Friday, April 29, 2005

My window to the world

These are the views of the road from my office window. I know it looks pretty mundane.

The first pic shows the IIPC (an IBM joint venture) and GreatWall Technology, two well known IT companies in China.









The second pic shows some apartments.

I took these pictures from camera phone. Just wanted to make sure I have some pictures as a memoir, as I would be moving to a cubicle soon, in few hours.
I am sharing this room with a colleague of mine. Rest of our team members also have similar arrangement and thus 8 of us are located in four different rooms. I personally felt its kind of inconvenient to spread across in different rooms. But everyone wanted it to be that way. But now that there more senior guys demanding their own private spaces, we have to move to cubicles to make way fro them. I am ok with it. But some of my colleagues doesn’t seem to like it. They are used to special comforts like privacy, secrecy that come with a room.
So when I come back from holidays, I would be back in cubicle, which I really love anyway.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Holidays are just around the corner

Yes!! I will be on vacation starting tomorrow. Welcome distraction indeed!! We have a week-long “Labor Day Holiday” starting from May 1st. Since workload is “relatively” lesser, I talked my boss into letting me have 2 days more and as always as he agreed instantaneously!

I will be traveling to Guilin, a famous historic and cultural city with extremely beautiful landscapes. It’s a 4-day “package” trip. I will be back in Shenzhen on 2nd May and then plan to spend rest of the holidays in Hong Kong.

This is the best part of working and living in China – you get to enjoy 4 weeks of mandatory holidays. Apparently, Chinese government “planned” this way in order to boost tourism and economy and you bet it does serve its purpose very well, albeit overwhelmingly. Since these are mandatory holidays almost 70% of the workforce across China will be vacationing. So you can imagine the rush and the problems associated with in a country of billion plus. Inspite of all this, these holidays provide a great opportunity for an expat to travel around China.

Initially I had planned to go to another beautiful place called Yunnan. But it didn’t materialize as the tickets were sold out. So finally settled for Guilin. Since I would be having a great time in Guilin and then in Hong Kong, I may not be updating my blog till May 7th.

Pixela ImageMixer is awful

I never thought transferring videos from handycam to computer could be so frustrating; definitely not after having done it successfully just 2 days ago.

Last night I was trying to transfer some video clips form my Sony handycam to my laptop using Pixela ImageMixer software. In the process I realized that Pixela could easily be rated as the worst software application ever developed as far as usability is concerned. It’s just awful. The worst thing is that it is so unpredictable and behaves crazy. I easily did this thing just 2 days ago using the same handycam and laptop; but here I am today wasting 3 hours fixing it up.

I don’t know why Pixela’s developers fail to see that they need to follow certain simple and generally accepted principles while designing a GUI. Pixela’s GUI makes a great study for an awful design. It doesn’t follow the standard menu bar, toolbar or context menu approach. Agreed that they want to showcase their creative talent. But that doesn’t mean they have to make it look like a Martian GUI.

I just felt so frustrated that I would’ve smacked the hell out of a Sony or Pixela support guy if they were to show up.

It leaves me wondering why software developers fail to realize the importance of usability.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Eureka!! Eureka!!

I am almost ecstatic! After a long time I feel I am on a high without having resort to grass or alcohol! The reason behind my current blissful state is my discovery of a unique way to post comments in my blog!!

As I noted in my previous posts, the Internet is highly monitored, censored and controlled by the government. If you still don’t believe in what I am saying, check out this article in MercuryNews.com. So it is extremely difficult to maintain a blog.

In order to overcome this menace, I access my blog through Anonymouse.ws. Unfortunately, Anonymouse.ws doesn’t support authentication. So I cannot post comments on Blogspot.com blogs using my Blogger ID; I have to post comments as an “anonymous” reader.

But that’s a thing of past! I discovered today that I could log on to my blog through Babelfish! (it’s such a lovely tool, I love it).

Since Anonymouse.ws is down for the last 2 days, I wanted to find out whether I can access my blog through Babelfish. When I typed the URL of my blog in Babelfish and pressed enter, it displayed my blog almost instantaneously. When I tried to post a comment (using my Blogger ID and password), I was thrilled to find out that it worked! This is the beauty of internet- no matter what they do, freedom prevails.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An unexpectedly great day

I reached home quite early today and had nothing to do. TV programs were as dud as always they’ve been. Tried to connect to the net through dial up, but soon discovered that China Telecom has cut off services, as I haven’t paid my telephone bills. I looked out the window and it was drizzling.

