Not sure what this is about but it looks funny. The policeman(?) at the end cracks me up, "Put your gun down!"

Blue building sign at 1:22 into the video:
北京 = Beijing
东大 = "dongda" (east-big)
医院 = hospital
I guess that leaves 肚肠 = anus and intestine [disease], even though the characters say "stomach" and "intestines"

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video

Another clip. I think it's commendable that they're trying to learn English but it seems they need better teachers.

"Very very very very great!" :)

Hybrid Price Gouging

Just like prices for plywood sheeting skyrockets before a hurricane, prices for hybrid cars are way up. My manager went to shop for a new car for his son and they checked out a new Toyota Prius. With a MSRP of >$21k, it was already a bad deal financially when compared to a Corolla, unless you drove to Vegas every weekend. Anyway, my manager told me that the dealer was selling the Prius for $4000 over the MSRP. Let's make it more unattractive financially and see if anyone buys it.

Hmm, I wonder if California is still giving tax breaks on hybrid car purchases. It was a stupid idea to begin with but now that money and any future fuel cost benefits are going to the car dealership owners who probably drive gas guzzling German luxury sedans. Will the legislature pass anti-price gouging laws for hybrids like they did for emergency supplies?

Stock Price vs. Incentive Bonus

I posted before about Broadcom giving out huge bonuses last year while the stock price dropped (CEO bonus = $321,750); there is no stock performance component in the bonus calculation. For this year, we tweaked the components of the bonus calculation but once again, it does not account for stock performance.

On Tuesday, we announced Q2 earnings. It was our biggest quarter in terms of revenue and EPS but the stock continues to drop anyway. I think part of it was our CFO confusing everyone with his operating expense guidance comments. I helped forecast those numbers and I wasn't sure what he was saying. The takeaway became, "Since we sold more stuff, we're going to spend more money, and here's some weird accounting stuff." Right now the stock price is at $24.12 which is down $3.45 from Tuesday's close; it's also down ~$2 since the beginning of this year. News last night that Qualcomm and Nokia kissed and made up probably contributed to the huge drop this morning as well.





Oh yeah, our CEO will probably end up getting a $500k+ bonus this year, regardless of stock performance, while everyone below a director title (no bonus) watches our equity compensation dwindle further. From the 8-K filing above, maybe Henry Samueli feels our pain since he holds a lot of BRCM stock; his annual salary has been $1 for the past 6 years, ever since our first round of layoffs.
The Compensation Committee did not establish the base salary for the Chairman of the Board and Chief Technical Officer of the company, Dr. Henry Samueli, whose annual base salary will remain at the nominal level of $1.00 for 2008, in accordance with his voluntary agreement to maintain his base salary at that amount. In addition, Dr. Samueli voluntarily did not participate in the Executive Officer Performance Bonus Plan for 2007.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

China Presses Grieving Parents to Take Hush Money on Quake

New York Times Article
HANWANG, China — The official came for Yu Tingyun in his village one evening last week. He asked Mr. Yu to get into his car. He was clutching the contract and a pen.

Parents of some of the Dongqi students killed in the school collapse protested at a government office in Mianzhu on May 31.
Mr. Yu’s daughter had died in a cascade of concrete and bricks, one of at least 240 students at a high school here who lost their lives in the May 12 earthquake. Mr. Yu became a leader of grieving parents demanding to know if the school, like so many others, had crumbled because of poor construction.

The contract had been thrust in Mr. Yu’s face during a long police interrogation the day before. In exchange for his silence and for affirming that the ruling Communist Party “mobilized society to help us,” he would get a cash payment and a pension.

The article goes on to give an example of a settlement: $8,800 cash and $5,600/parent pension. If these are typical numbers for the estimated 10,000 student killed from collapsed buildings, the total is ~$200 million or RMB 1.5 billion. That's a lot of payoff/hush money. I wonder if it's coming from Beijing or the local/provincial government. It's even more disgusting knowing most of the corruption money goes towards mistresses and luxury items for communist party officials.
Officials are also using more traditional arrows in their authoritarian quiver: riot police officers have broken up protests by parents; the authorities have set up cordons around the schools; and officials have ordered the Chinese news media to stop reporting on school collapses. A human rights advocate trying to help some parents, Huang Qi, has been jailed.

