Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brief Beijing

Last week, I got the opportunity to go to Beijing for work. Arriving Monday and leaving Wednesday night with a full schedule of work, unfortunately I didn't have a chance to explore the city, while the initial experience was quite a contrast to Shanghai. Flying out in the afternoon, the mystery of the missing sun was solved, with a spectacular view above the cloud line above Shanghai, providing evidence exactly why it feels like the city is baking in an oven bag!

The brief encounter with Beijing is certainly not enough to provide a comparison or legitimate feel for the city, but the road where Tiananmen Square resides is both expansive and provided a unique experience - Albeit from inside a taxi! Lanes of around 12-16 fill the street, while massive buildings line either side of the road with no allowable areas to park.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Random Rants

I'm not a technology wiz, but I know enough to build my own PC and maintain most things related - usually by resetting the PC! So when basic technology just doesn't work, it's infuriating. The convenience of the iPad has been great, but in the last 2 weeks, it refuses to connect to the internet. Now this would have to be the most simple operations available and has effectively rendered the device useless. It's a double edged sword when it comes to Apple. Lock down the device and it remains relatively safe from exploitations that are common with PCs, the flip side is, you've got to make sure it works and if it doesn't, well, you need to fix it straight away.

So here are the issues/attempted fixes - Which firmly place the blame on Apple.
1) There is a wifi signal and correctly connects to the wireless modem. Going outside or a distance away changes the signal power.
2) Safari - the only allowed browser, complains that the internet is not connected, as does the iTunes and Apps stores.
3) Resetting the configuration on the iPad - albeit limited in options anyway - fails to resolve the problem
4) Resetting the modem does nothing - neither does leaving all devices and the modem off overnight
5) All other devices - Laptop, iPhone - connect fine to the wireless internet
6) Connecting to another wireless internet - thanks to the serviced apartment for keeping strict password formats across rooms! - connects to the modem, but the error still appears!
7) Turned off auto-brightness and dimmed the display - yes that was a fix I read on the internet

It's been interesting reading forums about this issue (11 pages in one site) where this has also been reported across both versions of the iPad. Obviously there are the Apple fan boys with the 'check your modem' trick or 'update your firmware - there's nothing wrong with the product, it has to be the modem!' - even if other devices can connect. I wouldn't be so frustrated if there was another option available (eg cable connection), but a wifi device with no input options - well, leaves me with the option of wifi or wifi, so it damn sure better work!

Here's hoping another 900mb operating system update comes and blasts away whatever bug is in the system...

Ok, its not a post about Shanghai, but here's another rant...

I'll admit I've been a huge fan of the Lonely Planet guides, but I'll ask the question: Have they become too popular?

Seeking food recommendations, I went through the online iPhone application - which I'll admit probably have the worst maps I've seen with unnamed or missing streets - to find some recommendations. Picking one at random, we made our way there by taxi and from the street represented exactly what you'd expect in a foodie street. Dark with old men playing cards, while small shop owners eagarly anticipate customers coming into their quaint small establishments.

Having had to climb a number of stairs and turn some dingy corners, we made it to the restaurant. Almost booked out, we were fortunate to get a table, and the view of the chefs made for what we thought to be a good night out. As the night progressed, we noticed a lack of locals or local looking people - apart from me - filling the restaurant, all presumably grabbing the same recommendation from the same guide. This wouldn't be bad if the food was mindblowing, but sadly, it was the worst food I'd had on the trip. Reflecting, I read a bit more about the restaurant, and it was recommended as one of the top three in the Lonely Planet guide!

The question is: Has the popularity of guides such as this destroyed the once quaint, brilliant places, into tourist magnets and in some cases lowered standards significantly to make a quick buck?

Oh, the only interesting thing from the night was we tried fried bees!

