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SHANGHAI DIARY 13

  • I can get Lost Anywhere


  • In fairness to me, the Shanghai Railway Station is a big place. But still, this would happen only to me.

    Ya Nan wanted to borrow my camera to take some photos for her Taobao shop. Since her office is very near the Railway Station and since that's an easy place for me to get to, I offered to meet her at the station to deliver the camera. She asked me to meet her at Exit #3, and said something about coming there on Subway Line 1, but I have three different lines available under my home, so I ignored that and took Line 4. Big Mistake.

    Arrived at the Station, but couldn't find Exit 3. We had 1, 2, 4, and others, but no Exit #3. I looked and looked, and finally asked the girl in the office, and she said, There is no Exit #3". Okay. So I called Ya Nan to tell her I had arrived, and she said, "I'm waiting for you at Exit #3." The plot thickens.
    Long debate, no resolution. Finally I gave my phone to the girl in the office, to let her speak to Ya Nan. Another long debate, but finally a resolution.

    The Railway Station is very long. Subway Lines 3 and 4 enter it at one end and Line 1 enters at the other. At my end, there was no Exit #3, but at Ya Nan's end, where Line 1 intersects, there was indeed that missing exit. Wasted 30 minutes, and Ya Nan is so sweet she didn't even say, "I told you so."

  • A visit to Beijing, Pretty Tour Guide, but no Cherries :(


  • Two-day business triip to Beijing where I got to visit the Beijing 798 Art City. I've posted some photos and commentary in the Travel Section - you must go there to look, because this is really worth seeing.

    But I'd hoped to bring back a box of cherries with me on the plane, except there weren't any. The season has been cold this year, with a late spring and low temperatures and the cherries are about two weeks later than normal. So, I came home empty-handed. My only consolation was meeting Nancy at the art gallery where we had our meeting, and she took me on a personal tour of the 798 area. The best tour guide in Beijing.

  • A new Savings Bank/Stool


  • At the Red Town Art City last week, I found this great stool that serves as a savings bank for coins. You can click on the photo to see a larger version. There's a slot at the top for inserting coins, and, depending on which combination of drawers you open, the coins will fall into different locations. If you pull open the top 4 drawers, the coins will fall into the bottom one. A bit troublesome and not especially useful, but an original idea and a cool little piece of furniture.

  • Maybe the Largest LED Screen in the World - certainly the largest in China


  • There is a place in downtown Beijing, appropriately named 'The Place', which consists of several large malls plus outdoor arcades, pedestrian malls, etc., which has the largest LED screen I've ever seen. It is outdoors, overhead, a full city block long. As you walk along the pedestrian mall, you can look up and see constantly-changing graphics, artwork, all kinds of things. Stunning experience. The photo doesn't do it justice.

  • I hate html ......


  • Friends,

    Do you enjoy web design? Do you thrill at the prospect of another day of html coding? Does your wife wink at you if you miss a ; after your &NBSP? Is it important to you that FEF8C3 has an RGB value of 3, 19, 27?

    That's good. Now I know I'm among friends and can confide in you.

    At the top of my web pages I have a header (1,000 pixels in width). Below the header I wanted links to the various sections of the site. I could have just used text, but instead I made a graphic (1,000 pixels in width), cut into pieces so each could become a live link.

    It was supposed to look like this:


    Instead, it displayed like this:



    You can see there is a one-pixel space between each of the graphic pieces, except in two places.

    I recalled encountering and overcoming this problem before, but this time I was baffled because all code lines were identical but the display deleted two of the spaces but not the others.

    I went to every html website in the free world (and some elsewhere) - loads of suggstions, all useless. I tried everything I could think of. I retyped lines, deleted white spaces, tried every kind of tag or instruction. Nothing.

    I spent days, and sleepless nights, to no avail. I became constipated and dyslexic, developed cardiac arrythmia, broke out into hives and ran to the pharmacy twice a day for more antidepressants.

    Then by accident I inserted this link table under the header, and saw that the two weren't the same size. So I measured it, and sure enough. I'd accidentally made the graphic a bit too small.

    I had set the table at 1,000 pixels width, but the pieces of the graphic added up to only 993. So the browser did the most sensible thing, which was to insert a space between each pair - except for two, because we had 9 pieces but only 7 spaces. So I made the table smaller and it displayed properly.

    Geez. I hate Websites, I hate html, I hate programming, I hate browsers ......

  • My Friends in Canada Would Never Believe This .....


  • Have you ever had the experience of forgetting to pay a utility bill? And of course the utility companies are unforgiving. No warning, just no phone or lights when you return home from the office.

    And there's nothing you can do, because the utility offices are already closed for the day. So you go out for dinner, stumble around in a dark house, have no contact with the outside world, and must wait until tomorrow. Then you find an excuse to leave the office, take a cab to the utility office, pay your bill, pay a fine, pay a reconnect fee - and try to be happy about it.

    But that's only in North America. In Shanghai, we do things differently. Really. One month recently I was travelling a lot and forgot I'd filed all my current utility bills under the big mess in my top desk drawer - and there they sat, unpaid.