Local government leaders have repeatedly promised to get to the bottom of why a staggering 7,000 classrooms collapsed in the quake, killing about 10,000 children. But there is little evidence that they have conducted more than a cursory examination, and there are hints of a cover-up. Even as negotiations with some parents continue, local governments have bulldozed the remains of many schools, appearing to close the door on a full investigation.

...

The New York Times obtained a copy of the compensation contract offered to parents from Hanwang. It is written as if the parents were appealing to a beneficent ruler for money.

“From now on, under the leadership of the party and the government, we will obey the law and maintain social order,” it says. “We vow resolutely not to take part in any activity that disturbs post-earthquake reconstruction.”

Another section is full of praise for the Communist Party: “Natural disaster is merciless, but the world is full of love. The party and the government reached out their hands to us and mobilized society to help us and alleviate our hardships. In this regard, we sincerely appreciate the help and care from the party, government and society!”

Sigh... you can't make this stuff up!

Bass Repairs

Several months ago, I bought a used Ibanez SR505 5-string bass. It's an older model but still pretty nice with a glossy natural wood finish. I replaced the strings and Tako helped me lower the action and fix the intonation. However, the input jack was a bit loose and caused occasional loud pops onstage. Since I just bought a nice bass amp head to complete my rig, I found a guitar repair shop and bought a replacement jack ($9). The concept is pretty simple: open the cover at the back of the bass, unsolder the old jack, remove it, screw in the new jack, solder the three connections, and replace cover. In real life, it took me about 20 minutes since I'm not very good with soldering, even after spending six years in engineering school.


I do have a pretty nice soldering iron (HAKKO Dash) that's made in Japan plus a huge roll of lead solder


That's a lot of electronics for a couple of bass pickups


All fixed... I can use my $40 Monster Cable now :)

From the last picture, you can see my "new" SWR 350X amp inside a road case. I used to carry my Carvin DCM1000 power amp in there. Now the Carvin amp is driving my old Infinity RS 3000 speakers in the bedroom. I need to be careful since the speakers are only rated at 100W and the Carvin puts out ~300W per channel at six ohms. Right now I have my Mac mini's audio output going to a small Tapco mixer (preamp) which is plugged into the amp. Now I can send my iTunes signal to both stereo systems. The Yamaha AV-700 amp in the living room is connected to a pair of Infinity Reference Three speakers and I can stream music to it with my wireless network.

More Government Customer Service

On a related note, it's been 2 weeks since I sent my temporary handicapped placard application to the DMV in Sacramento. I just checked my bank account online and they haven't even cashed the check yet; at least it was only $6 and not $130. You would think that there would be some sort of priority service for something like this, but you'd probably be wrong. I should have gone to the local DMV in person and wait six hours in line. By the time I get the placard in the mail, my leg will be healed already.

I also just received a letter from my U.S. Representative (Dana Rohrabacher) regarding my dad's naturalization application. He applied for U.S. citizenship several years ago and initially everything was progressing on schedule. However, after he passed the interview/test, his file got put on hold because the FBI had problems processing his background check. So for the next three years, I would write a letter to USCIS/Department of Homeland Security every 180 days and get back the same photocopied letter telling me to write again in 180 days. After getting my congressman involved a 18 months ago and seriously contemplating a lawsuit against the U.S. government (try that in China!), the end is finally in sight. Dana Rohrabacher's office forwarded me an email they received from USCIS stating my father's background check was completed in early June, and he would receive notification for the oath ceremony within 90 days. Of course, we didn't get anything in the mail from USCIS yet but I'm cautiously optimistic.

I don't think I'm the only person with horror stories regarding interaction with government entities. Why? Is it because there is no profit/loss pressure with the government? I know if I slack off (too much) at work, it could affect the bottom line and I would promptly be fired. I guess with the government, they just raise taxes or fees in response to poor productivity. Maybe that's why I'm more fiscally conservative when it comes to politics; alarm bells go off in my head when I hear about new government programs sponsored by my tax dollars (sorry Obama).

It's not all bad. My experience with TSA at John Wayne Airport has mostly been positive when it's not busy. LAX is a whole different story.

Google Search

Wow! My post about poor customer service at the Chengdu Consulate is currently #4 on Google Search if you type in "chengdu consulate complaint" and it's only been ~12 hours.

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Ha ha! This post is now #3 on the same search and I just publish the post. Maybe it shows up faster since Blogger is part of Google.

