ZJU Internet

February 26th, 2013, 6:21 am PDT by Greg

After more than a week, I have Internet in my apartment. Until now, I was subsisting on my phone’s data plan.

Here is how I seem to have to connect to the Internet in ZJU residences (and I think elsewhere on campus):

  1. My netbook doesn’t have a built-in Ethernet port, but came with a USB ethernet dongle. Plug it in.
  2. Plug an ethernet cable into the wall jack (not the one on the side of the room close to my computer, the other one).
  3. Manually set an IP address that was given to me by someone in a residence office and is linked to my hardware (MAC) address. It took a week to get this, because everyone was on vacation. It took overnight to activate it once it was assigned to me.

    At this point, I can access an utterly nonsensical collection of sites that are perhaps whilelisted somehow. These include SFU’s web server, google.com.hk, and this site, but not SFU Connect or Renren. These connections seem to be HTTP only, so probably no easy way to tunnel through.

  4. Connect to a campus VPN server over IPSEC.
  5. Log in to the IPSEC layer with a campus VPN username/password. I don’t have one of these, and nobody seems to know how to get me one. Luckily, someone was kind enough to lend me theirs.
  6. The VPN server with tunnels over L2TP. This provides Internet access that is as complete as one might reasonably hope in the current locale.

Even given the national demand to keep track of who accesses what, there is at least one layer too many in there. There’s some crazy design-by-committee going on to think of all that. Can anyone spot the weak point?

Those last three steps are supported in Windows only, and early attempts to get the VPN working in Linux have failed. There is also a campus proxy server that can be accessed without the VPN, but it seems to use some entirely different account and I can’t log into it.

Thus my proposed further steps may be:

  1. Open a virtual machine running Linux in Windows. Let the VM’s network magic bridge the Windows network into the VM.
  2. Probably use sshuttle or similar to secure the whole stack back to a host I trust. There are too many moving parts and possible points of privacy loss in there.
  3. Internet.

So that’s about 8 steps between my computer and some Internet. Any bets on the fraction of the time all of those actually work?

I’m leaving a note here: Huge success!

February 25th, 2013, 2:53 am PDT by Greg

Not much to update in general. Continued to explore the city and pick up a few things. Weather is a little warmer, so I can say that I have actually been warm somewhere other than under my many blankets.

The university was open today, so I have a little more support from that side.

My huge success that just happened: I walked into a place that seemed to serve noodles, and had some characters that looked familiar on the menu board. I walked confidently up to the counter and did my best “牛肉面条” (beef noodles). The clerk responded positively and charged me the amount of money I expected.

I am now looking at a damn tasty bowl of beef noodles. Huzzah!

Edit: I also just enjoyed “一个蛋挞” (an egg tart). It had a little dollop of jelly on it, which was new to me, but not unwelcome.

Getting settled

February 22nd, 2013, 3:30 am PDT by Greg

I did manage to get a bike yesterday, so getting around the city suddenly became much easier. Went out and got a USB hub (that I should have thought to bring with me) and wireless router (for when I actually get some internets in the apartment).

The International Student Cafeteria is across the road from my apartment. I ate there once so far. I was the only non-Chinese person there, the food was all Chinese, and the menu on the wall was entirely in Chinese. (They did have an English menu if you walked up and looked confused at them.) The food was pretty good, but I’m unclear on what’s “international” about it. There did seem to be a lot of non-local Chinese food. (I had a fish thing I had clearly involved Sichuan peppers and something described as “Shanghai greens”.) My theory is that “international” in this context means “not from Hangzhou”, but it’s just a theory.

As a result of that (I suspect), there is a block of shops just off campus near me that I think of as the “things international students want” strip. There are a couple of coffee shops and restaurants that seem very non-Chinese. Out of curiosity, I wandered into a panini place there last night. Not a half bad panini and a beer for $8.

What I’m realizing is that in Vancouver, it’s astonishingly rare for us to eat food from the same country more than about three days in a row. The trip was good: we spent 4–5 days in each place and didn’t get bored with the food. But looking at more than four months here, no matter how much I like the food (and I do), “all Chinese all the time” isn’t going to cut it. It’s nice to know there are soem options. There’s a Mexican place called Pancho’s not too far away. I’m saving that so it’s a treat.

I actually got a little work done on some course notes today. I’m teaching discrete math here, which I haven’t done at SFU for probably 7 or 8 years. It’s nice to get back to something a little “normal”.

I also stopped by my local Wal-Mart (a <5 minute ride from here). Wal-mart here, like ones at home, has everythign you need. Other shops have some of what you need, and it’s probably cheaper/better, but I’d have to find each shop. So, Wal-Mart it is. I got a few more basics. Not exactly a fully-stocked kitchen, but at least I’ve got something in the place.

