Tuesday, March 31, 2009

G20 leaders gather amid security

BBC News
World leaders are gathering in London to discuss ways to resolve the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

The G20 summit takes place amid tight security and police warnings of "unprecedented" levels of protest.

Workers in London's financial district have been told to dress down and stay home to avoid provoking demonstrators.

I've always wondered why they choose to meet in a large city instead of somewhere out in the boonies. All of these world "leaders" fly in on private planes (e.g., Air Force One) anyway and stay at expensive hotels. Instead of meeting where they disrupt millions of people and face real security risks, why not meet at a remote resort island and avoid all the protests? My guess is that all these Gxx meetings are more of a PR show. If they wanted to discuss policy, it's much easier to set up a video conference. Why spend all that money and fuel to meet in a large urban center if not for the photo-op?

Nigerian police detain goat over armed robbery

LAGOS (Reuters) - Police in Nigeria are holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery.

Vigilantes took the black and white beast to the police saying it was an armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.

"The group of vigilante men came to report that while they were on patrol they saw some hoodlums attempting to rob a car. They pursued them. However one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat," Kwara state police spokesman Tunde Mohammed told Reuters by telephone.

Wouldn't it have been better to turn himself into some kind of bird and fly away? Maybe he only learned goat-level black magic.

Monday, March 30, 2009

London Pub & Google Maps Street View

Thanks to Google Maps Street View, I think I found the pub that we visited in London on the first day of our trip many years ago.

Anyway, we arrived in London on a weekday afternoon and needed to find some food. After checking-in to our hotel (Hotel Paragon) on Lillie Road, we wandered around and found this pub. Here's the conversation as I remembered it:
Me: Uh, do you have any food to eat?
Bartender (with a thick British accent): Yea.
Me: Do you have a menu?
Bartender: No.
Me: Well, what do you got?
Bartender: Steak, rack of lamb, (some other meat dishes), hamburger...
Me: Hamburger! We'll take a hamburger.
Bartender: OK.
Me: Got anything to drink other than beer?
Bartender: Pepsi.
Me: OK, we'll take a Pepsi.
Bartender: Do you want a glass?

We sit down at a small table, with our 8 oz. can of Pepsi (it was small) and a glass (no ice), and waited. After a few minutes, we see the bartender come out of the back carrying a meat patty on a plate. He walks to the patio, pulls the cover off a BBQ, and lights some charcoal. A few minutes later, he comes out again carrying a huge steak and throws that on the grill as well. We then hear him yell to somebody at the back to go to the market and get some vegetables (and probably some buns). In the meantime, a lot of people walked in to get a pint of beer (this was ~3pm), including the postman. After some time (I forget how long), he brings over our hamburger. It was quite good. The steak and some grilled vegetables was for some guy at the next table.

I never did take a photo of the pub that day and could not remember the name of it. Since they have Street View of London on Google Maps, I started at the hotel (now a Hotel Ibis) and "walked" down the street until I found the pub, then found an image of the building online. How cool is that?!

View Larger Map

Desert Pre-run, The Movie

During a smooth section (relative to the rest of the course), Randy decided to floor the accelerator. The track was covered with sand and since we were in 2WD mode, the truck was fishtailing all over the place. At one point, we came pretty close to hitting a piece of wood on the side of the track. I'm not sure how fast we were driving but the V8 engine was growling pretty loud. During a real race, our JeepSpeed should be able to hit 70-80 mph on terrain like this.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Desert Pre-run

A group of people from NewSong met up this morning and drove out to Barstow to drive off-road. The goal was to drive our street trucks to see how they would handle off-road. There is a race (Mojave 250) next week out behind the Tanger Outlet in Barstow so we can check out the actual course.

We met this morning at Denny's in Brea and decided to take two trucks. I left my 4Runner behind since it only had RWD instead of 4WD. Sam drove too but he was bringing his off-road motorcycles. The weather was good, not too hot nor cold, and after an early lunch at Del Taco, we arrived at the off-road area at around 11:30am.

There was some kind of muscle car meet at the Denny's this morning. There were a lot of mustangs and someone brought a Shelby Cobra. We're guessing that it's a replica since the real ones are really rare and auction for >$1M.