Congressman Darrell Issa

Congressman Issa visited Broadcom yesterday. Not sure what the event was about but they had lunch in the boardroom, which is right next to my office. I didn't see him but I did see his car. It was an older model Lexus LS430; the license plate just says "49" which is his congressional district number.



A few years ago, the vice-president of Taiwan visited our old office in Irvine. I didn't see her either but I did see Secret Service people.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Government Customer Service

I spoke with my friend about the whole U.S. visa application process and I seem to be more pissed off then she is even though I'm 7000+ miles away. In our conversation, my friend was actually making excuses for the Consulate on why her application was rejected. I get the sense from her that whatever the government decides, it's final. That's probably why she thought it was weird that I'm writing a complaint letter and was a bit worried that I would get in trouble with the U.S. government.

Hmm, I've always thought complaining about/to our government was the essense of being an American. :) Seriously, my first thought after hearing about the poor customer service at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu was, "Hey, I'm a taxpayer (especially these past two years)! I pay these bozo's salaries!" My tax dollars probably doesn't even go to the Chengdu Consulate; they can fund themselves fine with thousands of people paying the $130 visa application fee.

I have not received any replies from the Consul General in Chengdu. It's only been two days and my expectations are not high... at all. But someone wrote that crap about customer service standards on the State Department website and someone above them must have approved it. There has to be accountability somewhere between China and Condie Rice and I'll keep sending out emails until I find it.

How to Interact with Foreigners


Translation and more...

I think the Chinese government want locals to smile when talking to foreigners. I've never seen anyone smile on the street in Chengdu; maybe Beijing is different. Perhaps if I looked more like a laowei, people will smile at me more in China. :)

NewSong NOC SLAM

Xanga
Summer S.L.A.M. (Sharing Life And Mission)

Starting Sunday, August 3rd, Newsong North Orange County will be changing the location and times of our Sunday services. Our hope is to save our weekly facility costs and to provide more options for our church family to build deeper relationships with each other as well as the community.

Basically, we are asking in faith for the Lord to provide us a facility for free for 9 weeks so we can use what we would have spent on normal and usual facility expenses to expand the Kingdom. We believe that the Lord will provide and show us exactly where we need to be and show us how to reach the goals that we have set. Though there were some clear options to us, those doors closed and we are now just trusting that God will provide us the insight, creativity, and innovation to meet our faith step. We are looking at several options some of which include meeting at a smaller location but provide multiple worship experiences either Sunday morning or evening or both. We are also tapping into our networks to see if there is a church/facility that would be willing to partner with us and provide for our facility needs with no out of pocket expenses.

We're trying to save the weekly facility cost over 9 weeks to raise $15k for a ministry in Beijing. The church has about 300-350 people and right now, we don't have a place to meet yet. Worst case scenario would be having church in a dirt lot which may work out except for sound amplification.

Part of this project/partnership is a vision trip to Beijing in mid-September. So far, I'm on the list of people interested in going though we have to pay our own airfare and room/board. I plan on flying to Chengdu after the Beijing trip since I'm in China already. Hopefully my leg will have healed enough for me to walk around in China again. I'm also out of vacation days at work so I'll have to negotiate some unpaid leave time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

US Consulate in Chengdu and Non-Immigrant Visas

Before I start ranting, here is the Customer Service Statement for Visa Applicants from the U.S. Department of State. A couple of points:
• We will treat you with dignity and respect, even if we are unable to grant you a visa.
• We will treat you as an individual and your case as unique.
• We will use the limited time available for the interview to get as full a picture as possible of your travel plans and intentions.
• We will post detailed and accurate information on visa requirements and application procedures on every Embassy and Consulate website.
• We will explain the reason for any visa denial to you.

Sounds good, right? Well, here's the reality. Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states:
Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status...

Pretty harsh... but okay, if someone applies for a non-immigrant visa, their intention should not be immigration to the U.S. Essentially, they assume you're lying about the visa application unless you can convince them otherwise; sorta like guilty until proven innocent. The Consulate website even lists items to bring to establish your connection to your home country so you will return after your trip to the U.S.

