Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010 Asia Trip, Chengdu Day #3 Early-Morning

It's a routine now... falling asleep early and getting up way early to update the blog. With my main audience stuck behind the GFW with me, I'm not sure if anyone is reading this... oh well, this has always been more of a public diary than anything else.

So I was wrong about the snoring noises from the next room. Umm... there are other "noises" that wake me up though not too long each time.

Anyway, yesterday was a full day at work but I didn't get much done because I was tired and felt sick. I think that's becoming normal for me in Chengdu, whether it's the food or the bad air. I hope I start feeling better later in the trip. We had a couple of meetings and the guest Leon picked up from the airport last night showed up at around noon. Leon said the airport was crazy busy at midnight since most flights were delayed and he didn't get back to the hotel until 1:30am. When I got here Sunday night at 11:00pm, the airport was also packed with people.

First day of school at 西南交通大学 (Southwest Jiaotung University). This was in front of an elementary school on-campus and it was packed with students and parents.

One of the two dogs at PMI's factory

After work, we decided to take the guest (Chinese guy from the US) and Leon's uncle to a Chongqing style hot pot place. I've been to a few hot pot places with locals and we always end up with weird stuff in the soup. Last time it was sheep brain and pig blood... and I always managed to get sick each time. Sigh...

On the way to the restaurant, our driver made a 1/2 block long left turn into oncoming traffic. I think I read somewhere that China had the most number of accidents per person/driver and I believe it. Everyone is impatient and ignores traffic signs/signals, even pedestrians, and especially bicycles and scooters.

At dinner, they did order lots of strange stuff that don't seem like food to me: goose intestines, black tripe, pig throat, and duck blood cake. At least they ordered some fish balls though it didn't look like ones I buy for hot pot back in the US. I was exhausted after dinner so I fell asleep as soon as I laid down on the hotel bed.

Everyone ate out of the spicy outer pot except me. I did try eating a fish ball out of the spicy soup and it nearly killed me.

Leon and I couldn't tell what this was... it was goose intestines. You wrap it around your chopsticks and let it cook for about 10 seconds.

Cart full of "goodies"

Duck blood cake. This was the last thing they threw into the pot. They kept trying to get me to eat it; I just let it sit on my plate.

We got a small bottle of baijiu. It was marginally better than the stuff I had last time but still pretty strong and had a nasty aftertaste.

Monday, August 30, 2010


One of the things that's convenient with my new Android phone is to check on social media stuff whenever and wherever. I finally got it connected with the WLAN router here at PMI but nothing works thanks to the Great Firewall of China.

Facebook => blocked
Twitter => blocked
Blogger/Blogspot => blocked
YouTube => blocked

Wow, that means I can pretty much only check email and weather (hot and humid) with the phone. I'm too cheap to turn on data roaming though China Mobile but that probably has all the above blocked as well. I can try to connect through a VPN using the phone, as I'm doing with my netbook, but why should I have to jump through hoops?

If China is so great, as the CCP keeps telling everyone, what are they afraid of? My silly blog? People Twittering random notes to their friends? Seriously, Facebook?!

Hotel Mini-bar

Okay, just one more post before going back to sleep...

Most hotels in the US have a mini-bar where you can drink/eat stuff and the hotel then charges you for the items when you check out. Well, the Fuyuan Business Hotel has something similar.

Instead of a mini-fridge stock with alcohol, there are a few cans of soda, instant noodles, and two bags of mystery snacks on the table. Each item is ~$1. But since this is China, there are other items for sale.

The basket of goodies contains a dehydrated towel (just add water), his and hers underwear, box of disposable razors, a small towel + razor pack, hair + body wash (the series make it possible for the bath to be one of your favorite enjoyments of your traveling), and... a three pack of "premium" condoms. Hmm...I hope they're individually wrapped inside the package.

2010 Asia Trip, Chengdu Day #2 Early-Morning

It's about 3am in Chengdu and I can hear people snoring in the next hotel room... at least it's not other "noises"...

I was really tired after dinner last night. We were supposed to pick up someone at the airport at ~11:00pm but I fell asleep as soon as I got back to my room for six hours. I'm going to have to try and go back to sleep after this post, otherwise I'm going to be dead tired again.

The first day of PMI was pretty uneventful. I did notice that the traffic was worse than before. There's a new driver (I met him last year when he just started) and he likes to take small streets. The main roads are totally packed and people are driving as crazy as ever.

The most scary sight in China... a row of student drivers. Someone has to be teaching all these people how to drive poorly and ignore all traffic signs.

There were several trucks moving large trees down the street. Who needs a bigger truck?!