    For background, you can normally pay these bills almost anywhere - banks, convenience stores, lots of places. But they must be paid by a specified due date, or else you must go to one of the utility offices - which are conveniently located either halfway to North Korea or just outside the Vietnam border.

    Anyway, one day I received a call from my landlord who had received a call from the electric utility to tell him the electricity bill hadn't been paid. And he passed on the warning about a due date and impending doom. But for two days I was very busy and didn't get to it. Another call from the landlord who had in turn received another call from the utility company. Doom now more impending.

    However, he told me to just take my bill and the cash, and leave it with the office in my building and the utility company would come by to collect it. And they did.

    But then we had the water bill, the gas bill, the phone bill ..... And lo and behold, all those nice people made repeated trips to my apartment until they found me at home, presented me with a new bill and told me I could either pay them in cash or take the new bills to the bank or convenience store and pay them later. No problem, no fine, no reconnect fees. I couldn't believe it.
  • Authoritarian China


  • I read so many news reports in the Western media about China being 'authoritarian', but my experiences are much different. I could tell a hundred stories like the one above, of events where in the West we would be punished or suffer inconvenience but where in China either nothing happens at all or the authorities treat you with great courtesy and consideration.

    In North America, and in most of Europe (except Italy), travel visas are treated seriously. If you violate the terms of the visa you can easily find yourself in a jail. This is especially true if you are caught working on a tourist visa or if you overstay the time limit. We don't encounter this problem when in our own country and few of us have occasion to know how harshly our Western countries treat these issues.

    But typically - at least for Canada and the US, you will be arrested, put in a jail cell, and you will sit there until you have arranged a plane ticket out of the country. Then the police will take you to the airport and put you on the plane. Not a happy experience.
    I managed to bring this particular event upon myself in Shanghai, when I inadvertently overstayed my visa by two months. It was an honest (well, honest and careless) mistake on my part, but as Western judges are fond of telling us, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." And the stipulated penalty for overstaying a visa in China is a fine of about $100 per day (so about $6,000), and automatic deportation, so this wasn't a trivial issue.

    However, this is China, and we do things differently here. As I passed through Customs and Immigration, the officer examiined my passport and visa and pointed out that I was in serious breach of the terms. I told her it was an accident, and she said, "Yes, and I'm not going to punish you, but you know, you shouldn't do that." And she gave me a piece of paper to obtain a visa extension. Problem solved.

    I was once smoking a cigar in a mall (yes, I know), which was against the rules, and two policemen approached. They said hello, they smiled, they told me I would have to go outdoors if I wanted to smoke, they made a little joke, one officer patted me on the shoulder, and I smiled, thanked them and went outdoors. A totally pleasant resolution, and everyone parted friends.

    My experiences in China have consistently been like this; the attitudes here are very different from what we experience in the West. In China, nobody wants to punish you, nobody wants an argument, nobody wants to start a war; they just want you to behave.

    In North America, punishment is almost mandatory when you are caught doing even small things you shouldn't do - jaywalking, parking on the sidewalk, smoking in a mall, anything. We seldom receive a 'warning' from a police officer; instead, we receive a ticket.

    A Chinese friend of mine here gave me a valuable insight into the differing mentalities, and he attributed it to religion - to the long history of Confucianism in China and the starkly different approach it offers to life when compared to Christianity.

    In the West we are imbued with the Judeo-Christian influence and standard of ethics which seem to imply punishment for offences. It may not happen often at home, but in our dealings with 'the system' punishment is so universal we seldom question it. It is so ubiquitous that a police officer might be considered as doing something wrong or breaking the rules if he doesn't give us a ticket. And for sure we feel grateful and lucky if we are let off with only a warning.

    And it would never happen that a utility company would fail to charge us a reconnection fee. That's not because it's 'company policy', but because we deserve to be punished. And it's on that basis that we accept it - we did 'wrong' and therefore 'deserve' punishment and have no right to complain. In China, it isn't a sin or a crime, but just an oversight, an inadvertent mistake, and the concept of punishment doesn't enter into the equation.

    China and the Chinese people are so different from us in that respect. This country is far less 'authoritarian' than the US or Canada. In many ways, in so many of the small things that affect our daily lives, China is much more liberal than the West. Peace is important here, an absence of conflict is the goal. When Hu Jintao speaks of creating 'An Harmonious Society' those are not empty words - that is the objective.

    Now for sure, people do run afoul of the law here, and dealings with 'the system' are probably not always so pleasant, as can be true in every country. And yes, there are abuses, and bad-tempered officials and other obstacles to rapture and harmony. My comments aren't intended to claim perfection, but to illustrate a generally different cultural attitude to many everyday things.

    In the West, we tend to be confrontational by nature; rather than avoiding conflict we often seek it out. We settle our differences in the courts rather than in negotiation - which is why the US has something like 70% of the world's lawyers. By contrast, in the police station in my district, the first room you see when you enter is a mediation room where two parties can meet with the police to discuss and settle their differences without resorting to courts and lawyers.

    We Westerners are so convinced that our way is the 'right' way, the best way, the only way, the way God intended when He created the universe. But in fact it is only one way, our way, and perhaps not always the best way. We grew up in a system, and for most of us that system is the only one we know. We seldom question it, and we will never know any better without an outside frame of reference for comparison.