So yesterday morning, my friend in Chengdu went to apply for a tourist visa. The cost of the visa application was RMB943 plus a RMB54 toll call to set up an appointment time. For perspective, the rent for a decent sized studio apartment is about RMB1,200/month. In addition, it took weeks to gather all the documentation and fill out forms in English. Since I agreed to be the sponsor/invite person, I had to send over copies of my passport, tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and even work verification. With all this documentation in hand, my friend was asked several general questions (when, how long, and who you're visiting in the U.S.) and rejected in less than 60 seconds. They didn't even look at any supporting documents. In addition, the interviewing officer said that they don't give reasons for the rejection other than you did not satisfy Section 214(b). There were probably hundreds of applicants "interviewing" at service windows and my friend's experience was the norm. It reminds me of the Capital One commercials with David Spade yelling "NO!" to everything.



Wow, even without the "Customer Service Statement" PR bullshit, you would expect more consideration for US$130. It's pretty pathetic if the U.S. government can't even follow their own minimal commitment for a fair visa application interview. Of course I understand that there are rules and not everyone can get a visa, but at least take a look at the documents you requested from the applicants. I sent an email to the Consul General in Chengdu (James Boughner) about the apparent failure to observe their own guidelines but my expectations for a response is pretty low.

The Consulate has some "helpful" tips on what to do if the application is denied:
First encourage your relative, friend or student to review carefully their situation and evaluate realistically their ties. You can suggest that they write down on paper what qualifying ties they think they have which may not have been evaluated at the time of their interview with the consular officer. Also, if they have been refused, they should review what documents were submitted for the consul to consider. Applicants refused visas under section 214(b) may reapply for a visa. When they do, they will have to show further evidence of their ties or how their circumstances have changed since the time of the original application. It may help to answer the following questions before reapplying: (1) Did I explain my situation accurately? (2) Did the consular officer overlook something? (3) Is there any additional information I can present to establish my residence and strong ties abroad?

Your acquaintances should also bear in mind that they will be charged a nonrefundable application fee each time they apply for a visa, regardless of whether a visa is issued.

Hmm, but if they don't even look at any of the evidence and don't let you speak, what's the point of throwing more money at them? Charging US$130 for ~1 minute of time is a pretty lucrative business. If the U.S. government is so worried about people overstaying their visas, why not track visitors better like they do in every other country. Instead, they reject legitimate visitors yet roll out the red carpet for illegal immigrants. I told my friend (half-jokingly) to get a visa for Mexico and walk over the border to San Diego.

BTW, my friend also checked with several travel agencies. They said that for ~RMB20,000 (~US$2,800), they can "get" a U.S. visa. That puts the high rate of visa rejections in a whole different perspective.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Frequent Flier Miles

I think I just got screwed by Cathay Pacific. Since I only fly to three places (Chengdu, Portland, and Toronto), I have all my frequent flier miles accumulate with AAdvantage (American Airlines). By making three trips to Chengdu last year, I was able to get Platinum status with AA which requires 50k miles. In addition, it also gives me some elite status with oneworld, which lets me into business class lounges around the world.

Anyway, I've made 5 trips to Chengdu so far and each time I buy my tickets online directly with Cathay Pacific. On this last trip, they classified my return trip as class "K" which means deep discount economy (the tickets weren't that cheap). Normally the fare code is Y, B, or H for normal economy. The only problem is that miles from code K travel cannot be transferred to AAdvantage; I can only apply it to Asia Miles (or Cathay Pacific's own program). Since I'm only making one more trip this year, I won't have enough miles to maintain the Platinum status next year. You get so many miles on a transpacific flight that it's hard to make it up on domestic flights; round trip to Toronto is less miles than one way to Hong Kong.

I guess I'll have to slum it out with the unwashed masses during layovers in Hong Kong from now on... or pay $50 to hang out in a pay lounge.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Antique Roadshow

Antique Roadshow is a TV show on PBS that has people bring in stuff to be appraised by antique experts. I've watched it a couple of times and wondered how junk from people's homes can be worth so much.

However, something else came to mind. An ad for the show said something about finding valuable stuff in your house/attic and I realized that I couldn't relate to that statement. Having grown up in three different countries, our family tossed everything when we moved across the ocean and across continents. Sure we brought over some stuff but I never had an attic or closet full of items from many generations ago.

Part of being on the losing side of a civil war and having to run is that I don't have any connections to my "roots" in China. I don't know anything about my paternal grandfather other than that he was the controller of the Nationalist Air Force during WWII. He is supposedly from Zhejiang but what his ancestors did or where they came from is a mystery to me. Our family name was one of the warring states in Chinese history, which is located in Shangong province today, a few hundred miles north of Zhejiang. Chinese people always ask one another where they're from, meaning which province. When I get this question, I can only go back two generations. BTW, by saying that I'm Zhejiang-ren, my father was born in Chengdu, and that I was born in Taiwan, everyone in China can guess that my family was part of the KMT.