Leon's uncle came along with us to the factory and he got a brief tour. Since there is no breakfast available at our hotel, we had some beef noodles for breakfast at work. It was okay... though very different from the Taiwanese version (which has a lot more meat). The building hasn't changed very much although a few of the people are different. Since I been here quarterly for a couple of years, it felt a bit strange to be back after 12 months this time. I did notice that there was a lot more food items as the resident couple (security guard & cook) has planted more produce and built a bigger chicken coop.

Jars of pickled mustard greens (酸菜)... I love pickled mustard greens with noodles (酸菜肉絲麵) but it's hard to find in the US. The cook promised to make that for breakfast later this morning.

Gourds and melons. The green things are huge winter melons (冬瓜) which the cook stir-fried with tiny pieces of dried shrimp for lunch. I told them my parents bought a piece of winter melon for $3 per pound. They thought I was crazy and suggest that PMI start shipping Chinese produce to the US. :)

Lunch dishes. Everything was a bit spicy. I guess it wouldn't be Chengdu or Sichuan if the food wasn't spicy. The brown stuff on bottom left is fish.

Homegrown corn... I saw a few stalks at the back of the factory.

After lunch, we decided to go to the local Bank of China branch. Leon needed to convert some US dollars to RMB, while I just wanted to find out how much money was left in my BofC account. The entire trip took us ~2 hours. When you walk in to a Chinese bank, there is a kiosk where you get a number. Our number was A429 and they were only up to A352... 77 people in front of us and only 5 teller windows. Anyway, after waiting for ~40 minutes and discussing the price of Levis jeans in the US vs. China with our driver, we were called to window #1. All this time the announcements have been in Chinese but the automated voice called our number in English (probably because we pushed a button with English text at the kiosk), though the teller probably didn't speak a word of English. First Leon had problems because he changed passports since opening the account. China has very strict currency controls and individuals can only exchange $50,000 to RMB each year, and it's tracked by passport numbers for foreigners. Since he has a new passport number, they wanted to see the old passport for some reason. Who carries expired passports around with them? Weird thing is that he has exchanged currency at the same branch with the new passport several times already.

While we were waiting for them to confirm we weren't money launderers, I gave them my passbook to check balances. I think it said I have a few hundred RMB and probably some US dollars too (multi-currency account). The teller types in my account number, frowns, then returns my passbook telling me that the account doesn't exist anymore. Huh? What does that mean? I then asked what happened to the money and she said that she didn't know. Clearly that was unacceptable so I kept asking her for a reason, and to print out the transactions that depleted my account. Finally she had to get a manager/supervisor and three people ended up crowding around her computer screen trying to figure out what happened to my ~450 RMB. After 15 minutes, they said (supposedly) they changed something in their bank system and now my hyphenated Chinese middle name was unacceptable, and it took a lot of effort to dig up my account (obviously). The only solution is to open a new account and transfer the balance from the old account. Of course another solution was to close the account and take the cash and run, but at this point I just let them do whatever. So now I have a new Bank of China account with ~440 RMB and either $80 or $100 US... I'm still not quite clear. That's pretty poor customer service by the first teller as she tried to blow me off three times by saying the account doesn't exist anymore. What if I misplaced my passbook? Is my account gone? There's only ~$150 total but what if I had just wired in a few thousand dollars like I did for our family trip last September? There's no culture of helping the customer, and the local people in the office said Bank of China has particularly bad customer service.

After that experience, we were done for the day. After an hour long ride back to the hotel, we had dinner with Leon's uncle and I crashed.

Dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. Four dishes + 2 bowls of rice + pitcher of watermelon juice for ~150 RMB.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

2010 Asia Trip, Chengdu Day #1 Morning

Yawn... well, the jetlag is in full effect. I went to bed around 1:30am local time and promptly got up ~5:30am. The power stayed on the whole night so the room was a bit cold this morning; I had turned it on full blast to cool the room down before they cut off the power. Sigh... nothing runs on schedule here. Now I fully expect the power to go off randomly.

The internet connection is still working though sometime it seems to drop. I had problems with connection to the VPN back in Irvine so I'm now connected through Taipei. There are two China options (Beijing and Shanghai) on the list of connections but they say "restricted" so I didn't try. I haven't done any work yet... just connection so I can use Blogger and Facebook. :)

View outside hotel window... what you would expect from a grungy business hotel in the middle of a 2nd tier city in China.

When I check the weather earlier, it said that it would rain all week in Chengdu. I was actually glad since the rain will clean the air somewhat and temperatures would only be in the high 20's.