That left me pondering what to do. A brilliant idea struck my mind! There are so many videos captured on my handycam; but I haven’t transferred them to the computer. I thought of doing it today.

So I started installing the necessary software and luckily everything was installed without any hitch. Then I connected my handycam to laptop and there I go! As I transferred many video clips it was kind of a travel down the memory lane. I enjoyed watching those clips. I had a hearty laugh looking at the videos shot during Bheemeswari (its an amazing place) trip, which apparently turned out to be a “team breaking” trip!!

Home videos are so much fun. They provide glimpse of your yesteryears and bring back fond (and not-so-fond) memories of the time spent with loved (and hated) ones.

Somebody in China tracking my blog and surfing habits!

Yes. That seems to be the case. Otherwise, how can they suddenly block Anonymouse out of the blue? I use this wonderful site called Anonymouse to get access to the sites that are blocked in China. It can also be used for anonymous surfing, which makes me feel much safer. I frequently use this site to view my own blog (yes, I can’t access it directly!)

When I tried to access Anonymouse this morning, “Page not Found” was the last page in the internet I expected. But that was to be the case. I have trying to access many times, tweaking around with my browser settings, but nothing seems to be working.

And with it also goes my access to Google News, which is intermittently blocked. Its almost 4 in the afternoon and I haven’t read today’s headlines yet. Aaargghhhh….

Monday, April 25, 2005

Chinese Media

I must thank Michael Parikh for rekindling my interest on this subject. It was because of his comment that I decided to give shape to my lingering thoughts about Chinese media.

If there is one thing that I really hate about China, it ought to be the media. Only those who have lived here can understand and explain how hard it is to get open and unbiased news. I am not disputing the fact that media toes the line of the ruling elite (did I say CNN? J) in all parts of the world. But they are generally accepted to be unbiased and transparent. Even in a not so developed country like India, media is almost independent.

But in China, you have to experience to believe it. China might be putting up a good show with an impressive economy and infrastructure, but it has still retained its “propaganda” agenda when it comes to media. I am not talking about Communist trying to direct the course of the media or shaping up the minds of its billion plus population. That’s a given and I cant complain much about it. I am talking about plain simple news.

If there was to be an Oscar for best censorship, no doubt Chinese government will walk away with the honor! Really. Every bit of news is censored. The censoring also spans the Internet.

So when there was so much being written, shown and discussed in the world media about the Sino-Japanese rift, there was absolutely no coverage on that subject. The programs/news broadcast by foreign media such as CNN, CBS, even Hong Kong channels that made any references to the issue were blocked. (It is common practice in China to throw frustrating ads when the international TV channels air anything that the Communists don’t like). Sample this, the news clip that showed anti-Japanese protests was blocked; but the immediate next news clip showing some pretests in India was left untouched!

The funniest thing is that you will find millions of pages of commentary and analysis written in Chinese media about hot issues in other countries, but not even one that discusses real issues in China!

If you had thought that you could use Internet to overcome the censorship menace, don’t forget the fact that Chinese government is Tech-savvy. So in simple words, government can block access to any site that. So even the harmless, news sites like CNN, BBC, VOA are blocked. Oh yeah and did I till you Google is also blocked frequently (even after Google agreeing with the Government to filter its result to remove any “sensitive” content). All the popular blog sites are locked. Funniest thing is (I must really thank God for it), I can post my blog (domain: Blogger.com) but cant view it (domain: blogspot.com)!! (But thanks to nifty site that lets me browse unanimously, I can get across most of the site blocked in China.)

This explains why Chinese were acting so crazy against Japanese and why they couldn’t get to hear the other side of the story. When there is so much of state control over the media, it is obvious that why average Chinese can’t see the whole picture and simply marches on to the street when the government commands him to do so.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Aargghhhhh!!! I can’t respond to a comment in my own blog!

I was thrilled to find a genuine comment in my blog for the first time! And it was in fact an encouraging comment by an inquisitive visitor who seemed to have interest reading what I had posted. I was elated and wanted to thank this great soul by replying to his comment.

But within few seconds I realized that I cant post a comment on my own blog! Yeah you heard me right, and this happens only in China! The reason is that, the domain “blogspot.com” is blocked. So I cant view my blog (because its URL is http://orientaldesi.blogspot.com). Surprisingly (thank God!) I can post through Blogger.com!!!