Sam's truck loaded with two motorcycles. We thought he was driving kind of slow, especially over the El Cajon pass; it turned out he only has a V6 in his F150 so it was a bit underpowered.

Sam and Ben stayed behind in the starting area to ride their bikes while the rest of us went to pre-run the course.

Randy's Toyota Tundra and Ed's Toyota 4Runner. Both had a 4.7L V8 and 4WD (the 4Runner was really AWD since you could not disable the 4WD).

Initially, I was in Ed's 4Runner and the course was a lot bumpier than I had imagined. However, the driving was pretty easy with the 4Runner's AWD. Later in the course, we swapped cars so I was driving Randy's Tundra in 2WD mode and it was a lot tougher. I got stuck several times and had to back up and try again (and again). Our JeepSpeed has 4WD but the plan is to replace the front axle to make it a 2WD truck for most races to save on weight. The course was in pretty bad shape since it's used for many races. In a lot of places, the track was really rocky and bumpy. It took us close to 4 hours to complete one 26 mile lap; there is an 8 hour limit for the 9 lap race. Randy said we should be a lot faster in our race truck since it has much better suspension/shocks.

Ed's 4Runner coming down a short hill then a uphill climb to where we were.

Taking a short break at the top of a small hill.

The course was dry and dusty. Both cars will need a good car wash afterwards.

Randy's Tundra climbing up a steep hill in 2WD. He lost traction the 1st time so he had to back up and try again. In the JeepSpeed, we should be going much faster and the extra momentum should carry us over the hill easily.

After the long 4 hour drive (the last 8 mile section of the course was really bumpy and slow), we met up with Sam and Ben. They were still riding around so Peter borrowed some safety equipment and rode a bit on their 80cc bike. It looked fun but since none of the helmets available fit me, I didn't want to risk riding around without one. I also didn't quite finish my MSF riding course so I'm not very confident in my riding skills... probably fall and hurt myself.

Pastor Peter

Rear disc brakes on Sam's 250cc Kawasaki

It was a pretty fun day. I think I'll bring my 4Runner next time since Randy was able to navigate the course in 2WD about 99% of the time. I drove Ed's 4Runner for about an hour on the way back home on the freeway. It handled about the same as my 4Runner but the power difference between the 4.7L V8 (235 hp/320 lb-ft) and my 3.4L V6 (183 hp/217 lb-ft) was quite noticeable.

Friday, March 27, 2009

UK = China?

BBC News

International torch relays ahead of the Olympics have been scrapped by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

It follows the controversy that surrounded the Beijing Olympic relay which was dogged by protests as the torch made its way around the world.

The 2008 relay's London leg was hit by several incidents and criticism over China's 'torch police' security staff.

Organisers of the 2012 London Olympics have already said they had no plans to take the torch outside Britain.

Is the IOC still covering themselves for being tricked by the CCP into allowing Beijing to host the Olympics? True, the torch relay is a high-profile event, and all high-profile events will attract protesters and other crazy people. However, the fiasco last year has more to do with China then the actual torch relay. The CCP also hyped the event as some sort of coming-of-age party plus they brought in "volunteer supporters" which made things worse. I highly doubt that there will be the same level of protests against the UK if there was a international torch relay.
"Beijing had planned an international torch relay and we accepted it. We saw in the debrief that the risk was there and the IOC decided not to do it (again).

"I think when the torch relay is inside the host country there is more control."

Mr. Felli is wrong unless what he meant by "control" is an authoritarian government's control over it citizens. Does he really think the UK will have more control over protests during a torch relay in London vs. what happened last year? Hint: Western democracies like the US and UK allow protests. Of course there was more "control" over the torch relay inside China since they pre-emptively lock up potential protesters and restrict access to torch events. I hate these moral-equivalency idiots who pretend that there's no difference between democracies and a communist dictatorship.


The IOC and the CCP are also a bunch of hypocrites. They kept whining last year about the Olympics being a sporting event and to keep politics out of it. The entire torch relay was used by CCP as a huge propaganda event. Also, if they wanted to keep politics out, they would allow Taiwan to participate as Taiwan, ROC, or whatever. This whole "Chinese Taipei" bullshit is just spineless capitulation to the CCP. What did that get them last year in China? Better human rights? Freedom to protest? Uncensored Internet access? Ha!