2010 Asia Trip, KA824

Our flight was delayed for about an hour in Hong Kong due to China airspace issues so I’m not quite sure where we are or when we’ll arrive in Chengdu. At Hong Kong, I only had about an hour between flights but I decided to hit the lounge and noodle bar anyway, even if it was only for 15 minutes. I originally wanted to upload the last post before crossing the GFW but I had connection issues with the computer, though the Samsung phone managed to connect.

Wonton noodles and a BBQ pork bun at the CX lounge near gate 65

The demographics of the KA flight to Chengdu is much different than the CX flight from Los Angeles; it’s almost all Chinese people on this flight. I haven’t been to China for about a year and I am quickly reminded of how rude and inconsiderate Chinese people can be. Since our flight was delayed on the tarmac, everyone was already seated, along with the flight attendants. One guy in front of me decides to get up to grab a magazine… while we were slowly moving. A flight attendant told him to take his seat since we’re about to take off, and he said something back at her, while taking his time. Meanwhile, about 3-4 people around me turned their phone back on and started making calls. Sheesh, can’t anyone follow instructions? Even though it’s a two hour flight, Dragonair served dinner anyway. After eating dinner, they same rude guy called a flight attendant to collect his tray immediately, while they were still busy serving the rest of the cabin (we’re seated near the front). Then he immediately reclined his seat all the way back, while people are still eating. Of course, none of this is a big deal, and it could be that this guy is “special”, but I’m starting to get that annoyed feeling about rude Chinese people again.

I talked to Leon while transferring flights in Hong Kong. He said the hotel we’re staying at has no power from 11:30pm to 4am. Great, I think I probably won’t get there until 11:30pm. Why would they to this? There has to be less power consumption at night. Do they need to do maintenance or something? Good thing I brought a small flash light with me.


The rude guy was at it again when we arrived at Chengdu. His bag was a few rows behind his seat so he forced his way back while yelling at everyone to back up. Some lady told him to just wait a bit since we just got to the gate but he turned and yelled at her too. Charming... probably has two wives.


I'm at the hotel now. It took a little bit longer since the Taxi driver had to stop and get gas (CNG). Of course he didn't deduct the 3 yuan of waiting time (me standing on the curb waiting for him to fill up). It's now 12:28am. The power was supposed to go out at 11:55pm. I have the A/C on full blast and still I'm sitting here sweating. If the power goes out, I'm dead.

Hotel room. Still smells a bit like smoke but that's a given at any cheap hotel in China (even Taiwan). The internet connection seems to work since I got these two posts uploaded. I think Blogger is still blocked as well as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc so I using a VPN connection from work.

2010 Asia Trip, CX885

What you see when you first board the plane... :(

Arg, only 9 hours to go. The flight is not full at all. Almost every section of three seats (Boeing 777) has the middle seat open, and some people have the entire row to themselves. On previous flights, I’ve always boarded at the low numbered gates (i.e., 101,102, etc)at LAX. Today, we boarded at gate 123A which is the newly constructed double-decker gate designed for the Airbus A380. I didn’t get to see one up close though.

Quantas A380 from far away

Some major construction going on at LAX

So far, we were served lunch (blah) and I’ve watched two movies. The in-flight entertainment system was messed up at first so they had to reboot which took about 20 minutes. I got bored so I watched Salt on my netbook (R5 version). It was pretty good… much better than Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I also watched Iron Man 2 on the plane’s system. It was okay… the special effects were cool but the ending came too fast. The final fight sequence was really short and kinda lame; did they run out of money or something?

Black bean chicken with rice... not that good. For dinner, the dessert was some kind of apple pastry that was really tasty, though the rest of the meal was about as bad as lunch.

Entertainment system reboot... Linux OS (there a little penguin at the top left)

Next to me (across the aisle) is what appears to be a family returning to Hong Kong. The husband has a business class seat so his wife, two kids, and their Filipino nanny is seated in the 3 seats (I guess one kid is <24 months old). I wondered if he offered the business class seat to his wife. He is coming back to check on them every hour though… maybe out of guilt.

Sigh… 8 hours and 48 minutes left. Let’s see what other movies are available:
Alice in Wonderland
Brooklyn’s Finest
Clash of the Titans (I’ll be watching a legit copy!)
Green Zone
Hot Tub Time Machine
How to Train Your Dragon
and… Hard Boiled (under HK Cinema)

I was hoping for Inception or Despicable Me. I can watch 4 more movies if they’re ~2 hours each.


Yawn… we are now close to Japan and about 4 hours away from Hong Kong. We were served dinner and I managed to watch another movie (How to Train Your Dragon) and Invincible Youth #39. I also took some Tydenol PM during dinner which was a bad idea; I’m really tired (11:36pm back in Los Angeles), but still unable to sleep.