Well I am really disappointed to not have replied to the visitor’s comments. Luckily for me, he has provided his blog’s URL. So I will go through his blog and then dig up his e-mail address and then shoot a mail!

China-Japan Spat to end finally?

At last there seems to be some good news for diffusing the tensions between Japan and China. The first ray of hope emerged when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made known his intentions for a dialog, sent his Foreign Minister to Beijing and openly showed interests to hold a dialog with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the Afro-Asian summit in Jakarta.

Although Chinese were not so forthcoming, they at least did not screw up anything in the last few days. They did some good to diffuse tensions, albeit in their typical communist way. China is scaling down anti-Japanese protests and has reportedly warned those holding protests without state’s approval of dire consequences. This will obviously work, because nobody in China has the guts to go against the government.

The icing on the cake came just few minutes ago when Junichiro Koizumi, publicly apologized for the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan. This is what Reuters says:

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized on Friday for the "tremendous damage and suffering" caused by Japan's wartime past in an apparent effort to help douse a flaming row with China.

Koizumi made the apology during a speech at a multilateral summit in Jakarta in front of leaders from 100 Asian and African countries including Chinese President Hu Jintao, whom he is likely to meet in the coming days.

I can already sense that “anger” in Chinese coming down! How do I know? Well, the number of hate mails that our Chinese colleagues used to dish out to company-wide mailing list has significantly reduced. In fact it is almost nil. There isn’t even a single hate mail since Tuesday. Good for them! Well after all everyone wants to see China maintain it’s aggressive economic growth rate so that they can benefit from it!

I have been closely observing this latest China-Japan spat and it is interesting to note that Japanese have been quite soft and mellowed-down during the whole episode. Are they really that way? I don’t think so. Even though they may be sincere in diffusing the tensions, the soft approach they took basically stems from the bad timing (for Japanese). With Japanese economy still struggling to show a decent growth and China emerging as Japan’s largest trading partner, fight with China is the last thing Japan wants. So Japan seems to have though smart and let go jingoistic national pride for economic growth and stability.

As for China, it maybe grinning with an ugly smile and might even claim to have brought Japan on its knees. After all it provided them a chance to let the super-heated steam out! Since almost every Chinese has let his “anger” against Japan, no steam left in him. So Communist bosses made their seats safe for few more years by shifting the window. An old technique, how long will it last?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Google's googlies

After having started my blog and successfully managing to keep it running, I got curious whether search engines have crawled enough to recognize my blog. In order to not to disappoint myself, I played extremely safe and entered the exact phrase and hit “enter” expecting my blog to be listed in the first page.

But what I found was astonishing. Because, my blog was not at all listed in the search results. It didn’t figure in the top 100 listings. What is even more disturbing is that almost all the top 10 listings are adult sites, apparently due to the fact that my search string included such exotic names as oriental and desi.

Initially, I thought I am getting a “censored” search result and tried searching through a proxy site. But even then Google threw up same results. I never expected my blog to be listed at the top slot. I am not an expert in search engine stuff but I was hoping to see my blog somewhere within Top 50 listings based on two simple facts: (a) I believed Google is a saner and “lesser evil” search engine (b) Google has the best indexing of Blogspot as Blogpsot is its own backyard.

Then I went onto search in other search engines and consoled myself when Yahoo listed my blog at the top slot. Neither MSN nor AskJeeves seem to have any clue about my blog. I was so amused and literally danced “bhalle-bhalle” after seeing our very own desi search engine Rediff successfully crawling into my blog.

Google not only disappointed me but also left me wondering whether Google has started turning evil in order to keep Wall Street happy? Or is it that people have high expectations of Google?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Chinese, their Gulliblity and their English skills

Amongst all these boring and ugly tales of anti-Japanese protests going on in China, here emerges a funny fact! I am sure one would be amused to find out how this whole Communist backed anti-Japanese protests have uncovered two interesting facts.

This morning, one of our Chinese colleagues mass-mailed an "appeal" to the comrades. It said how Chinese are selecting the incorrect answer in the CNN website poll and how it is failing their effort to prove (and justify) their outrage against Japan.

The background of this mail is an online opinion poll run by CNN. Just like the all the western media, CNN also is trying to cash in on the whole anti-Japanese protest drama, while at the same time trying its best to not to anger the Beijing bosses. So they are running "balanced" stories (which is very uncommon of CNN) and have posted some opinion polls on their website.

