The Forum; white-kite.com

I made a forum the other day and forwarded it to my old domain, white-kite.com. It’s not much more than a small place for friends in China to have a place to collect information, but hopefully it’ll grow to be a spot to keep in touch with friends and stay on top of events in Chengdu and around China. A few of my Chinese friends indicated that there was some demand for a forum where both Chinese people and foreigners could correspond on various subjects, so there are sections for music, travel, and photography. When I get back to Chengdu I’ll fill in some of the gaps with photos and information on my travel adventures in Beijing. Check it out: www.white-kite.com

Published on May 29, 2006

Beijing & The Great Wall

It’s been two weeks since my last post here; I think I can safely say that this is by far the longest I’ve gone without a single post. I’ve had an incredibly small amount of time over the last few weeks to write, between working, completely moving into a new apartment, and flying to Beijing to meet Nemo and see the tourist sites with him, staying in a hostel near Tiananmen Square.

After weeks of searching for a new apartment (I had problems with the previous one; not only was it a bit too small, but parts of the apartment were continually falling apart, like the shower and parts of the plumbing). Additionally, I was interested in finding a place that would be better for summertime, and part of the criteria was that it would include a balcony large enough for a small group of people. Needless to say, I found everything that I was looking for, and even exceeded my own expectations for what it was possible to find. My rent has jumped up a significant amount, but that’s no surprise and doesn’t put much of a damper on the relief I feel for finding what I’ve been looking for for so long. I’ll post some photos of the place when I return to Chengdu; in the meantime, ADSL internet is being installed there today under the guidance of a friend while I’m out of town.

I arrived in Beijing five days ago and picked up Nemo at Beijing International Airport. We took a taxi to a hostel near Tiananmen Square and spent a few days seeing local sights like the Forbidden Palace (home to generations of Beijing emperors), Heavens Park (I don’t know how to properly translate some of this..), Summer Palace, Chinese National Museum, The Ghost Market, and a handful of other locations. It’s been a pretty good time, but all of the attractions aside, I can’t say that I care too much for Beijing. Most of it is very dirty, old, and generally unsightly. Areas which have been renovated are gaudy and covered in too much neon to be even half as presentable as cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. That’s okay though, because like Washington DC, this is just a historical tourist attraction for most foreigners. Staying in a hostel has been pretty lame, though. I miss my house.

Yesterday we spent the entire day trekking on the Great Wall, starting off at Jingshanling and ending at Simatai. The hike was pretty difficult, as the first four hours or so were along portions of the wall which hadn’t been restored; these were the best parts of the hike, but included a lot of climbing. Nemo could barely take it and kept saying that he couldn’t go any farther. It reminded me of the first time that I’d been challenged to a point where I thought I couldn’t continue, at Outward Bound on Hurricane Island in Maine, when I was 17. Nemo made it to the end at Simatai where we took a three-hour bus back to Beijing. I got many beautiful photographs which I’ll post here when I get a chance to edit them. After reaching the top of Simatai I took a train-like vehicle down a portion of the mountain which took me to a cable car which I took for 18 minutes further down the mountain to the foot of Simatai where there were restaurants and connections to roads. Overall the trip was fantastic and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The sights along the wall were truly exceptional as I had hoped they’d be. My greatest hope that this point is that the photos I took reflect that half as well as my memory does.

In a few moments I’ll call the travel agency and book flights to Beijing for tomorrow afternoon. Next weekend I have a gig in Shanghai with H&G at a Tibetan aid event. I’m looking forward to it, and I know that Tenzin and Kensho are (because they’ve never been to Shanghai), but I don’t think they know that Shortkut is performing on the same night at Pegasus.

Published on May 29, 2006

Xanga Conversion Complete

I’ve spent hours over the last few weeks transferring journal entries from xanga.com over to here where they’re better managed in a SQL database (hence, safer and in my hands). It’s taken hours and hours, but now you can search back over two years through mundane details of my life. Awesome!

Published on May 11, 2006

Internet Telephony

When I returned to China from the US, I brought back a Motorola VOIP router and intended to use it with Vodaphone, a competing service of eBay’s Skype. I spending a significant amount of time searching for the power required supply (first all over my own apartment and later at computer markets here), I downloaded Skype.

The advantage of Skype is two-fold;

  • Skype doesn’t require the purchase of additional hardware. Instead of requiring a hardware interface to convert cat5 network cable into a standard phone jack (for the use of a household phone), Skype works with computer headsets with attached microphones. Yes, like phone operator gear. Maybe this isn’t as much of an advantage at all in the long run, but it expands the options and reduce the investment required. I bought one for less than $10.
  • Calls between Skype users are free. This seems like a great way to test the service before signing a contract for monthly service (as you have to for competitors like Vonage). The only caveat is that I don’t have anyone on my Skype list.

So, if you’re inclined, check it out at www.Skype.com

I’m signed up under the username whitekite.com

Published on May 11, 2006

Film Review: Firewall (2006)

FirewallFirewall stars Indiana Jones, Chloe from 24, and the T-1000. Now that we’ve gotten the most favorable details of this movie out of the way, it’s pretty much all downhill from here.