Yay! I think I fell asleep for an hour. Now it’s only 1 hour and 23 minutes to Hong Kong. The computer says it’s 2:01am or 5:01pm in Hong Kong… so we should get in at 6:24pm or ~20 minutes early. Leon warned me that some Dragonair flights were departing from a remote terminal so any extra time is good since the flight to Chengdu leaves at 7:40pm. We’re about to fly over Taipei according to the flight map. I’m going to try and nap the rest of the way.

Ha ha, SNSD's Oh on the inflight entertainment system. I have ~80% of the music under the Korean category.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010 Asia Trip, LAX Lounge

The airport is pretty crowded today, including the oneworld lounge. My parents dropped me off at ~11:10am and I didn't get past security check until 12:05pm. Flight boards in ~10 minutes so only have time to download some emails. 15 hour flight... here I come!

Friday, August 27, 2010

DMCA Email

Oops, got this nice email this morning:
Dear Customer,

This message is to advise that Cox Communications has received a notice claiming that you are using your Cox High Speed Internet service to post or transmit material in violation of U.S. Copyright law. We have included a copy of the complaint, which identifies the party raising it and the material claimed to be infringing.

We ask that you review the complaint and, if it is valid, promptly remove or disable access to the infringing material. If you disagree with the claims in the notice, you should contact the sender, and not Cox, to resolve the matter.

As an Internet Service Provider, Cox is responsible, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"), to advise when we receive a notice asserting infringement by you. We are also required to take appropriate action if further claims are received that you do not resolve.

The material that you post or share online is your responsibility. Cox encourages responsible Internet use, but we do not monitor nor control the information you share. We have a duty, however, to take progressive steps when we received complaints of infringement.

If we continue to receive infringement claims such as this one, concerning your use of our service, we will suspend your account and disable your Internet connection until you confirm you have removed the infringing material.


Dear DMCA Agent:

We are writing this letter on behalf of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. ("Warner Bros.").

We have received information that an individual has utilized the below-referenced IP address at the noted date and time to offer downloads of copyrighted motion picture(s) through a "peer-to-peer" service, including such title(s) as:


The distribution of unauthorized copies of copyrighted motion pictures constitutes copyright infringement under the Copyright Act, Title 17 United States Code Section 106(3). This conduct may also violate the laws of other countries, international law, and/or treaty obligations.

Since you own this IP address (xx.xx.xx.xxx), we request that you immediately do the following:

1) Contact the subscriber who has engaged in the conduct described above and take steps to prevent the subscriber from further downloading or uploading Warner Bros. content without authorization; and

2) Take appropriate action against the account holder under your Abuse Policy/Terms of Service Agreement.

On behalf of Warner Bros., owner of the exclusive rights to the copyrighted material at issue in this notice, we hereby state, that we have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by Warner Bros., its respective agents, or the law.

Also, we hereby state, under penalty of perjury, under the laws of the State of California and under the laws of the United States, that the information in this notification is accurate and that we are authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive rights being infringed as set forth in this notification.

Please direct any end user queries the following.

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Attn: Worldwide Anti-Piracy
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522
818.954.3091 – phone
infringements@warnerbros.com – email

Kindly include the Case ID xxxxxxxxxx, also noted above, in the subject line of all future correspondence regarding this matter.

We appreciate your assistance and thank you for your cooperation in this matter. Your prompt response is requested.


A Kempe
Enforcement Coordinator

China/Taiwan Flag

During the last employee event, our company put up flags on light poles in the parking lot. I think it was to show that we're a worldwide company so there was a flag for each country where we have an office. As you drive in the entrance, you see a Canadian flag followed by others. As you keep driving, the Taiwan flag was the 4th or 5th one on your left.

At first, I didn't see a China flag. I thought, "Hmm... someone from the mainland will b*tch about that." After searching the parking lot, I found it off to one side. It was hard to find because it's hidden behind some trees as you drive in. Next thought, "Someone will still complain that we're flying the Taiwan flag at all." Well, coming back from lunch today, I noticed that the location of the two flags have switched so that Taiwan flag is now harder to find. I wonder what prompted that change. Maybe we have some CCP party members or 五毛党 here at work; they're really really sensitive about the 3 T's (Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen).


I'll try to get some pictures later.

2010 Asia Trip, Packing

I haven't traveled that much this year... just two trips to Portland so far. I'm making up for it by going to 4 places in China/Taiwan (and Hong Kong airport) this coming trip. Since I only have 55 minutes to transit in Hong Kong, I didn't want to check in any bags, at least on the way to Chengdu. However, since I'm going for two weeks, I was unsure if I can pack enough clothes as I need to dress at least business casual for PMI meetings during the first week.