First, CNN website had the following question in their poll:

Do you think Japan should become a permanent member of United Nations Security Council?

If you are a Chinese trying to prove a point (which ahs no meaning anyway!), you will select "NO". And so did thousands of Chinese and so the results really pleased the comrades and their bosses in Beijing. However, this joy was overshadowed by the results of the next poll. In the second poll, CNN website had the following question:

Do you think China's anti-Japanese sentiment is justified?

Without bothering to see what it means, all our comrades hit "NO" again! The results are obviously devastating for the comrades and so they are flooding frantic e-mail messages to educate others to select the right answer! Damn funny! For that matter everything with ant-Japanese protests have been so funny.


Of course everybody knows that one has to take the results of such online polls (and the polls themselves) with a pinch of salt. But the infuriated and gullible Chinese who have never heard of (let alone experience) anything called freedom of speech and allowed probably for the first time to participate in such online polls, wanted to prove their point. And they almost did it!!

The results also proved that Chinese are not used to rational thinking and analysis and that they need another 2~3 decades to master their practical English communication skills.

Oh, yeah, when I am just about to end this post, I got this thought. Isn’t it quite possible that the top echelons of the Party might have put an army of comrades in front of thousands of computers in order to have the poll results in their favor??

Honey, I witnessed the protests!

These days I have been preoccupied too much with the state-sponsored anti-Japanese protests going on in China. I have been talking, thinking and blogging a lot about this, not because I care any damn thing, but because of the whole drama behind the protests.

I really wanted to witness it first-hand, but couldn't do it because of two reasons: (a) as the media is tightly controlled by China, there's almost no information available about the protests, their schedules, locations etc (b) I have been lethargic and so unwilling to go around the town looking for protestors on the street. I just don’t feeling like getting out of the comforts of my home, especially so during the weekends.

However, today was an exception and I was more than pleased to have got a rare chance to witness some protests in the communist land.

One of my friends wanted to buy some electronic stuff. So we headed off to HuaQiangBay, the city's downtown filled with shopping malls and restaurants, and of course good-looking girls :-).

So we went around lots of shops, saw everything except what we wanted, fiddled with what’s on display and finally managed to escape from the persuasive salespersons. As we were coming out of a shopping mall, we saw lot of people standing along the road. By the time we hit the walkway, we could clearly see the whole road lined with people and police. Initially, there were more police than people. Later on people started to fill in.

We were waiting anxiously to see whats going to happen. We waited for 10 minutes but nothing happened; 15 minutes, still nothing happened. Finally, after 20 minutes or so, we could see some people marching on the street. They were holding some placards (very few), shouting out something against Japan. And only God knows why, suddenly al the people who were watching from the roadside started clapping, as if they were watching some parade during a festival or national celebrations. It was really strange.

Then there was absolute silence. Nothing happened for about 15 minutes. Then there was another bunch of protesters. And again people clapped and laughed. One could hardly sense the kind of tension or anxiety that you typically see during protests. Everyone (spectators as well as protestors) was laughing and going around as if they are enjoying some festivities. It was weird.

And the police were also smiling sheepishly. Some of them seemed to be from the paramilitary and were like new recruits in the age range of 18 to 20. They were made to march from one end to the other end of the road unnecessarily.

When everybody thought it’s all over, some prankster climbed atop the roof of one of the shopping malls. He tried to cover that part of the advertisement on the façade (Panasonic). Obviously he didn’t know how to read English. So he covered only the text written in Chinese. The word “Panasonic” written in English was left unharmed and was clearly visible.

Protesters forced one of the Sony authorized shops to close its doors, and then lined its entrance with bricks and left a pair of sued slippers (later, I saw an aged beggar happily taking possession of those slippers).

You could see almost all the bystanders capturing those “rare” moments in their camera phone and digital cameras. Some even had brought Video cameras to record the whole drama.

By now it was almost 6 O’ clock, dinnertime for Chinese. So all the spectators started drifting towards the nearby KFCs, McDonalds and other fast food chains. Soon the roads were almost deserted, and you could see some uniformed men dotting the restaurants.
So this was the Chinese version of protests that mark their patriotism, anger towards Japan and what not. It was more like a weekend family outing filled with, food, fun and drama!

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