Indy plays Jack Stanfield, loyal family man and IT security manager of a bank in Seattle. His old and tired character is called into action when his family is kidnapped to coerce him into assisting a villian group of bandits rob the bank. This unfortunately has none of the intensity of Keanu Reeves helping Swayze and surfer pals rob a bank at gun point in Point Break, but most of the excitement of watching Peter Gibbons in Office Space eat Cheetos at his desk and play Tetris. The bank is robbed electronically using a gadget built by Harrison Ford out of an iPod.

All of the characters in this film are disposable except for the T-1000 who solely manages to capture the viewers interest for ┬ábrief segments. He certainly still has the look that says everything (or nothing), as he did more than 10 years ago in his most memorable role. If you’ve ever seen 24, Chloe plays Fords secretary in this film – she’s Chloe here also, nothing more and nothing less.

I have to think that many people interested in cyber-culture cinema (Sneakers, Hackers, War Games, The Net) would seek this one out looking for it to possess the same merits, but it doesn’t at all. Matter of fact, the title of the film is completely inappropriate. Not only does the plot not involve a firewall, but the word firewall isn’t even mentioned. Cash in on totally irrelevant tech buzzword? Check!

This is the largest blemish I’ve seen on Harrison Ford’s otherwise stellar filmography, and it hurts to witness it. You should check out as many Harrison Ford films as you can; just not this one. If you’ve seen The Fugitive, check him out as Allie Fox (my favorite character his career has offered) in The Mosquito Coast.

3/10 because I can’t be too harsh on Deckard, the original Blade Runner.

Published on May 10, 2006

Noon at Grandma's Kitchen

It’s really hot and muggy outside, and just turning to afternoon right now. I’ve been riding around on the bike a lot the last few days, both at day and at night. The cheap lock has prevented the theft of the bike so far but I saw Graeme last night and he asked if I remembered where the bike market was because I’d probably be heading back there when my bike gets stolen, and might even see the bike there for sale. Interesting local bike economy they have here.

Today I should hear from Coors and find out what’s happening for the tour this year, and I’ll hopefully find out my itinerary for next week. I hope I’m not headed for Deyang or other semi-local cities of the like. Time will tell, as always.

Here at Grandma’s Kitchen, a local western restaurant, they have a special brunch promotion for weekends whereby you can select 5 breakfast dishes and juice or coffee for 28 yuan. Very cheap and delicious, in addition to the free wi-fi which I’m using now.

I’m waiting patiently for the next episode of 24!

Published on May 6, 2006

Happy Day

I got a new bicycle the other day and got it properly tuned today. Check it out, it’s a Battle, the esteemed combatants choice:

I feel so much more a part of Chinese culture when I’m cruising on my bike rather than taking a taxi, even with the uncompromising heat outside. I haven’t traversed a very long distance on the bike yet, aside from riding it home from the bike market north of Tianfu Square the day before last.

I also found a new 2BR apartment today. It’s in a swank complex on the 14th floor and includes a pool, tennis and basketball courts, and a big balcony. Hooray!

I think I acquired a short contract with a foreign beer company today, to do 6 shows in different cities next week. I’ll get final confirmation tomorrow. And on the 7th of this month I’ll find out the details on the tour this summer which I might decide to be a part of. We’ll see, interesting things in the pipes right now.

As if this weren’t enough good news, I won in Monopoly tonight!

Published on May 4, 2006

Trans-Mongolian Railway

Nemo is planning on passing through China in a few weeks so we’re deciding on a course of action to see and do fun things. He’s interested in checking out Thailand, naturally, but I’m trying to get him to serious consider the trans-Mongolian railway to Moscow as a serious option. Not only is the weather far from optimal in Thailand right now (it’s uncomfortably hot and we’re on the edge of rain season), but the weather is very modest up north in Russia and Mongolia where normally we’d be very cold. There’s a lot of information to collect about the railway, which is a 6-day trip from Beijing to Moscow (not including a stop in Ulaan Baatar, capitol of Mongolia), but I’ve been sifting through it online as efficiently as I can. I think it might beat reading the Lonely Planet guide to the railway, even. This would be a great opportunity for me to get back into photography, which I’m really dying to do, but just lacking inspiration at the moment. Any day now I’ll get a bike which will hopefully inspire me to spend days exploring the city and taking photographys. Recently I’ve been re-reviewing photos that I took in Bali last year and I’m stunned by how beautiful they are and what a rewarding experience it is to look over photos that I’ve taken. I’ve decided not to sell my camera equipment as I had previously considered, but only sell the body (Canon 300-D) for the purpose of an upgrade.

I updated some of the general information about the site which can be accessed through the menu in the upper right. When I was in America my father hassled me about removing the photo I’d taken of hash that I bought months ago, for fear of Chinese government finding it and tracing my website to me and busting me. No need to worry, Dad.

Here’s a map of the route that the trans-Siberian railway takes, starting in Vladivostok and continuing west and then north, past Moscow:

The trans-Mongolian route takes a similar path, except starts in China at Beijing and passes through Ulaan Baatar which can barely be seen at the bottom of the map. I found a website authored by someone who took the journey from Moscow to Beijing and wrote about it on his website and included photos and descriptions. The link to the site is here: http://members.aol.com/transsib/index.html

Published on May 2, 2006