After checking with my friend in Taipei, I can now pack a lot less. I'm staying with him in his apartment and he has a washer, which means I can just bring enough for one week, then do laundry when I get to Taiwan. That saves me from worrying about running out of clean clothes when I finally get to Beijing. Need to make a good impression!

Even still... I needed to pack a lot of clothes into one carry-on. I also have a backpack with my computer and other miscellaneous stuff.

It all fits (minus toiletries), including both pairs of shoes. I used up one compression bag for underwear and other clothes that won't matter if wrinkled.

My trusty carry-on roller. Since I'm sitting in the cheap seats, the limit is only 7kg or 15 lbs. This is way over the weight limit. Hopefully they won't check, and I'm still a silver tier member of Cathay's Marco Polo Club, expiring next month. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

BSOD Again

I got the dreaded Blue Screen of Death again(!) on my Sony Vaio. Learning from my last BSOD experience, I left the System Restore feature on in case the computer died again. I just pulled up the built-in recovery feature to try and go back to a prior restore point. I'm typing with my fingers crossed as the computer is trying to boot up...


Ooh, I think it worked! I still hate Vista but the disgust level has dropped slightly from 10 minutes ago. My mom told me to get a new comuputer... I'll probably go buy Windows7 instead. If I get another computer, I'll probably buy a Macbook.


Hmm, or not. I have a slower Mac already. Maybe a PC desktop for games... but I have a PS3 already. I feel like I'm arguing with myself... and losing!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Top Dollar for My 4Runner

This is what happens when you have a bunch of academics and lifelong bureaucrats running things.


Car buyers on average paid $1,800 more for a used vehicle in July than they paid a year ago at this time, according to Edmunds.com data. That's a 10.3 percent increase, bringing the average cost of a 3-year-old vehicle to $19,248. The price of a Cadillac Escalade spiked nearly 36 percent. "A lack of confidence in the economy is driving more people to used cars, putting upward pricing pressure on a limited supply of vehicles," said Joe Spina, a senior analyst for Edmunds.

There's a tricky aspect to this analysis, because last summer was marked by a used-car buying frenzy spawned by the Cash for Clunkers program. Spina said the effects of that program are hard to isolate precisely. "So many economic factors affect automobile sales and prices. It's believed that the program delayed purchases prior to the program and also pulled sales forward while in place," he said. "The program also eliminated inventory of older vehicles that were traded and then scrapped." After the jump, take a look at the vehicles whose prices moved the most this July. The model years have been averaged. You can also get some advice on how to proceed in a (relatively) pricey used-car market.

Top five price gainers (July 2010 vs. July 2009):
- Cadillac Escalade: +35.6%
- Chevrolet Suburban: +34.2%
- Dodge Grand Caravan: +34.0%
- BMW X5: +33.0%
- Acura MDX: +29.2%

Of course, those aren't the cars being traded in last year since they're all worth more than the $4000 credit. However, it's no coincidence that they're all mid to large sized SUVs. Removing thousands of otherwise working used vehicles in one segment is bound to drive up prices.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

10-day Traffic Jam, Part 3

Holy crap, it looks like it is a 910-day continuous traffic jam.

That's lame. Even if there's roadwork, they can stop while letting cars through (other pictures show that it's a two lane-each way road). Again, I've witnessed road construction in China; they probably ripped up the entire road without considering traffic implications. You'd figure they can start detouring new traffic away and start clearing the congestion after 10 days.


Page 2 of the Chinese article:
Wang, driving from Hohhot to Tianjin in a coal truck, had been on the Huai'an section for three days and two nights.

"We are advised to take detours, but I would rather stay here since I will travel more distance and increase my costs," Wang said.

"The number of roads from northwest China to Beijing are limited," he complained, asking "Why should I pay the toll fee?"

I guess it's cultural or something... but I'm Chinese and I don't get it. Sure you pay a bit more in fuel and toll fees but you're not sitting on your ass for 10+ days. Are they paid by the hour? Is his time not worth anything? We're taught in the West that time = money, so you need to maximize productivity. Perhaps it's different in China.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Madonna - Secret

I know I posted their performance video below, mainly to show the wireless pack pouches sewn on to their costumes, but I'm beginning to like this song.

Madonna - Secret

Magic Crap Mouse

I'm officially fed up with my Apple Magic Mouse. I bought this about 6 months ago and ended up having to upgrade the OS as well. Since then, I found that the Bluetooth transceiver is crap in my Mac mini but I kept on using the mouse.