New Toy

Instead of the Lenovo, I ordered an Asus Eee PC 1000HE along with a 2GB SIMM last night from Amazon.com.

It's a bit more expensive than the Lenovo but you get a slightly faster CPU and a 8700mAH battery. Plus you also get 802.11n and Bluetooth connectivity. Right now it's going to replace the old Compaq notebook connected to my LCD TV. My only concern is how fast the computer will be with the Intel Atom N280. From Passmark, here are some CPU benchmarks:

Core2 Duo T8100 @2.1GHz (Sony Vaio CR420E) = 1,269
Core2 Duo T7200 @2.0GHz (Dell Latitude D820) = 1,058
Core2 Duo T5600 @1.83GHz (Dell Inspiron E1705) = 1,019
Core Duo T2300 @1.66GHz (Mac mini) = 803
Atom N280 @1.66GHz (Asus Eee 1000HE) = 316
Pentium III-M @1.133GHz (Compaq Presario 1722) = 185
Pentium III @533MHz (generic desktop) = ??
486SX @25MHz (Gateway Colorbook) = ?

The old Compaq notebook is pretty slow but it only had 512MB of RAM and probably a slow 20GB HDD. Hopefully with 2GB and a 5400rpm HDD, the netbook will be 2x faster. The T8100 in my Sony is pretty fast but some 3D games run sluggishly on it; probably it's due to the crappy built-in Intel graphics adapter.

From Intel's website, the T8100 also uses 35W whereas the N270 only uses 2.5W. That's why I'm only getting <2 hours of life from my Sony with a 5600mAH battery.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New (Potential) Toy

After lugging my 14" Sony Vaio around Hong Kong and Chengdu last week, I'm beginning to think I need a netbook that weigh a lot less and has a much better battery life. Interestingly, about 1/2 of the people in the Cathay HK lounge that had computers were using netbooks.

When I was in Portland during Christmas, I saw some netbooks in Costco and thought about buying one. Now there are a lot more models though most still have the Intel Atom N270 running at 1.6GHz. Last night after work, I stopped in the local Costco but they did not have any netbooks on display. Since Fry's was next door (Fountain Valley), I went there to take a look. They did not have too many models either, mainly the Acer Aspire One. They did have a Lenovo S10 IdeaPad on display and I really liked it. It was selling for $360 and the sales guy claimed that it came with a 6-cell battery. If so, it's a better deal than Amazon which has the 3-cell battery version for $350 but only in white. At the Lenovo website, you can buy other colors but it's a lot more expensive. I'm tempted to buy it just to carry around and/or use it to replace the old Compaq 1722 that's attached to my LCD TV.

The Amazon model ($350) comes with 1GB of RAM and has a 160GB hard drive which is plenty for music and videos. It also comes with 3 USB ports and a VGA port for external monitor. I think my mom's current Dell Inspiron notebook is dying and needs to be replaced. I think I'll have her replace it with the Lenovo and buy a nice LCD display as well. The Atom is not that powerful but should be fine for email and surfing the web. As an added bonus, it comes with Windows XP (no Vista!) and a Broadcom 11b/g WLAN adapter.


I think I found the same computer at Suning though their website seems to crash both Firefox and Safari on my Mac when I click on the S10. The price on their website says ¥3904 which is really expensive (~$570). That's pretty odd since Lenovo is a Chinese company (they bought IBM's PC division) and these things are made in China.

Speaking of China, it's 4am and I'm still up. Just as I was getting used to China time, I get on a plane and fly back. :(


Researching the Lenovo S10 further, it seems there are many versions being sold in the market. Unless they provide the actual Lenovo model number, you can't be sure what you're getting. The latest models are numbered 4231xxx but what's being sold at Amazon seem to be older models. Also, I see people selling a 2GB SIMM for the S10 but Lenovo specs say the maximum RAM amount is only 1.5GB. I also can't figure out if it comes with Bluetooth. Confusing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Death of Personal Responsibility

Shameless. I guess when it comes to money, everybody wants a handout. Once again, I look like a fool for saving money and paying-off my student loans early. In hindsight, what I should have done was to pay the minimum monthly payments on my loans, finance a multi-million dollar home, bought lots of luxury goods, and wait for Barak "Wealth Redistribution" Obama to bail me out and save me from my own irresponsibility.