On my mom's side, I know that my grandfather was the Minister of Education for Malaysia while it was still a British colony. My maternal grandmother's family were either rubber plantation owners or missionaries. I think they used to be pretty well off but that was several generations ago. Likewise, I don't know how they got from Teochew (southern China) to Malaysia. I think I need to visit East Malaysia with my mom and meet my distant relatives and find out more about family history. Maybe they can give me something to bring to Antique Roadshow!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Food Cravings

I ditched work again today but ended up spending almost the entire day working remotely on a equity dilution project. Most of the files are large Excel files so I ended up remotely connecting to another computer in my office that has a wired connection to the network... much faster.

Since I've been stuck at home most of the time, I've been eating either frozen dinners or a few things I cooked. Right now I have a craving for Taiwanese food though. The only place that's close is 好年冬(?) in Irvine, near Jeffries and Walnut. Stinky tofu... yum!

House for Sale - $75,000,000

The house next to Henry Samueli's house is for sale. From the air, it looks like an alien spaceship; I saw it from the ocean during a boat trip from Newport Harbor to Dana Point. It has 8 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, and 5 half bathrooms. Still, $75M is a lot of money but you get to live next to the owner of the Anaheim Ducks. If I get a 30-year mortgage with 0% down at 6% interest, my monthly payment would be $450,000 before property taxes. Cool!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Into The New World - SNSD


SNSD (소녀시대/少女時代)

K-pop group with 9 girls. Two of them were born in the U.S. Most trained for many years with SM Entertainment and several of them are fairly talented singers.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Bass Amp Adventure Drive



As I posted before, I bought a used bass head (SWR 350x) from an ad on Craigslist. Since I hurt my leg, I haven't been playing bass at NewSong for several weeks. All my other gear is still in the Ministry Center so I haven't had a chance to try the new amplifier out with my bass cab.

Leon came by last Sunday to help me out with some chores and also drove me to Mission Viejo to pick up the amp. If I ever rob a bank and need a getaway driver, I know who to call. On the way back home, we pulled up behind a Honda Civic at a stoplight. When the light turned green, the car didn't move so Leon tapped the horn. At the next light, as the Civic drove through a yellow, the driver stuck her arm out and gave us the finger. Huh? I think I said, "You can still catch up..." so when the light turned, Leon floored the accelerator.


Not Leon's actual Camry but close. This one has a nicer paint job and probably a working driver's door.

I need to mention at this point that he wasn't driving his beat-up Camry but my 350Z. The entire time I was telling him, "Remember, the Z handles different from your Camry." Regardless, soon we were flying down the road at 80+ mph, and coming up to a left turn to El Toro Road. If you're not used to driving a sports car, speed perception can be deceiving. I was thinking to myself that he was taking this left turn a bit fast as he screeched through the intersection. With fairly fat and grippy Bridgestone Potenzas, it's not that easy to squeal the tires on the Z. Maybe he watched Tokyo Drift one time too many. Anyway, we then proceeded to blow right past the Civic while Leon stuck his arm out the window to return their greeting. Meantime, I was in the passenger seat laughing hysterically, having averted certain death. Leon then says to me, "Where are we? Will El Toro Road take us to the freeway?"

After being stuck at home for two weeks, it was good to finally get some excitement. I think Leon may be interested in buying my Z. He can then paint it black and be like this guy:



Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Anti-terrorist drills in Shandong (China)

Some photos from China Daily:


Segways! Are they serious?! How accurate do you think the shooting will be if they have to lean forward and back while gripping the steering column with their legs? Also, I thought to turn left/right, you need to twist something on the handlebars. Can't be too effective if you can only go straight. I wonder if they're real Segways or Chinese knockoffs.


Flamethrowers?! This has got to be political theater. What possible terrorist attack on the Olympics would require a flamethrower deterrent?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

FDA Alert on Levaquin

Thanks to a link from Darryl, I found this at the FDA website:
FDA ALERT [7/8/2008]: FDA is notifying the makers of fluoroquinolone antimicrobial drugs for systemic use of the need to add a boxed warning to the prescribing information about the increased risk of developing tendinitis and tendon rupture in patients taking fluoroquinolones and to develop a Medication Guide for patients. The addition of a boxed warning and a Medication Guide would strengthen the existing warning information already included in the prescribing information for fluoroquinolone drugs.