However, I've been having lots of problems with the gestures on the Magic Mouse. Web pages would zoom in/out and scroll at random, plus the bad tracking seems to be even worse. I'm happy with the Logitech mouse on my Sony Vaio so maybe I'll bring the Apple mouse to work since my new work computer has a Bluetooth chip. It will match my Apple sticker on the back of the Dell.


I'm back to an old-school wired Microsoft Intellimouse Optical. Right now the back button doesn't work and I received an error trying to install v6.3 of Microsoft's pointing software. Arg!


Not sure what the error was all about. I rebooted the system and the mouse driver shows up in the System Preferences and the forward/back buttons work fine. Strange.

Wireless Pack Pouches

Madonna - Secret [Music Core 20100821]

I actually saw this when I downloaded their performance on Inkigayo from Sunday. Usually performers need to clip on one or two wireless packs depending on whether they're using lavalier mics and/or in-ear monitors; you normally see these black, cigarette box sized things hanging off their costumes. For this performance (and the one above), they have pouches sewn on their costumes to hold the packs. You can still see them though, since they're pretty large and heavy.

Shure PSM700... the system costs ~$2000 for transmitter and receiver pack.

Oh yeah, the girls are cute and it was a good performance.


Sometimes I post links to the show Invincible Youth shown on KBS. The girl with black hair wearing a short skirt is Han Sunhwa, one of the members on the show.

100km Traffic Jam, Part 2

BBC News
Vehicles, mostly lorries bound for Beijing, are backed up for about 100km (62 miles) because of heavy traffic, road works and break-downs.

The drivers have complained that locals are over-charging them for food and drink while they are stuck.

There has been a boom in road building in China in recent years but vehicle use has soared at the same time.

The stalled traffic stretches between Jining in Inner Mongolia and Huai'an in Hebei province, north-west of Beijing, said the Global Times.

The BBC article gives more details. If you go on Google Maps, you can find both places and the 100km stretch of road called Jinghu Expressway.

View Larger Map

If you look on the satellite map, that area is pretty rugged and sparsely populated (relatively... there are people everywhere in China). However, there seems to be a detour south to Datong and then east to Xuanhua. Sure it looks like an additional 100km but beats sitting around for 9 days.

Of course, the article is unclear whether there's heavy traffic for 9 days or the same cars/trucks have been stuck for that long. Hopefully it's not the latter... though observing the driving etiquette in China, I wouldn't be surprised.

9-day Traffic Jam?!

Yahoo! News
China's nine-day traffic jam stretches 100km

BEIJING (AFP) – Thousands of vehicles were bogged down Monday in a more than 100-kilometre (62-mile) traffic jam leading to Beijing that has lasted nine days and highlights China's growing road congestion woes.

The Beijing-Tibet expressway slowed to a crawl on August 14 due to a spike in traffic by cargo-bearing heavy trucks heading to the capital, and compounded by road maintenance work that began five days later, the Global Times said.

The state-run newspaper said the jam between Beijing and Jining city had given birth to a mini-economy with local merchants capitalising on the stranded drivers' predicament by selling them water and food at inflated prices.

That stretch of highway linking Beijing with the northern province of Hebei and the Inner Mongolia region has become increasingly prone to massive jams as the capital of more than 20 million people sucks in huge shipments of goods.

Traffic slowed to a snail's pace in June and July for nearly a month, according to earlier press reports.

The latest clog has been worsened by the road improvement project, made necessary by highway damage caused by a steady increase in cargo traffic, the Global Times said.

China has embarked in recent years on a huge expansion of its national road system but soaring traffic periodically overwhelms the grid.

The congestion was expected to last into mid-September as the road project will not be finished until then, the newspaper said.

The roadway is a major artery for the supply of produce, coal and other goods to Beijing.

Mid-September? I guess I won't be driving that way when I visit next month. I've been stuck in traffic before but 60 miles? If we assume 20 feet per car/truck and two lanes, then that's about 30,000 cars/trucks. I guess it's possible...

I just took this from mapabc.com and it shows Beijing traffic at ~midnight. So at least we know people go home at night and it's not a 24 hour traffic jam there.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Little Horns

Look at the top of his helmet. I saw this on the way to church.


Speaking of church, the worship today was led by Uriah Park. I think they ran out of guitar players so they went with her on keys, the pastor's wife on piano, and Elim on the cajón. I tried to record the service using my Samsung phone but the audio was too loud and was distorted in the recording. The phone only records at 720x480, not HD, and the 15 minute recording was ~380MB.

Just as service was about to begin, Paul grabbed me and asked if I can type. It turns out that there is a deaf person in the congregations. Whenever she is there, they need someone to transcribe live on a laptop computer so she can read and know what's being said. The sermon ended up being about 4 pages of text.