Note the sad-bachelor-ware: one spoon, one knife, and a pair of chopsticks. I bought one bowl and one cup on a previous outing. Not like I’m having guests over. 🙂

Mould update

February 21st, 2013, 5:26 am PDT by Greg

There has been a lot of perfectly justifiable concern about what I described as black mould in my bathroom. Having taken a closer look, there is more going on there. Here’s what happened…

At some point, there was a leak from a pipe, or the apartment above, or something. A Chinese Mr. Fixit was called. Some of the ceiling was chipped away, and replaced with possibly roofing tar. That’s the black centre of the mess: it’s not angry mould.

The surrounding smear is mould from the leak. But, since the whole building is poured concrete, it’s only in the paint, and cannot possibly be deeper. If I try to clean it, the mess will just aerosolize, with the cheap-ass paint. (A DDP student relates that it comes off with a gentle rub to remove simple dirt: it’s basically tempra paint from kindergarten.)

So I return to my my original plan of action: live and let live.

Hangzhou: first days

February 20th, 2013, 6:02 am PDT by Greg

I have basically done the equivalent of getting to SFU on December 27: it’s not officially a holiday, but there isn’t anybody around.

For example, the people that can set up the Internet connection in my room aren’t back until the 25th. So glad I got the data SIM for my phone. There’s a huge comfort in being able to email, message Kat (Viber or WhatsApp: lifesavers), use Google Maps/Translate, etc.

Speaking of which, I have no idea how much I’m paying for data. They have a 2GB for 100 yuan which I thought I had subscribed to. Then I checked my balance and the money was still there as a credit. I’m hoping to find a China Mobile store tomorrow and try to pantomime my problem.

I’m feeling a little more settled now. My mood has gone from “I have to find X, Y, and Z so I can survive” to “I can explore the city and find stuff I need.” The difference is subtle, but significant. I even managed to take a little time to work on my courses today.

I took some pictures of my apartment. The bathroom and heating situations are a little rustic, but I’ll survive.

I’m questioning the wisdom off taking the vacation before hitting China. On one hand, it was awesome. But, the moment I got here, I’m already wanting western food and missing my friends. [I really like you guys, even the annoying ones. You know who you are.]

Goal for tomorrow: get a bike so I can expand the circle of the city I can explore.

Asian countries: which is the best?

February 19th, 2013, 10:17 pm PDT by Greg

As we have been travelling, one can’t help but compare the places we have been. They were all good and I wouldn’t had dropped any of them from the trip. That being said, some were better in different ways.

Here are my comparisons, broken up by country or city, depending on my feeling about them…

How easy is it to travel there as a unilingual English speaker?

  1. Singapore. It’s basically a no-contest win for Singapore: English and Mandarin are the two effectively-used languages everywhere.
  2. Manila. English is effectively an official language here. Pretty much everybody has basic conversational English, and everybody we’ve come across has at least enough to do their job.
  3. Hong Kong. There is the occasionally place in HK with very rudimentary English, and a few more with none, but not many.
  4. Thailand. I was surprised how much English was spoken: they’re very much set up for tourists. There were maybe a few places we had to fall back to point-and-gesture, but not many.
  5. Malaysia
  6. Hangzhou. I suspect I’ll have a lot more to say about how inward-looking China is, as time goes on.

Where would I want to actually live for an extended period?

  1. Manila
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Hangzhou. It’s hard to give Hangzhou a fair comparison here. My thoughts on moving to Manila are “everybody speaks english and is friendly, wheee!” For Hangzhou, I have much more realistic problems like “where the hell is the laundry?” that aren’t on the radar for other places.
  4. Bangkok
  5. Singapore. I like Singapore, but it’s somehow a little too sterile. It’s like a Disneyland version of Asia for tourists who don’t want to get dirty. I don’t think you could get food poisoning in Singapore if you tried, and where’s the fun in that?
  6. Chiang Mai. The problem with Chiang Mai is that it’s a tourist town. Foreign and Thai, but it there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on except foreigners walking around.

Which would I want to come back to?

  1. Manila, with family involvement weighing heavily on the ranking.
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Hangzhou
  4. Malaysia (but probably not KK)
  5. Bangkok
  6. Singapore, but I’ll probably be back if travelling in Asia, again as a break.
  7. Chiang Mai

How willing would I be to drive there?

  1. Singapore
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Chiang Mai
  4. Kota Kinabalu
  5. Bangkok
  6. Manila
  7. Hangzhou

GDP per capita (PPP) in USD, according to Index Mundi.

  1. Singapore, $60,500
  2. Hong Kong, $49,800
  3. United States, $49,000
  4. Canada, $41,100
  5. Macau, $33,000
  6. Malaysia, $15,800
  7. Thailand, $9,500
  8. China, $8,500
  9. Philippines, $4,100 (but I suspect this doesn’t include remittance which is a significant amount, and a lot of wealth is concentrated in Manila)

Gini coefficient, according to Index Mundi. Higher numbers mean more uneven income distribution.