Business Week

In just two short months, Robert Applebaum has become something of a spokesman for a generation of people burdened with student loan debt. Applebaum, a 35-year-old attorney in New York, started a Facebook group in January called "Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy," fed up with news reports about bank executives spending millions to redecorate their offices and receiving hefty bonuses. "I wanted to rant, so instead of sending an e-mail to a couple of my friends, I decided to start a Facebook group," says Applebaum, who finished law school owing $80,000 in student loans. "I figured maybe just a few of my friends would join."

He was wrong. By the end of the second week 2,500 people had joined, and the group now has more than 138,500 members, many of whom are pressing their representatives in Congress for legislation that would forgive student loan debt. "It's just snowballed," says Applebaum.

Sure. If I start a Facebook group asking if people want free money from the government, I'll probably get even more members. These people made the decision to spend money they didn't have for a college degree. If they truly have no money and no job, then postpone the loan until they can pay. There is absolutely no reason to forgive student loans.
For some, the debt is unshakable. Mel Crow of American Fork, Utah, owes $60,000 in student loans from his days at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has spent the last five years struggling to find a computer animation job in his field, with no luck. His parents had to refinance their home so he could consolidate his loans, and he now pays them $500 a month with the $10.50-per-hour he earns at a local cosmetic company.

Why did he spend so much on an art degree? Obviously he thought that was a good investment. I'm sure he could have went to a different art school for a lot less (hint, not in San Francisco) but chose not to.
Others, like Eric Zapata, an aircraft mechanic in California, say their student debt is a constant worry. Zapata owes about $48,000 in student loans and worries he won't be able to afford an engagement ring for his girlfriend. "I've been saving now for two years, but I haven't been able to get the ring yet," he says. "The $400 in monthly [debt] payments just kills me."

Sorry, but that's just retarded. Does she need a ring? I know it's a symbol of marriage and all but practically, a ring is a very poor investment. Hasn't this guy made a $50k bad investment already? Nothing is stopping them from getting married unless the girlfriend is materialistic and greedy, then they'll have problems down the road anyway. Get a simple ring now, get married, then buy her something big later if you can responsibly afford it. That's what people should be doing but I'm afraid Obama and his bailouts are encouraging people to do the opposite, and fiscally responsible fools like me are going to foot the bill. :(

Coming to Broadway...

OMG... this is so stupid.

BBC News
A Chinese director is planning to stage a musical based on the founding text of communism, Karl Marx's Das Kapital.

The plot will revolve around a group of office employees who find out they are being exploited by their boss.

China's communist leaders still praise Karl Marx, although they now shy away from his economic theories.

But those involved in the production say that Marx is still relevant today, particularly in a world gripped by an economic crisis.

I read (or at least bought the booklet) Das Kapital for a history class at UCLA. The "plot" wasn't all that exciting.

Chengdu Trip #7 - LAX and Home

The Bradley Terminal Immigrations/Customs control at LAX is really hit-and-miss. During my last trip, the entire process from the gate to luggage in hand took only 15 minutes. Tonight, I called Leon when we landed at 9:13pm and I didn't exit the terminal building until 10:40pm. That's almost an hour and a half though my turn at the immigration counter only took <10 seconds.

My flight was right on time but we had to dock at the remote facility again. That's always a bad sign since it means that the regular gates are full, which equals long lines at immigrations. Once again, most of the lines were marked for international visitors and only 3 out of 17 or 18 lines were for US citizens and permanent residents. However, it appeared that people with Green Cards were also required to scan their fingerprints under the US-VISIT program and since we got in behind a Mexicana flight, most of the people in my line needed to have their hands scanned. There must have been close 100 people in each line but only 2 agents per line. Even if the average service time was 30 seconds, it would take almost an hour to clear the line. The actual service times were much longer tonight since the computer network went down every 2 minutes as well, and it appears that we can't do anything here in the US without a computer. How did they clear people though immigration before computers?