Last week's service. There were a few more people in the worship team.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vacuum Packing Bags

I just got back from REI... I was looking to buy some vacuum packing bags that are basically large ziplock bags that allow you to push the air out of them to conserve space. My sister brought some to the China trip last year. Since I'm going carry-on only this trip, I need to conserve luggage space.

I think I saw what I wanted at the store but found out that I left my wallet at home. Dang it. I had two smartphones (Blackberry and Vibrant) on me but no way to pay for stuff. I guess I'll just have to run down there again tomorrow before church.


On the way home, I saw a camouflaged car. They're usually future year models and have black plastic panels all over to conceal the make, model, and shape of the car. It looked like a Toyota Prius but I couldn't tell for sure.

Shanzai Guitars?

I was browsing the web looking for guitar chords/tabs for Chinese songs when I saw an ad for a Takamine guitar for ¥880 (~$130). Curious, I clicked on the link and it brought me to Taobao which is kinda like an online mall where individuals can sell their stuff.

Since the listing doesn't say much, I went to the Takamine website to find out the specs for this guitar. Surprisingly (or not I guess), I couldn't find this model on Takamine's website nor their 2010 price list. The Taobao listing says they have 994 units left for sale. That's a lot of fake guitars. Maybe they have "Taylor" guitars at Taobao too.


I translated the listing using Google Translate, scrolled down further, and saw that there is a description and more pictures. On the photo of the soundhole, you can see a sticker that says Takamine "Dragon" series. I searched for Takamine Dragon and found that there is an entry-level D-series sold in Asia.

Hmm... so maybe it's legit, though the sticker looks suspiciously cheap and there's no serial number (which is easy to fake as well). I looked on Musician's Friend and they're selling Jasmine (by Takamine) branded guitars for ~$100 so maybe these are the same models.


Ha! They have Taylor guitars on Taobao. I searched for a Taylor 414CE and saw that the average asking price was ¥16000... that's about $2,350 or close to the US list price. I have a 2003 414CE-L4 (limited edition) which cost me ~$1,500 new so these prices are crazy high. Maybe they're real Taylor guitars then.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kogi Again

A coworker saw my FB post on Kogi from Tuesday. I showed him the website and found out that the same truck will be in Irvine for lunch today. It wasn't that close to work (Bake Parkway and Irvine Center Drive) but the two of us drove out to get lunch today. We got there about 10 minutes before noon and there was only a few people in line.

The truck was parked right outside Mission Motorsports

This time I got tacos and we got a Blackjack Quesadilla to share

Three tacos: one each of short rib, spicy pork, and chicken

Blackjack Quesadilla. I forgot what was in there but we couldn't finish. There are still two pieces sitting on my side table at work.

I think I liked the chicken the best. The short rib was still too salty for my taste and the pork was just okay. I'm not sure why they picked that location... it's kinda out in the middle of nowhere. They should come visit our company parking lot; there are only ~2000 people working here.


I need to see if there are other "gourmet" food trucks that come down to OC.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Real-time pricing

Hmm, I was checking airfare prices from Shenzhen to Taipei earlier. There is a direct flight on China Southern that cost $142 directly from their website. At the time, I was browsing with Safari and it didn't show me the secure connection icon so I tried again using Firefox. It was only ~2 minutes but the price jumped to $155. Huh? Thinking this may be the tracking cookie trick (show too much interest and price goes up), I tried the same search using my PC (instead of the Mac) but the results were the same. Did someone else snatch up the last cheap seat while I was switching browsers? Anyway, seems pretty expensive for a 90 minute one-way flight but since everything else is already arranged, I went and booked it anyway. It would have cost me ¥1138 on ctrip.com so I save a little bit.


I just looked at the e-ticket confirmation and it dropped my first name from the ticket. Arg! To match my passport, I put in my first and middle (Chinese) name but now only the middle name shows up. I heard before that they're really picky about passport names in China and they don't quite understand the whole "middle" name concept. I don't want to get stuck in Shenzhen... or I may have to get a job at Foxconn assembling iPhones/iPads. :(


I went back into the China Southern website to double check what name I put into their system and it looks like I forgot to put my first name in the form; Firefox remembers what you typed for each field online. At least the passport number I typed in matches. Also, the airfare is back down to $142. I was going to book the flight on Expedia but it also showed a price increase from $152 to $167 at the time... now it's down to $152. I don't get what happened; maybe I was in a parallel universe for the 5 minutes when I booked my flight with the "wrong" name and at a higher price.