  1. Canada, 32.1
  2. United States, 45.0
  3. Philippines, 45.8
  4. Malaysia, 46.2
  5. Singapore, 47.3
  6. China, 48.0
  7. Macau, 48
  8. Hong Kong, 53.3
  9. Thailand, 53.6

Hangzhou, day 0.5

February 19th, 2013, 1:15 am PDT by Greg

The University had a driver meet me at the airport and take me to my apartment. I felt a certain affection for Mr. Li. He spoke about as much English as I speak Chinese. I think we bonded. He liked something about Canada: maybe a singer.

Amy Gu was kind enough to meet me at the apartment. She helped me figure out the heat in my room, which was a life saver. There will be more to say about heating and infrastructure in another post.

After she left, I realized there was no kettle in the room. A hotplate but no pots. No way to boil water. No drinking water. After a brief panic, I found a nearby market still open with bottled water. Also a coffee shop with Internet, so I could at least email Kat.

[Note to self: never arrive in a completely foreign city after dark. Critical things are closed, and it’s much harder to navigate.]

After I got back, the exchange students upstairs told me that there was a breaker for the hot water heater, and life started to look up.

I woke up this morning to snow. An inch of wet nasty snow on the ground, and still falling. When I opened the curtains, I actually said out loud (to no one) “I’m going back to the Philippines.” As I recall, snow is pretty rare in Hangzhou, so it should disappear soon.

Hopefully the phone stores are open this morning and I can get a local SIM with some data. With a little more luck, Amy will be able to find somebody to figure out the Internet in my room and I’ll be properly connected.

Quick update in the afternoon: have a phone with data at least. Snow is mostly melted.

Kota Kinabalu

February 13th, 2013, 2:38 am PDT by Greg

Our only stop in Malaysia was Kota Kinabalu. This was a slightly unusual choice: if someone visits one city in Malaysia, it’s usually the capital Kuala Lumpur. KK is in Sabah, a province in eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.

We went really for three reasons: everybody said KL is really just another big city and that if we had been to Singapore, it wouldn’t be different enough to spend the time; somebody Kat was talking to one day said KK was nice; a friend of ours grew up in KK so that was a nice connection.

On our first day there, we had booked a tour to take us up to Kinabalu Park. It was a nice day so we had good views of the mountain.

The tour took us up to canopy walk near the Poring Hot Springs. We opted to do the walk but skipped the hot springs themselves. That involved a bit of a hike up to the base of the walkway, so we got to see the mid-altitude jungle up close.

After lunch, we headed up to the botanical gardens in the park. That was another walk through the jungle. This was at higher altitude, and the jungle looked pretty different. It actually looked exactly how I imagined jungles should look.

For the last night in KK, we went out to the Gayana Eco Resort so we could sleep in huts over water. They were actually much nicer than I was imagining. I think I was kind of hoping for something a little more rustic, but if it had been, I’d probably be complaining about that. There were little geckos everywhere, so that made it feel a little rustic.

Mostly, it was a night of the resort lifestyle.

After that, off to Manilla…

Singapore: check.

February 4th, 2013, 5:24 am PDT by Greg

We have been slow on the blogs… We left Singapore two days ago.

We only spent two full days in Singapore. We planned it as a mid-trip break: we figured it would be a nice easy place to stay for a few days. The consensus was that Singapore was a place to be for a couple of days, eat and move on. That’s exactly what we did.

Singapore is a super-easy to be as a English speaker: with Mandarin, English is the working language of the country. You can drink the tap water. Basically, it’s like Asia-lite. Asia for beginners. Asia on Disney.

There’s also food everywhere. You can’t walk a block without running into a collection of hawker stalls or a Kopitam. In each of those, each stall is independently owned, and each one makes a half dozen or so things. You can walk around to which ever one strikes your fancy and gather up a meal.

Do Singaporeans ever eat at home? Given the number of food stalls and restaurants, I can only imagine the economics working if nobody ever cooks.

But the nice part about Singapore, the easiness, was also the part I didn’t like. I’m firmly convinced that Richmond is a more confusing place to spend a day than Singapore. It’s odd spending double-digit hours on a plane and coming to somewhere so… normal. Also, a little anti-climactic.

My advice on the city would be to use it exactly like we did: as a break from weirdness in the rest of Asia.

We also had Singapore Slings at both the Post Bar at the Fullerton Hotel (a fancy hotel and bar), and at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel (where they were created). Much to my surprise, the one at Raffles actually was tastier. On the other hand, the Post Bar had an atmosphere that made you think paying $20 for a drink made sense; the Long Bar was a little more rustic and tourist-focused (but not cheaper).