So after sitting on my ass for 13 hours, I get to stand in line (or lines since you have to line up multiple times just to exit the terminal) for another hour. This also made Leon drive around the airport for an extra 40 minutes waiting for me. On the way home, I stopped at In-and-Out and got a double-double; I feel much better now. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chengdu Trip #7 - Back in Hong Kong

I just landed in Hong Kong from Chengdu. Typically we get a landing gate but this time they parked us on the tarmac again; at least it's close to the terminal.

Chengdu airport. An old Air China Boeing 737 is being towed out of the gate.

The same plane (missing 3 engines) has been parked here (Hong Kong airport) since my first trip to Chengdu two years ago.

Cathay Pacific Catering Services building in Hong Kong. This is where all the yummy food comes from.

Old school deplaning. We parked pretty close to gate 1 so the bus ride was only ~3 minutes.

They fit everyone from the flight on to one bus.

I have almost 7 hours to kill. Not sure what I should do. I wanted to go to Victoria Peak but I just checked the weather and it's 22°C and 87% relative humidity. That means I'm going to start sweating like crazy once I step out of the airport. Also, it looked really cloudy as we were landing so there's probably no view once I get up there. Dang it... I even checked in my bag in anticipation of walking around in Hong Kong.


Bah, I'm in the lounge. Since I don't even know which gate my flight will leave from, I went to the lounge near gate 3 (The Wing). It's ~6:15pm right now and my flight leaves at 11:45pm. Maybe I'll take a nap and a shower later. Meanwhile, off I go to the noodle bar. :)


A huge group of Taiwanese people just showed up at gate 3 for flight KA488 (Dragonair) to Taipei leaving at 20:10. Interestingly, flight CX468 (Cathay Pacific) is also going to Taipei from gate 2 at 20:00. Both airlines are run by the same company (Swire Group); not sure why they need two flights from Hong Kong to Taipei departing 10 minutes apart.

At least I get to play MouseHunt during the long wait. I just broke 600,000 points... that puts me in 64,405th place for now!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chengdu Trip #7 - Chengdu, Days 8

OK, I've been here too long. Since I didn't go to Zigong as planned this weekend, there's not much to do in Chengdu. Without a car, transportation is a pain in the ass on weekends.

Yesterday, I went across the street to Wenshu Temple to eat lunch. It's similar to Wuhou Temple but a lot smaller and the food selection wasn't that good. We tried stinky tofu from a different vendor; it was better but still pretty lame compared to the night markets in Taiwan. I had the same kind of noodles again... everything else looks too spicy. I spent the rest of the afternoon watching a Chinese drama with women who are really snake spirits and a monk who's chasing them. Weird.

Spicy beef noodles. My friend said it wasn't very good (taste) but it's supposed to be good (health) for you due to the special noodle ingredients. I don't see how that can possibly be true.

Spicy stinky tofu... a bit stinky but way too salty. I miss the night markets in Taiwan.

Main entrance to Wenshu Temple

Some of the buildings inside Wenshu Temple peeking over the wall.

Temple wall. The scorch marks are from people burning incense along the wall. I guess I'm not the only person too cheap to pay the entrance fee and I don't even want to 拜拜.

For dinner, I bought a large bowl of wontons for ¥6. It was pretty good and I lost count of the wontons after 20. In the US, you probably only get 5 or 6 wontons. :)

My $0.85 wonton dinner

Internet Firewall and News

Blogger has been unblocked during my trip to Chengdu so I've been able to update my blog without going through a VPN. On other trips in the past, I had to type stuff in Word and upload posts when I got to Hong Kong. Not sure if the firewall is more relaxed after the Olympics or if it's just more Chinese randomness.

For news sites, the GFC (Great Firewall of China) seems to allow English sites through. I've been able to access BBC News in English without any problems, even news on Tibet, but the Chinese version is blocked. Likewise for the Voice of America website. I can access the main website in English but the Chinese homepage is blocked. At least that hasn't changed.

The TV news coverage on Tibet is still the same. I don't see anything about current events in Tibet or the riot in Qinghai. Instead, CCTV is continuing their 30 day news special about "progress" in Tibet during the past 50 years. Even with my limited Chinese comprehension, watching it makes me sick.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chengdu Trip #7 - Market Photos

I took some pictures of the local market last night. I didn't have either of my cameras so I had to use the BlackBerry. The market occupies the entire first floor of a building across the street.