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Random Shanghai Thoughts

Some observations from walking out and about in town in Shanghai:
  • The fashion of 'collars up' is alive and well in Shanghai. It's something that I thought was reserved for 'tools', but it seems the norm here, complete with fashion logos displayed underneath the polo collar which would otherwise be hidden without it 'popped' up.
  • His and hers t-shirts which is obviously a display of deep affection between a couple are worn with pride - Something I don't think would take off in my hometown. Imagine a guy wearing a lime cuddly little bear t-shirt matching his girlfriend's. I suspect in Australia, that guy wouldn't last too long before the heckling provided some not-so-subtle fashion advice.
  • I finally experienced the enormous crush of the subway, where the train stopped shortly after cramming a few people in telling everyone to exit due to a fault. The peak hour train then proceeded to try and enter the next train which was already full to capacity. Needless to say, it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I had with enough male buttocks and underarms to last a lifetime. Thank goodness it was the IT district where skinny nerds were more prevalent than overweight corporate fatsos - Ok I'm exaggerating the stereotype here...
  • Thinking you're at home - On a busy train on the way home from work, a guy, standing in full view of everyone, had his hand half way up is nose, trying to excavate something or reach into his brain. Without a worry in the world, he carefully inspected what had come out, whilst going on to repeat the effort on the other nostril. This went on for at least 5 minutes, fascinating me in the meantime. Perhaps this does nothing to disprove the IT nerdy stereotype with no social skills?
  • The great divide - I'll expand on this in a later post, but the extremities between those that can and cannot afford things is without doubt something that a number of countries I've visited face. Seeing people work day in and out to make a living from a few yuan, or sleeping in 24 atms to get away from the heat, while another luxurious hotel or designer label pops up down the road.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Jon Doesn't Have Talent

When asked the question, I answered with certainty, but the stomach churned as soon as the answer was given. The question? 'Do you want to join us for Karaoke?' Yes, I decided to partake in the popular pastime which seems to explain where the masses disappear to after hours. Without knowing what to expect, I was informed the next day that we'd been booked in for a 3 hour session with the option to extend if we wanted. 3 hours! I don't think I've listened to music non-stop for that long. Upon arriving at the venue, I was confronted with in excess of 300 rooms for youngsters to tickle their vocal chords. Ushers paced the corridors for blinking lights, to assist in providing drinks or answer questions for those inside. Upon leaving, I noticed that most of the rooms had blinking lights which explained the slow and forgetful service.

A labyrinth of corridors and numbered rooms operating 24 x 7

Within the room there was a large screen at one end, 2 microphones for those important duets, while a touchscreen enabled queuing and selection of songs. Options such as disco lighting, cheers from a buoyant audience or switching backing singing on/off were available on small consoles at the entrance and back of the room.
Select your song and follow the words!

The first choice of songs - really just an impulse from my teen years - 2pac - Changes, really brought home a) How poor my singing is and b) how difficult it is to sing a rap song. Needless to say I thought it was going to be long night...

With over 380 pages with 16 artists per page, there was no shortage of selection, with every mainstream pop artist that could be thought of including the last obscure Idol winner from Australia (I can't even remember the name now...). Without a specific song or artist that came immediately to mind, I proceeded to page through, to find a name that would inspire my voice to shatter some more windows or induce another dog to start howling. I settled on the following which I think were reasonable choices (that I can remember):
REM - Man on the Moon
Red Hot Chili Peppers - By the Way
Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
Jay Z feat Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind
Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire
Placebo - Every You, Every Me
U2 - Where the Streets Have No Name

I pulled out of the last two as there were no backing vocals and frankly, I found it impossible not to laugh when listening to my own voice... Additionally another song will not be mentioned here so as to keep the little credibility I have in music taste. Alternative artists were of somewhat slim understandably due to popularity amongst the masses.

There was some impressive singing from the other participants, and the 3 hours flew by, and at just 70yuan (~$11AUD) each for 4 people including a pitcher of beer and tea, it's a cheap pastime. The initial song was daunting and I wasn't completely comfortable singing for the whole night, but it was enjoyable and an experience which I wouldn't normally try.

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