Fluoroquinolones are associated with an increased risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture. This risk is further increased in those over age 60, in kidney, heart, and lung transplant recipients, and with use of concomitant steroid therapy. Physicians should advise patients, at the first sign of tendon pain, swelling, or inflammation, to stop taking the fluoroquinolone, to avoid exercise and use of the affected area, and to promptly contact their doctor about changing to a non-fluoroquinolone antimicrobial drug.

Selection of a fluoroquinolone for the treatment or prevention of an infection should be limited to those conditions that are proven or strongly suspected to be caused by bacteria.

Sigh... when my doctor prescribed me Levaquin, he wasn't even sure if I had a bacterial infection. It was more like, "Hmm, I can't figure out what's wrong with your ankle/foot. I don't think you have an infection but let's try this just in case."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Leg Pain Update

The pain in my leg is not getting better even though I've been pretty much resting at home for the past two weeks. In fact, I think it's slowly getting worse; I've been having problems sleeping for several days since the pain gets worse when I lie down or try to elevate my leg to reduce the ankle/foot swelling. I did find out that the list price for Levaquin was $140 for 10 pills or $14 each. That seems crazy expensive. Even with insurance pricing, it was still $116. Maybe that's why my doctor prescribed it vs. the other antibiotics he prescribed later which only cost $10. I wonder if they get a kickback from prescribing new and expensive meds.

I'm now getting leg cramps just walking to the kitchen. Leon came by today to help me with some chores (washing laundry and buying groceries). However, after he left, I just sat around again and didn't get to cook either my beef soup or spaghetti sauce. I probably need a set of crutches since each time I put weight on my left leg, the calf muscle cramps. I really don't feel like going to work tomorrow but I think I don't have a choice; I'm the official PowerPoint clicker for a meeting tomorrow and my one and only staff analyst is out-of-town.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

China to close plants over Games

BBC Article
China has ordered the closure of 40 factories in a city close to Beijing in the run-up to the Olympics Games.

The plants in the eastern port city of Tianjin have been ordered to stop production from late July.

The move is the latest attempt by China to minimise air pollution in the capital during the Games in August.
Some athletes have expressed concern about air quality affecting their performance and damaging their health.

State media reports that work on key building sites in Tianjin will be suspended, including the construction of an underground railway line.

Two cement works, 26 building sites and six factories which cause "effluvial contamination" will also be affected, said Xinhua news agency.

On Friday, similar action was taken in the city of Tangshan, 150 km (90 miles) east of Beijing where about 300 factories will suspend their operations.

Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world and officials have been making extensive efforts to improve air quality before the Games.

But correspondents say that pollution in the city is as bad as ever and it is often shrouded in heavy smog.

It's all about face. The factories and construction sites will start up again the day after the Olympics.

Friday, July 4, 2008

GAS - Gear Acquisition Syndrome

I just agreed to buy a bass head from an ad on Craigslist. I tried out my 3 piece solution (mixer, active DI, and Carvin power amp) but it's too complicated to set up. I saw a SWR 350X for $300 and a few emails later, I'm going down to Mission Viejo to check it out Sunday. It only puts out 240W at 8 ohms but should be enough for my Eden cab; it's only rated for 250W anyway. It take up 2U on a rack so I can take the Carvin amp out of my case and replace it with this amp. It should be lighter too at only 17 lbs. Now I need to figure out what to do with my 1000W Carvin amp. Since my Sony ES home stereo amp is busted, I can plug everything (tuner, CD player, tape deck) into my small Tapco mixer and drive my Infinity speakers with the Carvin.

All together, I've spent ~$1000 on my new bass setup, all of it bought from Craigslist ads. I still need to replace the 1/4" jack on the 5-string bass since it's loose but that's only $5.

Handicapped

With one bum leg, normal tasks now take a lot of effort. I just realized I'm running out of clean laundry. I usually wait until I run out of clean clothes before I haul everything to the laundry room and take up 3 to 4 washing machines. Too bad I didn't do laundry before my leg got worse; I think the last time I did laundry was before the May Chengdu trip!

The hardest part so far is just getting to my car. It takes me ~5 minutes to go down the stairs and walk to my carport. Usually by the time I get close, my leg will start to cramp. After getting groceries last night, I had to stop 3 times to rest just walking from my car back to the apartment. During the past two weeks, I think I've only ventured outside my apartment 5-6 times and twice was to go to work.