Vegetables. All the vegetable stalls are grouped together and seem to sell the same vegetables. I tried looking for green peppers (non-spicy kind) but couldn't find any. That's lotus root at the center bottom of the photo.


Pork is huge in China. There was only one stall that sells beef while all the other ones mainly sold pork. I asked the butcher lady to slice the beef into strips.

There was also a stall that sold all kinds of nuts. We got some raw sunflower seeds and garlic flavored peanuts. They also sell pistachios. I wonder if it's imported from California and how much it costs.

The nut lady.

We bought some pork ribs here. The people behind the counter wore uniforms so this appears to be a chain store that only sold pork products.

Chengdu Trip #7 - Chengdu Day 6 & 7

Originally I was going to go with my friend to her classes on Friday to check out what college is like in China. However, since I still felt a bit sick, I didn't want to get stuck with squattie toilets so I skipped class... maybe next time. Instead, I went to the market again and bought more groceries. I wanted to cook some spaghetti sauce but I couldn't find Italian pasta in any of the markets; using Chinese noodles is probably not a good choice. I ended up making an egg sandwich for lunch (couldn't find luncheon meat either) and even that gave me stomach problems. I was seriously thinking of changing my flight back to USA to an earlier date but that will probably cost too much. In hindsight, I probably should have gone home on Friday and catch the Korean concert with Baek Ji Young, Clazziquai, and Jewelry on Saturday.

After spending most of Friday resting, I felt a bit better this morning (Saturday). Several of my friend's old classmates from Zigong were visiting Chengdu and Happy Valley today. They asked us to join them but we decided to pass since neither of us wanted to go on any rides; no point paying ¥110 to get in and not go on any rides. Instead, we took a taxi to the Wuhou District in the southwest area of Chengdu. The main attraction is the historic site Wuhou Temple/Jinli Street built during the Three Kingdom period of Chinese history (220-280 AD). I think Chengdu was the main city of the Shu Han empire, which was destroyed by the Cao Wei empire in 263. The entrance fee to the temple was ¥60 so we didn't go in, but walked down Jinli Street next to the temple. It was the main place of commerce during the Three Kingdoms period so it's also known as the first street of the Shu Han empire. Today, it's mainly a tourist shopping area that sells souvenirs and has lots of street food. There's even a Starbucks at the entrance that charges US prices.

Main entrance to Wuhou Temple

Map of the grounds. Jinli street runs to the east of the main temple complex.

Rock with some Chinese characters. I think it has to do with the Three Kingdoms.

Jinli Street entrance

Looking down Jinli street from the entrance. On our way out, we saw 3-4 models, each followed by several photographers. I think it's probably for a magazine shoot.

Street vendor making animals and other stuff using molten sugar for ¥3.

Another view of Jinli Street. There are several tea houses as well... probably pretty expensive.

Some guy offering rides for ¥20. I don't think they had rickshaws during the Three Kingdoms period.

Due to my stomach problems, I haven't really eaten dinner for the past five days so this is probably not the best place to start eating. I had a bowl (a large paper cup really) of rice noodles with mustard sour vegetables (non-spicy) and it was pretty good for ¥6. I also got some fish balls soup and stinky tofu on a stick. The stinky tofu was different than the Taiwan version. It was fried but it wasn't stinky at all and didn't taste very good.

Hole-in-the-wall (literally) where I got my rice noodles.

Spicy vegetables and stuff on a stick. My friend got potatos, lotus root, seaweed, and tofu skin. I didn't try any of it. She also got some spicy cold noodles; it was so spicy it made her cry.

It's really difficult to find an empty taxi on weekends. It took us ~15 minutes to find one outside my friend's apartment to get to Wuhou. On the way home, we decided to take the bus. The fare is ¥2 per person and bus route 001 goes directly in front of my friend's apartment. However, since it's a cross-town bus, it was really crowded. The buses run every 5-10 minutes and two or three buses would show up at the same time (all full). Not sure why they don't spread out the buses so people only have to wait 2-3 minutes for the bus. The trip only took 7 minutes by taxi but ended up ~40 minutes by bus, and it was standing room only. For dinner, we ended up inviting some more of my friend's classmates. To save on walking, we went to the local market instead of one of the two supermarkets nearby. The market was pretty large with many meat and vegetable stalls; I didn't know it even existed. We bought enough for soup and two dishes plus some rice and the total was pretty cheap, probably under ¥30.