5th China Visa

I picked up my passport yesterday with a new China visa (5th in the same passport). Since I was running out of pages, I sent my passport in recently to have more pages added. With all those new blank pages, the clerk at the Chinese consulate decided to stick the new visa right in the middle, leaving 12 blank pages on each side. Arg! They must have read my blog and wanted to mess up my passport in retaliation... okay, probably not.

Hmm, the visa is not that sticky. Maybe I can peel it off and stick it on another page... or maybe I'll end up ripping it and have to spend another $140. I guess I'll just live with it; I'll probably get a huge air bubble if I try to put the visa sticker on another page. :(

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kogi BBQ in Irvine

When I got the new smartphone, I was wondering what I would do with it. Well, I found one use... I can follow Kogi BBQ on Twitter. I saw that one of their trucks was going to be in Irvine at 6:30pm so I stopped by after work. I've actually never gotten food from Kogi, nor any other "gourmet" food trucks, so this is a first for me. Yeah, yeah... I'm way behind.

This is the "Naranja" truck based out of Anaheim

There were about 20 people in front of me but the line moved pretty quickly. I stood for about 15 minutes before getting to the truck. Since it was my first time, I just ordered a spare rib burrito. Usually I'm very picky about stuff inside my burrito but since I never had a Kogi burrito before, I just ordered the default.

This was behind K1 Speed (indoor go-karting place) on McGaw and Von Karman in Irvine. Parked next to the Kogi truck was a ice cream truck. It looked expensive so I didn't ask. Maybe these trucks travel in packs now.

I only waited about 5 minutes for my burrito. I noticed that almost everyone in line had a smartphone, with a lot of iPhone 4's... without phone cases!

Kogi spare rib burrito. It was different. The meat had good flavor but was really salty. I wasn't sure what else was in there but there was definitely some cheese, veges (kimchi?) and maybe rice. I ate about 1/2 of it in the car before driving home. If I go again, maybe I'll try the tacos or the sliders instead.

Traffic Jam

I heard on the news yesterday morning that Obama will be visiting LA for a fundraiser at 4pm. My first reaction was, "Ooh, traffic is going to be crazy." Second reaction was, "Fundraiser? Can't he do this on the weekend or something?!" Obama is a smart guy. If I thought about this, he probably did too... and chose to ignore the burden his trip would impose on thousands of people.

Los Angeles Times
The massive traffic jam that resulted from President Obama's motorcade and speech Monday night in Hancock Park is prompting calls for an investigation from some residents, who say they were caught in traffic for hours.

Obama was only in L.A. for a few hours, but his presence caused numerous streets to be blocked off.

Residents reported that commutes and errands that typically took minutes turned into hours-long ordeals. One particular complaint was that streets remained blocked for hours -- even when Obama was inside TV producer John Wells' Hancock Park home at a fund-raiser.

I read through some of the comments and it seems that the inappropriate timing was compounded by incompetent planning and communications. Why did they have to keep all these streets closed while he was inside having dinner?

Also, the fundraiser for DNC was supposed to raise $1M from (wealthy) attendees. Air Force One costs ~$57k per hour to operate... so the 10 hour round trip from Washington DC to LA would have cost ~$570k. Add all the LAPD overtime and thousands of people stuck in traffic for hours, the economic cost of this partisan fundraiser probably is greater than the amount raised. That's an efficient use of resources. And how come no far-left liberal is complaining about the carbon footprint of flying a 747 coast-to-coast and having thousands of cars idling in gridlock while Obama eats dinner?

Off Road Racing

There was a tragic accident at an off-road race this weekend out in Lucerne Valley. A driver lost control of his truck over a jump and crashed into spectators, killing 8 people. I asked Randy about the California 200... it's not a scheduled JeepSpeed race but they do use that race course.

We're still nowhere near finishing our truck build so I've never driven fast off-road. I've also never been to a race yet but watching videos from Baja 500/1000, I saw how spectators like to stand right next to the track. I always thought that was crazy; one big bump or rock can cause the driver to lose control of the truck and take out lots of people.

Baja 1000 down in Mexico

Crashes, rollovers, and other accidents happen a lot at races so I'm not sure what could have been done differently at the race. They probably marked off the start/finish area and the pits but not sure how they would block off the entire 50 mile course to keep spectators back. In the end, people have to use common sense and stay away from speeding cars/trucks, whether at an off-road race or just on the street/freeway.

There's talk that BLM (Bureau of Land Management) may suspend all off-road races on public land which would probably kill off the sport. Something probably should be done to encourage/enforce safety standards but I fully expect politicians (most likely Democrats from an urban district) to get involved and make things worse -- increase the cost of racing with no safety benefits.