I'll need to find out from the orthopedic specialist how long this will take to heal and whether I should get crutches since hobbling on one leg is not working. I feel a bit embarrassed but I'm going to ask for a handicapped parking placard so I can park closer at work and at the supermarket.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I skipped work yesterday...

... to go to Disneyland! OK, not really.

Instead, I was at Hoag Hospital for most of the day. I didn't get home until ~9:30pm after finding out that I have a partial muscle tear in my left calf. The bad news is that it could take months to heal; there's not really any good news.

The pain was pretty intense yesterday morning so I emailed in sick again. At around 2pm, I finally reached my doctor and he told me to go in to his office. After taking another look at my leg, he decided that it wasn't an infection and sent me to the ER at Hoag for another look. It was weird driving to the ER by myself. I also didn't see the valet parking in front of the ER so I had to park in the parking structure; it took me 15 minutes to shuffle into the ER after I parked.


View outside the door of my hospital room. They didn't even give me a blanket or pillow.

After the triage nurse decided that my condition wasn't life threatening (!), they wheeled me to a hospital room and I was seen by a nurse and a physician assistant. Having done an ultrasound already, the decision was made to do an MRI to see if there's soft tissue damage. A different guy wheeled me to the MRI room and they scanned my ankle. The machine was huge and unexpectedly noisy; the technician gave me a set of earplugs to block the noise. There was also a cold draft in the room blowing right on the sliding table. I usually like air conditioning but it was freezing and my teeth were chattering for the entire 30 minute scan. When it was done, they wheeled me back to my hospital room. I was sharing it was a 94 year old lady. She was making a ham sandwich at home, slipped on a piece of ham on the ground, and got lots of cuts and bruises. You would think that's funny but it wasn't; she needed a bunch of stitches, especially for a huge cut over her eye, and it took them over an hour to stitch and bandage her back together.


Next!


If I can just get the door open, I can wheel myself outta here.

Did I say they MRI'ed my ankle? Well, after an hour of waiting, the PA came back and said I needed to go back for another MRI since they were supposed to scan my lower leg, not my ankle. Sigh... good thing it was only a MRI and not surgery. So back I go on a wheelchair to the MRI room. This time, they put me all the way into the machine and injected me with some kind of dye or tracer. It took another 30 minutes but she gave me a blanket and I ended up falling asleep on the table. By the time I was done, it was after 7pm. Back in my room, the old lady was gone so I sat and watched TV until almost 8:30pm before they got back to me with the results. I ended up leaving the hospital with more painkiller prescriptions and a huge boot that immobilizes my ankle.


New shoes boot! Hmm, my left leg is a bit swollen. How am I supposed to dress for work with this?!

All in all, it was an interesting day. Not as much fun as Disneyland but not too bad. It did seem terribly inefficient that it took ~6 hours for me to to get a MRI though. They also better not have charged me for both scans! I'm not sure how I tore the muscle since I don't really exercise. The only thing I can think of was ping pong night right before my trip to China since my leg started feeling sore the next day. Also not sure if the huge increase in pain after taking Levaquin is a coincidence or an adverse drug reaction but I wished my doctor had ordered an MRI the same time I went in for an ultrasound several weeks ago.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Levaquin

A couple of weeks ago, my doctor prescribed Levaquin which is an antibiotic used mainly to treat sinus and skin infections. After the first pill, I started experiencing some pain in my left calf. Since my ankle was a bit swollen from a previous injury, I didn't think much of it. After 4 pills (out of 10), I read the drug info packet and found that tendon swelling/pain/rupture is one of the side effects of the medicine. The pain had become quite intense by then and I ended up missing an entire week of work. Even though I stopped taking Levaquin a week ago (after 4 pills), the pain in my leg has intensified.



I'm a bit upset since my doctor was not even sure if I had an infection. We were trying to figure out why my ankle was swollen from before my last China trip. It seems crazy to prescribe such a strong medication with huge potential side effects when you're not even sure of the diagnosis. Neither my doctor nor the pharmacist gave me any warnings; I probably would have stopped after one pill if I knew, though I should have read everything before taking the medicine.

From surfing the web, the adverse reaction can last days, weeks, or even years after taking Levaquin. :(

Links:
Levaquin.com (official site)
Antibiotics.org
Death by Levaquin