Some guy riding a steamroller down the street. It was slow and loud but at least everyone avoided him.

Restaurant/bar next to the river in south Chengdu. It only looks like a boat.

Crowded buses. This bus was on the same route as our bus at the same time. It was like a slow motion race between the two buses.

All this time, I've been checking Facebook MouseHunt on my BlackBerry. I got enough gold to purchase a shadow trap (Ambrosia) so I'm hunting in the Mausoleum. The game is a lot harder now; I'm only catching mice <50% of the time and they're stealing a lot of gold and points. Since Elim is out of town, I'm almost caught up to him in points.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chengdu Trip #7 - Chengdu, Day 5

Since Leon's is in Taiwan and I still feel sick, I didn't go to PMI today. Just to make sure, I skipped the meat baos for breakfast and went to McDonald's for lunch. I didn't feel like a burger but it was probably the safest thing for me to eat at this point. I ended up with a Filet o'Fish sandwich; though it tasted the same, it felt smaller than the same item in the US. I also got a pineapple pie and it was good! Like in Beijing, the pies are still deep fried so the crust is really crunchy. My friend ordered a hot'n spicy pork sandwich which seemed kinda weird for McDonald's. The total came out to ¥42 or ~$6 which is a bit cheaper than the US but really expensive compared to local food.


Other than lunch, I pretty much spent the entire day napping and checking work email. At night, my friend invited some of her college classmates over for dinner so we went to the local supermarket (operated by Taiwanese owners) for more groceries. I really don't like shopping in China. There are just too many people are they are all pretty rude. For the fruit & vegetable section, you have to get your purchase weighed and tagged by market workers but there are only two stations. If you try to line up, you'll never get anywhere. People would squeeze in front of you or reach across and push their bag of stuff on the scale to be priced... without exception. They also run into you with their carts without a word of apology or even acknowledge you with a glance. It's really tiring after a few days. Add to this all the noise, air pollution, unsanitary food and water, strange smells, etc... it's a real challenge to live here on a local person's salary once you're used to living in US/Canada.

One example is my friend's bathroom in her apartment. It doesn't have a separate shower area so everything gets all wet in the bathroom after a shower. The water heater would also mysteriously shut off if you turn on the cold water faucet along with the hot water. The first time I took a shower, the showerhead would only give me a trickle of scalding hot water. I asked her about fixing this and she said the landlady told her that all the water heaters were this way in the apartment building. Sigh... it's such BS (how can hundreds of people take scalding hot showers each night?) but that's how things are in China. Nobody wants to take responsibility for anything.

Balcony view during the day...

and at night

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chengdu Trip #7 - Chengdu, Day 4

My bad luck with food contined on Wednesday. I didn't eat anything the night before so I was really hungry. Before hailing a cab to go meet the company car at Jiaotung University, I stopped to get some baos for breakfast. I really wanted the red bean paste bao but they were out so I got 4 meat baos. I think they changed the recipe since there was pepper powder and it didn't taste that good. Actually, I think that may be what's causing my stomach problems.

At work, I skipped the noodle breakfast and went with one of the office staff to the corner market and got some bread/cookies/drinks since I wasn't going to risk lunch in the cafeteria. The store is fully stocked but since it's in the middle of a fairly empty industrial zone, there are not many customers. At lunchtime, I guess they felt sorry for me eating cold food so they offered to cook wonton soup for me. It was actually pretty good and non-greasy. However, at around 1:30pm, I suddenly felt like throwing up again so to be safe, I ran to the bathroom and waited... Finally after 10 minutes, I got tired of waiting and stuck a finger down my throat to start the process. At least this time I didn't make a mess. Thinking back, the only common item between the two days are the meat baos I had for breakfast and the timing was similar both days. I think I'll pass on the baos from now on.

Leon had to leave for Taiwan at noon so I was by myself in the afternoon. I met with the production manager and the recent graduate we hired for R&D regarding production process and yields. Since we're still not in full production mode, cash flow is tight this year and I need to calculate how much money we'll need to survive. I also got to watch them load some In2Se3 powder into the graphite mold for pressing. Almost everyone was involved and it was pretty ghetto manual. I also got a good look at all the other production equipment. One surprising thing was how much electricity was required to press one target using the vacuum hot press, something like 500+kW. That's almost double what I use per month at home.

Tibet Propanganda

I've been watching the news on both CCTV4 (Chinese) and CCTV9 (English), and the propaganda about Tibet is non-stop. The first several stories on the 8am news this morning was about the China Tibet exhibition, which basically says that China rescued all the Tibetians from a life of slavery by the Dalai Lama and life has been great since 1959. Then they "interviewed" a bunch of Westerners who all say, "Wow, we never hear this side of the story in the West." Duh, you don't hear about it because most of it is made up propaganda to demonize the Dalai Lama and the Tibetian government-in-exile.

They even had a "journalist" say that she learned a lot from the exhibition and hopes to visit Tibet in person some day. What?! No skepticism at all about information coming from the CCP? No suspicion why China barred all journalists and Westerners from Tibet during the month of March?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chengdu Trip #7 - PMI Farmhouse

If making advanced materials and targets don't work out, I guess we can convert the factory into a chicken farm. I think there is a vegetable garden out back too. Not sure what alternative uses there are for a 400 ton vacuum press however.

Some chickens at the back of the factory.

A hen and her chicks. This is at the front of the factory, next to the guardhouse. I think Mr. Ma, the guard/gardener, feeds them.

Some stray dogs. The original one I saw last year ran away. Leon thought we had three dogs now but one of them died last week. The collie was pretty friendly but it jumped on me and got my jacket all dirty.

Chengdu Trip #7 - Chengdu, Day 2 & 3

Wow, it's been a rough few days for me in Chengdu. I've had non-stop stomach problems since I got here; thank goodness for the sit down toilet here at work. Between food problems and jet lag, I've been really tired so the past two days have been all PMI work and sleep.

Monday morning, I took a taxi to the Sheraton in downtown Chengdu to meet a potential investor and bring him to our factory. Professor Yan took us on a quick tour and I took a few pictures (previous post). We then had lunch at the company cafeteria and I think the food was too oily and spicy for me. From my supermarket trip, the most common/cheapest cooking oil is rapeseed oil which heavier and not as healthy as corn/sunflower oil. After work, Leon and I was supposed to have dinner with Professor Yan but I fell asleep in his hotel room (only ¥168 per night!). After an hour, I decided just to go home and crash.

On the way to work, we drove by an amusement park that just opened at the end of last year. It's called Happy Valley and I think it's one of four in China. The all-day admission fee is ¥110. Leon and I thought it was pretty cheap since Disneyland is $70+ but the local people thought it was pretty expensive. From the road, I could only see some roller-coasters through the morning mist/smog.

The next day was pretty similar. We went to work, had some noodles for breakfast (not sure if this also contributed to my food woes), and went to a vendor's office/factory to discuss business. They're our main raw material supplier but are also trying to get into the solar business. They acquired a huge piece of land in the high-tech zone next to the airport but are short on capital to finish up construction. Their chairman just bought a Lexus LS470 in Chengdu for ¥1.2M, a huge markup over US prices.

Their main building... pretty impressive looking.

Some of their buildings used for refining minerals.

Unfinished building. There were going to build two of these huge buildings for solar cell production. One building was completed but it's also pretty empty inside. I suggested they can play soccer in this building.

After yet another greasy lunch in the vendor's cafeteria (much nicer though), we headed to the airport to pick up another business guest. On the way back, the accumulation of greasy/spicy food finally hit me hard and we had to pull over on the side of the Airport Expressway for me to puke out two day's worth of food. Sigh... I guess I should have puked before we picked up our guest. After returning to the office, I laid down on the couch in Leon's office and too a nap. Once again, I skipped dinner and just slept all evening and all night. I'm not sure what's wrong with me. I was fine with Chengdu food for the first few trips; it's only recently that I've had severe stomach problems here in China. :(